Authors: Kilayla Pilon
I’ll figure something out,
I thought, unlocking the bedroom door. I pulled it open and stepped through, noticing blue color to my right. I glanced back at the door and noticed on the outside facing half; torn blue foam clung to the white wood.
“Hayden,” I whispered, running my fingers along the letters. “So that was your name.” I turned
away, glancing down at my feet as I shuffled towards the stairs. I lifted my gaze for a moment and peered out the window at the end of the hallway to see it was still dark out, the light of the moon casting dark shadows in through the window, dancing on the wall and the floors. The sun wouldn’t be up for a few hours. I sighed – it would be a good couple of hours before the temperature rose to something a little more tolerable than it was in the morning.
Thumping down the stairs, a loud creak echoing throug
h the house with each step, I peered first into the living room that we had sat in the night before, the candle nothing more than a hardened pool of wax sitting on a cracked white saucer, the wick long gone. Isaac and Seth were nowhere to be found.
I called, heading into the room opposite. “Isaac?” I looked around the room, an old refrigerator staring back at me. Sitting just steps in front of me was a large brown table, missing legs and the chairs that went with it.
Firewood, I wouldn’t doubt
,” Isaac’s voice carried from behind me and I jumped, grabbing for my bow before I realized I didn’t have it. I spun around to see Isaac at the top of the stair case, leaning against the railing, the corner of his lips twitching. “You headed out?” His green gaze was locked on my hands, grasping for what was not there.
“I’m heading out, yeah; I just wanted to thank you and your father for letting me stay the night,” I said, smiling up at him. He seemed nice enough when he wasn’t staring at fire in silence. “
I’ll bump into you guys again at some point.”
“Welcome,” Isaac said, coming down the stairs. He glanced up at me for a moment, hesitating as my words registered. He turned away from me almost in an instant and leaped off the stair case. “Have you seen my dad?”
“He told me you were getting ready to leave about half an hour ago,” I replied, chewing on my lip. “That’s the last I saw of him.”
“He wanted to talk to you.” Isaac glanced around, shaking his head. “Where-“
“I’m right here,” Seth interrupted,
the front door squeaking open. “I told you I was heading out back to get the cart.”
“Oh,” Isaac said, shuffling out of the way so Seth could step into the house.
“Lizzie,” Seth turned to me and crossed his arms, his head turned to the right and his eyebrow raised. “Where are you headed, kid?”
“Nowhere,” I answered, blinking up at him and meeting his gaze.
“I haven’t thought much about it, to be honest.”
“Nowhere sounds like a great plan, you know.” Seth chuckled. “Why don’t you
tag along with us until you find this ‘Nowhere’ you’re looking for?”
“Dad,” Isaac began to protest, but a sharp look from Seth silenced him and he stepped backwards, his face turned into a cold stare.
“I don’t,” I paused, thinking back to Milton’s words. I had trusted them to keep me as I slept, I could trust them to travel with for a few hours, or days, until I thought up a plan. “I’ll come along. Thank you,
I can help out with whatever needs doing.”
“That sounds good, kid, it’s always better to have a third partner on the road these days – not that Isaac will agree with me on that.” Seth patted me on the shoulder, glancing over at Isaac, who had turned his cold glower to his feet. “You can ride in the back of the cart; you’re our eyes out for any of those bandits coming up behind us. Isaac and I will pull her along until noon or so, depending on when these old muscles get a bit cranky.”
“I think I misheard you, did you say cart?” I stared at him and replayed what he had said in his head.
No, I know I heard cart… But no one has them anymore.
“Yes, little miss, we have a cart. We have to transport our stuff somehow, most days we aren’t so lucky to find a house like this by nightfall and carrying around our tents and food isn’t the easiest,” Seth boasted with
a wide grin on his face as he stood up straight.
“You have a
?” Tents had become rare gems over the past few years – the ones that remained intact could be traded for months of food. During winter they were even more valuable – it was easier to sleep under the stars when the treat of being buried by snow wasn’t on one’s mind at all times. Most of our supplies had come from a trade Dad had made from our tents.
,” responded Seth with a wink, turning to Isaac. “I got her pulled up out front; you got all your stuff?”
“Yes,” Isaac grumbled, shoving past Seth and making sure to keep his head down as he passed me.
