Authors: Kilayla Pilon
“There we go,” I said, throwing the last bit of stuff into the bag and zipping it up.
Why haven’t they come to tell me I’m finished the test yet? They must have fallen asleep… I’ll go wake them up, then I won’t get in trouble for going to sleep in the middle of a test.
I left my room and shuffled across the hall, hoping they were in their room and not hiding out elsewhere. I pushed open my parents’ door, and at first glance all was n
ormal. Their bed was neat enough; Mum hadn’t gotten around to making it that morning. She rarely did on the days Dad went into town. I wished it had stayed normal like that, but when I looked to the right, there was a sight that would forever be burned into my brain. It was a sight I would never be able to put into words just how horrific of a view it was and I hoped I would never have to.
Lying propped up against the wall, which appeared to be stained black in a gradient pattern, was a corpse – chunks of i
ts skin were charred black and a dark shade of crimson, the clothes it had once worn no longer existing; various sized holes covered its legs. Its face, however, was left almost untouched, except for a few blisters formed from the heat – its jaw remained open in what seemed to be a permanent, horrified howl of pain.
“Daddy,” I gasped, sinking to the ground. I cupped my hands over my mouth, unable to tear my gaze from the scorched body that had once been my father. It wasn’t him anymore, only the face was hi
s – the rest was claimed by fire.
“Arin,” croaked a small, soft voice from behind me, and I turned on my heels, slow and hesitant to see the being that had just spoken my name in such a hoarse, broken voice.
“Oh my God,” I cried, falling backwards as I saw who had spoken. My mother there was no mistaking the auburn hair – what hadn’t been torn from her head – which she’d always been so fond of. Her face was swollen to about four times its normal size, large purple lumps dotting her face. I could just make out the glint of her eyes in the moonlight, her lips puffed out to the point where I was astonished that she had even been able to say my name. The rest of her body, as she bore only her underwear, was covered in blood and burns. They had been tortured and my mother had lost so much blood… It was everywhere…
“Just tell me what to do, Mummy, please. What can I do to fix you? Where are the first-aid kits?” I said, looking around for paper. I could get her to writ
e it, that would be easier and I figured a lot less painful, what with the way her lips were, as well as the purple finger marks around her neck.
“Arin, go. Leave.” Her voice was so weak; it was hard to make out what she was saying at first.
“I can’t, I have to help you!” I protested. I couldn’t just leave her. I continued searching, tearing open her bedside table and rummaging through the drawer.
“Go, please.” She lifted a hand, pointing to her stomach. I glanced down at her stomach and noticed it - a sma
ll hole, a bullet wound – with its location; it may very well have pierced right into her stomach.
“Mummy…” I mouthed, unable to make a sound as I stared at the wound, crawling towards her. She reached out her right hand; movements slow as she began to run
it along my cheek.
“My baby, my precious baby,” she sighed, trailing her fingers down my arm. As she came to my hand, I latched onto her hand, holding it tight in my grasp. I didn’t want to let go – I couldn’t.
“Love you, baby girl.” She closed her eyes and squeezed my hand. “Promise you’ll fight to keep going after we leave, okay baby?
“Forever,” I said as I squeezed her hand back. She made no movement after that, the only sound in the room was her ragged breathing. I swallowed hard, trying to keep myself
from bursting into tears once more. “I promise, Mummy.”
We sat in silence and I watched her, unable to let go of her hand as her shoulders stopped rising and the sound of her shaky, harsh breathing came to a sudden halt. Her arms slumped; the only thing k
eeping her right hand up was me, holding it tight in my own hands.
“Mum,” I murmured, tears burning in my eyes. “Mummy, please…” I knew it was hopeless, but the ache in my chest was almost unbearable. I couldn’t hold back the tears and I leaned forwards, c
urling up into the fetal position and holding her hand tight to my chest, pressed against her bloodied, beaten body. I didn’t care how dirty I got, how much of her blood I would be washing from my hair – I just wanted to be with her, I just wanted her alive.
