Whatever it Takes
The dark, wraith-like shadows had wrapped the city up in their darkness. The jagged spires were plunged into an unatural absence of light that made everything look post-apocolyptic. Shuffling in dark alleyways, muffled sobs, and the groaning and creaking of old metal work only added to this affect.
Maddox had always found the dark and imposing structures disconcerting, but now they made him think of monsters.
The monsters are out there, not here. At least, that’s what they’d all been told. He repeated it now to convince himself of that fact. Perched on the high, sloping roof of a medieval looking church, he could see the entire city sprawling out to the river’s shore.
The tile shingles were cool against Maddox’s body, a welcome relief from the suffocating heat of the day. Slowly, he moved to a crouching position, took one last look around him, and jumped down onto another part of the roof. The roads may have been abandoned days ago (as they had been declared unsafe) but Maddox had always prefered using the true roads of the city. They were composed of walls, bridges, tunnels, rooftops...
anything and everything that would get you from point A to point B relatively unnoticed.
Maddox jumped his way down the levels of the church’s rooftops, then leaped to the nearby bridge. Grasping the concrete edge, he pulled himself up, slung a leg over--a move that had been painful to perfect--and then brought the other leg over.
The other bridges spanning the streets below offered a little protection from view, but not much. He wasted no time jumping across to the next bridge, which was a mere six feet away, climbing up its trellis sides, and up to the top. Even though there was absolutely no coverage now, Maddox knew for a fact that very few people bothered to look up. He still kept going, running towards the closest side. There, he scrambled down the huge stone wall that resembled giant stairs to the ground.
A breeze had picked up, giving the illusion of some life. Maddox stilled, listening. For a city in lockdown, this was very natural. . . but something felt off, wrong.
It was almost as if the bombing they were trying to prevent had already happened. He shivered.
Zipping up the black jacket, he continued on. He needed to get back to the den before something happened. He didn’t know what or where, just that something was going to happen, something bad.
Maddox had learned to trust his instincts--they were never wrong.
With urgency, he continued his way through a massive drainage tunnel through which a tributary of the river flowed through. Some of the dens from the slums had constructed a rough catwalk of sorts on the side and, due to the recent rain, it was flooded.
“Better than swimming,” Maddox grunted. Even his voice sounded strange to him as it echoed back, then faded away.
The most soothing of sounds can become horrific and terrifying if one were to listen long enough; so the sound of running water began to sound almost like ghastly screaming or laughing.
Rattled and on edge, Maddox followed the water out of the pipe and under a bridge. The current felt like hands around his ankles, trying to pull him back, but he kept struggling onward. Eventually, he climbed out onto the base of one of the conrete pylons, jumped to the grassy bank, and ran his hands up along the side of the bridge. There, he found the small hole, concealed by grass, that he knew would lead him to safety.
Maddox squeezed through, and all light was cut off. He crawled forward on hands and knees through the tiny metal pipe. He was feeling claustraphobic, but he forced himself to keep his panic in check.
Almost there, just a bit longer. . .
As he rounded a corner--the worst part, as he could barely breath while doing so--flickering golden light blinded him.
“Maddox? That you?” a raspy female voice demanded.
“Yeah, it’s me.” He hated how scared his voice sounded.
“Is the city still empty?”
Maddox didn’t answer right away, too focused on trying to get out of the pipe without falling. Even after all these years, he’d only been successful twice. And tonight was just like almost every night.
He tumbled to the ground, rolled forward, and got to his feet. “It’s still empty, Ash, and you know it’s under lockdown.”
The candlelight made it look like Ahsley’s eyes were set far back in ghostly black sockets, and Maddox started to feel queasy again for reasons he couldn’t really name.
“Something bad’s gonna happen,” he said. “I can just feel it.”
Ashley leaned her head back against the wall, staring at the candle mounted opposite her. “We’re all going to die.”
Maddox didn’t know what to say to that, so he sat down beside her and asked, “Where’s the rest of the den?”
“Ky’s still missing, and so is Dobre, and the others are with other dens, gathering supplies.”
“Gathering supplies” was just a nice way of saying looting.
The two sat in silence after that, and eventually Ashley dozed off. The candles burned down to mere stubs, and Maddox’s eyes grew heavy.
“MAX!” Ashley was screaming right in his ear, and the entire ground seemed to be shaking.
He opened his eyes and dust fell into them and his mouth, choking him.
Ashley started pulling on his arm, and he half-stumbled, half-ran after her into the dark. When she shouted “Climb!” he wrapped his fingers around the metal rungs of a ladder against the wall.
The rusted edges cut into the soft flesh of his palms, jolting him from his sleep-filled stupor.
The bombing. It’s happening.
“No! We can’t go up!” he shouted.
Ashley either didn’t hear him or was too panicked to understand. Their chances down here were slightly better than up there, right?
Maddox practically flung himself up the ladder to reach her, but she was too far ahead of him. When he reached the top, he lunged, catching hold of her ankle. He wrapped himself around her, trying to protect her as the hovercraft flew overhead, dropping their loads.
For the hour, he was in a nightmare of screams and explosions, ragged breathing and Ashley’s eradic heartbeat.
Please let it be over.
When the last hovercraft faded away, the silence that reigned was defeaning. Ashley finally squirmed out from under him, and huddled there, crying. Maddox was too shocked to do anything for several moments but sit there.
Slowly, he looked around him. If the city had looked dead before, now it looked mutilated and hellish, smoke rising from a hundred fires, wreckage and bodies flung into the churning river.
This city had been at peace, refusing to join sides on this war; there was no military anything here, it was just full of civilians. Bombing it to the ground hadn’t been to remove a threat, but to perhaps send a message.
Maddox hacked up dust and blood. He wiped it off of his face, crawled over to Ashley, and wrapped her up in his arms.
“It’s okay,” he whispered, covering the gaping wound in her arm with his hands.
It was not okay; it never would be okay.
Thousands of innocent people had just been burned out of existence. And yet, it didn’t matter and nobody cared.
After all, everything is fair in love and war.