A World in Three Minutes
“Scope,” I say out of the side of my mouth, keeping my eye on the movement in the distance.
Attilius hands me a hunting rifle that we took as a trophy after a fierce battle one hot afternoon under the torrid Nevada sun, affixed with a magnifying optic sight that doubles as our only monocular. I hold the sight to my eye.
“Three. Running, opposite direction. Possible scouts.” I lower the rifle.
It’s in our best interest to stay vigilant. The ruinous remnants of Reno are hardly a bastion of civilized society. What remains of buildings and structures around the city have been turned into hideouts and in ideal scenarios, fortified bunkers.
We’ve been so lucky as to find what was once a supermarket on the outskirts of town. The shelves were bare when we arrived, unfortunately, but with some defensive modifications it has made for a decent safehouse. The roof offers a good vantage of the surrounding streets.
Law and order has no place in this society. It’s every man for himself. Gangs form around all walks of life. Mostly families and neighbourhoods, banding together. Those ones don’t bother me. They don’t usually look for trouble. It’s the rough characters that tend to give us problems. The criminal type. The ones that think everything belongs to them. There’s no police here to control them. Our safety is in our own hands.
“Here, take it,” I say to Attilius, holding out the rifle, my other hand clasped over my eyes. Searing pain is ripping through my head. He takes the rifle and slings it around his back.
“Julius, are you okay?” he asks. The concern in his voice is genuine.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Words are hard to come by in this state. This migraine is worse than the last. And that one worse than the one before it. They don’t last long, at least. Minutes, at most. Like hot coals being placed inside my head until they cool off. A minute later, I return to normal. As normal as can be now, at least.
“Should we worry about these guys?” I ask.
“Maybe. They came from the university direction. When we went and checked out the campus ruins the other night, there was a big group there. They looked hungry. Skeletons huddled around a fire like it was the only thing keeping them alive.”
“Interesting,” I say, thinking out loud. “If they come back again tomorrow, shoot them.”
“Understood,” Attilius nodded solemnly. There’s no room for indecision. Taking the initiative means survival.
We descend the stairs, our four-hour watch shift ended. Caelus and Bacchus take our place and Attilius hands over the rifle, our best conditioned weapon, designated for rooftop duty. The rest of our arsenal consists of old cobbled-together firearms, scavenged and pillaged from other parties, and various makeshift melee weapons. None of us are really trained in how to use them, but they’ve served us well so far. Ammunition is far too scarce, and in most cases unsafe, to consider practicing with them.
Spartacus is the most proficient with firearms in our group, befitting of his name, which was given to him upon his admission into our party. Real names are tossed aside. In this way, we are stripped of our various backgrounds and bonded as a unit.
I turn the corner into the aisle of the store where we’ve set up our sleeping quarters, Attilius following. It’s around time for our usual nightly discussion about the day’s events, and what we plan for tomorrow.
The pounding headache returns. It hits me like a battering ram. I fall to my knees, head buried in my arms. Attilius puts his hand on my back but doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing he can do to make the pain stop, but he knows it’s getting worse.
This time I see a light. It dominates my sight. There’s movement within. The pain stops, but the vision remains. I can’t make out the figures, but they appear human. I’m looking up at them. I hear a rumbling sound, or maybe murmuring. Voices?
The vision fades.
“That was weird,” I mutter.
“What was weird?” Attilius asks.
“I thought I saw a group of people looking over at me.”
He stares at me, visibly confused, but doesn’t question it. I appreciate him in these moments more than he can ever know. We agree to skip our analysis and save it for the morning instead, and each retire for the night.
Before I eventually fall asleep, I can’t help but wonder what it is about me that the others have put their trust in. I try not to think about it. The responsibility feels overwhelming. They put their safety and wellbeing in my hands. Why? I don’t even know how we ended up in this mess, I have no recollection of it. It feels like I woke up one day and the world was on fire.
I’m outside now. I’m laying down, and everything is bright and blurred around me. This dream again. It’s been recurring lately. I hear voices. I can’t make out the words, but they sound panicked. Yelling. They echo, the voices gaining in intensity until it becomes unbearable, and I wake up.
Attilius is already up, warming a pot of water in our fire pit. His coffee is the only thing I have to look forward to with a new day.
“Oh, you’re up,” he says.
“It happened again.”
He looks at me with a straight face. He pauses for a moment, then his expression changes to concern.
“I don’t mean to cause distress first thing in the morning, but Antonius didn’t return last night,” he says. “I don’t want to assume the worst….” His voice trails off.
I grab a tin cup from a shelf and pour coffee into it. I can’t think of an appropriate response to the news. Another of our party gone in the night. He’d gone out yesterday to try and find drinkable water, our reserves running low.
“I sent him out…. He went because I—” Before I can finish my sentence, the stress triggers an indescribable pain that tears through my skull like I’ve been struck by a car. I lose consciousness before I can sit down.
I’m roused by voices. My head feels like it’s on fire. Every part of my body hurts. I realize I’m laying on pavement. I open my eyes, and a girl is kneeling over me, tears running down her face. Behind her is a man, talking on his cellphone. His voice is panicked, like he’s calling for help. A dark grey SUV sits in the middle of the street behind him, still running and with the driver’s door open.
“Oh Matthew, I thought you were dead!” the girl cries.
Matthew? I thought.
“Where’s Attilius?” I croaked.
Connor Fletcher is a second-year Creative Writing and Journalism student at VIU. Attracted to writing speculative fiction, creativity is a central part of his being as he draws inspiration from all kinds of sources: music, video games, and of course, other written works. When he’s not writing, he enjoys spending his time absorbing his musical influences and applying it to the bass guitar, and supporting local junior hockey.