The Hope


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Keep running.

     Peace. Love. Faith. Harmony- Words that used to describe mankind and life on Earth were replaced by wars, hatred, mistrust, and incongruity. Nations once vowed brotherhoods now endlessly sent fires to each other, robbing the resources to secure valuable commodities for themselves. Mankind hated each other for being different, not able to see the fact all of them are alike. Religions fought in an extreme way, believing only their worshiped beings can save the humanity. Natural disasters destroyed the so-called "advanced technology", wiped away thousands of lives in just a tidal wave. Wildfires, volcanic eruptions, and super cyclonic storms came one after another, caused widespread destruction and lots of collateral damages. The animals died from unknown causes and left behind a trail of carcasses and poisonous gas that killed others. However, there were animals somehow ingested the poison and eventually evolved into new species named “Zomalia,” and they started preying on human flesh and blood to exist.
       It is obvious the world is in its worst sickness, and it seems like there will be no cure. Who knows what led to this calamity? People asked, but they were too busy surviving to find the answer.
    In the desperation, humans declined to wait for their ending. Scientists grouped together and figured out a way to recreate a similar ecosystem to Earth from the last plants available. However, the cost of making such a live-able place is ironically high. Fresh air becomes a luxury commodity that only wealthy individuals can pay to breathe. Prices for estates coated with greenness soars as skyrockets. Thus, the governments decided to build walls surrounding the place and start selling the tickets, and only a limited amount of people who paid the ridiculous price can secure a spot in that artificial paradise. With that being said, the society has divided into two classes: “Outsiders” and “Insiders."
    “Insiders” are mostly government-related individuals and people with overwhelmed money and power. In contrast, “Outsiders” are literally people who cannot afford the price. However, being poor does not mean that they will accept the reality and wait for their deaths. Outsiders sneaked to climb over the walls even though they might have to lose their lives. Many people lost to the fire guns before they could even touch the tip of the walls, but they never stopped.
03:00 pm.
    “Listen, everyone! Here is my only advice, and this is the only key to your survival: Do not fall behind! There are going to be dangers from all directions either on this side or on the other side. If you get caught, then you are dead.” A man with a scar runs deep from his left eyebrow to the cheek tells the group of people in front of him. He squints his eyes under the grumpy sunshine and looks at the faces he has been together for the past three days. He is going to lead this group of ten people crossing the borders tonight. It was almost an impossible task to climb the walls alone, but as in a group they might find a way. 
    He continues, “Somehow, we Outsiders are grateful for the Insiders who created the automatic soldiers, so we could use them to our advantages. The mechanical soldiers are very powerful and merciless, but they are programmed to prioritize to shoot the zomalia before human. Actually, zomalia caused the Insiders more troubles when their teeth and claws can break the walls while Outsiders could not do anything."
    Then, he spreads the map on the ground and circles the western area of the wall. He draws a line from the circle to the gate, “Tonight, we will lure the Zomalia herd, which is sighted in the dead forest, to the gate and run as fast as we could to pass the border. When the automatic soldiers are taking the herd down and leaving the gate open, we will slip into the gate.  This is no ordinary teamwork because you are playing with death, people. We will move in a group when we lure the herd, but after that, you will be on your own. You only have one task: stay alive. So, you will need a lot of strength and a lot of luck to be able to enter the paradise. Got it?"
    Everyone nods and silently sits back. No one speaks a word, but the man does not seem to be upset about the people’s attitude. At any rate, they need to save their breaths and stuff them up with whatever they could eat and wait for the night to come.
    Five hours left until sunset.
    A young man covered in dirt and tattered clothes stands up and looks at the glowing red at the horizon, right where the sun is slowly coming down. The man with his scar on the face stands next to him, whispers only words only they can hear, “Alex, are your ready?"
    “Yes. I am as ready as you are, uncle.” The young man replies. His voice sounds like he is still in his teenage, but the dim lights and the dirt on his face prevent people from telling how old he is.
