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Back in the day, I had a couple rules; stay with Sensus and Ero, very close at all times. In these here days, it's easy to get yourself lost, especially if you're routing through the wilderness. Always steer clear of strangers, hug the walls inside buildings, and if a kill team found yah, you were screwed. Sensus was a generic fella, I don't remember much of what he was like. Middle-aged guy, about my height, always wore the same getup. Blue striped jacket and a pair of dirtied jeans, lugged a backpack around with him. Ero was a gentle gal, but when the bandits or kill squads were closin' in, she had a cunning like no other. Wore a black shirt and green jeans. She wasn't really attractive in particular, but what'd that matter? Always got me and Sensus out of bad situations, I tell you.
Rollin' over the open Alabama flat-lands, the sun was high in the sky, blazing our surroundings like a wide fryin' pan. We all stayed close, monitorin' our surroundings, keeping an eye out for dangers. I had a .45 magnum, loaded with four bullets (found off the body of some poor guy shot by the kill teams) and Ero was carryin' a light twenty-two. Other than that, we didn't have much. Walkin' through the sweltering heat, we knew it would be several hours before we reached the mountains for shelter. Our goal was the refugee camp in Aeola; what was left of the army and some volunteers were keepin' the place safe from the outside.
Sensus piped up.
“Deroo, you better check your feet. Blistering heat like this will do what it suggests.”
I glared at him, wiping sweat from my brow.
“Sensus, you keep talkin' like that, you're gunna sic the convoys on us. Why don't you shut your trap for once?”
I regret what I said. Sensus was a kind man and only had the best in mind for me, but at that point, the heat was just pissin' me off.
My two friends flinched, but Sensus seemed to feel more of the hurt. Sensus said nothin' for the rest of the trip.
After a few hours, Ero pointed across the dull grass towards a small crater, barely visible due to the omnipotent glare of the sun.
Sensus squinted. “Explosives, maybe? That there don't look natural.”
As we approached, it became clear it was from an explosion, or a battle, or a shootout of some sort. A large military jeep was sunken into the dirt, surrounded by gigantic bullet shells. A pile of dead bodies, looked like army men, was lyin' there in that dust. Me and my friends stared at the bodies, wondering what might have caused them to be dead. Ero pointed to the nearest body at the depression of the crater, just as we neared the edge.
“Go down there and check their bodies.”
I replied, “Yeah, you an' Sensus just keep watch, yah hear?”
My obedient followers nodded to me and each other as I scaled the harsh sand. This wasn't a simple shootout.
Each body was completely wound-less, and although the HUMVEE might have crashed, it was just too surreal.
Sensus piped once again, “Was it a shootout? No, there would be bullet-holes. Every soldier in that car is dead, but it doesn't look like they were killed by any weapon. Bandits? Not powerful enough, Kill teams? They would have casualties too.”
I tried to roll my eyes, but they were swellin' on account of the heat. Sensus always dramatically answered his own questions for no reason.
Just then, as I was tryin' to get out of the crater, we heard the screams.
Not human screams, oh no, these were loud, visceral screams straight from the gut. It struck fear through my heart, as the sun began to set way too fast. I looked upwards only to be blinded by hot black light; multiple shapes on the horizon began chargin' for us. I drew my .45 and threw myself under the vehicle. I reached out my hand for Ero, but by the time she was preparin' to descend into the crater with me, she was slammed by a large figure. Sensus panicked, before the ground beneath him burst, barreling him into the crater.
I remained crouched. My mind wanted to act, but my body was frozen solid. I heard the blood-curdling screams of Ero, followed by thumping. Sensus, now within view of the vehicle I was hiding under, probably broke his leg falling into the crater. Before he could stand to his knees, a humanoid body, lightning-fast, its head spinning around 360 degrees and yonder, pinned Sensus to the ground and brutally slashed his throat with a large, rusted machete. Blood sprang from his neck, as the killing took multiple slices to complete. My attacker(s) was in full view now; standing up, his clothing was raggedy, and had the head of an ol' cold-war style gas mask. I couldn't see behind his goggles.
