Chapter 3: Down the rabbit hole

“Man, how long was I out for?” I ask. “People are starting gangs, exploring potentially deadly doorways... I feel left out.”

 

“Well, I wasn’t the first to wake up; I’m not sure who was,” Dave clarifies needlessly, “but I’ve been up for about three hours, I think.”

 

“I’ve been up for at least four,” Iron Man brags. “I think you may actually have been the last to wake...”

 

Great. Well, sleeping in always was kind of a bad habit of mine... at least I woke up at all.

 

I shudder and get up. Not thinking about that right now.

 

I clear my throat. Carefully. “So, which wall has the functional doors?”

 

“It’s that one,” Dave says, pointing to a wall with a small group of people seated in front. “You want to go check it out?”

 

I nod and set off. My boys obediently follow. I try to keep my gaze level as we weave our way through what litters the field. Lalalala if I can’t see them, they’re not there.

 

As we get closer, I can soon make out a door in the wall. There’s an enormous ‘1’ on it, next to a rather crude, abstract carving, that may depict a human in mid-stride... if it were physically handicapped and had at least two knees on its right leg.

 

The doors are spread out evenly along the wall, and they each feature an identical ‘1’, and a unique, grotesque carving of something humanish, that appears to be walking. It’s hard to make anything out of their mangled facial features, but none of them look particularly happy.

 

 “Well...” Iron Man says, “no points for artistic value, but I guess the meaning is clear enough, right?”

 

I shoot him a dry glance. “Enter one at a time and suffer?”

 

Dave frowns. “Let’s hope only the former.”

 

We walk on and study the doors a little more up close.

 

The people waiting here, seated on bags and coats and the like, eye us suspiciously, as if we’re planning to cut in line. As if. I’d like to stay alive for as long as possible, thank you very much. No matter how short that’s likely to be.

 

My eyes wander to a girl wearing a Wonder Woman outfit. It’s well made, but oof, that’s a lot of skin she’s showing... suddenly I’m pretty glad about my hotdog selling uniform.

 

I may have been staring a bit too long, because she’s giving me an angry glare and shifts her top to show less.

 

I roll my eyes and look away. Jeeze. It’s not like that, okay; can’t a straight girl appreciate the female form, once in a while?

 

“All right people, gather round please,” a man bellows authoritatively from the clearing in the middle of our cage. The people waiting here seem conflicted and shoot us some more glares.

 

The boys and I head back first, to prevent misunderstandings.

 

The survivors slowly gather around the clearing. The general mood seems pretty bleak. The guy who called us over stands next to the pile of rations; a beefy security guy wearing a name tag that just says ‘Steve’.

 

“First the good news,” Steve says. “From what we can tell, people are no longer dying.”

 

A weak chuckle ripples through the crowd, followed by a round of coughing.

 

Steve waits patiently for the crowd's breathing to stabilize, before continuing. “Now for the bad news: aside from possibly the structure around us, there seems to be no sign of any previous human presence. The fountain may provide us with drinkable water, but either way our food supplies are limited, and we have no means of replenishing them. And the only way out seems to be... one-way.”

 

Or worse, is what he leaves unsaid.

 

“The Survival Action Team,” he says, indicating the small group of guys gathered loosely behind him, “considered the following course of action. A part of this group should stay here for as long as possible, to see if any help, any previous survivors show up. Another part should take a limited portion of rations, and scout ahead. Frankly, I’m not sure whose odds I like better...”

 

I know whose odds I like better...

 

“Now, in order to maximize our chances, we think it would be best if the able young men, which we luckily don’t lack, form our scouting group. Meanwhile, we of the Survival Team will hold the fort for as long as possible and protect the elderly and the women.”

 

Sounds reasonable enough I suppose... though I’d prefer not to get separated from my little clique...

 

Then again, I’ve just met them like half an hour ago. You are a likeable person Emma; you can make new friends if you have to.

 

Definitely not that Legolas creep though. God, he’s staring... is he checking me out again?

 

I catch his eye and he is smirking far too smugly. Like he’s up to something, or knows something...

 

Wait... It couldn’t be... The survival group is going to stay here, with the elderly and the women... able young men who aren’t part of the survival team, like Dave and Iron Man, have to go first.

 

Is he... anticipating the time when there’s nobody left to protect me?

