You are the last of your kind out here.
Thoughts like these will sneak up behind you, whisper in your ear, strangle you with the incessant, irreconcilable knowledge of the truth. You'll be scavenging your next meal somewhere, or checking the safety of tonight's shelter, when this thought blindsides you, swiftly knocking the wind out of you like a punch to the stomach.
You are alone.
These thoughts will overwhelm you unless you find something to distract you. That's where survival comes in. It's hard to reflect on loneliness when you've got an empty stomach. Searching for food, shelter, water: this is how you hold off the pain.
It gets really difficult when night falls. There I am, lying under my lean-to of fallen sheetrock, and suddenly there are no distractions. I come face to face with the horror of my existence; an insect living day to day, scrounging for my necessities, with no companions. Night after night, I break down again. The sobs claw their way out of me, no matter how hard I try to keep them down. The horrible thoughts run round my head in circles, until there's no more sense in living.
Every night, I am so close to the edge. The thoughts drag me further and further towards it. You are alone. You are pathetic. You are going to die. You might as well end it now.
The only comfort I have is that exhaustion will eventually bring me to sleep. But that's really no comfort at all.
I hear loud, hoarse cries. Above me, the constant pounding of running feet. The people up there are panicking, rushing for the city exits. The screams continue, insistent and unending.
I take my head out of my hands, look at the dusty basement around me. There's a small horizontal window at the top of one wall. I push a chair against it and climb up. People are rushing past, although all I can see of them are their legs. Some are holding the hands of young boys, not much older than I.
One man is running in the opposite direction.
I run up the basement stairs, feeling guilt and dread. "Stay here, Adam," he said. But I can't, I won't...
Then I'm there, in the street, the crowds jostling past me. I look for the man but he's gone, vanished into the mass of running people. I look up.
There, suspended in the sky, over the small houses and buildings, is something huge. I've never seen anything like it before. Not this close. It's not allowed past the border...
A red leather sole as thick as a billboard is high. Five huge, pale monsters on top of it, their heads painted a deep scarlet. An ankle that is reminiscent of buildings, curved and carved out of ivory. There is some unearthly deity hanging above us all, and it is about to fall.
The foot lowers, smashing through the buildings below it, with unstoppable force. A cloud of dust rises instantly from the point of impact. It's racing towards me, and I know it will destroy anything in its path.
I sit up quickly, hand on my forehead, wiping the sweat off my brow. I feel cold, and the sweat has made the rags I sleep on damp. Every one of my muscles is sore. My joints feel stiff. This is how I wake up every day.
There's the familiar growl of my stomach as I get up. I quickly bundle up my makeshift bedding, tying into a knapsack which I can sling over my shoulder and carry things in. Then I take a quick glance outside the shelter to make sure nothing's waiting for me when I leave, and finding the coast clear, head out.
I've come from the south of here, and the east and west look familiar, so I'll be heading north today. I'm not sure if there's something I'm looking for, or if I'm just wandering aimlessly. Either way, I don't like seeing the same scenery twice.
I keep my wits about me as I walk along the plains of compressed rubble and garbage. The world that I live in is one massive graveyard for a different way of life. Every building that once stood here has collapsed, and eroded into becoming part of the ground, or is simply a metal skeleton, the hollow remains of what once was. It's no wonder I'm so morbid, when there's constant evidence of death around me.
As I descend into a small valley, I hear a noise, and stop dead in my tracks. Remain still and silent. It's probably nothing, but it never hurts to be sure. I'm not alone in this place, not in the strictest sense of the word. There are insects that feed on the rotting food supplies still present after all these years. There are larger creatures that feed on the insects. Then there are the giant ones, who come looking for artifacts or documents. The only thing we have in common is that we're all scavengers.
A minute has passed and there's no further sound. I don't see any movement when I look around. Nothing's there. I continue on my way, walking at a slightly faster pace. I overestimated my ability to go without food, and as such I'm starting to get very hungry. There's a noticeable shake in my step, but I ignore it. No choices available, all there is to do is press on.
After about an hour or so of traveling, I feel like I'll keel over if I don't get some food. There's a town to my left, and I stumble blindly towards it. It's good luck that there's a food mart right at the edge of the place. I summon the last of my strength and break down the rotting back door. Clawing my way over to the shelves, I tear open some of the packages and cram food into my mouth, before I fall to the floor, malnourished and exhausted.
It takes me a few minutes to get back on my feet. My blood sugar starts surging back up, and I slowly begin to feel better. There's still a gnawing hunger, but it's calmed enough to allow me to keep traveling. I grab a few more sealed packs of food and shove them in my knapsack. It never hurts to have some supplies to fall back on. Then I leave the shop through the front door.
