| I want to be strong, I really do, but most days I find myself crying because I just don’t know that everything is going to get better. I relive the last few weeks every time I close my eyes, completely ruining my pattern of trying to forget. I saw him again yesterday, like a shadow taunting me in the night. I couldn’t pull the trigger, no matter how hard I tried.
He creeps into my dreams, and when I wake, somehow it seems as if he’s actually been there. Watching me at all times, waiting to make his next move. Why can’t I forget? Why do I still travel to the rock? Just to look at the devastation he has caused?
I am half way there before I realize where my feet are dragging me. I clinch my hands into fists, and look out over the canyon. A sense of wonder and peace fills me when I see it, the only part of my home left untouched.
The trees cover me from the heat of the sun, too close now to think winter will ever return. When I reach the rock, I climb to the top and peer over the jagged edge. The smoke has ceased, but the buildings have crumbled and there’s a strange heaviness to the air. I can’t stay here. If I don’t keep moving, I will always return to this spot, and by default, I will always remember.
The other survivors old me of a place. A place I can go to become invisible, but I never leave. It’s a long way from here, they say it’s called Colorado- or it was once. Perhaps that’s why they haven’t gone. They say we used to live in a country, a whole collaboration of states and cities with busied workers and happier times. A time that maybe still exists somewhere.
I asked them once what a country was. I knew only of our city, and the large gates that held us tightly within the walls. Thy laughed at me, knowing I was not one of them, and said if I was supposed to know I would’ve been taught. All I was taught, was not to question. Well you can see how greatly I followed our most treasured rule.
Our city-scape had worked, for the most part. Everyone had always done the jobs they were asked to perform, and without fail. Aside from me and my brother. Our parents disowned us once they realized we would not conform to traditional ways, assuring us that something in our mind made us unacceptable for life within the walls.
It’s probably the only reason I’m alive. Cast out, after fifteen years of life within the concrete prison that held us, my brother Jonathon and I made our way to the hills. They were right about him, but not me. He was my nightmare now. He killed them all.
I may not have liked the confined life, but I had friends, and family, before it happened. Now I had no one. Jonathon lasted a very short time before his sadness turned to hate, overpowering his mind and taking measures no one ever thought possible. He was out there, somewhere. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was closer than I would like to admit. That’s why I kept my dagger close. In case he came for me next.
As I took one last look at our former city, and pondered how many bodies were still lying in their last physical state, I promised myself I would keep going this time. I didn’t fit in when I was supposed to be here to begin with. I certainly wouldn’t fit in now. No one would miss me.
I picked up my backpack of rations, water, and minimal supplies, and set off, for the first time, on my own. I would stop at Hazel’s cottage first, and say goodbye. After that, there was no looking back. Hazel was the only one I would miss. We weren’t exactly friends, but she was the only person who didn’t blame me for my brother’s revenge.
I tried to remember my parents, in a happier time. When they thought Jonathon and I were worth loving, and worth the training we received. They had been proud of us, then, knowing one day we would take their place at the top of the so-called government they treasured so much. Truth is, it was a joke. Our whole system was a joke. Neither of us wanted their positions, and longed to be placed in another area of the city when the time came for job placement. They found out our lies before that could happen. I will be sixteen in two more weeks, old enough to take the exam, and find out where I belong.
The annoying part about our world, was that they thought a test would suffice. We had no choice in the matters of our life. Only to leave or to be given a number which we would be called the rest of our lives. We would still have names, but only spoken by our families. Outside the home my mother was known only as 141. My father as 236. To me, they were Sheila and Allan.
There were two major exams we took in the city. One to place us for work, at age sixteen, and one at age twenty-one, to determine our spouse. It’s a terribly flawed system. I haven’t met any married couple in my fifteen years that was actually happy about being together. That’s how they found out about me. I accidentally let slip that I had no intention of taking either test.
I tried to shake the thoughts out of my head as I drank a bottle of water by the edge of the trail. The hills were coming to an end, and I would have to descend soon. That was a chore in itself. The downgrades were steep and unkind, and if I was to be at Hazel’s cottage before dark I had to be sure I didn’t stop again.
I kicked up dirt as I walked, aware that I was alone with my thoughts, and not caring if anyone found me. For once, I began to feel like I had a purpose. I my calling was to be free of that horrible life, than I was on my way, and not even my brother was going to stop me.
