Keith didn't know what it felt like to feel anymore.
The blast that swept across his city and destroyed it in one fell swoop left the remnants of a life he once knew, from a time that seemed like entire eternities ago. The skeletal remains of buildings stood in the wake of ruin, with cement and brick and debris strewn everywhere like blocks from a child's playroom. Among the rubble Keith could remember seeing far too many bodies to count. Some dead, killed immediately by the impact of the blast, and yet others still alive.
He saw a man get crushed to death underneath the weight of a toppled 16-wheeler. Sometimes in his sleep Keith can still hear the wet sound of his ribcage cracking between the truck and asphalt. The smell of gasoline and blood mixing together would not leave his mind for weeks, nor did the memory of his final hour before the explosion.
Keith remembered being outside. It was a Friday afteroon. It was routine for him to take a walk downtown to pick up an after school snack before heading home for dinner. He'd go to the local T-mart and grab a soda, then stroll through the business district where all the mom and pop shops were, then he'd say hi to the locals, catch up, make small talk, and occasionally help a kindly old woman with her grocery shopping before he returned home. That particular Friday, he stalled longer than usual, catching a late bus on the way back, then --
— everything went dark.
Retroactively he could recall the ear-shattering noise of wheels screeching and glass shattering. He remembered his body being thrown from his seat with such force he felt like he'd been tossed like a rag doll. But he could not remember these things in the moments right after he woke up.
When Keith opened his eyes, the sky was red. A huge plume of smoke seemed to mushroom out of the horizon. He air was scalding hot and he nearly choked on the scent of ash filling his lungs.
It took a moment for him to realize that his entire neighborhood had been wiped off the map.
Against his better judgement, he went back. He walked the remainder of the way home, limping with a sprained ankle and bruises marring his body. He could feel glass cuts leaking blood into his shirt. He refused to stop. And when he made it back, there was nothing left of his house except the imprint of the floor he used to walk on so many times before. Everything else had been vaporized immediately.
He could not think of the unthinkable. Whatever family he had before the bomb was buried miles deep underneath the debris in his mind. He did not think about them — could not think about them. Like clockwork, his thoughts switched immediately to survival. He left the radiation zone, propelled forward by some force that wasn't his own. His movements felt mechanical, but he didn't think much of it.
No. He didn't think much at all. It was sheer instinct that made his feet move — the drive to live. What for, though?
Keith supposed that was the question he had to find the answer for.
He'd taken up shelter at one of the abandoned warehouses still left standing in the city. Scavenging what he could find, he managed to collect a few cans of food as well as a handful of items. First, plastic jug. He used this for collection what little clean water he could find. Next was an old blanket, for the nights when the hoodie he'd been wearing for two weeks now wasn't enough. Third, a lighter. Keith avoided using it as much as possible, just in case of an emergency. And, finally, he still had his pocket knife on him since the day of the bombing. It proved to be an indispensable ally in acquiring and crafting things.
The first few days were hard. He could not relax — not after what he witnessed. He ripped his tank top into makeshift bandages to stabilize his ankle and tie the cuts on his arms. He then tried to look for others — help them, if he could. But everyone alive in the city seemed to have vanished somehow. They were either running away from the radiation, or they were already dead.
Keith knew he should follow suit. Find what he could and move on to another location, far away from the sickness-inducing radium that contaminated the city grounds. But somehow, he could not bring himself to. Instead, he waited. He broke into abandoned stores and only took what he immediately needed, spending the rest of his time curled up in the warehouse corner. He tried to sleep. Couldn't. Bags formed under his eyes soon enough, and the sting of his untreated wounds along with the high dosage of radiation he received were all taking a toll on his body.
At the top of the warehouse, Keith had enough sense to spell out an SOS message using whatever he could find — old tarp, bottles, used cans, whatever. If someone was out there looking for survivors, they had to see him too. That was, if anyone was still out there looking at all. Hunched with his back to the warehouse corner, he had a knee pulled to his chest — the other leg with his sprained ankle lay straight, and he let his head rest on the adjacent wall.
Whatever feelings he should've been feeling vacated his body two weeks ago. All he wanted to do now was sleep.