“Let’s run to the city today,” demanded Erika as she made a sharp left from their current running path.
“Okay,” replied Jake as he turned to follow Erika, however, as soon as he actually thought about what he agreed to, he second guessed his choice. “Wait,” he said after a moment, “Do you mean the abandoned city? The ruins? That’s against the law. It’s dangerous there Erika.”
“I know that, but I’ve never been there. Aren’t you curious about what’s there? Maybe we can find some old artifacts or something valuable to sell the traders! I hate working so hard for Mr. Jameson. It’s always about perfect farming technique and pulling those weeds and carrying in his firewood for him and raking up the leaves. Honestly, who keeps a nice looking yard anymore. It’s ridiculous!” She seemed to overexaggerate everything when she felt unpleasant about it, but there was also had a tendency to make up problems to justify herself. Working hard was what Erika did best and she especially enjoyed helping people in need. Mr. Jameson was just that, a lame-legged old man who was completely helpless. He had money, and asked Erika to work for him. She willingly obliged him of course.
“Hey, did I tell you what he did to me last night?”
“Who, Mr. Jameson?”
“Yeah, he grabbed my butt last night.” Jake snickered, knowing it wasn’t that big of a deal, but he had to hand it to the guy. Mr. Jameson was a pretty wily old man.
“Don’t laugh you jerk! It was weird, and I don’t think I can keep working for him.”
“He might have gotten the idea that you were interested in him from the way your butt shakes when you walk.” Jake laughed a little more, but cut himself short when Erika shot a mean glance back at him.
“That’s the way girls walk, idiot, and no, I never showed him any interest as more than just a worker and her employer.”
“Whatever you say…” Jake toyed with her a bit, just trying to get a ruse out of her, then he sprinted ahead of her out into the open countryside.
The air was fresh as a flock of birds flew overhead. Pounding footsteps landed one after another as the two teenagers jogged away from home. This was a usual thing for them. It was normal for just about everybody in the village. Physical training was a necessity since there were always bandits about. Jake and Erika knew how to take care of themselves, however, and because of this, were allowed to wander away from the village anytime they wanted. Still, nobody from the village, besides through the command of Adam, the leader, could venture to the city ruins unrestricted.
Jake slowed his pace a bit so that he and Erika were side by side. “Are you still wanting to run to the city?” Jake asked Erika, almost hoping she would want to change her mind. It was still a long distance, just over ten miles, but the day was early and nobody would miss them.
“Of course I want to go there. I told you, I have to get away from Mr. Jameson.”
“So, what’s our excuse going to be for staying out so long? Our runs only usually last a few hours, this could take all day.”
“People will make up an excuse for us. Since, you know, we sneak off all the time to be alone together,” she said sarcastically.
“The only person that has said that was Matt. Hunter sortof agreed, yeah, but he only said it cause he’s jealous that you hang out with me more than him.” The truth was that Matt and Hunter both had huge crushes on Erika. Hunter was quiet about it, as he was pretty quiet all the time, but Matt couldn’t talk about their relationship more. He bragged to all the guys that he was dating Erika and they were really getting serious, even though every time he was in Erika’s prescence he completely blanked out and couldn’t merge two rational thoughts into a normal conversation.
“How could I hang out more with him? He’s always around it seems like, and he hasn’t said a rational thing to me in months. He can never seem to get past how beautiful the weather has been, even when it hasn’t been beautiful at all.”
“Uh huh…” Jake wanted to avoid the subject anyway. “So, the city then, I guess.”
“Yeah, the city.”
“You realize there are plenty of vagrants living in those parts don’t you? People that wouldn’t think twice before hurting us?”
“That’s not going to stop me. If I can beat you up, I can beat anybody up.”
“But you can’t beat me up Erika, I always let you win.” Just then Erika whipped around and punched Jake in the stomach, knocking the wind out him.
“I win. We’re going to the city, so stop being a baby.”
“But–” Jake coughed, “I had to study… for that… test tomorrow…” He coughed some more.
“We’ll study on our run!” She said it with more enthusiasm than was ever necessary for a comment about schoolwork.
