August 31, 2031
Entertainment media made us believe thorugh movies, videogames, comics or tv series that man who has never touched a gun in his whole life can easily pick two 1911 handguns up from a desk and spray fire left and right with some perfect marksmanship and ned up completely unharmed after the massacre. Right after that the guy will just leave the palce behind as if nothing has happened.
When did we allow them to lie to us so blatantly?
Is some brief amusing time worth swallowing an ideal of reality that is just... completely fake?
Tunel vision, palpitations, cold sweat, tremblings, bowel incontinence, unbearable stress, lightheadedness and vertigo. Fear. For most soldiers, fear turns into the engine that keeps them fighting in the middle of a shooting. Fear of dying.
Between your hands a rusty revolver with two rounds left and behind you a fifty-centimeters wide pillar that's non-stop getting some heavy rifle fire. In that kind of setting, anything that's not useful for your survival ceases to exist. Your allies' voices, the sound of the casings hitting the floor, the heat of the room... nothing. There's only you with your heavy panting, your weapon and the lethal drumbeat of the bullets on your back.
Everything is so false. Everything they made us become accustomed to for decades resulted being so false... me? I'm just a byproduct born from all that falsehood. It's just that, unlike your common neighbor, office worker that slacks off most of his work time and preffers to let the time pass as he peeks on his ten years younger co-worker's ass and then goes back home to watch tv from the couch until he falls asleep, I was forced to understand to a deeper degree that falsehood I mentioned before. I used to be that product your neighbor watched on his tv while spitting "those are real men, fearless men that face death everyday" unknown to the fact that as a soldier I've seen more dying men crying to see their mothers for the last time before perishing to those bullets in their lungs than I can remember.
That I used to be. Just a picture. I used to be a symbol in which people used to trust. And now… What am I now? That’s not the kind of questions I like to answer when I’m sober.
I am a former solider, my first name is Alez and my last name Braviel. Allow me to apologize beforehand if my writings disappoint you; you won’t find between these pages the story of a war hero, worthy of a thousand medals. You won’t even find a story you want to feel identified with. This will be just another story of the bunch; you can take from it whatever you want. You can even forget about it, I don’t care.
The only little favor I dare to ask from you, reader, is that you must not forget that girl.
My shotgun was slinged to my chest, a Benelli M4. On my back, attached on its own sling and next to my backpack, I was carrying that G36 I stole from a german soldier months before. My 92FS was resting in its holster on my right side. Inside the backpack I had a lot of variety items, like ammo, food and clothes. As for the many mags for my guns, I had those hidden in the inner pockets of my long coat; I sewed those pockets. In a whole, one could say I had a lot of weight on my shoulders.
"Wait a minute, let me rest".
I did some heavy steps to the nearest wall and let my back rest against it, letting out a deep sigh that I wished that could erase my fatigue.
"The food is going to get crushed if you don't take the backpack off".
Grudginly but agreeing, I put the backpack down to my side.
I kept my eyes closed for a while as I rubbed my nasal septum, then I raised my head trying to recap on my situation. And I opened my eyes.
We were walking on the sidewalk alongside a wide and long avenue, ruins of what used to be profitable shops could be seen everywhere. The trees that once were there to beautify the sight had overgrown and were invading the place, breaking the pavement from below. I have no idea of the date when this happened, but one could feel in the air the change seasson from summer to fall, so I guessed it was september.
Some birds were flying around the place, taking rests on the trees before resuming their journeys. Yeah... only for them this has changed for the better. The empty cities are now property of the birds that can freely fly around without anybody bothering them.
A couple of meters ahead of me was standing one of those tall trees, and at the top I could see two sparrows that were just passing by, they swiftly flied away again and the flapping of their wings ripped some dry leaves off of their branches. One of those brown leaves... fell graciously, drawing some circles in the air until it stopped right on top of the head of the girl standing in front of me. As dark as the leave was, it was unable to camouflage itself between the black strands of hair of my companion.
I stretched my hand towards her and swept the leave away with two of my fingers.
"Yeah, we are entering fall..."
As usual, Angelique didn't bat an eye at my remark, she didn't even blink.
Angelique. That's the name of the girl that was with me. Well, actually the girl that's still with me to this day. Looking into my eyes with her sharp pupils, holding an UMP45 with her slender fingers and a pistol on her hip, she was waiting for me to give her any orders. That's how Angelique has always been: bearer of an absent aura, but also an incredibly powerful gaze. Quiet, calm, always ready to take any command.
