“You’re crazy,” Marvin said to her, hoisting the wheelbarrow up by its handles and beginning to walk away.
“I’m not,” Lydia insisted, pulling hers up and quickly trotting up next to him. “Look around you, Marvin. Do you see any way out of here? Do you see any way in which our situation can get any better? This is the best day of the rest of our lives; and I’ll be damned if I allow myself to be cooped up in this hellhole for another day longer!”
Marvin said nothing, only keeping his tired eyes ever ahead as he pushed the wheelbarrow along, as he had done for nearly three years now. His cheeks were noticeable sunken, and the dirt smudged on his face could not hide the wrinkles that were beginning to form.
Neither had she been able to escape the weathering of time. About a year in, her wedding ring had slipped right off her finger when she was working at Zone B, and she did not realize it until later that night, when she tried to slip her ring off to keep it under her pillow, but didn’t find it there. Marvin noticed this, of course, but never asked.
“We’re dead people, Marv,” she said, shaking her head. “Look at us – we’re zombies. If this is how life is going to be, why not just kill ourselves and get it over with? Go on, get yourself a shovel and hit me over the head. At least in death, I might be able to find rest.”
“For God’s sake, Lydia,” Marvin sighed, “Did you even think this through? Let’s say – by some amazing stroke of luck, a divine intervention, and nothing short of miraculous oversight by the outside patrol – you actually managed to escape. What then? Where would you go? There’s nothing out there but ashes and irradiated soil, and if you’re lucky, you might come across one of those elusive three-eyed bears. There’s no life out there.”
“There’s no life in here,” she said sharply.
“There’s more life in here than there will be in three thousand miles,” he said. “Look, at least in here, you have food. You have a place to sleep. You have people; hey, listen to me – in here, we at least have each other.”
“We’ll have each other out there,” Lydia said, failing to disguise the sadness that choked her words. “Give me liberty, or give me death. Live free or die.”
The building site was now coming into sight. The masked guards did not even give the couple with the wheelbarrows a second glance, only ever keeping their gazes forward, automatic weapons pointed to the sky at an angle.
“No one who got death ever had the chance to rethink their choice,” Marvin told her. “What the point of freedom without anyone to share it with? What would you have, Lydia – to be in heaven in alone, or in hell with everyone you’ve ever loved?”
With that, they both stepped into the no-speaking zone, where conversations ceased and work started.
It turned out that miraculous oversights and divine interventions were both present on the night she chose to make her escape. The only struggle she had was when, three hours out of sight, she had to climb through the piles of cargo to get up onto the top of the truck, and then strangling the driver to death shortly after when the truck was stopped. The big man struggled, gagged, and twisted on the ground, managing to break three of her ribs and cut her forehead in process, before his eyes finally rolled up in their sockets and his body went limp in her choke hold. She held on for another minute or so, just to be sure; and when she was sure, she let go and laid on the barren ground, watching the green clouds pass overhead as the rushing wind guided them along their way.
There was a silence as she caught her breath; and then she began to laugh, tears escaping her eyes and flowing freely off her face – every exhilarated, unbearably joyous note escaping her lips like water through a broken dam. She laughed until her ribs hurt, and still she laughed some more.
She was free. She was alone in a dead world, and there was little doubt that she would soon be just as dead; but for a brief, precious moment – she was free.