“It’s all my fault.”
I jumped up, a shiver running down my spine. What had happened? How long had I been lying there? I glanced around, spotting my parents bodies, and I leaned back against the wall, sinking to the floor. I had fallen asleep
– I could still feel the lines of tears on my face, dried.
After I realized that, two main questions echoed in my mind. One, what was I supposed to do now and two, who had killed my parents? I had to find them.
Question one had an answer – do as Mum had instructed. Pack my things and go – I had already packed my stuff. I peered at my mother, staring at her swollen, yellowing face. How much pain had she been in? Had she watched my father burn?
I closed my eyes, shaking my head and trying not to think about i
t. I couldn’t stand to imagine how much pain she had been in, physical and emotional, because of me. It was just wrong. Tears lined my eyes and I blinked fast, turning away.
“Into town, stick to the trees,” I murmured, heading to my room. The carnage of th
e hallway no longer fazed me, and I threw myself down on my bed, staring at the ceiling. Dead, they were dead and they weren’t going to spring back to life – not with the blood my mother had lost and the shape my father was in. I was alone – but I had somewhat of a plan of what I was supposed to do, thanks to my mother. Head into town, like Mum had said, and hope that there would be some kind of a sign as to what I had to do next.
However, I didn’t want to do anything of the sort. I wanted to lie in my bed
and stare at the ceiling until the world ended, or at least until mine did. Lying there, sleeping until everything seemed a bit more real, less like my entire world hadn’t just shattered seemed to be a lot more preferable… and I hadn’t been to town in years.
“Get up,” I demanded of myself, my voice just passable as a whisper. “Your parents are dead because of
. You can’t just give up now, you promised.” I glanced at the red duffel bag beside me and the bow, running my fingers along the string. I sighed, sitting up and hesitating before pushing off the bed. My legs wobbled and I stood there, eyes screwed shut for a brief moment until my balance returned. In one quick movement, I swung the bag over my shoulder, the bow and quiver following after; I stared down at my clothes, however, and groaned.
I was covered in blood, all of it dried and stained. There was no way I could wash it out; and I liked that. It gave me a reason to rid myself of the clothes bled on by my parents. But a part of me felt like I c
ouldn’t be rid of them – my shirt, a green tank top, had once been my mother’s and it was her favorite on me, as she liked to say often.
Carrying my bag, I grabbed an outfit that I hadn’t packed and headed out to the backyard. With no running water, we col
lected rainwater – it was clean enough, and we managed to keep it that way. I stripped down to my underwear and dunked my head in, the blood that had hardened in my hair washing out, tinting the water a pale red as it spread out.
I rinsed off my hands and
arms, scrubbing hard to get the dirt and blood caked into my skin off of me, before changing into a pair of black tights and a blue tank top, pulling a black cardigan on. It was warm enough not to wear a jacket, so I draped it over my arm and started off.
Instructed to stick to the trees, it was easy to keep away from the road way. It was cool in the shadows of the forest canopy, but the terrain was rough and bugs nipped at me quite often. A part of me wanted to head to the smooth tarmac of the road, howev
er it wasn’t safe, or my mother would not have requested I stick to the forest.
A small snapping sound echoed throughout the area and I jumped at the unexpected sound, backing up hard against a tree. I tried to steady my sporadic breaths, which had been fine just moments before. My mind whirled and I was trying hard, with little success, to calm myself and bring my thoughts to focus on the trek ahead of me rather than the idea of running to duck for cover from the source of the sound, only to notice the snapped twig not far where I had just stepped, sitting atop a footprint I had left in the grass. I hadn’t even felt my foot connect with the wood – how had I not noticed?
“You need to calm down,” I spat aloud, resi
sting the urge to smack myself in the face, “and focus on what you are doing. You’re fine. Whoever hurt Mum is gone, you are fine.” But, no matter how much I tried to convince myself, I knew I wasn’t. Panic and fear tingled through me at the idea of being stalked, of turning out like my mother and father, charred, bloodied and alone. I didn’t want to wind up like them, and they had wound up like that protecting me – I had to stay alive for them. Their sacrifice couldn’t go to waste.
