Love has a dangerous effect on everyone; no-one can escape it. Whether you admit it or not, whether you embrace or hide from it; love is truly the most potent of all emotions. Its effects reach far and wide and run the gambit of both good and bad. Ultimately it’s why I’m here, risking my life like an idiot, but there’s no other choice. If I have no idea what’s going on right now, she’ll be clueless. Sure I’m scared but what kind of man would I be if I just ran off and abandoned her, running away like a coward. If I’m scared so is she and I won’t leave her alone. We might still be scared when we’re together but at least we’ll feel that bit safer with each other. It takes bravery to love and modesty aside this is as brave as I’ve ever been. Deep breath, count to five and run.
Keeping myself hidden through the trees and bush, trying to move as fast and quietly as possible; Its still way too close to the roads for comfort but right now I don’t think anywhere is safe. If I delve any deeper into these woods I may lose my direction, but more too close to the road and I’ll be caught. Heart racing hands shaking and stuck in place, trying to decide what to do next. The voice in my head whispers, even my internal dialogue is scared to make a noise. It tells me to run, keep moving and find her. My heart says yes, my head says yes, my legs however are stuck. Should I have stayed with the group, would there have been safety in numbers? Regardless it’s not about my safety, they were going the wrong way, taking me further away from her. She’s far more important, I don’t need them, I just need to get home. I hope they’re okay but they were far too concerned about saving themselves than helping others. What could I really expect, everyone gets a little self involved when they panic and what better situation that right now to inspire a little selfishness. It’s why I’m here willing my legs to move me forward and run home to her. I don’t need anyone else, I only need her and right now more than anyone, she needs me. Clenched fists and gritted teeth, I will myself forward. Now is not the time to be consumed by fear, even if it is justified.
Slowly and carefully navigating through the trees, hugging the trunks, moving low, moving slow and hiding in the spare shadows the canopy above provides. As the sun beats down overhead I sneak closer to the road and out of the woodland. Each twig or branch that snaps underfoot sends a panicked pulse through my entire body. In the moment I freeze, fearing the worst. The seconds feel like minutes, waiting for something horrible to happen. My imagination runs riot as I hear the chaos in the distance. I can’t let this be my end, I can’t abandon her. She means the world to me and as the one I stand on is about to burn I need to be with her. Imagining how she feels, alone, confused and terrified ends my panic induced pause and I move forward once more. The screams and sounds of terror ring through the air. They fade the further away I run from the city, but they’re never fully gone. The closer I get to the road I can hear movement, there’s others like me but their screams are unintelligible. They only serve as a distraction, halting my move forward, fearing they’re not like me at all. Deceptions lurk around every corner, I can’t help them, I have to help her.
When it all started I saw very little. Explosions rained from the sky and imposing figures appeared from the smoke and ruins. It was enough to be terrified, enough to know I had to run. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing and with an overactive imagination like mine the thoughts raced wild. I never thought I was a negative person, but I can’t stop thinking the worst. I don’t fully understand what’s going on, only that my life and the lives of everyone around me are at risk. I understand the reality is I may not survive but I have to. It doesn’t matter what’s happening, I’ve seen enough and that wild imagination of mine is trying to keep me safe while analysing the facts I know. The cities aren’t safe; nether are the streets or the roads. Death or capture lurks around every corner and it doesn’t matter why, all that matters is run and hide. Don’t even try to drive, a moving vehicle is a target, the only option is to run. Everything in my head screams run, I have the unwavering need and desire to survive despite all the savage uncertainty that surrounds me. She needs me, I need to get to her and I can’t live without her.
I know where she’ll be and I’ve got the directions mapped out in my head. I know exactly where to go, by the directions are drivers directions. All along roads, it’s the only way I know. Yes they’ll get me where I’m going, they’ll get me to her, but there’s not much cover to hide in. I want to stay in the woodland, in the cover where it’s safer but the further I run in this direction the fewer options I have but to return to the road. I tentatively make my way to the very edge, if I must take to the road I’ll cling to the shoulder, for some reason it seems to appeal as the safer option. It’s certainly better than walking down the middle of the road, making myself a target. It’s luck that I drive the back roads to where I’m going, it gives me a little added safety. It gives me a respite from the overwhelming panic and terror. It’s still there but I can catch my breath reserve my energy for when I really need to run. I’ll be getting closer to my home town soon; I’ll need to be ready for what’s happened there. The disturbing noises from the city had subsided and for the past few hours they’ve been replaced by an eerie silence. Occasionally the silence is broken by an explosion in the distance or the echoing shrieks or a poor soul in peril. I’m not sure which is more creepy, the consistent terror of the city, the deathly silence and uncertainty of the back roads.
