THE LAST GIRL by NICK TWIST
A loud blare in my ears brings me back from the dead. My eyelids stay glued shut in spite of my desire to open them and see where I am. When I finally win the battle, I find myself staring at an inexplicable, murky shade of blue. I watch it morph into a translucent surface with a piercing beam of orange slithering through from above. I have no idea where I am or what I’m looking at. All I know is that I can’t breathe.
I want to scream, but salty water fills my lungs. I try to cough but end up choking. Tiny bubbles of air float before my eyes.
My instinct is to swim up toward the orange light. That must be the sun, right? I try to kick for the surface but something is pulling me down, deeper into the abyss below.
I’m not sure I can survive without breathing any longer, and I don’t remember how long I’ve been here. Did I black out? A great darkness drapes upon me, like the curtain at the end of a theatrical play.
I toss and turn in place, wondering why I can’t move. Then I realize I’m strapped to something. A seat. It’s pulling me under.
My hand reaches behind me, feeling for a seatbelt release. I find it, but I can’t unlatch it for some reason.
Panic attacks me when I see a row of sinking seats nearby. It has dead passengers with bulging eyes and open mouths strapped to it.
I see a woman. Old but still alive. Our eyes meet for a fraction of a second. Bubbles pop out of her nostrils as she mouths something to me…
I watch her sink lower into the abyss.
In fight-or-flight mode, I manage to unstrap myself from my seat. I swim up toward the light, hoping I can reach it before I faint. I paddle past sinking metal parts from above. My left arm is weak. I have to compensate with my right.
The blaring in my ears grows louder. How can I hear the sound underwater?
It’s a miracle that I find myself splashing my arms out of the water, waiting for life to welcome me back.
My first breath of polluted air feels like a shot of cocaine, jolting me back to existence. I don’t know why this is my choice of comparison, but it feels right. My lungs struggle to take the air in and then exhale it in a steady rhythm. My breaths are ragged and my throat is burning from the flames surrounding me. I cough as the intense dose of oxygen almost blinds me. Life is so precious. A wonder like no other.
The image of the world around me seeps in through my eyes. I begin to understand what is going on.
The sky above me is a mist of eternal grey. My neck hurts when I look up, but I need to locate the source of the orange light. It’s not the sun. It is fire.
It’s all around me, feeding on chunks of metal, rows of seats with burning people strapped to them, feeding on flesh and resulting in a nauseating smell in the air. The image is ominous enough that I feel my arms and legs start to give in; I could easily sink back into the abyss.
I struggle to wrap my arms around the nearest chunk of metal to hang on to. I snap away from the heat it produces. It takes me a while to swim to a log of some sort. I get on it, not sure what it is exactly. A terrible pain hits me in my abdomen, but I am too weak to check it out. I think I have survived a plane crash, but I can’t quite remember.
I keep looking for survivors. I see none.
Lying with my stomach flat on the log, I paddle with weary arms and legs, trying to evade the suffocating smoke all around me. The pain in my lower abdomen is still real. Something is pressing hard against it, but I’m still too weak to twist around and look.
All around me, dead passengers float upon the water. Faces down, arms out to the side, as if this is some kind of a ritual. I shudder, feeling guilty to have survived this. How did I trick such a dreadful fate?
It takes effort to scream for help. My ribcage hurts. My jaw is tense, and my own voice is a stranger to me.
The only reply I get is the fluttering of a few birds in the sky.
My second attempt to call for help is consumed by the loud crackling of fire all around.
I crane my neck, hoping to glimpse something beyond the plane wreck. Thick layers of fog imprison me in all directions, building a wall between me and what is beyond.
My lower lip quivers. “Breathe. Just breathe.”
The blaring in my ears returns. It’s intolerable, and I’m too weak to cover them with my hands. I wonder if the loud blare is a water pressure issue in my ears. A peculiar emotion overwhelms me whenever it toots. A mixture of déjà vu and a premonition of sorts.
My gut feeling urges me to leave this place. I feel like I’m late for something. An imaginary clock is ticking in my head. I shouldn’t be here, dealing with the aftermath of a plane crash. I should be…
My head aches. Fear snakes through my veins like slow poison. The panic returns. I want to swim through the fog, to the other side. I want to know what’s there.
I start paddling away again. My left arm is almost of no use now. My legs are heavy with pain and exhaustion. I doubt my strength is going to get me past the fog.
Just before I faint, I realize it’s not just the plane crash I don’t remember. I have no recollection of who I am or what my name is.
