I am mainly posting this to see what kind of feedback/response everyone has. This is most likely going to be the first chapter of a novel I am in the process of writing. It is a post-apocalyptic, science fiction story, and thoughts/comments are greatly appreciated. Thank you all!
She remembered the cheers, the laughter, the sound of optimism and hope. She could still see the red flags waving as people rushed to hug family, as lovers kissed passionately, and as children danced in the rain gutters and chased each other. How easy it had been to feel joy, in the face of such catastrophic loss, at the words, “It is done.” How pleasurable it was to feel the warmth of so many bodies on such a cool evening, like a lover’s touch on a winter day. The sound of the people echoed off the surrounding ruins and whipped through empty alleyways, reverberating throughout the entire city.
Jane knew better. There was no song, no dance, and no words that could justify the slaughter. Nothing could make her forget. Their faces swam in front of her eyes every night, accusing her of those horrific sins. Try as she might, she could not forget them or what she had done to them. So, each night, she fell prey to their piercing stares and did not sleep. She didn’t deserve rest.
As she shouldered her way through the crowd that night, Jane could almost taste the excitement. Despite the relatively cool temperature, the air was almost palpable. Sounds, smells, and colors surrounded her, but she parted them as she did the people, ignoring her happier peers. One lone man, visibly drunk on liquor and high on the crowd’s energy, made to embrace her and plant his offensively rank mouth on hers. She simply kneed him in the gut and kept moving. The man keeled over, vomited, and stumbled away. No one tried to stop her again.
That was two years ago, back when the post-war world still looked promising. The desolation was apparent, of course, but no one could imagine the long-term devastation the war would bring. Jane glanced around the square, once filled with hopeful people, that was now barren save for the rats scurrying along the gutters, looking for food. Jane’s mission had been no different, though she was unsuccessful. The lack of prey had led her here. She watched and waited, calculating her distance. After a few minutes, she picked up a brick from the rubble next to her, inched her way forward a few feet, and slowly crouched low. She made no sound. The rats paid her little mind, feasting on the carcass of a pigeon not two days old. Food was hard to come by, even for scavengers, as Jane had become. Fresh meat was enough to distract even a rat. Jane, however, had her eyes on the prey that was still alive.
Quick as a cat, she launched the brick at the rat’s head, shattering the skull and silencing the rodent. She snatched up the body and stuffed it in her sack, retrieved the brick, then resumed her position and waited for the next unfortunate creature to emerge from the sewers.
Two hours later, she returned home with her dinner. Not much, by any means, but enough to keep the hunger at bay until the morning. Luna waited, as always, at the door. Well, “door” was a relative term. Indeed, the word “home” meant little to Jane. Her dwelling was little more than an abandoned bunker in the collapsed basement of a former office building. Her “door” was a vault-like tube with debris hiding the entrance. Steps led down into the six-by-eight cell that contained nothing more than a moldy mattress, a lantern, and a meager supply of rations: bullets, beer, and a flag from the celebration two years earlier. The flag now served as a blanket.
Once inside, Jane dumped the bag of meat on the floor and sat down on the mattress. Luna sniffed at the bag eagerly, before shoving her head into the bag’s opening and biting into a rat, tearing off a chunk of flesh. Luna ate quite quickly, and Jane knew she would need to horde some of the meat for herself if she were to eat at all that night. But a sudden exhaustion overtook her. Jane found herself back in the base, thirty feet underground, surrounded by monitors. She had an earpiece to issue commands to her squad, all the way across the Pacific. There were twelve of them. They moved, however, as a single unit, executing the routine as they had practiced so many times before. Jane felt proud of her unit, but this was the real thing. She couldn’t help but feel anxious despite their preparation.
Suddenly, she was with them in the hallway, leading them to the device. They followed close, mimicking her every move as if they were mere puppets she controlled. But then she reached the door, turned back to face them, and found that she was alone, very alone. Jane became acutely aware of how still the air was. No breeze, no ventilation, just white walls and white floors made of thick metal that had been molded together seamlessly to create this safe zone. Even her footsteps made no sound, nor did her quick intake of breath at the sudden unease she felt. There was nothing else, no one else, but Jane dreaded what awaited her beyond that door. She wanted to stall for time, find an excuse to not open the door yet, but there was none. She knew she needed to open it. She could not put it off any longer. She placed her hand on the vault door, and it swung open at her touch as if it had been waiting for her.
