“Senna? I like that name.” Jessica sat a few feet away from the older woman. She leaned against a wall by the window. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness around her by now. Senna had taken up her old spot on the crate, her legs stretched out in front of her. She turned her gaze away from the still burning city towards the younger woman. “Hmm”, she replied. It wasn't much more than a soft sound in her throat.
“You're not from around here, are you?” Jessie continued her questioning. She had tried for a while now to get the dark woman to talk to her. But besides the odd “yes” or “no”, some “hmms” here and there, she had said nothing except her name.
Senna stayed silent. For a moment it seemed as if she had no intention to answer the question at all. But when Jessie leaned forward slightly to try and look into Senna's eyes, she said: “No, I'm not from around here. I grew up in Yugoslavia.”
“That's quite a ways from here”, Jessie stated.
“Well, circumstance brought me here.” Senna looked at Jessie for a fleeting second, and just as quickly turned her head away again, as if to keep Jessie from looking too deeply into her soul. “I ended up in prison two years ago”, she added with a cold voice.
“Prison?!?” Jessie almost choked. She felt a tingle run over her body. That same woman who had saved her from certain rape and most likely death, had been in prison? Jessie blinked nervously. Somehow she couldn't believe that. Not after she had looked into those sparkling blue eyes.
Jessie felt her throat tighten when she heard Senna's emotionless voice. “What for?” she asked.
“You don't want to know”, was the flat answer from the shadow opposite of her. Senna leaned forward and rested her forearms on her knees.
“I'm sorry. I didn't mean to...” Jessie started. Even over the distance between them she sensed that Senna felt uncomfortable.
She was interrupted by the older woman's voice: “Just forget it.”
Jessie quickly closed her mouth.
“I have to check the bruise on your head again”, Senna said softly after a moment's silence. Jessie nodded, but didn't move.
She didn't know what to do with the information she had just learned. So, she was in the same room with a criminal, who didn't want to tell her what she had been in prison for. What if it had been murder? But, in reality, did it matter to her anyway? Jessie swallowed heavily. She had to admit to herself, that she didn't care. Whatever Senna had done in the past, had nothing to do with who she was now. She could feel that. Senna had saved her. That said more about her than anything else. And only that counted.
Senna got up and moved further into the room to where Jessie had woken up earlier. “You should come over here. I don't want to use the torch by the windows.” She reached into one of the leg pockets of her pants and pulled out a silver flashlight.
Jessie hesitantly got up and walked towards Senna.
“Sit down.” Senna nodded to the floor and when Jessie had followed her command, she knelt down in front of her. “It's best you close your eyes.”
Jessie did as Senna wished.
Senna looked at her thoughtfully for a moment, before switching on the flashlight and holding it to Jessie's forehead. “I think it's just a bruise. Nothing too bad.” The tip of Senna's fingers flew over the swollen area, barely touching the broken skin.
“The throbbing is much better as well”, Jessie replied and opened her eyes.
In that moment, their gazes met.
No, this woman with the high cheekbones and the softly curved lips, with those incredible eyes, was not going to harm her. Never. Jessie smiled softly. “Thank you”, she whispered.
“You might have a headache for a few days. But I think it's just a minor concussion”, Senna explained. She ignored the thank you.
Only now, with the light reflecting off Senna's face, Jessie saw the dark purple and red area around Senna's cheek bone. “Oh my god! You're hurt yourself!” Jessie gasped. Guilt clouded her voice. She wanted to lift a hand towards Senna's face, but the taller woman rose quickly and stepped back.
“I didn't pay attention”, she muttered and turned off the flashlight. “Guess I'm out of practice.” Senna's voice was full of sarcasm.
“So, you have experience in fighting?” Jessie asked perplexed. But when she remembered the place Senna had fled from, she closed her mouth tightly.
Senna looked at her for a moment and then pushed the flashlight back into her pocket. “Let's just say: I'm no stranger to violence and I know how to take care of myself - normally.”
“I guess this”, Jessie nodded to the windows, “isn't normal for anyone.” Her face darkened as she thought of the things going on down there on the streets. “Did you expect any of this to be so bad?” Another nod towards the windows.
Senna's gaze followed Jessie's. She seemed to ponder the question before answering: “The last place I had to call home didn't exactly care to enlighten us on current affairs.”
“You weren't allowed to watch TV? Read newspapers? Go online?” Jessie asked, surprise swinging in her voice.
“I had a TV. And I watched the development of all of this. This didn't start yesterday.” Senna walked over to the windows and looked out into the distance. “And I should have been prepared, just like everyone else.”
