Authors: Kilayla Pilon
I jerked away from him and made my way towards the exit at a faster pace, stepping through where the glass door once stood. Outside, the sky was growing dark fast. At this rate, I wouldn’t make it back to the bungalow un
til dawn, at least.
“Arin, do me a favour and don’t come back until that bastard is damn dead. Oh, and hold this advice near and dear to yer heart – trust no one.” With those last words, Milton scurried away, disappearing from view behind one of the shelve
s before I had a chance to respond. I could hear him shuffling, and I caught sight of him ducking behind the counter before I turned away. He wanted me to leave and to never come back?
“I won’t come back,” I called to him. “Thank you.. for everything.” I s
tepped through the frame and glanced around. Heading back to the bungalow didn’t seem like a great idea, I would have to walk all night and I’d be too tired to keep alert and aware of my surrounding. If I wanted to make it there by dawn, at the latest, I needed to walk all night – and it was cold, too.
Find somewhere to sleep for tonight; head out in the morning. No use heading back to the house.
I had thought, nodding at my decision. I glanced around; heading away from Milton’s building. There were a few other buildings, but they were boarded up and appeared to have no easy places access. One of them, a tall two story with a boarded up store front, looked like I could crawl into the windows – but it was a steep fall and I had to climb up. It wasn’t worth it, there were other places.
I walked and walked until the moon was shining and the stars were dancing in the navy sky. It was hard to see, my vision impaired by the lack of light; but out a few houses down, one of the last on the road, was a flickering in t
he distance. It was the kind of light that could only be cast off by a flickering flame. I knew it was foolish of me, and Milton’s warning words rang in my head, but I doubted they would be too vicious or cruel. I just needed a place to sleep for the night and then I was gone; they would be fine with that, right? I didn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t be. It wasn’t like I would be much danger to them – I was short, a little chunky and couldn’t keep my mind off of my parents for five minutes. I was as dangerous as a chipmunk.
Coming upon a small, two story blue house, I ascended the creaking porch steps, peering into the front window. It was hard to look in, the glass coated in dust and other residue, but I could just make out the candle on the floor, flic
kering, but I did not see who was residing in the house; just shadows.
I spun around at the sound, about to grab for my bow when I froze, hands hovering in midair. The front door was open and an older looking man stood, leaning against the frame and
staring at me. I couldn’t make out his face, but the way he stood didn’t appear to be hostile; if I had wanted to, I could kill him in an instant by plunging a knife through his gut. He obviously didn’t anticipate an attack from me, and I didn’t plan one, despite my automatic reach for my weapon. However, I didn’t lower my hands, and instead kept clutching my bow, just in case.
“Do you need something?” He said in a gruff voice, an unamused expression on his face as his gaze traveled to my weapons.
“I just need somewhere to spend the night,” I responded, taking a step backwards, bumping into the porch fence, cringing as it dug into my spine.
“Would you be willing to give up your weapons for the night if we let you stay? Can’t have you taking us down
in our sleep, can we?” He laughed, raising his eyebrow and returning his gaze to me.
“Depends, is it just for the night?” I glanced at the window, the candle continuing to let off its light.
“Just the night,” he said, his shoulders rose in a shrug. “It’s that or you can keep looking, kid.” I stared at him, both of us remaining silent, our eyes locked on each other. Crickets hummed nearby, and after a moment, I sighed. I didn’t want to trust him with my weapons, but I needed a place to sleep. I could feel my body growing fatigued within moments and I began to wobble, desperate to sit down for a moment.
“I… Yeah, fine, I’ll leave them with you for the night. It is just you in there, right?” I asked, swinging my bow over my shoulder and looking up at him.
“Me and my boy, but that’s it.” He turned his back to me and headed into the house, and I noticed a gun tucked in the back of his pants, just peeking out from underneath his jacket. I narrowed my eyes, questioning whether to head out and put this place behind me, find somewhere else.
