The funny thing (not really) about having a near death experience is actually the waking up and wishing you had just died.
That's what I felt when I woke up with the most unbearable pain you could imagine, to a city that was practically burning. I blink back my tears. Hey, I may have worked for a gang for a couple of years but it doesn't mean I'm built like a tank like them. When I finally manage to push myself up, the world spins and I somehow manage to stand still, taking in the view before me.
Okay, correction, now the world really has gone to shit.
Someone runs pass me, pushing me in the process, I maintain my balance, managing to let out a few cuss words. I turn to see the pole kissing the pavement; only I don't think the crack in the pavement was a show of appreciation for the kiss. I could just imagine if it was my skull cracked open like that.
That is when I notice the people around me, running and screaming. Thanks to the fire, which by the way looks kind of neat in the darkness, I could see everything around me. At first I don't see what they are running or screaming from before I find one of my old grade school teachers standing not a few feet away from me. I get my bearings and hobble over to him, my hand reaching his shoulders before he turns to face me. I stumble backwards on the ground. I may have skipped a lot of his classes but I would bet my life he did not have a gaping hole where his face should be before.
"Mr. Feller?" I try, holding up the contents of the broth inside my stomach. I skitter backward, the pain in my head momentarily forgotten. I remembered hearing he had become sick. I shake my head. That was impossible. I was pretty sure someone said he was dead.
"William?" Mrs. Feller was standing not too far from where we were. She was looking at her husband with that hopeful look in her face before Mr. Feller turned to her. Now her face was simply horrified. Right you are, Mrs. Feller. I push myself up as his attention on someone else has given me my chance of escape. What was happening? Is this some zombie shit going on? I turn, watching Mrs. Feller stay glued to her spot as Mr. Feller seemed to be reaching towards her.
What should I do? Is Mrs. Feller going to be okay? Before I think better of my 'running away', something black and snake like whips towards Mr. Feller. It passes right through his stomach and wraps itself around him. I choke back my scream as Mrs. Fuller screams enough for the both of us. My feet skid to a stop before Mr. Feller is pulled towards one of the big cracks on the ground. Like some of the civilians, I stop and wait for whatever comes next.
I really wish I didn't.
From the crack, something emerged. Just the very sound it makes crawled uneasily on my skin. I felt ice slide down my spine. Mrs. Feller has stopped screaming. The creature had an elongated teardrop shaped face. It bore no eyes and had no lips. Its teeth were dripping with blood. I felt the broth come up to my throat. It chattered and then wheezed a familiar kind of wheeze, before its teeth started chattering again. It sounded more like really dry laughter that was made of nightmares.
Okay, time to run.
I turn on my heel and run as fast as I could away from the creature only to find more of them climbing out of the ground. I felt like screaming. People were asking for heaven and Hell was the one who opened its doors. I turn and decide to lose them in the tight corners and turns of the alleys. I find that even the people here have gone and left, probably running for their lives...or the fences. Could those creatures be stopped by it? I cover my ears when I hear gunshots before I turn deeper into cramped streets and houses. I just have to avoid the cracks, right?
I laughed at myself, realizing I used to sell something sometimes called by the same name. Something lets out an ear piercing shriek I had to clamp my ears shut just to manage. That did not sound so good. Well, nothing is good right now.
I find an exit by the shape of a fire escape ladder. Maybe if I could reach to higher ground, I'll know exactly where not to go. I pull myself up and begin to climb, panic pushing me further and further. For a moment I think of Rick and hoped he was alright. I shake my head. Of course he'd be alright, he was Rick. They had guns. I should definitely worry about myself. I lose my grip for a moment but managed to stay on the ladder just as the, now familiar, chattering sounds came into my ears. I hold my breath, my hand reaching for the ladder, letting it groan under my touch. I close my eyes at the sound.
The chattering grew louder as I held my breath before glancing below me. It was right there, only this one was different. It had no eyes or sockets for them. Half of its face was its mouth. It looked smaller but its hands were longer as it dragged it behind. Just as it passed below me, the ladder decided to make a sound, making the creature look up. Even though it had no eyes I was pretty sure it still knew I was there.
