Disclaimer: I do not own "Falling Skies."
Seven: The First Bump in the Road
"Your turn," Hal said, and I nearly slugged him.
"For what?" I grumbled, wondering why he was waking me. Usually, it was the other way around with me on the other end of his surly disposition.
"Keeping watch," He replied, handing me my gun as I wiped my eyes, and he took my bag as his pillow.
"Oh yeah," I yawned, remembering the agreement I had made with him just before falling asleep as I scooted out of the backseat of the vehicle we had broken in to.
I would sleep the first half of the night while he kept a lookout, and then we would switch after a few hours. Hal no sooner stretched out in the backseat and was asleep. Matt was still curled up in the passenger seat, so I slid into the driver's seat with my gun in my lap. This was mundane, waiting to hear bumps in the night. It felt lame like when I sat on the bench, waiting for the game to end so that I could just go home.
This sucked even worse because there wasn't a house to go home to. The aliens had blown it up, and I would like more than anything to hunt them down and blow them up to get even. However, they would kill me in half a second, and I rubbed the protruding bruise that rung my neck. One more squeeze and I would have been a goner. However, the spider hadn't squeezed, and in the weirdest way, I was grateful.
My gratefulness had only lasted a brief second though because as soon as it let go of me, it had Hal pinned against the wall with Matt being suffocated behind that. I flipped the gun in my hand, trying to remember the strength it had—the power I had—when I pulled the trigger. It had scared the hell out of me to raise my gun and not be aiming at a sheet of paper, but that fear was overpowered by something I didn't understand when I heard the snap of Hal's hand. Maybe, the spider wasn't going to kill him just like it hadn't killed me, but it wasn't a chance I was going to take.
So, I shot.
It died, and everything after that was just a blur of memories I would rather forget but knew I would never be able to. They were embedded into my very being just like Mom was, and I wondered what new things we would encounter when daylight broke. For all I knew, we could die in a few short hours. All hell could break lose, and we could be blown to smithereens. Yet that would have to wait until later, so trying to not fall asleep to the soft hums of Hal and Matt's snores, I started evaluating the car.
I clicked on my small flashlight, making sure not to point it at Hal because I'm sure he would love to gripe at me for not conserving battery use like he had griped about the gas in the bikes. He had yelled at me for keeping them riding for an extra ten minutes in the wrong direction which would mean we would have to double back when we headed to the university. In response, I had kept my mouth shut, not wanting to admit that the only reason I had kept going was because I was scared as hell that if I stopped the spiders would catch us.
The car's contents were boring, including nothing but napkins and worthless CDs. There was an air pressure gauge and a water bill that was late. I supposed it would forever be unpaid now, and after being bored by the contents of the console, I quietly leaned to the side as I opened the glove box, trying to be careful to not let it hit Matt when it fell open. It didn't, and I groaned to only find maps. However, when the thought that the maps could actually be useful crossed my mind, I sighed and made a mental note to grab them in the morning.
Clicking the flashlight off, I sat in the dark after that, wondering if this was how it war was for soldiers—sitting quietly until an unexpected situation was thrust upon them and they had no choice but to react. It was the complete opposite from all the games I had ever played in which my player could take down an army in a ten minute rush of combat. I wondered if I would ever get to play one of my video games again. In fact after the last few days, I wondered if I even wanted to.
Looking at my brothers' darks shadows as they slept, I knew what I wanted. I wanted them to tell me "I told you so" when we arrived at the university to find Dad held up in his office, waiting patiently for us and asking why it took us so long as he told us he had nearly started to come look for us but he had been hurt and unable to move. We wouldn't worry though because it wasn't fatal. He would heal, and we would tell him about Mom. Then, the world would spin forward somehow, passing by this quiet moment, and I wouldn't be waiting to hear bumps in the night anymore.
Relieving, dawn came at long last, and Hal and Matt woke. Only a few days had passed since everything started, but it was long enough that we were already beginning to acclimate. With them half asleep, I pulled a bottle of water and chips from my bag. Matt snatched the chip bag, and Hal yawned before downing half the water and passing it to Matt who threw him the chips in return.
"You eat?" Hal asked.
"Yeah," I nodded. "A few minutes ago…that's all our food and water now. Unless you guys got something I don't know about."
"Shit," Hal groaned and threw his head back on the seat, crushing the chips as he balled his fist.
"I do!" Matt exclaimed excitedly as he rifled through his bag and produced a bag of dried banana chips.
"You put those in the box while we were packing?" Hal scoffed, and I laughed.
"No," He narrowed his eyes and set the banana chips at center stage on the console, whispering. "Mom did."
I sighed and handed it back to him to put away, "Don't lose it. That's lunch."
"What about dinner?" He asked, blowing into the water bottle for no particular reason but the satisfaction of producing bubbles and looking between Hal and me.
"We need a grocery store," Hal said.
"And gas," I reminded him quietly.
"Yep," He moaned and ate the rest of his chips. "Let's pack up and get going."
