Το λοιπόν, το παρακάτω έκτρωμα πήρε μέρος σε έναν διαγωνισμό και πήρε τ'αρχίδια των κριτών. Επειδή γενικά τείνω να είμαι μπουνταλάς άργησα να καταλάβω ότι ο συγκεκριμένος διαγωνισμός ήθελε ωμές, στεγνές και γραφικές ΣΠΛΑΤΕΡΙΕΣ και νόμιζα ότι αναφέρεται γενικώς στα ψιλο θρίλερ κατάσταση. Βέβαια, δέσμιος από τους όρους του διαγωνισμού πήρα δεν πήρα τ' αρχίδια μου σε σακκούλα με άρωμα ψητό κάστανο, μόλις πρόσφατα μου επετράπη να το δημοσιοποιήσω. Ιδού λοιπόν ένα ρομαντικό post apocalyptic... πράγμα...
20th December, 2017
“Duck!” thundered the gray bearded man to his comrade.
Strong arms, filled with numerous pictures lifted hastily a sewers trapdoor as a nearby car shook heavily under the weight of countless bullets heading for a young man that crawled behind it.
“Come on dammit, get in here!” the older man shouted again and winced under the weight of the trapdoor. The young, long-haired man crawled even faster towards his comrade and slided inside the sewers entrance. Fifty paces behind them the scarred face of the commander screamed heavily on the score of pirates that kept missing their targets.
“Them bloody animals, bring them down or I will eat your hearts out!”
The two dirty figures entered the sewers hastily. The reward for their escape was a faint smile drawn on both their faces, moments before their frantic movement away from the battlefield. The young man straightened his greasy black hair, revealing almond shaped eyes and a sharp, tiny nose that added a king-like manner to his posture. He spoke with a once soft voice now hardened by the daily agony of constant war.
“We gotta get my brother, Ben.”
“I know, son.”
The man was a step before entering his fifties. His broad back and his muscular body proved useful these last seven years of war. His arms were full of drawings depicting several scenes of his life. “We shall take a left here and after a fast trot for about fifteen minutes we' ll reach ground zero twelve.”
“That's where you left the thog? Ground zero twelve ? Holy smokes, Ben, we' re gonna die soon enough.” Ben stopped abruptly the fast trot and turned to face the young slender figure now breathing heavily a few paces behind him. His face hardened.
“Oh, come on, get on with it...Move along!” he complained in an exhausted manner.
“Listen to me boy.” Sweat trickled down their faces, the sewers boiling hot but odourless. The drainage systems had been long useless.
“Today, we' re gonna get your brother out of this place. And then we' ll leave for Manhattan. Or what's left of it anyway. We meet pirates, they die; that's the plan, stick to it”
His loud tone was also bitter. The young man stared through watery eyes at the bearded face with the deep blue eyes and the thick eyebrows. Ben's scarred forehead revealed a tough past and even though they have been together for at least three months, they never talked about anything more than their escape from America.
“Understand, boy? None of us is going to die. Not today. Not until we reach Europe.”
The boy nodded sharply and they both resumed their silent trip towards ground zero twelve. They soon reached the surface once more. The sun caused the road to burn, their shoes squeaking suspiciously on every step. The young man blinked several times until his eyes adjusted to the new lighting. The place all around them was a dead field. They stood right next to a pile of debris once belonging to a massive building. Skyscrapers once hiding the sunlight now torn to thousands of pieces littering the streets. The stench of putrid flesh was dominating the place and the huge crater up ahead stood empty as the sacred monument that reminded them of the day this place was turned to another Hiroshima.
Ben kept walking west, away from the crater. Their path was usually blocked by burnt trees, piles of rock and melt steel forming eerie ponds pf the shiny metal, but they kept on walking, cautiously and patiently. And then, fifty or so paces ahead stood the six wheel warhog; the heavily armored vehicle they called home for the last three months. Ben reached the door and proceeded with the retinal scan. A pump depressurized the door which opened with exceptional fluidity. He climbed in a quick manner and headed for the drivers seat. The thin man climbed aboard and the vehicle door shut tightly after him.
“I'll go check on my brother”
“You should. Them pirates are some lousy bastards”
Minutes later they were leaving the town, entering a highway road, one of the few that remained intact for a long distance.
22nd December, 2017
The soft and cool night breeze made camping an easy procedure, no sweat trickling down their hard faces, no hot ground burning their backs causing the skin to shed to pieces after a two hour sleep. They lied down on a roughly made camping site, their armored vehicle parked a few paces further. Small tin cans in a plastic bag contained meat rations that kept every war torn individual alive for seven years now.
“It's never been this hot around Christmas. Even after Antarctica's meltdown” observed Andrew. He lied shirtless, using his top as a pillow against the hard rocky ground.