Her voice darkened and Jessie immediately realized that something heavy was lying on the Senna's soul. She walked over to her and laid a gentle hand onto a strong shoulder. The muscles tightened the moment her fingers made contact. “I don't think that anyone thought this could happen here, not with us.”
Senna turned her eyes to her and studied her for a second. Then she shook her head. “You don't need a scientific degree to see where this was all going. For me though, it didn't matter. I couldn't have prepared myself one way or the other.”
Jessie hesitated. Of course the voices in the media had gotten louder and louder in the last few weeks. Especially as an ever growing number of cities were overrun by riots due to reoccurring electricity failure. And in the stores the shelves remained empty for longer periods of time. Trash started to pile up in the streets, hospitals and schools closed down service as workers stopped showing up. The social core started to unravel until anger, panic and envy were all that were left.
“But you made it out of prison.” Jessie smiled softly. “I'm very happy about that. Who would have saved me otherwise, right?”
Senna didn't react. She took a step forward, subtly removing Jessie's hand from her shoulder.
There was a long moment of silence. When Senna didn't say anything else, Jessie walked back to the place she had been sleeping in and sat down. “Can you tell me how far it is to my car?”
“Why?” Senna asked over her shoulder without turning around.
“Because I have nothing on me.” Jessie looked down herself. Considering the things that had happened to her in the last few hours, she did look okay though. Her white and red checkered blouse was dirty, but not ripped. Her skirt and leather boots were dusty, most likely from this place. But besides that, they looked fine. Jessie grimaced and brushed herself off.
“Don't worry. I don't think anyone out there cares about your outfit.” Senna had turned around and watched Jessie with open amusement.
Jessie dropped her hands into her lap and grinned embarrassed. “Still, I need to get to my car.”
“Forget about your car”, Senna replied and sat back down on her crate.
“What do you mean?” Jessie asked alarmed. She leaned forward to try and see Senna's face. But the older woman was hid in the shadows again.
“I mean, they took your car apart. And everything that was in it.”
“No!” Jessie jumped up. The movement had been so abrupt that her head reacted with a deep throbbing. Jessie started to wobble.
Senna was by her side in a flash. She caught an arm flying through the air and helped Jessie to sit back down. “Not so fast”, she mumbled softly. When Jessie had sunk down moaning deeply, Senna placed a warm hand onto her cheek. “Is everything okay?”
Jessie murmured something that even Senna wasn't able to make out. A small hand flew to the bruise on her head. “Maybe you should rest for a bit. It will still take a while before the sun is up”, Senna suggested.
Jessie followed Senna's gentle push against her shoulder and lay down. But as soon as her head touched the pile of tarp from which Senna had made a pillow for her earlier, she rose again. “No! I have to get my car! How am I supposed to get to my parents?”
“Shhh, everything is ok. You have to calm down.” Senna guided her back to the makeshift bed. Wide green eyes stared up at her through the darkness.
“But I have to…” Jessie began with a trembling voice. Her heart was racing with fear.
“You don't have to do anything at the moment. Take care of yourself first before you worry about others”, Senna fell into her words. “Try to get some rest.”
As if it was an order, Jessie's eyes started to close, even though she tried to fight against it as best as she could. She didn't have time to rest. She remembered it all now: her parents had called her a few days ago. They had told her to leave the city and come home. She had refused. But then, when she had heard the chaos in the streets, she changed her mind. Her parents and her sister were waiting for her! They probably knew about the riots and feared for her life.
“I have to tell them I'm okay. They are expecting me.” Jessie's mumbling voice slowly floated off as sleep overtook her. Soon her chest heaved in long breaths.
Senna watched Jessie for a few minutes. Then she lifted a hand and brushed a strand of the strawberry-blond hair out of Jessie's face, before getting up and returning to her shadow.
Senna's eyes lay on the horizon. A new day welcomed her with a clear blue sky. The sun slowly travelled its way upwards and its first rays painted the sky in a yellow-pinkish hue. Everything looked like in a corny painting. It would have been the perfect moment. As long as you didn't lower your gaze to the city underneath. Most of the fires had burned down. But thick smoke still rose here and there. It didn't take much imagination for Senna to know what was going on below.
So, she was free. She would have spent many more years in prison paying for her sins. For the things she had done in, it seemed, a different life. The first months in prison, she had been desperate. She felt like a caged tiger, pacing back and forth without a break. But eventually she accepted her fate. It had been the best way to make up for the things she'd done. Even though every nerve in her body screamed not to give up, to fight back. After all, she could have made everyone's lives in that prison a living hell. If she had wanted to. But no. It was the right thing to do. She had to pay for her sins somehow. And prison was indeed the right place for that. Until everything went crazy.
