Chernila #1 - June - Summer

Sunburn

Diego Magallona

"It's fine. We don't need to change. We're fine. The planet will survive. Climate change happens all the time. I can't believe the old population of the Earth believed that crap. Well, they did believe it, until the ozone faded away and most of them died. Now the world has 1 season: Summer. During the day, the land is scorched by the full power of the sun's rays, and at night, the world changes again. The night is dark and freezing cold. Someone once asked me before we lived like this, 'which would you prefer: boiling hot or freezing cold?' Now that I've experienced both, I have a good answer: 'I'd rather die.' But why am I still alive? Something in my subconscious wants me to survive. I've lived like this for 20 years, scavenging for food, trying to grow plants, looking for water, and I still can't get used to it. No one can. There are no signs of organized society anywhere."

This group of survivors was lucky. They live in a bunker, deep underground, shielded from the sun's unforgiving heat above, with a working generator to give them power and warmth for the night. Other than shelter, the bunker had a water purifier, but where was the water?

The time was now 7:30 PM. The bunker's primary pressure opened with a hiss of gas as the door split open. All the survivors who were in front of the door could feel the intense heat of the outside, even if they were underground. "Damn it, close that door! I'm getting roasted!" a man exclaimed. From the door walked two men wearing Hazmat suits modified with refrigeration systems, carrying sacks on their backs. They closed the door, and everyone was relieved. One of the hunters removed his helmet to reveal a middle-aged man with dark brown eyes, short hair, and a five-o-clock shadow "Hey, Cherry! Guess what's for dinner!" A young woman with red hair, and light red eyes, turned to the man, with an annoyed face, and replied, "It better not be snake meat again; I'm sick of snake meat."

"Well, you're in luck, Cherry. We couldn't catch snake today, but we got something better!"

"REALLY?" she replied. "That's right! Gecko meat!"

With that, everyone in the bunker who heard him, moaned and groaned with distaste.

"Damn it; that's worse!"

"Well, we found something better; I need to talk to David about it."

The man went down a few flights of stairs to the lowest level of the Bunker and into the office of David.

"Talking to yourself again, old man?" said the man.

David turned his chair around and said, "No, Shawn. I'm just making another video log. Anyway, what is it? I can tell we're having Gecko based on all the groaning upstairs."

Shawn smiled. "Well, it's about the water problem. You know we ran out a day ago, so we hunted in a different area today."

"And?"

"And we saw a city: an old city. It's dead, though. Ruined, destroyed, but that city's our best chance at finding water."

David raised his eyebrow, and put his fingers on his chin to think. "Hmmm. How far away is it?"

"I'd say…a 4 and a half hour hike from here." Shawn replied.

"What resistance should we expect?"

"Wild animals, I guess. Though I suggest we prepare for more organized human resistance."

"Indeed. I have a feeling there are survivors there, and they won't be happy about sharing water. But are you sure you want to risk this? It'll take probably 11 hours, but that's if you scavenge for 2 hours only. If you take too long, you'll all have skin cancer by the time you get back, assuming the sun doesn't fry your skin off first."

Shawn breathed for a moment, and then said, "We have to risk it. It's either you risk a few men to get water, or you let all of us die of thirst."

"Alright, but I'm coming with you. We move at sunset tomorrow."

The next day, 6 brave souls prepared for their mission. David was the leader of the group, Shawn was the best hunter, Cherry was the fastest runner, Ike was the combat specialist, while Vance and Kyle were the carriers, they could carry the most water.

Before sunset, they readied 8 Jerrycans, 3 assault rifles, 2 shotguns, a sniper rifle, ammunition, grenades, machetes, radios, night vision binoculars, night vision goggles, and what water they had left. They wore gear to keep them warm during the night and protect them for a short time from the sun's UV rays.

At 6:30 PM, they opened the bunker doors, climbed the staircase, opened another set of doors, and were greeted by a setting sun. The 6 began their march.

Ike told the group, "Almost forgot that it's summer. We have 10 hours before the sun rises. We need to double time it."

With that, the group increased their pace.

Taking a break, Cherry, the youngest in the group, who never experienced summer before the world turned into hell, asked Ike, "You said it was summer? Tell me again, what summer was like before the Earth became…like this?"