“Okay, okay, let’s go.”
I puffed out my cheeks and held my breath as I pushed off the tree and continued through the forest at a brisk pace, chewing on my lip.
I didn’t make it to town until the sun was beginning to set and my feet were screaming in my sneakers for me to stop wal
king and sit down. It took a lot of convincing to keep going, because if I stopped, there would be nothing after that – I wouldn’t be able to get myself up for the rest of the day.
Legs throbbing, I entered the first building I saw – its windows were boar
ded up with a strange and somewhat familiar purple pattern spray-painted on the front, the glass door shattered, leaving nothing but a frame. I stepped through it, the shattered glass crunching beneath my feet.
“Hello? Is anyone here?” I called, hoping no one would respond. I just wanted to sit down out of the sun, not argue with some crazy city dweller. The inside of the building was lined with shelves coated in dust, a few empty, falling apart cardboard boxes a
nd a lot of rotted objects. The entire building reeked of mold from years of water damage. It wrinkled my nose and moved to turn away and find another building, one that didn’t smell so horrid.
“Who’s askin’?” A hacking cough followed the question. I glanc
ed around; pivoting on one foot, but the person who had spoken was out of sight.
“Where are you?” I responded, and as I spoke as a salt and pepper haired old man appeared from behind one of the shelves.
“I think it best if you answer me first, kid. This is my trading post, after all.” He leaned against the shelf, crossing his arms and looking me up and down. “So who the hell – you know what, it don’t matter. I don’t trade with people I don’t know, and you ain’t Davey boy, so,”
“Dave was my father,” I said,
interrupting him. He stared at me for a moment and squinted, tapping his fingers against his arm.
“Well I’ll be! That means you must be not-so-little Arin!” His voice was scratchy, but as he beamed at me, exposing a yellowed, near toothless smile, he hobbl
ed over and grabbed my hand, giving it a hard, but somewhat welcoming shake.
“Who are you?” I pulled my hand away, taking a hesitant step backwards. I rubbed my hand against my shirt in an inattentive manner.
“Been a while since I saw ya, you grew up real pretty. Hair’s real long, too! Nice and black, so much like yer Dad’s… Oh, I’m Milton, not surprised ya don’t remember.” He flashed another toothless grin.
“Yous was eleven or so the last time I saw ya, hm?”
“Hi, Milton,” I coughed, taking a good look at him. His clothes were ragged, his hair gray and shaggy, teeth yellow and black and his broad jaw held a long scar.
I wonder how that happened;
I thought and looked up at him, meeting his gaze.
“Ya pickin’ up Dave’s order for 'im? He ordered quite a bit, go
od thing I knows where to get the stuff he asked for.” He pointed behind him and moved to head toward the back.
“No, uh, Dad’s…” I reached to grab his arm.
“Oh? He comin’ by later?” He narrowed his eyes at me, shifting his stance and taking half a step backwards at my sudden movement. I could tell he knew what I was getting at, but he was trying hard not to accept it. What I wouldn’t have given to be able to tell him what he wanted to hear.
“Dad’s,” I began, clearing my throat and looking down at my feet. I
blew air out of my nose, chewed on my lip and was wringing my fingers. “Dad’s gone.”
“Gone?” Milton echoed, his head tilting. “Kid, he ain’t dead, is he?”
“Yeah, he is,” I sighed and closed my eyes, clenching my hands into fists. My words rang in my ears, a soft echo that taunted me. Loss was never a thing I had gone through in my life, I’d never lost anyone I cared for as I’d never had friends or family outside of my parents; and now I was faced with the gruesome slaughter of the two people I had had in my life since day one and no one else to turn to. My heart ached and yearned for them, and each thought that passed my mind containing them almost pushed me to tears.
“Damn, I’m sorry, kid. He was a good guy,” Milton said, drawing me from my thoughts. “You
might as well take his order, than.
