Concussions are a fantastically interesting thing.
You don’t know you’re concussed when you’ve had a concussion. You’re not really around for the concussion. You slip in and out of consciousness, but you don’t remember it. Ten minutes, ten days, ten years later, you won’t recall anything. You don’t remember the gray haze induced by your pre-frontal cortex smashing into your neurocranium. All you remember, is that you were feeling slightly uncomfortable.
My favorite fact about a concussion, is that although you don’t remember it, you are definitely there. Most cases of concussions involve open dialogue with the concussed. They will hold conversations with their habilitators as if nothing was wrong, only to forget what they were talking about a few seconds later, and ask what exactly was for dinner, for the sixtieth time.
I don’t know who Jake is, but whoever is looking for him is getting pretty fucking annoying.
This wasn’t my first concussion. I’d been involved in a Rugby accident when I was in college. When I say accident, I mean I was hit in the face with a knee. It wasn’t really an accident, as much as it was an intentional mishap. He intended to rearrange my facial structure, and I intended to keep it the way it was. I liked where my nose was. I even enjoyed the fervency in which it pointed straight. Me and my nose had a great agreement – I took care of it, and it tried its best to not look absurd.
After that game, our agreement had been breached.
“Jake! I’m serious! We have to go!”
The difference between that game of Rugby, and what was happening right now, was that I had signed up for that intramural Rugby league. I even indulged a little and upgraded my health insurance policy that semester.
“Jesus Christ, We have to get the fuck out of here.”
Another, small difference, was that the ambulance back then was much more comfortable than this.
“Jake! Are you there? You’re going to get us killed!”
“Who the fuck is Jake?”
I really hate the name Jake.
“Jake, can you run? You’re only bleeding from the head. Your legs should be fine.”
They didn’t feel fine.
“I need you to try getting on your feet, and see if you can move on your own. The others are ahead of us, setting up the next floor.” The muffled voice was hard to understand over the shrieking of whatever was behind us.
I opened my eyes. His voice was muffled because I was listening to Tom’s voice through the back of his sternum, as he fireman carried me through a dark, cement laden corridor. The top half of the skyline of New York littered my red tinted view of the shaky world, courtesy of Tom’s frantic running.
“I can try.”
Talking with a mouth full of blood is never easy.
Tom is at best, 5’6 and quite averagely built. This is alarming. With my 6’3 build, he’s either trying to work out his glutes, or something has shot enough adrenaline into his blood stream to allow him to carry 200 pounds as if it were a child’s backpack.
Tom turned his forward sprint into a backwards jog as he fired shots from his forty calibre glock at something that was now in front of us. I immediately took to my feet, and funnily, remembered how sprinting worked. It’s amazing what a little motivation can do at the right time.
He spun back around, and kept his left hand on my shoulder, as if to remind me that running was quite important, and to not do so would result in less than ideal circumstances.
Suddenly, I remembered where I was.
Why I was on the fiftieth story of the unbuilt world trade center tower, I was not sure. That hadn’t come back to me yet. My name hadn’t either. I began wiping blood from my brow as I ran, and my vision began its slow return to a normal, yellow fluorescent lit hue. All was becoming well in the world.
“Jake! Quicker! Christine and the rest are on 54. They’re finishing a barricade.” Tom was having a hard time shouting over the shrieking and lack of breath.
“Who the fuck is Jake!” I knew he meant me, but it seemed like the right time to convey to him I didn’t remember my name at the moment. Hopefully his comprehension of my level of incomprehension would lead him to not rely on me to make any difficult decisions or maneuvers later on. I wasn’t really in the mood for either.
“Shut the fuck up, Jake, and run!”
“54 is not one more than 50, either!” I complained.
My legs began to burn.
Each breath I sucked in became more and more insufficient. My body was already yearning for rest in lieu of my new-found head injury. Pumping away with my legs was causing a slight distress to accent my already beaming headache.
As we turned a corner, passing a set of unfinished concrete walls, a makeshift elevator came into view. Its gray metal mesh doors seemed more welcoming than the Garden of Eden at that moment, and could have been made of fire yet I wouldn’t have minded.
“What is that noise!” I managed to yell over the sound of exacerbated footsteps and shrills.
I could tell Tom wasn’t in the mood for lectures.
As the steel beams holding the floor above us whizzed by, it reminded me of the little flip books I used to make as a child. The slow frame rate of New York’s skyline flashing in my peripheral vision seemed beautiful somehow. Why? Why was this so fascinating to me at a time like this?