“Good. Remember what I said earlier: Run for your life and never look back. You will only look what is ahead of you; no matter what happened, you have to keep moving until you passed the gate."
    “Even if…uncle is left behind?” asked the boy.
    “Yes.” The man says without hesitation and turns around to face the group of people. There are the elders and youngers, men and women mixed in the group. All of their faces are hard to portrait in this gloomy light, but he can see their eyes are shining with ambition and hope. The man claps his hands to get people under attention, “Let’s go!" He said.
    The crew moves in caution when the night finally paints its darkness all over the place. The moon is set up high, but it is not a full tonight. The visibility is not great just helps worsen everybody’s anxiety. Together they move as one because they have no other choice. There was no sound of people talking but only the cracking noise when someone steps on the dead branches. Quietly they run across a creek and then hide behind big stones, strictly following the man’s orders. The howling wind and distant growl signify that they finally find the zomalia herd. Everyone is holding their breaths; some even cover the mouths with their hands.
    Outsiders have been fighting with zomalia for over a decade; they know with what terrified creature they are dealing. They discovered a stinky herb that zomalia hates. Since then, they have sprayed its essential oil on their cloaks to disguise the human smell. Zomalia comes in different shapes and sizes since they evolved from different origins. Even a rabbit can be a zomalia. When they become zomalia, their visions are awful. They become blinded when nights come, but their senses of hearing and smell are incredible. On top of that, their teeth and claws become harder and sharper that they can even cut through iron and brick walls.
    The crew stares at the zomalia herd, waiting for their chance.
    The black clouds gradually obscured the moon. A storm is coming this way. The situation will get worse, but it is precisely what the group of people is expecting. They have carefully planned for tonight, to the exact of this rainstorm, and they will seize this all-or-nothing opportunity. They cannot lose when they have come this far. Everyone puts on their night vision goggles and looks at their leader. The man raises his hand with three fingers up as a signal. When the last finger downs is the time they take off their cloaks and run. They will use their bodies as the baits to make the zomalia follow them. 
    The unexpected human smell sets the herd on a rampage. The zomalias howl and growl as the hunger for human flesh strikes their stomachs. The distant and disturbed sounds from human footsteps make them even angrier because they cannot see the preys at night. Yet, a sudden thunder strike from the above clouds, lighting the clear human figures running their ways back to the gate. A lion-like zomalia with two horns on its head and long fangs leaps to the big stones where the crew initially hid. It fiercely roars at the humans, and the sound echoes through the place. The intensity vibrates deep into the minds and blasts its way through the surroundings. The Predators have set their eyes on the targets.
    The chase has begun.
    Alex and his uncle keep running ahead despite the cries and the screaming behind their backs. They do not know how many people left when they reach the gate, but all of them have prepared to lose their lives. They will die if they stay outside the gate anyway.
    “Almost there!” The man with his scary scar shouts when he sees the torchlights from the gate. As soon as they come within the 10-mile radius, the alarm goes off. The mechanical soldiers hurry up to go outside the gate and embattle to shoot the zomalias. Zomalias was part of the reason why the Insiders created mechanical soldiers because the human smell just make the zomalia even more terrified.
    The sky is pitch dark, and the rain does not seem to want to stop. The damp-smelling air conjuncts with the smell of blood and gunpowder stormed straight into the nose. Water drops down from the faces, but who knows how much of them are tears or raindrops. The sound of the gunshots in front and the howls from behind keep the people focusing on running. Alex hears the screaming and the voraciously biting sounds - the sounds that probably will haunt him forever for the rest of his life - but he cannot stop running or turning back to help them. He glances at the man with the scar on his face; he remembers the man said an offset bullet made the injury in his previous attempt. The man is his only family left in this world. He is the man who never looks back, never looks left or right but only one way ahead no matter how cruel the destiny sets up for him. He had taken care of Alex since he lost his parents when he was five. The man is not only an uncle but he also plays the role of a mom and a dad. Alex turns his eyes to the gate ahead, which is only about five miles ahead. Together, they will cross this gate and live happily ever after.