“Ah, that’s my boy,” said Seth. “Sullen and anti-social, I’m sure he’ll open up to at some point.” He trudged out the door, tapping the door knob on his way out. I followed suit, kicking the door shut behind me. I looked towards the road, staring with amazement at the pale wooden cart that sat with a large array of items piled in the back. It was in decent condition, dirty and cracked but still better off than it could have been.
“Wow,” I whispered, running my fingers along the rough, chipped wood.
Dad would have loved to get a hold of this thing.
I walked up to the back of the cart, hoisted myself up and leaned against the side, glancing at the lines and patterns within the boards. It wasn’t going to be moving too fast, two men were not as strong as horses, so the fleeting thought that I would fall when we started moving was gone before I really understood the strange tingle of dread that shot down my spine at the fleeting idea of it occurring.
Shivering, I grabbed hold of my sweater, tugging it out of my bag, and pulled it over my arms, inhaling a deep breath. It smelled like home.
Seth came around the corner, looking up at me as I shoved my stuff beside a tied up sack. He beamed and nodded, continuing around the cart, pausing by the wheels. He bent down and wiggled one of them, nodding to himself. With a grin, he looked up at me and winked.
“And on we go.”
Hours dragged until ever
y minute seemed to drag at the pace of a turtle slumping along, as if days had passed in the brief amount of time it took for the sun to break at dawn and rise until its light was cast across the land. The cart had been bumping along a pot-hole ridden highway for the entirety of the time and as anticipated, the day had grown ever warmer. The sun beat down upon the land, waves of heat reflecting the sky against the dark tar of the road. My hoodie lay piled behind me, bow in hand.
“Need anything?” Seth said, walking into sight and trudging along just behind the cart, a few footsteps away from me.
“I’m good,” I responded, smiling at him, noticing that he’d tied his jacket around his waist and beads of sweat dotted his brow. “Want something to drink?” I offered, reaching back for my bag, pausing at the zipper.
“No thanks, kid. If you need anything or see anything, just remember to holler, okay?” Seth nodded, flashing me another ear-toear grin and walked off, heading back towards the fr
ont of the cart. I shook my head as he disappeared around the side of the cart, straining my face to keep from laughing. He’d come back and said the same lines to me once or twice over the past few hours, each time ending with both of us refusing the others offer. I was so used to people being short and snappy - or just not caring about anyone but themselves - that meeting people who seemed to be genuine and so ready to take care of another person was outlandish; it was a nice change. I was beginning to think it was a good thing that I hadn’t taken Milton’s advice, but my stomach still churned with an unspoken worry that I had made a grave mistake.
It’s just fear,
I thought, running my fingers along my thigh as the cart began to move again.
You’ll get over it soon enough. Besides, if they wanted to hurt you, they would have by now.
Hours slugged on and it wasn’t long before I found myself near half-asleep with boredom, leaning against the side of the cart with my mouth stretched wide in a yawn. I looked arou
nd me, tall, looming trees of varying shades and height stood to the right of us. To the left was a rolling hill that lead straight into a bunch of fallen trees – falling down that hill would hurt like hell. I shivered, turning my gaze back to the road. For as far as I could see, there was nothing – not even a squirrel bouncing along the gray pavement. It was silent and life seemed to be elsewhere, if it existed at all.
“Lizzie, bring your bow and get up here!” Seth’s voice carried to me, loud and booming,
the cart coming to a sudden stop. I scrambled off the cart, stumbling as my vision blurred and my legs gave out. I clung to the cart, a thousand thoughts and voices racing through my head. And then, just like that, I blinked and everything was fine.
oo long,” I murmured aloud, grabbing my hoodie and tying it around my waist. I swing my bow and quiver over my shoulder, spasms of dread slithering through my body like a snake.
Running around the cart, I came up beside Isaac, scanning the area to find wha
t it was that they had called me for. I spotted them walking towards us, a group of two or three people, guns in hand. They were a little less than fifty feet away, but they were coming up a hill.
That explains how they didn’t see them sooner.
I thought, glancing at the mass of fur that came up behind them. Four legs, a short muzzle and a curled tail were attached to the creature, a cinnamon colored dog, and judging by its size and guttural barking and growling, not one I wanted to tango with.
rumbled Seth, “Tibetan Mastiff. These guys aren’t going to be too kind with us. Not with those big…” He shivered, looking away from the dog and flexing his fingers.
