April 11, 103 PN
One day, you will find your own Wonderland."
My father often told tales of an epidemic called the 'Red Scare' and how it tore through the land, turning friends into targets, and bringing forth a new terror to the world. Countries that were once allies in the old war now had each other in their cross hairs. Spies had infiltrated the enemy's land, gathering information for their side. My father, with a flash of disappointment in his tone, told us of how the war soon turned to a standstill, and how no lives were lost, until a single press of a button unleashed Lucifer from Hell. In an instant, children who were walking home from school, mothers who were cleaning house and preparing a roast, and men who were puffing cigars while laughing their cares away managed but a confused glance to the white flash. There were those who were dubbed lunatics by their friends who had registered their loved ones to shelters deep in the earth.
To the crazy prophets, the world ended on October 7, 1975 AD. One hundred years later, on February 26, the doors to the shelters were pried open from the inside, and the new generation had stared in complete awe at the desolate land. States of governments were attempted, only to be torn down from their pedestal by anarchists and rivaling forces. Antiques of the old ages, paintings of presidents and the forefathers, all were reduced to a pile of ash. Colonies were established all around the Old States, invading their fellow neighbors for scraps and weapons. It didn't take long for cannibalism to settle into some of the less fortunate.
I was born in an abandoned shelter on April 2, 81 PN, to a family of three. For the next seven years, we and four other families lived there, constantly on the watch for danger. Slowly, however, our group began to disperse in hopes of merging with a strong colony, as they saw the shelter to be a deathtrap. My father warned them time and time again to stay, trying his hardest to convince them he would protect their loved ones, but his pleas fell to no ears. After the first family left, it was only a matter of time for the others to vanish into the horizon. The Tridals, consisting of only a grandmother and her grandson, heeded my father. After I turned eight, we were ambushed by a band of gunslingers scrounging for food; their fun lasted but minutes until my father arrived. We immediately moved south to a settlement called Hudson, formerly known as New York City. There, we found peace from the wastes; I had felt like our life had began anew. We moved into a refurbished apartment along with the Tridals, and from where we lived, I had a good view of the Statue of Liberty, or what was left of her.
Despite Hudson's well-guarded walls, they were all too familiar with the raids of bandits and thugs. Every other night, I would awake to the heart-stopping bang of a gun echoing in the distance, followed by a storm of blasts. Though the bandits were unable to make it close to our home, I ran into my father's arms and begged him to tell me everything would be alright; anytime those words would come from his mouth, any fears or anguish that cursed me were pushed back into the darkness.
Within months of our arrival at Hudson, I began to see my father less and less, sometimes not seeing him for days on end. My brother and I would stay up into the ungodly hours of the night, just to hear him make it half-way up the stairs before falling asleep on the steps. When asked, he gave us one answer: business related. Even our mother was left in the shadows, or so it seemed; we often heard them arguing late into the morning. My family was forbidden to leave our home without an armed bodyguard, yet he was allowed to leave whenever he pleased. As the months grew to years, so grew my curiosity.
It was the middle of August, 90 PN. I lay awake, waiting to hear my father's trademark footsteps plow down the stairs. On cue came the thundering plop, plop, plop, and I leaped into action. With a dented army helmet enveloping most of my head and a pocketknife belonging to my grandfather, I snuck through the shadows and out the kitchen window, my eyes locating the still silhouette standing on the sidewalk. On shaking tip-toes, I inched closer towards the street, jumping behind a pile of shattered crates as I heard the humming sound of an engine. Dimmed lights stopped only inches from my father, followed by two familiar voices greeting him in hushed tones. I recognized the vehicle as a jeep, once used in the old war and being secured in an underground bunker. They soon engaged in a brief conversation; the driver talked about a struggling colony east of New Burlington overrun with a band of criminals known as the Iron Brigade.
With the night sky as my aide, I hurried towards the back of the jeep, stuffing myself under a lumpy duffel bag and beside a pair of muddied boots. The vehicle shifted as my father climbed into the back seats before it moved down the road, and despite my best efforts, I fell victim to sleep.