Might as well stay and see what you can get out of it,
I thought, sighing. I followed after him, closing the door behind me. It creaked with the movement, echoing throughout the house – it sounded somewhat like a ghost. I walked into a foyer where a staircase loomed a few steps ahead of me. A small hallway leading into a kitchen was to my left and an archway to my right lead to the room with the flickering candle, its orange light cast against the walls. I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow in wonder – how was this place not already inhabited? It was one of the best standing places I’d seen so far. Most other places had caved in or been destroyed.
What’s to say it wasn’t before they got here?
I thought, scanning the area. Had this place been empty before? Had there been a family living here that had been disposed of so the man and his son could take hold of it?
Can I trust them?
One thing was for certain, however – I had to keep my guard up. I had to go with what Milton had said,
with what my mother had been telling me for years. Trust no one.
I walked through the archway leading to the living room and couldn’t help but take it all in. It looked nothing like our bungalow had; everything from the set up to the color scheme was different.
However, it was warm and had a somewhat welcoming feel in it.
Wallpaper peeled off the walls, the color faded to the point where it was hard to make out. I figured it must have once been a soft blue, as it had become a pale blue-white color, coated in a thick layer of dust. Thick green vines crawled through an old, crumbled in fireplace. The floorboards were scratched and had long lost the orange tint they had once possessed, turning it to a pasty white with black streaks.
,” the man coughed in an attempt to remind me in what he presumed to be a ‘subtle’ manner, reaching out his hand. I looked him dead in the eye, stared at him for a moment before I lifted my bow off my shoulder and placed it into his open hand. It was a struggle to leave it behind and I wanted to cover myself the minute it left my grip.
“I’m just assuming you won’t slit my throat in my sleep,” I murmured and tore my gaze from my bow, moving towards an old moth-eaten couch and lowering myself onto it. Its spr
ings groaned as I lowered myself onto the soft cushions, but it was otherwise somewhat comfortable.
“Don’t worry; we’re just here for the night too, we’re headed through town on our way to some settlement due a few days north of here.” He set my bow down o
n a pile of wood, his eyes locked on me as he set it down, stepping away from it and raising his brow, lips twitching. “Where are you headed?”
I kept my mouth closed for a moment and watched as he moved around the room, adjusting whatever he could. “No cl
ue,” I responded after a moment, placing my hands in my lap.
“Ah, I know that deal,” he laughed. “Wasn’t sure where we were headed for a while either until we heard of some little settlement up near Opeongo Lake, nice place I heard.” He glanced at Isaac as
he said the name ‘Cobalt’ before looking back at me.
“What’s your name?” I questioned, watching as he sat across from me in a small, floral-patterned chair. It was a miracle the thing
didn’t snap under his weight, the springs crying out in protest and the wood groaning at the strain.
“Name’s Seth,” he said, looking at the doorway just as another, taller and far younger man entered the room, eying me. “This is my boy, Isaac. Isaac, this girl is going to be staying here for tonight.”
“I’m, uh, Elizabeth,” I lied, watching the two of them. If the people who were looking for me were still out there, I wasn’t going to tell just anyone my name. Not yet, at least. Not until I knew these men were trustworthy. Especially if they were part of the group, what had Milton called them? I couldn’t remember the name, but if that was what the two men were, they were looking for me, not heading to some settlement.
We can both play the liars game.
Isaac grunted in response and tossed a small bag at Seth. I stared as he ripped
it open with his teeth and took out a long strand of meat – beef jerky. Common, what with the few farms that remained that sold fresh produce and fresh meat.
A deep rumble came from my stomach and I wrapped my hands around my waist, feeling heat radiate i
n my cheeks. I had forgotten to eat, far too focused on the task my parents had set for me.
“Here,” Seth tossed me a piece of the jerky. “We have more; I’ll just run and grab a bag. Isaac, do you want me to grab you another bag?” Isaac shook his head, tear
ing at a strand of his own.
“Thanks,” I murmured, taking a bite a hesitant bite out of mine. I watched as he wandered off, turned a corner and disappeared from my line of sight. I snuck a peek at Isaac, watching him as I chewed. The
boy’s eyes were trained on the candle, his green gaze reflecting the flickering light. His face was stone cold, no emotions portrayed – he was thinking, for all I could tell, or he was just focused on chewing. He leaned back and draped his free arm over one of his legs, but he didn’t even look at me. I waited to see if he would talk, but he didn’t make a sound, not even when Seth returned and dropped down into his chair with a satisfied grunt.