I came to the fork in the trail, and sighed. Left, I go down, towards Hazel’s cottage and then away from this life. Right, I go back to the others, and relive my nightmares until they don’t hurt anymore. Considering how much I hated the city, I thought the choice would be easy. I stood there, longer than I had anticipated, and tossed the options around in my mind. I may have hated it, but it was all I had ever known. I turned, and kept going, afraid of turning back.
The sun start to set as I reach Hazel’s cottage. She’s home, and awake by the looks of it. Smoke billows from the tiny chimney, and it was all I could do to hope that she didn’t have company. I made my way to the small door, and rapped three times, as was our custom. Hazel was busying herself about the fire, no doubt creating a wonderful feast from the smell of things.
The woods were silent aside from my knocking, and I wonder how someone as bubbly as Hazel kept things so quiet.
“Lana dear, is that you?”
“It is Ms. Hazel, may I come in?” The door opened with a creek, and I walked through to the tiny entry way.
“Rabbit stew, too much you think? I don’t know why I try these things, no one ever comes to dinner.” Hazel’s eyes looked to the floor, she was upset. She always cooked large meals for no one when she was upset. Even so, her tightly curled white hair poofed in the humidity of the fire, and she turned to me with a smile.
“Where you going, love? A trip?”
“Sort of,” I began halfheartedly, “I am leaving the area for good, see what else is out there.”
“Oh, Lana. Tisk tisk- what will your mother say?” sometimes I think she forgets on purpose, but mostly I think it’s because she’s so old.
“My mother is already gone, Hazel. She won’t mind. Anyway, I wanted to come and say goodbye. I won’t be seeing you again. I don’t think this place is for me anymore.”
“Oh, pish. This place isn’t for anyone, Lana. People shouldn’t be forced to live all bundled up in a cocoon. That’s what I told Willy just yesterday.” Her rabbit. Her eyes fall again, she’s upset. And when she realizes she’s cooked Willy, she may be even more disheartened. I sit on the chair closest to the fire, still sweating from my days hikes. There’s something calming about Hazel’s fires. I never could tell what it was, but it definitely made my decision to leave harder. I would have nothing out there, and no one. I was used to that, aside from my weekly trip to Hazel’s, and the few times she traveled to the survivors.
“Hazel,” I start, questioning my own motives in the process, “what else do you think is out there? Away from here, I mean. Do you think anything’s left?”
“I told you before Lana, the war killed off most of the people, I’m sure of that. Hundreds of years ago, now. I don’t think it’s wise to go roaming about. What if there are mutants out there? Ya know? Many people died in the nuclear attacks, I doubt that anyone sill out there is ul human.” I loved Hazel’s stories. She was outside most of her life. She came to our city begging to be included in our society. Of course, hey set her up here, so not to be bothered by an outsider.
It made me question everything for a moment. I knew she had been an outsider, yet here she sits, telling me there’s no one left but mutants. What does that make her? Or was her story a lie too?
I decide not to wait any longer, now realizing that I had been duped once again, and by the one person I thought didn’t have the heart to do it. “Hazel, I wish I could stay longer, but I really have to move on. I hope I meet you again someday, you have made getting through this a lot easier.” I smiled at the woman hovered over her pots, and she came towards me with open arms.
“Oh, my Lana. I do hope you’re right. I hope you find all of the wonders you can in the decrepit waste land out there. I’m not tying to spoil anything, but it’s nothing to look at. You will see me again, I promise you that. Don’t stay away too long.”I knew she was just trying to make it easier. I hugged her tight, and started for the door.
“Lana, dear, take this.” she said, handing me a bundle to place in my backpack. “Rabbit stew, and some other little things.” she patted my shoulder, and turned away, humming, back to her pots.
As I closed the door behind me I realized she was trying to hold it together. She didn’t want me to leave. I had to. Hazel had been so kind, always a person to brighten your day. But now I understood. The company had brightened hers. She has been alone for so long, and no one else came to see the crazy old woman. I thought again about the inconsistencies in her stories. About how no one human is out there, but she had been. What does that man about her? I decided not to dwell on it and made my choice.
I made my way down the rocky slope, hoping not to fall, and praying not to be followed. Paranoia was common amongst the survivors. But probably more common in me than anyone. After all, I’m the one with the secrets.