The two of them took a short break so that Jake could catch his breath. There was a small brooke nearbye, so they took the opportunity to get some water and rest up before their short journey.
The village of the Tigris community was in a rather shallow valley. The city ruins were up over one of the sides of the valley and around a large cliff. It wasn’t a particularly far run for Jake or Erika, since they normally ran between ten and twenty miles a day, but it was going to be an unfamiliar run since they had never ventured this direction before. As they peered ahead, they saw the towering cliffs, and beyond that, a grassy field that they would be passing through before they entered the city. It seemed much further away than it really was, but that was mostly due to the fact that the hills surrounding the cliff were rather wavy.
It was an easy pleasant run. A slight breeze kept them cool in the heat, although, it wasn’t particularly hot either. Tank tops and shorts were basically all that anyone wore during the summer months. Cloth was a bit of a luxury item since it was so hard to make without the use of electricity. During winter months generally everyone stayed indoors around the fire’s. The only time anyone was really outside was when they were getting more wood for the fire. Exercise went on in the winter as well, since it kept everyone warm, as well as fit.
Erika and Jake exchanged questions periodically for the first five miles or so. It was a history test coming up, a verbal question answer period really, but nobody wanted to be called on and not know the answer.
“So… uh… okay I got one. Describe the Comanche agreement to me.”
“Shoot…” Jake thought for a moment. “The Comanche community, which was named after the ancient indian tribes, lived a distance south of here.”
“That’s true, but I want to know about the agreement.”
“I’m getting at it. That was background information.” Jake was really just stalling until he remembered, “The Comanche agreement was five years ago. My dad, Adam Marquet, met with the leader there and discussed the option of combining communities so that we could all work together. The positive outcome of this was that there is now more food for us all, and we have more man-power to construct buildings and such. Also, we gained a few very valuable members of society who had extensive knowledge of physics and chemistry, furthering our own ability at constructing a power plant in the near future, provided we can get the materials, and perhaps more people… but I don’t know much about those kinds of details.”
“Good good, but you didn’t cover the negative points of the agreement.”
“Oh, right. Well, not all of the Comanche people believed we should have joined, or at least, they felt they should have gotten more for themselves out of the bargain, but they are missing the point. The agreement was to better all of our lives as a whole, not to benefit a select few. So, as a result, there are a rather frequent amount of disagreements between certain civilians. The Blanchett family seems to initiate alot–“
Erika interupted, “Now you’re just adding in things you overhear from your dad and the police force, but that’s okay. You answered correctly. You ask me a question now.”
Jake immediately asked the first question that came to him, although after thinking about it, he realized it was a pretty easy question for her to answer. “When was the End of Order?
“That’s way easy Jake. You should have thought harder about that one.” She smiled for a second, then continued. “The End of Order was in the year 2010 AD, well, that’s up to debate, but 2010 is the most widely agreed upon date. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but it’s rumored to have been a mix of nuclear war and biological war. Basically every world power collapsed, but not all was lost. After what we think was around twenty-five years, small groups of people formed, much like we have today, into communities and such. Unfortunately, they began to fight amongst themselves and many small scale wars were fought. The rest of the worlds high-tech weaponry was wasted. Guns and ammo were expended and eventually the fighting faded out. We don’t know any details cause records are scarce, but we do know that supposedly some crazy-fanatical religious groups went on a lot of raids and destroyed pretty much every power plant and factory claiming that the wars were God’s way of cleansing the world of its sins.”
“Is that all?”
“What else do you want me to answer? Or are you out of ‘difficult’ questions for me?” she teased. “Hey, maybe you should ask me what year it is as well.”
“…So… what year… is it?” Jake asked slowly and seriously, hoping she’d find it funny.
“68 CD, loser.” And she dashed ahead, subtly challenging Jake to catch up.
Clouds began to move in slowly, but they seemed to pose no threat in terms of rain and lightning. Perhaps the valley would get a little rain, but nothing serious, and since Erika and Jake weren’t in the valley anyway, they continued onward. Before they knew it they were jogging right into the grassy field they had seen no more than an hour earlier. Up ahead, they could see a few structures which seemed to be the outskirts of the city ruins, but even closer than that, there was a man standing in the middle of this field.
