Call me Jersey, if you must. Or anything else, because it doesn't matter anymore. Any name would be just as dead to you after this war. This war—
The others with me don't care for names, and neither do I. There's about fifty of us packed into this burnt out, drafty house in what's leftover of the burbs of this city. I'm sure before the war broke out, this place could manage a healthy family of five or so. For our purposes, it suits us fine. The bitter wind might be a pain for some, as well as the lack of sleeping space, but that really doesn't matter.
I didn't elect myself a leader of our little group, and I doubt anyone looks to me in that way. Still, I'm sure they partly followed me this far. They knew just as well as I that there was a place of refuge out in these parts. A barrier zone, as I've heard it called. It drew me this far, stumbling through the cold, wasted ruins of the city. The others followed and now I'm their leader in whatever sense you want to make of it. But walking amongst them, stumbling through our dilapidated little abode, any one of them looks as much a leader as I do.
I don't pay attention to the faces. There's nothing worth seeing. Heading for the stairs, one gal blocks my way and I have to stumble past her. She's the first one I've really looked at in some time; stringy, dirty hair, sunken cheeks, and a dead stare. Of course, I don't know her, but she may have been quite beautiful before the war. Now she looked like the rest of us—broken down, worn out, and barely pressing on. It's a wonder any of us have made it this far. The promise of refuge keeps us going. Keeps going—
A long, arduous climb up the stairs saps me of strength, but it was worth the price. Out a smashed bedroom window I can see it—the barrier wall. It's at least another five miles off, but in the dusk, it's lit up along the perimeter by glaring floodlights. The massive, hulking gray structure stands as a beacon. I almost lose myself in the promise that wall brings.
There's someone else already in the room, gazing blankly out towards the fortification. I know that what his face won't show burns deep within; we're all holding onto the hope of that wall. Neither of us says anything, though not for want of silence. Everyone in our little group understood each other well enough; even a grunt could convey the meaning needed. In a time where every drop of energy is precious, simple words seem like a waste. Did that mean we were losing our humanity? We've lost so much to this war. So much—
It's too early to set out. Nightfall is putting to rest the battered landscape around us. Under cover of the darkness, we'll make our final march on the barrier zone. Anyone who had persevered as far as we have should've been considered heroes. To the fortunate souls in the shelter of those hallowed bulwarks, we're little more than repulsive creatures. But we didn't come this far to give up now. Give up now—
It's very cold in the shattered house. A terrible wind shakes the still standing walls, as if the trembling structure threatens to collapse on top of us. But the wind is good; it will cover the sound of our approach. Some warmth would be good, but a fire really isn't possible. I could use the excuse that we didn't start any fires to avoid attracting attention, but that's all it would be: an excuse.
Night comes in full and soon even the floodlights deluging the barrier seem miniscule. It's as if the darkness itself chokes out the last light. Now is our best chance. Those cowards locked themselves away, leaving us to fester and perish in the nightmares left behind. But tonight I think we have a shot. I think we're finally going to penetrate their refuge.
Again, not a single word is spoken, but the fifty in our company seem to unanimously know when it is time to go. I don't know if that's a curse of our time out here—a sudden awareness or groupthink. But it's enough to get us all going at the same pace, out across the pockmarked and debris-strewn earth. The wind howls around us, leaving us stiff as we stumble through the cold. At this point I'd gladly run at those blessed walls, but malnutrition has turned me into a pale shadow of my former self. We're all shadows now, and I can hear the occasional thump as some tumble down into craters. It's not my job to make sure everyone makes it there. We've certainly lost plenty on our journey this far. So far—
There's some sort of disturbance over at the gate. Either some from our group or another altogether have charged one of their supply trucks, running it off the road. It's caused quite a stir, and the watchmen are making a mad dash from their wall posts to check it out. That gives me just enough time to spy a muddy ditch between two bright lights left unguarded. The puddles below reek almost as bad as our group. The privileged held up in their little haven have to dispose of waste somehow. With attention elsewhere, I'll gladly climb through their refuse to find refuge. And so do the others in my little group. Past the burning lights, completely unseen by the watchers, sweet freedom is up past a rickety grate.
I'm running almost on autopilot at this point. A large, repurposed warehouse stands ahead of me, fuming with the smell of food. Real food. Food I have only dreamed of in the weeks it took us to wander this far out. My mouth waters for the first time in ages, and the others immediately around me can barely contain it. We've come so far, and it's right here. Here—
The doors give way to us with easy. In the darkness, rows upon rows of cots line with the sleeping, some of whom stir at our presence. The screams soon follow; I shouldn't have expected anything less. Did we really think they would let us stay? That we would be welcomed if we could just get in? No, these frightened souls see only monsters shambling in, bringing the war to their last refuge. Whatever we don't finish tonight will finish us, but it is all worth it. All worth it—
My little group falls upon the first cots, tearing past blankets, flesh, and skulls to sweet relief within. I'm already well into the sweetness of a cerebral cortex when the alarm sounds and word rises that the barrier has been breached.