“The Crawl” [First-Draft]

They had wanted the bunker so much that they came for the boy and his family in the dead of night. Buried five feet beneath the ground his father had said they were unreachable.  That they were safe.

His words turned to ash with an explosion that shook everyone from their beds. His mother ran into his room, as his father raced to the living room with his rifle. The alarms screamed like the cries of a world gone mad. She held him to her chest as she watched the door in fear.

Even with the blaring alarms , they could hear tables being overturned and furniture being moved to a makeshift barricade. But it was the sound of the squealing and grunting of the heavy doors that seemed to come from the walls. His mother swore, which she never did, and suddenly looked him in the eye.

“Get your gun. If anyone but us comes through that door, I want you use it on yourself. ”

His eyes filled with tears as she stood up. “No matter how scared you are. Promise me.”

After that she was gone, and the boy pulled the revolver from under his bed. There was a second explosion and suddenly the alarms were silent. In the eerie aftermath the sound of a flurry of footsteps and panicked voices came homing in on his position.

“We’ve talked about this Alex.” His mother was saying. “If it becomes hopeless we do it together.”

“It’s not hopeless yet. The emergency tunnel is still intact.” His father was saying as they entered the room.

“What if they’re watching it? I’m not going to risk what they will do to us.” Mother replied as she sat down and looked at the boy. “Give me the gun.”

“Enough.” Barked his father.

Another metallic groan from the doors and his father swore.

“Terry get to the emergency tunnel.” His voice was cold and his mother suddenly began to cry.

“We’ll keep them busy but as soon as it’s clear, you have to get clear of here and find Byron in Sonata.”

“Dad–”

“Listen.” His mother exclaimed through tears as she took his face in her hands. “…listen to your father. You have to get out of here and find your brother. And remember mama will always watch over you. We’ll all meet again on Earth. Okay?”

Twelve hours later the sun was up and it all felt like a dream, but the question was still hanging in the air–waiting to be answered. He had ran from the bunker as fast as he could. Away from the gunfire turning to tormented screams, away to what remained of the southern wall of Sonata. It amounted to about twenty feet of loose debris and concrete.

Terrance felt himself shrink as he looked up at the top. Then he gave the wall a tentative kick to test its strength. The retaliation came as a series of tumbling rocks that he had to scramble to escape. Panting Terrance once again looked up at the top, knowing climbing was not an option.

He had to head towards the western gate. It meant three days of walking without food or water. It was an hour before he began to feel the effects of the dehydration. Cooked by the heat his mind was diving in and out of clarity when he came across the small tunnel through the wall. Collapsing to his knees and he stared skeptically at the distant light on the other end. Squinting, he could make out the gray waters of Elmer’s Bay and a piece of the bridge that Byron was stationed at.

He was small and that was the only thing that gave him hope; without food or water he was also without other choices. So the boy sucked in his stomach with a breath and pushed with the edge of his feet. He went sliding on his belly through the crevice with a grunt, knowing instantly this would be his only chance of turning back. With a defeated sigh, Terrance made his choice.

Armed with a pocket flashlight and the revolver he began the crawl through the dark tunnel. As he did, his heart skipped every time the dust and pebbles came trickling down around him. They teased the collapse of the canopy of rubble and debris. Daring him to wonder if he feared or longed for a cave in.

Because he was crawling through what would remain if god, on a whim, had decided to grind a city beneath his heel. From a pit of stone, steel, and bones he crawled inch by inch towards the sunlight like a worm fleeing a grave.  All the while, to his discomfort, the walls steadily narrowed around him. Despite it all, with his options reduced to: seeing, killing, and crawling Terrance felt something resembling peace. It was a world without wrong decisions.

Breathing dust, ash and the powdered bones he crawled through the tunnels like the restless spirit of the dead. With a pang of guilt  he quietly admitted that, though it wasn’t exactly the same–some small part of him felt again the safety of the bunker and his parents.

Then the walls scraped roughly against his hips and the ceiling let loose dust and pebbles like the first clump of dirt thrown into a grave. A chill as fast as an electric current ran through his body as his breath fell short. From somewhere above him came the thud of a rock connecting, and he braced himself as the tunnel sighed more dust and rocks. He didn’t move, stuck firmly at the waist, and listening as his heart beat like the pistons of an engine that was ready explode and catch fire.

Terrance reached towards the light with cold sweat seeping from his brow as the sharp edges of the concrete dug into his legs and hips. Panic scattered his thoughts as fast as he formed them. In the flashlights lemon glow, the revolver in his hand shone ominously as his eyes grew big with horror and comprehension.

Then from the darkness came a voice that made his body convulse hard enough to make the walls groan once again. It had been as sharp as the hissing of a snake and yet familiar. There is no giving up Terry.