What I see brings up several emotions, none of them pleasant.
First: Disbelief. This can't be. Second: Incomprehension. How is this happening? Third: Anger. I swore I'd never come back here. Fourth: Bitterness. How ironic.
Ten years I traveled, and it must have been in one big circle.
It's all there in front of me, the landmarks I need to reconstruct it in my mind. Main Street standing whole again before me. The theater. The library. My old school building. All rubble now. The visions are so clear.
This was once a living, breathing place. This was my home. Now it's just rusted steel frames and crumbling concrete. Dead, like everything else I see. I no longer have any home at all.
Some part of me wants to go over the place with a fine-tooth comb. Check every little crevice. Maybe I was wrong. Logic tells me it's unrealistic. If there were survivors, they would have left this place long ago. The dead will only have left bones, perhaps even less. But I want to do it anyway. Another part of me wants to run as fast as my legs can carry me. North, east, west, south, wherever as long as it's away from here. Take me away to nowhere.
I sit on a long metal girder and let the conflict grow inside of me. No thought, just a great bubble of confusion growing inside of me. Then it evaporates, leaving nothing but a hollow space.
I pick up a shard of glass on the ground, and put it to my neck. It's cold and sharp. I feel a slight prickling sensation where it touches the skin. Your whole existence is suffering, the thoughts whisper. You have no reason to live. You have no purpose. End it. End it now.
Then I hear the rumbling.
I drop the glass and run, feet flying under me, adrenaline coursing through my veins. When I feel I've gotten a safe distance, I dive behind a fallen sheet of metal siding. It's a suitable hiding place.
I peer out from behind the metal and look at the giantess just beyond. She's about half a mile away by my estimate, but coming towards me. Her steps are careful, calculated, those of a skilled Recoverer. They have to be careful where they step, or they could accidentally crush a priceless artifact.
It takes me a moment to realize that she's beautiful. Her curves are very full, although her waist is slim. She has smooth tan skin which seems to have some sort of inner light shining just below the surface. Her eyes are hazel. She looks like she could be my age.
I feel the inconvenient stiffness occurring in me again, like it has before. It makes it difficult to run, although it does feel pleasant. She's peering down now, her shoulder-length black hair falling about her face. For a second, I've forgotten about safety, about survival, about guilt. She's all I focus on.
There's another giant behind her. She moves up slowly as well. This one is somewhat older, although her skin is the same natural tan. Her eyes are dark as opposed to hazel, her complexion darker as well. But overall, they look somewhat similar. Siblings, or mother and daughter. I couldn't tell which.
They take out huge metal appliances, carefully sifting over the wreckage of the city. For a second, I consider running out into the open, flailing my arms, shouting at the top of my voice. But I control myself. What if they're hostile? Think I'm an insect? Crush me without another thought? The thought of the younger one's foot coming down on me, the red sandal pressing down, my bones snapping, my organs exploding...
Something suddenly causes my brain to shift gears entirely. Red sandals. Her shoes are red. I had a flash of an image: a red shoe poised above me, ready to destroy the city...
This wasn't her. The foot in the dream was pale, not tan. But a rapid chain of thoughts set off in my head.
A woman had destroyed my city. I didn't know if she had any particular reason for it, or what she looked like beyond her foot, or anything about her. All I knew was she had destroyed my home and killed everyone I knew. I had to find her.
The idea was more than a little crazy. I'd have to find a way to get into the land of the giants (wherever that was), stay alive, avoid capture, find out who the woman was, and make my way to her. None of these would be particularly easy, given that I was the equivalent of under two inches tall to them.
But I had a purpose now. A reason to live. The whispers were gone. I wondered why I hadn't thought of this before. My life had become one endless pattern, surviving during the day, enduring nightmares every night, find food, shelter, water, day in and day out. It was a spiraling path towards self-destruction. The only way I would ever be able to escape these thoughts would be to find my enemy.
I already know what the first step is. Before my better judgment can kick in, I'm running, dashing between cover, towards the giantesses. I'm keeping myself fairly low and pretty well hidden, but I still am feeling waves of fear and nausea. They're so omnipresent, so damn huge. Like towering skyscrapers in the middle of the plains. You can't not look at them.
I'm getting close now, almost in the shadow of the younger woman. I've never been so near to them. It's awe-inspiring. I get ready to break for my next cover -
Her gigantic tan foot lifts off the ground, the red foam sandal dangling slightly just beneath her toes. It's heading straight towards me. It's going to smash right into me. I'm going to die.
