Number 64 – Multitasking - Exodus

The world was crumpling, burning. In every direction all she could see was smoke and flame. She could hear her pulse thumping as blood rushed through her body. Skidding, she threw herself off the path and down under the bushes.

Her breathing was heavy, but behind she could hear them coming after her. Their heavy boots pounded on the pavements as she bit down on her lower lip, closing her eyes as she tried to stop making any sound at all. Somewhere, back in the city, was her family. Probably dead by now. Somewhere ahead of her was freedom, and him. She clasped her hands together, listening to the boots on the path.

They stopped nearby.

"Where the fuck did she go?"

She was no threat. She was not infected; she had never spoken up against Amaris. With her family, she had simply…lived. Breathed. Worked. Did what they had to do.

The night he said he was leaving, he had begged her to come with him.

"They'll come for us," he had said. "All of us. One by one. And they will destroy everything."

He had given her only vague directions to where he was going, but she knew that if she followed them, they would lead to him. Eventually. Somehow.

She had to have faith in that.

The girl crawled back, slowly inching under the bush. She could hear the men moving about, looking for her, as she used her elbows to crawl.

Finally, she was out on the other side. The ground had shifted downwards, hiding her almost completely from their view. But she remained as low to the ground as possible, moving soldier style through the grass. She twisted her body to remain parallel to the path, shifting herself forward slowly, stopping every few moments to listen out for the agents.

When she couldn't hear them, she got to her feet and ran, wishing for the first time ever that she was infected, that she shared the ability to run faster than anything else on the planet.

X X X

"How are you even doing that?"

"Doing what?"

"Drawing and talking to me at the same time."

She glanced up from the page, grinning at him. He stood in the doorway of the kitchen, arms folded and a single eyebrow raised. Her parents were out hunting, her little sister was upstairs playing with some dolls they had found, and her older brother was…well, she didn't know.

"Women are good at it," she replied, dipping her head and continuing with her sketch. "We can do more than one thing at one time. Mum says women are the masters of multitasking."

Sam was not the kind of boy she would have imagined liking, not in a million years. She had always pictured some handsome, clean man sweeping into the house, wooing her and charming her parents. He would have a car, she had decided. A rarity, magical, mystical. His eyes would be bright and clear and his smile would knock anyone off their feet.

She pictured someone like the Prince Charming in Cinderella or Snow White. Someone like the beast, in human form. Intelligence had not really crossed her mind. Her mother had rigged up an old video player – she never said where she found it – somehow, and found a pile of old videos with it, too. They had spent afternoons watching century and a half old films, until her brother and father found the old Blu Ray player and they watched films that were merely a century old, instead.

Sam had crashed into her life. Literally. He'd been on a motorbike roaring down the street and shooting blindly behind him. Swerving, he'd crashed into a wall. The sound had drawn her father out, who raised his shotgun and picked off the infected stumbling down the street one by one.

Amaris and the collective efforts of the survivors had wiped most of the worst of the infected out, but there were still pockets out there, and there was always the chance of stumbling too close to a nest and getting infected yourself. She'd figured at the time that he had been stupid; he'd ridden the bike too close to a nest and got them all riled up.

She'd been right.

With her mother, she had gone outside the help the boy. They'd dragged him in and he'd laughed, his hair as wild as his eyes. Dark brown, almost black, and his eyes dark deep blue. His chin had been covered in stubble. Nothing like the man of her dreams.

But when he turned those eyes on her, the laughter dying on his lips, her stomach had done flip flops. Her father stormed in, yelling at the boy.

"You stupid fucking idiot!"

"Charles!" her mother snapped. "Don't swear!"

He gaped, looked at his daughter, and slammed his mouth shut.

Her mother refused to let the boy go until he was all fixed up, and when she said he could say, well, he just did. Sometimes she thought it was because of her, at others she thought he'd done it just to piss off her father.

"Seriously. It's impressive. I can't do different shit at the same time."

She grinned, glancing up at him again. If her father had heard him swear, and in front of her no less, there'd be hell to pay.

He managed to piss her father off more times a day than she could count. Yet it was always in a way that made the rest of the family laugh. Plus, well, they all agreed Daddy dearest needed reminding, sometimes, that he was only human.

"That's because you're a man."

"Sexist."

She poked her tongue out. He walked towards her, looking over her shoulder at the drawing.

"Is that me?" He pointed at the figure in the middle, back to them, wearing a dark leather jacket and carrying an axe over his shoulder. In the foreground was a motorbike. Ahead, a simple street scene and, at the edges of the page, shadows and shapes reaching out for the boy.

"Maybe."

"Well, it has to be, right?" He pointed at the houses. "And that's the street. I can see the wall I crashed into. Those are infected, right?"

"Yeah."

"You're good." He squeezed her shoulder, kissed her cheek, and kept his lips near her ear. "Like really good. But you should draw something happy."

"This is happy," she replied, filling in some of the detail on the bike. "It's the day we met. The day you came into our lives."

X X X

Too wrapped up in his leaving, she hadn't noticed when they arrived. They came silently, in the middle of the night, and set fire to every building in the area.

When she'd woken, it was to hear a voice speaking over the whole town.

"This area has been infected. Destruction is the only cure."

Her brother had dragged her from her bed, pulled her down the stairs and pushed her out the back door.

"Go!" he'd yelled.

"What about…"

"I'll get them!" he snapped. "Just go, all right? We'll meet you in the woods."

He shut the door, locked it so she couldn't get back in.

