It lasts and lasts, the endless corridors with their damp, dark walls and the stench of humidity and blood – Lawrence's blood, almost black on the dirty floor, irregular traces of a crawling man – the trail gets thicker, deeper in some places.
Lawrence was slowing down. Adam can almost see him on the floor, can almost remember instants he hasn't lived, feel Lawrence's efforts, Lawrence's pain – they're his – and his eyes never leave the trail of blood as he clings to the pipes on the wall, the fingers of his right hand half paralysed. He's got legs like those of a broken puppet, bending and twisting under his weight, and he coughs and sobs and can barely breathe. Every step is a victory and a bit of life gone.
He catches himself trying to pray.
The images from his long-gone past have disappeared now. He no longer needs them to go on. He knows he's moving towards a future that will have nothing to do with his old life, he knows everything will be different now – there are so many things he will start believing in, and so many truths he won't laugh at or deny, and it will all be right, and it will all be perfect and beautiful.
He just has to reach the light.
Another step. He had thought the bullet hadn't hit his lung, but he's not sure now – there's the taste of his own blood in his breath, and the pain, faint at first, now surges through his chest every time he takes air in. It's the infection, he thinks – the infection has spread too far. What if it reaches his heart? Is there a risk? How much time does he have left?
Lawrence would know.
He remembers Lawrence's mocking voice – you'd be dead by now, trust me. Trust me, you would be dead – trust me, you don't know a thing. Ah, little one, your ignorance is so endearing.
Did Lawrence's knowledge save him?
The trail of blood becomes thicker and thicker. Lawrence must have stopped many times, more and more often. Adam walks on, tries to go faster, watching Lawrence's fate unravelling under the form of those last traces he left – fearing to find his dead body. He has to squint to distinguish the blood from the dirty ground, to keep track of his fragile Ariane's thread, his way out – but his eyes grow acquainted to obscurity, and when the trail becomes a pool, when it turns from an irregular line to a wide, circular stain, he notices it and his heart beats faster.
After that point, the trail goes on. Regular, smooth, clean. Lawrence has been dragged.
Alive or dead?
Adam doesn't want to think of how stupid and naive the question is – he doesn't want to admit the certainty of Lawrence's death. He only wants to go on. It doesn't matter what he will find.
And so he walks, on and on, until he finds a ladder.
The blood leads to it, there is no mistake. And it goes up. Now Adam knows Lawrence is dead – he could never have climbed that ladder with one foot and three quarters of his blood gone.
And Adam's not even sure that he'll be able to do it, himself.
No matter. He won't let that stop him. No need to think – somehow he already knows what to do; has instinct taken the lead or something? Will he survive thanks to his animal side and write a new age book about it? Alexa would love it.
Fuck that bitch.
He drags himself towards the ladder and climbs it, one movement at a time, no longer trying to control his cries of pain and effort. His skin is coated in sweat and dirt and blood and all of a sudden he thinks of hot water, of being naked, rid of his disgusting clothes, he thinks of being clean again, he remembers the shower temperature in his old apartment, sometimes icy, sometimes burning, changing all of a sudden, how he cursed it every day – he wouldn't care now. He wouldn't care about all those things.
He's getting good at using only one side of his broken body. Left arm, left leg, pulling, pulling himself up and up towards daylight. He's so exhausted. His heart is beating madly, no rhythm, just a deafening noise and blood buzzing in his ears. With each concentration and spending of his strength, a sweet, sad certainty dawns further on him. He won't live through it.
He won't get another chance.
How strange to feel such a knowledge, to face such a truth...
But he must go on. He must get out. He will die, yes – death is already here – but he won't die in this building, he won't die in these rotten sewers.
He must get out.
When he gets to the top of the ladder, he wants to look around him – but the shock of the effort and of its abrupt end, the shock of finding himself on all fours, resting on solid ground all of a sudden, shakes his body too deeply. The muscles of his stomach are caught in spasm and he vomits something acid and burning, something that looks thick and black in the semi-obscurity.
