Xenization: The act of traveling as a stranger

It was deserted. The city had a musty smell, like it was covered in a thin layer of dust. It wasn’t trashed, just empty. Clean even. No cars sat on the curbs and the lack of movement gave it an airbrushed feel. It made my eyes hurt; there was too much grey and not enough colour. Life brings colour, and there sure as hell wasn’t much life around.

My heartbeat pounded in my chest like a beacon, calling for someone—anyone—to join me. I stood in the middle of an intersection and listened in awe of the quiet. Man, I must have been a sight. I had my backpack strapped onto my back, big ‘I’m ready for an adventure’ boots on, and not nearly enough food or water to sustain me. I don’t know why I decided to head towards the city. It just looked so sad. Maybe I wanted to cheer it up, or maybe I wanted to wallow with a companion.

I took the road on the right because there were bigger buildings there. They looked so grand, and even though those types of ideas didn’t exist anymore I still liked the look of the fancy things like that. I felt guilty for walking the streets in silence and finding enjoyment in desolation. I could hear the wind streaming past buildings and my feet hitting the road with a satisfying thud as I pushed myself forward. Is that what it feels like to matter? Does it take the entire destruction of a world to finally feel important? That’s depressing as hell.

I was turning a corner when I heard a humming in the distance and instinctively hopped onto the sidewalk. That was a normal thing to do, right? You hear something that sounds like metallic bees and you jump off the road so you don’t get hit by… a car. A car.

The humming got louder. I stopped where I was and waited, the sound of the running engine getting louder and louder. I couldn’t tell how far away it was, it didn’t take much to make noise in that city. I stood on the curb until a 50s looking car sped around the corner and stopped in front of me. The passenger side door opened and I heard a voice shout,

“Get in!”

I got in. I don’t know if that was a great choice, but what was I supposed to do? I was shocked to the point where I couldn’t move, or even think about moving, and another person showed up and told me exactly what to do and it was like clockwork. I swung myself into the car. I shut the door. I shrugged my backpack off my shoulder and onto my lap. It was like getting picked up from school by a parent, only much much weirder.

I stared out of the murky front window, not even looking an inch to the left to figure out who the hell I had just blindly obeyed.

“New in town?”

I wanted to burst out laughing. Not just because the statement was so stupidly relevant, or that it was far too casual a term for wandering around a strange and completely empty city alone, but because the voice was that of an 8, maybe 9 year old girl. That was when I looked. She had dusty orange hair, a tooth missing, and sat on a booster seat clutching a steering wheel at least twice the size of her head. There was giggling behind her. I swooped my head around just in time to hear a scrawny boy say,

“Why do we always have to pick up the weird ones, Katey?”

There were at least four children in the back of the car. They all looked like they were covered in dust, just like the city.

The girl at the wheel, Katey, said,

“What are you up to?”

She had obviously tried to lower her voice to sound tough, and it worked. She sounded like she was interrogating me. I just said, dumfounded,

“An adventure…of sorts. What are… uh… what are you guys doing?”

She smiled a gap toothed smile and said,

“Joyriding.”

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