“You know them?” I asked, glancing up at Isaac, who remained silent while his father spoke
. He, unlike his father, stood still and didn’t move, unfazed by the approaching threat.
“Yup, we ran into some trouble with them a few days back,” Isaac snorted in response.
“How do you know it’s them?” I leaned forwards trying to look at Seth as I spoke. Isaac leaned backwards so that I could speak to his father in the proper manner.
“They breed Mastiff’s with whatever dog they can to use for protection – they’re the only people I know to have dogs within the
next hundred miles. These guys are pure bred, though, most of them are,” Seth sighed, shifting where he stood and rubbing the back of his neck. “Big, strong dogs that will kill upon command brought up that way.”
“Why Mastiff, though? Is there something special about that kind of dog?” Isaac asked, kee
ping his gaze locked on the approaching group. I had a feeling he knew nothing about dogs, but I didn’t either, so I didn’t have room to judge him for it.
“Because they’re massive and I’m guessing their breeder had them before the world went to shit and j
ust went from there.” Seth shrugged, reaching behind him and pulling his gun out of his jeans as the group stopped walking a few feet ahead of us. Isaac did the same, pulling out a similar one. I couldn’t get a good look at them to see what type they were, and instead just reached for an arrow to load my bow, should worse come to worse.
I glanced over at the approaching group, eyes narrowed as I studied them. One of them was tall and broad; his stance made it seem like most of his power came from his legs,
the other was a thin, brown haired woman – she looked weak, frail; hungry. Neither of them appeared to be anywhere near kind people, both wearing smirks on their faces.
“Nice cart you got there,” said the woman, crossing her arms.
“Can we have it?”
for a pretty little lady like yourself?” Seth said, raising an eyebrow.
“Lizzie, take out the big guy,” Isaac whispered, tapping my shoulder. I nodded; glad I had prepared my bow. I wished there was a way out of it, but by the way the duo looked and the d
ogs snarled, I knew there was no other way out.
“Better for the young to live than an old man like you, eh?” She bent down and ran her finger through the dog’s fur, and it pressed
against her, ears pinned to the back of its head, teeth bared and tail lashing.
“I have two kids here that I’m sure are much younger than you, my dear – I can see your wrinkles from here. Better for them to live than you am I right?” Seth grinned, but the brunette glowered at him, eyes lighting up with rage as he spoke.
“I was going to do this the easy way, but I suppose the dog could use a little exercise,” she said, a grin spreading on her face as she stepped back from the dog. “Get him.”
At her order, the dog ran jumped forwards and began to barrel towards us, barking
and growling, but before any of us could get a good shot in, it ran around the cart and disappeared from sight. When I turned back, the woman had a readied gun in her hands and the man was charging at Isaac. I lifted my bow, steadied my arrow, and released before I could even inhale.
I could hear it, but it hadn’t registered in my mind as my bow shot the arrow, slicing through the air, the feather slicing a thing cut into the side of my cheek as I released. The arrow pierced the man’s neck and he halted mi
d run, lifting his hands and clawing at the arrow through his throat, grasping it as he fell to his knees. Wide eyed, he turned to look at me, blood bubbling in his mouth. I had shot him – I had never killed another person before with so much as I had this man. I watched as he dropped to his side, and I took a few steps backwards. I’d just shot him in the throat, I had just killed a living, breathing man.
A gunshot rang out.
A second one followed.
“Jesus!” Seth cried out, the sound of growling a
nd vicious barking mingling with his cry. I turned to see the woman, laying in fetal position around her stomach and bleeding fast from both her torso and a hole blown through her head. Isaac, his gun quivering in his hands, stood over her still body and stared down at her, skin colorless and eyes wide.
Something hard slammed against my leg and I hobbled backwards, cringing as a throbbing sensation began where I had been hit. Grabbing an arrow and looking down at what had hit me, I
expected to have the dog beside me, preparing for a second launch. Instead, it was Seth, blood trickling from a wound in his arm. I looked up just in time to see the dog lunge forwards, claws scraping Seth’s thighs as it aimed to bite into his throat. Seth was lucky enough to evade the bite towards his neck, its jaws snapping closed just by his ear.
