This is After The End: Johannesburg Lost

I just had to do it, didn’t I? Ignore my instincts and come out here into the open, only because of a small voice that told me it was my only chance to escape. The same voice that I now feel betrayed by. What I thought was rescue aircraft was probably just a clever ploy to bring me out of hiding. And it’s a ploy that worked perfectly, as there’s clearly no sign of any helicopter now. I had been safe in the campus sanctuary for so long, but previously when I had to leave to look for food or supplies, I managed to keep myself from the deadly clutches of danger. This time around, I wasn’t so fortunate.

I’m already feeling violated as the dastardly man sets his lust filled eyes on me. Eyes shadowed by a huge brow that almost canopies the rest of his face. Sinewy skin stretching over surprisingly well-defined muscles completes a look horrifying to behold. Maybe I was spoilt a little growing up, but the last three years living by and fending for myself has pretty much toughened me up. Nevertheless, I was powerless to defend myself when he sprung up on me from out of thin air and knocked me down with the butt of his rifle. And if there were any doubts about his intentions before, he makes them clear by slowly licking his lips while he loosens his belt. Each languid step that he takes brings him closer to a prize he has been probably been dreaming about since he first laid eyes on it.

Me.

How are you getting yourself out of this one, Tshego?

I’m on the ground with my back against a wall, and had it been an earlier time, the people on the other side of it might just have put down their lattes and their muffins and come to my aid. But the faces that so wantonly filled the streets of Braamfontein before with a consistent mixture of vanity and desperation have long abandoned these pavements of peril. The war may not have affected us directly at first, with it being confined mostly to the northern hemisphere, but when the nuclear fallout spread all across the world, I think the result was the mutant animals that overran the city three years ago. There aren’t a lot of those predators left as most of them moved on, mainly because of the exhausted human kill they were hunting. The streets are pretty much empty now. It’s just me, this fiend, and his men (I’m not even sure if I can call them men anymore; everything that psychologically made them human seems to be lost), alone in this deserted city. I don’t think I can call this a city either. Johannesburg stopped being a city when it gave in to the dark plague that was creeping in its soul and allowed itself to be corrupted with greed and malevolence. Together, we could have fought the rising mutant animal enemy, but instead, we chose to fight against each other, and divided, we fell. Johannesburg isn’t a city anymore, no: it’s a jungle. Complete with concrete and steel trees looming over us with ghoulish, crooked fingers and ghastly eyes, casting mysterious, morbid shadows. And with my new nemesis standing over me now, it looks I’m about to become the latest victim in the vicious circle of death.

The rain starts tapping its calloused fingers on the baking tar, creating a film of steam over it. I’m amping myself up for what will be my last ditch attempt to break free and maybe lose them so I can find somewhere to hide. The marauder attempts to pin my arms to the ground, and I resolve to not go down without a fight. He is met with a rage of kicking and punching, and at this point, I don’t even care if I hurt myself in the process. He is determined, though, and with his clearly superior strength, it doesn’t take long before my struggling is contained. I can’t move my limbs an inch.

The depth of the trouble I’m in is outlined in bold when he leans over and tries to kiss me. The thick ambiance of sweat and something else I don’t even want to know hangs heavy around him, and I feel like gagging after just one whiff. Now, I’m panicking. And from the things the others are shouting, I know that this will definitely be followed by each of them having their way with me. That thought is enough to put me into fight or flight mode.

On a high of adrenaline, I clench my teeth, ready to do anything I need to do to survive.

“THUD!”

I swing my head with all I’ve got and RAM my forehead into his, darn well nearly knocking my own self out. I swear I see a few constellations before reaching the edge of consciousness. But at least it’s got him to lose hold of my limbs, so almost entirely on impulse, I swing my left boot up into his groin, incapacitating him instantly. I’m barely able to get back on my feet, feeling very dizzy myself, and I wonder if I’ll even be able to run at all. Guess I didn’t think this through too well.

In spite of how I feel, I start moving my legs, one after another, not even sure of the direction I’m taking. Everything is a haze of color and sound now. But somehow, I manage to slip away while all their attention is turned to their ‘fearless leader’ who sounds like he’s squirming on the ground. Still, it doesn’t take too long before they notice I’m gone and start chasing me down. My vision is returning, and after running a few blocks east, I make a turn around a corner when I see Park Station through some buildings on my right. I figure I can shake them off in there. Right now, it’s as good a plan as any.

It feels so weird seeing the parking lot and terminus this vacant because they are normally bristling with activity. Just another testament to how lost this place is. Park Station was once the center of Johannesburg’s Metrorail network, and now it’s just a huge empty space. I need to keep my focus, so I ignore all that and head straight inside. I slide down some escalator rails to the lower level, just as my pursuers are coming in through the main entrance, hurling every foul word they can at me.