“Where you comin’ from, Elizabeth?” he asked, looking up at me a
s his jaw moved slow and stead, paying no attention to his mute son.
“Oh, I’m from just outside a city a few kilometers away,” I responded, shrugging as I spoke. There was no point in lying, there were a few cities within a few dozen miles – besides, and I
didn’t know the name of where I had lived, anyway. “I’m not really from one set place, you know?”
“Moved around a lot, I take it?” He gave a small snort. “Of course you did, in times like these, well, you have to. Staying in once place for any extended pe
riod is hard; sometimes damn near impossible if you aren’t in the right place. Few people ever manage it.” Seth exhaled a brief chuckle, shaking his head. “Isaac would know that one well; he’s lived in so many different places, right bud?” Isaac didn’t respond and instead took another large bite of his jerky.
“He’s not a talker, I take it,” I murmured. I felt myself flush again, hands breaking into a sweat. “I’m sorry, that was rude.” I glanced up at Seth, who bore a wide grin on his face, shaking his head
as he struggled to hide a laugh, face as red as my own.
“Is it that obvious? No, he’s not. Not when strangers are around. No need to apologize, kid,” he paused and raised his eyebrow again, leaning back into his chair. “Say, Lizzie, mind if I call you that
? How old are you?”
“Sixteen,” I responded with a light shrug. “Why?”
“Just wonderin’, is all. You grew up in this apocalypse then, just like my boy here. Too bad you didn’t get to see the world like it was before. It was so much nicer back then,” Seth sighed, his eyes focused on his son, a small frown pulling on his lips.
“So I’ve been told.” I glanced down at my feet, taking another bite.
“If you’re so young, where are you parents?” Isaac lifted his gaze, glancing at me from where he sat.
“My parents are
dead,” I stated in a monotone, flat voice, glowering at my feet.
“Was it starvation, dehydration, suicide or sickness?” Isaac continued, flinching away from his dads hand as he moved to smack him – his reaction was too slow, however, because the sound of
skin on skin contact echoed in the air just as I looked away.
“You don’t ask that, Isaac!” Seth hissed. “I’m sorry, Lizzie, for both my sons idiocy and your loss. Isaac, you wouldn’t like people asking where your mother is, so you don’t ask that. Got it?”
Isaac just nodded, looking away and rubbing the back of his head.
“It’s fine,” I stated, lifting my head to look up at the two of them.
“Really, it is.”
“You don’t gotta tell us if you don’t wanna,” He said, locking his eyes on mine, as if expecting me to
tell him anyway.
“I might as well. They were murdered,” I answered, chewing on my lip. I had to talk about it or I knew I would never get over it. Mum had always taught me to handle things that way, and I figured that was the best advice I had about hand
ling her death that did not involve isolation and waves of tears every night.
“Oh,” Isaac mumbled and turned away, his cheeks red with embarrassment. He’d spoken few words, but it was obvious in his posture there would be even less communication out of him
for the night. Silence ensued for a few minutes, the only sound the crinkle of the bags of food as the three of us ate.
“I’m going to turn in,” Seth sighed when the candle flame flickered low, stretching his arms and yawning. “Isaac, show her to her room
and then head to bed, okay? Don’t go off wandering the streets. We have to be up with the sun.” Seth got up and looked at me, giving me a small smile before heading out of the room. I listened to him head up the stairs, the dull
of his feet on the floor above echoed throughout the house. Dust fell from the ceiling with each sound. I coughed, waving my hand in front of my face.
“Follow me,” Isaac grunted, and I was surprised to hear him speak again. His voice was flat, monotone. I had to wonder if
he always spoke in that tone of voice, or if he was like his father had said and didn’t speak when around strangers too often.
I pushed off the coach, swinging my bag around my shoulder and following in behind Isaac, whose long legs made for one of his st
rides being the distance of two of mine. I scurried along behind him, bouncing up the stairs and turning to the left, heading down a short hallway that was lit up by a small window that let the moonlight in. He walked away and disappeared into a doorway on his left, and I followed in behind him.