I continued my climb, as it released another one of those shrieks. My hand touches the last bar before the creature jumps and latches itself on the ladder, which of course breaks under our weight. I breathe sharply as I fall down, rolling into myself before hitting the ground. I hear something snap but I could worry about that later, right now, I was facing something much worse. I hold my breath as the creature rights itself, turning around as if it were looking for me. In addition to it not having eyes, it had no nose too. Which was probably a good thing?
I stay as still as possible, hoping the creature reacted to noise. Its head turns towards me making me think I must have breathed too loudly when someone runs from a corner, disappearing into another one. The creature reacts and runs after him or her.
I let out a sigh of relief as I lay on the ground watching the dark sky above. That had been way too close. I hear the shriek again and decided to get up before it could come back. I turn to a corner and try to walk as quietly as possible but my feet stop, along with my heart, when I see what had caught the creature's attention. It was a little girl, probably the same age as my little sister. She just stood there, facing the creature and not even shaking. Not the slightest.
That's when I realized she was blind. Something in my gut clenched as I turned away and my eyes caught my escape- it was a tunnel that lead directly to the fences. I turn again and find the creature circling the little girl. She doesn't move. This is the part where people usually have that adrenaline rush and do something heroic; unfortunately, I am not one of those people.
I closed my eyes, hoping that if there really was anyone listening up there, to at least save me and the little girl. I scream, meant to be some kind of war cry only it came out more like a real cry and hit the creature as hard as I could with my body, channeling my weight and strength.
It barely moved.
Now I got its attention. Thanks. If only getting a cute boy's attention was as easy. (Am I right ladies?) It bares its teeth and I smiled nervously back at it before dashing towards the little girl and grabbing her hand.
Now the two of us were running around in circles through the alleys before I manage to find our way back to the tunnel. I run towards it, the darkness engulfing us. I never badly wished for my lighter until this moment.
My grip on the girl must have been tight but she didn't complain, which I took as a sign that she was scared too. I pushed forward only to be met by a blockage. I hiss and let a string of curse words which I take back after realizing a little girl was standing beside me. She seemed the least bit nervous between the both of us. If I had been her, I'd be more scared. Not really seeing what was going on. I crouch on the ground, momentarily enjoying the moment to breathe. The little girl crouches beside me and I turn to her.
"This is a weird question but, are you alright?" I ask, wiping the tears from my face. She gives me a soft nod before her head turns towards the tunnels entrance. I turn and face it, finally sitting on the ground. She follows suit, inching closer to me. If the creature somehow finds us here, we'd be done for. As if the world wasn't shitty enough already, the sky decided to cry.
Thunder rolled and lighting stroked. The girl ushers closer to me and I wrap an arm around her.
"It'll be alright," I try to assure her. It seemed to work because minutes after, she had fallen asleep. I try to keep her warm by wrapping myself around her. I study her, further agreeing that she seemed to young and fragile to be walking alone. What happened to her parents? Did they fall victims to those weird creatures?
When I thought I couldn't possibly sleep after everything that happens, I was wrong. Because the next thing I knew, I was waking up. The rain had stopped and the little girl was gone.
I jumped up, panic taking over me. Where was she? Had she been taken? No. I was still alive. I run out the tunnel, my need to find her momentarily overlap my fear of the hell creatures.
I could not have imagined her...could I? No. She was real...she was-
I find her standing just at the edge of a broken down house. I let out a breath of relief before walking over towards her.
"Hey you," I say as reach her. "We need to talk about you disappearing like that. Did you leave your house that way? Where are your parents?"
She seemed to not hear me as she walks through a path, using the walls as a guide. I cross my arms over my chest but follow her nonetheless.
"Hey, where are you going? That creature is still out there." I try to argue and as if on cue, the night is filled with its sharp shriek. The little girl stops walking and I reach for her hand. She clutches it tightly. That shriek was definitely from the creatures but it sounded a little different. Like it had actually been hurt. Was someone fighting them?
