December 5, 2022
Hugo held onto the jagged cliff edge. The rock stabbed into his hands like hundreds of tiny needles, sending sharp pains through his palms. Still, he did not let go. From the bottom, hidden by the dark covering of thick trees, the groans of the undead rang. If the fall didn’t kill him, they surely would. He was not sure which was worse.
Mia stared down at him, eyes brimming with tears. Her grip on his arm was tight but she was quickly faltering under the weight of him. Her fingernails dug into Hugo’s arm, making him wince, and her mouth was pulled in a firm, determined line.
Adjusting her grip, Mia pulled and pulled with all of her might. Hugo put his foot against the cliff, trying to push himself up. He watched as Mia’s face contorted in discomfort, and saw her foot begin to slip. Any moment now, he would fall, and she would be unable to catch herself.
Hugo glanced down and made a decision. It was still ominous down there — still dark, still deadly — but he didn’t want to drag Mia down with him.
They had been together since before the beginning of the end. He had met Mia sometime during elementary school and they had been inseparable ever since. When they were sad, they went to each other. When they wanted to share anything, they went to each other. When people began succumbing to the plague, they went to each other. He and Mia had not been separated in a long time, and even that separation wasn’t permanent, certainly nothing like death.
Resigning himself, Hugo looked up and said, “Mia, let go.”
In response, Mia’s eyes widened before she scowled, tightening her grip even further. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Hugo knew what he was being, and it wasn’t ridiculous. The only way either of them would get out of this alive was if she let him fall. He knew the extent of what he asked of her, knew it was cruel, selfish. To ask her to let him go, to let him die, when he knew he would refuse adamantly if he was in her shoes. Yet, this was a chance to save himself from hell on earth, and he knew Mia could defend herself.
For many years, he had dragged her down. Several times, he let his own sadness blind him, and it had hindered them both. Whether it was zombies, sprained ankles or any other disaster, they had encountered too many almost deaths. Mia refused to leave him behind because she cared too much for him. In this new world, no one had the luxury of caring for anyone other than themselves, but neither of them cared for that rule, however. For both of their sakes, Hugo was ready. He was willing to let go of Mia, in a way she would never let go of him.
The reason he had fallen was simple — a zombie had come out of nowhere, desperate and hungry. An ugly, mutated thing that had sprinted out of the safety of the trees. Before Hugo had a chance to kill it, it had rushed toward him with outstretched arms and pushed him back. He had forgotten the cliff was there, and slid past the edge. Mia had thankfully finished the zombie off, but it was too late — Hugo was already dangling just below the edge when she grabbed his hand.
He opened his eyes. “I’m not being ridiculous,” he paused. “Mia, you need to let go.”
Mia’s brown eyes shone with anger as hot as lava. “No!” she yelled.
Sighing, Hugo let his own grip on Mia’s arm fall limp. Mia stumbled forward, gasping. He could feel the moment her clammy hands began to slip. Her brows furrowed.
Pulling herself backwards, Mia continued pulling at Hugo’s arm. He could feel himself gradually begin to lift, but he could see how much Mia was straining. Her mouth was pulled into a grimace as sweat rolled down her face. There was a hysteric look in her eyes, like that of a wild animal.
Hugo lifted his other hand, putting it on top of Mia’s. He did not give her time to latch on before he began peeling her fingers away.
“Hugo, stop!” Mia demanded, panic evident in her voice. He did not listen. Falling to her knees, Mia attempted to grab him firmly by the shoulder. Hugo jerked away, causing her to lose her grip on his arm.
Hugo felt himself falling as the wind brushed harshly against his face, sending a cold chill through him. He heard Mia’s shout of pain and could hear the groans of the undead as he grew closer to the ground. He would be dead in a few moments, likely less, but he didn’t feel distressed by that fact. Not anymore, at least. Instead, he felt bitter relief flood through him. Mia had let go.
His body hit the ground. Coughing, he could see the zombies approaching. He didn’t care. A light sigh slipped through his lips as he closed his eyes. He was free.