Then there was blood, and ashes, as she watched her squad writhe in pain. They were melting. Their eyes like jelly, oozing out of their sockets and running down their exposed cheekbones. Their bodies shrank as their muscles and tendons ruptured. They could form no words or make a sound, but their mouths were silently screaming as their teeth fell out and their jawbones melted off their skulls. Jane tried to help them, but she was suddenly trapped inside a glass box, safe somehow from the explosion, but still able to see her agents die. Their eyeless skulls stared at her, accusing her, damning her…she wanted to be out there, dying with them. It’s what should have happened, she knew. She should be dead and they should have lived.
Jane suddenly lurched forward and found herself sitting on the mattress in the bunker, alone. The only sound was the soft snores of Luna at her feet. The mutt’s muzzle was stained pink from the rat’s blood. Jane remembered her own dinner, the carcass tucked away from Luna’s teeth. She felt sick, though. Her hunger had vanished. She flicked the rat out from between the wall and the mattress, where it landed on the floor in the middle of the cell. She would leave it there for Luna to find in the morning. She wasn’t hungry, anyway.
Silently, she slipped her feet out from beneath Luna’s warm white fur, and onto the cold cement floor. She hated this place. She knew she ought to be grateful to have it, though. There were plenty of dirty orphans sleeping in the streets under the open sky that would love to have a roof over their heads and a bed and blanket. But those orphans would be lucky to survive the year. Most would be dead before they even had the opportunity to take advantage of a place like this. So, she stayed.
Jane grabbed her knife, an old butcher’s knife salvaged from someone’s former kitchen. Its owner had been crushed by the rubble of the collapsing building during one of the airstrikes. She did not think twice about raiding the place when she found it a year ago, and made good use of the items she salvaged: stockpiles of canned food, beer, liquor, the knife, and the mattress. The best, though, was the old rifle hiding in the man’s closet. A rusty 56 SKS with no extra bullets, it had been propped up against the wall in the farthest corner, covered clumsily by a white sheet and a couple of large t-shirts. Still, Jane had almost missed it, and had to check the closet twice before she spotted it.
It was a bittersweet prize; there were little to no factories since before the war, so manufacturing and industry gave way to self-sufficiency and improvisation. A gun was not a particularly unique find, but bullets were. Most people no longer kept a gun, because bullets were such a rare commodity. But Jane had kept some from the start of the war. Instinct had told her to keep them. She had found them buried underneath an Oak Tree just outside the city. Someone clearly planned to retrieve them at a later date. Jane had waited until she saw the bullets’ owner walk away and fade into the distance before moving in to claim the prize herself. It had seemed wrong at the time, but Jane was naïve then. She soon learned that stealing no longer existed in this new world…survival did. And in order to survive, Jane needed every edge she could find.
The rifle now belonged to her. It sat, unused, beneath her mattress, but Jane brought it out every once in a while to hunt big game. At least, until most of the big game had been eradicated. It seemed foolish now to use a gun to kill a rat. And that was all Jane ate anymore: rats. A scavenger for a scavenger.
Jane took the knife, slipped on her shoes, and headed for the door. Luna had woken up at that point. Jane scratched behind the dog’s ears. Panting, Luna bounded up to the street, sniffed around the debris, and relieved herself. Jane replaced the rubble around the entrance. It was dark out, and cool, but the air was unusually clear. Thick brown clouds usually blocked out the sky, even at night, but tonight there were tears in their layers that opened up to inky blackness. She walked with her head upturned, longing for more sky. Luna kept pace, ever loyal. Where she was going, she didn’t know. Somehow, it didn’t matter. She walked without purpose.
Then, suddenly, it flashed across one of the sky’s tears. It was so quick, Jane thought at first it hadn’t happened. But Luna was suddenly howling at the sky, so it had to have been real. What was it? It looked like a flash of light, a streak across the heavens. It moved so quickly. Jane assumed it was just a meteor, burning up in the atmosphere. Before the war, Jane had witnessed meteor showers, and had always found them beautiful. But this seemed different…the light wasn’t right. It had a purple haze around it, as if it were some kind of shield to keep the falling object intact. And the object itself seemed to move of its own free will…but that was absurd. Don’t be stupid, she scolded herself. Dismissing it, Jane turned down an alleyway, Luna right at her side. It had been a long night, and it would be daylight soon. She needed food.