World of Radiation

Frightened Animal

Continued from ‘My Only Hope

The rumbling grows. It bangs against the other cars, intensifying the sound until it bashes against my eardrums, deafening me.

I clasp my hands over my ears. I try to block out the noise. I try to focus on my pounding heart, on trying to calm it, but it doesn’t listen. It beats rapidly. My chest aches as my body strives to fuel my heart.

The car growls. It snarls. It threatens to sniff me out like a hound hunting a fox in our metallic forest.

Exhaustion creeps in as I hunker against the car. It grabs my arms, willing them to drop to the ground. It weighs on my eyelids, trying to close them. It weighs on my attention, threatening to divert it from the problem at hand.

Gleeful shouting mingles with the cacophony as the car glides closer. A sickening crunch bites off the noise. But a wicked laugh splits the air as the car continues once more, its tires crunching over glass and metal.

Once more the car’s movement stops and instead of the impact of metal on metal, footsteps resound on the pavement.

My heart leaps. Slipping my hands from my ears, I flatten myself against the debris-covered ground and glance under the car hiding me. Three sets of feet wander among the abandoned wreckage. Slow as they move, their paths aren’t methodical. I’m not sure if that eases my anxiety or makes me more nervous. Who are these people? What do they want? Are they looking for me?

One set heads in my direction.

With my hands pressed against the asphalt, I flatten onto my stomach and slide under the car. Protruding metal snags on my back. It sheers through my shirt and digs into my skin, biting through the flesh.

Pain manifests in a gasp. I bite my lip as the feet stop nearby. They make no sound. I make no sound. Only the running engine fills the silence between us. That is, until a different set of footsteps crunches glass behind me.

I yank my head around. The tiny space under the car gives me little room to maneuver and I can’t see who the steps belong to, but they shuffle again. The sound echoes behind me. It rattles up underneath the car, quickening my breath once more.

As silently as I can, I shift my body the rest of the way under the car. My hands clench by my shoulders. My neck angles to peer out from under the car as the footsteps continue to scuttle about.

One of them appears next to my car. So close that I back away. My foot knocks into something metallic, sending it tumbling out from under the car with enough noise to wake the dead. Once more the feet stop. Once more I hold my breath. Please go away.

The feet round the end of the car. A hand appears, clasping around the metal can I kicked before vanishing once more out of sight. The other two meet the first. All three stand facing each other, saying not a word while tears threaten to spill down my cheeks.

A horn honks. Air expels from my lungs in audible surprise before I can clasp my hands over my mouth.

“Come on!” Someone shouts. “We don’t have all day.”

“I could’ve sworn I saw someone,” a man grumbles from the end of the car, one of the three sets of feet.

My eyes widen. They saw me! They know I’m here!

“Meh,” another returns. “Let’s go. This place is a trash heap.” The metal can clanks against the asphalt as one of the men drops it, their feet moving back towards the car.

I watch them until the angle becomes too difficult for my neck to bear. Only then do I rest my head against the pavement. Shudders rack through my body even as I keep my hands over my mouth to stifle my sobs. How am I going to survive out here?

The car grumbles as if someone’s stepped on the accelerator. It speeds across the bridge, abandoning its previous slow pace for a hurried one. The sound shifts as the wavelengths lengthen. I can’t tell how far away it is, but it sounds far enough and I have to get moving. I can’t stay here. What if they come back? What if someone else arrives?

With shaking hands, I brace myself on the pavement. I slide across the asphalt. The sun tantalizes me with warmth at the edge of the car, but I stop. What if I just stay here?

I gaze at the dwindling light just out of my reach and the fake security it offers. The sun won’t protect me. Derek’s likely dead. I haven’t eaten all day. My body screams to just lay down and go to sleep. Maybe I’d be safe under here for the night. Maybe I could regroup in the morning. Maybe… just for now…

I press my cheek into the cool, shadowed pavement. Something about it brings me peace. It calms my anxiety. It clears my mind. It calls to me to relax and sleep. Just for a little bit.

The muscles in my arms relax as I settle them by my sides, letting exhaustion finally take hold.

Something clasps around my ankle and yanks me out from under the car. My head smacks against the metal under body. My hands flail to grab something, to stop the sudden movement, to stay under the safety of the car, and I scream. My voice, high-pitched and panicked, sounds nothing like me. Rather it sounds like a cornered, frightened animal.

Next Installment: Mercy

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