That's how it happened, at least how I remembered it. My attackers fled as quickly as they came, and I knew if I mourned for my friends, I'd be killed by the sun. I just kept on walking. I didn't really register what had happened, almost like it never did. The past is the past, my friends are dead, and I just had to keep on goin'.
I'm terrible with maps. Half the time I relied on Sensus to find our way for us, but now that he was gone, I realized things would be different from now on. At this point, my mouth was drier than the grass around me, and I knew if I didn't find no water, I'd be dead in hours. I just kept on walkin', as the sun began movin' towards the horizon, I saw a dark, round sillouhette over the line between earth and the lemon sky.
I reached what looked like a large tank, for water, or fuel, or somethin'. Desperate as I was, I quickly shot a hole into the side with my magnum and stuck my tongue out for water. An unwise move, but I was desperate. Both my senses and wit had left me.
I nearly vomited when black sludge poured from the tank. Oil, or gasoline, of course. Irrigation had become a big problem.
There was a small security office about 25 meters from the tank. I heard rustling coming from inside, and panicked footsteps. Someone heard my gunshot.
In a deafening quickness, a man in black uniform flew from the doorway. Luckily, my gun was raised. I pulled the trigger and was saturated with tinnitus as his head, now bloody, hit the ground.
My arms shook, as a large metal pike drove through my heart. This man was completely unarmed, and did not look malicious. His lips where white as the sun... he was just as thirsty as I was.
I can't not blame myself for what I had done. I still see his face sometimes, contorted in the same primal fear of death that I had so rashly delivered to him. After I continued my hike, I heard a clap of thunder. Once a sign of rogue gods to old civilizations, the thunderstorm was my savior. Maybe someone had been lookin' over me after all.
After getting about five hours of sleep in a small welcoming wood, I collected dew from the leaves, my hand tightened on my gun. I did not wanna be caught with my pants down, especially by the attackers that killed my friends. I continued my journey.
According to my map, I was getting' close to the refugee camp. My spirits were at an all time low, so I admired the view; after miles of open desert, large green mountains stood across the horizon like the pearly white gates of heaven. By the time I reach that region, I'll be all secure as far as food and water was concerned. Paranoia was still onset, especially from my attackers. Only now did I begin to question their nature. How were they so fast? Where they bandits? Where they the ones who killed those soldiers? Was the crater just a trap they was usin' to surround us?
Before I knew it, a large green valley stretched out before me. I remember admiring such views since my childhood; I guess it invoked a nostalgia I didn't quite recall, as most of my youth was lost to me.
I proceeded through the valley, and next thing I knew, I wound up in an oddly photogenic environment. The gravel extended across the river bend, and a sharp, rippling creek lulled passed me. The orange sun, now blazing over the mirages, was only parted by the tall green trees. Was this the peace I wanted? Could I really live here? Maybe now I could finally find some solace.
Something was wrong.
Just a ripple in the air, the ever-so-slight chill down my spine. Something was off. Something was definitely not right.
Was it the paranoia setting in again? No, it couldn't be! This was nothing more than a peaceful creek! What would be here?
I felt myself unable to move. I realized that the world wasn't as it seemed. Was I really in Alabama? How far was my destination?
All wind from every direction blew towards me. I felt exposed, like the outside world was pointing to me as it's prey. A shard of darkness tore through my body, literally. I fell to my knees. I could see figures in the woods moving towards me. Tall, stretched men, covered in rags, wearing masks. Their heads revolved like they were on swivels, moving back and forth, as if taunting me. My insides were at the core of the Earth at this point, as the out-landers surrounded me, staring down at me with empty goggled eyes. Their screams extracted my bones, and looking passed their limbs I could see thousands, if not millions of them. I could hear the pain Sensus and Ero experienced before they died, the taste of gasoline on my tongue, the look on the face of the survivor before I shot him dead.
The screaming turned my ears inside out, and I slowly reached towards my holster, drawing my magnum. It was meant to be this way. I would never find the refugee camp if it meant the torture from these outlanders. I removed my weapon from it's sheath, but not for the reason you may think.
Lemon sky. The clouds roll in. I looked up; my tormentors were gone. I stood up and continued walking. It was about twenty miles to the refugee camp. Not long. I would reach the refugee camp. I would be safe and protected, then, I can finally get my meds.