Runner’s High- A Short Story
Everly often wonders what would have happened if the world hadn’t ended. Well, if the economy hadn’t crashed and the guns hadn’t been so cheap and the government hadn’t been so hungry for power. Everly wonders. When she was younger she read a lot. Read books about young women in the post-apocalypse. She spent nearly all of her time immersed in the fictional world of a society that had survived the end and turned into something worse. Everly had never imagined that there was something after worse. That worse came and went, and you were expected to keep on surviving.
Real life differs from the books that Everly use to read. In her books, things always got better by the end. The heroes saved the day, overthrew the government and lived peaceful lives from then on out. The government fell a long time ago. Years ago. And things were not peaceful or better.
The world had fallen into a sort of limbo. An endless loop of news shouted into the ethers. More people dead. More confusion on who was in charge. More people disappearing. These days, even keeping your head down wasn’t enough.
That was part of the reason Everly was currently standing in her bedroom doorway; chewing her bottom lip so roughly it was close to bleeding. Two backpacks, that’s all they could bring. Just two. It hadn’t taken more than five minutes to fill one. Everly had been so irritated at how quickly the bags couldn’t hold anything else that she ended up dumping what she’d packed out. She’d done this three times.
James was going to be there any minute.
Four pairs of pants. Four Tops. Underwear. Socks. Blanket.
Again the first bag is full. Her eyes glance out the window; across the street, the house is still dark. Everly stands perfectly still for a few moments, watching the house. She knows very well that no one in that house is asleep. They’re a mirror image. The whole street is. Everyone’s in a slight panic. Everly chances a moment to herself and sits on the bed, her second empty backpack in her hands. As she remembers.
The message had come late in the night. Everly was seconds away from turning off her computer. She had to when she went to sleep; just in case. There had been the faintest of dings as Everly shuffled around the dark room. Getting ready to lay down and sleep. She hears it though. Her hearings so painstakingly good now. She has to always be listening.
Sliding in the broken chair, Everly doesn’t touch the computer but she leans close.
“What?” She whispers softly.
On the screen, the black line blinks at her for a moment. Then, a message types itself out quickly.
‘Your neighborhood is up tonight. They’ll come just before the sun. Get out now.’
It erases itself just as fast as it types out. Her heart seized in her chest.
Everly’s fingers ding into the denim of her backpack as she brought back to the present. James is going to be there any minute and they have to be ready to go. The moment they see him pull up.
She gets back to her feet, pushing her hair out of her eyes and crossing the room. She’s got her clothes; now for the essentials. Out of habit, she grabs her toothbrush and her toothpaste. Her mind flashing back to the first time she’d done this and how chaotic packing had been.
‘You don’t need toothpaste Evey, come on!’
‘Don’t yell Andrew, they’re children…’
Shaking the memories away, Everly shoves the items into her bag and swipes a few others in after it. Deodorant. Hairbrush. Two beanies.
She’s stuffing another blanket into the bag when a small hand hits her leg.
Her brother is standing at her side, his round eyes shining in the dark room. He whines something that Everly can’t hear before shoving his small backpack up at her.
Blinking down at him, Everly catches the pair of pants that are seconds away from hitting the ground. She smiled softly even though he probably can’t see it and guides him over to the bed.
She unpacks his bag and can’t help but chuckle. The pair of pants is the only clothing item in the bag. He’s stuffed it full of toys, three stuffed animals, two fire trucks and probably the loudest talking robot he has.
Everly takes the batteries out of the trucks and robot, sliding them into the side pocket. She’s not going to argue with her brother, he can take as many toys as he wants. Repacking the bag so that everything including the lone pants fit, Everly helps her brother put it on.
“Now go wait in your room for James, Tav,” she whispers in his ear. “He’ll be here any second.”
She listens to her brother’s uneven footsteps as he races back out her room.
Everly continues packing her second bag, deciding to stuff it with more clothes. From under her bed, she pulls out another backpack, this one prepacked with her brother’s clothes months ago. It’d been one of the first things Everly did after the funeral.
Physically, they’ve been ready for this for a long time. Mentally she isn’t so sure. Before she only had to look out for her brother, keep him close as they followed behind the adults in the dead of the night. Now, there is no following. Only leading.
