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[center Plot twist: She wasn't [i just] paranoid.]
[center Pyper nearly jumped out of her shoes at the sound of a voice. She turned her head to face the source, her blue eyes wide in a mix of shock and terror at the sight of someone not only alive, but pointing a gun at her head. Seeing her disadvantage, she dropped the machete to the dirt.]
[center [#464a61 "Wait, wait, wait,"] she stammered as if she couldn't get the words out fast enough, [#464a61 "I'm not a threat. Just put that thing away and we can talk. Please."]]
[center She subconsciously bit her lip just hard enough for a pinprick of blood to well up. Pyper had never been on the [i other] end of a gun before. You don't point a gun at something unless you are willing to shoot it. Did that mean this man was willing not only to shoot, but to kill her?]
[center She had a little bit of a fear of firearms after an incident as a young teen where she almost shot herself reloading her dad's rifle up in the mountains. She had been a clumsy, thoughtless kid at the time and she clearly knew better now, but the fear lingered.]
[center Pyper slowly rose to her feet. She showed him the palms of her hands in a surrender-like fashion before kicking the machete away from her. She had a pocket knife tucked in her boot, but there was no way she could get it out in time for a fight. She was straight out of luck, and it was terrifying to feel that defenseless. She pursed her lips together thoughtfully, choosing what she was about to say carefully.]
[center [#464a61 "Don't see a lot of living, breathing people now a days. Maybe we can help each other out? I scratch your back, you scratch mine sort of thing?"] Her smile was lighthearted but clearly nervous. Hope filled her eyes despite her anxiety. Maybe things would change today.]
Theodore lifted the bag strap up his shoulder again. It had been slipping down for the last hour and he was starting to wish he still had his car so he could throw it in the trunk and drive away. He stopped for a moment, dropping it to the ground with a soft thud and stretched his arms to the sky. He was weaving in and out of the trees and any moment he would break out into the once-busy town. The sky was warm and there was no breeze, causing the heat to prickle against his skin uncomfortably. Theo wondered if the heat would ever end, the past six months had been filled with solar flares and blistering heat, it was most likely the aftermath of the nuclear reaction mixed with the summer months, but he had always preferred the cold months and dreamt of the days where he drank hot chocolate in front of an open fire.
Theo heard the footsteps crunching against the dried leaves before he saw her. He picked his bag up as quietly as possible and reached into the side pocket to pull out the small handgun. It had bullets in it, not many but enough that if it was a mutated animal or human he could kill it. Six months ago Theodore had only shot cans in the garden. He wasn’t a bad shot by any means, but shooting a can is very different to a moving, breathing, warm-blooded human. Lifting the gun in front of him, he stepped forward so that the cause of the noise was now in sight.
It looked like a girl, but only seeing the side of her head, Theo couldn’t be sure if she was mutated or not. If she noticed him she could charge at any second. His finger rested on the trigger, ready to bury a bullet into the girls head at any moment. She seemed to be crouched to the floor and her hand was reaching for something that glimmered in the sun. A weapon.
The mutated didn’t have weapons, they tended to just use body strength, nails and teeth when attacking. Theodore kept the gun steady and took another step forward.
[b “Drop your weapon.” ] He said, his voice coming out rough.
[center It was eerily quiet. No birds chirping. No wind rustling the trees. She furrowed her brows. The silence was almost overbearing. She wanted to scream, but it would just be a fruitless effort. A lump formed in her throat.]
[center Was this how it was everywhere in the world? The question had been nagging at her ever since the disaster hit.]
[center It felt like forever had passed her by as she kept walking on. Where was she going? What would she do once she was there? Pyper hadn't the slightest clue. She reached down and clutched the handle of the machete strapped to her thigh; Pyper had had a slew of choices for weapons from her father's collection.]
[center Her gut clenched, stopping her dead in her tracks. Something felt off, felt different suddenly. She wasn't sure what. The world seemed to pause around her. Pyper bit the inside of her cheek nervously.]
[center She wasn't a woodsy. Sure, she went camping, but it was never an in-depth outdoor experience. Pyper hadn't the slightest idea how to survive on her own in the wild. She cursed under her breath. Why did this have to happen? Why to her? She wished her dad was there. He would know what to do. Pyper never found him or her brother. She always asked herself if maybe they were still alive somewhere. That's why she had always stayed so close to home since the disaster, hoping, praying they would come back. It was that faint glimmer of faith that kept her going day to day.]
[center Nothing ever came of her suspicion, yet her gut feeling never passed. Pyper was alone in the woods with little knowledge or supplies to defend herself. She had no idea what could be out there. She had seen the remnants of the people who passed in her town. Faces she knew, dragging themselves across the ground towards her, groaning almost as if in agony; but they were dead, and could the dead feel pain?]
