Chapter Five: Nothing but to wait - Days after

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My body aches, reminding me of the prior day's ordeal. I still remember the people I've slain. The memory of taking them down rolls through my brain over and over, like a bittersweet torture. I don't know how anyone could've ever killed anyone and not lost their minds over it. But I must move on. There is no choice now but to do so.

I pick at the remnants of my dinner: Spam, green beans and canned corn, no butter. I miss butter. Thinking about the fatty, slick taste of it makes my mouth water, but I find that the memory is fading already. We ran out of butter the moment the electricity went out in the city. Though there are patches where the electrical grid still continues to function, we'd find ourselves in the dark. At night, I'd watch the flames flickering on the candles my mother kept lit all through the treacherous night. The nights were filled with screams, screams that kept me awake. I'd feign sleep as I listened to the ravenous screeches outside our walls.

The neighbors, the people I once knew, have transformed into something else, something vicious, insatiable and violent. I'd watch them for a bit in the darkness of my room upstairs, peering out through the crack of the window curtains as they scattered, running down the street, chasing whatever unfortunate soul had crossed their path. Those who weren't careful, those who made the mistake to attempt to leave after dark, they were the ones dead now, lying splayed across the pavements, torn and shredded, their clothes left in tatters and the blood pooled across the dark asphalt.

I had to look away, though it was almost entrancing to watch them. These once humans.... What are they now? What does that make me now?

"April?" Jeremy's voice jerks me back to reality, back to the present of the campground we'd fled to. I smile at him as I scoop up another spoonful of food and chew it without tasting.

"What's up?" I rub my hand over his soft hair, which is brown with some golden highlights. His chubby cheeks puff out as he smiles, giving me an eyeful of half baby teeth with emerging permanents which look awkward at this stage. His teeth have corn stuck in them, and I laugh. Have to get him to floss more. There will be no dentists to fix any tooth damage from now on.

My somber mood returns at that thought, and I slump in my chair, chewing the ball of food sticking to my mouth. I swallow it down though, chasing it with a cool soda. Right now, food is still plentiful. The abandoned markets are all over the place, some raided, some untouched. I wonder what will happen when we've eaten it, or other scavengers, the survivors, have taken it all. What then? Will we be reduced to hunting and digging out worms from deep dank holes in the ground?

I shudder at the thought.

"Mom?" I turn to find her scraping the remains of her lunch into a garbage bag. The campgrounds are cooling down, and we need to find permanent residence before the real cold hits. Though it doesn't get below zero here, in the mountains of Southern Nevada, it does get down into the 30s and 40s and even the 20s higher up. I shiver and go to sit on a rock near the fire. I hate camping, but we've take refuge in our van where we all sleep during the night. That way, if we're attacked by anything, we can move out of here fast. Sleeping in tents is out of the question now.

My mother doesn't answer. She looks pale in the bright sunlight as she dumps the bag of remains into the trash can near the restrooms. I watch her pensively as she turns around, looking so incredibly sad and worried, still strangling a worn handkerchief in her bony fingers.

It hits me then, and I don't push her to answer me anymore. Randy, her boyfriend, never returned from saving his friends. She has to be going out of her mind because of it. If only he hadn't run out to help them. If he'd only stayed with us, with her, he'd be safe. Just another thing I hate him for.

How he could put my mother second to saving others when all the world is falling down into the open pit of hell irritates me, and I feel like jumping up and down, rejoicing that he's gone. Good riddance. I never did warm up to the guy; he could never replace my father. Oh, but he tried. He tried over and over to be a father to Jeremy and me, to be a good companion for my mother, who obviously adores him. I just never warmed up to him, and I almost feel bad that he's probably dead, and I never let him in. I never see the good in people, so all I can remember about him is the bad, really. It just angers me to know how easily my father had been replaced. How could she forget him so soon?

She hasn't forgotten, I tell myself. The struggle to move on is etched in every line of her face, in every tear she's shed. We all need to move on from loss, from death....

I sigh, dumping my leftovers into the trash and rinsing the plate off in the bucket of water my mother fills to wash dishes. It vaguely reminds me of camping with my father, but I shut down the memory train before it gets me all worked up and derails me again. No need to continually torture oneself.

"April, can you load up the van, please? We need to search for a more permanent place today."

"It's already noon, Mom," I protest, drying off my plate and sticking it into the box in the back of our van. "If you wanted to look for a place, we should've left earlier."

She shoves the small cooking pot and a bag of cans into the van's rear hatch. Jaw tight, I realize I'm pushing her and decide to follow along. Pressing her will only end in an argument, and I'd love to avoid it. I pick up the bucket of dirty dish water and dump it onto the fire.

Jeremy is already sitting inside. He waves and presses his face against the window, making crude faces. I stick my tongue out at him as I shut the trunk door of the van and head around to sit in the passenger seat.

Mom slides into the driver's seat and squeezes the steering wheel with an iron grip. Scanning the campsite, she lets out a long, shaky breath before she grabs the door handle and closes it with a finite slam. Turning the key, the engine roars to life, stifling out the noise in our heads—the memories. I slip the seatbelt on, wary that her mood has never been so foul. Randy's been gone a few days now, but waiting for him to return is like waiting for the sun to go supernova. It might never happen. If he does, he won't come back the same, will he?

I wrap my arms around me and stare out the window as the landscape rolls by. The same scrawny and bare deciduous trees, starved and thin, sparse from living in this arid desert, stand tall, reaching for us with their withered, spidery branches. I want to see something more alive, greener. The occasional coniferous trees, which still possess some greenery, are a small comfort. It makes me feel the desolation of the world heavy on our shoulders now. A pulling, sinking feeling leaves me drowning as the wind whips my hair up into my face.    

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