Issue 89 Oct 2020
Faster. Bela dug deep into his energy reserves, finding a way to ignore the pain and to accelerate his full-scale sprint slightly. Bullets pounded the dilapidated pavement all around him, each erupting a tiny geyser of dust and concrete. Only a few more strides and he would reach the presumed safety of an abandoned vehicle.
Dive. Off balance, his legs no longer able to match his desire for speed, Bela dove and performed an awkward forward roll to cover the final few meters. The maneuver earned him the protection provided by the burnt-out husk of a 2035 Ford. The battered rifle, he had been carrying, clattered as it fell to the cement near his tattered shoes.
The rain of gunfire ceased momentarily. Where had Inac gotten so much ammunition? Bela tried to slow his heart. Each breath fought furiously against his lungs. Eventually, enough oxygen found its way to his lungs that his breathing relaxed and returned to a near normal rate. The sixteen-year-old boy calmed enough to access his surroundings. The rifle appeared to be unbroken, but he was down to only two shells.
Inac, assuredly, was positioned to the south; his handgun trained on the automobile skeleton Bela currently hid behind. The open space west of him was clearly not an option. Attempting to cross that divide had, moments ago, nearly cost him his life.
To the east, ominously towering over the district stood the unscalable, impenetrable metal wall that divided the slums from the opulence that was Ariscity. Behind that wall, the privileged lived in luxury, not giving the suffering and violence that existed just outside of their domain a second thought. Sure, on rare occasions, some wealthy aristocrat would be overcome by guilt and send white-coated servants to their desolate neighbors to distribute food or administer medical inoculations. Beyond that, the residents on this side of the wall were left to fend for themselves.
I’m drowning. The wave had smacked me down and rolled me. Now I don’t know which way is up. Forcing my eyes open in the stinging saltwater, I can detect a watery brightness in what I had thought was beneath me. I’m completely upside down. Eyes burning, lungs on fire, I struggle toward the light and air. I’ve swallowed so much saltwater I’m nauseous. I’m afraid I’ll puke underwater. The pull of the water is too strong. Where is Jeremy? Jeremy could save me. If he would. He was as likely to hold me under. But Jeremy hadn’t come to the beach this year. Pre-college courses and summer work gave him little free time. I’m on my own. And dying.
A soft click and hum jolted me. Cool air blew across my damp chest. I was lying in bed. It had been a dream. But my eyes still burned, and the nausea overwhelmed me. I cracked my eyes, and the light cut like knives going through my head. This isn’t my room. Where am I? I noticed a nearby ensuite bath. Good. I crawled out of the bed and monkey scrambled to it, reaching the toilet bowl just in time. I spewed the contents of my stomach, hot, acidic, and pink into the bowl. My entire body convulsed with the effort. The brief respite from the nausea only amplified the hot burning behind my eyes. And there seemed to be a spike bisecting my brain from side to side, a hammer pounding it in time with each heartbeat, like some sadistic Anvil Chorus. My body convulsed again, but there was little left to come up. I spat a bit of green bile into the bowl and flushed the evil smelling mess. I rested my forehead on the cool ceramic of the toilet. A chilling ache ran over me as I broke out in a cold sweat.
Where am I? My thoughts were fuzzy and slow, each produced in agony. Why don’t I remember anything? Am I sick? Maybe malaria or Ebola? Or maybe I have amnesia. No, I remember my name, Robbie, and I’m sixteen and live in Foxborough, Mass 02035. Unless that’s part of my delirium. I stood up like an old man. I looked down at my body. I’m in my Calvins, the way I always sleep, I think. My body looks young, though I feel ancient. I glanced in the mirror. Yes, I recognized the kid there, face bloated and creased from sleep, watery blue eyes red rimmed and bloodshot, unremarkable straight blond hair, currently sticking up. Your basic dork.