    A bullet shoots through Alex’s arm, and the pain slows his speed a bit enough for a zomalia to catch up with him. Through the darkness there comes the glow of two red eyes jumping straight at the young boy. The beast opens its big and noxious mouth to reveal pointed teeth that use to gulp down the chunk of meats. Alex is too scared to move, and he cannot even scream. He can smell the deadly breath comes to him closer and closer as time passed by every second. Right before the monster chews his head down, Alex is hit at his side and topples away from where he currently stands.
    “RUN! KEEP RUNNING!” His uncle endures the pain from losing his arm and pulls Alex up; he pushes the boy to keep moving. The beast spits out the arm and gets angry when it sees the prey fleeing. Its pride is telling it to continue the hunt with the humans that got away.
    “Uncle...your arm….” Alex looks at his uncle pale face, which looks like the man can drop death anytime from severe blood loss.
    “SHUT UP! RUN!” The man shouts, but his voice sounds crumble. It is definitely that he cannot escape death this time even if he can make it to the gate. He purses his lips and turns around to face with the beast, throwing his last words over his shoulder, “ALEX. RUN. LIVE. FOR YOU AND FOR ME." 
    Alex cannot believe what he is hearing, he pauses to turn back, but his uncle already shouts out loud “RUN! PROMISE ME YOU WILL LIVE. RUN NOW!!"
    In a moment of struggling, Alex decides to move on.
    Two miles away from the gate.
    Alex keeps running with his arm bleeding. The shot from the strayed bullet was enough to numb his arm and causes constant bleeding. The blood oozes from the wound look like it is a dancing red cloth twirling around his arm. Alex covers his injury with his other hand while running towards the gate.
    Please, only a few more steps he can cross the gate. He will fulfill his promise to his uncle.
     “Please, GOD. Please save me.”He whispers when his eyes slowly turn dark from excessive bleeding.
    Five hundred feet. Four hundred feet. Three hundred feet. 
    Two hundred more feet until Alex reaches the gate.
    A firing gun shoots in his right leg. The sudden pain momentarily wakes Alex up from the dizziness. All of the mechanical soldiers are pointing the guns at him. Damn, the herd was completely eliminated. - He thought. A robotic voice comes from one of the soldiers tells him to go back. “Outsider identified. This is the first warning: go back or you will be taken down."
    Alex keeps running ahead to close the distance. He can see the gate right in front of his eyes.
    “Outsider identified. This is the second warning: go back or you will be shot."
    Come on. There is nothing else to lose, right Alex? He lost his last family, and he has nowhere to turn back. Alex does not know where and why his courage emerges at this moment. He simply does not care if his body has a bunch of holes on it. He has only one aim at this time, and he wishes to accomplish his goal. 
    One hundred feet away from the gate.
    “Outsider identified. This is the last warning: you will be shot down."
    Twenty feet left until Alex reaches the gate, he can hear the gunshots as if they are right next to his ears.
Bullets shot through his body here and there, but he never stops running.
    "I passed the gate, uncle.”
    Alex whispered when one of his feet stepped inside the paradise. He slowly breaks down and drops to his knees. He lays on the ground in misery. The pain is tearing him apart, but he does not feel it anymore. One of his hand grips on the artificial grasses, an object that represents his hope - their hope. Alex clenches his fist, asking himself for how long had he seen something is as green as this lawn?
    In his last moment, Alex suddenly remembers his father used to tell him, “Belief becomes hope when it is possible to execute, but once the mission gets out of reach, people call it a forlorn dream." He grins at his memory at this final breath. Why does he remember such a cruel past? In Alex's sight, the surroundings are fading. Then a sudden light comes and slowly whitens everything to emptiness. 
    There, Alex lies silently.
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