Sunday 19 May 2024

Viator by Raine Fielder

            All she could see was clouds as she felt the thumps of the bumpy [GJ1] road flowing beneath them at about thirty miles per hour. They had told her they knew a place that was safe, she’d had no choice but to believe them. It had been about five hours, it [GJ2] seemed like years ago when it had started. She had been shopping at the mall on a Saturday with her friend, Janie. She remembered shielding her eyes in the day’s brightness as they had walked inside from the parking lot. If she had known it was her last chance to see the sun light [GJ3] she might have taken more time to relish in it. In its warmth, it’s seemingly endless supply of day. Gwen had directed them to her favorite candle shop. Janie had gone along supportively as always because she was the follower. Gwen had been the leader, the queen bee of the clique when they were in high school. She couldn’t even really remember how she’d done it or why, just that it had always been that way. She was in charge and could admittedly sometimes be a little bossy.

            They had stopped for brunch and Gwen ordered for them both and they had drank[GJ4]  a few mimosas even though Janie was driving. Gwen had insisted they drink a few just to loosen up a little. Janie could be a little uptight and Gwen had genuinely believed she was helping her. Anyway they had them with food and were only going to be driving a couple of miles to the mall. They had made it there fine and Gwen figured a few hours shopping would sober them both up enough before they went home to their husbands. A typical Saturday.

            That was until Gwen had opened and took a whiff of the desert rose candle[GJ5] . She knew it was irrational and made no sense but somehow she felt like that had started the chain reaction. The sound, the rumbling, the screaming, all at once, everywhere. She had run to Janie who was over in the coffee scented candle section. Janie was crying but Gwen was stone-faced, looking around for something to do, some way to control the chaos. She didn’t even know what was happening, couldn’t find the source of the problem exactly. The world seemed to shake, and it was apparently, because one of the shelves in the store started to topple over. It was falling, in slow motion it seemed like, right on top of Gwen. [GJ6] That was until Janie had seen it and lunged at her, pushing her out of the way, getting crushed by it herself.

            Gwen sprung [GJ7] into action, throwing candles and boards everywhere until she got to her friend. It was too late, something had hit her in the temple, she was gone[GJ8] . Just like that, because of Gwen. Because Gwen had trained her to think she was secondary, that Gwen was worth more than her. It was Gwen’s fault for wanting to go to the damn mall and then the candle store and then opening that pandora’s box of a desert rose candle. Somewhere in her mind she knew that last part was ridiculous, but the rest was true, all of it. She just sat crying for a while as people ran around her screaming. Then someone had stopped, just stopped and held out a hand. It was a man about her age. He looked dirty and like he probably had a few bad habits, worse that drinking mimosa’s[GJ9]  on a Saturday at brunch. Still he was the only one who had stopped, the only one who had even noticed her.

            She took his hand and let him help her up. Even after all that had happened and all that was going on, she smiled at him, [GJ10] “I’m Gwen,” she told him.

            “Jake,” he muttered, “come on, [GJ11] let’s find a safer place to hunker down.” The last thing she would have done under normal circumstances was leave a public place with a complete stranger, a man no less. A man that looked like him, impossible[GJ12] . But for some reason she listened, and he led her through the throngs of people and out into the main hallway of the mall. He was practically dragging her, but she didn’t mind. For once in her life, she felt relieved to not be in control.

            He took them to a room that said ‘employees only’, she [GJ13] almost told him that they weren’t allowed to go in there but then realized that was ridiculous under the circumstances. They went in and he shut the door. She looked around at the small room, there was [GJ14] a desk and a chair, and really nothing else. It was just a small office, with the usual office items.

            “Get under the desk,” he said pulling out the chair.

            “What?” she scoffed.

            “The roof sounds like it might cave in, it’s [GJ15] best to get under something,” he said. She scratched her arm nervously and then walked around to where he stood waiting. She lowered herself and crawled up under the desk.

            “I’m not sure there’s room for both of us,” she said.

            “That’s alright,” he sighed tossing off his backpack and then sitting down on the floor in front of her. He unzipped his bag and pulled out some beefy jerky, two pieces. He held one of them out to her.

            She shook her head, “I just had brunch.”