From this distance they couldn’t make out any details. He was bent and crooked it seemed, but all that they could tell besides that was that he wasn’t moving. He was just standing still, staring down at the ground.
“Should we keep our distance and go around?” Erika broke the silence they had created.
“I don’t know. Maybe we should talk to him. He could be lost.”
“Weren’t you opposed to coming out here in the first place because of people like him?”
“Yeah, but since I’m here, I might as well make the most of it. After all, I am supposed to be learning to negotiate with people like this in the future anyway. I suppose this could be good practice.”
“What if he has a weapon or something? We aren’t armed at all.” She knew perfectly well they could take him on without weapons, even if he were to be armed, but she was a cautious fighter. Jake could tell she wasn’t afraid, but he himself tended to do things without thinking. It was only when things got serious or dangerous that he began to hesitate. Since he didn’t find this to be too dangerous, he was glad he had company to make him rethink all of his actions.
“We’ll keep our distance, and only go near when we feel that it is safe. Sound okay to you?”
“Sounds fine, but let’s keep it short. I want to get on to the ruins.”
So the two made their way through the field. It was filled with grasshoppers and the occasional butterfly. It was actually quite a serene place. Jake wondered what kept the grass green here. Runoff from the cliff side didn’t seem likely, and the field was just a bit higher than the rest of the surrounding area, so any runoff should have kept the other areas green. The thought didn’t occupy him very long since it only took a few moments to reach the old man. He was extremely old and his clothes were tattered and worn. His most noticeable feature was the incredibly long white beard that flowed from his face. It was completely unkempt, and it had flecks of mud in it. For a moment Jake even thought he saw a spider crawling through it. They came to a stop a few feet behind and to the side of the man.
“Hello there!” Jake announced, but the man didn’t seem to notice their prescence. “Um… Hi mister. Are you well today?” The response was a violent twitch in the old man, but it really didn’t seem to be related to Jake’s approach.
“I don’t think he can hear us…” Erika whispered to Jake, as if she really needed to whisper in earshot of a deaf man.
Jake rounded his way to the front of this ancient relic of a human. He looked into his face and found completely blank eyes. In fact, he had no pupils either.
“He’s blind too.” Jake said as he studied the man’s face. It was full of wrinkles and liver spots which extended to the top of his bald head. “What should we do with him?”
“We should take him over to the city. I’m sure that’s where he’s from. Somebody is probably missing him.”
“I don’t want to drag him around. Whoever takes care of him probably has his special ways to go about it. This guy here might not even like us handling him.”
“What do you suggest then?”
“Let’s leave him. He’s in no danger. Then we’ll find whoever takes care of him and we’ll bring them back here to get him.”
“Sounds like a plan.” As Jake began to head for Erika to make their way to the city, the old man, reached out and grabbed him by the hair. Jake let out a yelp of pain and tried to pry the guy’s fingers out of his hair, but the man’s grip was incredibly strong. Slowly, the man turned his hand, forcing Jake to turn to him, face to face. Jake was squinting and gramacing and didn’t know what was going on.
“Jake are you okay!?” Erika yelled, but for some reason didn’t seem able to move, but there was no need. Jake opened his eyes to see what was going on and found himself staring into the face of an old old decrepit skull, but there was no look of anger or malice in his eyes, instead, a look of pure joy and excitement.
“Sir, could you please let me go?” Jake asked, trying to be as civil and polite as possible, and the man did just as he was asked after a moment. Jake rolled away from him and scrambled to his feet. Erika ran to his side and asked if he was okay, but she was cut-off at the sight she was seeing. The man was dancing in circles waving his arms all over the place. Grasshoppers jumped all over the place around him and he seemed to be caught in a swarm of them. Then he started singing and chanting in the oddest voice.
“What in the world is he doing?” Erika asked, all though it sounded more like a demand than a question.
The storm of grasshoppers began to subside and the old man’s voice got higher and louder. Until he was practically screaming out these strange lyrics to his little chant.
