Death was only one thing everyone was guaranteed in this life. It didn’t discriminate. It crept up in many forms, waiting to catch the pathetic mortal that at last fell from this earth.
These thoughts floated idly around Jamie’s mind as he crouched in a dark alcove waiting for the opportunity to sprint across the street unnoticed. The subject wasn’t so odd to think upon anymore, so he let them meander about, keeping his eyes alert.
He bounced impatiently on the balls of his feet, knowing the route of the guards purveying the area, and ticked down the minutes.
Guard 1 walked stiffly along the edge of the street, approaching the eastern corner.
He stops, turning to watch the street, waiting until guard 2 has reached him, as so to trade places.
Jamie rose for his crouched position, fingers lightly scratching into the stone of the building he leaned against, the shadow of guard 2 looming across the intersection from the dim light; Guard 1 turns towards him, momentarily blocking guards 2’s sight of the street as he came around the corner.
In that second, Jamie sprung up and with light steps, propelled himself across the street, deftly turning sideways and fitting himself in the narrow space between two buildings. He waited, listening to the steps of the second guard echoed in the empty street as he walked down the sidewalk, and then faded as he continued further.
Jamie shuffled sideways, trying to slow his movements as not to be heard, but eager to get out of the tight space. Coming to the end, he slides a pocket mirror down from his sleeve, sticking out his hand to check for anyone, before pushing himself from the cramped way. He took a moment to suck in a lungful of air; he despised taking this way, and hadn’t done so in months, but necessity forced him to.
Regaining his composure, he ran to the sewer cover some yards in front of him. He lifted it up, crawling down the latter a few rungs, and moved the cover back in place. Water splashed onto his already damp sweatpants as he landed from his short jump from the last rung. He ran forward, taking few turns before stopping at a steal door. He retrieved a small key from one of his jacket pockets, inserting it into the lock. Jamie gripped the bow, bouncing on his feet as he waited for the stopper to be removed from the other side.
A series of zeroes and ones flickered on the surface of the steel door, spelling out Jamie’s name. He was allowed to push the key further in after inputting the correct response.
‘You’re still using binary as code, Ciph? That’s so easy to figure out; I’m surprised no one has broken in yet. ‘
‘You tryna jinx me or somethin’, Bennett? Your shit’s to the left.’
‘A real comedian we got here, folks!’ Cipher crowed as Jamie made his way to the small room to his right.
He rifled through the small red duffle bag, nestled among many others, grateful that Ciph was able to procure all the things he had asked for.
As it were, present society was only a skeleton of its former self making what was once easy to obtain rare objects that needed to be snatched away when no one was looking. A world where shadows could turn into men, and people you knew could turn into piles of sand, there was barely any room for trust. The ones you did trust, you clung to.
‘Anything new out there?’ Jamie asked, walking up and standing behind Cipher, the older man’s dark face aglow with the light from the many monitors mounted on the wall.
The screens held images and video from various locations, and showed information that Jamie wasn’t quite able to comprehend.
‘Think so. Somebody’s gonna try n’ start somethin’ soon ‘nough, looks like.’
‘Really?’ There had been many revolts and counter attacks against Black and his following in the beginning, but they all failed miserably, and people began to realize the futility of resistance, their conviction along with their hope wilting as the surrounding darkness clouded over and suffocated them.
‘They’re crazy,’ Jamie mumbled to himself.
‘Ain’t we all, livin’ like this?’
Jamie gave a wry smile, before patting the man on the shoulder.
‘Thanks for stuff, Ciph.’
‘Yeah, kid, anytime.’
‘I’m not a kid,’ Jamie retorted, opening the heavy steel door. ‘And change your fucking code!’ With that he was out the door, and off running again. The echo of Ciph’s raucous laughter bounced around his head.
‘What took you so long?’
Jamie cast his younger sister a bemused look. She was wringing her hands, and pacing the length of their small one room apartment. ‘What do you mean? I didn’t take any longer than usual. Did something happen?’
‘There were guards and Shadows lurking around outside.’ Jamie quirked an eyebrow. ‘A lot. You didn’t see them?’
Jamie shook his head, ‘I came in through another way.’ With his load, he had to take a longer, alternate route back that ended with him on their building’s roof.
‘I don’t understand why they’re out there, what they’re looking for.’ Jamie followed his sister to look out their dingy window, and watched as some 25 men littered the street, scanning nearby buildings, talking into their phones, or huddled together.
Was this about the people Ciph mentioned? They wouldn’t be successful if they were already being tracked.
‘I’m scared, Jamie. What if there’s another uprising?’
Jamie rubbed his sister’s back in an attempt to comfort her. ‘I highly doubt it, Sophie. I don’t think anyone would want a repeat of last time.’ Sophie had not been old enough to even remember the last revolt, and Jamie could barely comprehend what had happened but they both, along with everyone else in the city, suffered the consequences in the subsequent years.
Jamie sighed, pulling Sophie away from the window. ‘C’mon, lemme show you the stuff I got from Ciph.’
