The Aftermath – Topside, San Francisco, California
|I cough until I gag. My eyes water and my vision blurs. We walk along the bay in an attempt to avoid the smell that lingers in the city center. Micah says this area is, or used to be, called the Embarcadero. “See,” he says, pointing toward a pile of ruined concrete and steel. “That’s the ferry terminal.” The smell near the water is definitely better than the smell near the subway station in the city. Every so often the smell of the salt water fills my nostrils, and, if I close my eyes, everything feels normal again. Micah stops next to me., pulling a crumpled map from his backpack. I can’t believe he remembered to grab it. I think to myself; I lament my own lost pack.|
“It looks like we’re going the right way,” he says glancing up. His deep set chocolate eyes look frantic, but some where, deep inside of them, I find something remarkable: hope. “That street sign says Washington, I think,” he says pointing to a ruined metal sign hanging by a single string. I squint at it. “Don’t hurt yourself,” he jokes. I scowl at him. “If we just follow this road up and around, we should run right into the Presidio.” He seems pleased, folding up the map and returning it to his pack.
“Micah,” I breathe as he rights himself. He lifts one eyebrow, a sign that he’s now listening. “Do you think,” I pause. “Do you think this,” I whisper, waving my arms in a big circle. “Happened everywhere?”
“Quinn, we don’t even know what this is, or what happened,” he says matter-of-factly. “I mean, aside from the movies, I’ve never seen anything like this before.” His wicked grin confuses me. “I’m still half-waiting for zombies to come running out and try to eat our brains,” he chuckles. I can feel the tears prickling the corners of my eyes, and, for once, I envy Micah’s lack of family.
We walk past pier after ruined pier; we pass restaurants and ferry boat ports and parking garages. I glace back, feeling followed.
“Wait,” I stop in front of yet another ruined concrete structure. “Shouldn’t this one be pier 20?” My face contorts in confusion. “Because this one is 19, then this one—“ Micah laughs, interrupting my thoughts. “What?” I ask, mildly irritated.
“They’re not actually in numerical order,” he says smugly.
“But what sense—“
“It’s best if you just don’t worry about it,” he interrupts. I growl at him playfully. “C’mon,” he grins, taking my hand in his. “I want to show you something.” He pulls me forward, further down the Embarcadero. I crane my neck towards the sound of foot-steps behind us.
“Micah,” I start. “I think someone’s following us.”
“I was just joking about the zombies,” he says, pulling my wrist forward.
“But Micah –“
“It’s in your head,” he cuts me off. I sigh, realizing I’m being paranoid. How could there be any one left, I think.
“You’re right,” I admit. We walk on. “Oo, Alcatraz!” I squeal, pointing to the surprisingly unscathed sign on the ground.
“Really?” Micah scoffs.
“What?” I ask, feeling confused.
“I bring you all the way to California, and the first thing that you’re excited about is prison?” He gives me his best faux disgust face. “That’s really weird,” he adds jokingly. “Actually, that might be too weird for me,” he pauses. “I think I might need to find a less weird partner in crime.” I giggle.
“I’d like to see you try!” I add, trying to look shifty-eyed and suspicious. He grabs me playfully by the waist and we erupt in laughter. As our laughter fades, he pulls me closer and tighter into his chest. He runs his dirt-encrusted hand across my cheek. Our lips meet with electricity that I can feel in every inch of my body.
I haven’t told him yet, but Micah was my first official kiss. Before I met Micah, boys were only good for one thing: leaving. My dad left my family after he decided that the grass on Ms. Lexington’s lawn was greener. I watched my sister fall apart when her boyfriend left her. He wasn’t ready to be a father. Boys are only good for leaving, but not Micah. At least, not yet. I think to myself. I shiver at the thought.
“Are you cold?” Micah asks. I jump, realizing once again how close he stands. I shake my head.
“Let’s keep going,” I say, smiling to calm Micah’s nerves. He squints at my fake smile.
