Survive: Book 1, Chapter 1
Nathan awoke suddenly, finding himself enclosed in darkness and surrounded by foul-smelling garbage. Disoriented, he put his arms up above him and he detected a cold metallic surface; he pressed up and the cover gave way as he stood. He stepped out carefully, looking around and listening. The immediate environment was quieter from what he recalled hearing earlier, which sounded like a violent riot; most of the sounds now echoed from several blocks to a mile away. Off to the right side of the dumpster he saw a partially open door to a building; thinking it best to take shelter inside, he stepped into the building…
JUNE 15, 2020
Outside Phoenix, AZ, 7:28 p.m.
Nathan shook his head slightly. The memory still crossed his mind from time to time, causing him to wonder about the circumstances of that day nearly two years ago… the only recall he could manage from the time of his blackout.
The orange sunset cast its shadows across the landscape, creating an otherworldly contrast with the falling rain. Rubble crunched beneath his boots as he approached the automatic sliding glass doors of a grocery store; they were partially open but no longer running, the protective glass windows snaked with cracks and chips. Nathan gave one of the doors a shove to open it further, leaving enough room to walk in and out freely; the humid, early evening breeze blowing from behind him rustled the debris that covered the dirty floor tiles, the mugginess swirling with the stagnant air of the store. As he stepped inside, he shook some of the rainwater from his disheveled black hair, cracked his neck and scanned the entry lobby noting everything he could find – stacked shopping carts with a few strays toppled over, thick layers of dust covering the cashier lanes, various products strewn from their place on the shelves, and a few of the shelves completely emptied. He walked down the front pathway, giving a quick glance down each aisle as he continued his search for supplies. Storage boxes were strewn across the aisle lanes, the back room doors broken from what he figured was a looting spree. It didn’t surprise him – he didn’t expect to find anything useful.
Nathan soon found himself in the pharmacy section of the store, its condition no better than the rest of the place. Taking a quick peek over the counter he continued past with his 9mm pistol casually in his right hand at the side. Not a sound was heard save for the stepping of his boots on the floor, kicking some of the trash aside as he walked.
By this time Nathan had grown accustomed to finding nothing of survival value, especially in the bigger outlet type stores. He realized that these types of places would be the first that were looted, since they supplied all the basics like bottled water, blankets, and canned food. He seemed to have more luck in liquor stores, where he could usually find a gun stashed underneath the counter and one or two accompanying boxes of bullets. The fact that he had to keep moving from one area to another irked him a little, and his searches usually proved less than fruitful. Despite it, there was a slight urge in him that pushed him for answers.
The first thing he came across were shelves of sealed boxes – a storeroom. Past a short hallway he found another door, which revealed the interior of a drugstore. Nathan felt filthy after lying in the dumpster, so he hobbled into the restroom to clean up. He turned the faucet on and looked into the mirror, immediately flinging himself into the wall behind him in utter fear. Not only did pain seep from the back of his head where it impacted and cracked the drywall, but he suddenly experienced a searing pain coursing through his body. His blood was set ablaze, his muscles spasming and forcing him to shriek out in agony. For several minutes Nathan writhed on the floor, helpless as the stings came in heavy waves. Eventually the intensity faded, leaving a dull throbbing through his body; convinced it was over he pulled himself back up to his feet using the sink for stability. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes once again, stifling a gasp as he managed a solid look at his face: his irises were glimmering ivory and emanated a glow, he couldn’t see the pupils and what should have been the whites of his eyes were instead splotchy grey and black. His clothes were covered in blood – some old, some recent – but he had no injuries from what he could tell. He forced himself to finally wash his face and hands, still glancing at the mirror in disbelief.
He passed by a shelf with a glass door, catching a glimpse of the reflection – a trim, strong figure just over 6 feet tall stared back at him, his defined face shadowed with a bit of light scruff that was a few weeks grown-out. The various straps and belts that held his supplies dented into his dark shirt and overcoat; his weapons were his shotgun, pistol and his titanium sword, all of which he’d retrieved from his storage unit in Olympia some months ago. Nathan stared grimly at himself, cursing the bright white eyes that blazed behind his dark sunglasses. Every time he was reminded of his appearance he almost felt relieved that no one else was around to see his deformity.
Nathan yawned a little, beginning to feel drowsy; he shook his head and forced himself to stay alert. Sleep was impractical for him, though sometimes the necessity won over his determination. Even when he finally gave in, it wasn’t a relaxing experience – every time he drifted off he was overwhelmed with nightmares. They were a frightening patchwork of the things he’d done and seen over the last two years, or from earlier in his life, and sometimes they were terrifying resolutions to questions he had. As much as he despised sleeping he knew he had to rest on occasion, so he kept his breaks few and far between.
The worst problem he experienced was the hunger. It plagued him relentlessly; no amount of food satisfied the undying pangs he felt in his gut day after day. It had followed him since the day he awoke from his blackout, and it wasn’t long before he learned that normal food did nothing to alleviate it – and soon after he discovered what actually calmed the urge. Knowing that, he much preferred the ache of starvation than the weight of guilt. The fact that he had no recollection of what had occurred during that missing time only fueled his frustration further, spurring the vicious and unnatural impulses he desperately tried to suppress.
Nathan took a breath and finally tore himself away from the reflection, deciding this particular store was a bust. He navigated back through the aisles toward the entrance; as he passed through the doors he steadied his finger on the pistol’s trigger. Something felt different. Adjusting his neck, shoulders and arms he pressed on, his breathing steady and the comfort of being in the open gave way; he preferred being outside, rain or shine.
He stepped forward, noting the empty vehicles that dotted the parking lot before him; he kept a fair distance from them, just in case something happened to be there. He quickly maneuvered through the various cars: he could never get himself to linger.
From a short distance away Nathan heard footsteps; spinning on his heel he cocked the pistol and aimed it, stepping around the bed of a truck whose front end had lodged into the barrier wall of the lot. He stole a peek around to the other side of the vehicle, seeing nothing. His eyes darted about the landscape; he didn’t take these sounds lightly, as they most often led to trouble – not that he actively avoided confrontations, but he wasn’t out looking for them either. Even with his senses and reflexes operating at the level they were, he never looked forward to scuffles. Most may not have even heard the footsteps, but to Nathan it was as clear as glass.
The sound of running echoed past him. Nathan moved quickly out of the lot and onto the street where he’d enjoy more freedom of movement – he was greeted only by the wind and the unwavering feeling that there was another watching him. On any other day it would have been an eerily accepted intuition – the world he lived in was overrun, nobody he knew from before existed, and his life consisted of searching one empty city after another with the occasional ambush. This time was different. He was used to being hunted – being watched was something else entirely, and it caught his interest, amplifying his dim desire to survive.