Short Story by: sirenscalling
Her knuckles turned white from the intensity of her grip on the steel dagger. In one swift movement, she pulled the blade forward and hair back, cutting off a grand majority of the length. She stood, watching the weight of her previous life dance in the breeze, falling slowly to the cold pavement. A single tear for the happiness she’d lost rolled down her porcelain cheek, plummeting into the forgotten history of ebony hair.
She stepped over the black pile and walked the streets of her broken town alone, passing hastily fled buildings and still-smoking cars. But, in the midst of post-chaos wreckage, the survivor felt an immense sense of peace. She’d lost everything, but in that, she learned that she didn’t have much to lose. The only thing she needed maintained was her will to make it through another day.
The pavement burned in the mid-afternoon sunlight, reflecting heat back to her. Soon she could feel her hair sticking to her forehead, and she sought shelter in the shade of the nearest tree she could find. Buildings had become dangerous, though if she could risk it, there was almost always canned food and sometimes guns. Her findings so far, however, were limited to one revolver with three bullets left, and a hunting knife.
She lifted her pack and turned to face the tree. After a moment of analyzing distances and how much weight each branch could take, she tossed the pack up as high as she could and began climbing. When she reached a considerable height, she stopped to find branches strong enough to hold her through the night. Her fingers pulled the zipper of her pack, opening it to find the only things she’d managed to save from her home: A fleece blanket, light jacket, two cans of fruit, a pencil, and sketchbook. Even as the world self-destructed, she needed to preserve her sanity. Her back pressed against the gnarled texture of the tree, and she began lightly sketching the near-dusk, faintly pink sky.
As she finished, she noticed the sky had become much darker and she stopped to make her bed for the night, pulling her jacket on and wrapping the blanket tightly around her small frame.
The misty chill of morning awoke her. She sat straighter and pulled out a can of pears. The sweet taste erupted in her dry mouth, and she closed her eyes to enjoy the few moments of happiness.
As she packed her things, she found herself staring at her own signature.
“My name is River,” she said to herself repeatedly. Though even with that piece of home to cling to, she couldn’t quite figure out what the importance of her name was in a world like this. She even repeated the sentence as she climbed down the tree and began her trek westward again. She stopped for a moment to voice her opinion of this: “Of what use is a name when there’s no one left to know it?” She thought she sounded very Alice-like, and decided to find a bookstore to read about Alice’s adventures. This, however, was no Wonderland.
She came upon a city, though she didn’t know which one. River, though, didn’t particularly care what city it was as long as she had something to eat tonight. Her steps lead her to a small convenient store, where she paced the aisles alone. At least, she had believed she was alone until she heard a rather annoying clicking sound, not unlink the click of fancy shoes on linoleum.
“Hello?” she asked, uncertain of any reply but hopeful. She was met with more crushing silence. The clicking continued, fading into the other side of the store. River inhaled deeply and crept toward the noise.
Around the corner of an aisle, she saw a well-kempt suit flashing by. Another useless item, she thought. Though it was, obviously, a real someone, which was more than she had dared hope to find. However, without knowing whether or not she could trust this someone was uncertain, so River flattened herself against the end of the aisle and listened.
Every now and then, the click of his (it was a he, she assumed) shoes would pause and be replaced by a distinctly mechanical sound, that would beep in specific patterns that River couldn’t decode, then the clicking would continue for a moment.
As she tried to figure out just what this man was doing, he walked straight up to her which should’ve been impossible not to notice, except that when River is lost in her own mind, she is really and most sincerely lost.
“Hello,” he said in a tone that demanded River’s attention, “Are you looking for something?”
River shook her head to clear it. “Well, I was looking for food but I kind of found you instead…”
“Ah, excellent,” his accent lay thickly over his words now, though what sort of accent she couldn’t place.
She stepped away to see the entirety of this person. He stood confidently in a crisp suit and shiny black shoes, with that stereotypical rich kid haircut and, oddly enough, blue gloves of the powdery, plastic type. But there were no machines to make the beeping noise that she could see. “What was the beep? Where did that come from?”
His eyes grew quite large for a second, and then he recollected himself and pulled out a pen-like machine. He began clicking buttons and the object whirred to life, blue lights bouncing off the silvery surface. He pressed another button and something unlatched, and there was a suddenly high-pitched noise seemingly melting River’s brain. And so, she ran.
She wasn’t quite sure where she was going, but anywhere without him seemed better than where she’d been. After a solid six blocks or so, she turned, only to see him sprinting after her. She decided it was best to hide in a building somewhere, and bolted left into what seemed like an apartment building or maybe hotel. Her feet carried her up nearly seven flights of stairs before she turned down a hallway and locked and blockaded herself in a room
She sat, huddled in the darkest corner of the room, shivering with fear. Each second, the man was a step closer to finding her. The cold touch of imminent death hung around her.
She could feel the vibrations of confident steps coming down the hall, and tried desperately to become one with the walls and furniture. The breaths that escaped her lips were short, and scared. The man knocked on her bedroom door.
“Now, River, we’re all civilized people here,” he said as he fiddled with the locked door. It occurred to her that she’d never told this man her name, or anything else for that matter. For a few tense seconds there was silence. Then River heard the squeaky sound of powdery plastic against metal, and the click of the opening door.
River watched his shiny, black shoes come closer, and stop. She looked up, terror in her green eyes. The man knelt down and kissed her lightly, covering her lips with a nectar-like taste. The effect of the nectar was nearly instant, pulling the life from her body. River’s heart slowed and her last, feeble breath left her lips–the kiss of death stealing the remnant of heat from her body.
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