“What are we going to do now?” Jessie's sleepy voice pulled Senna away from her memories. She turned her head and looked over to the young woman. Then she shrugged her shoulders. She had no answer.
“I have to get to my parents and my sister.” Jessie stated, as if it were the easiest thing in the world. As if she had to cancel a casual date with Senna for a mild family emergency.
Senna looked away from her. “Where do your parents live?”
“In a small village in the south. I doubt you know it.” Jessie sat up slowly. Then she lifted her arms and stretched.
“How long will it take you to get there?” Senna watched Jessie's movements with interest.
“Well, normally, by light traffic, a four hour drive”, Jessie replied.
“Your car is gone”, Senna said in a flat voice.
Jessie gasped. Then she shook her head and laughed awkwardly. “They wouldn't damage it. It was very old and of no use to them. It wasn't a usual bonfire candidate. And there wasn't much in it either. Just some clothes and stuff.” Jessie waved Senna off.
“I think the times in which angry mobs could pick and choose what they destroy are long gone”, Senna commented, sarcasm swinging in her voice.
“But...” Jessie started.
She was stopped by Senna's cold voice: “I've seen it with my own eyes. Your car is gone. They wrecked it.”
Jessie's face paled instantly. She opened her lips a few times without a sound coming out.
Senna pulled her gaze away and looked outside again. Jessie seemed so innocent, as if she still hadn't understood what was becoming of the world.
“But”, Jessie started again. This time she was able to speak. “I HAVE to go home. My parents are waiting for me.”
Senna didn't react. What was she supposed to say to the young girl anyway? After all, no one was waiting for her anywhere.
“Maybe I could at least call them somehow” Jessie said, mostly to herself.
Senna had to smile at that. In a way, Jessie's undying hope was adorable. But on the other hand it was ridiculous, not to mention dangerous. “There is no electricity”, Senna commented silently.
“Then how am I supposed to tell my parents that I'm okay?” Jessie jumped up. “They'll go crazy with worry”, she stammered in a breaking voice.
Senna watched her for a few moments, before leaning back against the wall. She closed her eyes.
“What are we going to do now?” Jessie asked again.
Senna didn't react to the question. She had no idea what to do next. Just a few hours ago she had been in prison. Locked up for many years to come. No hope to be able to do what she wanted. Her life and daily routine had been planned out for her by her captors. But, at least, she had been successful in battling her dark side and in keeping it at bay. Now though, everything looked different. Suddenly she was free again. Senna sighed deeply.
Jessie stepped up to the windows and looked down at her. “What are we going to do now?” she asked again, this time with more emphasis.
“I don't know”, Senna replied. She wasn't herself at the moment and that made her feel uncomfortable. Sure, she had fallen uncountable times in her life, her nose bloodied too often to keep count. But every time she had gotten back up and continued her path. No matter, in which direction fate had tried to push her. She had always regained control.
But right now she stood at a dark crossing. And no matter in which direction she looked, the darkness seemed impenetrable. However, this time round it was a little different. Now somebody stood there beside her. And that someone expected guidance in the right direction.
“I have to go home.” Jessie's voice was very quiet. Powerless she dropped her hands to her sides.
Senna ignored the urge to look up at the young woman. 'Home' - she had none herself.
There had been a time in her life, many, many years ago, when she had felt ‘at home'. Truly ‘at home'. Whilst she had been with Elena. It seemed like an eternity since.
Elena - maybe that was the direction she had to turn to. Maybe she had to head to the one person who had believed in her when everything became too much. The one and only person, who would dare to stand up to her dark side.
“What are we-” Jessie wanted to ask again.
But Senna stopped her words: “I'm heading south.”
“We are?” Jessie seemed perplexed.
“ I will go south.” Now Senna turned her head and took a quick glance at Jessie's face. Jessie blinked at her. “There's someone I have to see.”
“And may I ask how?”
“If I have to, I'll walk.” Senna got up and looked around.
Jessie considered this new information quietly for a few moments.
“Take me with you.”
“What?” Senna raised an eyebrow at Jessie. What was she saying? That she wanted to accompany her? No way! Not in her life time was she going to spend one more day with this kid. She had enough problems on her own and there was no way she was going to look after Jessie as well.