"It's been so long, Cherry…but like I said before: Sunflowers. Fields of Sunflowers on the green grass. Back when the Sun gave life. Ahh, but those days are over. The sun is only a killer now."

"I remember the beach," said Shawn, "back when sand was enjoyable, and when there was enough water to swim in."

"The best memories of summer for me…food. I wish I could have some beef again," David told them.

After 2 hours, they slowed down a bit. Shawn went ahead, and stopped.

"Lady and Gentlemen, welcome to the city."

Ahead the six saw it: an expansive, ruined, deteriorating city. But something was wrong. There were lights on.

"Why are there lights in there? Shit! That means we're gonna have company!" Vance said worriedly.

David shut him up, "Quiet! Yeah, there are lights. That means people live there, and THAT means they have WATER. So, let's go."

Ike then expressed his concern, "David, I don't think these guys will want to share their water. It looks like there's a lot of them down there."

"We'll move in quietly and try to steal what we can. If we get caught, well…that's what the guns are for." David replied

The six reached the outskirts of the city. They saw lanterns and fires deeper in the city.

"Split up," David instructed them, "I'll go with Shawn. Cherry, you go with Vance. Kyle, you're with Ike."

David and Shawn moved to a more open square in the city. David saw an old skyscraper with a good vantage point of the open area. "Shawn, set up the sniper up there. I'll have a look around."

Shawn nodded and went up to the top of the building, where a large part of the building's roof was destroyed, giving him a good vantage point of a large part of the city.

Cherry and Vance walked along a road filled with debris, and came across a fell water tower.

"Cherry," Vance said, "Think there's water in this?"

"Let's find out," Cherry replied, as she took her machete out and stabbed the water tower. She pulled it out, and old, greenish water poured out from the hole she made. "There."

"Euugh! That looks disgusting!" Vance exclaimed. "That's what the water purifier is for, Vance. Hurry, put the Jerrycan over there before it empties." The two began filling their Jerrycans with water.

Ike and Kyle, on the other hand, risked going through the maze of debris inside the ruins of buildings. Kyle stumbled on an old water pump. "Hey, hold on, I found a water pump!"

Ike then told him, "Yeah, here, take my Jerrycan. Let me take a look at those fires." Ike leaned on what was left of a building's wall. He peeked over the side to get a glimpse of the figures dancing around the fire. He saw men, wearing only pants and masks of the sun, with some of them wearing backpacks. They were dancing around the fire, doing some sort of ritual, uttering from their mouths either gibberish, or some new gibberish-sounding guttural language. One of the 'tribesmen,' wearing a more ornate sun-mask, brought a tied up tribesman to a platform, uttered more gibberish whilst pointing at the sky, then slit the throat of the tied-up tribesman.

"Shit…" Ike whispered to himself. Ike went further away from the tribe, and radioed everyone in the group, "Guys, it's Ike. We'd best not disturb the locals. They're a goddamn gibberish-speaking tribe that worships the sun. I just saw one of their rituals. It looks like they were trying to please the 'sun-god' or something."

David radioed back, "What kind of weapons are they packing?" to which Ike replied, "Makeshift swords, spears, bows and arrows, oh, and it gets better: vintage rifles and shotguns."

"How many?"

"I'd say…a few hundred; should be fun until we run out of ammo."

After a few seconds, David replied, "No. Don't do anything stupid. We're here for the water. We fill our cans, meet up, and get back before sunrise."

"Yes, sir."

Another hour passed.

Shawn impatiently watched the city from the top of the old building. He peeked down to see that some tribesmen gathered on the square outside his building. "David, where are you?" he asked on the radio.

"I'm fine, but I can see you aren't. Think you can get down and out before getting noticed?"

"I don't know. There's a lot of them down there." David thought for a moment, and then replied, "Try to go down, if you're noticed, I'll create a distraction. We've got night vision; they don't."

Shawn picked up his Sniper rifle to start moving, but his foot slipped and some debris fell off the building, and onto the head of one of the tribesmen. Now all hell broke loose.