They had spotted her as she went over the crest of the hill. She hadn't seen them, just heard the gunshots, and ran even faster.

Like the rabbit in the song her mother used to sing to her as a kid.

Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run. Don't give the farmer his fun, fun, fun…

She'd hit the woods, came out the other side and had delved off the path into the under bush. Now, she was back on her feet, her mind tumbling, drawing up every word Sam had ever said about the place he had finally headed to.

She had never thought Amaris would come after them. Never had it crossed her mind that they wouldn't target those who weren't infected.

She ran until the sun began to dip below the sky, and night took over.

You should draw something happy.

When she was little, when she had heard the word Amaris but didn't know what it meant, she had drawn happy things. Fields with a big shining sun, bunny rabbits – only seen in picture books – frolicking in the grass. She drew deer and dogs and cats and…

And then he had appeared and she had drawn him, because Sam was happiness. Sam was a big, grinning idiot who only had to say one word to make her smile.

She wrapped her arms around herself, glancing over her shoulder at the path behind. The agents weren't in sight, but that didn't mean she was safe. The town was still burning, plumes of smoke rising thick into the sky.

Turning her back on it, she carried on walking.

X X X

Her mind didn't shut up, not even when tiredness attacked every inch of her. Not even when she stumbled, falling to her knees. She could have bet Sam hadn't had thoughts running around his head as he walked. Once he had his mind set, that was it. There would only be one thing filling his head.

But she couldn't focus on just walking.

She couldn't stop her thoughts from dragging up her parents, her siblings and Sam. Couldn't stop wondering how many other people had perished in the flames.

They rarely saw the others, but they were there. Somewhere. There had been signs, small things that pointed to more than just themselves in the small town. When they did see others, they just smiled, said hi or good morning or good evening, before carrying on their own way.

Sam had said they were anti-social.

Her father had said they were scared.

Now they were just dead, and she would never get to know the young couple, the woman with the wide eyes who never smiled, with the man who smiled too much. The woman in her forties who jogged, sometimes, in the early morning. She used to creep out of bed at sunrise, just to sit at the window and watch her go past. The man who was constantly looking over his shoulder.

They had lived and breathed alongside them and they had never even got to know their names.

In another life, another time, she could have grown up without the knowledge that death was around every corner. She might have played with other children her age, rather than running back to her parents at the sight of every stranger. She might have been an artist. People could have paid to see her work and marvelled at what a talent she was.

The possibilities of that other world were endless.

There was only one certainty.

In that world, where she smiled every day and people offered money for her to do what she loved doing, she would never have met Sam.

She wouldn't have been running away from a burning town, either.

Not that she was running any more, but the idea was the same.

She glanced over her shoulder, scared she would see the dark figures following. But there was nothing. Just silence. Emptiness. And smoke.

X X X

Three days later, she saw the camp. Amaris agents must have never crossed near it, or she was sure it wouldn't be there. There was a flag, white with a black silhouette of a girl's head, hair just past her shoulders and cat ears on her head.

A legend; a mythical figure none of them were sure even existed anymore.

Sam had spoken of her, had told her of how The Black Cat almost brought down Amaris. Almost.

She had driven Amaris from a Welsh city. She had led the infected there to freedom. According to myth. Well, according to Sam, anyway.

The way he told it, they lived happily for a while. A doctor there had recognised symptoms of cancer in some of the infected, and tried to treat it. But without the necessary medications and machines to treat it effectively, his success rate was low.

The Cat died, and Amaris laid the city to waste.

But her name, and her story, lived on. Barely a decade later, Amaris had taken over the whole country, combed every inch of it for the infected.

Some escaped.

And, Sam told her, lived in camps like the one he had been heading to when he crashed.

"Why do you want to go there?" she had asked. "You're not infected."

"Because what Amaris are doing is evil," he'd replied. "Because there's something wrong if we just sit back and let it happen because we think it won't affect us."

They all tried to follow what they thought The Cat had taught them. Protect others weaker than yourself. Stand up for what you believe in.

And (Sam's own words and his personal favourite) fuck Amaris, left right and centre, as much as was humanly possible.

It took her another half a day to reach the flag. Her mouth was dry, and her stomach ached. Every muscle she had screamed in pain as she reached out and grabbed the pole.

She was too dry for tears.

She slipped down, knees hitting the ground hard. Her head landed, and she smiled softly, closing her eyes, amazed she had found it, amazed she was there.

When she looked, she saw a couple of kids running between the tents. Two of them were fast, much faster than the others, almost turning into blurs. One, stopping and laughing, clutching his stomach, glowed. A human light bulb.

She'd never seen anything so beautiful.

Until his arms wrapped around her and picked her up. She knew it was without having to look. He smelled of dirt and sweat and, beneath that, of Sam. She could never put a finger on what he smelled like; she could only say that it was his smell.

She buried her head in his chest, throwing her arms around his neck.

"It's okay," he said, carrying her into the camp. "You're home now, baby. You made it."

"I escaped," she whispered.

"I know."

A/N: Okay so, I was struggling to think of what to write for this and then Exodus by Anti-Flag started playing on my laptop. And this jumped into my head. Yes, it's another of the Into The Night/Back To Hell/I Found Away short stories. I just…can't shake this world out of my head, I guess. Maybe my NaNoWriMo this year should be a forth book. Anyway! As always love to hear what you think, and reviews are returned. And if you have a moment please have a look at the poll on my profile page. Thanks for reading.