Like she had read my mind, the little girl drags me with her, her hands sliding down the walls. We made a few twist and turns making me think she knew how to navigate her way around here if she was not being chased by those vile creatures. I'll just call them demons; it's easier for all of us. When we turn to another corner, I was almost tempted to grab her and run but something stops me.
One of the creatures was on the ground. Dead. Someone had actually managed to kill it. I turn towards the other two, cornering the one who had probably killed demon 1. I crane my neck trying to see who it was but the little girl had other ideas and ran directly towards one of them. I scream for her, gaining demon 2 and demon 3's attention, before clamping my mouth shut. Just as they turned demon two gets a cut.
And I'm not saying like a haircut or something. A sword literally slices demon 2 in half I had to stop myself from gawking as it fell to the ground revealing the person behind. He was big. Reminding me or Rick only a little more muscular and god like facial structures. This time, I don't stop myself from gawking.
The man see's me before demon 3 decides it is a good time to bring out its long arms and hit god like man who crumples to the ground. The sword flies away from his hands and slides closer to me. I step into the battlefield as the little girl (who has no care for her safety or whatsoever) manages to reach the man and kneel beside him. Was this her father? Damn. I should ask her if she had a brother.
Demon three merely glanced at my direction before it turned towards the man and his daughter. That stung a little. Hey, I know I may not be angelic or anything but even creatures are not interested enough to kill me? That hurt.
I glance at the half unconscious man whose eyes remained with the little girl and decided the best way to die was to attempt to wield a sword and reunite father and daughter. To my surprise, I could actually lift the sword (not saying it wasn't heavy because it sure as hell was). That's when I noticed there were more demons around us. This guy had actually killed dozens of them. No wonder he was in bad shape. Just as the creature steps towards them, I run, lifting the sword to hit it and choking on my war cry. (Not my best moment to be honest.)
I feel the blade pierce it as it let out another one of its shrieks before something hits me and I am thrown to the nearest wall. I gasp, falling to the ground as demon 3 tries desperately to take the sword out of its back. It seemed to melt its skin off it the smell of something rotten burning was no indication. I stand and wobble my way towards the man on the ground. He was watching me intently, well, as intently as he could with his consciousness drifting in and out.
Demon 3 finally falls down and stays silent and the man gestures to the sword. I sigh before getting up and pulling it out of the demon before handing it back to him.
"You...can lift it..." he says and I noticed the severity of his injuries. I was no doctor but I was pretty sure normal people wouldn't be able to talk after injuries like that. He heaves, before going into a coughing fit.
I glance around us for a place to hide, seeing one of the empty tall apartment buildings had a broken door.
"Whoa there mister," I say, helping him sit up. Blood was dripping out of his mouth. I hardly doubt we could even manage to bring him to a hospital in this condition. Not that those hospitals were still open. I turned to the little girl, his hand clutched between both of her small ones. I felt a sudden ache in my chest as the corners of my eyes burned.
"I'll go get help," I stand but he reaches and grabs my hand, pulling back down.
"Help is...coming...you must warn...them..." he says as he raises the sword and it turns into a thick bracelet that could cover my whole lower arm. Okay, after everything that has happened and everything I have seen, you'd think a sword transforming into a bracelet would be normal but nope. I stumble back, stuttering as he reaches for my hand and clamps the sword-now-bracelet around my arm before I could protest.
"Okay, this shit is weird but we have to get away from open spaces," I explain, managing to steady my voice even though all I wanted to do was scream. He attempts but grunts in pain, and I could see from the way his face crunched up that it was going to be difficult.
A shriek sounded in the distance and my heart sped up, trying to figure out a way to save him. I stand, much to his murmuring reluctance and find anything that could help me lift him up. I found it in a form of a cart that poor people use to move from place to another. It served as their homes sometimes.
I empty the cart of its contents and kick off the sides to make space before hurriedly rolling it towards him.