Jamie’s eyes peered into the darkness of Sophie’s and his shared bedroom, barely any light coming in from the street lamps outside. As much as he tried to assuage Sophie’s anxiety, he had to admit the he too was scared.
Of course he was.
That was the default emotion for everyone, after all.
He didn’t know what would happen if there was another uprising, what they would do, or where they would go. The last one has caused an unsalvageable amount of destruction, and had cast the siblings far far from their hometown. It had taken almost a year for Jamie to figure the workings of the city, and find ways to sneak around while they were practically under lock down.
But even if there were people rash enough to incite another rebellion, fleeing would be like running into an abyss and Jamie wondered if it would even make a difference.
He sensed it before he heard it, the sand that was flowing in through the many cracks and crevices of the old building. Jamie shot up, roughly shaking Sophie’s shoulder.
‘Sophie, up! Grab your bag!’
Sophie jumped up, snatching a green duffle bag from a shelf above their bed and scrambling towards the closet. Jamie followed suit, grabbing his own backpack, making sure to take the bag with Ciph’s stuff as well. He ran into the dark closet, closing the door behind him knowing it wasn’t much of a barricade against the black grains of sand.
He couldn’t see his sister’s face, but knew it was contorted in frustration from the sound of her voice as she pounded on closet wall. He moved his sister out of the way, and kicked the back wall once, twice before it finally fell through.
They made their way down the dark passage way leading underground, not stopping until an hour later. Jamie noted the mark on the wall indicating they were at least 3 miles out.
Jamie retrieved a flashlight from his backpack, and scanned their surroundings. The passageway should have been relatively safe, though he wouldn’t risk overlooking something based on assumption.
He leaned against the wall, watching his younger sister pace around, fiercely brushing at her clothes, knowing he couldn’t stop her, or calm her down.
‘Don’t you think we should keep going, Jamie?’
‘We will, Soph. Let’s just rest for a minute.’ She huffed at his response, but didn’t say anything more.
Sophie continued to pace for a while before deciding to sit down and lean against Jamie, who wrapped his arm around her and rested his head back on the wall.
Black sand was beyond the consequences that followed a revolt. It came sporadically, there being no blatant reason for it, and it was almost impossible to escape. Jamie had only experienced a Spill, as it was called, a few times in his lifetime, but he knew from Ciph that they took place almost monthly, if not here then somewhere else. After they had been displaced by the last Spill, Jamie had tirelessly looked around for a building that was still close to his resources and where he could map out an escape route. He had been able to find an escape building 5 miles out, but when he passed it last month, the foundation had given way, and the building had fell in on itself. He hadn’t the chance to find a new one, and now they were essentially stuck.
He turned his head towards his sister, knowing she wasn’t asleep.
‘No,’ she mumbled. He retrieved bread from his bag and passed it to her anyway and then took out a cell phone as well. He tapped the device against his knee, undecided. Phones and other devices were around, though with everyone scurrying around trying not to be noticed, people hardly used them since they were easy to trace. Ciph had given him one modified as to encrypt any communication; though Jamie wasn’t sure how impenetrable it was considering this was the same man who still thought using binary was sufficient code.
They couldn’t stay here for too long though. Jamie turned the phone on, and tapped Cipher’s name.
He waited with anticipation as it rang, worrying if the reaches of the black sand had managed to find the older man. He sighed, relieved when he heard Cipher’s raspy voice on the other line.
‘Hey, Ciph, you okay? Yeah, we’re fine. Hey, listen, I need another favor.’
‘There’s another buildin’ with a room ’bout 5 miles from where y’all are…’
Jamie stared up into the walkway, sweeping his flashlight up and down the shoddy stairway. He turned towards Sophie, who looked at him dubiously.
‘Better than nothing, right?’ she shrugged. He nodded, before taking ahold of her hand, cautiously moving forward. The wooden stairs creaked under their weight, but held steady allowing them to reach the top landing safely. The door opened with little force, and led into what Jamie perceived to be another closet.
Not very ingenious, Jamie thought dryly.
This place was even smaller than the one they left, though less degraded. The siblings cautiously peeked out the bare window. The neighborhood was desolate, hardly any other buildings nearby and closer to a more suburban area.
Jamie sighed, shaking his head. This was probably the worst location but as Sophie had said, it was better than nothing.
Little sunlight made its way through the thick layer of dark clouds that clung to the sky; and what did made not much of a difference. Jamie lay on his side and stared up at the sky as it lightened from a black to a dull grey.
I can’t live like this anymore
The thought came unbidden, but Jamie wasn’t surprised, though he tightened his hold on the thin blanket wrapped around him. His head felt heavy feelings of despondency pressed down on him. What was the reason they strived so hard to stay alive. The air they inhaled was stale and putrid, rotting them from the inside out. What world was this where each day gnawed away at you-
A loud gasp sounded out from behind him. Jamie turned around to see Sophie sitting up, her hands clutching her throat, breathing harshly through her nose. A nightmare.
Jamie sat up, encircling his arms around his sister, rocking her as she silently cried into his shoulder and he wondered for whose sake that he was trying to keep her safe.