It’s dark. There were no lights in New York. There was only the light shade of white moonlight cascading across the water, and reflecting onto the still windows of the hundreds of buildings making up the metropolis that millions of people once inhabited. It was so dark. I’d never seen New York like this. Even after The Break, I’d been resigned to the streets, and fifth story lofts, huddling for safety.
My god, was New York beautiful. I realize now iit wasn’t New York I hated, just New Yorkians.
Why was I observing this, still? Perhaps it was my concussion. Maybe it was the impending sense of death sending my brain into a more romantic mood. Just before you die, your life is supposed to flash in front of your eyes.
Maybe this is what you see when there’s nothing to flash.
The elevator doors shut, and the black figure descended on the door at an alarming rate. At this moment in time, my best friend in the world was made of aluminum. I didn’t mind that he wasn’t much to talk to at parties.
Tom collapsed backwards onto the rear part of the fenced elevator. We began to slowly rise just as the black form neared twenty feet to us.
Closer, closer, it came.
It is so dark, here.
I don’t like it.
The elevator was at the beginning of the next floor. Just as our eyesight began looking at the concrete and components making up the floor we were about to embark on, a loud bang reminded us we weren’t exactly in the right place to be comfortable yet. I looked down in horror at three dark gray fingers clasping onto the bottom of the elevator floor.
Two hands, six fingers.
Tom fumbled for his weapon as the elevator finally made its way to the next floor. A loud shriek came out of the anonymous form as the fingers slowly resigned. The sound of sinew and bones cracking and splitting was gut wrenching. Even more disturbing was the idea that whatever it was chasing us had the wherewithal to hold onto the floor long enough to have its flesh ripped into shreds.
Tom finally looked relaxed as we continued to climb.
My relationship with Tom was the same as my relationship with this shit-hole of a city. I hated it, but relied on it. Maybe, somewhere inside my cynical and numb interior, lied a deeper appreciation for this city, but I had never realized it.
Maybe I’d like Tom. If we ever got that far.
“This should take us to 54. If not, we can find stairs or a ladder.” Tom said.
“As long as it doesn’t involve running away from anything, I don’t mind.”
“How’s your head?”
“Fine. It feels like someone removed my eyeballs and crammed manure inside, but otherwise, fine.” I wasn’t exaggerating.
“You should pull up that flap of skin over your right eye.”
Tom was right. I had only been looking through one eye this entire time. Wiping my brow while I was running, I noticed the texture was slightly off. The skin above my eye had been ripped, and was hanging over. I carefully lifted the couple square inches of skin off of my eye and pivoted it into its proper position, on my forehead.
“Looks great. We can tape that up once we get to base.”
“Base? We have a base now? So we’re not just admiring the scenery anymore?” I wasn’t sure if it was the headache, the stinging of having to place skin back into its proper place, or my general disliking of the current situation, but my temper was growing shorter.
“This will be the best place to be, pretty soon. Ample light, chance of rescue, and we can easily let anyone else on the ground know we’re up here.”
“Great. The more, the merrier.”
I really hate the name Jake.
“We have enough supplies for a few weeks. We’ll be able to collect rain for water. This is a good idea.” Tom sounded like he was trying to convince himself, too.
Tom put his face against the mesh to see more closely what was on the floors we were passing. The moon was doing a fairly good job at lighting the area.
Concrete blocks, tools, and bags of some sort of building material were strewn about. Ten days ago, this would have seemed like random crap. But right now, it felt like I had walked into Fort Knox. Tools meant the ability to make things.
And they said a degree in Engineering was boring. Suddenly, my six years of misery were starting to make sense.
Tom looked apprehensive as the elevator stopped.
“Murphy’s law.” I said. Tom wasn’t impressed. Murphy’s law was one of the things we learned about in school. Out of all the laws I learned, it turned out Murphy knew more than Newton or Einstein.
The gate opened and we assumed our tactical position. I say tactical, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t something we had just seen in the movies. We probably weren’t even doing it right. Tom took the left side as I focused on the right, and walked side by side forward into the dark.
Step, by step, we advanced. I noted areas that resembled something one of them could jump out of and ambush us, but in reality, it could happen anywhere and at any time.
From what I remembered, their ability to hear and see wasn’t any better than ours, thankfully. In that stead, we stayed quiet as we moved forward, looking for a ladder, or anything to get us to the last floor.
Silently, we both realized since the others had been here, they would have left clues or made it obvious on how to get up. We kept quiet as we continued looking for some way out of this burdened floor.