"Already? But it's so early," Matt whined.
"You awake?" I asked.
"Yes?" He replied in confusion
"Good, then it's time to go," I said. "You want to see Dad don't you?" All I had to do was mention Dad, and Matt was on board, twisting the cap onto the water bottle faster than ever.
Between his sudden energy, Hal's determination, and my resolve for all three of us to survive, it didn't take long to pack up. The hitch was getting there, and feeling smug I pulled out the maps I had found in the glove box. We laid out the plan. It was straight forward, being pretty much the same typical route that we took any time we went to the university. There was only one way to get there of course, crossing the Charles River. That detail couldn't be avoided, and tucking the maps into my bag we pulled the bikes up into riding position, hoping that the gas we had was just enough.
"Nothing bad is going to happen…right?" Matt asked suddenly, biting his lip as he got onto Hal's bike, and I suddenly found great interest in my bike light.
"It'll be okay…right Ben?" Hal said, and I nearly jumped at my name. Looking up, both Hal and Matt were staring at me with their expressions full of expectation and hope respectively.
"Yeah," I smirked. "Nothing bad is going to happen."
"See," Hal smiled just like Mom did as we sat in the woods. "Nothing bad is going to happen."
"Kay," Matt nodded.
We kicked the bikes into go since Matt was pacified, and I was more than ready to feel the cool morning breeze hit my face as we rode through the streets. Whether the streets were strewn with rubble or immaculate, they were all empty, and like before there were dead people and abandoned cars. Only once did we encounter someone alive, and the group of six or seven people had run behind a building for cover instantly.
I couldn't blame them. We were making a lot of noise, and in a place so quiet, they must think we were something worse approaching. That's when it hit me. We were making a lot of noise, and I gripped the handles nervously, feeling the sweat squish between the two and thinking of the words I had just told Matt. I knew it had been a lie, but now, I really felt it was a lie.
My mind went racing, thinking of the numbers. Ships, spiders, robots—there could be millions of them, dominating the world right now, and we were calling blatant attention to ourselves as we rode nonchalantly down the street. My stomach flipped, and I swerved unintentionally. Hal noticed and hung back for a moment from his position ten feet ahead. I could already see the question forming in his mind, but I circumvented it by throwing him a fake smile as I sped ahead a few feet, catching sight of Matt who was nearly lulled to sleep from the ride with his head pressed against Hal's back.
I kept my worries to myself. Chances were nothing would happen anyways despite how many aliens had invaded the world. There were seven billion people on the planet a few days ago, and nothing bad had happened to us then. So why would our chances increase now? It was a number's games, playing the odds. Numbers had confidence attached to them. There was always an answer behind them and a solid reason supporting that answer. Plus, we had already encountered the aliens twice which had to count for something. There had to be some sort of limit of alien encounters one person was privy to. Admittedly, the rationale calmed me somewhat as we turned onto the next street.
It was a nice street with houses rising up on either side of us. Void of people except the dead and dismissing the abandoned cars, it looked like a postcard—one of the ones tourists would buy from a dollar stand. They would swoon over the picturesque quality of the little laminated card like it was Christmas, penning how tranquil the New England air was and how beautiful the leaves were in the fall on the back before shipping it home to their relatives six states away. I wondered what I would write if I picked up a postcard of this street right now. It certainly wouldn't have a happy ring to it.
"Where are we?" Matt asked groggily as he lifted his head off Hal's back, blinking as he took in the surroundings.
"Dude, you've been out for half a second!" I shouted to him.
"Just tell me when we're there," Matt grumbled, leaning back against Hal.
"Yes sir your highness," I agreed, and for a second, I thought I actually saw a faint smile cross Hal's expression. Yet, if it was there, it was gone before I could really register it.
"Turn!" Hal announced as we came upon the next road.
Doing as told, I turned, sliding my bike instantly and feeling the relief pump through me as I missed connecting hard with the asphalt. Hal slid as well, and Matt screamed bloody murder as they were slammed into the street with their combined weight not being able to keep the bike upright. Before I could think, my bike was abandoned and I was rushing to my brothers. Matt was crying as I pulled him up off the ground, and Hal was cursing in a fluid stream of words that would ensure he would be grounded as I helped him up next.
"You guys okay?" I asked, looking between them and crouching before Matt the second I realized he was nursing his hurt elbow. His jacket and shirt were shredded at the point of his injury, and a glaring scratch festering with asphalt and smudged with blood peeked through.
"It hurts," He sniffed.
"Shit," Hal whispered as wrenched his backpack from around his back.
I saw his matching injury to Matt's on his forearm and knee. Hal thrust one of his t-shirts at me, and having no water, I hocked back the biggest spit wad I could before taking aim. Thankfully, Matt was too distracted by his elbow to care that I was wiping my spit all over his arm, squirming with each touch the white shirt made. I tried not to laugh at the little whistle between his teeth as he clenched his jaw to keep from crying more.
