When we were released
by Eleanor Diamond.
I am a sixth form student who studies Drama (BTEC), Classical Civilisations and combined English Language/Literature. I have mostly been interested in acting for a large portion of my life, however, writing novels or doing the odd piece of creative writing has been a hobby of mine since I first learnt to form a sentence.
Four days. Those I had called friends, comrades, acquaintances, gone. For our whole lives, up until those four days, we had not known the outside world, what the sun felt like— blistering sunburn, skin cancer. We had known the names, the words, terminology and sensations on the skin. Films had taught us about relationships and families. We must have had them, but the closest I had to a family were my friends.
Walking along a road-turned-dirt-path, three others and myself sipped at water, trying to stay hydrated in the heat. The world we were thrown into was despicable and undesired by any human life. At least that is what we had thought, until I found the newspaper.
Tests on new-borns from 2149 come back negative. The now teens are to be terminated.
My family and I had all been born in that year. Year 2149. The date on the newspaper itself, however, was 2163.
Disease spreading quicker than pharmacists can come up with a cure…
Final attempt at saving society has failed.
Functional extinction of human race 2164.
Air born virus
Human race on verge of death
The end is near
We had grown up inside the compound, cool concrete with yellow walls and bunk beds. Somewhere that should have felt like home, considering we had never been anywhere else, yet we still felt like we were constantly being watched. Then four days ago, we were let out of the compound for the first time, never to be let back in. God knows, we’d tried, banging on that one metal door for almost an hour, not fully understanding why we’d been removed. The truth was there were probably going to be many questions that had no answers. Our best guess was that we had something to do with the disease.
With the sunrays beating down on us relentlessly, the scorched air had begun to burn in my lungs. No matter how much water we drank, how much shade we put ourselves under, we felt like we were melting. We walked in silence.
‘This is too much.’ Parker whispered. He wasn’t wrong, it was too much, the sweat that drenched our bodies evidence of that. The scent of sulphur and dust had long since stopped making me gag; it was just another scent in the world now.
‘We’ll find somewhere soon.’ I wanted to give my best friend some hope. Even though he was the same age as me, I still felt like an older sister.
‘Don’t make such stupid promises.’ Pamela, the worst person I knew, muttered. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was supposed to hear or not. Nevertheless, she still flashed me a fake smile when I glared at her. ‘We don’t know if we’re ever going to find somewhere, we could be trapped out here forever. I—’
Before she could finish her high-pitched whining, a singular thud cut her off. We all turned. Our fourth person, Nat, had fallen. The dark stain on her trousers where her bladder could no longer hold in the water she’d drank. Dark, almost black blood flowed out of her nose, mouth and ears. She was dead. No tears shed this time. We had started off as a band of twenty.
Instead, we ran, aware of the fact that the virus was air born. You can’t outrun air. My brain kept telling me. You can’t outrun disease. We didn’t have a choice. Parker’s heavier footfalls were on my right; Pamela had sped ahead into a wheat field. I don’t know what I thought was going to happen when we chose to do this, but it definitely wasn’t the sharp pains that came with it.
Each heavy step was another cut on the legs from the weeds that grew out of the dust, a heavy smack on the stomach from razor-edged leaves of plants I was moving too fast by to recognise. It was enough to slow Pamela down to our speedThe sun’s hot breath was causing the sweat on the back of my neck to come pouring out. No matter how far or fast we ran through the dead husks of wheat ,it was burning into us. ‘A house!’ Caught up in my own thoughts, I didn’t register whether the words came from Pamela or Parker. Not that I cared, the news was too scintillating.
‘Poppy!’ Parker called, briskly pulling me away from a spike in my path.
The sudden threat caused us all to pause. Rust coated the sharp stick. Metal. I touched it and paint fell off into my hands. The heat that conducted through it felt like the sun itself was present within it. I couldn’t feel any electrical impulse running through. It was old. Very old.
Parker and Pamela looked to me for an explanation.