“Argh!” Seth cried out in shock, grabbing for his weapon, hands scraping the ground. I lifted my bow and aimed, my arms shaking. I was a murderer already, I had to do it. Why did it mat
ter if it was just a dog? I’d already taken a human life. I was a despicable person.
“Shoot it, Lizzie!” Seth cried out, and I released the arrow just as the dog swung its massive head and dug its teeth into Seth’s stomach. It let out an agonized yelp as t
he arrow pierced through its stomach, but didn’t release, clinging to Seth’s body as it crumbled to the ground with a long heart-wrenching whine.
I ran towards the dog and, without a moment’s hesitation, gave it a sharp kick in the side and only then did
it release its iron grip. Guilt tore through me like a bullet, my hand flying to my mouth as I struggled to keep back the vomit rising from my stomach.
Turning on me, the dog released a low growl, taking a few steps forwards. I stepped backwards in return
, away from the advancing canine, and the dog took one more step forward before its legs wobbled and gave out. Falling to its side, it stared up me, whimpering in pain. I looked down at Seth, who lay curled up and clenching his stomach, unable to stand. His gun lay beside him, and I picked it up, pointed it at the dog’s head, closed my eyes and pulled the trigger.
“Dad,” Isaac’s voice, filled with panic, drew my attention away from the echo of the gunshot. I stared down at him, his body covered in blood and
dirt. The dog had torn open his abdominal region and he was bleeding at an accelerated rate, and his arm hadn’t stopped since I had last seen it.
“Isaac, deal with his stomach,” I ordered, snatching his arms and tearing my hoodie off of my waist. I tied i
t as tight as I could around his arm, hoping to stop the flow of blood. Isaac just stood, staring at the gaping wound and the blood leaking out of his father’s stomach, fingers twitching and mouth parted.
“Isaac! You know what? Just get me some bandages if
you have any, or anything we can use to stop this bleeding!” I barked, and my command seemed to sink in and snap him out of his trance. He turned his gaze at me, green eyes wide and full of horror, before sprinting away to gather what I had asked for.
’s going to be okay, Seth,” I said, turning back to the moaning man. He glanced up at me, eyes fluttering open as blood bubbled from his lips. “I promise.”
“Lizzie,” he croaked, staring me dead in the eye. “I know who you are.” His words were slow to regis
ter as I waited for Isaac to return and I stared back at him, blinking. My mind whirled with a thousand thoughts, breath catching in my throat.
“We’ll talk about it later.” I shook my head. I wouldn’t talk about it when he was bleeding out; I had to stabil
ize him. I pushed my hands against his stomach and looked behind me, hair whipping against my face. “Isaac! Hurry up!”
Seth shifted in my arms and I looked down as laid his head back against the pavement and closed his eyes, exhaling a heavy breath. I watc
hed him for a moment as his warm blood began to soak my fingers. I gave him a gentle shake, but he remained silent and unmoving. My heart began to beat against my chest, breath catching in my throat.
“Seth?” I croaked, touching my blood-covered hand to his
face. “Seth!” Forcing myself to breathe, I gave him another harder shake. His crimson stained lips did not open, his hazel gaze did not stare up at me – he lay, silent against the ground, covered in his own blood.
Isaac stepped around the corner of the ca
rt, bandages in his shaking hands. His gaze swept the scene, locking on the unconscious body of his father and he paused. He shoved the bandages into my arms, remaining silent the entire time as he bent down on the opposite side of his father, pressing a finger to his neck.
“He’s still alive,” he stated, bending down and sticking his arms beneath the unconscious man’s torso. Isaac’s face was void of all emotion, his eyes dark and jaw set.
“Let me help you,” I offered as I moved towards his back end to support his legs.
“I got him, Arin,” Isaac grunted, lifting Seth into his arms and struggling under his weight. I stared at him for a long moment, even after he began to stumble away, his father lying in his arms.
“What did you call me?” I narrowed my eyes, scanning the ground to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind. I grabbed the arrow in the dog’s stomach, ripping it out.
“Not the time. Help me get him into the cart,” Isaac growled, shooting a glare at me. I n
odded and followed behind him as we moved towards the back of the cart. Isaac’s was struggling to keep his father up, his shirt coated in blood. Isaac laid him on the edge of the cart, stepping backwards and nodding at me. I climbed in after him, moving Seth backwards towards the middle of the cart to keep him from rolling out; an incident like that would not help his condition.