"Okay, can you stretch it out?" I asked just as Mom would always do. He grimaced and shrugged, so gently, I removed his small hand from his arm that held it tight to his chest and extended his arm. He looked about ready to panic, but I flexed his arm back anyways.
"Ow!" He screeched.
"It's just the pain from the scratch," Hal regarded.
He plopped down beside us as he exhaled before using another of his t-shirts loaded with spit to clean his leg. Matt and I watched him grimace as soon as the t-shirt hit his shin, and he wobbled backward only to catch his weight on his hand that was already swollen from being crushed by the spider. I saw the pain fill his face and saw him grind his teeth as I took the t-shirt from his hand. He didn't speak just looked at me before I started cleaning him up like I had Matt, moving on to his arm after his knee. There would be bruising and swelling most likely, and I knew that Hal was in a wealth of pain between his hand, arm, and leg. Yet, he stood up anyways as if he hadn't felt a thing.
I rummaged through my bag as he and Matt took in the destruction we had nearly slammed into, twisting the cap of the pill bottle and offering him two aspirins to alleviate the pain. He nodded and downed them without water in a way I had never seen him do, preferring to mix his pills with an unhealthy swig of some sort of soda usually. There was no water at the moment, so he made do I understood as I too looked at the wall of rubble we were a foot short of running into.
It was as tall as us at some points and twice as tall as us at other points. Gone were the pretty houses and postcard worthy picture. The street was obliterated, and seeing the endless destruction from the windows provided by the rubble, I could tell that it was not merely this street. Entire blocks beyond this were destroyed. This area had been hit hard, leaving no conceivable way passable through except by foot. I looked to Hal, and he seemed to be on the same page as me.
"By the time we walk around all this," Hal growled, "We might as well go over the Longfellow Bridge."
"But we don't have gas," Matt whined with us ignoring him as I righted Hal's bike before he could.
"Thanks," Hal muttered.
"How're we going to get there without any gas?" Matt chimed again.
"Yeah, well," I gestured at his hand and arm.
"You guys aren't listening to me!" Matt screeched suddenly. "You never listen!"
"Well we are now!" Hal snapped, and even I jumped a little. That was the ever-impatient Hal I had grown to abhor, and it did my heart a little well to hear the irritation in his voice.
"Jerk!" Matt accused before running over the rubble like he had lost his mind.
"Look what you did!" Hal glared at me as he went to chase Matt over the rubble.
"What I did!" I shouted, clambering after him. However, I had no sooner pulled myself over the mound of rubble when I stopped up short.
It was a glaring scene—postcard worthy in the complete opposite way. The rubble stretched for a mile or so straight up to the river. Then the Boston skyline that we already knew had been severely altered stood before us in all its glory. Spaceships flurried over Boston like a fly on a carcass, landing and zooming around rhythmically. There were faint flashes of light from over the water, and my heart skipped a beat.
It was quiet here on this side of the river, but I could only imagine the atmosphere on the other side. We had had it relatively easy with the aliens wiping us out with neutrons bombs and explosives before attacking with brute force. However, within the city I knew everything had been much more intense—tight quarters and more people per square block. I imagined the bodies littering the ground, and my stomach flipped.
"They're concentrated over there," Hal stated.
"More people to finish off," I guessed. "They stopped the technology from the cities out, but they…"
"Not them," Hal shook his head. "We did what they wanted. We all scattered, heading for the hills, and they circled around us like a swarm, forcing us inwards."
"Why?" I asked. "Why not just drop a few bombs on the city and be done with it like they lit up the highway if they wanted us all dead anyways? Why didn't they just kill us with force instead of smoking us out with the fire? It doesn't make sense."
"I have no idea…I don't understand…" He admitted.
"At least Dad's okay!" Matt chimed suddenly, seemingly forgotten that he was irritated with us, and Hal and I looked to him. Leave it to the eight-year-old to find the silver lining.
I glared at his back, and Hal hung his head as he sat on a chunk of concrete with pipes protruding from it. No doubt, he was thinking of our setback just as I was. We had two options: abandon the bikes and walk through the rubble, taking the familiar route or keep the bikes, find gas, and go over the other bridge. Both options sucked, and in Hal's state, it was a wonder if he could ride right now let alone climb over rubble for hours. I had seen his grimace as he took after Matt.
Sighing, I knew we wouldn't be crossing the river today. I could feel it in my gut. It was peculiar how quickly we had reverted without a car our disposal, and I wondered where we would be without the dirt bikes. Most likely, we would be burned alive in our own garage. Though it didn't make sense, two heaps of junk had been our saving grace, and I started thinking about the numbers again—the odds of what could happen, realizing I had approached it all wrong.
Two bikes, three of us, one death, one missing, two encounters with the spiders, billions dead but numerous aliens invading—we were greatly disadvantaged, and since this was not a game, there were no saving points or second chances. We had one shot to get this right which made picking our route that much more important. Not needing to ask which way we were going, I stood. Ironically, Hal did at the same as well, and calling Matt to catch up, we clambered back over the rubble to the bikes.