Rick’s first words as he pulls Henry feet-first out of the rubble were an expression of such gentle concern that they melt Henry’s heart. But then Rick turns him over and realizes he’s a guy.
The two are alone in the deserted underground passages of the downtown core, the city above in ruins due to a nuclear near miss that destroyed the power grid and fried all electronic equipment. Yet all Henry can think about is his burning desire to hear that tone in Rick’s voice again.
He knew that isn’t likely to happen. Rick is obviously straight, a survivalist, big, obviously capable, and built. Henry, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to bring much to the table. But Rick himself acknowledges two are better than one. So they team up.
Their goal is to stay alive as they try to escape the city. It isn’t going to be easy, but there’s a growing sense of connection between them, feelings that challenge the dark desperateness of their situation.
Can love flower in a new and brutal world ruled by survival of the fittest?
Rick ducked and threw himself onto the floor next to me. I was thrilled that he put one hand protectively over me. Then I realized, as his hand came into position over my mouth, that he was silencing me.
Oh, I thought. But still, contact was contact, and it might have meant something, that initial gesture.
"Come out with your hands up!" said a voice from one of the corridors.
Neither of us moved.
"If you don't," continued the voice, "I will start shooting."
You already have, you idiot! I wanted to shout back.
Rick shifted and I felt his mouth next to my ear.
"You go to the left, on your stomach," he whispered, his breath warm and tickly in my ear. "I'm going to get my rifle. Okay?"
My heart was pounding, but I felt as much excited as scared, though that was probably due to his proximity and his arm over me.
"Yes," I whispered back.
I noticed that the lantern, probably due to something related to its wick, which Rick periodically adjusted, had begun to burn low. This meant that everything was in almost total darkness. I felt grateful for that and thought his plan just might work.
"Now!" he whispered.
I heard him being to make his move. I meant to follow his instructions, but I admit I froze, looking in the direction of Rick. I could hear slight noises associated with his movement, and a dim curve of his back.
Then, suddenly, out of the darkness ahead, came a brilliant beam of light. A flashlight! It illuminated Rick clearly, turning him into a perfect target. I clamped my hand over my mouth to stop a scream, and there was another shot, a cry, and Rick's form collapsed.
My mind froze at that point and remained frozen as the flashlight and the person holding it approached, accompanied by a second shadowy figure. When they were close, the flashlight beam panned around, and finally fixated on me. I stared into the blinding light, feeling like a deer in the headlights, and feeling as pathetic and helpless as I probably looked.
There was a whispered exchange between the two, of which I only heard something like "never mind him," and "deal with the big one first."
The flashlight passed over Rick's goods, including the rifle -- at which there was a cry of triumph. The two went up to the prone form of my friend.
"Is he dead?"
I saw a boot move out to kick the form, at which point Rick's arm lifted suddenly and struck at the flashlight -- which was sent flying.
In the darkness that followed, for the flashlight as it clattered to ground went out, I heard some desperate scuffles, and a voice cry out, "Never mind him! Get the flashlight!"
That was my cue. Without really thinking, I leapt up and ran in a skirting path around the area of the three combatants, to the memorized location of the rifle. I moved quickly and as silently as possible, my noise hidden by the continuing scuffles and grunts.
I prayed, meanwhile, not to hear another gun shot, but thankfully, whoever had the gun, they did not seem willing to shoot blindly in what was almost complete darkness -- for the lantern had become a mere tiny glow by now.
With trembling fingers held in front of me, I discovered the barrel of the rifle. Without thinking I raised, put the stock against my shoulder, and turned toward the enemy.
At this point the light of the flashlight blazed again; apparently the man who had searched for it had been lucky. It shone at first on the ground, silhouetting the figure in front of it. Then its beam turned toward the combat zone, illuminating two figures. One was Rick, still on the ground, on his back, one hand raised. The other was a man standing over him with some kind of long object he had raised and was about to bring down on my friend.
I didn't hesitate. I raised the rifle to my eye and shot, right at the center of the standing man. The sound of the shot was deafening in the enclosed space, and the man fell. I didn't wait to see if he was down for good but turned the rifle to the man with the flashlight. At the same time the beam turned to me, blinding me. I didn't know if the guy had a gun, and whether it was aimed at me. I just shot, right at the light, pulling the trigger several times because I was shooting more or less blind.
There came another cry amidst the sound of the rifle, and the flashlight fell to ground. Then, as the ringing in my ears started to ebb, the only sound was that of my own labored breathing, which sounded abnormally loud.