“I want to go with you. I also, am heading south. Coincidence, huh…” Jessie grinned at Senna cheekily.
“I don't think that is a good idea”, Senna replied.
“Why not? We're headed in the same direction. And, would you rather have my demise on your conscience?”
Senna held her breath. Jessie's green eyes gazed at her with an honesty and openness that Senna was unaccustomed to. Without hesitation, as if Jessie could look directly into her soul.
Senna quickly lowered her gaze. Nobody was supposed to see what lay deep down inside of her. Especially not Jessie, this innocent girl who seemed to shine such a beautiful light into the world.
“Look, I'm not a good person to be around.” Senna raised one eyebrow meaningfully. Of course Jessie had to know that already. But maybe she needed to be reminded of this little fact.
“I think you're a very good person to be around”, Jessie replied softly. Her lips twitched with a gentle smile.
It was such a caring gesture that Senna had to look away. Somehow that exact smile seemed to reach out to her heart with such tenderness that she could barely stand it. She shook her head. “You should go back to wherever you live and wait until the government regains control.”
“You don't really think that everything will ever be okay again, do you?” Jessie crossed her arms over her chest.
Senna laughed bitterly. “Yes, I guess, you're right. Still, it's not a good idea for you to come with me. You should try to find an official bunker or secured area. There must be a shelter somewhere in town.” Senna didn't believe her own words. She had seen the burned police cars, the injured and the dead laying in the streets. The 'government' was no more. Why should there be a shelter?
“I don't want that. I want to go to my parents.” Jessie's voice became more self-assured.
“You can't come.” Senna's face hardened.
“Why not?” Jessie asked softly again.
“Because I can't look out for you.” Senna explained with a cold voice. 'And I'm not good for you' , she thought.
“You don't have to. I can look out for myself.” Jessie stepped up to Senna and smiled at her. “Besides, I don't think you'd have a problem, looking out for me. Don't forget, you saved me.”
“That was...” Senna felt herself being drawn towards the green eyes regarding her. Something familiar tickled her inner core. She quickly shook her head and looked away. “That was nothing. You don't need to stay with me because of that. You don't have any debt to pay.” “That's not it.” Jessie lowered her eyes, as if embarrassed that she hadn't thought of that herself. “Even though that would be a great way for me to thank you. Although I could never repay you for saving my life.”
“Don't mention it.” Senna turned around and walked back to her crate by the windows. Jessie studied her for some silent moments. Then she said in a strong voice: “Alright, then let's look at it from this side: I want to go with you so that I can save your ass next time.” She grinned and looked at Senna challengingly.
Senna turned her head and looked over her shoulder with a raised brow. “ YOU want to save ME ?”
“If I have to, yes.” It was obvious that Jessie had to struggle to keep a straight face. When Senna didn't react, she lifted one arm, bent it and then pointed to the flexed muscle. “Look at these guns!”
Senna couldn't fight the grin that spread on her face. Yes, Jessie looked fit. She had seen that when Jessie had stretched earlier. But a fighter? No, not really.
“And if that isn't enough reason to let me go with you: here are more: I'll go south anyway. Isn't it better if we go together? I can fetch water, be a lookout… maybe you could even teach me a few moves.”
Senna furrowed her brows skeptically. Teach Jessie how to fight? No way. No good has ever come from that in the past.
“Alright, alright!” Jessie giggled. “Don't look at me like that. I get it. But...” She batted her eyelashes and then used her best pout. With big round eyes she looked at Senna. “How about if I say a pwetty, pwetty pweeeeeaaze?”
And with that Senna realized she really didn't have a choice in the matter after all. All resistance would melt at the glimpse of Jessie's puppy eyed look. She shook her head with a deep chuckle. “Alright.”
“Alright?” Jessie smiled happily.
“Yes, alright.” Senna looked back over the city. ‘I hope I won't regret this.'
“Yes, yes, yes!” Jessie jumped up and down and clapped her hands. Then she turned serious again. “When are we leaving?”
“Okay.” Jessie stepped up beside Senna and searched for the first signs of sunlight on the horizon.
Senna looked at her for a moment. And when Jessie smiled at her, she smiled back. Then she shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. Daylight was on its way.
“Is it time?” Jessica stood in the doorway to the neighboring room. She had spent the last half hour pacing up and down. Senna, unfazed by the obvious display of nerves, had taken up her old spot on the crate and simply waited. She hadn't made a sound since the more or less mutual decision to travel together. Now Jessie was losing it.
