Continued from ‘Man, Woman, Makes no Difference‘
An eternity passes before Mal lets her gaze leave mine, like she’s not sure whether to believe me or trust me or whatever it is that she’s looking for. Yet, when she does draw away, “fine” is all she says. She turns from me and descends the stairs once more.
Car takes a moment longer, glaring at me. But she, too, concedes.
With no one barring our path, Lea gestures for me to continue down the staircase. Despite my hesitation, I follow. I can’t say I trust these girls, much less like them, but they did save my life. They are taking care of me. And even with Mal’s hostility, I believe her when she says she wants to keep me safe. At least… until she found out I was from the theater.
What is going on at the theater? Did Derek make it? Is he waiting for me?
I don’t know why I still feel the need to meet him at the theater. At first it was for his protection. But who knows if he is even there and I’m already safe with these girls. So, why do I still want to go?
At the base of the stairs, Mal cracks the door open. It resists with an ugly screech, sounding more like a warning siren in the silence that consumes the five of us. Hesitating until the quiet returns, she pokes her head out.
Patience has never been one of my strong suits and I shift from foot to foot while waiting for Mal to do… whatever it is she’s doing.
“All clear,” she whispers. The door groans again as she opens it further and slips out, the four of us following her into a narrow alley way.
“All clear?” I ask Lea as she follows me out and closes the door behind her.
Her deep brown eyes meet mine, a darkness hovering within them. “You never know when someone’ll be waiting just beyond the door to attack.”
My brows furrow in confusion. “Things haven’t really gotten that bad, have they?” My fingers twitch with anxiety at the prospect of being attacked just for stepping out of a building.
The seriousness gripping Lea’s expression is all the answer I need. People really do get attacked, anywhere and any time.
My heart speeds up. I do my best to appear calm, though. The four girls around me seem far more at ease about the whole situation than I think I could ever be, Mal in particular.
In fact, she rather seems to embody this lifestyle as she stalks along in the shadows, heading for the end of the alley. A dash of early morning sunlight illuminates the opening.
I long to rush for it, to stand in the light, to feel the security it offers, but I remain between Car and Lea. We slink along the wall, pausing just before the light.
Once more Mal creeps ahead of us. She pokes her head out around the corner, glancing one way and then the other. Behind her, Car and the other girl stand erect. Their hands hang at their sides as if ready to fight and their shoulders seem to strain with the tension residing in them. The two girls watch Mal’s back like they mean to snatch it off her body.
“How many times are we going to stop and check?” I hiss to Lea, who also concentrates on Mal ahead of us.
Without taking her eyes off their leader, she answers, “as many times as we have to.” It seems to take a great deal of effort for Lea to avert her attention from the brunette at the head of the group, but she does. She focuses on me. “It may seem absurd, or overly cautious, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
The cliche causes me to laugh despite myself. A quiet, muffled laugh, but a laugh nonetheless. It’s stupid really. I shouldn’t be laughing, but I can’t help myself. “It sounds like something one would say about some extra studying before an exam.”
Lea’s pale eyebrows scrunch together, obviously not as amused by the cliche. “Yeah, but your exam won’t kidnap, rape, or murder you if you choose not to study.”
I swallow my smile and blink at Lea, waiting for her to crack a smile herself. She doesn’t. She remains as stoic as before, as serious as ever. I can only nod in response.
“Alright. Let’s go,” Mal instructs from her spot on the corner. She waves a hand as if calling us forward while still glancing around the street.
In a single-file line, like we’re children at the end of recess, the four of us stride forward. Though, it’s more a careful, tedious walk than anything. Car and the other girl hunch their shoulders as they step into the light, bending their knees as if preparing to run.
When the light hits me, I understand why. The security I once thought the sun offered, is a lie. The sun may offer life, but in this new world where you need to stay hidden, it’s like a spotlight, signaling your location. More importantly, it reveals the world we live in.
Mal meets my gaze as I approach her. Her light blue eyes pierce into me, watching me, judging me, waiting for me to do something. What? I don’t know, but it’s obvious she doesn’t trust me and her attention makes me nervous.
I duck my head away and round the corner. Out in the street, though, my progress halts and I stand frozen on the sidewalk, gaping at the chaos in front of me.
Cars lay strewn about the street. Some butt up against each other with smashed hoods and crushed doors. All of them lack windows. Broken glass decorates the street, the sunlight glinting off it like stars in the night sky. Faint and abundant. Yet, among those stars are black holes, large and vacant of stars: bodies.
Dozens of people decay on the pavement. Their naked flesh is exposed to the world, their bodies having been removed of all clothing, all decoration, everything except for the tattoos embedded into their skin. Some of them even lack shape. Their necks angle in every direction. Their limbs splay about them. Dried blood paints their bodies and the asphalt around them, adding another layer of black to this already darkened world.
“Come on,” someone whispers. A hand nudges at my arm.
I don’t respond. I don’t look to see who it is, but I let them guide me along the street of death. Somehow my feet move of their own accord, even as my mind remains on the grotesque scene that looks more like something out of a war movie than out of my life.
Next Installment: We Need a Favor