I wake up lying on my back. Sand shapes my spine underneath me. It’s cold and uneven. None of my pain has subsided. It’s gotten worse, so much I can barely move.
I gaze above at feeble sun rays weakened by a cloudy sky. A breeze tickles my face and passes the sound of ocean waves on the sand to my ears. I’m on a shore?
I lie back a little longer and listen to the steady rhythm of my heart. The hope of my memories coming back too is false. All I know is that I’m grateful beyond words. Surviving a plane crash and being swept to some shore is the kind of thing that only happens in movies. I can’t believe it.
Another whiff of air swirls through my salt-stiffened hair. The smell of pine trees, I suppose. I think it is coming from behind.
Slowly, I prop myself up on my elbows and stare at the ocean ahead, doing my best to disregard the pain in my back. I see the raging tides that had spat me here. My left arm feels slightly better now.
The log I used earlier is floating in the shallower water in front of me. I’m only a couple of strides away from the water’s edge.
The wreckage isn’t visible now, probably hidden behind the fog that looks like thousands of ghosts on the afternoon ocean. It has built a wall between me now and where I had once been. Between my past and present.
Did I swim this far?
My neck aches when I tilt it to peek behind me. I see a fortress pines and palm trees. They stretch forever on both sides. I can’t see beyond them. Only the white sands stretching across the distance.
No one else is visible on this shore.
“Help!” I cry out, staring at the clouds. My voice is stronger and clearer, but another swirling breeze whisks my words away.
I feel worse than before.
It’s one thing to lose one’s memory, and a totally different thing to add loneliness to it. It makes me wonder why the universe helped me survive all of this. Definitely not to end up alone on what looks like a deserted island.
The weight of my fears throws my head back again and forces my eyes to close. I sink deeper into my own abyss of loneliness and lose consciousness for the second time. The blaring horns in my ears won’t leave me alone, not even in my dreams.
It’s almost sunset when I wake up again.
This time my mind feels clearer, and I am able to stand up, even if I can hardly keep my balance. I stare at the floating fog one last time. It feels nearer to the shore now, as if it’s chasing me. The weather is worsening and colors are dimming all around. Nighttime is coming.
I give it one last shot, trying to remember anything about the plane. My flight’s destination. Where I departed. Why I was on it. Where I was going.
Nothing comes to mind. I’m a blank slate.
If I want to survive, I’ll have to eat. I’ll have to find people. I have to chance the walk through the pines and hope there is a world beyond it. An inhabited place whose residents can help me contact the outside world, so I can remember who I am and what really happened. A safe, inhabited world beyond the trees.
A shattered laugh escapes me before I walk to the forest. I’m laughing at myself. And at my foolishness. Why haven’t I checked my pockets for an ID yet?
Frantically, I go from one pocket to another. My jeans are empty. I didn’t even realize I was wearing them. Who travels with empty pockets? It feels strange to be curious about oneself.
A few pockets later, and the pain in my lower abdomen strikes again. I realize I’ve hit something around my waist. It’s been pressing against me. I am wearing a fanny pack.
So that’s the pain I felt in my abdomen?
Hoping and praying, I reach for my bag to unzip it. Whatever is inside must have been the source of my pain. My hands stop halfway, though. This overwhelming feeling strikes again. I shouldn’t be here. I should be somewhere else, doing something very important.
My hands are trembling, disobeying my wish to open the fanny pack. So many questions come to mind. Do I have a family? A boyfriend? A husband? Parents? Kids? What do I do for a living? Even scarier, what do I even look like?
What’s happening to me? I should be eager to open the bag and know the answers. If I’m lucky, I might find a cell phone. Luckier, I might have reception.
Why am I so reluctant?
I slow my frantic breathing and unzip the bag, but the zipper is stuck against some seaweed. A thin line of water streams out. I stay with it until it gives in. The bag fully unzips.
There is no ID inside. No driver’s license. No gym membership card. Neither can I find a picture of me and my family, nor is there a cell phone.
The thing my hands come up with is an e-reader. Kindle, to be precise.
I raise it to eye level and stare as water dribbles from it. A black Kindle with a cracked screen. Part of the plastic is sticking out, so it must be what was pushing against my stomach. Not a clue to who I am. I push its buttons. Of course, it doesn’t work.
I’m disappointed, but realize the bag is still heavy. Something else is inside. I reach for it, almost knowing what it is. It’s made of metal and it’s cold. The kind of thing that raises more questions about who I am. The kind of thing that explains my reluctance and fears to open the bag. The kind of thing no ordinary person carries on a plane.
In my fanny pack, I carry a gun.