But Senna was far from inobservant. She had been watching Jessie, following every single step, memorizing how each of her movements sounded. Now that the scurrying had stopped, she looked up at Jessie. “Why are you so anxious?”
“I have to get to my parents.” Jessie placed her hands on her hips.
Senna got up. “You should be happy that we found this cozy place. The journey won't be a Sunday walk.”
Jessie's eyes wandered over Senna's shuttered face. The older woman seemed so sure of herself and everything she did. The total opposite of how Jessie felt. Even though the initial horror of the attack had subsided, it had still shaken her to the core. But that didn't change anything about the fact that she had to leave as soon as possible. The faster she got away from here, the sooner she'd be able to pull her parents into her arms. Besides, who said it looked like this all over the country? Maybe there were still towns under government control. “I'm ready to leave, you know.”
But Senna let her eyes travel over her body slowly and then lifted a dark brow. Jessie felt a cold chill run down her spine at the look.
“We have to find a store and get some supplies. And then I have to go somewhere”, Senna said
“Somewhere?” Jessie asked.
“Yes. I have to get something before we leave the city.” Senna turned around and started to walk towards the doorway to the next room.
Jessie followed hot on her heels. “Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“Don't be so nosy”, Senna said over her shoulder. “You'll see.” She started moving faster. Jessie closed her mouth with a pout.
On leaving the building, Senna immediately kneeled down by a column near the entrance door. Jessie followed her and ducked down beside her. Her eyes flew over the main road leading past the skyscraper.
Even out here where there were only building sites and barely any stores, the streets looked like a war zone. Burned cars, debris and destroyed construction equipment lined the roads.
“Can you see anything?” Jessie asked tentatively.
Senna shook her head and rose again. “Everything looks quiet. But we have to be careful.”
They hurried along the wall of the building with Senna leading and Jessie close behind her. When they reached the side alley that Senna had used for their escape the night before, they stepped out and into the street. Both of them looked back to the main road.
“It's unbelievable. It looks like in one of those ‘apocalypse'- movies”, Jessie said as she took in her surroundings. And this impression only deepened the closer they got to the city center. They tried to stay in alleys even though the streets seemed abandoned. As if all life had been sucked out of the city. It stank of the fires still burning in some buildings. The roads were laden with all that the rioters had destroyed.
“Where is everybody?” Jessie took a few long strides until she had caught up to Senna. They had reached a street that once used to be a bustling pedestrian shopping area.
Senna's eyes scanned the buildings. “Well, I'd say they're either stashing their loot, or they've left town by now.”
Jessie's eyes followed Senna's gaze. The eerie silence in the streets that were normally buzzing with life, scared her. There had to be people around somewhere.
“But they can't all be gone!” Jessie looked around herself.
“Who knows who's watching us from behind half closed curtains right now?” Senna led them back from the middle of the street closer to the buildings' walls. Slowly they continued on their way, until Senna suddenly stopped. She kneeled down again and looked ahead.
“What is it?” Jessie whispered and crouched down beside her.
“We're here.” Senna pointed ahead of them.
“You want to go in there?” Jessie frowned warily.
In front of them a huge building reached far into the sky. It was the newest shopping mall, once the crowning highlight of the newly redeveloped pedestrian zone. It had opened its doors only a few months ago. Whatever you were looking for, you'd find it here.
The once colorful show windows where now barricaded with wooden planks.
“We'll never be able to get in there. Can't we find supplies somewhere else?” Jessie didn't feel comfortable here. A sense of danger overtook her. She placed a shaking hand on Senna's shoulder. Even though the building seemed locked down, there were visible signs of the previous nights' fights on the walls. “We'd be lucky to find anything in there anyway.”
Senna lifted her hand and rested it on top of Jessie's, still clinching to her shoulder. She squeezed it one time. “We'll be fine. Just stay close to me.“
Before Jessie could react to the touch, Senna pulled her hand back and then started moving forward, her back bent, her eyes searching for any movement nearby. Jessie didn't have a second to ponder. She held her breath and followed Senna. They made their way around the building until they reached the side of it. Even here the windows were barricaded. All but one. There, the boards had been ripped off and the glass lay shattered on the ground.
“Damn it!” Senna hissed.
“Looks like someone else beat you to it.” Jessie looked back to the main road. This weird feeling in her stomach, warning her of danger to come, grew stronger and stronger. Still, she followed Senna to the open window.
“Get in.“ Senna ordered and then helped her crawl into the building.
It was dark inside the building. A few narrow beams of light broke through here and there. Jessie's heart started hammering in her chest. Fear churned her stomach.
