I reached the top of the steps and took in a deep breath; this door was the last thing standing between me and freedom. Its pale blue metal and rusty hinges were lit only by the dim security lights which flickered to life when I entered this small hallway. And for this moment I was alone in silence, shielded from the the cacophony of the city by these four walls and this door, and I almost hesitated in its absolute and comforting embrace. But the world was waiting for me, this was my moment, and it would not be wasted.
I pushed against the door’s long silver handle, but it didn’t budge. Of course, it was locked, no one was supposed to come up here except for maintenance, and I was not maintenance. A smile cracked my previously sullen demeanor and I almost laughed at the absurdity of this predicament, but there would be time enough for that once I’d broken free of my lifelong prison. I pushed against the door harder, hoping that the rust had weakened it enough for my weight alone to break it, but it had been sturdy enough to last through some pretty horrible storms, so my feeble attempts fell well short.
I sighed and sat down on the top stair, defeated. If only I’d thought to bring something with which to break the door down, I’d be well on my way to freedom. But, alas, I hadn’t thought of the possibility that it would be locked, though it was obvious, in hindsight, that I could do nothing about it. At this point it would be best to just sit and wait. I clasped my hands together and prepared myself for the flood of enforcers which would no doubt soon converge on my location.
The paint on the old walls was falling off, like skin flaking away in old age. The building was crying out and falling apart after all this time, it stood for almost a century, but all things do eventually decay. It was an interesting sight, if only because it made me think of my father who had recently passed away. He’d grown into a brittle shell of himself, with bones that could easily snap and skin that could easily break under the slightest pressure. It was a vision of my future, I knew, for in rather short order I would, myself, age into that very state.
It was why I’d come here, why I wanted to access the roof. I saw in him what I would become, and I despised it. At nearly forty years old I was beginning to become aware of my mortality more than I’d ever been before, and I regretted having done nothing with my life up to this point. So, I became determined to break the cycle and end my wasteful existence and sauntered up the many stairs and to this door where I would break free of this tedious existence and dull prison.
But waiting there on the top stair I began to grow impatient waiting for my consequences, so I stood back up, even as the rough wooden texture of the stair tugged at a loose string in my pants, I stood back up. I turned to once again face the door and a thought struck me: perhaps I could pick the lock. I bent down to pull a nail out of the stairs I’d just been sitting on and started to fiddle around with the chambers and gears inside the lock.
Lock picking was something I’d a little experience with, as I needed the skill when I was a child to survive on the streets far below. We were too poor to afford food every day, so I learned some basic techniques and stole, usually mostly bread, so that we could eat. But it had been nearly 20 years since the last time I needed to do that, and I doubted I’d still be able to pick this lock.
But, after several minutes of fumbling, I heard a click. In the dense silence of that tiny hallway, the sound was almost deafening, and it seemed to surround me. Then, my heart racing with excitement and a smile having once again formed on my face, I pushed against the door. This time, it slid open with ease.
The arid desert air hit my face like a wall, it was almost refreshing after spending so much time in an artificially cooled survivor complex, but it was no less unexpected. The wind was, too, as it almost blew the door clean off its hinges and flooded the stairway with dust and sand. I shielded my eyes from the hot sun and began climbing the tall dune in front of me.
It was slow going, with the wind pummeling me, and dust invading my airways, but this was what I had to do. I’d dig my hands and feet into the sand and drag myself up the slope, as it was too steep to walk. I struggled to keep my nose and mouth covered to protect myself from the storm, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, and a small cloth was enough to do the job.
Upon reaching the top of the dune I stood up and looked around. The wind was howling, and in the distance, I could hear the screaming of mutants. The city was as loud as ever, I noted, but I’d have to be quiet to avoid being hunted. Luckily it was mid-morning and it would be quite a while before I’d need to worry about finding shelter to avoid the worst predators.
I smiled, taking in the sights of New York was wonderful. It really was every inch as beautiful and robust as the adventurers described it. Though, I wished I could have seen it at its peak, as the historians had written in my school’s textbooks. It was something I’d often dreamed about when I was a kid, but those days were long passed now.
This was my legacy. Breaching the protective seal of the last known standing skyscraper, now buried below the sands of the Maryland desert, and beginning the first surface settlement since the fall. It would ensure my life had meaning, and I wouldn’t fade drearily out of existence like my father had.
Suddenly hearing shouting behind me, I turned to see several enforcers standing in the hallway just on the other side of the door and motioning for me to come back. But I wouldn’t. They couldn’t yet understand what I was doing or why, but I wouldn’t return. I waved and shook my head, and in that moment, they gave up. One reached out and grabbed the door and pulled it slowly back into position. There was a loud, resounding metallic clang as it slammed shut.