hey, a new twist!
The walk to the sign in the tree was a slow one. Many of the wounded who should have remained behind followed us. I wasn’t sure what awaited us all down the ill fated path, but I knew it didn’t truly matter. I felt numb, while part of me ached over my fallen friend. There were no way to avoid the casualties of war, but they would pay dearly for this great loss. I couldn’t imagine what would happen if it had been me. My narcissistic side wants to say that the war would be abandoned and everyone would live ‘normal’ lives. But Jesus, Jimmy and Whatsername all fell, and no one stopped fighting.
“I found it!” Mike shouted, pointing to the numbers in the trees, the 7/11 carved into the heart of the wood. Everyone clamored around the carving, each of them longing for a closer look at the signs of salvation. While my exterior attempted to be cool and unattached, but my own eyes lingered. I was beginning to see the possibilities that were available to me, to us all. I was beginning to realize that together we could actually accomplish something. If we could mass enough people together, if all of the underground could actually be organized, that the other side could never stand a chance.
The hand holding my own gave a tight squeeze, the only thing that could draw my eyes away from the sight of this hope, and I looked down into the most beautiful storm grey eyes I’d ever seen. With my free hand I wiped away a streak of eyeliner off Gloria’s cheek, she amazed me that every day she took the time to put on clean clothes and make up even in the chaos that was our life. She smacked my hand away playfully, leaving the rest of her makeup and graffiti mess she liked.
“Let’s see what happens down the trail.” Her tone was hard, and business like. It lacked the emotion I had grown accustomed to, but I knew it was her need for strength. And she was such a rock, so strong. I always hoped she would be strong, when she was just a figment of my imagination and not the woman I needed by my side, but she blew me away. She wasn’t only strong, she was brave and intellegant. She could run this whole thing herself, in fact she probably would be better at it without me. But Gloria had no desire to be that controlling, she couldn’t be in charge. In my mind, there was perfect and then there was Gloria. She was one of a kind.
Her eyes raked over the group that was behind us, slowing us down and yet diligently following me and my girlfriend. I felt her hand grip down tighter on my own, as if drawing on my strength to fortify her own. Part of me was ready to grab a hold of her, to order a halt and draw her into me a let her hold onto me until she was ready to move again. But one of the things I love about Gloria is how she is always filled with surprises. When she opened her mouth she issued another one. Like a hurricane in the heart of the devastation, she cut into the wounded with bitter, angry words.
“If you fall behind, you will be left. The injured should return to camp. We will be back in a while.” Without another word, she turned and headed back down the path. She didn’t even wait for me. I heard the murmured cries of indignation and outrage and could have soothed the now savage beast of our following, but Gloria was always my first priority and I had to follow her. So with a smile to them, I hurried after my life and my love.
Gloria kept a brisk pace, a reminder that she was bred for the life of a soldier, and had soon put a good deal of distance between us and the rest of the group. Without slowing she threw a glance over her shoulder at the people following us down this overgrown path that most likely led to nowhere.
“SAINT JIMMY!” She spat. “Why don’t they fucking just go back already, leave me ALONE!” She at least had the decency to scream out of ear shot of the others. That didn’t mean I understood her outburst, however. Gloria was a sucker for the criminals breaking the laws, she was a regular John Dillinger herself, and yet it seemed like she wanted nothing to with them.
“We need them, Gloria.” I kept my voice low and gentle. I was more worried about the others hearing this than she was. “How else are we going to win this? You and I can only do so much.” Suddenly she pulled her hand away, those beautiful eyes clouding over. I could almost see the lightning dance from the storm cloud irises to the pitch black pupil.
“Do you really think we’re gonna win?” Without waiting for an answer, or me, she took off again. With my longer stride I caught her quickly. She didn’t look up at me as I fell back into stride with her, and I knew better than poke the bear in this situation. Gloria knew what was best for her.
So I followed Gloria, and everyone else followed me and we tried to find a way to make our lives better. A couple times someone tried to start a sing along to raise the moral of everyone. As soon as ten or so started singing, Gloria would send me a fearful look, the vindicated paranoia and deep seated anger in their endless war on her beautiful face, and I would have to shush the crowd. It didn’t take them long to know that singing might be a bad idea. No one wanted to anger the great Gloria. I didn’t either. So when she stopped dead a few feet in front of me, I just stopped where I was. Everyone else followed suit, holding their collective breaths and waited for the information we would receive.