It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. He cannot get up now – he will never get up again – but there's daylight at the end of the corridor. It is only one long corridor, one long straight corridor. The last one. And then, the way out.
Tears roll down his cheeks and leave clean trails – here it is, the light, so close, finally there.
How long does he have left? How much time? A few minutes?
He crawls towards the corpse that has been left in a foetal position, half-way to the door. He sees Lawrence's face, Lawrence's open eyes, with their pupils no longer black but diluted in the greyish-blue irises. Lawrence's eyes are decaying.
They're not looking at him.
Time is floating away. All his strength has gone in a second. Lawrence is there again. Lawrence is dead. His eyes are open, but there is no mind left behind them. He's just an empty body now. His voice is gone forever.
It doesn't hurt, though – not as much as Adam had thought. There is only a calm, serene, silent sadness. Adam no longer wants to reach the light. He wants to stay with Lawrence. He wants to remember Lawrence.
He wants to say he's sorry.
He lies down next to him. The floor is damp, and smells like old rain. Adam remembers Lawrence crying – the dark circles around his eyes – he had always known Lawrence would break, from the very beginning, and he had hidden the picture from him because he didn't want it to happen too soon. He had always been able to see it in the others. The fragility, the imminent surges of pain and madness. He could see it in others, but only fear it in himself, never knowing when it would come.
He remembers Lawrence's face twisting as he sawed off his foot, contorted from the effort most of all – he probably hadn't felt much pain. Probably hadn't been there at all as it happened.
He lets his fingers (left hand, of course) trace Lawrence's temple, run through his blond hair – it looks grey now.
First dead body I've ever seen.
No, it's not the first – Zep was the first – but Zep had no face. So it doesn't count. Zep had no dead eyes. And Zep had never really been alive.
The faint light from the door reminds Adam of where he is, of what he must do. He smiles. He cannot leave Lawrence behind. Not now. Not after all they've been through. They will get out together, crawl together towards the light, towards the rest of the world. He will take Lawrence out of this place with him. He will make it come true.
He knows it will take away his last strengths. He realizes he has reached the state of peaceful lucidity that comes just before death – but there is no fear. Lawrence is with him now. Lawrence is already there. All there is to do is follow the traces he has left.
So Adam clings to Lawrence's body and drags him out, crawling and pulling the dead weight after him, unable to breathe, grimacing in pain – his chest is filled with blood, filled with fever. Everything swirls. But he is so close…
He has only one goal to focus on – he mustn't die before they are outside. Before both of them are free.
Adam tries to move faster. He's getting closer to the light, yet it seems the world is growing darker, and something in his numb mind screams that it is death, that he must get out, get out now if he wants to win this game, and see the sky again before he goes – and here it is, the door, the door is wide open, the killer didn't lie, and Adam crawls and crawls and lets himself roll down the steps to the ground, arms still tight around Lawrence.
The sun is blinding. The sky is entirely, beautifully empty – no clouds, just perfect blue, and sweet air, and wind, and heat.
They have fallen down together, and Lawrence is in his arms, safe and sound, as he had been in Adam's dreams of escape, and he knows they have won.
"We made it," he whispers. "We got out, you see? We're out. We fucking made it."
He closes his eyes, and the sun makes the inside of his eyelids red, makes everything red. He notices, vaguely, that the panic he had expected – the terror before the very last step – isn't there.
"Lawrence." Adam lets out the name, feels it roll in his mouth and leave his body with his last breath. He doesn't realize that his heart has already stopped beating.
And the world vanishes as he dies.
The wind falls. Nothing moves. Time goes on, seconds ticking in silence and stillness. And all there is left is two corpses entwined.
A group of students drives by almost an hour later. They park their car and get closer after some hesitation. The girls panic and cry, one of them screams. The boys do their best to comfort them, half-proud to be so brave. The driver runs to get her cell phone. An ambulance arrives after a few minutes, along with the police. Lawrence and Adam are separated and carried away. No need for sirens. It is too late.
Several police officers enter the building. The sun slowly sets as they come back out, faces pale and serious, and call for backup. The night falls; more cars arrive with their dancing lights.
And then there's nothing left to see.