Tom slowed, and I followed suit. We approached a corner and began to take it. Suddenly, Tom jumped back and crowded into me, causing a fumble and resulting me dropping my weapon. After Tom placed a few wild shots, I quickly grabbed my Beretta and flattened myself against the wall next to Tom as he frantically grabbed at air, holding himself flat against the wall as well.
“I thought I saw something.” Tom managed to squeak out of his erratic breaths.
“Well, you handled it well enough. I think I’ll lead.” I didn’t know how to lead.
Apprehensively, I looked around the corner with the side of my face, and realizing there was nothing there. Even with this knowledge, it was increasingly difficult to move forward, but I managed to continue.
As we rounded the corner, a ladder in the distance came into view. I could barely make the shape of it out, but it was decidedly an implement to allow us to transcend floors, and that was okay with me.
Five feet after advancing from the corner, I had realized there was only one set of foot steps I could hear at this point, and quickly turned around to assess why the fuck Tom wasn’t joining me in my bipedal symphony.
Tom laid on the ground, unconscious, as it grabbed me by the neck.
His gray eyes seemed to radiate from his nearly black face – bruised and grayed as if he’d been pummeled with rocks for hours. His clammy skin seemed even more bizarre, but it was mostly those eyes – those eyes seemed to stand out like quasars, pulsating, staring into me as if I wasn’t there.
His grip tightened.
He was dark gray all over. Once white, but now gray. Like this city, deadened to a dull silhouette.
I began remembering what a concussion felt like, as everything started turning the same gray hue as his light-less skin.
I was losing consciousness again.
I can’t see much.
I could swear, that flick of the side of his lips looked startlingly like a smirk. But that would be absurd. They aren’t sentient. They can’t be sentient. They won’t be sentient.
I can’t see now.
But just before I lose it again, making a theme for the night, I hear a loud shot of gunfire and thud as my body quickly embraced the concrete floor. I quickly regained vision and saw the smirking face staring at me, on the concrete, blood oozing from his neck. His mouth moving in such a way to resemble a fish out of water, clasping at the last straws of life.
His eyes continued piercing mine, even after his smirk had faded into a lifeless form of muscles and skin tissues.
This would be the happiest I’d ever been to seen Christine in my entire life, and I wasn’t exactly disappointed with our previous encounters.
Christine ran over to Tom and shook him. Nothing. It must have knocked him unconscious somehow. She began dragging him the few feet over to me as I began to prop myself on my now weak arms.
She ran over to it, and started rolling him away from me, foot by foot, with the ball of hers. Once comfortable with the eight foot gap, she came over to me.
“Are you okay?”
“Don’t worry, the battle scar was before he got a hold of me.”
“I know.” Her confidence would have normally annoyed me, but right now it was mildly assuring.
“We have to get him up the ladder.”
I nodded. I got up and assisted her in carrying Tom over to the dust stained ladder. After climbing up to the 54th floor, I laid my torso down as she sheepishly handed me Tom’s arm. With every ounce of strength I could muster, I held on to him as she climbed the ladder, pushing up on his lifeless lower half as I pulled as hard as I could.
After Tom was safely on the 54th floor, Christine hurriedly joined me and began barricading the ladder entrance.
“Is this the only way up? I asked.
“There was scaffolding in a few areas, but I got rid of them.”
Christine was good at this.
“So we’re safe.”
“For now.” She answered.
With the impending sense of safety, my body relaxed and I sucked in the thick air, indulging in every molecule of oxygen as if it were to be my last. I marveled in the moment and let my exhaustion take hold of me.
When one regards the end of civilization, you imagine rifles, handguns, and chainsaws. Not calculators, botany proficiency, or human resources. The fact was, that after the bloody mist had settled, it took intelligent people, with the right tools, to make the world work again.
Never had I imagined it, but my pen and paper was my greatest tool. Soon, we would be delineating the most efficient way to maintain food resources, deal with waste, and master water purification.
Fighting them was only half of it, and we were now beginning to embark on the second part of our struggle.
Just as the world, thankfully, began to go dark again, I could notice Tom waking up. A slight sense of relief washed over me as Christine and the others began attending to him. They too, would indulge in their well deserved rest, very soon.
It’s so dark – even with the light from the stars and moon shining down on us. This now treacherous city seemed just a little bit less horrible.
And in the stead of this new theme the city perpetrates, I followed suit.
And closed my eyes.
And it was dark.