“Let’s go, Kaya,”I whispered as I patted my thigh without making a sound. Her brindle ears perked up. She stuck to my side and moved as cautiously as I did. She could sense the same thing I could. Some raiders were close. I was risking everything coming this close to the city. I was desperate for supplies. In other words, Kaya and I were close to starving. I’m not complaining. We have been lucky in the food department. Kaya and I had a habit of hitting jackpots regularly enough to keep supply trips to a minimum. We’ve been stretching the last haul a little bit too long. I had been giving Kaya most of my portion.
My bones felt fragile: my muscles struggling to feel strong enough to keep moving. We needed more if we wanted to survive. Kaya and I went in and out every house in The Commons. A known raider camp was too close to the north, I wasn’t sure how large it was, all I knew was that people who got too close to it disappeared.
I’m a wanderer, a survivor, an incredible statistic. It’s been five years since the Raiders tore through my family home, taking my entire life from me. I was taking out the garbage—right after I made a big deal about how much I despised the chore. I remember the confusion when I dropped the bag into the can. The sound of broken glass split through the side yard. As I thought, “ that couldn’t have possibly been me,” I looked up and saw them. Men with machine guns and armor swarmed around my house like wasps. I ran to the bushes that served as a fence, separating our yard with the neighbors. As a child, I would climb into the enemies shrubs and pretend I had found a magical tunnel that led to the homes of nature spirits. I would image hundreds of scenarios while I got lost in a pretend world with friendly creatures. I hid in the same bushes as my family got murdered and my childhood home burned to the ground. My whole street—the seemingly perfect road where I learned to ride my bike on—went up in flames that night.
I walked around aimlessly for days trying to understand what had happened. We knew that raiding parties were heading in our direction. The pattern was same as all the other fallen states. It started in the cities, and then their rapid consumption and misguided anger bled into the surrounding areas. Eventually, everything got consumed by the takers, the wronged, and the ones who only knew to steal. One by one each state was falling to the marauders. The looting started with a small group of criminals took over a small town near Pennsylvania. A group believed they had the right to whatever it was that they desired. One button shopping turned into self-assured home invasions. These acts caught on quickly. More and more people joined their ranks and decided they were done being on the bottom.
Kaya let out a soft yowl, back to our current task and out of my desperate head. A mountain of smashed cars sat proudly in front of the bridge entrance. It’s clearly a barricade although I wasn’t sure who was keeping what out. The crudeness of the cars and other debris didn’t look like the work of professional of Raider walls, but I couldn’t be sure. The sight and the uncertainty made my empty stomach, even more, uneasy. It didn’t matter. We needed food, and we needed hope. The plan was to get quietly in and through the city, collecting supplies as we went. Hopefully, there was somewhere safe to rest my head south of the city. Hopefully, I wouldn’t get near any camps of people who have the illness in their hearts.
With a quick scan, I saw nothing but stillness, almost too unmoving to have been sincere. It looked like I was by myself but I felt the warmth of another’s blood. Kaya’s long dark-brown legs locked, and her nose pointed to our left. A heaviness moved in the center of my stomach. I reached behind my back and wrapped my hand around my dagger. Branches near the cluster of maple trees moved, and not from the wind.
There is a coldness when truly alone that’s unlike any feeling. The shift from complete isolation to the presence of another heartbeat is so shockingly different. Kaya hung her head low as she fixed her eyes in the same direction.
“Show yourself,” I said with an even tone.
“Are you alone?” The voice in the trees replied.
“No. I’m with my dog.”
“Is your dog dangerous?” His voice was concerned but didn’t carry any harshness.
“She can be.”
Gunfire exploded in the distance.
“How many of you are they?” I asked. Anytime I come across another person, I start with expecting the worse—that’s what life is. We are all greedy. Some need more than others in that sense; nothing has changed. If everyone paid closer attention to the small details, we would have seen it coming. Everything has an effect on something. My spine tenses at the thought.
“I’m by myself,” he said. I could see an outline now. A tall skinny shadow stepped out from the tree’s protection. “I really won’t cause you trouble.” He put his hands out in front of him.
“Okay,” I said, keeping my hand on the knife behind my back.
“Okay,” he answered walking closer. The male shadow grew larger until I could begin to make out the details. His sandy blond hair grazed the corners of his bright blue eyes. His expression widened as I took him in—as we take each other in. Memories of my elementary school years filed through my mind like a forgotten photo album.
A life so underrated, that’s now gone forever.
“I never thought I’d seen anyone from the old stomping ground again,” he spoke happily.
“Jeremy.” I couldn’t believe my eyes completely; they have played more tricks on me a lot lately. Jeremy was my brother’s best friend. I’d follow closely behind them trying to do whatever they were doing. I hadn’t thought of any of that in so long.
His familiar face spread into as smile. I couldn’t believe it. As I went to reach out to touch him, to verify his existence, flashlights, and angry chatter filled the air around us. His expression showed only fear.
“Come on,” I whispered. “Stay close, stay quiet.”