            He grinned and she realized that under the short scruff on his face he had dimples, he [GJ16] raised an eyebrow at her, “brunch?”

            “It’s a combination of the words breakfast and lunch,” she said.

            He smiled, to [GJ17] her surprise he had a straight row of shiny white teeth, “I know,” he nodded, “it’s just… brunch, it sounds so…”

            “Pretentious?” she finished for him.

            He took a big bite of jerky and shook his head,[GJ18]  “I was gonna say ‘normal’, compared to what’s going on right now.”

            “Oh,” she felt herself blushing a little bit.

            “So you’re one of those types then?” he asked.

            She tilted her head a little bit, “which types?”

            “Women who go to brunch,” he said.

            She shrugged, “I used to be.”

            “It hasn’t even been an hour since whatever this is started,” he said.

            “Yea but regardless how it turns out, Janie is gone, I doubt [GJ19] I’ll ever be able to…” her voice caught, and she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. He watched her silently as he chewed his jerky. It sounded like the sky was falling right on top of them. She started to shake all over.

            “Are you cold?” he asked, digging a dirty wrinkled black hooded sweatshirt out of his bag.

            She eyed it for a moment then shook her head, “I think it’s [GJ20] my nerves.”

            “Still might help,” he waved the sweatshirt in front of her as if it were the most tempting thing on earth.

            She took it reluctantly and shook it out, “thanks,” she muttered [GJ21] as she wrapped it around herself and stuck her arms in the sleeves. Somehow it did help a little bit, but she still shook from anxiety. She hugged her knees harder and backed up under the desk as far as she could go. He ate his jerky in silence and then pulled a couple bottles of water from his bag. She let out a little laugh as he handed one to her.

            “What?” he asked.

            “You have an entire pantry in there,” she said.

            He let out a little laugh, “well this [GJ22] is my pantry, closet and storage unit all in one,” he patted his bag.

            Her eyes dropped to the floor, “oh…oh I’m [GJ23] sor-” she started.

            “No, it’s alright, I kind of think [GJ24] of it as being ahead of the times, computers used to take up entire rooms, now they fit in your pocket, I bet you got a smart phone?”

            “I did, I don’t know what happened to my purse,” she said.

            “Well anyway, right now people live in big houses, but over time everything seems to be getting smaller, so I figure I’m ahead of everyone else, my home [GJ25] fits in one bag,” he said with a smile.

            She tried to smile at his attempt to see the bright side of his situation, “certainly don’t have to worry about whatever is going on right now destroying a house…” she said th[GJ26] en felt her face crumple. Her own house, her husband, was this thing happening across town where Jerry was probably outside mowing the grass?

            “Hey… it’s going to be alright,” Jake said.

            She felt tears spill down her cheeks and shook[GJ27]  her head, “you don’t know that.”

            “You’re safe at this moment, that’s all you need to think about right now,” he whispered, somehow it helped, then she realized his hand was on her knee, he looked at it and pulled it back and rubbed it on his jeans, “umm after things calm down we can go look for your purse, I’m sure you just dropped it or something.” [GJ28] 

            “Why are you helping me?” she asked softly.

            “Why wouldn’t I?” he asked.

            “No, I mean, why are you helping ME?” she asked. He shrugged and took a drink of his water, not taking his eyes off her. He took a long sip tilting his head back and gulping down half the bottle. She watched his muscular neck as he swallowed. Then looked away quickly wiping her eyes.

            He finished his drink with a sigh and wiped his mouth with his arm, “uhh I don’t [GJ29] really know, I just saw you there, you were the only person not running, not trying to save yourself.”

            She let out a humorless laugh, “how out of character for me.” [GJ30] He gave her a curious look and she shook her head, “never mind, it’s just that, that girl that I was holding. She was my best friend and she saved me, she died saving me.”

            “You must be pretty special to have someone care about you that much,” he said. She[GJ31]  didn’t want to get into it with him at that moment, so she just shrugged. They sat there for a long time in silence waiting for the noises to stop. Eventually, somehow, she fell asleep. She awoke to total silence and darkness. It was a silence she’d never heard before in her life. There were no sounds of birds or cars on the highway. It took her a moment to remember where she was, she was on a cold hard floor [GJ32] but her head was rested on something soft. She rose up and heard the sound of a lighter.

