He was sure his arm was broken. The pain from the blow coursed from his elbow through to his fingertips. His legs too were beginning to give way now. They ached courageously and they were so heavy. Each step made a mile of its own and the inevitability of collapse was beckoning. Still he threw off any and all ideas of stopping.
On he rushed through the mangled weave of broken cement, ripping skin on plates of loose gravel and broken glass. On he rushed, never wincing for a second, swallowing; in every shallow breath, the agonizing defeat echoing through every fibre of his body. On he rushed, unsure of whom or what it was that hounded his piles of footsteps. On he rushed, certain of his uncertainty but unwilling to challenge his paranoia. On he rushed and he never lost pace.
He moved through the maze of concrete structures with a comfortable ease and an unsettled feeling of familiarity. He knew every brick that lay strewn in his path and given time, on any other day; without the shadow of death creeping upon his own, he could tell you exactly how and why it was that each brick came into being and its being where it was; its purpose before the blackout and its purpose now. None of this now though, for now is pressing.
The fractured cement beneath his feet governed his stride and his knowledge of every fissure meant that the probability of coming unstuck and losing his rhythm was far less than whatever was on his trail, sweeping him from his feet and devouring him under this choking black sky. On he rushed through the narrow street, his feet heavy, his mind light. The endless night; beleaguering his sight and his mind; was of no assurance to him at all, for on his scent was neither man nor beast. He was running from darkness itself.
The streets narrowed further now so his hands; outstretched, could run against the walls of the structures that stood unconvincingly to his left and to his right, on the path set before him and of those out of sight. His fingers and his toes urged him in a way that his eyes and ears could not.
His left arm swung in a lifeless fashion, catching on exposed nails that lined the walls of these archaic structures. He could pull this limb to his body with his right arm but it would be frivolous and counterproductive. Until this rush subsided, his right arm was his navigator and his left merely a counterweight. The searing pain of tearing skin and broken bones paled in comparison to the suffocating fear that galvanized his perpetual stride.
His fingertips manoeuvred laboriously across the crumbling brick work feeling for a shape he could recognise. The pounding of footsteps in his wake reverberated not in his ears, but in his consciousness. The air was completely still; a heavy blanket of nothingness.
If yesterday’s mathematicians were still counting today they would calculate that this environment is zero divided upon itself. As has always been, an asphyxiating toxic black cloud flowered from the heavens down to his feet. No light or sound could penetrate yet on he rushed.
And his pace quickened; a familiar shape. Now count steps he thought. “Sixteen, left, seventeen, right; left foot will slip towards a crevice. Hold firm in the crevice, spring to the right, twenty eight degrees inclination.”
His foot slipped just as he predicted sliding into a crevice but just as he moved to deflect into the opening to his right, something small and agile latched itself to his left calf. He entered the small opening yanking hard on a rusted chain as he dashed through. Behind him the opening vanished, as did the beast that was attached to his leg. He lay silent and discreet, foetal in the centre of the room.
Now that he was still, he could feel the pain from his left arm pulsating throughout his every being. ‘Safe’, he thought, as long as he remained still, and so he held onto his suffering. A marching procession moved pass the blocked entrance, their thunderously stampeding footsteps came loud, and then fell silent. Neither man nor beast had lost his scent. Not one, not the other, but an execrable amalgamation of the two.
His breath though hollow at first began to take shape, and with it, not a sensation of calm but one of calming washed over him like a stream of cold ale on a drunkard’s beard. It impregnated his blood and spawned at his fingertips, his digits twitching rapidly, surpassed only by the incapacitation of his heaving lower limbs. “Dese legs o mine” he thought, “Dey take anchor witout order. Dey listen not ta command but instead determine dis immediate state o misdirection. Damn dese insubordinate limbs. If I could do witout em, I’d be witout hunger, if just for one more day.” He thought of this rebellion, and he obeyed. Still and stupid, he sat in absolute silence.
“Girl” he said, wavering his head and right arm towards a crevice in the darkest black of the room.
“We have to move” he followed, choking on his own breath, the silence begotten only by the screeching of two pieces of rusted metal turning on one other as the hinges of a nearby cupboard hath said upon the world, “A secret in thine womb seeks absence of thee.”
A tiny hand slipped from the darkness into the sight of the man who in a moment jumped to his feet, yanking on the frail arm and taking with him, the young girl in his flight. Run, run, run chanted mind to foot.
“Don’t look back” the man urged to the young girl.
The man’s hand clenched unyieldingly around the young girl’s dragging her through a darkly invisible landscape of charred concrete. The beads of sweat that ran from their foreheads to their eyes stung wildly but it didn’t fault their pace or direction.
On they rushed, through the blanket of black sky that abounded them. On they rushed, vomiting as their breaths gave way to the tremendous waves of bile. Foot after foot, print by print, they weaved and dodged their way down a corridor of decomposing buildings; the man focused on a shadowy image far in the deep-set of his conscience, a destination of sorts.
On they rushed and a horde of footsteps rushed with them until they could rush no more. A great structure, a formidable sight; as high as the out stretch of night, beckoned their freedom and fraught their sight.
Stopped. Breathing heavily. Turned over upon themselves. Gripping their heaving chests. Exhausted. Beaten. Exposed. Frightened. Coughing violently and disgorging the vulgarity of screams that drowned out the silence and calm in everything. They could rush no more.
Fire, then filled the sky.
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Take Risk and Take Care,
C. Sean McGee