Trip to the Ruined World

“Tim, get up!” A familiar voice shouted at my face as someone tried to shake me awake. I tried turning away and lying on my other side. That’s when I realized I wasn’t in my warm, comfortable bed back home in New York, but rather on itchy, cool grass.

“Ahh!” I cried out, sitting up immediately. Unfortunately, the person’s head was over mine and I bumped into him, earning a shot of pain in my forehead. Opening my eyes, I found myself blinded by a powerful, bright light. Frantically, I swung my arms around wildly, trying to fight off whatever was there. “Oh God, where am I? Have the Russians invaded? Did the Koreans attack? Am I being kidnapped? Who on Earth would do such a thing to a poor, sweet child like me—”

“Shut up!” The guy slapped me across the face, which silenced me immediately. I squinted and saw that he was kneeling on the grass, with a hint of annoyance in his brown eyes. “It took you long enough to wake up,” he said, speaking in a smooth, soft voice. He usually had a dazzling smile that made girls squeal, but he wasn’t smiling now. Instead, he seemed to be worried about something, as made obvious by his strange frown and urgent tone.

“Oh, it’s just you, Aaron,” I muttered, rubbing my eyes. A dozen thoughts raced through my mind like sparks of electricity. Why had I been lying at the center of a grassy field, under the foggy sky? Have I been knocked out, abducted, and left to die? More importantly, why is Aaron here? I glanced at him and noticed he was deep in thought, twirling strands of his black hair. “Stop playing with your hair; it makes you look like a girl.”

“What do you mean by that?” he snapped, seeming mildly offended.

“No, I mean—you know what, never mind. No point in ticking off my only ally for miles by calling him a girl again, eh?” As Aaron managed a scowl, I threw back my head and laughed. After a few seconds, I looked back at him and saw that he was barely suppressing a smile. “So, uh, why are we here?”

“Nobody really knows. Some say the natural process of evolution made humans what we are today. Others say that it was the work of a supernatural, omnipotent deity.”

“No,” I replied impatiently, frowning. I pointed upwards at the vibrant blue sky and the cotton-like clouds scattered here and there, then at the grass underneath us. “I mean, why are we here, in the middle of nowhere?”

“I don’t know why we’re here, but we’re on a mountain. The cliff is right over there.” Aaron tilted his head sideways, gesturing towards where the earth seemed to end about ten meters away.

Slowly and carefully, I stood up and made my way to the edge, where my eyes went wide and I gasped. There I was, feeling the cool wind blow gently against my face as I gazed admiringly at the misty valley below and the jagged peaks of nearby mountains. “Oh God, this is just… this is just beautiful! Is this Arizona? Or maybe Tibet? I’ve never been outside New York before!”

“Eh, it’s just nature,” Aaron shrugged impassively. He placed his hand on my shoulder and spun me around to face the right side of the cliff. “Here’s something better.” He pointed to a cluster of reddish lights in the distance, partially obscured by the bluish mist. “It’s a city!”

“So?” I asked, scratching my head. “What’s so great about a city?”

“Tim, you idiot, that’s civilization! There will be people there! We can find out what’s going on!” Aaron shouted excitedly, his voice rising to a high pitch. “Come on!” He then proceeded to run and jump over the cliff, disappearing from sight.

“Aaron, NO!” I cried out.

To my shocking surprise, Aaron poked his head up from the edge. “What?”

“W-Wait, w-what the heck?” Rushing over to where Aaron was, I saw that he had merely jumped and landed on what seemed to be the top step of a long, straight stairway leading down from the side of the mountain. “I thought you were dead!”

“Ha ha!” Aaron laughed boisterously. “Tim, I have the heart and strength of a Klingon! Nothing can harm me! Now, are you coming or not?”

Sighing, I quickly followed him. Each step appeared to be perfectly alike, as if built by some super-smart alien species from a long time ago. While Aaron happily skipped down, I cautiously descended every step. After what seemed like only a few minutes, we reached a valley at the bottom of the mountain.

“Man, who builds stairs like that? This place looks like somewhere from the biblical times,” Aaron remarked.

“Your mother would know. Jesus still owes her five bucks,” I smirked.

“Ha ha, very funny,” Aaron replied sarcastically, rolling his eyes. He bent down to pick up a large rock, swinging it as if to throw it at me.

“Dude, that’s dangerous!” I said, flinching.

“Relax, man. My rock-throwing skills are legendary.” With the mock grace of an Olympian athlete, he hurled the stone over my head, watching as it passed a few centimeters from my face.

