The Long Winter
Author: Tyler Barlass
You rest the stock of the gun on your shoulder, place your finger on the trigger and shoot. You’ve done it so many times that your aim has become impeccable. The bullet whizzes through the cold, barren landscape until it meets its target – the reflective glass visor of a uniformed enemy some 100 yards away. These faceless adversaries had been coined “snatchers” by those who hadn’t been taken. You’ve killed so many that you can’t remember a time that you weren’t fighting these mysterious abductors.
That may not be entirely true. Your memory of when the world died is there somewhere in your head, rattling around in the repressed depths of your mind. You remember being on your back porch, with your best friend, watching monolithic buildings collapsing in the distance. You were young then. You’ve grown up in this new world and the struggles that have come with it. You don’t have the time or energy to get wistful about the past or what might have been. You now spend your days protecting the shoddily assembled camp that you call home, along with an ever-dwindling collection of survivors, from the grasp of the malevolent snatchers. Your friends, camp elders, even children, all taken by these interlopers without warning.
Recently, during an expedition to retrieve supplies from a neighboring camp, you and your fellow protectors were ambushed and everyone, except yourself, was captured and hauled off by the snatchers. You found a way to escape and decided then and there that it was time to stop protecting and start fighting back.
Not far beyond where your most recent quarry had fallen, you approach your destination. In front of you is a sprawling white plastic-walled compound that sits like a gleaming beacon on the charred land and dark sunless sky. Your heart jumps, you’ve never been this close.
The polyethylene walls are thin enough that a long, serrated knife pierces into it without much trouble. You crawl through your makeshift entrance, wincing at bright lights that emanate from above. You cough, the air is different here, it reminds you of your youth. Long forgotten memories, familiar faces, come rushing into your mind.
You ready your rifle and move slowly through the blindingly bright halls. Everything clean, white, pristine. It stands in stark contrast to the dismal, ash-covered living spaces that you’ve gotten so accustomed to. Sounds reverberate from somewhere nearby, you grip your gun tightly.
Turning the corner, you see a man in uniform but he wears no helmet, no visor, no mask, nothing to cover his pale skin. Even from this distance, you can make out his face. You see that his hair is brown like yours but kept short, the shape of his face is round but not plump and his eyes are a deep shade of blue. It stuns you, for you’ve never seen them with their mask off. Based on some of the stories that had been passed around camp, you weren’t sure that the snatchers were even human.
Shouting wakes you from your reverie. The man at the end of the hall notices you, yells something unintelligible, reaches for his own holstered gun and comes running down the hall. Despite your state of bewilderment, you must act. You rest the stock of the gun on your shoulder, place your finger on the trigger and hesitate.
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