Fire blurred my vision every single time I leaned over my right leg to run. It hurt like nothing else had ever hurt me, but I had no choice. Running required me to be agile, not minding what was happening with the rest of my body. Those legs that had carried me around all my life had to work at the top of their game, never minding anything else. I felt the taste of iron in my mouth and my mind seemed to leave my body for a couple of moments, but somehow I moved on through the night, like a wraith between rocks and chopped trees.
When light finally broke the darkness of the night, there was not much to look at anyway. The fields had been almost carbonized and smoke filled every single corner of the once green and lush environment. I stopped and tried to hear the world around me. My ears were buzzing and my head was turning like crazy but I tried anyway but I couldn’t hear a thing. It was then when I noticed that my leg was in a horrible state, a large part opened and spilling blood all over. However, the pain was not as bad as it was supposed to be.
I tasted iron again and realized I had bitten my tongue while running. There was blood on my head too but I didn’t touch myself to know where it was coming from. It was urgent to find a place to get the proper help I need because, after all that had happened, I was still alive. They had sent troops after me, I had been strapped to a torture table for days and yet there I was, in the middle of a field that they had apparently abandoned. I started walking once more, trying to find a proper exit to that horrible place.
I might have wondered through the smoke for several hours. I knew it was still day because there was light but it was very hard to see where the Sun was exactly. I tried to identify it a couple of times but it was absolutely useless. So I moved on, walking through the scorched plains, hoping to find a place to rest for a while. I have to confess I never thought of anyone else during that time, I had only myself in mind. What would I be good for if I died? The only way to help others was if I made it alive to the other side.
When light began to wane, I found the first untouched trees that I had seen in several days, maybe more. I had no idea how much time had passed since everything had started. But there they were, smelling like smoke, with the tips of their leaves burned, but alive nevertheless. I walked into the forest, with a frankly good mood. No one would enter the forest to only look for me. There was a lot more to do in the world than to go after one person that got away. Maybe they thought nature, or what remained of it, would finish the job and make my bones be food for the ground.
In the dark, I eventually found something of use. It was a small village, made of about a dozen little houses. It looked like one of those places were people gather when they expect to be mining for something, one of those temporal towns that were built back in the day, when retrieving the remaining minerals was of outmost importance for the world. Now, all those miners and their families worked in the big factories in the cities. The old villages had been left to rot under the sun and the rain and everything else.
Plants had overrun the place, flowers growing everywhere. The smoke around there was much less dense. I was able to breathe a little bit easier. I walked around and eventually found the little hut that had worked as the doctor’s office. Maybe they hadn’t been able to attract a proper doctor to that remote place, only a nurse or maybe someone that came once every two or three weeks to help as much as they could. As I expected, there wasn’t a lot to use around there but almost nothing was better than nothing at all.
I cured my wounds with whatever there was around and I was lucky enough to discover a linen closet filled with clean sheets and other fabrics. I cut a large one in order to use as bandages for my wounds. My body felt a little better, especially when I lay down in a cot. There was only the light of the moon, which happened to be almost getting to its fullest state. The beautiful pearl color of its surface, visible past the sheet of smoke, made me think of the past, of simpler times that I had been lucky enough to live.
I fell asleep, dreaming about things that I remembered but mostly about things I had no idea how to understand. It was obvious that I had begun to forget things. Their attempts to make me less of a human had actually worked, as I didn’t feel like my old self anymore. My dream did not make any sense and everyone in it, or most of them at least, felt as a fabrication of my mind or maybe even someone else’s. It was so disturbing, that I woke up very suddenly, sweating profusely and damning my humanity.
I realized I had slept much more than I had thought. It was morning already and the sound of birds reached me. For a moment, it seemed very normal. But then I realized there was no way. The plain had been destroyed or at least most of it. It was improbable that wildlife would have found a way to survive the destruction of the war and all other things that had happened. I stood up and went running outside, realizing I was not dreaming at all. There was a bird singing somewhere close, and I wanted to see it. I wanted to remember what a bird looked like, one that was real.
I walked, slowly, out of the smoky cloud that had covered me for hours, maybe even more time. I seemed to be walking on the edge of the forest. The bird was chirping away, probably flying away slowly. I eventually arrived to a place where the trees began to be shorter and there were more rocks and reddish soil. It was then when I saw the little bird making the noise. It was small, brown in color and a little bit puffy. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was happy and talented and free. That was the most important: free.
I wanted to go closer, to touch him, at least for a moment. But another sound cut me off from desire. The bird seemed to notice it too because it suddenly stopped singing. It stayed on its branch, silently staring right into a group of trees. Then, suddenly and very fast, a bullet rushed through the air and blew up the bird into oblivion. I saw its feathers fall slowly to the ground. I saw beauty being destroyed just because it was there. I felt enraged but also very much confused. I really didn’t like that at all.
A group of two men and a woman came from the trees. I had walked back a bit just before, hiding behind the thickest tree I had been able to find. I trembled when I realized who they were: Ravagers. They were mercenaries that captured rebels in order to surrender them in exchange for money or food. Sometimes even more ammo for their guns. They didn’t care at all for the rights of others to live or to think differently. That was all done a long time ago. They had sold their souls for a cheap price.
The woman grabbed the bird from the ground and did something I only heard, because I couldn’t make myself watch any of it. I only heard the crackling of bones and then laughter. I knew of their sadistic ways, identical to those of the people in power. There was no real difference between them. They had all been complacent in what had happened in the country. In the world, even. I only waited for them to go and they eventually did, walking back into the trees, their voices unable to hurt my ears anymore.
When I felt better, I decided to go back to the village and grab everything I could find that might be useful. I used an old rag to make a sort of bag and put everything I could inside. I put that ball of stuff almost at the end of a thick stick I had found in the forest, getting ready for my next move.
That night, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of everything that I had seen the day before. They had been the ones to almost kill me. My legs and feet walked on, hoping to move away from everything that had happened. Nevertheless, deep down, I knew that wasn’t at all possible.