"Take a sit if you're tired".
"No, I'm good".
The girl suffers from amnesia. She doesn't remember anything before we met. She doesn't remember her age, nor her name. That's right, Angelique is just the name I picked for her.
"Are you really fine? Isn't your backpack too heavy?".
"No, I can handle it".
"Your backpack is way worse, Alez".
"But I'm used to it".
Her body is small. If I had to guess her age solely based on the development of her body back then I couldn't say she was older than thirteen or fourteen, but her voice, face and figure suggest she might be around fifteen or sixteen.
Despite that small body, Angelique was quick to get used to fire an automatic weapon. Her modest arms developed fiber and her tibial muscles grew firm. It was inevitable, those are just the consequences of walking all day every day.
"We'll follow this avenue to the end of it. If we're lucky we might find a shop that hasn't been scavenged yet, but don't get your hopes too high".
I looked around my many pockets and took out that small metal box where I keep my common cigarettes. I remember I had only seven left. I took one and lighted it up with the rechargable lighter I also keep in that box.
"Then when we're done with that we will take the northeast route, that's the best pick now. All the west is lost and, being that Croatia was also burned down, most likely the south is lost too".
"And what if the northeast is destroyed as everything else?".
"Then we're taking the southeast".
"And what if there's nothing there?"
"Then... we'll go backwards to see if western Europe has been recovered".
"And what if-".
"Can't you get it out of your mind?".
By that time, Angelique and I had already been traveling together for two and a half years. First we left France, then we crossed thorugh Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, to the south through Czech Republic, then Slovakia and Hungary in order to avoid Austria. When we reached Croatia we gave up on the south because the scenery looked less and less promising. Every country we stepped on was no man's land or had been reduced to a very small sector surrounding the capital and was strongly militarized, so strongly militarized that they could be called military governments even if the head of state was still elected by what was left of the population. We heard that Switzerland was still safe and sane, to nobody's surprise, but the entrance to the country was strictly forbidden.
In the begining our goal was just to survive. But for how long we were going to be able to hold on just the two of us in this continent that I had helped to destroy? Bandits, food shortage, aggresive military, restricted zones, the Amere group, the heat, the cold... everything around us was really hostile and our luck was surely going to run out someday. It was then when I decided I was going to find a peaceful place for this girl to live in, but that was way easier said than done. It wasn't a rushed decision, the idea had been lingering in my mind for around a year but I was trying to ignore it, because to resign meant to throw away any chance to give this girl a truly peaceful life.
"I get it, wandering non-stop for so long can tire anybody, but I still need to ask you to be patient".
She just noded. Yeah, almost all of my sentences were answered with just a nod. I thought that, once the confidence between us had grown, she would open herself a bit more to me. But no, that was just how Angelique is. Cold, distant, and not really willing to argue about anything.
"That's enough, let's keep going".
I put out the cigarette and saved it for later inside the box. I picked up the backpack again and without saying a single word I resumed my walking along that devastated avenue. The quick footstepts of Angelique followed me inmediatly.
That... didn't bother me anymore. I had become used to talking to myself many years before, the only diference is that now someone could hear my mumbling.
"We'll go straight as long as we can, we'll try to overcome any obstacle we find...".
"I'm not really sure, but... I think I heard something".
I had just made ten steps forward, but I stopped on my tracks to look back at her.
"You can't be sure?".
"No, you were talking too and... maybe I just heard wrong".
Silence. I stared into her eyes in complete quietness as I took my shotgun with both hands.
Angelique has been my ears since I met her. I can't trust my own ears, so I have her to inform me about any strange noises. It was around a whole minute until she opened her mouth again, frowning almost unnoticeably.
"Yes, I can assure it now. There's people talking ahead".
"Maybe... maybe three, I don't know".
"How far ahead?".
"Around a hundred meters".
"We've got the upper side. This place hasn't been raked by any force yet, so they must be scavengers. We'll take them down directly, Angel".
When it comes down to combat, it feels like Angelique turns into another person. Her usually monotone voice becomes more mechanical, it's scary. Not only that, but the way she moves... is perfect. She holds her gun in such a nice stance that any recruit would die out of pure envy, her hands don't waste any strenght with a wrong grip and her blue eyes get as sharp as knives. It made me question myself many times if I wasn't being followed by a soldier kid.
