Birds

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When the alarm sounds through the speakers the next morning, I'm already awake, sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest. I can't get the thought out of my head that there are people outside the compounds, people who know me, people who want my help.

It doesn't make sense in any way, but neither has most of the past few days.

Yet, I don't have time to worry about it right now. The alarm always sounds at five a.m., meaning I have thirty minutes to meet Isaac at the gates of the community. I don't want to get into any more trouble. Not yet, at least.

So, I pack a small backpack with notebooks, pens, and a book.

Jane's crew is still asleep, just beginning to stir. I step over their bodies, slipping out the front door unnoticed. They'll have to leave today; visitors never stay more than one night.
Isaac's waiting at the gate, leaning on the empty booth, his hands in his pockets. Beside him is two folded chairs and his bucket of things.

"Sleep good?" I ask as I approach him, giving him a smile. He jumps at the sound of my voice, taking a step to the side. At first, there's fear on his face, but after recognition kicks in, he smiles at me.

"Of course," he says, handing me a chair.

"That's good."

We walk most of the way in silence, stepping carefully over people still sleeping on the ground. Everyone ignores the first alarm, because it only applies to the wall guards. Another alarm will sound at six, meaning work and school begins. The men will go off to their long shifts; the women will start their first shift jobs. Normally, I would be packing up my stuff, waking up Howard from his morning nap.

I would be getting ready for my allotted resting time before my evening chores. It feels more than a little weird to be heading to work this early.

At the south gate, the night guards are already on the ground, yawning and finishing up their shift's paperwork. One of them hands me the clipboard when he's finished; the other one hands keys over to Isaac. We can't open the door until the sun's rising, because you never know when an infected could be hiding in waiting. So, we go up to the top wall, unpack our stuff, set up our chairs, and then head back down. Isaac chats with the night guards, who seem more annoyed than anything else by his chatting.

Finally, the sun begins to peek over the horizon, spreading an orange-red light over all of us. Squinting towards it, I raise a hand to cover my eyes.

"All clear?" Isaac asks the men, grabbing the lock on the door.

"Yes, sir," says the youngest, grabbing the other side.

Together, they grab and pull, the heavy lock separating. Today, I can help pull it with my right arm. The left one is still weak, but not so bad that I can't stand to put pressure on it. I stand beside Isaac, bracing myself and pulling as the two other men do the same. Surprisingly, the door doesn't seem as heavy, although it's the exact same as the other one. I can see my own muscles in my arms, and when I look over at Isaac, I can see his too. The veins in his neck strain as he pulls. He must be a lot stronger than he looks, because this gate would have weighed a thousand pounds without him.

Ten minutes later, we are sitting on top of the wall, both of us leaned back in our chairs. Isaac sits beside me today, his sketchpad already open. I can see him drawing without moving my head. His picture today is a bird, huge and black, flying over the compound below. There's such detail in the sketch that I can see the feathers on the bird, the tents on the ground of the compound, and some children playing in the livestock fields. My book is open in my lap, but I would much rather watch him draw. We spend several hours in silence, before I give in, the thoughts weighing too heavily on me.

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