            “You’re awake,” she heard a voice before her eyes adjusted to the small flicker of light coming from the flame. It came crashing back to her when she saw his face, the man who’d helped her, Jake. “The electric went off while you were sleeping, I didn’t want [GJ33] to waste lighter fluid looking for a candle.”

            “Is it over? I don’t hear anything,” she whispered hugging herself tight.

            “Over or just changed,” he sighed, “either [GJ34] way I think we should go back out, maybe there’s light coming in through the windows out there.” She nodded and he gathered his bag and helped her off the floor. They left the small room and he was somewhat right but also not completely. The roof of the mall was gone, just gone. It wasn’t completely dark, not like nighttime but there was a fog, like a cloudy day but somehow closer to the earth. It looked like a tornado had torn through the mall but somehow she knew this wasn’t anything like that. She had heard the sounds, it didn’t sound like wind, there were crashes and typical storm type sounds but there was more than that. [GJ35] There had been the sounds of something living, almost animalistic but not quite, more like something otherworldly. They didn’t talk about it. She couldn’t think about what kind of creatures those sounds could have come from. She still heard them now that they were out of the room, but they sounded distant.

            She refused to look too long at the bodies that littered the floor around them everywhere. Neither of them even acknowledged the death that surrounded them, ignoring [GJ36] it was the only way to keep ahold of their sanity. These people weren’t all killed by debris and Gwen started to wonder if Janie was one of the luckier ones. For her it had been quick, more natural somehow that something humans could recognize had taken her life. They went to the candle store but couldn’t get inside, so much for trying [GJ37] to find her purse or phone. Then they made their way outside and it wasn’t much different, she made her way to where her vehicle once sat.

            “Well my car was parked here,” she sighed. The [GJ38] space wasn’t empty but it wasn’t her car anymore, it was a heap of garbage and ash.

            “I know some people, I think I can get us a ride,” he said.

            “To where?” she scoffed, looking around, the destruction seemed endless but there was really no way to know. He just gave her a look and hitched his backpack up higher on his shoulder. And then he took her hand, she froze[GJ39] . She looked at their hands, his large one enveloping hers. She looked up at him in shock, but he just shrugged.

            “These people aren’t really the safest people to be around but they are survivors so there is a chance they are still alive, and they owe me so…” he said.

            “If you want me to come with you, that’s not exactly [GJ40] the right thing to say,” she said.

            “I’m not trying to say the right thing, I’m trying to say the true thing,” he said. She felt herself smile a little bit.

            Then she shook her head, “my husband, I’m married,” she pulled her hand from his and showed him her ring. [GJ41] He just stared at her for a moment like what she’d just said meant nothing to him, so she rolled her eyes, “I want to go see if he’s alright.”

            “Okay, so how far away do you live?” he asked.

            “About thirty minutes, driving,” she said.

            “That’s why we need a ride, the people I’m talking about stay in a warehouse just a few minutes’ walk from here, if they didn’t make it, maybe one of their cars did,” [GJ42] he said and started walking.

            “Don’t you have anyone you want to check on?” she asked. He[GJ43]  turned his head and raised an eyebrow at her but he didn’t answer. Maybe it was a stupid question to ask someone who was so obviously unhoused. She walked quickly to catch up to him and for some reason she couldn’t explain she slipped her hand back into his. It was comforting somehow and felt right. For all she knew they were the last two people on earth. They walked a few miles and then he suddenly stopped in the middle of the street.

            “Stay here, I’m going in alone to talk to them,” [GJ44] he said.

            “I have to stay out here by myself?” she asked, sounding younger to herself than she had in years.

            His brows furrowed a little and he tilted his head, “I’ll be back as soon as I can, it’s just safer if I go in alone, they don’t like strangers.” She nodded and he turned the big metal handle, it wasn’t [GJ45] locked, which was surprising for people who he claimed were paranoid. She saw as he opened the door that the only thing on the other side was a set of stairs that went way down under the earth. Maybe these people had better security at the bottom of the steps. He gave her one last look before he started down, letting the door close behind him. She felt like whimpering or crying, something about him being out of sight made her more nervous.