 

My accelerating heartbeat drones in my ears, drowning out Steve’s words as I take another look at the Survival Action Team, gathered behind him. There are a couple of women in the group, but primarily men. Most of them look perfectly harmless, but now that I’m paying attention, there’s at least three who make my hackles rise and my stomach sink.

 

Screw this; I’m not taking any chances.

 

“Back me up,” I hiss at Dave, not giving him a chance to do anything but give me a startled look before I interrupt Steve mid-sentence. “Hold on just a minute!”

 

“And—I’m sorry, you are?” Steve asks, frowning unhappily.

 

Oh god, what am I doing? I take another look at Legolas, who is looking at me warily. No, my intuition’s not wrong...

 

If I’m to die here, I’m going unmolested, thank you very much.

 

“My name’s Emma.” Somehow it sounds like a declaration of war.

 

Steve’s frown deepens. “Well Emma, do you have a problem with our plan?”

 

“Yes, I do,” I take a step forward, and raise my volume. “Because it sounds to me like you’re trying very hard to end up in a situation where you and your ‘team’ stay behind with all the food, water... and women.”

 

You could’ve heard a squirrel sneeze in the silence that followed. If those even exist in this dimension.

 

“I’m not sure I like what you’re... implying,” Steve says, blotches of red appearing on his face. “The team and I are working very hard to—“

 

“—I’m sure you are, but who put you in charge?” I interrupt. He’s off-balance, can’t let him take control of the flow anymore. I’m actually getting the feeling that he’s quite sincere in his intentions, but some of the creeps behind him that I spotted earlier are staring at me rather unkindly, especially Legolas.

 

I look at the crowd and see the unrest rising. I have Dave and Iron Man to count on, but if shit is about to hit the fan here, I don’t want to be anywhere near Lego-ass. I need to get out of here.

 

“There I said it,” I say, crossing my arms and lifting my chin like I’m sticking to my guns. “Someone had to. However, with the way some of your goons are eyeing me right now, I no longer feel safe here. So, if the people who were waiting in line can forgive me, I’m going to take my chances with the next open door.”

 

Secretly shaking in my sensible shoes, I walk up to the pile of rations, right next to Steve. Dave and Iron Man hover behind me protectively. Steve stares at me, speechless, as I grab a backpack and stuff some food and water bottles in it from the pile.

 

The tension is thicker than yo momma. I can see Lego-ass’s mind working overtime, his eyes darting back and forth between me and the crowd. His fingers twitch. I can tell he wants to try to detain me, but knows it would turn the crowd against him.

 

I don’t dare to grab too much or take too long, have to keep the momentum of my storm-out going.

 

I turn around to march over to the doors.

 

“And I would advise all the women to follow my example, while they still can,” I call over my shoulder.

 

I walk with measured steps. I instinctively know that it’s important to be perceived as purposefully walking away, instead of fleeing. Dave and Iron Man are still guarding me.

 

Behind us, people burst into fierce arguing, shouting and coughing.

 

“Dude, that was intense,” Iron Man says shakily.

 

“Are you sure about this?” Dave asks. “I thought you didn’t want to enter the doors anytime soon...”

 

“Yeah well, I’d also prefer not to get raped.” That shuts him up.

We come up on the doors, but they are all still closed. People are following us. I glance back, unsure of their intentions.

 

Doubts are beginning to rear their head... Will I really be safer behind one of these doors than here? What if Lego-ass follows me through this exact door. And if these people are here claim their spot in the line, should I stand my ground or give a little?

 

One of the doors grinds open, the slab of stone moving upwards, revealing a dark tunnel behind it. I stare at it, wide-eyed.

 

“What are you waiting for,” Iron Man reprimands, giving me a shove “Go!”

 

The people behind me also burst into an argument.

 

Probably best not to wait around until they reach a conclusion... I take off running.

 

Harder than it sounds when you’re on a field of knifegrass covered in corpses, with poisonous air.

 

 Luckily... I think... I’m not being pursued, so I manage to safely reach the door.

 

At the last second, I freak a little... but if I waver now, I’ll never dare to go through.

 

So I jump through the opening.

 

With incredible speed and a noise like thunder, the door slams shut behind me, leaving me sprawled in the dark with my ears ringing.

 

Yup, I’m going to die.

 

 

Author's note:

We're just getting started, and I'm already enjoying people's reactions very much!

 

Though having my writing public like this also feels a bit like I've cut open my head so people can see the inner workings of my brain.

 

So.... weird, fun, and a tad disconcerting? 

 

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©2018 by H.C. Mills