“HAHA GRASSHOPPERS! YOU AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH! YOU CAN’T JUMP HIGH ENOUGH! HAHA GRASSHOPPERS, MY SPIRIT FLIES HIGHER THAN YOU CAN JUMP!!” And he repeated this song over and over.
“Let’s just go.” Erika said after a minute or two, apparently bored of this rather insane display of motion.
“Uh… yeah.” Jake replied, still a bit transfixed by this occurence. So they turned to leave, and as they entered the city, they turned to see the old man again, and he was standing still once more, just staring at the ground.
The city was in shambles. Concrete slabs and parts of buildings dotted the once-clean streets of some forgotten metropolis. Weeds and random plants began to grow through the asphalt and were forming small structure fractures that would bring the entire formation down with time. Jake and Erika just gazed around themselves, feeling like they were being watched, but found nobody in the area. It was desolate, to say the least, and lonely.
“It’s like a big chunk of forgotten history.” Erika announced as if she were some sort of authority on archealogy. She stopped walking for a moment and just stared up the length of a tall building. Every single window was broken out, and the glass surrounded her on the ground. It appeared that the rooftop had a number of make-shift flags at the corners. They were tattered and black, and in fact, one of the flag stands was bent and broken, hanging over the edge, like it could fall at any moment.
“Where are all the people?” Jake wondered.
“I dunno. They could be on the other side of the ruins, in more habitable area, or they could be watching us from the shadows.” Then she proceeded to make creepy wooing sounds, just to tease.
“Uh huh… Well, let’s just keep moving.”
“You aren’t scared are you?”
“Of course not. I just don’t like staying in one place for a very long time. I want to see as much of this place as I can in this one visit.”
“Fair enough. Let’s go down this street.” Erika took off down what seemed like a large multi-laned avenue.
Good, Jake thought, wide open spaces. Nobody will sneak up on us.
Plastic debris floated along the breeze and eventually landed at Jake’s feet. He picked it up and looked it over. Apparently it was some sort of bag, with an old forgotten logo on the front. Jake tried to smooth it out a bit to get a better look, but it was so brittle it just cracked and broke apart in his hands, then the wind picked up a bit and carried off all the pieces. So much for learning to understand some of the past, he thought.
After they walked for a few minutes they saw a very large building down an alley to their left. It was wide and the roof seemed to come together at a point, unlike most of the square topped buildings in the area.
“What’s that over there?” Jake pointed in the direction, not knowing if Erika had noticed it’s prescence.
“I was wondering the same thing. We might as well check it out.”
“Somehow I knew you’d say that.” And they changed course. It didn’t take long to realize what the building was. When they saw the large golden cross over the door, (which was tarnished to the point you couldn’t really tell it’s original color) they realized it was a christian chapel. The flower beds surrounding the area were infested with weeds and trash. It seemed like nobody had even visited this area in a long time, but this only eased the tension between the two of them.
“Christians are not very common these days ya know.”
“Everyone knows that, Jake. They all sort of lost their faith when the war began, and now it’s more of a relic of the past than anything.”
“I wonder what’s inside?”
“You first then!” And Erika shoved Jake toward the front doors, which were open slightly from whoever visited last. Jake pushed them open the rest of the way while they groaned from the ages of stillness, althought what was inside was quite unlike what he expected.
The first thing either of them noticed was that the inside of the place was clean and very well lit. There were benches arranged facing the front, all resting upon some well polished tile floors. Two pillars stood on either side of the entry way, almost acting as a tunneled pathway to other areas of the church. There were also two other pillars near the front where the pulpit stood. Candles burned off to the sides, but gave off very little light. As it appeared, they seemed to be more of a decoration than a light source. Besides, the light entering from the huge stained glass window up front let in more than enough light for the entire place.
The stained glass was beautiful. It was a picture of a gentle looking man who seemed to be descending out of the skies. He was holding out his hands as if he were calling to everyone in the congregation. Around his head shined a bright halo, which was even more accentuated by the afternoon sun behind it. The blue’s and yellow’s of the glass were very comforting, but perhaps a little too bright to stare at for very long, due to the position of the sun.
