After being alone for three weeks, I would rather be surrounded by people. The idea of being in the dark makes me cold and fearful.
About an hour later, Dad tells me to head on home, promising to follow behind as soon as he puts my paperwork away.
I've walked out of the infirmary three times now, and every time it's been different. The first time, I was a point of curiosity. People looked at me with high eyebrows and eager eyes. The second time, they found shame in me, the girl who kept finding her way outside and getting hurt. They whispered about me in their tents, watching me shuffle home.
This time, under the cover of darkness, I don't have to hide. The fires left burning in handmade fire pits spread eerie shadows over the sidewalk, giving me just enough company not to be afraid. I don't have anything to be ashamed of this time. My mistakes weren't my fault, and I made up for them.
I tiptoe under the yellow toll bar, pulling my jacket tight around myself against the wind. The neighborhood is quiet and dark, and the light from the moon serves as my light along the way. Standing on the front steps, I trace the constellations, Orion's Belt, both the Big and Little Dippers. The pain in my neck forces me to turn away, ducking inside the dark house.
A light snoring is in the air, coming from the six sleeping bags in the living room. I see the tiny bodies of Jackson and Belle, squeezed in between Stephen and Mandy. Making my way up the steps, I step over the second step, knowing it squeaks when you put pressure on it. Being in my house again feels weird, like I'm breaking in.
It just feels empty, like something is still missing. Even though I'm home, I feel a little lost. I head straight to the bathroom, glad that the water actually turns on when I turn the handles.
As I'm undressing, the thought occurs to me that I've been wearing these clothes for three weeks. They are stiff and disgusting, and I'm sure I stink. I must have gotten used to it. I peel the clothes off, tossing them in the trash can. The water is cold, but the sting of it wakes me up. At first, the water runs nearly black down the drain, clumps of mud and blood washing down. I stand still, eyes closed tight, feeling the chill of the water. When I open my eyes again, I scrub myself until the water runs clear.
I hurriedly towel myself off, braiding my now clean hair into a low braid. The clean feeling surrounds me, and I look at myself briefly in the mirror.
I've lost weight. It shows in the way my cheeks gape inward, my chest bones frighteningly bold on my chest. I count my ribs, which curl clearly against my stomach. My skin has a pale tone, now, sickly and yellow. The bags under my eyes sink in deep, black and purple contrasting against the blue of my eyes. Bruises line my face, neck, arms and wrists. My wrists are still raw from the cuffs. Whoever I'm looking at, she doesn't look like the Jaelyn I've always seen in the mirror.
What frightens me the most is the depressing expression on my face. Normally, my lips turn upwards at the corners, eyes light up on their own. There's no smile today, no light. Everything about me reflects the empty padded room, the gaping hole Isaac left.
I turn away, feeling the knot rising in my throat. There has been enough crying.
I tiptoe down the hallway, crawling into Dad's bed. Burying myself in the covers, I close my eyes, fighting off the loneliness that surrounds me and the tears that I feel coming on. The sheets smell like Dad, like cigarettes and disinfectant. Fatigue catches up with me, and I fall into a dreamless sleep.
"Good morning, Compound 4!"
YOU ARE READING
"I live in a place called Compound 4. We are one of ten different compounds placed at strategic locations around the US. It's been thirteen years since the virus overtook humanity, turning about ninety percent of us into zombies. I'm not sure how it...