Prologue — 1012 days A.T.F (After The Flare)
There was before The Flare and after The Flare. No in-between.
Before The Flare I was Erin Rowe, the street kid with no family and pretty low expectations for what I was gunna’ get out of life.
After The Flare I was Erin Rowe, apocalypse survivor with superhuman strength and the ability to generate and control electricity. Still no family or high expectations for life but no one had either these days.
Sounds crazy right, like something out a comic book; a sixteen-year-old girl with superpowers roaming the now desolate, post-apocalyptic world? Well, this is my life.
Every day I wake up, I go through the same process I did before The Flare, a brief moment of happiness I was still alive, then reality hits and I re-develop this simmering hatred for whoever or whatever it is that forces me to open my eyes every day.
Depressing, I know but at least now each time I open my eyes I take a moment to thank my tormentor. Each day is another used to get closer to him, each day I’m a step closer to killing him: The General.
Even the thought of him sends bile racing to the back of my throat. His yellowy green, bloodshot eyes, his grime ridden teeth and stale breath, the build up of thick white saliva that coats the corners of his lips when he speaks…everything about him makes me sick. It doesn’t matter though because soon the repulsive memory of him will be all that’s left.
A sudden gust of the seemingly arctic wind slapped against my cheeks, making them numb but I still felt the pull of a smile against my lips as I thought of all the ways I would make him pay. Even now, out in the open, in the dead of winter, the thought warms me somewhere deep inside, in a place so dark I’d never dared go before…a place reserved just for him.
Darkness continued to spill across the deserted motorway and the rusted metal from the queue of abandoned cars creaked in protest against the blow of the wind.
To the left of me, an old road sign groaned as if calling for my attention.
Services one mile.
I couldn’t help but let out a small laugh. Maybe I’ll stop off for a Costa while I’m there.
Though I knew there would likely be nothing left, I continued on, making my way towards the long-unused service station. To spend the night in something other than the cramped backseat of an old Ford Focus would be a win, starving or not.
When I first set off on my journey I’d used every car as cover, terrified of the eyes that could be watching me, reporting back to him. Now, months in, I walked brazenly up the deserted motorway, sidestepping chunks of metal and plastic from wrecked cars as I stole glances in the dust coated windows in the hope of spotting anything of use…nowadays, to scavenge was to survive.
Every now and again I would catch my reflection in the moonlight. My un-brushed dark hair tumbled below my breasts in unruly waves and the bags under my eyes were noticeable even in the lack of light…the apocalypse does that to a girl.
Even after all this time I still found the silence eerie. The motorways now were nothing more than a "pre-apocalypse" museum, a constant reminder of what was and what will seemingly never be again.
I was born into a world reliant on electricity, then one day, the man in the sky or whatever the fuck it is decides have a bit of fun like some kid with an ant and a magnifying glass and take it all away.
The word among the survivors is that it was a solar flare that wiped us out and to be honest, it doesn’t seem so farfetched considering the evidence, but I can’t shake the feeling that someone up there is playing some sick game with us all.
I suppose it doesn’t matter, dwelling on things like that — the cause of it all — is enough to send you mad. I have my reason for living, it’s not exactly on par with finding the cause of humanities destruction but knowing that I will be the one to bring an end to the General is enough. More than enough…it is everything.
Every stagnant vehicle I passed I had to fight every instinct in my body, so much so I felt a layer of sweat beading on my forehead and filling my now clenched fists. Not only did The Flare almost wipe out humanity, but as a passing gift it decided to gift me with powers I didn't want or ask for, kinda like the socks your grandma gives you for Christmas, only the last time I checked…socks couldn’t get you killed.
For a reason only the sick kid in the sky with the magnifying glass knows, in a world with no electricity I was given the ability to generate it, using nothing but my mind and good looks.
As the throbbing in my ankles amplified with every step, the thought of sitting in a car; window open listening to the now deceased bands of the naughties as I cruised up the motorway in record time was all too enticing, but the sound of a car engine was unheard of these days and a sound like that would likely be heard for miles.
Fighting my urges I soldiered on, silently making my way towards the services.
There are two people in the world who know about my "gifts," I am one of them and the other…I am on my way to kill.
Young and naive, new to the whole "apocalypse survivor' game, I trusted the wrong person and I quickly learned that the only people who survive an apocalypse are the ones willing to do whatever it takes to survive.
My "gifts" are like a golden ticket to every last human on this planet. I can still see the Generals face now the moment he found out about them, the greed that lit his eyes and worse… the lust that followed.
Again that familiar feeling of bile seeping to the back of my throat hit me and I just resisted the urge to throw up at the thought of him.
The General knows what I can do and he made it very clear that he would not rest until I was his. Since the beginning, I have been hunted but now...now I am the hunter. The General may have an army but I have something more…to end his life is the reason for mine.