CRACK!

We both froze and turned as we heard the sickening sound. A man with a poncho and jeans collapsed onto the rocky ground, his skull struck by the stone that Aaron threw. Blood poured from the wound in his head.

Aaron and I exchanged glances. “You just killed someone!” I exclaimed in horrified amazement.

“I-It w-was an accident, I swear! I c-couldn’t s-see him! How would I know a rock could hurt someone that badly?” Aaron stammered, shocked. Meanwhile, I rushed forward and bent down to the body, feeling the man’s ice-cold neck. I noticed the glossy-looking rifle next to the body and picked it up, observing it with deep curiosity. Aaron looked at me incredulously. “What are you doing?! We can’t risk leaving our DNA here!” His eyes frantically darted around. “Where should we hide the body? Should we dump it in the river?”

“Forget about the body for a minute!” I shouted irately. Turning, I showed him the rifle. “Aaron, this isn’t a normal firearm. I don’t think this place is—”

“John, you alright?” an approaching figure shouted from afar. “Heaven’s sake, man, how long do you need to take a—” The man stopped and froze as soon as he came into sight, spotting us and the body. Fumbling with his rifle, he tried aiming it at us, but it was too late. Acting out of fear, I raised my newly-found rifle, locked my finger around the trigger, and fired. In a flash, a beam of fiery blue light erupted from the muzzle and shot towards the stranger. Hit in the chest, the stranger dropped to his knees before falling on his back, a noticeable burn on his stomach.

My throat felt like it was being choked by some invisible force as I stared at the two bodies. I held my breath and cradled the rifle in my arms, absolutely stupefied. Suddenly, as if that invisible force had decided to release me, I exhaled and broke into heavy panting. “I just shot someone!” I said, turning to Aaron with horror in my eyes. “I just shot and killed someone with my own hands!” At this point, I was sounding extremely psychotic, causing a concerned Aaron to slowly walk away from me.

Footsteps echoed in the valley and grew louder as the silhouettes of half a dozen men became apparent, interrupting our little scene. “Dan? John? What’s going on there?” Aaron and I momentarily froze, alarmed by the intrusion. “We heard the gunfire and got worried. Is there something wrong…?” The men came into sight, each of them holding a rifle and wearing cowboy hats. They stared at us, looking us up and down for a second before noticing the bodies near us. “Hey, they killed Dan and John!”

It took only a brief exchange of glances before Aaron and I simultaneously bolted towards the opposite direction. Beams of hot light missed and shot past, heating up the air near us as we desperately fled for our lives. More shouts came from behind us as the men began chasing and firing at us. Suddenly, I wasn’t me anymore. Instead, I was looking at myself—a tall teenager with black hair and dark eyes and awkwardly long legs—wildly running and running, my eyes bloodshot. It feels so surreal; maybe it’s all a dream… but then why do I bother to hurry?

“Tim, head for the red lights up ahead!” Aaron shouted to me. The shooting had stopped, but there were still shouts coming from behind us. In front of us was a small town, wooden buildings accompanied by many red lamps. We jumped onto the veranda of a wooden lodge and looked back, seeing that the armed men had stopped several meters away and were now retreating, as if afraid to venture further. When they were out of sight, Aaron and I held steadily onto a rocking chair to keep our balance as we began breathing rapidly, completely exhausted. My heart was still pounding madly from the chase and I was afraid I was going to have a heart attack. After a while, when our breathing was back to normal, we glanced at each other. Aaron’s hair was messed up from the running and he was sweating profusely. “Why are you still carrying that thing?”

I glanced at the laser rifle. I hadn’t realized that I had been holding it all this time. “Eh, I don’t know what I was thinking when I picked this up. One thing’s for sure though; this isn’t a normal rifle.” I pointed it at Aaron and he jerked away, covering his face. “Sorry,” I said sheepishly, quickly pointing it away.

“Freeze! Drop your weapon!” We heard the sound of footsteps as a bunch of women dressed sharply in cowgirl-style hats, fringed jackets, and jeans suddenly appeared from around the corner of the wooden house and surrounded us, pointing sleek, familiar-looking guns at me. I dropped my jaw and then my rifle before we raised our arms in surrender, stunned. Most of the women seemed young, as if in their early twenties. All of them looked mad.

“Uh, we come in… peace?” For some reason, Aaron then switched to his best rendition of a Western accent. “Um, any of y’all ladies speak English? I mean, we’d really appreciate it if y’all can tell us directions to New York City on the planet Earth.”