“What the hell happened?” As suddenly as she stopped she sprinted forward into the woods, right through a thick part of the trail and out of my sight. When I took off after her it was out of fear for her safety. When I broke through the brush I only felt her disbelief.
The city before us was in ruins. There wasn’t a single building that wasn’t either burnt out or crumbling down. Abandon cars were all over the street, some run into the others, others weakened the buildings they ran into. Some were totaled; others seemed to have just been walked away from. But there was nothing about this scene that suggested they walked away while talking about dinner that night, it seemed more like a the screaming hysterically as running full out type of mass exodus. But what I saw, and what Gloria had feared, was there was no one here. It was more a city of the dead instead of a city of the damned. Apparently Gloria and I had the same thought, but she took it as a sign of hope instead of a depressing thought like I did.
“MAYBE THERE IS A CITY OF THE DEAD AND A CITY OF THE DAMNED! BOTH WOULD HAVE A 7/11, SO SPREAD OUT AND FIND IT!” I managed to follow Gloria as she took off down one of the blocks to our left. She ran hard for a few blocks, not even bothering to look up and see what was around her. When she did finally slow she fell to her knees. I fell next to her, sure she was hurt. She panted, looking up at the scene oddly reminiscent of a nuclear winter. I placed my hand on her shoulder, looking only at her. When her gaze came back to me I couldn’t read the emotions in her eyes.
“There’s nothing here, Christian.” Gloria stated. She didn’t sound sad, she was just telling me. I thought she would be sadder, like she felt to blame for there being nothing there for us to see. “I was sure there would be something here, but it’s another abandoned city that no one wants to be at. It’s a lost cause.” Her gaze fell then, she couldn’t look into my eyes anymore. She wanted to be strong, but with the death of Lilly and now this, I didn’t know how long it would last.
I smiled at her, wanting more than anything to make this girls heart stop breaking. I took her face in my hand and made her look at me. With my thumb I wiped away the one tear she had allowed to fall. There was a stony look in her eyes that sent a chill through me.
“It’s a good thing you are the hero of the lost cause.” She didn’t smile like I thought she would. She shrugged away my hand and stood up.
“There is no need to patronize me, Christian. I feel bad enough as it is.” And then she took off, heading into the city further. I sat there for a second, watching her walk away from me yet again and wondered how she could do that so easily. I felt like a part of me ripped every time she wasn’t in my arms. And yet Gloria could leave me sitting on the ground without so much as a sorry. She was a natural disaster compared to when I met her, when she loved me and I couldn’t love her. Now it seemed the tables were turned. So I would follow her like she followed me before, and wait for the plane to even out again.
I kept distance from Gloria, watching her as she looked for whatever it was she was sure she was going to find. I didn’t know how long we had been in the city, time didn’t mean much to us anymore, and so far no one had found anything. Gloria rounded a corner, her gaze on something down the road, when I heard the defining sound of gun fire very close. As in on the road Gloria had just turned down. I took off after her, my heart pounding in my chest. When I turned the corner I saw Gloria, gun drawn, facing down another female in a very old western way. I drew my gun as well, training it on the woman who pointed a gun at my girlfriend.
“Who are you?” Gloria shouted. The girl shook her head, looking into the buildings around her and I knew there were others there, as well.
“You are in my home; you tell me who you are!” She screamed, her voice unable to hide the panic she felt. I understood why when I heard all the footfalls, hearing voices I knew as our people. I didn’t know how many able bodied people she had at her disposal but even our larger sized group could be taken out by a few well trained shooters.
“She won’t cooperate.” I shouted, keeping my gun trained. “You might as well-“
“I’m the Great Gloria, daughter of Ol’ Whatsername!” Gloria announced, lowering her gun as the others flooded into the street. I noticed some of them weren’t ours. “This is Christian, son of the Jesus of Suburbia! Now again, I ask, who are you!” There was such a command to her voice, she was taking charge. It was one of her better faces.
“I’m Saint Alicia. I’ve been waiting for you Gloria, the last of the American girls.”