"I've been...looking...for you..." he continues and attempts a smile. Even bathed in his blood and the demons blood, he still looked like he was about to do a bloody photo shoot. Pun intended. I lift him up, and even though he was lifting himself up with me, I still felt like I sprained my joints. He was heavy.
I take the little girls other hand and guide her to the side of the cart as I push it slowly towards the main buildings entrance. When we got there, I decided to just stay on the first floor and not venture in too deep knowing I could find something else I didn't.
I laid him on one side and slumped down on the ground beside him, wiping his blood off on my jeans. I've been used to this. In my line of job, Rick and the others sometimes get into all sorts of trouble. They never made me learn first aid though, so there was really nothing I could do but try to ease their pain as they tended to themselves.
If Rick were here, he'd know what to do.
The man beside me had steadied his breathing as the little girl continued to softly hold his hand. He was asleep, and the only thing I could do was study him.
His hair was short, cut like a normal guy's hair would be. His nose was pointed and his jaw- chiseled perfecting. The lashes on his eyes made my own look like grass clippings. How did he get them to curl so perfectly like that? Somehow, he reminded me of the statues in the church. Archangel Michael.
Then his breathing turned ragged and I knew he was suffering. I glanced at the little girl whose expression remained stoic so I couldn't tell if she was worried or sad. I stand up, rummaging through what I think was a living room to find anything I could.
The dim light outside reflects on the bracelet and for a moment I stare at it. I felt like wonder woman with this thing. I wonder if I could still steal some comics. I carefully take pieces of cloth and rip them into make shift bandages when I heard the chattering. I still, and peek out the window of the living room.
Three demons were outside, each a different kind. I forced myself to breathe quietly and from the floor, I could see the man had already woken up. He was looking at me, then his hand land on the bracelet in my arm.
"You must get out of here," he whispers harshly, his eyes telling me there was no room for argument. But I have always been stubborn. I walk over to him slowly and tie the bandages around the wound on his arm and shoulder. The ones on his chest were too big and I worry my lip. His arm grips mine tightly, causing me to wince in pain and look at him with slight fear.
"You must leave," he insists. "I cannot have you die. Death is not for you just yet."
I open my mouth to argue when he heaves himself up, pulling me up with him. His hand was on my shoulder. He towered above me but he didn't feel or look intimidating. Instead, I looked at him and felt...safe.
"You have to survive this until- "he glances outside, one of the demons seemed to have smelled us as it angled our way. He hisses under his breath, his free hand grabbing the small girl and handing her to me.
"Hey, no... mister you can't leave your daughter," I start, tears already streaming down my face. Why was I crying? He laughs, shaking his head at me. He reaches for my face and somehow his touch does not make me flinch away.
"Find them," he says as two more of the demon creatures come from an alley. I feel fear grip at my throat as he touches the bracelet on my arm.
"Survive, Leandra," he smiles and my mouth falls slightly open. How did he know my name? "Survive just a little bit longer."
Then he gestures down the hall and I knew he was pointing to a back door even though I couldn't see anything clearly from where we stood. One of the demon hisses outside and he pushes the two of us towards the hall.
"Go," he says again, more firmly this time. I knew his wounds would not heal. He would not survive this fight. Why was he risking his life for us? Then he takes my hand and places something inside. I hold it tightly, crushing it between my fingers.
"Show them the bracelet...and this, "he says when I finally found the courage to take the steps away from him. I was muffling my crying, but something inside my heart twisted at the thought of leaving. Who was this man? And why was he here?
I turned away from him then, arms gripping the girl's small ones. I could hear him limp his way towards the door we had just come in. I tell myself not to turn around. Don't turn around.
The sound of the demons shrieking propel my feet forward until we stumble to a door. I push us out and we keep running. I don't know how long I was running until the shrieks stopped. I was tempted to turn around when thunder rolled and rain drops fell on my face.
I opened my hand and found what he had given me crunched up but unbroken.
A single white feather.