California 2019 - Part 6

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California 2019 - Part 6

I kept running for what must have been an hour. It felt something close to that. I couldn’t hear anything over the loud pounding of my heart, my dry breathing. I felt terrible and all I wanted was to stand still and have a drink, but I didn’t have a drink and I probably wouldn’t have been able to start moving again if I’d stopped.
Before I knew it, dusk came. The sun slowly sank below the mountains, all purple and orange. It was kind of heartbreaking; it was too peaceful to be a warzone. It couldn’t have been right. Thoughts passed in and out and back again, the unwelcome ones inviting themselves in for tea and biscuits, and before long, night came.
I kept running into the night. When the sun disappeared for the night it got cold annoyingly quick, and I had to keep moving, but a while after darkness had fallen I allowed myself a break to try and regain my strength. By now I was dead; I didn’t much care if a Better Living car came roaring up behind me and ran me over. The walking became a slow, staggering limp, all my brain power put into placing one foot in front of the other.
It was heading towards autumn, so the cool night air had a particular bite to it. Now, because I’d been running for my life all afternoon, my clothes were wet from my sweat which made it even colder. I crossed my arms and my trudge became a slow shuffle. I was wearing a pair of fingerless gloves, a tee, a tank top under that, a black jacket with half-length sleeves, skinny jeans—now torn and dirty—tights underneath and my heavily worn black Converses. Even under all that, I was freezing.
I walked for miles before I glimpsed a large fire in the distance. At first I thought I was hallucinating, but as I got closer I could see five figures positioned around it and a what looked like a car hidden in the bushes a few yards from the light’s reach.
I kept stumbling on. I didn’t register at the time that these people could be working for Better Living, out here to catch anyone who was on the run. People like me. Even if I had I wouldn’t have cared. The message to myself which had kept me going for the past four hours or so was to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Besides, I had no energy left to even attempt a change of mindset by then.
“Hey!” someone shouted. I looked up from the ground in front of me and saw the bright spotlights of four coloured laser guns, all trained on me. I couldn’t see the clothes or faces of their owners, but the fact they had guns was scary enough. The only people I knew of who had lasers were the employees of Better Living Industries.
Just then, I broke. I fell to my knees and choked out a sorry excuse for a sob. No tears came, just a weak cough. I looked up to where the face of one of them was in the darkness.
“Just kill me, I can’t run anymore!” I told them, trying to yell. I’m ashamed to say it was more of a whimper. I leaned—more like fell—forward and put my head on my arms in front of me in the dirt. Even if I’d have wanted to I don’t think I had the energy to have sat back up.
I waited in the dust, the only sound being the soft crackling of the fire. My limbs felt like lead. I waited and waited for the laser to tear through me, prayed for them to get it over with.
I heard crunching gravel in front of my head, getting louder and stopping just inches from me. I felt the dust flick up into my messy hair. The following silence was deafening; my ragged breathing and the crackling flames were the only sounds I could make out. This is it, I thought. Goodbye, cruel world. Ugh, cliché. I watched too many movies.
Something touched my shoulder. I flinched, but didn’t look up. I figured they were putting the gun right to my skin. I appreciated that; I didn’t want to die slowly. I gasped as a second object grasped my other shoulder, and I realised they were hands. They pulled me up and with an enormous amount of effort, I raised my head to try and look at the person. My eyes were barely open, but I made out a head of flaming red hair. They stared down at me for a long—it felt long, at least—time while I attempted to keep my eyes open. The smoke and fumes burned and only added to my tears.
Everything started going fuzzy. My neck lost all its strength and my head started tipping forward again. As if in slow motion, the person crouching over me grabbed my shoulders tighter. They yelled something unintelligible and another pair of arms gripped around my abdomen. They lifted me to my feet, testing how much support I needed, but my legs gave out straight away. The second figure tightened their hold across my back while their other arm came around under my legs, knocking my knees out from under me and carrying my limp figure. As they soon learned, I’m too proud for my own good and hated being carried by a complete stranger because I couldn’t do it myself.
They put me down near the fire and someone tucked a coat or jacket around me, and four blurry pairs of legs stepped into my line of sight.
I don’t remember anything of that night after that.