The sixteenth was special.
It was later I met him, a couple days later. I’d found a strip mall with a grocery store where the porch had collapsed, blocking the entrance. The rubble looked pretty heavy and all the windows I could see were intact, so I figured there’d be plenty of food and water left inside. I was really using my strength, really fully using it, lifting slabs of shattered concrete and shoving them aside, trying to make a path to the door.
That’s when he saw me.
I stopped when I realised I was being watched, stopped and stared back at him. I was waiting for fear, for him to freak out.
Instead he smiled at me. He smile was so big and wide and it was the first smile I’d seen in weeks.
He told me he had friends trapped in another store further along – they’d hidden in the store room when the shaking started, and the room had been strong enough to withstand it but the rest of the store hadn’t. The door was blocked and he’d been trying and failing to find ways to move the blocks to get them out.
Then he found me.
I thought about leaving, about walking away. But that smile.
I was helping him before I’d even really thought about it.
His friends were lucky – they’d been trapped in a supply closet, plenty of food and cartons of juice, and the door opened outward enough for them to get some fresh air and for him to pass through fresh supplies.
The smell when I finally got them out – I don’t have the words for it. They’d done their best, using just one corner of the room, but they hadn’t exactly been lucky enough to be trapped with a bathroom.
They were all so grateful when I got them out – he was crying, tears clearing the grey dust off his face and revealing the smooth dark skin underneath. They were all crying. It felt so weird, standing there, watching these strangers cry and hug each other.
Later he said I should have a nickname, like Captain Hammer or Princess Powerful. He said I should have a cape.
I laughed, told him that was a stupid idea. I didn’t tell him how wrong that felt.
It was hard to shake them after that. The group kind of presumed I’d want to head out with them, and he was looking at me like I was something special, and I found myself travelling with them.
We kept heading east, or trying to – we all knew if we could get far enough away from the coast we’d begin to find towns that hadn’t been affected, ground that hadn’t been picked up and tossed out like a rug, tearing everything up and off and scattering it across the landscape.
It was hard to know the direction we were going in. All of the roads were in bad shape, some so torn up they were impassable, and some of the streets were blocked with fallen buildings, crashed cars.
On our third day together we found a lake.
We almost literally stumbled across it – it was midday, we were exhausted from the heat and the sun and the walking. I was just thinking if I had to listen to nothing but cicadas for one more damn minute I was going to lose it, and then we turned a corner and surprise.
We all just kind of stopped, and looked at each other, and looked at the lake, and then each other. I swear it was like a corny movie or something, this real touching moment for the heroes.
I don’t know who moved first but suddenly we were all running, running into the water, tearing off our clothes as we went, dropping our packs, not caring about who else might be around, who could try to steal our stuff. We sprinted naked into the water and flung ourselves in.
It was the cleanest, coldest thing I’d felt in months. All the grime was floating off us, off our skin, and I was struck by how different we all looked; under the grit of the road, hair lank with grease, we’d all looked the same, like grey ghosts of the people we used to be. In the water our colours came flooding back.
I found myself next to him, and he was smiling again – god, that smile. Water droplets were running off the tight black curls of his hair and he was smiling at me and I couldn’t help but smile back and then we were kissing.
Later, that night, we took each other’s hands and walked off, away from the rest of the group, to the privacy of the empty night. I climbed on top of him, took him into me, and watched him watching me. Still smiling. I loved that smile.
I rode him and watched his dark eyes cloud with lust. I rode him and wrapped my hands around his throat and watched the lust change to surprise change to fear change to panic. I squeezed, squeezed myself around him and watched the blood vessels bloom and burst in his eyes, watched until the whites were nothing but red and I cried out my satisfaction and release.
It was easy to just pack up and walk away from the others after that.