SANCTUARY

Part Two

  The sun has disappeared. It's not night yet, but the clouds have been more and more numerous. Jonathan says that we are going to have a rain of ashes from an Italian volcano. I wasn't good at geography, at school. I don't even know if all the continents are still... there. Rick told us earlier where he wanted to take us. That was the first - and last for now - time I clearly hear him talk. He has an accent. An American accent, l think. I'm not sure. He said he wanted to find drinking water and food first. Then, he suggested we try to find other people that may know how the rest of the world is going. I had nothing to say against his ideas. I am pretty sure we're all gonna die so... what I'll do before isn't that important.

  I can't tell for how long we've been walking. I have completely lost track of time. Even if I try to count in my head - because there isn't much else to do - I get confused at one moment and abandon.

  As Jonathan told us, the sky starts to cry ashes. These are cold, now. But they stick to my hair. This is very annoying. Soon, we get to... a gap. A deep and large gap. I am gonna ask how it happened in the middle on London when I see that it continues to the left, and to the right. Almost like a... river. This is the River Thames. It is empty. There's no more water. How is that possible?

  "Apparently, somehow, water has just been evaporated?"

  Sitting in his sort of wheelchair, Jonathan is trying to look at the bottom. But there is nothing. Nothing is left of the River Thames. And it's weird. Isn't it supposed to plunge into the sea? So if there is no more water in the river... there is probably no more water anywhere. Is that even possible?

  "So. There's no more River Thames. That's... unexpected."

  "Because you expected everything that happened lately?"

  I didn't mean to be harsh. Or maybe I did. But I needed to be. Everything happening is so frustrating. I'm pretty sure I'll need to kill someone at one moment. Because I will be feeling useless and powerless and I'll become crazy. That is a sure thing.

  For now, I'm still sane. I think.

  "There are old shops here. Let's try to find something to eat or drink. And maybe some clothes and covers for the night. It's gonna be cold."

  Rick doesn't say anything about what I retorted. He probably understands. And Jonathan is silent. I think he's praying. He did it a lot for the past few hours. Pushing Jonathan's wheelchair, Rick walks into a shop. I follow him. It was a grocery store, apparently. There are some boxes of food left. They are mauled, everywhere on the ground.

  "We are not the first ones here." Rick turns to look at me. "Search for what you need... girl stuff. John and I are looking for food. And be careful."

  I nod and start to search for... I don't know what I'm searching really. I don't need much. Looking on the shelves, I find rough towels and soap. It can be useful, if we succeed in finding water. I shove them into a bag I found on the street earlier. A few feet away, I notice a dusty hair comb. I reach for it and put it in the bag. This is definitely gonna help. I continue to walk inside the little shop. There is an awful smell of decomposition. The more I move forward, the more unbearable the smell becomes. As I turn at the end of an aisle, I trip over something and fall on my hands. I turn around, fast, and see a dead body. Another one. But this one is appalling. I can't help myself but scream as hard as I can, and crawl as far away as I can from it.

  "Tonie!" Soon enough, Rick tumbles next to me.

  My breathing is uneven, and my eyes are tightly shut. I only hear Rick's footsteps next to me. He is probably looking at what made me scream. The corpse man.

  "Antonina, are you okay? Richard, is she okay? I'm feeling lonely here!" Jonathan's tone succeeds in making me smile a little bit. I feel someone kneeling in front of me, and two hands being put on mine.

  "Tonie? Tonie, listen to me. Open your eyes." My eyes flutter open a few seconds later, and land on Rick's face. I swallow hard.

  "Everything's okay, Tonie. You hear me? It's okay."

  "What happened to him?"

  "Shush. Listen. You're going to go find John and wait with him outside the shop. Okay, Tonie?" I nod and Rick helps me get up; hiding the body from my sight.

 

  I go where Jonathan is waiting and give him a little smile. He doesn't ask any question. He waits for me to take him outside. When we're in the street, he gestures me to come in front of him. I face him and he takes my hands in his, looking concerned.

  "Is everything okay, sweetheart?" I nod, not looking at him. "You can cry if you need to. I know it's hard. You totally have the right to cry."

  "It's just... this man... he was..." I let out a sob and put my hand on my mouth. Jonathan squeezes the other. "Someone ate him."

  Jonathan squeezes my hand hard, as I cry. A few seconds - or maybe minutes - pass in silence, and then Rick comes out of the shop holding the bag I left inside. He has a harsh expression. He looks at Jonathan and then at me. My eyes are probably red and puffy, but l don't care. I hide my face with my hair. He gives the bag to Jonathan.

  "We need to get away from here. We are not alone, and they are probably not kind people."

  I let out another sob, and turn away from Jonathan and Rick. They move behind me and start to walk along the river. What was the river, actually. I'm looking at the ground. I'm trying to erase this picture off my memory, but every time I close my eyes, it comes back.

 

  We walk in silence. I don't know for how long. There are more and more ashes falling from the sky. My hair is probably white and grey by now. Sometimes, Rick stops us and enters a shop alone to search for food and drinks. He comes back with something every time. A bottle of liquor, or some crisps. He finds a shop which hasn't been stripped yet. He finds chocolate, milk, and also some clothes.

 

  The luminosity lowers faster now. The night is close. Rick is in another shop. He said it was the last one, and then we'd go find a place to sleep. Somewhere safe. When he comes out, he is carrying bottles of water. Two packs of six.

