I had a dream and transcribed it as a #Fridayflash. Enjoy:)
Bullet for Bullet
Tim was drying the dishes I passed to him, Maria kept her legs up after having cooked all afternoon, and the kids played with the dog and the cockatoo. A perfect family picture, except that two weeks ago, we hadn’t known each other. Two weeks ago plus one day, my real family died before my eyes.
“What’s that sound?” Tim stopped me from running water over the soapy plates and we both leaned in toward the open window. “Is that a wheel creaking?” he asked me, as if I knew.
The kids stopped playing, everyone stared at each other. We’ve been found.
“Should we run?” Maria’s voice, barely audible over the racket coming from outside, came too late, like her plan. “Can you see them?”
From our third story apartment, we watched a small group of survivors passing down the small alley, doing like us and hiding from the roads. Through the dead tree branches and the ashen grounds, a man looked straight at us. Without a word, he pointed then invited me with his index finger.
“Can you manage by yourself?” asked Tim, but we all thought the same: doesn’t matter, they’ll want to meet us all anyway. “Too late to hide the food, but Sam and Miko can be quieted down.” The dog and the bird, a feast for hungry men, but dear companions to us. Luxury, keeping pets.
“Yeah, maybe in the back shed?” My voice sounded strange, higher than usual. I glanced at the kids hiding in Maria’s arms, then tried to lie the best I could. “They’re like us, don’t be afraid.” I stepped out, not finding the strength to smile or breathe.
The stairwell had been left as found, and every time we passed through, it tinted our clothes with black dust. Soles cracked the debris on each step, warning us if someone ever approached, although no one had. Until now.
Outside, the stink of gunpowder and burnt wood greeted me with its clouds overhead and smog lying close to the asphalt. Not thick enough to conceal any of us, or any of them.
They stood by the fence; their makeshift sleigh with water barrels and crates of food guarded by two thugs. They checked me out, wolf-whistled, but all I saw were guns.
“Hey there.” He spoke with a French accent, and the creases on his face showed he was mid-forties under the black gunk. “Would you care to show us your home? Just to make sure you’re abiding to the code, you know.”
I signed for him to follow me, and when two others moved in our direction, I said, loud enough, “Bullet for bullet. One of yours’ shoot, we do the same.” I lifted my chin toward Tim, aiming our sole weapon at them from up there. Five shells left, one for each of us if anything bad happened.
“Of course, we know how to play.” The man walked behind me, and although I heard only his footsteps, I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder. Three women, eight men and a corpse hanging at the back of the sleigh. A warning or a loved one? “How long you’ve lived here?”
“Two weeks.” The initial contact, I wanted to remain silent. Tim was the diplomatic one, the one people believed. When the silence became unbearable – around the second floor – I asked, “How long you’ve been running?” They were nomads, gypsies, pirates. The worst kind of humans.
“Much like you, about fourteen days.” His accent clashed against the empty rooms and echoed back to me.
“Go in,” I said with a quick shake of the head. When he opened the door, Maria and the kids stood up with fear in their eyes, I had to turn away. I jumped at the thud of thick wood closing behind me and knew with certainty: I’ll never see these people again.