The red foam passes just a foot over my head. I hear the colossal booming as she places her foot gently on the ground. Then I crouch beneath my cover and come very close to tears. She nearly killed me. Without even knowing it, she nearly killed me! I turn and look over my shoulder at the calves towering over me, up past her thighs until I'm looking directly upwards at her crotch. If she was wearing a dress, I'd be able to see straight into - well, I didn't know quite what into. Some part of me is hungering to find out what's between those well-toned thighs. Despite the near-death incident I just had, I'm suddenly rock hard.
Bad timing. The other foot is on the rise, and passing just above the ground again, although thankfully far away from me. Then I realize that while I was staring at her, I was slowly wasting my chance at getting out of the junkyard.
I dash towards her foot, then stop suddenly. Think logically, Adam. How are you going to hitch a ride on a sandal without her noticing? I looked over to my right and saw the slightly older one not too far from me. My eyes gravitated towards her huge high heels. They were an odd sort, with an extra sole flat on the ground, the shoe bed suspended above it. I figured I could stand on the ground sole and keep myself below the shoe bed, and get an easy ride out.
I set off again, bobbing and weaving between cover as I go. So far so good. They haven't noticed me. Then I hear a tremendous sound. It's so loud that it takes me a moment to recognize what it is - a voice.
"Sable," the young one says, her voice two hundred feet above me and yet ringing loud and clear through my ears. "I thought I just saw something move." Please don't let it be me, please don't let it be me...
"Kyra," says the slightly older, "I really don't need you bothering me about a bug right now."
"It wasn't a bug!" says Kyra somewhat petulantly. "It looked more like... like a human. A very little one.
I stare up at Sable, craning my neck and trying to gauge her reaction. Far above me, she lifts an eyebrow. "A man?"
"Yeah," Kyra answers in an almost guilty tone of voice.
"Don't be silly," Sable scoffs. "You know there aren't any men left. The last of them were wiped out five years ago." My blood runs cold. It can't be true. I couldn't be the last one...
"Well, you never know, there have been sightings..."
"Just get back to work," says Sable dismissively.
I breathe a sigh of relief that the suspicion was gone. Kyra turns and resumes her half-crouch, gazing intently at the ground below her. I file what I'd just heard away for thinking later. I can't focus on it now, I've got a task at hand.
Sable's black high heels are just a few hundred yards away. I idly wonder if I could dash straight across - I don't want to waste any more time, for if she moves on I would be stranded. The distance is a little too far to sprint, so I decide to simply weave my way around cover again, but faster than before. Kyra's back is turned, so she has no chance of spotting me. And Sable seems to be scanning a different patch of ground. So I run for it.
I'm twenty feet from the sole when a shadow falls over me. A very large one. There's a great intake of air above. I slowly turn, dreading what I may see.
It's her hand, each gracefully splayed finger the size and girth of a tree trunk, the back of it twice my height and even wider than that. It terrifies me, but not as much as what I could've seen. I dash straight under the shoe, peeking out just a little to see what's going on.
"See something, Sable?" Kyra taunts.
"Probably just an insect or rodent." It's fortunate for me that she says that, but it still hurts my pride.
I quickly adjust my position. The thick plastic sole of the shoe is below me (along with the designer label), and just inches above my head is the leather of the foot bed. I find it oddly arousing to think that there's just a few inches of material between me and the sole of her foot. I know it's also highly dangerous - if she puts her foot down too hard she'll hit my head and then I'll be both severely injured and most likely discovered. I comfort myself with the knowledge that this traveling arrangement is just for the trip to the city, nothing more.
Then suddenly the plastic is lifting up beneath me, and I find myself heaved upwards into the air. It feels almost like zero gravity, the motion is so fast and extreme. I clutch at the label beneath me, struggling to stay on top of the sole. Then I'm falling back down to earth, to land almost gently amidst a pile of debris.
I'm shaken, but all right. This shoe travel will take some getting used to, but I'll manage.
Sable observes a while longer, then calls out to Kyra. "Let's get going, it's getting late."
The motion starts again, this time somewhat faster than before. I'm thrown about like a pebble in, well, a shoe, but I hold my grip. I hope it isn't too far to their vehicle.
There's several more steps, and I lose count of all the near-falls and horrifying drops. Suddenly, however, I see not the usual ground beneath me, but several huge hairs, curled and knotted. The shoe raises a little as Sable's foot leans back and I see that it's a carpet. The floor of a vehicle. I'm safe, for now. I've made it.
I leap off the shoe and onto the carpet, which cushions the impact. When I stand, the carpet fibers come up to my shins.
I'd forgotten what carpet looked like. It had been so long since I'd seen anything like this. Ten years in the wilderness, and I'd grown accustomed to seeing rubble and death, but now the smallest hints of luxury shocked and amazed. The minor miracles of civilization.
And there was still so much more to see.