Ashes to Ashes
Type: Original Stories
I read about apocalypses in fiction books. To be honest, they were my favorite genre. I imagined tough heroines fighting for themselves, their families, for the future. I'm no heroine. I'm not courageous at all. But here I am: in an apocalypse created by nothing more than human error and flaw.
It's not my fault I was thrown into this mess, so why was I? I'm standing in the middle of an empty field alone for what reason? To wear tattered jeans, a muddy tee-shirt and a flannel barely keeping me warm to cover up another's mistakes?
A cold breeze that brings warning to chiller nights rustles my newly chopped-off hair. It's thin and greasy. I'm glad I can't see my face in a mirror, because I'm afraid of seeing a stranger.
I belong in school, not this field. I deserve to be stressed over math homework and boys, not when my next meal may be or if I'll survive the night.
My mother, beautiful and brave, handed me all she could before physically pushing me out our back door. She kissed me with her lips and the tears that ran down her face. I screamed when she closed the door in my face.
An old white man made this decision, "to better our country". I laugh, a shrill sound carried through the field by the cold wind. More like destruction, fear, loss...the list could go on. What a joke.
I instinctively drop on the ground, exposed skin digging in the dry earth beneath. It sounded like a boot scraping on rock. Oh, how I wish this was someone willing to help. I know better now, a scar on my right arm to remind me.
The whisper causes my body to go stiff. It sounded calm. Maybe, kind, but that's an adjective long gone from my experiences.
It's not real, I know it's not. I smile as I realize I must be hallucinating. Happened before, so I wouldn't be too surprised.
Anna, it's me.
My mother's tears are on my lips again. Salty and bitter.
It's okay, it's okay.
I feel arms around my stomach and I scream. Pinpricks from the sudden touch send me in a frenzy to escape my attacker.
The arms turn me around and I'm facing a friend. A true friend. It's been so long I cannot remember his name.
"It's me, Anna. It's me, Alex," says my friend.
"Alex." Rusty nails scratch my throat as I talk for the first time in months. His name still sounds foreign to me.
"It's been a year, Anna. I've missed you so much." He hugs me and I forget. I forget about laughing in a field, I forget about misguided white men. I forget about my mother's goodbye.
I only remember hugging my friend and knowing he'll care for me. That's when I cried.
He cried with me and we stood like that in the field until neither of us could stand any more.
"Alex, how did you find me? How did you know it's me?" I finally ask, still holding him close.
"I followed the creek to this field. I heard your laugh and I came running," he murmurs in my cheek.
"Thank, God," I say. A silly phrase now. There is no God, but if there was, He brought Alex to me.
I pull away from Alex and look at the sky. Dusk painted itself across our reunion and brought beauty for a moment to this horror film.
"We need to keep moving," I whisper. He nods and helps me up from the ground.
It's pitch black out, only illuminated by a sliver of a moon, when we find decent shelter in a bush.
"I'll take first watch," I say as Alex climbs under the branches.
He shakes his head. "No way. You look exhausted."
I laugh, another shrill sound. "Who can sleep in a battlefield?"
He squeezes his lips together. I can tell he agrees, whether he wants to call this 'a battlefield' or not.
"It the apocalypse, my friend. Nothing can help us until these stubborn and blind men find peace. And if you think that's going to happen, then you can sleep all you want."
Alex gave me a look of pity before pulling a blanket out of his backpack. "Wake me up in a few hours."
If I'm not already dead, sure, I think. But I keep it to myself. I've had enough grim thoughts for one day.
I keep my promise and wake Alex up before I allow myself to close my eyes.
Fear courses though my veins. My heart pounds so hard, I feel weak. Maybe I'm dying.
"Anna, you are not going to die!"
Maybe I want to.
"You need to keep moving, Anna. Survive. For me. For yourself. For your future!"
There is no future. There is no me.
"Survive, Anna! Remember those books you read. They taught you to be brave and courageous."
Those were books, this is real!
"God will guide you to a new land. He will find you peace."
God is not real. God never helped me, why would He now?
No! Leave me to die, please. I never asked for this and all I want is to sleep forever.
I shoot up and reach for the gun on my thigh holster.
"Woah, woah, wait! It's me!" Alex's hands go to cover his face.
It takes a moment to register last night's events in my head before I relax.
I'm not alone anymore.
"Good." He lowers his hands. "We need to keep moving. It's dawn and we can cover more ground before noon if we start now."
I grunt agreement before grabbing my backpack.
We walk for an hour, wordless other than to warn each other of rabbit holes and garden snakes.
Alex turns towards me, wanting to say something.
"What?" I ask. Too harsh, I realize as he turns away. "Sorry, go ahead."
"No...it's just...what happened back there? Last year?"
I stop without warning and Alex stops a few paces in front.
Alex bit his thumb, I nervous habit that I remember him picking up on test days. "Okay."
We continue walking, but his question weighs on me with every step we take.
"The police came to our door."
Alex stops this time. His face turns as white as a sheet.
"They asked for me and my mother refused. They told her she had an hour to reconsider handing me over willingly or to face death."
Alex sits down on a rock and laces his fingers together. "They never made it to me. I ran the moment they announced it on the television."
"My mom didn't think it would happen so quick," I whisper. "She got as much as she could together before they could come back."
He nods and keeps his head down low. I'm thankful to not look him in the eye as I say the rest.
"I waited until she was practically screaming at me to leave. I couldn't...leave her. I knew they were going to kill her. She knew what she was doing. though. It's not until I heard the pounding at our door do I run. My mom pushes me out and shuts the door behind me. Halfway down the block I can still hear her screams: Remember those books, Anna!', Run as fast as you can!, and my personal favorite, "God will help us all!"
The pale face of Alex met mine at the end. "I-"
"Let's go," I simply say, not wanting to stay on the topic any longer.
I can tell he's following me, slowly, but surely.
It's noon when we reach an old shed. We set up camp for the rest of the day, sure that we covered enough ground to give us safety for the night.
I'm laying on the ground, staring at the broken wood panels above me when Alex says, "I'm sorry."
"That does nothing, Alex. Don't waste your breath on the past."
He pulls a butterfly knife out of his bag and plays with it absent-mindedly. "Okay."
After more silence, I break it with a smile.
"What?" asks Alex when he notices my chapped lips splitting into the Joker's grin.
"I just remember what my dream was about last night. So silly, to remember something like that."
"What was your dream," he asks, curiously.
"Some of my mother's last words to me. Not those screams in the middle of the night. The ones she said as she threw cans of soup in my backpack," I laugh.
"She said, 'God will guide you to a new land.'"
"Why is that so funny? Maybe he will."
"It's funny, my dear friend, because it's heaven. My own mother is a snake whispering to me in the night to kill myself."