Senna climbed through the window shortly after her and then stepped up beside her.
“Get what you can carry and bring it here. We have to hurry.” Senna looked around curiously.
“And what exactly am I searching for?” Jessie had no idea what Senna wanted her to get. Supplies – yes. But what kind? What would they need for their journey?
“Go to the super market over there. Maybe you'll be able to find water and food.”
It was more than obvious that masses had stormed the mall. Everything was a mess, the floors covered in debris.
“And what are you doing?” Jessie asked. She still didn't feel good about this. And now she was supposed to search through this huge building all by herself? Maybe people were still in here.
“I'll have a look through the other stores.” Senna gazed at Jessie. But when fearful green eyes lifted to her, she placed a warm hand on Jessie's shoulder and squeezed it. “You can do it, Jessie. Just take as much as you can load up and then come back here. If something happens, call me. I'm nearby.”
Jessie nodded hesitantly. As soon as her eyes had meet Senna's, she felt safe and protected.
“Go.” Senna pushed her gently and nodded towards the supermarket.
Jessie slowly stepped over the trash lying on the floor and made her way to the store in front of her. The sound of glass crunching under her boots accompanied her the whole way.
Senna watched after her. Then she turned to the left and climbed up the escalator to check out what was left in the stores on the first floor.
Jessie entered the supermarket. In here it looked even worse than out in the foyer. The shelves, once filled with all kind of delicacies, were now all ripped from the walls. Jessie walked through the market, inspecting empty boxes and dented cans on her way. If they were empty, or otherwise useless, she threw them back. She searched through the shelves, trying to find anything they could use for their journey. But there was nothing left for them.
“I told her we're too late and we'll have to search somewhere else”, Jessie mumbled to herself.
She turned to her left and stretched up on her toes to check the few remaining top shelves. Maybe the looters had missed something hiding at the back.
Suddenly, Jessie felt a push from behind. Then someone grabbed her roughly. A sweaty hand landed on her mouth. The other one grabbed her right arm holding her tightly and painfully. Jessie screamed in horror, but the sound was muffled by the hand over her mouth. The next moment, she felt cold metal at her throat, the steel threatening to cut her skin.
“Not a sound”, a male voice hissed closed to her ear.
“One sound and I'll slit your throat”, the man threatened. He pushed the sharp metal harder against her skin.
Jessie moaned when a stinging pain shot through her throat into her body. When she wanted to lift her hand to pull the metal off her, she was suddenly thrown forward. Only in the last second she was able to raise her hands to catch her fall. A loud scream escaped her. Just before turning around to her attacker, her eyes fell onto something underneath one of the shelves. But Jessie blinked quickly and then rolled on to her back. She stared up at the man attacking her.
It was the exact moment that he was thrown through the air. He landed in a pile of knocked over shelves. Next, Senna leaned over him, the piece of sharp metal he had held against Jessie's throat, in her hands. She was ready to push it into his stomach. The man groaned with pain.
“Senna!” Jessie quickly jumped back onto her feet. In the last second she was able to catch Senna's arm and keep her from ramming the metal into the attacker's body.
But Senna had not expected the sudden touch on her arm. She spun around and threw her fist in Jessie's direction. It hit Jessie's right cheek and she was catapulted through the room and onto her back by the force of it.
“Jessie!” With eyes full of horror, Senna dropped the metal and rushed to Jessie‘s side. She leaned down beside her, her eyes dancing over her companion.
Jessie shook her head and tried to sit up again. But a sharp pain in the right side of her face flashed her gaze. She groaned softly and lifted a hand to place it onto her cheek. Then she sat up slowly. “Oh god…”
“Jessie! Did I hurt you? Are you okay? Say something!” Carefully Senna grabbed her hand and pulled it away from her cheek. “I'm sorry“, Senna whispered, her eyes searching Jessie's face.
Jessie blinked and forced the tears in her eyes back down. “No… not hurt… it's alright.”
“I'm so sorry…” Senna stammered, placing her hand on the bruised cheek. Her thumb stroked over the soft skin underneath.
“My own fault”, Jessie mumbled and then grinned sheepishly. She moved her jaw to the left, then the right.
Senna seemed to ponder Jessie's reply for a short second. Then she nodded, an embarrassed look on her face. “You can't touch me when I'm…” She stopped and took a deep breath.
“I know. But I thought you wanted to kill him“, Jessie replied silently. Now that she was saying it aloud, it sounded ridiculous.
Senna nodded without saying a word. They both heard the quiet moan coming from the man behind them. Senna and Jessie looked over to him. He was just coming back to his senses and slowly climbing back to his feet.