The tribesmen around the one that got hit began shouting wildly and firing blindly at the building. David popped out from a wall and took crack shots at the tribesmen. Three of them were hit and dropped dead. This further enraged the tribesmen, who screamed and shouted loud enough for most of the city to hear.

Cherry and Vance finished filling their cans with water, strapped the cans to their backs, while Vance used both of his hands to carry two extra Jerrycans. They rushed to the source of the gunfire.

Ike and Kyle stayed hidden while filling their cans. "David! You guys attracted the whole tribe! They're all running to you!"

"Any chance you could stop by and help us?"

"Yeah, let me fill my cans first."

Gunfire, shouting, and death engulfed the city square. David, Cherry, and Vance regrouped, while Shawn was still stuck in the tower, using his sniper to kill tribesmen that looked important.

"FLARE!" shouted Vance. A tribesman pointed a flaregun in the air and fired a flare to illuminate the city square. The tribesmen saw Shawn in his sniper nest, and the three hiding behind windows. The swordsmen charged at the three, but were cut down by Cherry, David, and Vance's combined fire. Now arrows started flying towards them. "Cherry, Vance! Go that way! I'll go this way and meet up with Ike and Kyle!"

Shawn picked off two more tribal leaders, not noticing a tribesman sneaking up on him. The tribesman impaled him with a spear and pushed his body off the top of the building as the flare died out and engulfed the city in darkness again.

Two swordsmen were chasing David. David jumped over a pile of debris, and one swordsman followed, only to be sliced in the gut by Ike's machete. The other jumped in as well, thinking his fellow tribesman struck David, only to be greeted by Ike, who also made short work of the swordsman. "Let's go get the others." The three ran back to the square, where they found the two they left behind running towards them: Cherry, holding both the auto-shotgun and an assault rifle, firing wildly at the tribesmen, while Vance was running, carrying two Jerry Cans with his arms and one on his back. Ike and Kyle fired their guns to cover them. Swordsmen got close to Ike, and Ike blocked a sword slash with his gun. He pulled out his machete and killed two swordsmen before being hit by an arrow and sword to the shoulder.

"Ike! No!" Kyle shouted as he killed the tribesmen around Ike's body with his shotgun. "We can't save him! Take his Jerry-can and go!" said David. Kyle dropped his gun and picked up the jerry-can that was strapped to Ike's back, and Kyle carried it with his hands. "Let's go! Let's go!"

The four ran, and the tribesmen fired another flare into the sky. The David, Kyle, Vance, and Cherry stopped running. They were surrounded. Hundreds of tribesmen pointed their weapons at the four.

Just then, a tribesman came running and appeared at the top of a building, worriedly shouting gibberish at the other tribesmen. With his shouting, all the tribesmen ran away, looking for shelter, leaving the four alone on the city square.

The four were speechless, and confused, then David noticed the sky brightening.

"The Sun!" With that, the four ran as fast as they could, though they were being weighed down by the jerry-cans filled with water. They moved for two hours, and then the sun began rising on the horizon.

"Pick up the pace! We can make it! Run!"

The adrenaline kept them going, despite the fact that their whole bodies were aching from running non-stop, carrying cans filled with water, and the sun's rays beginning to burn their skin.

Just a little more…they just had to keep going, but Sol was unforgiving. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the temperature increased for the four, but they just kept running, even if there was no more moisture in their mouths, no more liquid to create sweat. They were burning up.

David, with whatever energy and willpower he had left, took out the radio, and shouted on the open channel, "ELEVATOR! NOW!" as he fell to the ground.

The sand in front of the four began to shift, and a metallic door opened up. An elevator platform rose from the hole in the earth, with five survivors wearing cool-suits on it. They ran to Cherry, Vance, Kyle, and David, to find all but Cherry dead; lying down on the hot sand, being burned alive by the full power of the sun's rays. The five took the Jerry cans then left the bodies out in the sand. They made their sacrifice. They saved the survivor group, for now. But there was nothing they could do for Cherry. If they brought her back in, she would die a slow painful death from skin cancer and severe burns. As Cherry lay dying under the hot sun, the only thing she could think of was the question she asked Ike at this very same spot 11 hours ago:

"Tell me again, what was summer like before this?"

"Sunflowers. Fields of sunflowers. Back when the sun gave life."