Chapter Twenty

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44 days later…



The rhythmic sound of heavy footsteps echoed through the ship as hundreds of us made the climb to the highest deck.


Even with all those people, it was silent, not a word was uttered. We had been waiting eagerly for this moment to arrive, and we all knew it was too precious to stain it with chatter.


Emotions had been running high for days, but the nervous tension and impatience had faded away, replaced with fresh hope and overwhelming gratitude.


The last month had been quiet and uneventful, giving everyone on board a lot of time to grieve and try to come to terms with everything we had lost.


Each of us found different ways to cope: Jo had found an empty notebook and started a journaling process, letting it all out on the page; Wyatt and Ben had spent their time volunteering on the medical floor – Wyatt had found a new passion for helping the sick and injured and Ben had been kind enough to take him under his wing; and I had spent most of my time in the library, reading whatever I could find. When I wasn’t reading, I was volunteering at the orphanage or sitting in the counsellor’s office, trying to sort through the demons I had brought with me from my homeland.


Every day, Jo, Wyatt, Ben and I made time to sit on the deck and play with Dixon, who always made us smile – no matter how hard our day had been. Life had not been easy, but it was heaven compared to the hell we had escaped.


We walked shoulder to shoulder as we shuffled through the double doors out onto the deck. Many people stood on the tips of their toes to peer over the crowd and catch a glimpse of what awaited us on the horizon.


My bones burned. I could feel every harrowing step I had taken since the moment my worst nightmare had become my reality all those months before. My heart ached with the remnants of each time I had stood on the verge of death, each fear-riddled second, each tear soaked loss.


Already, my newfound and hard-earned freedom had birthed fresh horrors: grief, despair, guilt, and trauma.


These were monsters I could not outrun, hide from or battle with an axe.


As relieved and thankful as I was to finally be safe from danger, I knew the struggle was not over for any of us on that ship. Much work remained to be done, both in our inner and outer worlds.


My physical wounds had almost entirely healed, but my emotional and psychological wounds were so deep I had barely scratched the surface in the near-daily sessions with my floor counsellor.


Survival was both the prize and punishment for escaping the wasteland.


A prize, because I had a chance to start over. I had a future. I had hope. I had time to heal, to move forward, to build a new life with Wyatt.


But it was punishment because I would carry the detritus of war, disease and terror with me into that future. My hope would always be shadowed by guilt.


I had seen, done and experienced terrible, agonizing, despicable things just to make it through another day. I had killed. I had lied. I had left good people behind. I had been rendered helpless as the shrill screams of the dying begged me to do something, anything.


I would have to live with those memories forever. I would have to live with the eternally unanswered questions that often shook me awake at night: Did I do enough? Could I have done more?


Those ghosts would haunt me for the rest of my days. I knew that. It was still too early to tell where my life would go from there, but I was determined to stay hopeful. I owed it to all the people we had lost to make the most of the rest of my life.


I stood out on the deck with my fellow Australians, taking in the most beautiful sight I had seen in a very long time. Grateful tears rolled down my cheeks as others wept around me. After spending more than a month at sea, there it was in front of us: the United Kingdom.


As we sailed towards the mouth of the River Thames, preparing to dock, I could feel the weight of all that I had been through begin to lift off my shoulders.


Our nightmare was finally coming to an end.


A lot of hard work and trials lay ahead of us, but I knew I could handle it after everything I had overcome.


Whatever lay ahead of me would be nothing compared to what I was leaving behind. 


A BBC news helicopter approached, a camera perched at its door so it could film the triumphant moment we planted our feet on new soil. We had already been warned that the media would be all over us, offering exorbitant amounts of money for exclusive interviews and printing headlines that praised us as the heroes of our ruined nation.


Eric had informed me that the award ceremony with the Queen would be a globally televised event, which would catapult my friends and I into a very public life. That was the last thing I wanted, but it seemed none of us had a choice. From that day forward, we would be known to the world as heroes.


But we didn’t see ourselves as heroes, just people who were tired of fighting for our lives every day. Refugees fleeing from a diseased country. Tormented souls who had watched people die senseless, ghastly deaths. I did not want to be known for that, but it proved too late to stop it.


The flames of fame had already been lit, and I had to burn in it. But if that was the price I had to pay for being alive, for being safe, I would light the fire myself.


I looked over at Lea, who was standing only a few feet away, her arm draped around Skye. They held each other close, quietly crying like the rest of us, eager to step off of the ship and into our new lives. Ash was nearby, her hands firmly on the rail as she stood tall, taking in the view.


I reached out and held Jo’s hand, and held the other out for Wyatt, and Jo followed by taking Ben’s hand, linking us all together.


We had proven that when we stood together, nothing was impossible. We had faced death more times than I could count and seen things no-one should ever see, but we had made it out alive.


During our travels from Melbourne to Cairns and then on to Sydney, we had waged war against the undead, and sometimes each other, but at that moment we stood side by side. At that moment, we were invincible.


Neither the terrors of the past nor the trials of the future could touch us as we sailed into our very own promised land.


The four of us would be eternally bonded, forever connected as so much more than survivors – as allies, saviours and friends.


“We made it,” I said through the tears. “We survived.”

T H E   E N D

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You guys, thank you so much for reading and coming with me on this crazy-awesome ride! The Eva Series is now completed. I'd like to write a spin-off about Lea, and there's a chance I might write a fourth book one day, but for now I want to write new stories for you :)

I love and adore each and every one of you <3

COMING MONDAY:

I'll be posting an interview with EVA, answering all your questions from the comments on Chapter Fifteen.

COMING TUESDAY:

I'll be posting an interview with ME, answering all your questions from the comments on Chapter Nineteen.

COMING WEDNESDAY: SNEAK PEEK OF MY NEW SERIES!

I'll be giving you a sneak peek of my brand new series – including the first chapter!

P.S: Already missing Eva? Download my FREE laptop/phone wallpapers at jenmariewilde.com!

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