“Okay,” he says, clearly unconvinced.
In the distance I can see a mass of sunken boats; some overturned, some charred, and a few still floating. As we walk closer to the marina, it’s clear that this used to be some sort of attraction. Micah bends down to pick up what looks to be the remnants of a tattered flag.
“Pier 39,” I read. “What’s that?” Micah smiles as he tucks the flag into his pack.
“You’ll see,” he smiles. His smirk concerns me. As we walk out onto the wooden pier, it’s clear that there used to be more of Pier 39. About 75 feet more, I think to myself. Micah drags me across the creaking pier and into what’s left of a souvenir shop. “You can have whatever your heart desires,” he smiles proudly. “And don’t worry,” he pauses. “It’s all on me.” I gasp in fake awe.
“Why thank you, good sir,” I say in a spontaneous southern accent. We both giggle. I wander through the ruined gift store. In the back corner I find a pile of ruined “ I Heart SF” t-shirts. Near the bottom of the smelly heap, I find an almost untouched t-shirt. Size small, perfect, I think to myself. “Micah,” I shout. “Look, I found a good shirt. I mean, it’s missing a sleeve, but you can hardly see the burnt parts.” My voice trails off as I reach the front of the shop. Micah is nowhere to be found. “Micah?” I call, looking around, but finding no one. The floor creaks behind me and I swirl around.
A t-shirt is thrown over my face. I can barely breathe through the fabric. I begin to panic as two arms engulf me; too large to belong to Micah.
“Relax,” the deep voice grumbles from behind me. “If you fight me, this will be a lot more painful than it has to be.” I let my body go limp. Unprepared for my dead weight, my assailant drops me. My knees his the wooden floor and pain rockets through my body. I rip the t-shirt from my face and crawl as fast as I can towards the back of the store. Heavy footsteps follow me through the mess of souvenirs.
A hand clamps down on my ankle, dragging me backwards. I scream. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a mess of sandy brown hair lying limp near the entrance.
“Micah!” I scream as the boot treads fill my vision. In one instant, everything goes black.
When I open my eyes, I find the room around me dimly lit. The only light emanates from the small crack beneath the dirty, white door. I am alone. I can feel the panic rising inside of my chest.
“Micah,” I whisper and my voice echoes off the cold, stonewalls. I slide myself to the edge of the grimy bed and stand. I lift my foot to take a step, but instead, a sharp pain ripples up my leg. Looking down, I find a crudely fashioned shackle holding me to the bed frame. The sharply bent metal gauges into the dirt-covered skin on my ankle.
My ears prickle to the sound of approaching footsteps. As the footsteps draw nearer, I can hear voices. My pulse quickens when I hear the deep, grumbly voice from the souvenir shop. The footsteps stop outside my door; the sound of my heartbeat fills my ears. Breathe, I think to myself.
I can hear mechanical clanking and rustling. The door swings open revealing the owner of the deep voice. The man before me is well muscled and tall. His buzzed haircut reminds me of a GI Joe my little brother played with incessantly.
The GI Joe takes two quick steps towards me. I must look horrified because he slows his pace when our eyes meet.
“You have to come with me,” he says, stopping a step or two from the edge of the cold cot. I eye him cautiously. “I’m going to get that off of you,” he says, pointing to the shackle. “I’m going to remove it and then you’re going to come with me willingly.” I nod, as if I had a choice.
His hands are icy as they brush against my bloodied ankle. With a metallic groan, he pries the shackle away. “Shall we?” he asks, motioning towards the open door. Hesitantly, I take my first steps towards the door.
Outside my cell, I find myself standing in a windowless, concrete hall. I shiver from the cold.
“You’ll get used to it,” GI Joe says. “It stays about 10 degree down here,” he pauses. “Celsius, of course,” he adds. “This way,” he motions and I follow.
