Julia PetersonYour safety is your personal responsibility.
Always follow the road marked on your map, and do not stray too close to the sidewalk.
Do not take shortcuts. The unkempt backyards and vacant lots may be enticing, but the hungry ground beneath the weeds has been abandoned for too long.
You are responsible for the whispers you leave behind. Who knows where they may carry in the wind?
Clean and organize the teeth in your pretty orthodontized maw.
Ensure a clear and well-marked path between the heaps of toppled stone. The sculpted wings and talons seem more lifelike amid the rubble of the condemned YMCA, but you must remember that they are not real, and you cannot save them.
When in doubt, remind yourself of what you can trust. Know that your memories may have been altered, perhaps by some external force, perhaps by your own self in a moment of weakness or conceit. Your senses have no reason to ally themselves with you. The only thing you can rely on is your emotions—it is impossible to falsify your experience of a feeling. If you feel contented, you are contented. If you feel afraid, you are afraid. Have faith in your fear.
Consider taking a break when the screams beneath your feet become so loud that you risk becoming disoriented. Sit, stand, or lie in place until they fade to more quiet sobs. Do not kick at the dust.
Report any serious injuries immediately and place yourself far away from the pack to ensure the scent of your blood does not linger. The crack-toothed pit that will open beneath your feet does not need an excuse to take more lives than yours. Management suggests removing any company-owned safety equipment and assigning your duties to a peer or subordinate before praying.
Remember to educate your co-workers about the hazards of clustered dandelions, wind chimes, stray animals, copper, and the smell of soap.
Always keep the lines of communication open until you become aware of a third voice insinuating itself into the conversation between you and your peer, as though it has always been there. If you cut communication first, you will almost certainly be spared.
Immediately notify others of any (new or old) buildings that are not marked on your map, especially if they look uncannily like your mother’s childhood home.
Always use both hands when lifting the stones out of your path. It is how they know you are unarmed.
Test the weight of objects before lifting them; by the time you realize it is lighter than it should be, it might be too late.
Keep your burdens to yourself. None of us are here by choice.
If your load is too heavy for you to carry alone, then you were never meant to complete this journey. As always, remember to remove your company-owned safety equipment before you wander deliberately into the dry grass field. It cannot protect you from the grasping at your ankles, but it may yet save somebody else.
Don’t let appearances fool you.
Disregard distractions when the rocks begin to shift, breathing in your hands as they resist the bitter sentience imposed on them. They are not trying to hurt you—they are trying to return to the cold and still—but drop anything that moves more quickly than half-cooled glass.
Keep an eye on the floor to ensure it remains unaware of your presence. If you think you even hear a chuckle or a sigh when your shoes hit the pavement—run.
Know your fire emergency plan; ensure that everyone knows and understands that the flames are only likely to be deadly, not certain—in most situations, they will be safer and less painful than the alternative.
In case of fire, know what has fed the fire, and what she is hungry for. Some fires only want the bodies trapped in the collapsed buildings. Some fires want more. Whatever she wants, she must be fed.
Always wear the company-mandated clothing that will allow you to blend in with the other members of your team. Never alter your clothing in ways that could cause you to stand out from your team. Do not make it easy for anything to fixate on you.
First aid kits are necessary, if only to stave off despair—by the time you recognize the need for one, nothing can be done.
Never remove or tamper with anything you see here. What you carry out with you will be driven to haunt its captor, and what you touch will remember the feeling of your fingers—the pressure, the oil, the smell of your sweat and reckless fear.
Wear goggles at night. They cannot help you tell truth from lies, but they will always light the path you choose to follow—you might stride confidently off the road, but you will not blunder.
Wear non-skid footgear: some research suggests that it renders your taste unappetizing.
Never take risks when it comes to contentment. You may know what you are feeling, but you cannot trust that your assessments of the reasons behind the feeling are accurate. Happiness is not a good sign here.
Julia Peterson (she/her) is a queer Jewish journalist currently based in Regina, Saskatchewan. As a writer and translator, her work has been featured in INK Magazine, The Carillon, StarTrek.com, and Reading in Translation. She absolutely adores musicals. Find her on Twitter @hark_a_julia.