            She waited for what seemed like forever until she ended up sitting on the sidewalk, her back against the wall.  Suddenly the door burst open with a crash against the wall. A huge man with a long beard came out carrying two guns, behind him a woman almost equally as large stepped out with the same demeaner.[GJ46]  Both were covered in leather and tattoos.

            “This her?” the man pointed at Gwen but looked back into the open doorway. Jake stepped out and Gwen let out a sigh of relief for a moment then realized she didn’t know what these people intended to do with her.

            Jake nodded, “yea that’s her.”

            The woman came over and grabbed Gwen’s arm, to her [GJ47] surprise the touch was gentle as she helped her up, the woman smiled at her, “we [GJ48] can’t let you have our baby but we can give you a ride,” she said as she practically picked Gwen up with one hand and let her down on her feet.

            “Oh, thank you,” Gwen said a little frazzled from being tossed about like a ragdoll.

            “Well we owe Jake here a whole hell of a lot more than we could ever pay back,” the man said, “I’m Randy and this here is Trish.”

            “It’s nice to meet you,” Gwen said, holding out her hand. Randy grinned and looked at Jake who grinned back. Trish took her hand instead and shook it, then gave Randy a look and he reluctantly shook her hand too.

            Randy looked her over as he let her hand go, “picked out quite [GJ49] the looker didn’t ya Jake?” Jake blushed and Trish punched Randy’s shoulder. “Ow babe, I’m just saying, no need to get jealous.”

            “Have some class why don’t ya?” Trish scoffed. Gwen didn’t know how to react to any of it, so she just didn’t.

            “Umm Gwen, just tell us your address and we can go see if… well go check your place out,” Jake said. Gwen[GJ50]  nodded and told them her address. Randy and Trish led them to a big garage door and opened it. The building it was in seemed to be stainless steel. No wonder it was one of the only ones still standing. Inside was a vehicle Gwen had never seen before, it was part truck, part hummer, part army tank. They all climbed inside, Randy rode passenger and Trish was behind the wheel. There was one long backseat that Jake and Gwen sat on, it [GJ51] was cramped because there were weapons and electronics everywhere. Randy and Trish seemed to be some sort of dooms day preppers. Maybe those people weren’t so crazy after all.

            They got to her address and she saw it immediately, the house was destroyed. The lawnmower was intact but it was turned over. Only half of what she assumed was Jerry lay next to it. His bottom half bitten right off. She let out a loud sob and Jake grabbed her and pulled her to him. She had no choice but to bury her face in his chest.

            “You shouldn’t look at that,” he said.

            “I’m awful sorry miss [GJ52] Gwen,” Trish said from the driver’s seat.

            “Where do I even go now? What do I do?” Gwen cried.

            “Stick with us, that’s your [GJ53] best bet, both of you,” Randy said. Gwen raised her head and looked up at Jake. He looked pained to see her so upset. She swallowed and watched his face for a moment then realized she really had no other choice.

            She nodded, “okay.” [GJ54] 

            Jake nodded, “good.”

            “But I need to be alone for a while, can we go somewhere [GJ55] so I can be by myself for a while to think?” Gwen asked.

            “We were planning to go to our bunker out west, gotta head there now, all our stuff is packed, gotta keep moving,” [GJ56] Trish said.

            “Isn’t your bunker back in town?” Gwen asked.

            “That’s just the smaller version of our real bunker, just temporary in case of emergencies, we need [GJ57] to make it out to West Virginia before it gets too dark,” Randy said. West Virginia, that explained their accents a little better.

            “Tell you what, why don’t you climb out the back window and into the back of the truck, you can have some privacy out there,” Trish said. Gwen nodded and Jake helped her back there, it was more comfortable [GJ58] than she’d have guessed, and she laid down just to stare up at what used to be the sky. Now it was just some sort of gray fog or clouds. After several hours, the truck stopped so she raised up. They were out in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere and parked facing a huge rock. Something started to clang and the rock started moving to the side. It opened like a giant door and they drove into a tunnel made of stainless steel. They drove down the tunnel into what looked like a small parking garage. It felt like they had been traveling downhill, down into the earth. Trish parked and her, Randy and Jake got out of the vehicle.

