I glanced over my shoulder at the approaching darkness. Move your butt, Abby, you’re almost safe.
Safe. I’m fooling myself but I need the pep talk. It should surprise me that this is happening again, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Lately it’s become a regular part of my daily routine. Get up, go to class, escape the compound and get chased by Gangers all afternoon ... sure, just standard stuff. I really need to find someone with a normal life, kill them and take their identity. I’m kidding, of course. In my seventeen years, I’m yet to meet anyone with a normal life.
I ran across the road. Where had the footsteps that had been echoing my own hurried pace for the past twenty minutes disappeared to? I found it unsettling that the only noise to break the silence was my own shallow breathing.
Hesitating, I scanned the area. The street was empty. Shadowy and unnaturally silent. I looked again in the last rays of the setting sun. Shattered shop windows – junk piles – were the norm. Courtesy of the current world crisis. But the gang of tattoo-faced thugs that struck such fear in me when they attacked in Central Park were thankfully missing. Four on one hadn’t been the best odds, but I’d managed to shake them off and almost ... almost I was back at the compound.
Fidgeting a little, I stifled a cry of pain. Lifting my raggedy sweater, I breathed in. I hadn’t escaped entirely undamaged. In the still-fading light I could just make out the dark bruises shadowing my ribs. Purple already? That was going to be a pretty sight by morning. A rodent scuttled by – but that wasn’t causing the tenseness that filtered into each of my muscles. I couldn’t see the source – or hear it – but I could feel it. I wasn’t alone. Pulling down my thin top, ignoring the pain, I tried to determine where the ambush was coming from.
It’s an understatement to say I’m not patient. I acknowledged that. I was ready for lunch the moment I finished breakfast, although, I thought wryly, that might have more to do with a love of food rather than impatience. So action of any kind was my preference and I’ve always worked on the theory that in dangerous situations there was little point sitting around waiting for the axe to fall. A theory expertly formed through my formative years, which were spent watching pirated old-school horror movies. Ah, yes, the loss of television was one of the things I’ve long mourned since the fall of New York. Funny, considering how many other things we had lost, but escapism was harder to come by now.
So back to my current predicament. My instincts were urging me to stop running and get off the street. Avoid the Gangers until they moved on to some other nefarious business – which preferably wouldn’t involve me. I was banking on their notoriously short attention spans. Making a split-second decision, I ducked into the nearby alley.
Almost no light penetrated this far off the main road. And even with excellent night vision I crept cautiously. The dusky light barely highlighted the alley. It was short and dirty, with just a few rusted-out dumpsters scattered close to a brick wall dead-end.
Bad idea, Abby. Retreat. Retreat.
My instincts don’t usually let me down, but the danger on the street was preferable to being caught in a dead-end alley. Bad horror movie script.
I turned to leave, but only took two steps before the faint sounds of feet scuffing the footpath halted my escape. My heart skipped a beat.
I was about to become that idiot heroine, you know the one: stupid, stacked, blond and dead. The film industry doesn’t exist anymore, but I had watched enough old movies to know the general plotline. Considering I was neither stacked nor blond, I might pass on that career choice today.
I moved further into the shadows. There were exactly two suitable dumpsters. The rusty faded red, which was emitting suspicious rat noises; or the other, a delightful brown color, which, judging by the smell, was home to at least two dead bodies.
Moving faster, I flipped a mental coin before sliding in behind the red one. There was just enough space to hide. Leaning back against the wall, I ignored the rustling and forced my tense muscles to relax.
I tried to contain the flood of unpleasant memories. It’s as if the moment I sit still all the negative crap piles in on me. It still amazes me that people of the early 21st century thought Earth of the future was going to be awesome. By the year 2020 we would have flying cars, talking dogs and somehow live in houses suspended in the sky. The reality – it’s 2035 and we live in a dead zone.
Technology and communication systems – gone.
Malls – gone.
Schools and sports – gone.
Fossil fuels and transport systems they powered. Sigh. Gone, too.
Yep, pretty depressing.