Chapter FiveMature

Marcus Judd

I watched Gwen trail off. She was clutching her arms as if her life depended on it, and the slow slumps in her step told me she wasn't doing well. With any of this. The war had been tearing people's hearts apart. Personalities vanished in what seemed like a minute, and was replaced with cold hearts.

Well, at least for me.

Ever since the Fall I'd been . . . different. I can't explain it, but I'd changed dramatically. My once cheery, fun, loving personality had disappeared all together. Almost as if it was also buried - along with millions of people - under the City of Death, never to be seen again. Sometimes I wished that it would return, and others I thanked God that I was not conscious enough to recognize the tragedy that befell on the Earth everyday. If I had been, then I probably would have killed myself.

I wish I had. Life would have been so much more . . . simple.

Then again, I'm glad I didn't. I still had a wife, even if I never saw her. But my motivation then was to stay alive, so I could see her again. I was so motivated that my subconscious mind was practically a living security alarm. If anyone came into my "bubble", so to speak, and I didn't know who they were, they would receive an elbow to the gut, followed by a punch to the face. If I could see anyone walking in the distance, and I didn't know who they were, I'd put my hand on my gun. If someone cocked a gun behind me, I'd spin around and point my gun at them.

And so on.

I had changed. I couldn't hide it, and I didn't. I embraced it, in fact. The change - even if it turned me into a heartless pig - was the only thing that kept me alive. Otherwise, I would have ran, and disappeared in the wilderness. And God knows what would have happened to me then.

A voice interrupted my thoughts. "Judd, we gotta go."

I looked up to see Sully standing there, arms folded and with a stern look plastered on his dirt ridden face. His uniform was in rags - but so were all of ours.

"Sir?" I said as I involuntarily imitated his poster, folding my arms and cocking my head three degrees to the left.

"I said we gotta go, Judd. Pull yourself together and follow me. We just discovered a small North Korean outpost up a few miles from here. We're going to take some ATVs out there and beat the crap outta them. You coming, or what?"

I nodded quickly, as if nothing else was on my mind. "Yeah, duh, I'm coming. Now start walking."

He smirked. "Is that an order?"

"If you don't start walking, you won't live long enough to find out," I said with a smirk of my own.

Sully nodded then began walking. "You know where Gwen is? That girl is always getting herself into trouble."

"I told her to clean herself up, sir. That was the last time I saw her, and that was about . . . " I glanced at my watch and stared wide-eyed at it. I had been standing around for a good fifteen minutes, thinking about who knows what. What a waste of my worthless time. I kept walking as I mutttered, "Fifteen minutes ago."

"Well, we'll head over to the 'ladies room' and give her a head's up," Sully said with a sigh.

I never understood why people called it the "ladies room" when the bathroom was in reality only a wall with some sprinklers on top. And there was no reason to call it a "ladies room" when it was used by both boys and girls. Usually at the same time. That might have been awkward in the old world, but these days no one felt anything for anyone. Girls were considered boys with boobs, and guys were just girls with a - you know. There were no sexists, no racism, only acceptance. Then again, I suppose every Korean was outcast as if they were the plague. But hey, that's procedure, not racism.

We approached the "ladies room" a few minutes later. Gwen was standing there naked under the shower, washing herself. She didn't even look at us when we came around the bend.

Sully folded his arms and barked, "HEY! Get some clothes and let's GO!"

"Yes sir," she said without a flinch.

She didn't move.

Sully angrily stepped forward and grabbed her by the shoulder. "I said to get some clothes on! We have to get a move on now!"

Gwen opened her eyes and looked at him. "I'm waiting for you to leave."

Sully scowled and spun on his heel. He stomped away from her, muttering, "What a stubborn, arrogant piece of work," over and over to himself, each time with a little less anger.

I looked at Gwen, who was still standing there, embracing the warm water. "Uhh, Gwen, you should dry up and get some clothes on before Sully personally cleans out your insides."

Gwen looked at me. "Okay, Judd."

She turned the knob until the water stopped, and seemed to gasp as the cold air fell on her like a blanket of ice. She shot out her hand and grabbed a towel, swung it around herself, and clutched it tightly.

I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a tiny little piece of paper. A picture. Of my wife. It was then that I realized how much Gwen looked like Annalise. My heart practically broke into a million pieces, thinking about her. It was the one subject that could make me cry in those days.

I put the picture to my chest and closed my eyes.

I love you.

I reluctantly placed the picture back in my pocket and turned.

"Do you miss her?"

I turned and looked Gwen in the eye. "What'd you say?"

"Do you miss her?" she said, this time with less confidence.

A scowl wrapped around my face. "Absolutely not!"

I stomped off without another word, anger hardening my heart. I hated Gwen for asking that question, and hated myself more for practically spitting in my wife's eye.

I swallowed my anger and let out a long, raspy sigh.

Then, I headed off for the ATVs.

The End

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