On the main road into town vehicles have been abandoned all along the straight exposed road. Most look like they still might run, some have been damaged, a few overturned. It would be very tempting to take one of those abandoned vehicles and make my journey that much quicker. It’s fought with risk and with each vehicle I pass the temptation grows, yet the smouldering wreckage of the ones that weren’t so lucky is a stark reminder of the dangers that await me. It does provide an opportunity to release myself from the shoulder of the road and move hidden between the wreckage. The abandoned vehicles may be a target but alone they’re perfect for me to move faster. The day is still young and so much carnage already surrounds me. I’m tired but I can’t stop moving. Even if I waited for the night I’m not sure if the darkness would be any safer, it would definitely be scarier. Besides I don’t have the time to wait hiding around, I need to get to her now. If I stay still for too long I’ll be found, it’s better if I move. Once I’m with her then I can rest, then we can be safe.
The closer I get to town I come across more vehicles and the noises return. Whoever these aggressors are, they’re here as well. I knew they would be but I don’t need to go into the town proper, I’m headed to the outskirts, I’ll only be in the open half an hour at most, I just need to be careful. Taking cover behind the cab of a truck laid damaged on its side I hear whispers. A strange feeling comes over me, one of selfish anger. The whispers are close and I’m afraid of what they might bring. Will they want to follow me, will they put me in more danger, will they hurt me, will they slow me down and will they understand? I don’t want anyone else but her, she needs me and I can’t have these whispering wanderers getting in my way. I know it’s selfish and I want to be a good person but I have my own purpose right now. My heart is already claimed its destined course and I can’t let myself be caught, not by friend or foe. Instead I choose to be silent, not to breathe not to speak, to make as little noise as possible to let them pass me by. I wish them luck, but I’m far more concerned about her right now to care to do anything for them.
The whispers get louder as we move toward each other. I move to their side, concealing myself with the vehicles, moving low to the ground. It feels horrible, I’m sure we could help each other through the confusion and fear that we all share, but I can’t take that risk. I try to justify my choice telling myself they’re going in the wrong direction but I know it’s just a lie to appease a selfish soul. I’ve spend the day trying not to be seen, trying not to be caught by whoever has caused the devastation that surrounds us and now I’m hiding from the others like me. I’m a good person, I believe in my heart that I’m running toward safety, but I only have room for me and her. Feet scurry by me, scraping the concrete, bodies low to the ground like me. Be small, don’t be a target and be quiet. I can make out three distinct voices from the whispers and my heart sinks when I realise they belong to children. I freeze at the wheelbase of the smouldering wreckage of what I assume was once a family car. Holding my breath and biting my tongue, desperately wanting to call out to the children. Wrestling with my conscious, run to her or help the children. Does it have to be a choice, can I do both? Why is it different to avoid an adult over a child, why do I feel the pangs of responsibility? Deep breaths, clear the confusion, find the resolve and keep moving. I can’t, I won’t and I shan’t, I’m a good person. I can do both, I’m running to protect an innocent, If I can’t abandon her, how can I abandon those innocents I find on the road. I turn toward the children, but all too late.
A shot echoes with a deafening crash as it hits the ground throwing a car spinning through the air. It’s like what I’d imagine of a grenade but way more powerful, a kinetic pulse that shook the ground below my feet and threw and pushed the abandoned vehicles aside. A crater was left in the concrete where it landed, the broken shards rained down clattering atop anything metal they landed on. Vision blurred, my head shaken and my ears ringing from the noise. The blast pushed the car I was hiding behind to the shoulder guard of the overpass. Pinned and discombobulated but hidden, I hope. The same can’t be said for the children, now exposed. The ringing in my ears is replaced by screams. Pleading and begging for mercy through tears. I push against the wreck that has me trapped, trying in vain to escape. I don’t even know what I’ll do when I get out, the adrenaline is spiking and I don’t know if it’s fight or flight. My hearts racing, I can feel the thumping hard against my chest as if it’s going to smash its way through my chest. It takes all my strength to push out enough space for me to slide under the care and free myself. The metal of the car scrapes against the shoulder guard but muffled by the wailing children. I manage to roll under the car just in time to watch the children fall, just in time for all noise to stop.