“Ah-a!” Senna fell back into her fighting mode. She got up, walked over to the man and grinned down at him devilishly. “Stay where you are.”
The man halted, lifted his head and looked at her through wild eyes. “What…”
Senna bent down in front of him. With dark eyes she stared at him. “Are you alone in here?”
The man blinked. He seemed not to realize the danger he was in.
Senna waited for a moment. But when the man didn't answer her question, she grabbed him by his collar and pulled him onto his knees. “I don't like to repeat myself. Are – you – alone?”
Jessie quickly got up and walked over to Senna and the man. She could feel the tension in Senna's body. As if she was barely able to hold herself back.
Then, there was the fear of the guy whose face now was only inches away from Senna's.
The man blinked again and grabbed the hand on his collar. “Let go of me”, he whined.
But Senna simply grinned. “Oh, so you are able to talk.”
“Let go of me”, the man repeated. He tried pulling Senna's hand away from his collar, but she only tightened the grip she had on him.
“Do I have to beat the answer out of you?” she asked in an icy voice. Her eyes fixed the man.
He closed his mouth. Even though he was obviously trying to sound strong, first signs of panic showed on his features. Sweat was building on his forehead and his lips started quivering.
“Alright, you're alone then.” Senna patted his cheek with one hand. Then she lifted her hand and with her fist she hit him on his chin. The man immediately slumped down unconsciously. Senna dropped him to the floor, stowed the knife in her belt and got up.
Jessie whimpered in surprise when she saw the hit. She took a step back.
“Are you okay?” Senna asked, looking at her with soft eyes. The dark Senna had disappeared again.
Jessie simply nodded. This whole situation had thrown her off guard. First, the attack by the stranger, then Senna showing up and saving her yet again and then seeing her companion nearly stabbing the guy. If she had not stopped Senna in the last second, the man would most likely be dead by now, his own weapon stuck in his stomach.
Jessie felt her body shaking. She had never turned to violence to solve her problems. Senna though, seemed to even enjoy the messier approach. Jessie looked down at the unconscious man. She couldn't believe Senna had just knocked him out cold with a single punch.
“Trust me, it's safer for all of us this way. We gain extra time in case he wasn't alone after all, and he gets to take a long nap.” Senna slid one arm around Jessie's shoulder and guided her away from the man on the floor.
“Is he dead?” Jessie asked tentatively. She knew he wasn't, but the fear of it grabbed her heart in a tight grip anyway. Fearfully she looked back over her shoulder to her attacker.
Senna laughed softly. “No. But when he comes to he'll wish he was.”
“He deserved much worse”, Senna added and looked over her shoulder as well. Her face darkened. “He shouldn't have attacked you.”
She looked ahead again and pulled her arm away from Jessie's shoulder. “Did you find anything?”
Jessie swallowed and forced herself to follow the change of subject. “No, not really. I found a few water bottles and put them by the door. But everything else is broken or empty.”
Senna nodded. Her face hardened. “Then I guess we'll have to leave without. I found some useful stuff in the other stores though. Not much, but it'll do for now.”
Senna turned towards the door, when Jessie suddenly remembered something. “Wait…” she said. She turned around and ran back to where the man still lay on the broken shelves on the floor. After throwing a small glance at him, Jessie got down onto her knees until she was able to look under another shelve. Quickly she found what she had seen earlier, when the attacker had knocked her over. It was a small tin of soup. It was dented, but still intact.
“I got it!” Jessie quickly rose to her feet and presented the tin with a wide grin.
Senna nodded and smiled. “There could be more under the other shelves”, she said and leaned down to search under the remaining shelves.
A few minutes and half a dozen treasures later, they both started walking towards the door. Jessie suddenly stopped.
“One last thing”, she said, turned around and hurried back to the man on the floor.
“Leave him be”, Senna called after her. She fell silent, when Jessie placed one of her tins in his hand. “What are you doing? We have to go!” She waved impatiently at Jessie to follow her.
Jessie hurried back to Senna's side and smiled sheepishly. “Maybe he was alone and simply looking for something to eat. Just like us.”
Senna opened her mouth to reply something. But when she looked at Jessie and saw the hope in her eyes, she closed her lips again.
They left the grocery store and hurried over to the broken window. Senna had already placed her findings by it. “Give me the heavy stuff”, Senna opened the black backpack lying on the floor. She buried the cans at the bottom. “I got you something useful as well.” She nodded to the heap next to her. “You might even like it.”
