2 - D I S C O V E R I E S

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If the man didn't have a loaded gun and hadn't just saved my life, I would've made a run for it. He did, so I felt obligated to follow him, despite my suspicions of his character.

As he leads me toward the door of the decrepit shack, I observe the area around me. Among the patchy, yellow grass lies random scraps of metal and a small pile of ash—which used to be a campfire.

The weathered, wooden door creaks open and he steps inside, but not without warning me first. "Don't you dare touch me."

I carefully copy his moves, making sure to place my feet exactly where his go. For all I know, he could have traps set to clamp down on my ankles or a suspended net ready to fall on me if I step on the wrong floorboard. The gun is distracting, though, and I find myself staring at that more than anything else.

None of this would've happened if I hadn't left my own set of land. The logical approach would have been for me to stay in my family's shelter, which was filled to the brim with supplies. I was safe and hidden there. I'll be the first to admit that leaving was stupid, but I'm human. I got lonely sitting in that concrete box day after day, waiting for my parents to return.

They never showed.

My quest to find them is a joke now...and I just want to go back home.

Home. What a sad word that is now. No one has a home anymore.

"So uh, what's your name?" I ask quietly, though I don't expect a response. Part of me doesn't want to speak, but another part is begging to kill the silence.

He abruptly stops in his tracks and I almost ram into the back of him. "John Smith, of course," he replies before continuing into the room.

I roll my eyes at the fake name. He's going to be just as vague with me as I have been with him. Fair enough.

The interior layout of the shack is one open room with warped, wooden walls which cave in and bulge out, allowing sunlight to peek into the otherwise dark space. There's only one window on the back wall which provides the most light, with three of its six glass panes gone. Dusty counters and cabinets reside on the left, and directly in the center of the room is a table made of a salvaged door with bricks for legs. Next to it, I take note of two sets of old tires stacked up, posing as chairs, which instantly raises the question, has he been planning on taking someone like me hostage?

"John Smith" drops his rifle onto the makeshift table—apparently no longer considering me an immediate threat—and I release a heavy sigh of relief. He leans against the counter and watches me with narrow eyes as if he's waiting for me to tell him something. Since it's the first full frontal view I've been able to get of him, I scan his dirt-ridden, muscular body from head to toe. My eyes cross his grungy navy jacket, scuffed camouflage cargos, and tattered, military-grade combat boots. I immediately search for dog tags, and sure enough, a silver chain necklace hangs from his neck and hides beneath his shirt. If I get close enough, his real name will no longer be a mystery.

John Smith is younger than I had initially assumed, likely in his mid twenties. My first hint is his skin; it's smooth despite its layer of dirt and scabbed-over scratches.

"How long have you been out there?" he asks, breaking my trance. I wonder if he thinks I've stared too long.

My face is hot with embarrassment as I contemplate answering. Will my response determine my fate here? I can't help but think there's more to his question than just small talk. "A week," I admit, choosing to be truthful. After all, what does it matter what he does to me now? I'll be dead in three days, probably sooner.

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