This kind of situation was just the regular for us. We used to kill people almost every week so there was no doubts about how we ought to procede. My weapon was a shotgun, hers was a submachine gun so it was my job to go first. We sticked our backs to the closest wall and began walking fast and cautiously. The world looked really fragile when I saw it through the iron sight of my M4. There's nothing, no matter what, that would remain unscathed after receiving a 12-gauge shot right on the face.
I stopped and leaned to the side in order to take a better picture of our surroundings. I looked at the buildings ahead, waited for a while and then focused on the one that was right by us. There wasn't a single two-storied shop until at least three hundred meters ahead of us.
"Climb up, you'll give us more options. I will stay down here and we'll advance together. I want you to open fire without asking for permission as soon as you check the number of targets".
I dropped my Benelli and helped Angelique climbing to the roof of the nearest shop. It was always so easy for her. Short, with such a slender body and lightweighted, she's agile as a cat.
I signaled her to go forth using two fingers and we kept going. Despite the height difference we were still quite close to each other, we felt safer that way. It has always been like that.
Our steps were quick and we werevery focused. Yes, we had some advantage but it would have been useless if we didn't make the best of it. There was still the posibility that we were walking straight into some kind of trap.
Only when I was close enough I could see a narrow alley running in-between two shops, and there were some voices coming from it. My grip on the shotgun grew stronger, and my index finger looked for the trigger; I was ready to shoot down any hostile appearing in my field of view.
I got distracted for a second and she covered a long distance without me. She stared into my eyes from above, telling me to shut up with a finger on her lips.
I just nodded and awaited for instructions. The entrance to the alley was fifteen meters ahead, and I could run that distance in three seconds. Angelique was crouching five meters before the end of the roof, she was going to meet the enemies from above. Being so close, the voices were clear even to me, and I noticed that they weren't just talking; they were having an argument.
Angelique is fast, and she doesn't make any useless steps. Watching her go in a combat situation is... odly satisfying. I think that at some point I became addicted to the sight of her siloutte dancing on the battlefield.
She stretched an open hand to me, letting me see the five fingers of her small hand. Five enemies. The girl didn't waste time and turned around, facing towards the alley. She didn't even give me time to tell her if I was ready or not. Not only that, but she steadily ran and was just about to open fire so I had to take my designated spot or our improvised two-pronged attack would fail. I ran as fast as I could to the alley, but I heard the first gunshot half a second before arriving.
My companion took full advantage of the element of surprise and murdered one of the men with a precise shot on top of the head, cutting in half their heated argument. She didn't give them time to take cover, since right when I was reaching they alley she sweeped the whole place with automatic fire, so those guys couldn't counterattack.
The stock of the shotgun against my shoulder was heavy and provided enough firmness to my hands for them to move freely. When all the humans I was about to kill were in my field of view too, all the nervousness I had been feeling since Angelique went to the roof disappeared.
Their clothes were all ragged and teared apart, all of them were young except the first one to die. The corpse was lying on top of a Kalashnikov rifle and the closest one to me, which was turning his back to me, was carrying a revolver in his left hand. The rest were holding either knives or iron pipes. But it was too late to think that maybe that was an overkill, we were already in combat.
"Angelique! Don't waste your ammo!".
I opened fire too and, well, what happened after was predictable. With a single shot I blew away the back of the head of the only enemy that was still carrying a firearm. Before that man had hit the ground I was already aiming to the next foe, destroying the left side of his face with another round. I could see my gun releasing those brief but bright sparks as it kicked violently, and the empty shells jumped one after another every time I pressed the trigger. I shot the chest of the third one and then his head just to make sure it was dead for good. The last man alive threw himself over the corpse of the first one to try and take the AK but his life was taken by four .45 bullets fired by Angelique that pierced through his neck and head. It was a low-scale massacre.
"It's all clear? Do you hear anything else?".
The combat didn't last more than three seconds and it left another five corpses on our back. An average of a death every 0.6 seconds.
I combed my light hair to the back using my hand as I looked into the deformed head of the second dead man, thinking about how little the human life was worth in our small apocalypse.
"Alez, catch me".
I let go of my gun and opened my arms so Angelique could use me as a landing pad. She jumped and I received her on my chest as gently as I could. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and I tried to give her some confidence by hugging her waist firmly. Before leaving her on the ground, I had the urge to take a hand to her head and caress it softly.
"You did good, like always".