Jessie picked up the brown leather messenger bag and looked at it. “It's beautiful.” She smiled at Senna and followed the lines of the branded tribals on the front with her fingertip. It looked like the markings of an old Polynesian tribe.
“There were no packs left, but I thought this suits you better anyway. You just have to shorten the strap a bit”, Senna smiled when she saw Jessie admiring the gift, then quickly averted her eyes, busying herself with her supplies.
Jessie regarded Senna for a moment. If she didn't know it better, she thought she had seen a soft blush on her companion's cheek. “Thank you so much”, Jessie whispered. She had to fight the urge to pull Senna into a tight hug.
“We should get going”, Senna said, only looking at her quickly from under her bangs. Without waiting for an answer, she heaved her backpack onto her shoulders and headed towards the window.
“The city park?” Jessie still didn't think it to be a good idea.
They had left the shopping mall and Senna had guided them to the city park, where they currently walked down the outer path away from the city center.
“Yes”, Senna answered for the sixth time, not really paying much attention to her. She scanned the area like she had done in the streets earlier. But this time, she seemed more on edge than before.
“So, we're staying here because you wanted one last stroll through our fair city's park? Isn't that a bit…” Jessie looked around again and fell silent.
She really didn't feel good about this. She had been scared to go to the shopping mall and her instincts had been right – she was attacked. Now her instincts were telling her to run like a bat out of hell. “It makes no sense…” she mumbled to herself, not even aware that she had spoken aloud.
“Ooh, it will”, Senna commented, suddenly turning left and away from the main path.
Jessie quickly caught up to her. “How can it make any sense to go to one of the most open and unprotected places in the city, and that's BEFORE the apocalypse strikes?! Didn't you tell me, practically minutes ago, to stay close to structures and avoid the middle of the streets because people could see us?” Jessie looked back to the huge green space that, on days as beautiful as this, would normally be packed with people. The lake in the middle calling the people to it seductively. She had spent hours there, just dangling her feet in the cold water. Reading a book or just watching the picnickers. But today, the place was abandoned, at least it seemed.
“Because I have to pick something up.” Senna turned to the right again when they passed a small shed. Then she halted and looked at a tree, her fingers dancing over a small, barely visible S in the bark. “Two years… let's see if it's still here”, she mumbled. Pushing the branches to the side, she disappeared between the bushes. “Wait here.”
“What is it?” Jessie leaned forward and tried to see what Senna was doing. But through the branches she was barely able to make out any movement at all.
Senna didn't reply. Jessie could hear her move, then, a few moments later, she reemerged. She grinned, her eyes transfixed to a large knife in her hands. It was still covered with soil, but Jessie could make out the dark leather scabbard inside the clear plastic bag.
“A knife?” Jessie lifted her eyebrows in question. They had come here for a knife? “You already got one in the mall!”
Senna lifted her eyes only for a split second, before returning her attention to the weapon. “It's not just ‘a knife'. It's…” She closed her lips, pondering how to say it.
“A really big knife?” Jessie suggested. She watched how Senna pulled it out of the scabbard. The blade was, despite the time buried underground, still as sharp as the day Senna hid it there. It reminded Jessie a lot of the knives used in action movies. A cold chill ran down her spine. She had never thought of being forced to use a knife. But things had changed – a lot.
“…special to me”, Senna finally said, oblivious that Jessie had spoken at all.
“And you hid it here? In a bush?” Jessie asked. She couldn't hide the disbelief swinging in her voice.
“When they were after me, it was my only chance to keep it from falling into their hands. I had hoped it'd still be here. Two years is a long time.” Senna smiled, pushed the knife back into its scabbard, then reached for her belt and opened it. “It just needs a little spit and polish. That's all.”
Jessie watched Senna add the scabbard at her hip. “You think we'll need it?” she asked carefully, fearing she knew the answer already.
“Yes”, was all Senna replied. Then she smiled at Jessie. “But don't worry. It's never disappointed me.” With that, she turned around and started to walk back the way they came.
‘She's talking about a knife as if it was a person', Jessie laughed sarcastically to herself as she followed Senna. But maybe that knife had been the only thing Senna was able to trust in the past. Jessie watched her tall companion, her eyes taking in her broad back, the strong shoulders, covered by silky black hair, the long legs, taking powerful strides along the way.
‘I hope she'll trust me like that one day…' Jessie thought as she hurried to catch up to Senna.
To be continued in episode 3…I'd be happy to read your comments to the story at www.facebook.com/PledgedSouls or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
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