The pair approached the pulpit slowly, taking in all of this new scenery. There were new smells, new sights, and textures that were completely unheard of to them. It looked like it wasn’t used often, but it was used recently. The air still contained a history. It felt more like a left over aura, something like a scent, that was felt, and generally misunderstood, but was most definitely present. It was certainly a change of pace from the usual housing and such at the village.
After a careful inspection, the two made a short travel up to the pulpit. To their surprise, and dismay, it happened to be more of an altar, a sacrificial altar, to be more precise.
“What?” Jake asked, still unsure of what he was seeing.
“What kind of blood is that on the altar?” She pointed to the rather large smeared puddle of blood, staining the white lace cloth covering the wooden surface.
Jake hesitated to respond.
“It’s human blood isn’t it? The altar is large enough… I think…” True enough, the altar happened to be about four feet wide and six feet long. The perfect size to lie a body down.
“Humans don’t make sacrifices. That’s senseless killing. I don’t understand what’s happened here, but it’s probably not what we think it is.” Jake hesitated to push it further. They could be in a dangerous situation right now, and their surest way to survival, would be to keep a level head. Jake slowed himself down, as his thoughts and urges began to overwhelm him.
“Jake, I think we should go now.” Erika placed an urgent hand on his shoulder, shaking him slightly, but Jake seemed lost in thought.
“Jake, please, let’s go now.”
“Hmm?” he said dazedly. “Oh, yeah. Let’s get going.” He turned to leave with Erika, but turned back once more to see the altar. After a second he pulled himself away and followed Erika to the front door.
Erika was in the lead, overly eager to ditch the place, and Jake was a few feet behind, staring at his feet as he moved along in contemplation. Suddenly, Jake bumped into her back, startling him, and bringing him back to alertness.
Jake looked around wondering why she stopped. He was about to make a protest when he heard the voices outside the door. The words were difficult to make out, but he could positively hear more than two people coming from the front door. Erika whirled about, bumping into Jake, seemingly looking for a back exit.
“Well well well… What are you kids here for?” Jake turned around to find two men standing near a side door, which lead into a hallway, and eventually, to another exit.
Jake and Erika made no attempt to respond, but instead, looked around nervously, searching for a way out when three others appeared at the front door.
“Oi! Harry, look what we’ve got here. You recognize them?” The second man near the one that addressed them previously gestured to them, but was talking to those that just entered.
“Never seen ’em before in muh life,” said the one who was apparently Harry. “Haven’t you?”
The men all began to speak amongst themselves in a hurried manner, as if time were of the essence. They spread out slowly, and they began talking louder, which made the sound reverberate off the walls so that nobody seemed to be able to hear anything. Jake and Erika looked around worredly and eventually came back to back, looking out for anything dangerous. Jake noticed that all the men wore similar one piece robes. They looked ridiculously uncomfortable, appearing to be made out of canvas. Also, they were all dirty, and their hair was cut haphazardly. Many of them had sparse facial hair which covered their sunken cheeks. Their eyes however, were all visibly shrunken, as if they hadn’t eaten or had water in days.
“So, I believe I asked you a question. What are you kids here for?” The man speaking seemed a little taller than the rest, and he looked healthier. His presence seemed to exude leadership, but his manner of speaking and tone of voice didn’t really call out “group leader.” He had made his way to the pulpit/altar.
Jake hesitated to answer any question, and Erika blurted out, “We are from another part of the city. We were wandering and got lost. We hoped someone here would point out the way back.” Her lie wasn’t the least bit convincing, but the leader decided to play the little game.
“Oh, I see. So, you wouldn’t mind telling me who your parents are. I’m sure I know them, I’ll be able to direct you straight home.”
“We are orphans, we just wander the streets looking for food.”
“Oh my! That’s so tragic. I hope there is something we could do for you.” The man directly to Jake’s left snickered for a moment.
“I’m sure we’re fine,” Jake said sternly. “We’ll just be on our way, if you don’t mind.” Jake’s voice cracked when he said “mind,” basically ruining the entire statement in terms of forcefulness.