She simply nodded once and hopped away from me showing me a humble smile, maybe because I praised her. She never said anything about it, but it was evident to me the way she always avoided looking at the bodies of the people we killed. Angelique got used to killing people, but I guess in the end she is still a girl.
I, on the other hand, walked across the alley, pushing the corpses away with the tip of my Benelli as I reloaded it.
"They don't have anything useful for us...".
I turned facing up the last man killed by Angelique. He was really young, maybe a year older than her. I don't remember when did that kind of scenario stop making my chest hurt.
"Let's go, we have nothing to do here".
With her attitude tainted with her usual parsimony, she let out an almost inaudible "yes" and quickly followed my tracks along that deserted avenue, decorated with burned cars and fallen electricity poles.
"Remember changing your mag".
She had clearly forgotten about it, that's what her expression was telling me. Maybe trying to avoid getting scolded, she was really fast to put away the almost empty mag and fit in her UMP a new one she took from inside her jacket.
. . .
We kept going quietly for around another hour until we met the end of the avenue. Right there there was a fairly big two-storied mansion circled by an extense fence that covered almost the whole block. The front of the house looked in a really good shape too. Black walls and red roof tiles, and a wide, tall chimney popping up from what seemed to be the center of the building. The gate was rusted, so kicking it down to invade the property was easy.
"What are we here for, Alez?".
"If the inside of the mansion is in the same good state than the outside, we are staying here".
"We are going to sleep here tonight?".
"Tonight and tomorrow night. And the next night too, and the one after that too...".
"I don't get it...".
I lazily walked across the garden looking at both sides. A brick path took us from the sidewalk to the front door. The grass by the sides of it was really overgrown, it was around fifty centimeters tall.
"Alez, can you please explain me w-".
I didn't reply. I placed my hand on the doorknob as I pulled my Beretta 92 from its holster. Surprisingly the door wasn't closed so I opened it and walked inside, ready to shot down any stranger that could be inside. I could also hear how Angelique took off the safety of her weapon.
My little hunch was right. This mansion had never been occupied nor scavenged by anybody.
Once inside we came across a broad and dark living room that had many doors everywhere, in the middle there was a wide staircase that split in two in the upper part so one could easily access both wings of the building. A big set of armchairs and sofas with a small table in the middle, a nice rug under the whole thing and an elegant stone chimney. There wasn't any pictures on the walls, but there still were spikes all around, that made me think that the owners of the place took all the valuable things they could carry as they escaped. Everything was under a thick blanket of dust, but still in a good state. There weren't even footprints on the floor.
"It does need some work... but it promises a lot".
I put my gun away and turned around to look at Angelique. She was clearly confused, and she looked at me as if I had gone crazy.
"What do you think?".
"About the house".
"It looks... comfortable, I guess".
"Excellent, it's ours now".
She went from confusion to incredulity in a mere second. She put down her submachine gun and gazed into my eyes with her wide opened eyes. She just couldn't believe that I, who had never stopped to sleep in the same place twice, was choosing to finally stop wandering. She looked so cute.
"Ours? Are we going to live here? What about going northeast?".
"I changed my mind".
"But just today you were so determined and...".
"I'm also tired of walking, Angel. We will own this mansion, we'll fix anything that needs to be fixed and we'll live here. And... we'll wait. We are together, and we are armed, we can defend ourselves. If we run out of food, we'll collect more. If we don't find any food, then we'll go hunting. It may take years, or even a whole decade, but every war must stop someday. This will be our bunker until that day comes".
"If you hate the idea then we'll continue and we'll forget the fact that this conversation ever happened".
A whole minute of complete quiet. Today I know that it wasn't that she was deciding if she wanted to stay in the mansion or not, she was just trying to guess if I really wanted to stop or if I was only doing it for her. Angelique may be really inconsiderate, but I think she's charming.
She nodded, and I don't know why that made me smile. The rest is not as interesting. We cleaned the whole place up and down and we rearranged everything to our liking. We had everything we wanted there: beds, closets, a greatly supplied kitchen and clothes of all sizes. Also an electric generator and a big piano, but I'll leave the details for later.
We are still living in that mansion, in this dead village in the west side of Poland, waiting patiently for the war to finish and for the civilization to reach these ruined streets again.
Merci pour la lecture!
Nothing I have ever read so perfectly captures the infinite beauty of nature in all its forms, so starkly punctuated with the pragmatism required when constantly faced with your mortality in a survival scenario. Perhaps it’s only in times like these when we truly wish we could appreciate such beauty
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