“Aye, that's true” said Ben without taking his eyes from the stars. “It's gonna be a hell of a different Christmas.”
“You think we'll live till then?” Andrew asked bitterly.
“I think we' ll be in Atlantis, ready to board on that damn sub, on our way to Europe... If I were a goddamn pirate, I' d dare not attack me right now...” he answered with an amusing tone.
“How can you do that?” Andrew sputtered through gritted teeth, rising from his natural cot.
“How can you be so cool? What the fuck does it take for you to face the shit we' re into?”
He was now standing right above Ben, veins pumping on his neck, his hands bearing a small tremble. The middle-aged man observed the slim figure standing before him through slitted eyes.
“You are hiding the stars, lad”
Andrew drew a deep breath and began to say something but got interrupted by Ben as he unfolded his answer, choosing his words carefully.
“You'd think, a young boy like yourself would cling to life more than ever before at times like this. Yet you seem so eager to die. How's that huh? You tell me how can you do this to yourself and I promise I' ll teach you how to be as cool as me”
Andrew stepped aside as the well built man stood up. He noticed for the first time the extend of his scars. The strong arms filled with different paintings, his large chest tainted with black ink all the way to his shoulder blades; all these drawings and yet he saw clearly under the starlight, skin tissue folding in eerie shapes, forming a web of unheard stories, of novels that stayed buried deeply beneath this old man's heart. For he was older than a man in his fifties. Andrew knew that now. Ben began folding a dirty, old blanket, torn in places, frequently used as a rough cot. Andrew drew a deep breath and picked up his shirt.
“It feels as if everything began three months ago. When he died. Roger was more than family to me”
Ben winced at the hearing of this word.
“Family bonds”, he sputtered “foulest invention ever”
Andrew's heart began to race. He felt rage burning inside, an urge to scream and before he even knew it he was charging against Ben who walked a few paces forward. The battle proved short although intense. A skilled warrior against a raged youth that within ten seconds lay sprawled all over the muddy ground.
“Listen to me boy,” Ben yelled “I live in this shit since the first day I was born. Child of a heroine addict and a filthy crack whore, using dumpsters as a rain protector till I was five. And the social services? All the stupid families did was treat me as a tin can for meat rations”.
After a long moment he held his hand forward and helped the muddy figure to stand up. When he spoke next, his voice was milder though not less angry.
“Family? I've been in four. Not even one of them offered the last bit of help when I needed it the most. Instead they kept pushing and pushing till I became of age”.
“What happened then?” asked Andrew while wiping some muddy snot off his nose. His stained sleeves left a dirt mark on his cheeks. He got up slowly, as if checking for any pain that could tell off some fractured bone. They set off for the car, resuming their talk.
“I left lad. I ran away; as far as I could” They walked side by side, Andrew's skinny figure dripping dirty water along the way. “Worked here and there for some time, got bored quickly. My last parents tried to call for some time but they got the message quickly”
“You' ve been alone for all these years?” Andrew asked surprised. Ben smiled and opened the door.
“After you boy...”
They got inside and sat down in the back of the truck. In front of them lay a large, glass, oblong box. A liquid nitrogen container stood a few feet further, supplying the cryocoffin with the sufficient conditions to preserve Roger's still body. After a long quiet moment Andrew managed a whisper.
“His last wish was to be buried in peaceful grounds. That's why I need to reach Europe. It is the only place that this war hasn't been able to touch yet.”
“At least we hope so... Last word was they had trouble with North Korea.”
“Last word meaning?”
“I think it was about seven months ago. News of the last sub...”
They both sighed heavily and sat still for a moment.
“We should get going. Another hundred miles and then we have to go through Zone B.”
“Goddamn pirates” Andrew bellowed and crawled his way to the cockpit.
24th December, 2017
Dark clouds filled the crimson sky, lowering the temperature, making it easier to breathe. The first droplets of polluted water started to fall, burning the exposed skin of the warriors, making a sizzling sound upon touching metal surfaces releasing hydrogen. The water filled with acid kept falling in a slow, torturing way, it's droplets round and heavy, willing to make more damage than a machine gun. The loud pops from burning hydrogen distracted their attention.
“Holy smokes, this is gonna be tough!”
“We have enough ammunition to last through the day”
“You have enough blood to spill to last for a day?”
“No time for jokes, lad!”
They stood behind their vehicle amidst a swarm of pirates and a score of Rebels that happened to be in place. The Army tried their way through Zone B, a lone crest standing alone just a few miles outside Manhattan, suffering extended damage from the pirates. A platoon of Rebels managed to intercept in order to even the odds against the Army. This score was now all that had left. Limp bodies occupied the rotten soil, the silk thread keeping their souls in place, now torn savagely by the skinny hands of the Fates.