I count my steps as he leads me through the maze of gray hallways. We stop in front of one of the white doors. GI Joe fumbles with a set of what looks like keys. The door unlocks and we step inside.
The room is square and gray; its only distinguishing feature is a large plate of glass that looks into the room next door. In the adjacent room I see Micah. He sits at a steel table. I step towards the window, but Gi Joe stops me before I get within touching distance.
“Don’t touch the glass,” he rumbles. Or what? I think to myself. The look on his face says I don’t want to know. I fix my eyes back on Micah, feeling helpless. The door opens to his room and a man steps inside. He wears a serious black suit with a bright purple tie. In a single motion that purple tie man sits at the table and places a small black box between himself and Micah. The red light glows with life.
“Please state your name as it appears on your birth certificate,” Purple tie says. Micah smirks; I know exactly what he is thinking.
“Baby boy Doe,” Micah retorts. Purple Tie looks both confused and annoyed. Micah reclines into his chair and smiles wickedly.
“This will be easier if you simply comply,” Purple Tie says, adjusting the papers in front of him.
“I’m only doing exactly what you asked,” Micah grins. “I’m not sure how I could comply any more,” he says in a baby voice. Purple Tie sighs and tries again.
“Please state your name as it appears on your Department of Motor Vehicles record.” Micah smiles.
“Smart Military pawn,” Micah responds. I forgot how mischievous Micah could be when he wanted to. “My name is Micah Elijah Montgomery,” he says. I cock my head to the side at the mention of Micah’s middle name. How come he’s never told me his middle name? I think to myself.
Purple Tie continues, “Please state your date and location of birth for the record.”
“I am almost 18 years-old and I was born in Gray, Georgia,” Micah answers. Micah, you’re southern? I think to myself. How much about you don’t I know?
“What is your business here?” Purple Tie asks, sounding almost robotic.
“My business here?” Micah almost shouts. He leans forward onto the table. “I have no business here!” I can see the fury growing behind his eyes. “Quinn and I were just minding our own business when the world ended!” Purple Tie sits motionless as Micah shouts. “We were just trying to make the best of a ruined world when your goons kidnapped us!” Micah is breathing heavy now.
“Thank you,” Purple Tie says, pushing back from the stable and standing.
“Whoa!” Micah shouts, moving to block the door. Purple Tie looks mildly irritated, but not at all bothered by the spectacle Micah is causing. “You owe me some answers now,” Micah says, breathing heavily. Purple Tie simple shoves Micah to the side as he leaves the room.
“Where’s Quinn?!” Micah shouts, banging his fists against the metal door. His voice falls, “Just tell me where she is.” He sits now, with his back to the door, defeated. “I promised,” he mutters, as his head falls into his hands.
I put my hands up to the glass; I can feel his pain. GI Joe clears his throat from the corner.
“Don’t touch the glass,” he says again.
I don’t know how long I stand inches from the glass, watching Micah. He sits in the cold metal chair and fidgets. He stares, anxiously, into the mirrored window. It feels as if he can see me. “Time’s up,” GI Joe says from the corner. I jump. I had nearly forgotten he was there. I focus my eyes on Micah. I’m right here, I think as loudly as I can. Micah, I’m right here! I scream inside my head. “Let’s go,” GI Joes says, wrapping his hand around my shoulder. I turn, reluctantly, away from the glass.
“What about Micah?” I ask as the door closes behind us.
“He’ll be taken back to his bunk,” GI Joe responds. I scoff as his use of the word ‘bunk’. More like cell, I think to myself.
“When can I see him?” I ask, knowing I won’t like the answer. GI Joe sighs, and, for once, he seems human.
“That’s not my decision,” he says.
“Oh,” I breathe. We walk the rest of the way to my ‘bunk’ in silence. He opens the dirty metal door and I walk in obediently. “What happens now?” I ask, but GI Joe closes the door. He leaves my question unanswered. The loneliness settles in as his foot steps fades into the distance.