‘Even if,’ I sniffed, playing with the cuff of my sleeve. ‘Even if this was a weapon here to kill us, there would still be human life. We’re truly alone out here.’
Both Pamela and Parker looked distant from the second I finished. Realisation was setting in. We were alone. We trudged towards the house now, instead of our excited running.
Upon closer inspection, the house appeared abandoned, the state that we had expected.
Heavy sighs came from the floorboards as we took steps onto the porch. There was no scent here, maybe a little musty if I was trying to find a smell. Eventually, we settled in one of the rooms. There was a hole in the roof, which meant we could set up a fire and cook a can of baked beans. I used to hate the things; now? Any food tasted good.
‘I think we’ll make it out of this,’ Parker commented, his face looking odd in the flickering illuminations of fire. Pamela glanced over. I knew that, deep down, she probably hoped he was right.
The thing about Pamela was that she had been excited to leave. The universe that was so romanticised by the fiction on our TV screens had made her believe in a world much more beautiful than our reality. On the day we were released, she had been the first to run out into the world, and into the rotten stench of reality. I almost felt sorry for her. She liked to get inside people’s minds, and bully them mentally rather than physically. Parker and I were frequently her targets. Little did she know, if we ran out of beans, Parker and I would eat her first.
‘Maybe we should at least try and sleep. We’ve only slept four hours over the past three nights. We may need to start moving tomorrow,’ I suggested. Whether we slept or not, we would definitely be leaving tomorrow. There was no doubt about it, no place was safe for too long.
Surprisingly, they both agreed. We put the fire out and found blankets from a room in the house. Pamela was the first to fall asleep, not wanting to spend any more time awake in this dry plain than she had to.
‘We’re going to survive.’ Parker muttered.
‘Hopeful. There’s a slight difference.One you need to learn.’
‘If I live long enough to learn it.’
There was a pause in the conversation. He didn’t really want to hear them. If he wanted to remain positive, I wasn’t going to be the one to stop him. He’s lonely in his own way, so maybe hope made him feel like he had someone. He was the sweetest person I knew, saving my life more than anyone else in the compound ever had, including the doctors.
‘I love you, Parker. You’re the best non-blood brother I could have asked for,’ I whispered, my eyelids growing heavy.
‘Love you too, Poppy.’
In my sleep I experienced something I could only call dread, like waking up would be a bad idea. Maybe I could sleep forever.
Two hands shook me awake.
‘Poppy? Poppy! For god’s sake please! Not you too.’ It was Pamela’s voice, echoing around my dreamscape. ‘Come on…’
‘What?’ I moaned. To my surprise, Pamela embraced me, hugging my floppy, barely awake body. ‘What’s going on?’
‘We have to go,’ she repliedSilence. Then, ‘Parker’s dead.’
‘No.’ I whispered. I tried to turn my head to see him, to see my dead friend one last time, but Pamela held my head in place.
‘Don’t do that to yourself.’ She whispered, the first bit of care she’d ever shown. ‘You will only make it worse.’
For some bizarre reason, at that one moment, I trusted Pamela, and stared straight into her eyes. I was surprised to see her crying too. Parker was part of a final group and we had lost a piece of us.
‘We need to leave, outrun this disease. Survive for Parker.’ Pamela croaked. All I could do was nod. In a week or so, if I was still alive, I would regret not looking at him. My family gone. Not right now. I couldn’t put emotions in front of logic, we had to survive.
‘Okay… Have you got everything?’ I asked, coming to my feet, staggering through the house. A quiet ‘yes’ came from behind me.
Pamela had tried, desperately to get me to run. I could not. Eventually, she gave up, and waited for me. She did not want to fight. The loss of everyone really had taken it out of us. Despite our belief that we’d gotten used to losing people, we realised we were wrong.
In the end, Pamela and I kept walking, in hope of tomorrow, that each sunset and sunrise wasn’t our last, that each sip of water would keep us hydrated, that each baked bean was keeping us nourished. In hope of life.