The boy heard the words echo in his mind as he squirmed involuntarily. Then it returned with a renewed fury. Do you think this will make you a hero? This time Terrance recognized the voice.  It was an echo from the past, and like a bat his mind navigated the trajectory of the sound to that bright summer day Terrance had learned to scale a building.

He could feel the skin peeling from his fingertips as he clung on to the edge of a window trimming. The tips of his toes were touched down into the edges of the exposed bricks.His fingers slipped a deadly millimeter and a bead of cold sweat crawled down the edge of his jaw and fell three stories down. Terrance grunted in anger as he dug in his fingers, a grunt that soon turned to a whine as he felt the tickle in his feet as they began to slip.

“Help!” He cried. “Byron?”

A figure came to the window, and calmly placed his hands on the window still.

“I give up.” Terrance called. “Help me.”

“There is no giving up Terry.” His brother had responded, his roaring voice nearly making Terrance lose his grip. “Do you think this will make you a hero? This is so you survive and if you want to survive there is no giving up. If you want to live then climb damn you!”

It was the fear in his brother’s voice that had given him strength. The concern hiding beneath the anger. An anger that Terrance now felt.

In the tunnel, he growled with bared teeth. His breath was burning as he took hold of the flashlight and the gun. No, he growled to the darkness of the tunnel, there is no giving up. Placing his elbows at the walls of the tunnel, and with a yell he pushed himself forward. The flesh scraped away from his hip as he squeezed through. Above him he heard a series of thuds, and the ceilings buckled and rumbled.

Pushing again with his elbows and the edge of his feet, Terrance moved towards the light as the tunnel collapsed behind him. He scrambled blindly, losing his grip on the flash flight in the process, as he saw shapes emerge in the light of the exit. The air smelled clean and for a moment his mouth fell open in awe and hope, before the exit began to collapse.

Then something heavy smashed his ankles into the floor and he screamed. Still he crawled towards the light, forcing his ankles against the jagged rocks to free himself.

“No giving up.” He growled as the pain set fire to his body, as the weight of the city began to sink down on him, and as hope itself remained blocked from sight.

With all his strength Terrance lunged forward hard enough to get to the debris blocking the entrance. Placing his freehand on the block as the caving tunnel raced to swallow him, Terrance pushed with the sound of his brother’s voice roaring in his ears and every muscle in his body fighting to live.

With the scraping sound of concrete grinding against concrete the rock budged, and instantly the edge of a another loose rock slid down to jab at the back of his head. Crying in utter despair Terrance pushed again, and this time the block tipped over—raining more jagged rocks and metal down on the boy’s head.

Gasping and whimpering as the world grew dim he pushed forward with one last gasp as the tunnel collapsed. Everything went from black to white and suddenly he was on the side of the building again.

He was pushing himself over the window and then falling to the floor exhausted. In an instant, his brother was upon him. Eyes as big as the moon and face wrought with panic and fear.

“Are you okay?” Byron asked bringing the canteen to his mouth. The boy smiled and leaned back against the wall.

Byron took the revolver from his holster and handed it to Terrance.

“You’ve earned this.” Byron smiled. Then with a speculative look he asked.

“Do you get it now?”

Terrance scowled. “Get what?”

“The climb is nothing compared to what you’ll have to do to survive out there.” Said Byron his voice returning to its grating harshness, “Everything and everyone alive on this planet has survived what nothing else could. It makes everything and everyone else dangerous in someway. This planet doesn’t let up on you for a second and the moment you forget it tears you to pieces. ”

He had tasted but a drop of the cold water from the canteen, when Terrance came back to reality choking on his own spit. Pain ran through him like waves of electricity as he pushed himself  off the ground. The sun was out and brighter than he had ever seen it before, and the  gray waters of the Raknarok Bay shimmered beneath it like a million lights flashing in unison. Hovering defiantly above the waters was the Sonata Bridge or the ‘unbreakable’ bridge.

It looked upon him like a hawk, and Terrance raised his face to receive the respect in its eyes. He could still hear Byron demanding, do you understand now? Lost in the city’s gaze, the boy nodded and his pain was replaced by a strength that flowed from the ground beneath him. His chest warmed with a fire that cast the darkness from his thoughts, and his eyes fixed on the bridge awaiting his arrival.

For a moment he longed to speak to his brother who was somewhere on the bridge, to tell him that he now understood. That on Armistice survival was the only commandment. That even the smallest surrender was to an ever-present death, and that life only abided the strongest will be it of men or bridges. All for the promise of a short and dangerous life as survivalist,a life without quarter or reward for dreamers and poets.

Against all odds life still burned within his chest; and standing against its warmth Terrance felt as tall and mighty as the unbreakable bridge. Because the hope that builds its nests out of courage and resolve could never be taken away by suffering or cruelty. So squaring his shoulders, Terrance moved forward  to meet the future with all that he needed–a revolver, a name and a will.

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