As soon as I reach the lower level, I turn around and start heading in the opposite direction. If I want to evade them, my movement needs to be completely unpredictable. I rush passed the looted duty-free shops, wishing I could take a break and maybe have a drink of water too. I can feel my head getting light as my energy stores drain. In, out. In, out. Breathing is becoming hard labor, but I can’t slow down. Not even a bit. The only way they’ll get me is if there is no life in my body.

As I am approaching the end of the corridor, I get the idea of hiding out in the subway tunnels. If it’s dark as I expect it to be, I might just become invisible in there. I rush out of the terminus, temporarily back into the rain, and head up and then down some more stairs until I find myself looking at the inviting darkness of the station lobby, gasping for air as if I’ve just come up from underwater. Everything is still, the dripping from my clothes the only sound being made, so I’m thinking I have lost them until I hear someone whistling. Now I’m sure I’m done for. I am completely spent, and I don’t think I can endure another chase. But once my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see that it isn’t who I think it is. Up ahead of me, a kid is peeping over the ticket booth counter, beckoning to me to come to him, and also trying to signal something else I can’t understand. It might be another trap, so I stand motionless in indecision. Right then, my attention is turned to the top of the escalator behind me, where the rest are now coming down. It would appear the kid is on my side, and though I can’t be sure, the hope of having an ally is enough to inject just enough in me to get me moving.

I’m picking the kid over the cohorts, any day.

When I get closer to the ticket booth, I see what the other signal the kid gave me was for. There’s an almost invisible nylon wire going across the lobby at neck level. I’m this close from going into it full speed, but I tumble to the ground, just inches away from maybe being decapitated, and roll under it. The next guy behind me isn’t as lucky. When I look back, I see him plowing full speed into the wire, and this sends his legs swinging up into the air. It further triggers explosives on the walls and the coffers, bringing the ceiling down once they go off. An enormous slab of falling concrete that just misses me has me back on my feet in an instant and getting away from the falling coffers. The kid is now joined by about seven others his age, and they are all urging me to me to hurry. As soon as I reach them, we run through the ticket gates with the entranceway crashing down behind us, and then head down to the lower level with the subway platforms.

“We’re safe now. They should be all buried by our trap,” the kid I first saw says panting.

“Whe-who…How?” I’m gasping for air too, and full questions for this scrappy but intrepid band of juvenile survivors.

“The name’s Traps (fitting, actually), and these are my brothers and sisters. When the city fell, everyone forgot about us orphans, so we decided to look after ourselves, and have been here in the subway tunnels since.” My eyes are adjusting to the darkness, and I can make out the kid a little more now. If I could liken him to anyone, I would say Peter Pan. I don’t need to be told that he is the leader, and he has a free spirited sort of rebelliousness that I am sure the others were drawn to.

“Where……..where did you get the explosives from?” I ask.

“Come on, come on. We are young, not helpless,” he says, with just a hint of a Sicilian accent, “And with all the commotion going on, it really wasn’t that hard. The trap was for in case any mutant animals came after us, but I guess taking out lecherous surface dwellers works as well.” Not only is he intuitive; he’s well-spoken too.

“Well I can’t thank you enough, like, you don’t understand what a close shave that was,” I say.

“You can thank Scrunch,” he replies, looking at a colored girl with scruffy hair and soot on her face, all this made redundant by the bright smile she is wearing.

“Thank you, Scrunch.” She gives me a nod of acknowledgment, and I’m not sure if I am right, but I see a glimmer of admiration in her eyes. Almost as if she knows me from somewhere……nah. I doubt that. I look around at the rest of them, and then I pay a little attention to what seems to be some sort of dwelling. The place hardly has any light, and there isn’t that much structure, but I can see blankets next to one of the pillars, and an undefined pile at the next pillar. “So how are we going to get out now?” I still have tons of questions to ask Traps, but I manage to keep them coming out one at a time.

“The only way out is through the tunnel to the nearest stop in Rosebank,” he says.

Rosebank. Darn it.

I’ve never gone that far – hell – I’ve never gone outside a mile radius from campus for three years. But even though none of these children are older than fourteen, they don’t seem to be afraid. I just have to conceal my reservations and concerns and join their ranks, albeit temporarily. Seeing that mere teenagers have made it this long gives me hope; it makes me more determined than I was before. I have been trying to make my way home, although, truthfully speaking, I was somehow afraid of the journey that lay ahead, especially being alone like I was. Not anymore. These little ones have shown me that I can do anything if I put my mind to it. Whether there’s anyone left in the Vaal remains to be discovered, so I’ll leave that for when I get there. But I’m sure of this: one way or another, I will find my way home.

….

Jack

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