Never Knows Best
It wasn't a word. It was a feeling. Her feet itched and her mind screamed at her. "Run! Run!" She didn't know why. Something was after her, something terrifying. She couldn't let it catch her; she had to run away.
The dreams were coming more frequently now, more fiercely. Every night she woke up bathed in sweat but she couldn't remember why. All she knew was that she had to keep running. If she didn't they would catch her. And then something terrible would happen. She didn't want to find out what it was.
Don't let them catch you.
The feelings came during the day now too. She was standing all alone on a crowded corner, her eyes never ceasing in their nervous movement although her body was still. Anyone could be one of them, one of the Hunters. They would find her, and they would catch her, and that would be the end.
She started walking when the light changed. Her eyes followed every even remotely suspicious person but she didn't stop. She could never stop. Her feet carried her to the nearest drug store, where she grabbed a basket and started wandering through the aisles. 'Take only what you need.' She told herself. 'It's alright, you can do this. You will be forgiven. You don't have a choice.' That seemed to be her favourite mantra, 'you don't have a choice.' And wasn't it true? She had no money, but she was desperate. She chuckled when she thought that two weeks ago she never would have even considered shoplifting. But lately she had become a thief; lately she was becoming a lot of things.
But she was nervous. It was her first time trying it since her mother…God, how long ago was that? Had it really only been three days? Her mother had been having the dreams too; she got the feelings like she did. After the Hunters found them the first time they ran. They'd been running ever since. That was only two weeks ago. Were they really all gone? She'd never felt so alone in her life.
Behind her, a TV played news coverage of the latest terrorist bombings. They'd hit the Olympics in Athens a few months ago. Hundreds of thousands of people were dead. A hurricane in Japan destroyed most of the island country, and the countries of northern Africa were suffering the worst drought in history. Thousands died of dehydration every day. And still the feelings told her 'something worse is coming'.
She grabbed a bottle of shampoo and a couple of sticks of deodorant from the shelves and moved on. She found herself looking at rows and rows of Tylenol. She grabbed several bottles, and then two boxes of tampons. No…better make it three. She found a few other odds and ends, a razor, shaving cream, bandages and a new toothbrush, a tube of minty toothpaste with whitening. They were all little things that she had taken for granted before it all started. She stared at the other people in the store, wondering how they could all carry on as they were, like nothing was wrong. Like the world wasn't falling into disarray. Was she the only one who had the feelings?
Someone's watching you.
She swung her head around, looking for anything out of the ordinary. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She looked for the person who was watching her, but no one met her eye. No one even seemed to notice her. She looked back down to her basket and added a few bags of Doritos and a bottle of Dr Pepper. The feeling persisted.
Someone's watching you.
The wire basket shook in her hands; was the lady at the checkout watching her? She was, but that wasn't why she had the feeling. There was someone else, someone who didn't just suspect her of shoplifting. Someone who knew what she was. She could tell. But what was she? That she wasn't so sure of. All she knew was that she was different from all these people.
Someone's watching you!
The feeling shouted at her, screaming at her to run, to get away. But she couldn't be suspicious. She would have to be smart about getting away. If only she knew who it was! There weren't many people in the store. A lady with a baby, and old man buying Viagra, a teenage boy flipping through magazines and a frumpy woman with an armload of junk food.
She stopped near the checkout counter, setting her basket down at her feet and leaning over as if to tie her shoe. A part of her thought that her mother would grab the basket from beside her and take off, clearing her of any suspicion as she chased after her. They would toss the basket back and forth, avoid the security and the police and rendezvous back at their cheap hotel room downtown. But in her heart she knew that her mother wasn't coming; her mother was dead, like the rest of them.
Then, with a flash of flesh and dirty jeans, the basket disappeared from her side with the accompanying sound of clambering footsteps. She looked up as her heart went a flutter. "Mom…?" She croaked. But it wasn't her mother. It was a real thief, the boy who had been reading the magazines. Was he the one who had been watching her? The feelings had shifted. Now it was wailing at her:
Run! Chase him! Go!
She didn't waste any time as she sprung to her feet and sprinted after the boy. Her legs and lungs were strong from frequent feats such as this, so she kept sight of him easily. He made sharp and sudden turns, as if trying to lose her, but she still followed. He never looked back, but he never stopped running, and he never slowed. They cut in and out of buildings, knocking over shoppers, jumping over baby carriages and dodging little old ladies with walkers and canes. At one point the boy actually sprinted through a busy intersection, sliding over the hoods of cars to escape being hit. She followed him easily, climbing over cars if need be to catch up with him.
They had reached the part of downtown that was practically abandoned, with the streets littered with homeless and druggies. She didn't care; she'd been spending a lot of time there recently. She followed the boy into an old warehouse, in the process of being torn down. It was there that she lost him, if only for a moment. She stepped into the darkened building and searched for him frantically.
You have to find him! You must!
Then she heard the clatter of footsteps to her right and was off in a flash in their direction. She caught a fleeting sight of him as he climbed the rickety old steps. A few stairs were missing but she jumped them easily. They had climbed up nearly eight flights of stairs before they stopped. The boy stumbled onto the empty floor, gasping to catch his breath. She came up behind him and stopped as well. It was like they'd had some kind of understanding. Neither one would run anymore, they were both too tired. The feelings were silent.
The boy dropped the basket and turned to face her. He was tall and lanky, but surprisingly fast considering how thin he was. She could tell that it was not only his build but also that he was malnourished. He was probably some street brat, like her. His hair was long and greasy, dark brown and stringy. He had a sharp, hawk-like nose and large brown eyes. His chin was overgrown with the beginnings of a beard, a result of not shaving for several days. She herself had not shaved in weeks.
His jeans were torn up at the knees, and his black T-shirt was ripped at the hem and under the right arm. Everything was stained with dirt, and his formerly white shoes were blackened with dried mud. There was a hole in one toe, and a hole in the dirty sock underneath, and the big toe that was revealed was starting to blister.
She spoke first. "Who are you?"
He paused as he stared at her, leaning over on his knees while he caught his breath. "I'm like you," He said finally, breathless even still.
"What do you mean?" Like her, how was it possible? How could he know…did he have the dreams too? The feelings?
"You know what I mean," He answered enigmatically.
She decided to try a different approach. "Why did you take my things?"
He shrugged, "I figured you were going to try to steal them. I thought you might appreciate some help. You looked rather nervous and these things always work better in pairs, don't you think?"
She nodded slowly, still unsure of what to make of the boy. The feelings were quiet, so she was on her own. He met her gaze easily and stared, as if trying to decide the same thing about her.
"You are one of the Chosen, aren't you?" He continued. "I could feel it on you as soon as you walked in. But it's simpler than that. Your eyes give you away. Only the Chosen look like that, the perpetual look of a deer caught in the headlights."
"You're talking about the feelings." She said softly, looking down at her feet.
"Is that what you call them?"
She nodded again, "And the dreams." She whispered. The feelings always told her to keep quiet about the dreams, about being different. And they were so strong that she obeyed them, talking about it only with her mother.
"Have you seen the end yet?" The boy asked, just as quietly.
He looked pained, "Don't worry, you will."