Annabelle will be needin’ it.”
“She’s gone too,” I murmured, my throat feeling as if it had closed up. I swallowed as a mass of bile slithered up my throat at the words; and I shut my eyes, inhaling through my nose as I tried hard to keep myself from crying. I couldn’t cry, not in front of this man who may as well have been a stranger to me. I clenched my hands back into fists, biting my lip until I could taste the metallic tang of blood.
“I’m sorry, kid… Really, I am. Yer parents were real nice people, they just – ah, come on, and I’ll get yer stuff.” He turned
around, motioning for me to follow just as I opened my eyes to look at him, a weak, grateful smile on my face.
“What is this place, Milton?” I asked as I stepped in behind him, glancing around at the old dusted shelves, the items once plenty and labeled long disappeared, and the ceiling – which was covered in crawling green vines and looked quite ready to cave
“This building, well, suppose it can be considered a trading post, in a few ways, the people that live around here – ones I know and trust, don’t take many newcomers - come to trade with me to get hold of specific food or really anything they can’t g
et hold of with ease,” He said, ducking behind a counter. Soft sounds of boxes being shifted echoed throughout the store. “City used to be nice, too, before the whole world went to hell. Small town, as you may have noticed – couple of shops, a graveyard. Close knit community, my wife grew up here and I moved here not long after my brother died; decided I wanted to live in a small town. Twenty years later, the apocalypse hits and I’m still here...” There was a sudden thump, followed by a groan and muffled curse. I stood silent, shifting where I stood as I listened to him talk. I wasn’t sure what to do, if he wanted me to go over to him or stay where I was, or if he would prefer I just listen to his story. I voted that the latter was the better option. He must have felt alone with no one else around, and getting to tell stories was something he must have enjoyed doing, when he got the chance if he was doing it seconds after meeting me.
“There we go,” Milton grunted, heaving a large crate up onto the counter. He
wiped his hands on his top and bent back down. He started pulling things out – water bottles, candles and two silver lighters, one with a blue crescent moon sticker and the other plain, and placed each of them on the table.
“Thanks,” I said, a small grin
creeping on my face. Each of the things he’d given to me would be useful, and I had forgotten to check for any back at home. I put the crescent moon decorated lighter in my pocket and packing the water, candle and spare lighter into my bag. It took some rearranging to make everything fit.
“Don’t thank me; thank yer Dad for paying for it and, uh, plannin’ for it,” Milton responded and cleared his throat, returning the crate to wherever it had been. I nodded, swinging the duffel bag over my shoulder.
“Arin? Did ya get the people who got yer parents?” Milton said, a sudden urgency sounding in his voice. He glanced towards me and leaned against the counter, his eyebrow raised as he eyed my bow.
“No, but I wish. Why?” I responded and couldn’t help but step away f
rom him. His expression shifted the moment the words left my mouth, and he hobbled around the counter, snatching hold of my arm and digging his nails deep into my skin.
“You gotta get out of here. I don’t care where ya go, just leave now.” Deep in his voic
e, though he tried to hide it, I could detect a sense of fear. He tugged on my arm and I followed, not bothering to resist. If he wanted me out of his shop, I wasn’t going to stay behind – why piss him off? After all, he could very well have thrown me out and kept the merchandise for other buyers.
“Milton, what’s w-”
“You just need to get the hell out of here, and fast. They’ll come looking for ya, and if they find ya here, they will kill me, and I didn’t work this hard to be killed yet. They want you, not me,” He interrupted, his tone was dark and he sounded disgruntled.
“Who are they?” I inquired, struggling to keep my balance as he pulled me along. I shifted my bag, feeling it slide down my arm
“The damn Raiders, okay? My God, yer parents didn’t teach ya anything, did they? They even knew this day would come! Foolish, nice and damn foolish people, I thought they knew better than to, just… Christ!” Milton snorted, giving a sharp tug on my arm as we neared the store entrance. Glass crunched beneath our feet as we made it closer to the door.