  "You found water!"

  "Yes, there are two more packs inside. Do you think you can go get them, Tonie?" I look at him for a minute, and nod. I'm not under shock anymore. But I'm still afraid. Terrified. I walk slowly into the shop and quickly spot the two packs. I take them and head for the exit. When I'm about to cross the door, a sound makes me turn around. Nobody is there, but I can clearly hear breathing. What else's better to make me freak out more and more? I come back quickly, still staring inside the shop, next to Rick and Jonathan.

  "I... I think there is someone inside." Rick looks at me. He then takes the packs of water and gives them to Jonathan who acts as a cart. Until we find a real one, Rick said.

  "John, Tonie, you go first. Go this way, go as far as you can. I'll catch up with you." I nod. I just nod and start to drive Jonathan away from this place; where Rick told me to. It's selfish to leave Rick take care of that. But I'm too afraid to think straight.

  I don't look back at Rick, I'm sure he'll find us. I don't know what he is going to do, but I have faith in him. Which is bizarre; I've known him for a few hours only. But when everything around you is reduced to nothing... you have to hold on to what you have. The little you have.

  "Antonina, turn this way. I know these streets. At the end of this one, there is a hospital." I do what he tells me. I have never been in this part of London. I'm not even sure in which part of London we are. As we approach the ancient hospital, a dreadful scream resonates in the streets. I stop myself and start shaking.

  "Antonina? Antonina, listen to me. We have to get into the building. It's still up, look. I'm sure Richard is okay. Come on... Tonie?"

  "Yeah." I resume walking. Faster. Finally, we enter the hospital.

 

  It's still a very white place, and there's an awful smell. Of decomposition. Again. It's very unpleasant, but it's a hospital, they were a lot of people in it when the apocalypse happened. There must be some unoccupied rooms. I muster my courage and go behind the counter. The computer isn't working. I look at the register which has been nibbled by insects. Apparently, there's a room, on the second floor. We can't go higher than that, with Jonathan.

 

  "Second floor? How do we proceed?"

  "We have to go check if there is anybody up there before we do anything. Are you ready to do that or do we have to wait for Richard? You decide, Antonina."

  I take a deep breath. "I'm going."

  I smile a bit, and drive Jonathan next to the bottom of the stairs. Of course, the elevator isn't working. I climb the stairs carefully, holding onto the piece of steel I found to defend myself. At the second floor, I try every room. Each one of them. There are bodies, of course. But l close the door just after I check inside. I found two unoccupied rooms. One will be enough, l think.

  "Oh my god! Antonina!" I recognize Jonathan's voice.

  I keep hold of the steel pipe and tumble down the stairs. At the bottom of it, I see Rick sitting on the floor, his hand trying to prevent the blood from coming out of a huge wound on his side. I rush next to him.

  "What happened?"

  "Someone stabbed me, can't you see?"

"Richard, it's not the moment for that. We need to stop the blood. Here, there is some paper, Antonina."

  I take the paper Jonathan is giving me, and push away Rick's hand. I put the paper on his wound, pressing hard. He grunts. The paper is soon covered in blood and so are my hands. Jonathan gives me more and more paper until the hemorrhage finally stops. I make a bandage with cloth.

  "I'll do a better one and disinfect when we're settled. Stay still for a moment. You lost a lot of blood."

  I'm sure he is not going to do what I said. Anyways, I put one bag on my shoulder and take two of the water packs and climb the stairs to the room. I drop them there and go back down where Rick and Jonathan are. Rick hasn't moved. Good. I take the other bag and the bottles of water and climb the stairs again. Now, we have to carry Jonathan.

  "I'll take him. You take the wheelchair."

  "Not gonna happen. You're injured. Let me help you."

  "She is right, Richard. You're not strong enough to carry me, right now. Come on. I'll make myself light."

 

  Rick gets up and we both hold onto Jonathan. With force and a few stops, we finally reach the floor and then the room. We sit him on the bed. Rick is out of energy. I put my hands on his shoulder and force him to sit on the bed too.

  "You stay here." I go back down and, with a little trouble I have to say, I finally succeed in taking the wheelchair to the room. I close the door behind me. It feels safer when the door is closed. It's like nobody can come and get us. Like we're hidden.

  I close my eyes a little while and take a deep breathe. When I open them, Rick is fidgeting with the bandage I made. I go to him.

  "Stop moving like that. I'm gonna take care of it."

  I take off the cloth and ask Rick to take off his shirt. He does so. I take a towel I got earlier and pour alcohol on it.

  "It's gonna hurt." I put the towel on his wound and he lets out an insult. "Told you."

  I leave the towel there until it doesn't hurt him anymore. After that, I look at it. I don't think it's going to be bad. It'll cicatrize quickly. If he doesn't play stupid. While I make another bandage with proper cloth, he tells us what happened to him.

  "I went inside the shop after you left. I had to see if there was anyone. It could have been someone needing help."

  "It wasn't."

  "No. At first I thought he needed help, but when I saw this guy better... his eyes were so... crazy. He was madness incarnated. And, he was... was eating..."

  "Please don't say it." I feel their looks on me. I put the bottle of alcohol back in the bag and sit on the bed too.

 

  Silence falls.

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