“Cut the crap,” demanded the tall, slender woman with brown, flowing hair, serious gray eyes, and a purple poncho. She seemed perhaps nineteen or twenty, but she seemed quite authoritative. “It’s the year 3512 and this is what used to be called New York, and you know that.” The woman eyed my rifle. “You must be one of the bandits after my magic gem. I would’ve thought the bandits would send smarter spies. Ladies, take them to be executed.”

“Wait, what?!” I cried out. “You’re mistaken! We’re innocent, lost boys from the year 2011 and we mean no harm!”

“Where did you get the rifle, then?”

“I stole it from the men that were chasing us,” I quickly replied, staring into the deep, penetrating eyes of the woman. I knew it wasn’t completely a lie, for I had, after all, taken the gun from the dead man. “I think those are the bandits you’re talking about.”

Then the silent battle began—her serious, slightly angry-looking face versus my neutral, emotionless poker expression.

Aaron’s voice, however, soon broke my gaze. “Dorothy?” I turned and saw that Aaron was addressing one of the female gunslingers with the tone one might use to address a long-lost lover. “Is that you?”

The brunette, who looked about a year or two older than him, widened her chocolate brown eyes and dropped her gun as she gasped. “Aaron, it’s really you!” Without warning, she jumped on Aaron and embraced him in a tight hug so quickly that her chestnut-colored hair went flying. The other women and I stood, shocked, as Dorothy began crying in his arms. Aaron began whispering soothingly to her, as if trying to calm her down. I glanced at the gray-eyed woman and saw that her lipstick-covered mouth was forming a circle in a mildly startled fashion.

“Truce?” I offered, to which she merely nodded.

After a few minutes, we were in the tavern, sitting in a circle around Aaron and Dorothy near the counter. Dorothy looked very ugly when she was crying, spilling out everything like a crushed carton of milk. As Aaron and the women consoled her, she explained it all—how she woke up on the top of the mountain six months ago to find that she was in a post-apocalyptic future, how she had been taken in by the gray-eyed lady (whose name I learned was Violet), and how she has been living here since.

“Well… if this is the future, then what happened?” I asked, glancing at each of the women. “I mean, how did New York become like this?”

Violet cleared her throat and spoke up. All eyes immediately focused on her. “I’m no history buff, but I know that over a thousand years ago, a fleet of extraterrestrials invaded and devastated the Earth, causing the landscape to dramatically change. Since then, the human race has repopulated the ravaged areas, but I have only heard of a few settlements like ours.”

Aaron sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “So this isn’t really a dream… You’re saying we traveled 1,500 years into the future?”

“Is there any way to go back into the past?” I asked hopefully, leaning forward.

Violet hesitated for a while, and then exchanged glances with the girls. She started to twirl her hair with her fingers, making me wonder if she was in deep thought or if she was just ignoring us. After many long, tense seconds of tapping her feet and biting her lip, Violet finally looked at me and handed me a bright green gemstone the size of a marble, attached to a necklace. “This is the magic gem I was referring to before. If you rub it twice and hold it in the air, you will be able to travel back in time. Before she died, my mother told me that it only works if the conjurer is standing on a cliff.” Violet glanced at me and Aaron. “Oh, and for some reason, only a young male can use it. That’s why I’m entrusting it to you.”

I held out my hand and accepted the stone, watching it roll in my palm. “Uh, thank—”

“Ms. Violet!” One of her subordinates rushed into the tavern, pushing through the wooden Dutch doors. “The bandits are here, and they’re demanding the magic gem or else they’ll burn down the town!”

Violet flew to her feet, flipping her hair and proudly sporting her laser rifle. Suddenly, upon the hint of battle, she was back to being the warrior cowgirl that she was. She looked at me, Aaron, and Dorothy. “You three sneak out the back door and go to the cliff. We’ll handle this.” With that, she rushed out with the other women, leaving us alone.

Still holding the gun I had taken from before, I stood and looked at Dorothy and Aaron, who were snuggling with each other. “Man, you two do make a great couple,” I chuckled, much to the blushing embarrassment of the pair. “Come on, Violet’s buying us some time. Let’s go.”

We exited through the back and ran towards the misty figure of the mountains in the distance, just as the screams of battle and sounds of gunfire erupted on the other side. I could distinctly hear Violet shouting, and an image of her bravely leading her troops—with her gray eyes brilliantly sparkling and brown hair flowing as she charged towards the enemy—appeared up in my head.

Timon Luo
Age 13, Grade 8,
Mark Twain I.S. 239 for the Gifted and Talented
Gold Key

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