“I’m sure if you’d only be kind enough to allow our generosity, we’d be happily obliged to help.” With this, the circle of men began to close in on the pair.
“Listen, my name is Jake Marquet. My dad is the leader of the Tigris Community. If we disappear, they’ll come looking for us.” The threat seemed to have worked on the four that surrounded them, but the leader appeared completely unphazed.
“Adam is a damned fool.” His eyes narrowed. “And judging by your reckless, better-than-everyone-else, attitude, I’d say he’d be more than glad that we take you off of his hands.”
“What?” Jake wondered how anyone could think this.
“Your father is a visionary, and no visionary has ever helped the world. We worship here in peace. Strangers disrupt out peace. You are a stranger. We’re really pissed off.”
“Boss, what do you want us to do with them?”
“Whatever you like. I’m going to bed.” One of the guys let out a quiet “weeeeeee” sound, and with that, the leader stepped away and out the door. The four men surrounding them gazed intently for a moment, and with this short moment, Erika took the initiative to run. Jake had been leaning against her when she blasted off, and he lost his balance, falling to his butt. Erika made it to the front door, but looked back to find two men pinning Jake to the ground and two of them running after her.
As the first person approached Erika, she punched him in the face, unexpectedly, dropping him to his knees, clutching his bloody nose, however, the second man tackled her to the ground. Erika thrashed about while he did his best to grope her violently.
“Jake!” She called out. Jake had been wrestling off his two foes while they tore at his clothes and tried their best to subdue him. Upon hearing Erika yell, Jake managed to flail his arms just right to hit one guy in the chin. That’s one down he thought. Then the other man started punching Jake, but he had little strength, and Jake placed a well aimed punch to his stomach, making him double over for a single moment, long enough for Jake to scramble out of his grasp. Jake then ran to his fallen comrade and kicked her assailant hard in the ribs. Erika punched him in the face and rolled over, standing up as well, all in one swift motion. The man with the broken nose recovered at this point and wrapped his arms tightly around Jake’s waist, pinning his arms. For a second, Jake realized that he too was being fondled indignantly, however, as soon as he felt that way, Erika delivered a side kick to the guy’s head, knocking him limply to the floor.
That left only one man with the mental capacity high enough to think rationally, and think he did. He stared at the two left standing and decided he’d be better off making a run for it. Erika and Jake left him alone and decided it was time to go.
Retracing their steps was easy, so they ran full-speed, but they didn’t stop to rest until they had a clear sight of the grassy field.
“Do you think they followed us?” Jake asked.
“There’s no way to tell. The buildings are all so close together and there are a million places to hide, but I didn’t see anyone, so we should be okay.”
“I’m pretty hungry.”
“Adrenaline will do that to you. Makes you thirsty too.”
There was a pause.
“You have blood on you.” Erika pointed at Jakes shirt, which was also ripped beyond use.
“It’s not mine.” Then he continued, “I better get rid of this. People will ask fewer questions if it’s gone than if it has someone else’s blood all over it.”
“What was our story gonna be again, when people wonder where we were?” Erika smiled faintly and glanced at Jake, who was now absent of his shirt. His muscles shined from the sweat and the late afternoon sun.
“We were busy touching and being touched.” he said jokingly, but quickly added, “After all, it wasn’t entirely untrue.” They both laughed, or giggled rather, and got up, then headed back home, slowly at first. They went through the field and realized that the crazy guy was nowhere to be seen, but that didn’t bother either of them a single bit. They’d had enough of this crowd for one day.
“Hey,” Erika began as they broke into a quick jog. “Did you have any plans for later tonight?”
“Just studying for that test, but I’m kind of beat.”
“Well, I heard some people were getting together for a little party tonight. We should go.”
They continued jogging for a bit before Jake answered.
“You know I’m not really a social party-goer. I think I’ll pass.”
“Yeah, I know, but after a day like today, maybe we should go relax.”
“They’re probably all drinking and acting stupid. I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“Well neither do I, but I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go. I could really use some intelligent company.”
Jake resisted for a few miles of landscape, but eventually gave in.