The sudden echo of a gunshot awoke me from my slumber. I scrambled to my hands and knees and peeked over the overstuffed bag, my eyes widening at the sight. A man lay sprawled on the ground feet from the jeep, his throat deeply slit. Another was slumped over a pile of concrete and twisted metal, two bloodied holes protruding from his back. He struggled to stand, only to collapse onto the street and fall limp. All color drained from my face, my heart thundering inches from my ribs; I didn't get a look at his face, and my father was yet to be found. Without a second thought I vaulted out from the jeep, tearing the helmet from my head as my feet pounded down the cracked pavement towards the body. My small hands grasped the shoulders of the dusty longcoat, pushing to turn the man with all my might. My throat was clenching and I choked out my father's name, my breathing growing rapid.
Suddenly, a powerful grip took hold of my hair, jerking me backwards. I screamed and slashed out with my pocketknife, but only cut through air. I was dragged behind the jeep and whipped around, my body shoved into the vehicle's rusted frame. My nerves and muscles were paralyzed and I dropped to the ground, hot tears flowing towards my eyes. A bony hand brushed up my neck before stopping at my chin, cracked fingernails prodding and rubbing my skin. The inside of my head was throbbing, each pulse threatening to turn my skull into powder. All I could afford was a faint whimper as my head was gently lifted to the sight of a smoking barrel. It pressed into my forehead, beside my right temple, and for a moment I regained my voice to scream in agony to the burning metal digging away at my skin. My ears turned weak to the world, my body growing numb, and scalding tears soon hindered my surroundings. However, the eyes of my captor remained clear, staring past my body and into my soul, freezing it in place. My vision met his; I can say without a doubt that I saw nothing in his eyes.
What happened next is still a blur to me. A loud shot deafened my ears and my eyelids closed, expecting a round to tear through my head. Seconds inched into minutes; all I could feel was my heartbeat drumming an impossible cadence. Shaking fingers crept towards my forehead; there was no weapon to be found, only the scarring ring left by it. A calloused hand enveloped mine and I flinched, croaking a loud sob. A rough thumb caressed my cheek, carefully wiping away the dust.
My father hoisted me from the ground like I was an infant and nestled me in his arms, lightly rocking back and forth. I buried my face into his chest and wrapped myself around his torso, my throat reddening with every strangling sob. He sunk into the driver's seat of the vehicle and shut his eyes with a weary sigh. We sat there in silence for an hour, his head resting on mine. I hugged him tighter and uttered a single word.
There was another sigh and he started the ignition. I could tell that he fought hard to say nothing, and honestly, I regretted even speaking.
Finally, in a low voice, he said, "The Hangman."
We buried my father's friends later that day, using my helmet and a crudely-made cross as grave markers. We collected their badges and, with a small prayer, drove off into the wastes. As I watched the horizon grow dark, my father spoke of his mysterious disappearances. I found myself enthralled as he wove a tale of a growing light that fought to protect the innocents of the Old States: the Crossers. Rarely would anyone risk death to travel through the land; to the Crossers, this was an everyday occurrence. He revealed that he joined days after we took shelter in Hudson to protect us from any threat the lands threw our way. My mother absolutely loathed the idea, calling it a 'death wish'. He confessed he joined without her knowing, claiming it was best she remained in the dark alongside my brother and I. However, the more my father filled my mind of his adventures and bravery, the less I sided with my mother.
~ ~ ~
"Are you still there?"
I snapped my head up and rubbed my eyes, pressing the talk button on the wireless radio. "Ah, yeah...! Yeah, I'm here. Just a little wore out."
There was a faint touch of doubt in my father's voice. "If you're heading home, find a safe place to rest for the night. If you came home with broken bones like last time..."
"I know, I know, but I can toughen out the last sixty miles to Alpha Base." I fiddled around with a loose button on my coat. "What about you? Are you still stuck in Boston?"
"For the time being. If I can pass this mission to someone else, I'll be there a few hours later than you." There was a loud crack in the reception, followed by a slur of swearing.
"Do you want me to meet you halfway? Gerald reported seeing about ten Irons close by to your destination."
"They won't be a problem. What you should be focusing on is getting your tail home. Your mother's birthday only comes once a year, and she'll still furious about me missing last year's."
I shuddered. "You weren't the only one she was mad at. I couldn't hear anything for days after that fit."
"Don't remind me. Now, get some rest and head home tomorrow. Be safe."
"I will, and you, too."
"I love you, sweetie."
A smile crept on my face. "I love you, too, Dad."
My name is Alice Lynn Edahsra, and I am a Crosser.