They had been walking for at least two hours, without taking a break or dropping the rhythm of their movement. They were only four people, all dirty on the faces, their clothes a bit ragged, their shoes all broken. The group kept on walking until they reached a group of large rocks, enough for them to hide from anyone coming from any direction. Inside the rock group there was sort of a clearing and a soft surface. They finally stopped walking, dropping their bodies hard against the rock.
They were two men, both around thirty years old, a woman of the same age and a child about ten years old. They all rested, laying down like starfish on the hard surface. It was late in the afternoon, so the shadow made by the rocks was perfect to avoid being toasted by the sunlight. One the men opened a backpack he had being holding. He extracted a water bottle and took a sip. He gave it to the others, who drank hastily, as if thy knew they wouldn’t have the chance to drink any liquids again
No one spoke, maybe because they wanted to keep their few energies to use them on something more worth it or maybe because there was nothing to be talking about. The truth was both reasons were accurate. What could you say when you’ve seen so many people killed, when you’ve escaped death by nothing more than a few seconds? Nothing, that’s what. The group lay down and didn’t move until it was almost night. It was the two men who got out of the small clearing, into the terrain outside.
It was clear they were in a desert or at least near one. The rocky surface on which they stood was covered, in some parts, by a thin layer of sand and other bright particles. One of the men, the taller one, went to the edge of the rock formation and stared at the horizon: he couldn’t see any light except the first stars appearing on the sky. He sighed in relief as that meant no one had followed them. The reason was of no interest; as long as they were safe the reasons could wait to be known.
The other man, some centimeters shorter, climbed the rocks steadily but making a sort of a grin as he did it. It was clear he was in pain, as with each step he let some air out. When he reached the top of that smooth hill, he was suddenly victim of a cough attack, in part because of what he had seen. He hit his chest a bit to clear his throat as he raises his head and so a never-ending desert past the hill. It wasn’t far at all and seemed to be larger than any ocean that the man had ever seen. This was good and bad, as it was a safe escape route but only because they exchanged a few dangers for other ones.
He turned around and joined the taller man. As he neared him, he realized the other one was crying. He wasn’t bothering to swipe the tears out of his face. He just crouched in the spot and cried in silence, staring at the horizon, which was now pitch black. The shorter one kneeled besides him and hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. Again, they didn’t say a word. This time too it was highly unnecessary to talk as everything they had gone through was beyond any word invented by men.
Some time afterwards, they penetrated the big boulders and found the woman and child sleeping. They looked at each other once and decided to join the others in the floor for a sleep. It took them almost an hour to feel the drowsy and to finally fall asleep. When they woke up the next morning, it seemed to be early still, as a cold wind blew over them. The shorter man stepped out of the boulders and took another look at their surroundings. Then, the first words spoken in that place for many years were heard:
Hunter! TO THE DESERT!
It took them only a couple of seconds to wake up and run out. They all stared at the horizon, were a cloud of dust could be seen, nearing the rocky hill they were standing in. It was clear their pursuers were still after them, restless. The shorter man turned around and walked uphill. They all followed fast. When they reached the top, they had to run down the other side. This had to be careful as many small rocks covered the hill. The woman actually fell and was helped up fast.
Once they reached the sandy bottom of the hill, they started to run, straight to the heart of the desert. It was difficult to run on sand, as it didn’t allow them to progress a lot. Nevertheless, they did it as if their lives depended on it and, actually, that was precisely true. As they ran more and more into the desert, they were all thinking exactly the same: they knew the hunters had no intention of entering that place as they knew people always died in there, never coming out on any side of the gigantic sea of sand.
But that was precisely the advantage they thought they had over the hunters. They were too busy hunting easier targets and chasing someone through a desert was not really worth it if they thought the desert and its lack of everything could kill them faster than they could. So when an hour had passed and the small group was already exhausted, they looked back for a moment: the hunters were at the edge of the desert, on a jeep, and appeared to be thinking what to do. Then, they did something no one thought they would ever do: they got out a missile launcher and pointed in their direction. Now, it was the tall guy who yelled:
And they did but the missile had already been launched. It hit the soft desert surface and blew sand everywhere, forming a small storm in the spot. They were all thrown forward, over some small dunes and hitting the sand hard. The jeep turned around and the hunters left, as the small group began to regroup. The short guy had been spared of any injury but as he ran to the tall one, he realized he had been lucky. The other man lied in the ground, panting. His right arm had been burned, from elbow to shoulder.
The kid was crying, not far. He looked good, not injured besides some scratches. But it was the woman that did not seem very well. She was panting too but wasn’t sitting or standing up. She coughed and the kid screamed. The short guy neared him and realized the woman was very badly injured: one arm and one leg were broken. Her face had been badly burned and, as they look at her, she stopped breathing. The kid had stopped his crying but resumed it once he realized what had happened. The thing here was she wasn’t his mother but had acted like one for many days.
The tall guy had crawled next to them, just as the other one had closed the woman’s eyes. Again, he spoke very softly, as if he didn’t want to disturb the woman’s peace.
We have to bury her beneath the sand. Vultures won’t be long.
And he was right because, as they excavated the sand and put the body in there, several shadows began to circle them from above. When they finished, the birds landed close by, as if they needed to verify if there was a dead body among them. They had covered her in a lot of sand and hoped no storm would uncover the body. They didn’t mind the birds as they started walking through the desert, now slower than before.
When night fell, they sat close from one another and tried to light a fire with a lighter and some paper they had on the backpack but they weren’t successful at all. The cold was awful and only the kid fell asleep fast, surely because he was so tired. The short man decided to clean the other’s wound with a bit of water and told him, whispering to his ear, that he would need to get the burnt skin scraped of to let new skin grow. He agreed and stood up instantly. The kid didn’t felt as they walked away, behind a dune. The short guy moistened the paper he had tried to set on fire and advised the tall guy to bite something. He took of a shoe and put it in his mouth.
The screams could have woken a whole town, or so it seemed. But no one was near to hear it. The kid woke up but didn’t move, deciding to stare at the stars and remembering his family and all that had happened before then. As he heard the disheartening screams, he realized he didn’t remember his mother nor is father or any other relatives. He felt he had been running for years but realized that couldn’t be true. He fell asleep realizing he heard nothing anymore and feeling alone and hopeless.
Behind the dune, the two men were hugging. The arm had been properly scraped and it bled a bit. The man held it high as he had his nose in the other man’s hair. Then, in a raspy and sad voice, he said:
What are we going to do? – He sighed. Tears filling his eyes – I’m tired…
The other one gave him a gentle kiss on the lips and cleaned his eyes of tears.
We’ll keep living. They won’t finish us. We’re not dead yet.
And then they hugged tighter and the pain on the man’s arm wasn’t as strong as the one in his heart and soul.