A short story that I have spent a few late nights working on. A story about survival and one's own humanity.
Dust kicked up from the ground as large boots trudged down the long dirt road. Cold wind blew through the hazy air and pushed against a heavy green jacket.
Milas checked his watch- twenty minutes left. He looked up from his watch and saw the low sitting sun. Its beautiful rays shining bright across all of the land. Beginning to rise, the sun colored the sky a vibrant orange. After all of this pain and struggle, the sun would still rise every day, and set every night. After all of this destruction and disorder, the sun would still shine bright and grace the skies with its beautiful presence.
Milas stopped to marvel at the beauty of the sunrise. He wished that he could pull off this mask and breathe clear morning air. He wished that he could feel the cool wind blowing across his face. He wished that he could smell the fresh morning dew.
With a sigh he readjusted his backpack and continued walking.
The road he walked led through a large town. Houses with their roofs caved in, stores with the windows smashed out and the doors left wide open, rusted cars with greenery growing through them- this town, along with all of the others, had been long since abandoned. Everybody’s daily life tasks were instantly dropped and the people fled, leaving things like tools and toolboxes lying next to now-rusted cars, or mugs still sitting on the tables of coffee shops. The only sounds to be heard were the scuffing of Milas’ boots and the mild rattling of his backpack.
He turned to his right and faced his destination- a small convenient store. Just before he stepped into the door, he noticed outside a tall pole on which the American flag hung high. It was torn and raggedy, but even when torn it flew high and strong.
Milas turned back and stepped into the store. The inside was as one would expect a convenient store to be- it was a small, one-room store with shelves of various items all around. Many of the food shelves were empty, but he scavenged through the dusty corners and cabinets for anything that he could eat. He found a couple cans of beans and a single can of tomatoes. He set his rifle down and pulled out his backpack, which he then proceeded to stuff the cans in. Slinging the backpack back over his shoulders, he picked back up his rifle and headed for the door. Before stepping out of the door, he turned to look at the counter. It was empty and dusty, with an equally-dusty cash register sitting on top. He turned turned once again and stepped out the door.
He began to make his way back down the long road from where he came, the dust once again kicking up from his boots. He looked up at the sky; the golden sky had reached its peak, and soon the familiar blue color would begin to take over. The moment of peace was cut short as the crack of a gunshot went off and a sharp pain shot through Milas’ shoulder. After a split second of confusion and shock, he bolted to the nearest house in a rush of adrenaline and took cover behind it as subsequent shots flew by him.
Bandits. They most likely came to scavenge whatever they could find in the town.
Milas checked his watch again- three minutes left. He gripped his rifle tightly in both hands and took a deep breath. Leaning his head around the corner, he caught sight of two targets separated and behind cover. He was only given an instant before the volley of bullets returned and forced him to hide back to safety. The wooden wall splintered from bullets cracking by.
Milas poked his rifle around the wall and took two shots, hoping to suppress them and keep their attention to that side of the wall. He quickly sprinted around the other side of the house and across the couple of open yards to the next house. He skidded to a stop up against the wall.
Two minutes left.
Milas quickly revealed himself again and let off a few rounds. He heard a cry of pain as he swung back behind cover. After a few moments of silence, it was the remaining bandit’s turn to change position. Through the side window of the next building up, shots came flying through.
Milas ducked down as a shower of gunfire soared above his head. He crept up to the window and raised his rifle up above his head, firing blindly towards the bandit. The sound of gunfire from the other side had stopped and was replaced by wood splintering and glass shattering. And then, the dreaded sound… click click click.
One minute left.
Dropping his rifle on the ground, Milas pulled a dirty handgun from his pocket and flipped the safety off. Moving up to the back wall, he said a silent prayer and held his breath. The bandit turned his head just quickly enough to see a figure come from around the corner and a flash of light.
The bandit dropped backwards with a thud, and all fell silent.
Milas quickly went to the dead bandit and pulled the bloody mask off of his face. He unscrewed the mask’s filter, held his breath, unscrewed his own mask’s filter, and replaced it with the new one. He then reset his watch timer and took in a deep, fresh breath of air in relief.
Milas sat down and checked his bag, he had felt something leaking inside of it. It turned out to be one of the cans of beans that had a hole through it. The bullet he was shot with flew at just the right angle and hit the can in his backpack before reaching his shoulder, slowing it down and lessening the damage.
He laid back and stared upward at the sky. A weak smile stretched across his face behind the dirty visor. He thought of what it was like to breathe clear air, the sound of birds that could always be heard in the trees, the taste of clean water- all of the things he would take for granted. As he thought about those things while gazing at the sky, he once again saw the tattered flag flying strong.
After sitting himself back up and retrieving anything he could use from the dead bandits’ bodies, Milas began his walk back home. One final time his gaze went back to the flag, and then to the bandits.
The door to the convenient store opened once more, and a familiar pair of dusty boots stepped back inside. Milas reached into his pocket, pulled something out of it, placed it on the counter, and left for his journey back down the road.
On the counter sat an old, tattered one dollar bill.