The pirates' commander ascended on a heavy machine gun besides the six wheeler. Ben noticed him through a mirror's corner and felt his stomach burn. His guts stirred as the adrenaline pumped through his veins and spread throughout his body. He grabbed a war knife about seven inches long and propelled it against the commander's face. His legs sprang forwards and with a swift tumble he turned to face a cat fight between a muscled pirate and a young soldier, his machine gun at hand.
At the same time, Andrew threw a frag grenade about thirty feet westward where a cadre of red painted pirates readied their firearms. As soon as the round metal ball landed and the loud explosion deafened their ears, the commander's throat slit open, a seven inch war knife stuck in it. Choking, he collapsed with a loud thud on the cold steel of the machinery. The loud noise startled the broad shouldered pirate that battled with the poor soldier and Ben took a shot at his shoulder. The young marine grabbed a rock and forced it through his opponent''s teeth. Blood drops, teeth hanging freely and another shot from a sharpshooter's trained eye pierced his lungs.
Andrew grabbed his handgun and crawled his way towards the large machine gun. He unstuck the knife from the dead commander's throat and climbed on the machinery. He commenced fire against the remaining pirates, his heart beating so fast that he felt his chest ready to collapse. Ben watched startled as this war transformed another innocent soul into a voluntary murderer. He suppressed a hard sob and headed for his car. He opened the door hastily and grabbed a med kit secured next to the handle. He headed for the Rebel outpost, walking swiftly, presenting extreme agility for a man of his age.
Moments later, it was all over. Andrew ceased fire and gasped heavily for some cool air. The rain had ceased, as if allowing them to travel relieved of another burden. The orange fireball that made life on Earth possible, now sunk even lower in the horizon, a blushing witness of mankind's brutality.
“So much for Christmas” sounded a tall guy, the black hue of his skin now concealed by the darkness falling rapidly in place.
“Gather round boys... We need to talk...” said Ben with his rough voice.
25th December, 2017
“Well, it's officially Christmas...”
Ben managed a smile without taking his eyes off the road. Atlantis, the ever growing town that resided amidst Manhattan's left overs was only a few miles ahead and the sub that would take them to Europe awaited patiently for their arrival. The cryocoffin stood intact in the back chamber of the truck. Ben shot a glance at the cockpit. He noticed the outside temperature.
“It seems like a whole different planet. Burning hot during the day, frozen cold right after midnight”
“We did this, Ben. We caused all that paranoid...thing...”
“I know, son... I know...”
They arrived easily, no more pirates pestering their path towards happiness, no more dead bodies sprawling all over the place. In front of them stood a large metro opening, leading them downwards. Manhattan seemed like a drowned field. After Antarctica's meltdown, sea level rose dangerously, swallowing every peninsula, every small island and drowning millions of innocent people. The waist height water was an easy task for the warhog and they soon traveled through modified train rales, heading for the underground Rebel society named Atlantis.
Minutes later Andrew came face to face with the most spectacular man made construction ever. A colossal transparent dome protected a huge city, alive and growing day by day. Ben noticed his comrade's surprise and began to explain.
“Remember the first strike? Ground zero twelve?”
“Yeah, the first nuclear strike of this war...”
“After that, our government began to recruit people.”
“Yeah, I know, I was in the age limit, too. I fell right for the fairytale.”
“A lot did. Everyone who managed to escape from the government's claws headed for Manhattan. That's where the initial split began. Rebels, Soldiers, Pirates. The Rebels fended off the retarded pirates and began to built this community.”
Andrew stood slack jawed in awe. Speechless, he fought to observe every last detail he could as they entered the dome.
“Remember asking me if I was alone?”
“Back, after the family talk...”
“As long as there are people that share the same dreams lad, you will never be alone...”
They parked the warhog in a small house's yard and got off. Within minutes, several people, armed to the teeth headed for the gray bearded man. One of them yelled “It's Gray Ben! He's back!”
Andrew observed carefully as a score of happy faces started to greet his comrade. Hugs, kisses, loud voices, mild punches. Friends. Family. Maybe Ben was right after all. Maybe the true meaning of the term family lies within something greater. He stood there, his eyes watery, his left hand rising to touch
the back of their vehicle, right where his brother's coffin lay.
25th December, 2017
The beautiful town of London stood proud as the sun made its way through the center of the sky, only to disappear ten hours later. Its inhabitants never imagined that the sharp exclusion of light emanating from the center of the town would later spread a death disease, incinerating innocent people, burning long lived buildings and scarring another day in human history that would later be remembered as the Christmas that changed the world. A different Christmas.