Chapter Twelve

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When I got back to my mat in the room I was assigned to sleep in, I wasn't sure what to do.

I couldn't walk back out there. Asten was probably still standing in the hallway and everyone else would have questions. I wasn't in the mood for answering.

I wished I had never confronted him. At least, I shouldn't have done it so publicly. Now, I'd be labelled a liar, and who knew what they would do to Asten. I shouldn't have cared about what would happen to him, but I was slightly worried. Would they shoot him or kick him out? Would they do nothing?

My fingers ran through my tangled hair as I tried to think. What could I do? I could always leave and pretend nothing had happened. I'd totally forgotten about my idea of finding the lost search party, but it wasn't as enticing anymore. I just wanted to run away. Running avoided problems, even if it was cowardly. If I ran now, I could escape any attachments to people and live alone once more, only focused on survival.

My only goal should be to keep breathing. That was all that mattered.

A trickle of uncertainty began to seep into my thoughts. What if I wanted more than just that?

Before Asten, Mace, and all of this, I just wanted to live. I didn't have any plans for my future except to continue breathing for another day. I never considered what would happen if the snow didn't stop. If it never ended, where would that leave me?

I would struggle to survive in a broken earth for years until it finally got the better of me. It would leave me dead on the cold ground where there would be no one left to mourn my loss. I'd had so many dreams, so many plans for my own future back before the apocalypse. But they were all dead now. Everything was dead now.

Except...I wasn't dead yet. Not really. Maybe in some ways, but I was still breathing. I could still feel my heart beating strongly in my chest and warm blood rushing through my veins. I still had a future. Even if I'd been so focused on the present, there was still the next day, and the day after that which would come no matter what I did.

And if I was going to continue living, what kind of a life would it be to just survive? This was the only life I had, my only chance to prove myself worthy of existing before disappearing permanently from the Earth's memory.

And if this is my only chance, shouldn't I make something of it? For a second, I allowed my mind to wonder what could happen if I tried to do something different, if there was just something else. Something that made life worth living.

Running away could take me away from that something. It would just allow me to forget what I found here: hope. It ran through the blood of each of the ragged kids who lived here. I didn't want to abandon this.

I'd abandoned the boy I'd seen in the grocery store. Technically, I even abandoned Axel and Jadyn. I abandoned my house, my life....my family.

I couldn't abandon this, too.

So, I looked at the door, knowing exactly what I had to do. I probably wasn't a candidate for helping the search party, and Kyan had probably already ruled me out because of my injury.

But who ever said I needed their permission to leave?

I walked back towards the dining area. Asking January when the mission would disembark couldn't hurt. As I entered, I noticed the lack of people. That was good. There'd be less people to judge me.

I ended up not needing to ask at all. As I walked in the direction of the main room, I noticed a small gathering of people standing in front of the elevator entrance. There was my answer. They must have been leaving now.

I rushed back down the hall to my room. When I arrived, one of the other girls was already in bed, her eyes shut with the lights off. I carefully opened the door, not wanting to wake her, picked up my boots and pack, and walked quietly out of the room. It took seconds for me to slide them back on and return.

The group had disappeared by the time I got back.

I quickly pressed the elevator button. The ding it made was louder than I was comfortable with. It'd be awkward if someone noticed me leaving and asked questions. I walked into the elevator, which smelled like dirt and dust, and waited as it took me to the top. I hoped that the group wouldn't still be there once the doors opened.

Fortunately, the diner was empty and dark. The only light came from the ghastly glare of the moon on the snow outside. I could still barely see my own feet.

I walked past the neatly placed tables and chairs, staring at the outside world as I tried to keep myself calm. Anxiety coursed through me. I feared being caught in the process of trying to follow them.

I opened the diner doors, feeling the wind pushing against me. My feet stepped out onto the icy pavement. The cold was like a slap to the face. I was tempted to turn around and run back into the warmth.

But I wouldn't run away from this opportunity. If I were going to live my life, I'd give it a purpose, and if that purpose was trying to help others survive, then so be it. But a life without a purpose was no life at all, and without a reason to survive, I might as well be dead.

Home sweet home, I thought, closing my eyes and smiling at the bite of wind. This was where I belonged. The snow, ice cold, the night, dark as anything else. I belonged to myself, to the world, and to my thoughts.

But I would never belong to the apocalypse.

Because the only way it could ever hurt me, was if I let it.


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