The gravel stones cut into the soles of Tessa’s feet as she sprinted away from the local grocer. She could feel the warm stickiness of her blood soak through the bottom of her shredded socks, but she ignored the pain. She couldn’t afford to slow down. She only had one goal: get back to her brother.
She was stealthier this time. She had tied her long, black hair up into a hat so she wouldn’t be recognized. She kept her head down as she snuck into the store behind a tall man too distracted by his phone to notice her presence. The grocer was none the wiser. She crept to the bread section towards the back of the decrepit store and snagged the closest loaf. Instead of sprinting out of the store this time, she waited patiently for the tall man to pay for his items and snuck back out in front of him. She couldn’t be certain, but she was hopeful that she had slipped out without being detected. Still, she didn’t want to take any chances. The second her feet hit the gravel path outside the store she took off, forcing her thin legs to carry her as fast as they possibly could.
“Come back here!” the grocer shouted. He ran towards the teenaged girl, but she had too heavy of a lead.
“What happened?” the cashier asked.
“That little ragamuffin bitch just stole another loaf of bread! That’s the third time this month!” the grocer growled. “She won’t get away this time, though.”
Anger and desperation fell like a dark cloud across the grocer’s face. He smiled wryly and stuck his fingers in his mouth, releasing a sharp whistle through the air.
A guttural growl escaped the massive black and golden Rottweiler as he tore past the grocer and after the young girl with the loaf of bread in her hands. Though she had run a considerable distance, the dog quickly closed in.
Think about Cole, she reminded herself. You need to get back to Cole.
Since her mother abandoned fifteen-year-old Tessa and her five-year-old brother last month, Tessa had taken on the role of primary caregiver. She was all he had left in the world and she’d be damned before she let anyone take her away from him. No. The world may be in shambles but it was not going to rip them apart.
She could feel the heat of the dog’s breath as he lunged for her heels. She didn’t dare look back for fear of losing ground. Instead, she allowed her mind to do what it did best:
strategize. She needed a distraction. A dilapidated bridge, crumbling from the same overwhelming neglect that plagued all American infrastructure, sat only a few dozen yards away. If she could make it to the bridge, she could lose him in the water below. A woman carrying groceries, completely oblivious to Tessa’s plight, stepped out into the street. Tessa saw her opportunity and gathered every ounce of strength she had. She plunged forward, sending the woman and all of her groceries sprawling across the road.
Seconds. That’s all she had to get back to her feet and finish her sprint before the dog realized she was no longer within reach. She heard the woman fighting with the dog before the unmistakable whistle of the grocer filled the air a second time. The dog growled wildly and resumed its chase, matching Tessa’s effort with his own undeniable determination.
The dog gained on her in a handful of powerful strides, but Tessa was only six more paces from the bridge. Her heart pounded harder with each step.
Four more steps.
The dog growled and leaped into the air at the same moment Tessa jumped over the bridge's stone wall. She only had two seconds, maybe less, to register her reality: the dark gravel, the silver train tracks, and the gut-wrenching realization that there was no water under this bridge.
Then her world went black.
Richard VanHough raced around his dingy basement lab collecting a stockpile of supplies for his latest project. With a doctorate in both neuroscience and mechanical engineering, he was hailed one of the most brilliant neuroscientists to ever walk the halls of Harvard University. That is until he was unceremoniously dismissed from their research programs for his unconventional tactics and questionable ethics. Nevertheless, he was not to be outdone.
In the basement of his large Tudor home, he built himself the world’s most progressive research lab for the advancement of neuroscience. And advance it, he did, despite the fact that no one from this era would ever approve of his methods. And then he was gifted the opportunity of a lifetime.
He rolled himself and his supplies back to his workbench and continued the painstaking process of piecing together his latest invention. Hours passed as he welded and assembled what would be the world’s biggest achievement in neuroscience history.
“Just a few more tweaks,” he said aloud as he tinkered on the table in front of him. “There. All set.”
At first, there was nothing. No movement or sound. No indication that his project would be successful. And then it began. The soft and steady beat of a human heart. The even breath of working lungs.
“To think I almost abandoned this project completely,” Dr. VanHough said. “Then there you were, lying on those tracks like a gift from the Gods.”
The project began to blink wildly as a dull humming noise cascaded through every metal bone and joint in her body. She sat up slowly, catching her reflection in a distant mirror. Her long, black hair was replaced with a black mane of wires and cords. Her right eye glowed purple. She turned in horror towards the doctor.
The doctor smiled. “It was serendipity.”
The 3 Random Words chosen for this story were: Brilliant, Ragamuffin, Serendipity.
This was the most fun I had writing a story for my blog yet! I put a lot of thought into Tessa's character and developed a robust back story for who she is and where she fits in this post-apocalyptic world. I love her and I think there is more to her story. Stay tuned - you haven't seen the last of Tessa and Dr. VanHough.
I hope you have as much fun reading this one as I did writing it!