The hall was dark, the building corroded from the inside. Shadows pooled dark in every corner, and large sections of the concrete pillars had crumpled. Finally, it went quiet. His raspy, desperate breathing could be heard, and it seemed to scrape off of every wall and drag itself across the splintered, cracked floor. She should’ve gripped every second as it passed, glad for another that she had survived, but all she could think of was what had yet to come, but was inevitable. Her mind stuck on every next lucky break that they might not get.
His thoughts must’ve echoed hers, because he took in a wheezing breath and sputtered, “we won’t last, here.” His voice held the hardened edge of pain, and was gritty with thirst. They’d been in this hall, blocked in, for two days. She tried to imagine his face, lips cracked from dehydration, eyes red rimmed and a haggard, tired expression.
Her voice was cold when she answered, “then go.” For weeks she’d had only the scent of blood and rot in her nose, and only ash in her throat. The pistol had been trembling in her hand so long that she didn’t feel it slip when it finally escaped her grip and clattered back to the floor, it was like punctuation—an end to the jaded assumption that their resources were unlimited. There was quiet for a long time, and she propped herself up under an arm, craning her neck over the rubble until he came into view. Something cold shot up her torso, winding frozen tendrils around her spine, and then her head felt heavy and her eyes swamp with unshed tears. He was sitting with his back to her, his arms folded across his own barricade. He was staring hard at something in his lap, and she couldn’t tell whose ragged breath had eaten up the silence.
"What do we have left?" His voice came back, and she lowered herself back to the floor, feeling numb and tired. She knew he wouldn’t read the labels; he was tired, just like her. He would want this. Her trembling hand dipped into the duffel bag, and found an orange bottle prescribed to someone she had never met, but she knew was dead. She counted the contents. It was enough for one of them. She emptied the bottle into another, a white one.
She looked over the rubble, but she couldn’t see him. Too tired to lift herself again, she called back, “not much. A little bit of Aspirin. You want it?”
"You have it." He sounded resigned. She wondered how hard it had been for him to say no. She tipped the bottle, and the little pills looked like candy against her pale palm. A dark, navy blue, the same color as the lakes in scenic photographs of northern forests, or the night sky in every painting she’d ever seen. She turned her palm, and let them roll and skitter along the creases: scooping low along the head line, and kissing the life line before disappearing into the darkness, clicking off the broken concrete.
She leaned back, feeling the rough pillar behind her, her hands falling into her lap, feeling the sticky, dried blood that had pooled there. The feeling of pins and needles in her legs had long since gone, and it was only persistent ache she felt, the sharp little pangs when she moved. The sound of bones cracking and splintering that echoed forever in her ears. There was a ring, something hard and hollow hitting metal. She tried to tighten the muscles in her hand, tried to keep her eyes from falling closed. The door creaked under the weight of another blow, and she labored not to think of how pitiful the blockade that held it in place was. There was the sound of glass breaking, and the almost delicate tinkling as it peppered the floor, falling into the crevices of their barrier, the last wall to ensure their continued survival.
She hadn’t seen the sun in days. ”Jack?” She couldn’t move her toes. ”What happens when you die?” Her voice didn’t sound like her own, all cracked and dry and wheezing. She was thirsty, and tired. Her fingertips grazed the muzzle of the pistol, tracing it, unable to find purchase even if she’d had the strength to lift it. Her fingers were getting cold.
He sounded far away, “C’mon, Mel, kids don’t think about that stuff.” Then the boom of gunfire, the heavy crack of wood breaking. The empty click of a spent magazine. A scream that sounded far away, against edges that all seemed dark and fuzzy. All she could smell was rot, the musky scent of death. She missed her mom.