“Goodnight,” he said as I entered the small room, exiting the bedroom as fast as he could, his shoulder brushing against me. I didn’t bother to respond, and instead just closed and locked the door.
I place my hand on the door, leaning my head forward, tapping my fingers against the wood.
Let’s hope we’re not making a bad decision to trust these guys.
I pushed off the door and spun around on one foot, heading over to the bed. It was long and blue, an
d the rooms coloring itself made me think of a boy. It must have been a boy’s room once. I wonder how old the boy had been and if he was still alive. I ran my finger along a brown, hole-filled teddy bear that sat at the foot of the bed. He had to have been pretty young.
I pulled back the old, worn blue blanket decorated with green and red spaceships that lay on the bed, feeling a sense of joy that no bugs scurried out at the movement. It was safe and lacking in the small, nasty things so far. I crawled unde
r the covers, not bothering to change out of my clothes, and curled up, bringing my knees to my chest and burying my head in the pillow. It was warmer underneath the blankets and quite comfortable. The only thing that was missing was a hug goodnight from my mother. I closed my eyes.
Her loud cries rang out, echoing through the house as she dragged herself along the wall. A small hole in her stomach oozed
crimson. Blood smeared her palms, leaving bloodied hand prints behind each time she pressed against the wall. She tripped, knocking a picture frame off of its hook, watching as it fell and shattered against the floor. Tears streamed down her face as she stumbled away from her assailants and into her bedroom, kicking the door shut behind her. Her legs shook without control as she stumbled towards the window, intending to climb out and run off, but her hopes were dashed as, unable to struggle even half the length she needed to cross to get to the window, her knees gave out and instead she fell, falling hard against the wall and giving out a cry of pain as her shoulder connected, shattering upon impact. She groaned and adjusted where she lay, trying hard to handle the pain searing in her wounded shoulder, rolling onto her back, panting.
The bedroom door swung open with force, smashing the wall and leaving a hole where the doorknob had connected, but she didn’t have the energy to look up at the men charging into the room. Glares fixed on their faces, each of them men starte
d towards her, knives ready, their feet thudding against the ground – but there was nothing she could do but wait for them to do as they pleased.
“No, stop!” I cried out, jolting upwards in the bed. Sweat coated my body and I spun around, trying to recall
where I was as I observed the cracked walls that surrounded me. After a few moments, I remembered everything and exhaled a heavy sigh, leaning back against my pillow and staring at the ceiling. For five blissful seconds I had forgotten my family was dead; despite the nightmare I had endured, watching my mother’s murder play in my head – my own made up version. I doubted it had been far more horrifying than my dream.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
“Elizabeth! Are you okay?” Seth’s voice sounded outside of my door, and I jumped, turning over to see the door rattle in its frame.
“I’m fine, I’m fine! It was just a bad dream!” I assured, slipping out of the bed. A cold chill ran through my body as I exited the warm covers, shivering and wrapping my arms around myself.
“Okay,” Seth said and I could hear him release a heavy sigh. It sounded like he was relieved. “We’re heading out soon.”
Right, it’s time to leave.
My jacket was in my bag, which at the foot of the bed, half hanging off the edge. It was cold, colder than the day before and I still had a lot of walking ahead of me until I found somewhere far away to settle down. How long until the cold got so bad it was near impossible to endure?
We’ll find somewhere to stay, just wait and see.
I wanted so bad to return to the bungalow. I wanted to feel the warmth of my blankets wrapped around me, stare at the purple wallpaper or the white paint in the hallway, or even at the photos hung up of people I had never met enjoying life from before. However much I desired though, it was out of the question and there was no going back for anything – not even to say goodbye one more time. Not even to bury the corpses that sat, alone and unburied.
I tugged my coat from my bag, pulling it on and leaving it unzipped, rolling up the blue blanket
from the bed and tying it up with my rolled up foam – it didn’t hurt to have something extra to keep warm, especially with winter coming.
Where to now? Head north or east?