The service station roof came into view through the leafless branches of the surrounding trees and like a kid, I grinned from ear to ear as I skipped and ran towards it, the first building I’d seen in weeks.
I don’t know why I was so excited, it was likely the place had been ransacked months, if not years ago, leaving nothing but dust bunnies and empty packets to warm the shelves but it was the middle of winter, and judging by the arctic chill in the air…snow was coming.
Four walls and a roof would do me just fine.
As I got closer I slowed, my upbeat skip turning into a cautious, silent creep as I surveyed the surrounding area.
Though I was excited to see a building, the reason I’d chosen this route was the sheer lack of them. Less buildings meant less people and less people meant less chance of being killed before doing the killing. Basic math.
With my grip firmly around the machete's handle at my back, I continued on, ducking low behind the abandoned trucks and cars as I neared the service station doors.
It was quiet and judging by the still intact windows this place hadn’t seen a human since before The Flare. Was it possible I’d stumbled on a hidden treasure, a place untouched by the apocalypse? Doubtful, but a girl can dream.
Knowing better than to take any chances, with my free hand I rattled the large shutter on the back of the truck and the sound of the clanking metal echoed throughout the night.
I waited a moment more.
Still nothing, not even a rustle in the surrounding trees from spooked wildlife.
As a natural skeptic, I couldn’t help but remain cautious. But with the wind picking up and the night growing colder, the promise of those four walls was too much to resist.
I stood, my grip on the machete's handle never wavering and walked over to the closed double glass doors and using both hands I gripped the handles and effortlessly pulled the locked doors open just enough for me to slip through.
Super strength came in handy sometimes.
My walking boots squeaked against the tile as I squeezed in sounding so loud in the nights quiet and a cloud of disturbed dust now surrounded me tickling the back of my throat as I breathed it in.
Darkness coated everything, broken only by the thin rays of moonlight that shone through the station's windows, dulling as it passed through the thick smog that covered the glass and as my eyes adjusted I made out the gray silhouettes of fully stocked shelves.
The sight was enough to bring a tear to my eyes, which it did. Tiny droplets of salty water ran down my cheeks mixing with the months worth of muck covering them as I stared in awe at what can only be described as heaven.
This long after The Flare something like this was unheard of, a place untouched by survivors full to the brim with the only thing that truly mattered anymore: food.
It was nothing but a myth, stories parents told their children around an open fire to drown out the noise of their rumbling bellies and what men and women told each other to make them feel like all those days wasted scavenging and living off of rations would soon be worth it.
I’d hated listening to those stories. I’d seen first hand the desperation of humanity after The Flare had hit, when everyone realized that the power had gone out and it wasn’t coming back and I’d watched people get brutally murdered over something as small and insignificant as a packet of crisps.
The belief that there were places out there stocked to the brim with food and water just didn’t sit right with me, not after I’d seen what people did for crumbs.
Still, how could you deny what was right in front of you?
I took a moment to compose myself, breathing in deep as I dried my damp cheeks with my sleeve and one foot after the other I moved forwards, slow and cautious as if any sudden movements would scare off the inanimate food packaging.
I reached out and ran my fingertips over a still sealed packet of biscuits. Everything in here was likely years out of date but I didn’t care, food was food and holy fluff nuts…there was tons of it.
As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw bags of multi-packs of crisps and seemingly endless rows of chocolate bars and to the right of me, cans and bottles of fizzy drinks and water filled the long un-working fridge.
Unable to resist any longer, like a feral animal I grabbed the packet of biscuits and tore it open. The almost forgotten scent of chocolate hit my nostril and as I took the first bite euphoria shot through me.
I briefly registered I was moaning but I didn't care. It had been three years since the world ended and for two of those, chocolate was practically extinct.
Through my crunching and moaning, I heard a rustling sound coming from somewhere behind me but not wanting to be pulled from this moment, I put it down to the packet I was hastily making my way through.
The place was abandoned, I’d done the sound check at the truck and proved there was no one around. A small voice inside me told me I was being reckless but I didn't care, moments like this…of pure bliss were non-existent nowadays. After everything was I not entitled to just one?
I continued to eat, crunching through the biscuits as crumbs fell at my feet when suddenly cloth was against my mouth and in reaction my hand shot up to meet another, this one rough, covered in thick coarse hair.
The scent of chemicals overwhelmed me and hot breath brushed against my ear as a voice hissed, “Got you now you little bitch.”
Before I could fight back, wooziness took over and the room began to sway, my knees going like jelly before eventually collapsing beneath me.
I could do nothing to stop the crack of my skull against the tile though I felt no pain, just the vibrations of the impact and darkness threatened to take over.
I knew I’d been drugged but it was too late.
Through the sound of the blood rushing to my head I heard screams and felt the spray of something warm and wet against my face but the darkness called to me, it promises too enticing to resist…