What could I have done? Tears flow uncontrollably down my face, my chest soar from being pinned but worse from holding back my despair. My body shakes violently at what I’ve just seen, I can’t make a sound, I can’t breathe, I’m still not safe. How could I have let this happen? Is there anything I could have done, could I have saved them if I had just spoken up earlier or would I have joined them lifeless on the concrete? The boots of the murderous aggressor thud upon the ground with purpose, stalking the road for more victims to slaughter. For me. From my vantage laid prone on the ground, underneath this wreck of a car, I can’t make out much of the figure that roams this road. The closer it gets to me, the more panicked I become. I have to control myself, if I don’t move maybe I have a chance. Each step the figure takes booms down on the concrete, there’s a metallic clank as it moves. From what I can see its head to toe in what I can only describe as armour. What protection could this beast possibly need from innocent children, what protection could it need from me? Yet there it stands in imposing oppression, bloodthirsty not yet sated by the horrific slaying of the defenceless children. The boots make their way closer to my hidden security till they’re close enough to touch. I look away, eyes facing down to the ground and closed tight. I can hear this terrifying unknown killer breathe, it seems calm, unlike me. Don’t breathe, don’t move, you can’t let yourself die, she needs you; is the mantra that repeats in my head, over and over willing myself not to break and not to whimper. I need to suppress every emotional reflex I have; I need to be as lifeless as the dead to survive.
Rumbling approaches, I feel the ground reverberate below me. A vehicle approaches getting the attention of the armoured aggressor. It crashes its way through the abandoned vehicles littering the road, throwing them aside with ease till it stops not far from where I hide. My stalker barely reacts sending a new wave of panic through my body. It’s more of them, I don’t even know who they are but there are more of them and they want me dead. Three sets of boots now batter the concrete walking over the road searching for anyone that might be there. I’ll never see her again. She’s all alone and she’ll never know what happened, she’ll never understand. I can’t accept this fate but something tells me I don’t have a choice. Tears flow once more through closed eyes, silently mourning my own death, grieving for the loss she’ll feel. Summoning whatever bravery I have left I allow myself to open my eyes and watch. They don’t communicate with one another, at least not verbally, mostly gesturing with their arms or weapons. They don’t appear interested in the wreck I’m hidden under; it doesn’t relieve the panic in my chest but maybe I’m being rewarded for my cowardice. Without speaking a word the figures gather around the bodies of the dead children, each taking one and returning to their vehicle. With no hint of care for the innocents slaughtered the children, they’re dragged by legs and arms, scraping along the concrete behind the murderous menaces. The eyes of the youngest child are still open in fright, no older than nine, her limp body bounces hitting the ground as her captor callously strides by. I can’t escape her lifeless gaze, it judges me. I could have been her saviour, but instead I was a selfish coward. The rumble of the vehicle grows quieter as it moves away into town. Where it’s taking the dead I can’t even begin to guess, but in its departure I let myself breathe.
Remaining motionless and frozen in fright, twenty minutes pass before I feel safe enough to move. I crawl from under the wreck and try to get to my feet. My body still trembles and my legs refuse to stand stable while I look towards the spot where the children’s bodies lay. All the emotions I suppressed hit me and my body reacts. My legs refuse to hold my weight and I drop to my knees. Drained of all energy and of tears all that’s left is to violently vomit before collapsing foetal on the concrete. Another ten minutes pass as I lay out exposed, my body choosing this moment to react to all the tragedy I’ve seen today. I tell myself I need to move but nothing seems to work. I’m not brave, all this posturing telling myself I’m heroic valiantly trying to get myself home to her is a lie. I’m selfishly looking after myself and the one I love the most. I could help but I give in to cowardice and reject the horrors we all share, a self-involved fool on a mission that doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending. Rolling to my back, I gaze upon the shapes in the sky and a question forms. What could you have done? The only reason you’re safe is because no-one knew you were there. Yes it’s a travesty that the children are dead but you’d be there with them and then what would happen to her. You have a job to do, yes it’s selfish but you’ll make up for that later. You’re not brave, neither are you a coward, the rules have changed. You need to survive, you need to run and you need to get to her. Pulling myself up against the wreck, steadying my feet, I don’t know If I’m lying to myself but I need to find the resolve to run that last stretch. Deep breaths, one step at time, mind the vomit and don’t stop running until you get to her.
Making my way around the outskirts of town, jumping between empty buildings there are no signs of life. It feels like a ghost town but I know the true danger lies at the centre. I can still hear the fire of weapons and the cries of the scared and wounded. It’s more than enough motivation not to delve any deeper into town. It’s a tentative stroll I take, I could normally get through in half the time but I’m being over cautious after what’s just happened. The ever present danger is serving as a good distraction keeping my mind off the images burned into my mind, the haunting lifeless gazes. I find no trouble along the way, no contact with anyone or anything else, but I still pause at the slightest hint of danger. It slows me, it frustrates me but I have to be careful, if not for me then for her. Soon I can retreat back into woodland, it’ll give me a little more security, I’ll be less exposed and almost home. I haven’t explored these woods for many years, not since I was a child. I know them well, I haven’t forgotten the way through. I may be taller and larger than I was as a child but it doesn’t pose as challenging as evading the merciless carnage that’s being inflicted on the towns and cities. The further I explore I’m reminded of youth, my friends and the games we played. The memories only serve to torture me as I trudge through the unkempt woodland. Remembering my own childhood I’m forced to grieve for the childhood of those I failed to help, I’m forced to contemplate the fate of my own childhood friends, my own family. I’ve been so caught up thinking about her, have I neglected the others in my life? I try to justify my complacency for their wellbeing by telling myself that they can look after themselves, they may have the same chances as I do, but she doesn’t. The only real difference is I know where she is, I don’t know where they are. We’re all as vulnerable as each other but if I can get to her and protect her, I won’t be alone.
