A city mostly vacant becomes a lot like a maze. The parks that used to break up the urban feel are now nightmares and dangerous places to pass through. My blister-lined feet burn with each step. I haven’t stopped moving in days. I still haven’t found anything I need. I need somewhere high up, zero chance of foot traffic, and that has a visual on what’s inside that fence. The closer I get to the encampment the more sounds fill the empty spaces between the condemning buildings.
I’m careful to step over paper bags and around cans. The smallest sound could be the end of me. I get quieter by the day. Learning to be master of moving without sound makes the difference in all of this.
I’m not big or professionally trained, but I am desperate, silent, and determined.
A tall, gray building stands at my left. The door is missing from the frame. Shadowed daylight and dark corners blend together in the long hallway. I glance around. The nine-foot metal fences start only a block from here. I’ll take this building all the way up. I may have found what I’ve been looking for, a place to plan.
I ready my hand around the sheathed knife tucked in the waistband on my hip. I take small but quick steps into the building. I press my back against the wall as soon as I reach inside. A sinking and devastating fear overwhelms me each time I step inside somewhere unfamiliar. I want to turn around, but I can’t. Comfort doesn’t exist in this world anymore.
I pull a deep breath in and hold it. I allow my eyes to close. My ears focus. I can’t hear anything. My eyes open. I may be alone, but I’m probably not. I keep my hand on the knife as I make my way up the staircase.
Gunshots fire in the distance. My stomach tenses even though I know it’s far from here. That’s the thing about silence and vacancy, every sound is more powerful, each person easily found. Carelessness with noise is how I lost Peter in the first place. I will never be quick to take in strangers again.
My feet barely touch each step. My calves start to ache. The number ten mocks me as I pass by the entrance to the new floor. At every new level, my heart seizes up for a moment. It’s easy to feel like something horrible is going to jump out at any time, when that is exactly the case. I have to tell myself it’s okay. As long as I’m quiet, I’ll be safe. My purpose isn’t to look for food of other supplies. I just need a safe place to watch, and to rest. The less I’m in the other parts of the building, the better.
Finally, the stairs stop. There is a door chained closed. To my left. A small plaque reads, “Roof Access.” I don’t need to bother with that right now. The chains caused goose bumps pop up all over my arms and legs. I want to get away from those chains.
Right or left? Right would probably put me closer to the fences. I stay close to the wall as I walk. My hand hasn’t left the knife; my ears stayed to tuned to everything.
When I come to the end of the hallway I see two doors. One on my left and one on my right. The smell of rotting food and blood fills my nose. I chose the right side again. I suck in a stale and nauseated breath and wrap my cold hands around the doorknob. I twist it back and forth, then stop. I wait. I count to fifteen. There are no footsteps, no breathing, and no hushed or hurried talking. It sounds empty. I touch the door knob again. This time, I hear a faint meow.
I’m tired. I need to stop moving.
My left hand tightens around the knife handle, and my right opens the door. A skinny white cat rushes out between my legs. My heart races as I step inside. A small square studio surrounds me. A kitchenette is to my left. The drawers and cabinets doors are all hung open as wide as they can manage. Paper and pictures litter the floor. A loveseat without cushions sits sadly in front of two windows. The blinds are closed. What is on the other side of those windows?
I quietly shut the door behind me and lock it. I set my backpack down on the small sofa. I separate the blinds, making a small enough space for one of my eyes to see through. My heart drops to my feet. The dirt floors of inside the fence are sprawled out for miles. An enormous part of the city is missing. Tents are in a grid formation on the far end. Hundreds of people are walking in straight lines. I squint my eyes. Their hands seem to be bounded. Men and women in black and orange uniforms, hold rifles as they walk along the fence.
Tears fill my eyes. A hope that Peter is in there, devourers me instantly. He has to be there.