Shaking her head to focus, Everly narrows her eyes as she sweeps the room one more time. She’s got everything important. Her hand gently pats the zipper pocket on her black shirt. It rustles slightly and Everly lowers her hand. The papers are still there.
She shoulders on an oversized coat and zips it up. It’s not cold outside, but the largeness of it gives a bit of comfort. The coat rests just ever so heavily on her shoulders, a weight to remind her she’s here. It smells just like him.
Outside, a door shuts and Everly freezes. Her ears straining to listen. She finds her mind already planning how fast she thinks she can grab the bags and her brother and get out of here. If it’s them, she won’t have long, maybe three minutes at the most. She remembers the last time, it took them less than five minutes to find them. And Everly had been moving as fast as she could, still, they came. And still, there was blood.
The raids are happening more and more frequent if the news is telling the truth. People are disappearing by the day almost. Houses that are full of people when the sun goes down are empty when it comes back up.
No one knows where they’re being taken. No one ever comes back either.
She scoops up the backpacks and heads for the door. Her brother is waiting at the top of the stairs. He’s at least put his shoes on his feet. Everly smiles happily at him as they take each other’s hand and start down the steps.
“Is where we’re going far?”
She shrugs. “I’m not sure yet.” She looks down at him. “James hasn’t said yet.”
“Where is James?” He’s looks slightly put out. “He missed dinner, he never misses dinner.”
Everly smiles and squeezing his hand. At the front door, she pulls it open with her free hand.
The air outside is stale. It always is. Everly thinks she remembers a time when breathing outside wasn’t hard. A time when next to no one wore masks. Now, you get funny looks for not having a mask on.
It’s still deathly quiet outside. The streets empty both ways. It makes the hairs on the back of her neck rise. There has to be a car hidden somewhere nearby. She knows she heard it bang…
Her brothers gone quiet at her hip. Everly glanced down at him, fingers running through his thick hair. He’s still there.
She takes a deep breath and they slowly begin their descent down the steps and to the sidewalk. Across the street, Ethan and Steph step out of their house. They’ve only been there for a month or so, Everly’s only spoken to them once. When they arrived. Ethan had asked if it was safe here. Everly’s pretty sure she told him no.
Steph is watching them; Everly and her brother. Her strawberry red hair is pulled back into a ponytail and her clothes are sized too big for her. Same for Ethan. They both stare at the siblings for far longer than they need to.
A few houses down Mr. Row and all five of his children are already starting to make their way into the woods. The little man has a backpack strapped to his back that’s almost as big as he is. They’re going to chance the woods; James said to expect a lot of people too.
“They can follow your car with the vans.” James had whispered to her late one night. “In the woods, it’s harder.”
Everly glanced over her shoulder. Still dark. Still silent.
They’re about halfway down the block. She can see the roads that lead to the highway. They’ll have to get on the highway if they want to find a new place to stay in. But Everly’s body unconsciously stiffens at the thought of the highway. It had been on one of those things that she’d lost them. Watched her parents fall to their death.
She can still hear her brothers screams in her ears.
She’s swinging before anything else. Her free hand pushes Tav away from her, instinct more than anything. It’s a good thing that James has the same instinct when it comes to her.
He catches her arm easily, blocking what would have been a good hit. He smirks at her from behind thick locs and almost black eyes. They stare at each other for a moment before Tav breaks it and throws himself arms around James’s middle.
“You missed dinner.” He whispers loudly making Everly wince and glance around them. She’s still on high alert. But James just looks down at him and grins.
“My bad little man, I had to get us some gas”
“How far away did you park?” Tav looks around as if he’s expecting a car to be nearby.
James smiles. “Might be walking for a bit, sorry.”
Tav signs but nods. “Evey said walking is best. They won’t hear us that way.”
Everly and James look at each other again. She’s anxious and he’s calm but he nods to her while he grips Tav’s shoulders. He steers the little boy around Everly and points to the way he’d apparently just come.
“Straight through those trees.” He points and Tav strains to see in the dark. “If we walk fast enough we’ll get there with enough time to sleep.”
Tav gave an audible gasp and reached back for Everly’s hand. Smiling, the older girl slid her fingers together with his and quietly followed after her little brother.
Behind them, she hears James shift his jacket and pull out his gun. It’s a long walk ahead of them and they need to be ready at any minute to fight. Everly wiggles her toes in her boots and grips Tav’s hand tightly.
Hopefully, they can make it to the car.