[center The trees rustled but no wind blew. Pyper dropped into a crouch, her fist wrapping around the handle of the machete and drawing it up, ready to attack anything that came at her.]
[center Pyper was alone, she was just paranoid at this point. Right?]
There is a moment when witnessing a car crash when you know exactly what is about to happen but no matter how quick your reflexes are, or how fast you can run, there is nothing you can do. That was the feeling that Theodore relived every daybreak when he opened his tired green eyes. The first thing he saw each morning was the eroded ceiling of the hut he slept in most nights. It had a heavy door and was locked so many times that no one could break in without alerting him.
Sucking in a deep breath, Theo pushed himself upright and stretched out his aching muscles. Long gone were the days of sleeping in late, only to be woken by his little brother hurdling on his bed, or his father cooking bacon at four in the morning, just because he wanted to. Theodore had grown up with his father and younger brother. The boys had lived on the outskirts of town and had spent their weekends hiking or playing catch in the garden. Thick as thieves, together till the very end…
Theodore had been perched on a rock halfway up Cerulean Hill when the radiation hit his town. He had raced up as fast as he could, Leo bet him that he would win. First to the rock got Leo’s lucky penny – a silly coin that belonged to his mother. He had wasted all his breath getting to the top and his brother and father were small dots on the lush green landscape. There was a moment when the hill became radio silent, it lasted no longer than a second but it was enough to fill fear in the lads chest before a wave of radiation swept the land, destroying everything in its path, including his brother and father.
Theodore closed his eyes and wrapped his fingers around the coin that now hung from a silver chain on his neck. [b “Morning Leo.” ] He mumbled in his low voice before standing up. Six months had passed, stretching out like an apocalyptic joke that wasn’t ending. Each day passed and Theodore wondered if he was possibly the last sane person alive. Of course, he had come across the nuclear mutated, twisted remnants of humans that screeched and dragged their limbs around in pain. Six months passed and he had spoken to no one other than himself and the memory of his little brother.
[b “I think…” ] He said pausing for a moment to press his foot on the rusted door of the shed [b “…It’s time for us to leave.” ] He continued and put a small amount of pressure on the door, resulting in it falling to the ground with a sharp crash. Theo picked up his rucksack, it contained a little water, what preserved food he had found and a handgun he had taken from his father’s bedroom. Tilting his face to the warm sky, he ran a hand across the beard that had grown since he last managed to shave. He took in his corner of solace for a moment before heading off in search of food.
[center She watched the sunrise, letting it fill her with a glimmer of hope. The watercolor splash of oranges and yellows spreading across the morning sky. Pyper Andrews had been up before dawn. Now, it was barely past 6:30 AM. She had an early start to a long day. She liked to think it was because she was an early bird with a lot of work to do, but in reality, she just had insomnia. The bags under her eyes were a dead giveaway.]
[center Her silvery blue eyes scanned the horizon. She perched herself on top of a rundown house to watch the sun wake up. She was lucky the house wasn't collapsing underneath her. All the buildings around her were on the verge of caving in. This is how it looked everywhere she went. Plants struggling to sprout, animals dead or deformed, and the human population scattered and near extinction. Humanity was not what it used to be.]
[center It was hard to believe that just a short six months beforehand, the world had looked so very different. This neighborhood was so different. Pyper returned to this place often. Really, she never went far from it. The building she sat atop of had been her home. She had lived there with her parents, older brother Joell, and younger sister Alexis. It had been a happy family. Her father and brother served in the military while the girls ran the home and worked. Pyper had been happy, for the most part.]
[center But when shit hit the fan, so did she.]
[center The memories kept her awake at night. The nightmares woke her up in a sweat. Pyper had been away, camping with her friends from out of town. When they parted ways and she returned home, she had found her hometown in ruins. The nuclear power plant in a neighboring city had malfunctioned. Leaving everything as far as the eye could see decimated. Bodies littered the ground around town. Buildings crumbled. But, something else had happened. Something from a nightmare. When Pyper returned home, the horror she found had forever scarred her.]
[center Her mother lay in a heap in the corner, eyes wide open and a milky white all across. Alexis lay with her face buried against their mother, but she moving. Pyper had called to her sister.]
[center She shook her head. What point was there to remembering that day? Goosebumps formed across her arms. Pyper ran her hand through her dreads. Now wasn't the time. She removed herself from the roof of her home and surveyed the area. She picked a random direction and began walking. Maybe today she could find something.]
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