            “Make yourselves at home,” Trish said, opening the tailgate. Gwen made her way over and had to sit on the edge and jump into Jake’s arms to get out of the truck. She blushed as he sat her down in front of him. Randy and Trish took off in the only direction there was to go, down the lighted tunnel. Jake took Gwen’s hand and they followed them. After walking for a long time, possibly miles, they came to a little community. It looked like the outside but it wasn’t. There were small houses all around and shops that looked almost like the old west. The area was lit up with artificial light but it looked like it was the middle of the day.

            “Pick out a little house and enjoy,” Trish said taking her bags towards a little orange house to their left.

            Jake let go of Gwen’s hand and started toward a little blue house, Gwen followed [GJ59] him and he stopped and looked back at her, she blushed, “I umm, I don’t want to be alone.” He held his hand out to her and she took it again and he led her to the little house with him. Once inside she realized it had everything. A stove, fully stocked fridge, the bathroom had a shower with soap and shampoo. She walked back to the living room where Jake was sorting through the things in his bag.

            “Wow, they thought of everything,” she said.

            “I figured they’d come through,” he said.

            “Are we the only people here? The four of us,” she said.

            “I’m sure there is a very select guest list,” he said getting cigarette out and lighting it.

            “You smoke?” she asked.

            “Only after sex and the end of the world,” he said blowing out smoke. She blushed at the mention of sex.

            “So, is that your last one?” she asked.

            “Why you want one?” he asked.

            “No, I was just hoping you have a least two, just in case,” she said sitting down on the couch. He coughed on his hit and looked at her surprised. She grinned and he let out a little laugh as he sat down beside her. She got closer to him, “so what did you do for them that got you a special pass to this paradise?”

            “That would be a story for after,” he said.

            “After what?” she asked.

            “After the second cigarette,” he said, then leaned over and pressed his lips to hers[GJ60] .

 


 [GJ1]This rhyme jars a little

 [GJ2]; needed

 [GJ3]Intriguing  

 [GJ4]Drunk

 [GJ5]Good to use the senses.  Can you show us what it smells like?

 [GJ6]Slightly awkward and ungrammatical.  Consider revising.

 [GJ7]sprang

 [GJ8]The punctuation needs correcting here.

 [GJ9]This is a plural. An apostrophe is not needed.

 [GJ10]. here

 [GJ11]; here

 [GJ12]A little obscure.  

 [GJ13]; needed here

 [GJ14]; needed here

 [GJ15]; needed here

 [GJ16]; here

 [GJ17]; here

 [GJ18]. here

 [GJ19]; or new sentence here

 [GJ20]. here

 [GJ21]Punctuation!

 [GJ22]little laugh. “Well this

 [GJ23]dropped to the floor.  “Oh…oh I’m

 [GJ24]; or new sentence

 [GJ25]; here

 [GJ26]Punctuation!

 [GJ27]Word missing?

 [GJ28]This needs splitting up with proper punctuation.

 [GJ29]with his arm. “Uhh I don’t

 [GJ30]punctuation again

 [GJ31]paragraph break here

 [GJ32]Run on sentences Split this.

 [GJ33]; here

 [GJ34]You can’t use ‘sigh’ to assign speech.

 [GJ35]Run on sentence. This needs splitting up.

 [GJ36]; here

 [GJ37]Run on

 [GJ38]No – ‘sigh’, isn’t a tag.

 [GJ39]New sentence?

 [GJ40]Run on. Split.

 [GJ41]Punctuation!

 [GJ42]Split into proper sentences.

 [GJ43]Paragraph break here.  

 [GJ44]Run on

 [GJ45]; here

 [GJ46]Fine but a little pedantic. Can you make this more dramatic.

 [GJ47]; here

 [GJ48]Her.  “We

 [GJ49]Punctuation

 [GJ50]New paragraph here.

 [GJ51];

 [GJ52]Upper case here?  

 [GJ53];

 [GJ54]She nodded. “Okay.”

 

 [GJ55]Run on.

 [GJ56]Split into proper sentences.

 [GJ57]; here

 [GJ58];

 [GJ59]New sentence here

 [GJ60]Ann interesting and engaging story though the post-apocalypse organisation seems to have happened too quickly.

Multiple punctuation mistakes really make this difficult to read.

Nevertheless, there is great potential in this text.