My feet are sore, I’m quite confident they’re blistered despite in walking boots. My legs are stiff and my back aches. My chest is likely bruised and I’m very out of breath. My body needs to rest; I’ve been walking and running for hours and I’m so close to home, so close to her. It’s only now the fear hits me that she may not be there. The house might not even be there. I’ve no idea what awaits me, but I have to keep moving, she needs me even if I am broken and exhausted. Coming out from under the canopy, the sun has fallen in the sky. The horrors that came in the morning would now be living nightmares as the day darkens to dusk. The only sounds I hear are my beleaguered boots plodding on the ground and my laboured breathing. The sun draws shadows across the ground and across the walls as I sneak my way by the empty abandoned homes. Scaring myself with my own shadow, thinking I’m being followed I dart through unoccupied homes for a moment of safety. They appear ransacked but by who? Did the owners grab what they could and run? It would make sense but why not hide; it seems safe here, out of the way of the big towns and cities. Maybe I missed something earlier but the estate looks untouched. Was it hysterical frenzy that drove the people away or something more sinister? Will she have left too? There are far too many questions and not enough answers. Maybe there’ll never be answers and if I’m honest I’m not sure I care. In my exhaustion I’ve become more brazen. I follow my normal path home, no more clinging to the walls taking the long ways round. I just want to be there now, be with her and feel safe. I can see the house in the distance, from the outside nothing looks amiss. For all I can see no-one is home. For all the terrors I’ve ran from and horrors I’ve witnessed these last few steps are the worst. She has to be there.
I stand at the driveway, heart in my throat. I walk around the back of the house, the last vestige of a security conscious mind, if I go this way I won’t be seen. I’m sure if anyone had seen me they’d have made a move on me by now. I look to the window and see the inside as I left it, but she isn’t there. My hands are shaking; I can barely hold my keys let alone fit one into a lock. I’m not sure if it’s the fear, the exhaustion or general clumsiness. It’s probably a combination and it doesn’t help that I’m dreading opening this door. I’ve driven myself to be here and I’m not sure if I’ll be rewarded. The full weight of my body falls onto the handle as I collapse slowly inside. The door opens slowly as I cling to the handle; it barely makes a noise while I slip gently from handle to floor. I’m home and my body knows this, it wants its reward for being pushed so hard today. I go to call her name but no words escape. For all the time I’ve been walking there has been not a word utter except in my head. I lay on the floor, catching my breath, feeling a small sense of relief and security. I call her name again, this time only a cracked whisper. Dehydrated, the faucet above me but I choose to lay here, too broken to move. Once more I try and fail to make more than a guttural growl. Pulling my tired legs inside, beyond the threshold of the door I kick out to close it over. In an unthinking act of a drained mind the kick slams the door behind me, shaking the house. Anyone nearby would have heard, after all this effort, all this pain I risk my life at the finish line. Cursing my own utter stupidity, till I hear scuffling from the floor above.
There’s a scramble that’s a delight to my ears. A noise I’d began to think I’d never hear again. It’s her, there’s no-one else it could be. No-one else tears through the house like she does. I hear that rhythmic thudding on the stairs, she’s careful not to fall but excited to see if the noise is me. From that last step of the staircase to my side she races through each room to find me. I’m already in tears and I haven’t even seen her face. When she appears before me I crumble. She’s safe, she’s alive and she’s here. Face to face with me, as happy as I am that I’m home. I can’t begin to imagine the fear of her day, praying for me to come home and protect her. In this moment all fears all terrors melt away, we are together and we’re safe. She dances around me with boundless energy, I can’t prevent her affectionate attacks as a lay exhausted on the floor. She paws at my arms as I try to hold her close and licks any bit of exposed skin she finds, mostly my face. I don’t mind, it’s the best feeling in the world. She is the most important thing in my world. After today all I wanted to know, all I needed to know was that she was safe. She knows as much as I do about what actually happened today, but neither of us truly cares. In this moment we’re together. We can worry about the world tomorrow. For now I need to sleep, here on this floor, with my best friend beside me.