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"Aftermath" by Amber Barney

Olivia flings open the door and retches onto the pavement. With a trembling hand, she wipes her mouth and stumbles out of the car, around her pile of vomit, and onto the grass. Sinks to her knees in the damp earth, takes deep, shuddering breaths. She blinks her vision back into focus. Something is in her eyes, stinging, blurring her gaze. With the back of her hand she rubs it away and glances down at the blood, fresh and warm, smeared over her skin. When she sits back on her heels, pieces of shattered glass fall from her hair, and Olivia suddenly becomes aware of the throbbing in her head, the sharp ache in her ribs. A vague memory: her body in the air, slamming against the car’s center console.

A few yards away, a squirrel darts up a tree trunk. Between her knees, a worm squirms through the dirt. A cloud shifts across the sky, blocking out the sun for a few seconds before moving on its way, and the sky brightens once more. Life continues around her, oblivious to her situation, a reminder of her insignificance. The knowledge is soothing, helps her focus. She is hurt, she is alive; she needs to be calm.

Olivia looks back at the car. The front passenger side is crumpled against the base of a tree. In the reflection of the gray steel she can see the horizontal gash across her forehead, thin lines of blood trickling down her temples and over the bridge of her nose. All the windows have been shattered, and through the open spaces she can see Regina’s body, still upright behind the wheel.

The driver’s side is completely crushed, caved in on itself like a piece of crumpled aluminum foil. Scratches of red paint drip like blood across the door frame. She notices the skid marks that mar the pavement. There haven’t been cars on the road in weeks, not since people started boarding up windows and bullet casings littered the autumn foliage.

Apprehensive and a little wobbly, Olivia stands and inches closer to the wreckage. Regina’s seatbelt is still on, but it’s done her no good. A trail of blood, not quite dry yet, runs down her neck, which is twisted at an unnatural angle. Her eyes are still open. There is no chance she can open the door, so Olivia reaches inside, avoiding the jagged glass that remains in the window panel. Fingers shake as she presses them against Regina’s eyelids and drags them down. The urge to vomit rises in her again.

Stepping away, leaving Regina in the car that is now her coffin, Olivia is greeted by the eerie silence of the empty highway. There are no street signs, no mile markers. She has no idea where she is. There is a voice inside her head, competing with the growing throbbing at the base of her skull, that urges her to keep moving. Her thoughts are jumbled, but she tries to make sense of them. Home. Regina was taking her home.

Why are you helping me?

I’ve seen what they do to the other survivors. You’d wish you didn’t make it.

Olivia lugs herself down the street, feeling like a block of cement is strapped to each ankle. Her mouth is dry. She can’t remember the last time she had anything to drink. She received her fluids through IV in the hospital– only it wasn’t a real hospital, she remembers now, but an airplane hangar turned triage center, frantically constructed when the real hospitals started filling up. And the doctors. They weren’t real doctors, either.

The pounding in her head grows stronger with each painful step, and a white-hot burning blooms behind her eyes. She stops, keels over, retches again. Her legs give out, knees hitting the pavement with a crack, barely managing to bring up her arms to break her fall. The impact rips open the skin of her elbows, scratches the side of her face. The gash on her forehead splits open again, blood pooling on the asphalt beside her.

Olivia lies there, half-awake and in agony, existing in a place where time both refuses to pass and moves faster than she can conceive. Vibrations rumble the ground beneath her. An engine roars in the distance, steadily growing closer, louder and louder until it abruptly stops. A door creaks open and heavy footsteps crunch their way towards her.

Help me. Save me. Take me home.

A large, rough hand pushes her tangled hair away from her face. The touch is familiar, and another memory surfaces: the same hand clamped around her mouth, muffling a scream. Two fingers press against her neck, her pulse beating pathetically against them, and then Olivia is rolled onto her back. In her mind she fights back, writhes and bites and shouts, but her body offers no resistance as two arms come up beneath her, under her legs and around her shoulders, and she is lifted from the ground. She smells the mix of sweat and spice and gasoline that she knows– Jay, his name is Jay– and feels the brush of soft fabric against her cheek as her head lolls onto a hard, muscled shoulder.

Not bad, Jay says. This is the furthest you’ve gotten.

Hot leather sticks against her skin as she is propped up on a seat, her body a ragdoll to be posed on a whim, no longer controlled by her mind. Head against the window frame, Jay’s hand on her shoulder to steady her as she slumps forward. Tires squeal. A stinging wind whips against her face.

Please take me home, Olivia thinks as she is driven back the way she came. I’m tired of this. I just want to go home.

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