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2036 - The Apocalypse
2036; the year the human empire fell apart. By that time it was hard to grasp onto anything remotely close to civilized manner. No thanks to all the officers, or “people wardens”, and safe cells, or “human cages”. We, the victims, like to alter the preferred names into stuff a little more…brutal. But that’s just the thing. Everything they did was brutal; we had no respect, so the term “human cages” was entirely appropriate in our eyes. We made sure to keep this to ourselves, because in troubling times the officers found almost no reasons why we shouldn’t be punished. We were whipped for talking back, smacked for eating more than the rationed amount, and basically beaten just for breathing. Although to come to think of it, it was nobody’s fault. Nobody could have predicted the tragedy that happened so suddenly.
The idea of “witches” had been brought back and circulating what I thought was just the country, but several other territories across the world. To most Americans, it was a joke, but to others it was a cultural outbreak. Different ethnicities stories involving witches were oddly terrifying and gory, so it was no wonder they were all in a panic. The concept of these witchcraft stories were known as destructive and the cause for human misfortune. All the stories had pretty much left out the fact that witchcraft is simply the believed use of magic abilities, commonly used for spiritual or medical practices. However they all included the opinion the witchcraft was “evil” and “intended to kill us all”. And now that I think of it maybe those weren’t really opinions but little known facts.
The thought was brought up somewhere during March, 2025 or so I have been told. Rumor had it that a group of teenagers were found by an old swamp in the woods. I never did really catch any of the details, but apparently they had told authorities that they found a small clan of witches living in the forest. They supposedly witnessed them doing “supernatural” things to a small rabbit, killing it slowly. And the reason the teenagers were out there? It was to shoot a documentary about a local urban legend. So, basically, the story sounded a little too Blair Witch Project for me to believe. But soon enough their whole town was witnessing witchcraft like happenings. Subsequently nearby towns were reporting strange things such as cattle mutilations, missing pets, and eerie carved symbols and fire pits in the woods. Soon other towns across the country and some small cities were terrified.
And then, on November 19, 2026, the first reported case of The Virus was released to the public. Now The Virus wasn’t its real name but no one really wanted to call an apocalyptic disease by some long medical name. So the nick name just kind of stuck to us. Anyhow the illness was said to be contagious and very fatal. Symptoms of it were mysterious infections to the skin, later resulting with your flesh basically dissolving off; unbearable pain in your muscles, and amnesia. There were many more symptoms but those few seemed like the most painful, so instinctively those are the only ones anyone remembered. A few short months later there was another report of The Virus. Only this one was half way across the country. We were promised by the government that everything was under control. That everything was going to be just fine. In spite of this a few brief years later whole towns and small cities were entirely infected. Those settlements were to be boarded up, and no one was allowed to enter, or (specifically) leave. This started the world-wide panic.
Little did I know at the time, that many other small countries were also being attacked by this incurable plague. I remember watching the news before school and, of course, The Virus was the main story, as usual. The reporter somehow got their way into a foreign country, although most transportation ports were closed at this point. He was interviewing an old, frail man that lived in a rural neighborhood. The man had wrinkled, bronzed skin and dead eyes. The reporter was asking about the plague and how it was affecting their town. Ignoring the questions the old man looked into the camera and repeated, “It’s thee witches,” his voice very croaky with a thick accent. He had great trouble pronouncing English words.
“The…witches?” The reporter had asked.
The man started to yell and his rough voice completely distinguished what he was trying to say. Later he started to yell in a native language. The camera suddenly turned off and my family stared at a blank screen. My father decided that I didn’t need to go to school that day.
When they taught us about The Virus, about six years after it came about, they showed us gruesome pictures and told gory details. At this time, The Virus had calmed down a bit and it was believed to no longer be circling in America. Our belief ended up being wrong, but how were we supposed to know? Anyways, we had an assembly in the auditorium and a guest speaker. His name was Jonathan Powell. He showed us a presentation of The Virus, which showed many picture of infected people. Each body showed burnt and tender skin, with huge sores lining up in a jagged row down their arms and legs. They were missing hair and several teeth were absent. Their black eyes screeched for help. I couldn’t stand to look at many of the pictures, so I hid my eyes until he started talking.
“Now to start I know that the popular nicknames, The Virus, or the Second Black Death, has been tossed around to specify this disease. However, does anyone happen to know the real name for your so-called Virus?”
A hand shot up in the audience and Jonathan nodded his head as to give permission for this student to speak, “Erbrocheneation?”
“Yes, quite a hard word to pronounce, Erbrocheneation. The name originates from the German word ‘sickness’ and the English suffix meaning ‘process’ or ‘condition’. But enough of the name, I came here to tell you about the dangers and how to protect yourself. I know that there is a popular belief that this sickness has ended but we can’t take any chances now, can we?”
The next hour or so we learned what to and not to do. In my opinion, they were pretty stupid and obviously made up because no one really knew how to prevent The Virus. The instructions went all the way from no visiting outside states to checking your well water before drinking it. I didn’t believe that any of these would really help; but if you don’t know how to prevent it, might as well do everything you can think up, right? Jonathan was a man who looked smart and rational, so I could tell he didn’t believe any of the theories he was telling us. Government most likely told him what to say. He looked like he was keeping a good secret, and I wondered to myself, “Is this sickness really gone at all? Or maybe it’s just getting worse.”
Ironically enough, everything started on January 1, 2036, New Year’s Day. I was at a college party where the alcohol was stale and drugs were being smuggled in by the minute. The freshmen were dancing in the abandoned house’s huge living room like the sex deprived teenagers they are, and the seniors were casually drinking in the kitchen. I decided that, not being a big fan of drinking and all, hanging out alone on the balcony would be the best way to go. I already had a few beers that night, but I was smarter than to drink with all those pesky teenagers in the living room, so I cut myself off early. I continued to open the double glass doors and was surprised that the balcony was indeed empty.
In the corner was a long, green lawn chair and I quickly ran over to sit. I tucked my bare feet under my legs and stared at the stars. That’s really all I remember of the ‘normal’ part of that night. By this time, it was already two in the morning. The ball had dropped, the kisses were exchanged, and the New Year had begun. Now that I think of it, I could clearly hear sirens of ambulances and faint screaming in the distant although I was too tired to pick up on it at the time. Maybe I fell asleep, or maybe my memory just cuts off there, but I can’t recall anything after that. At least not until the police cars started to show up.
Drunken teens were already staggering into the woods, trying to escape the wrath of the police. As, of course, that was the only logical explanation. The police had come to break up the party or so everyone thought. I watched as some cops ran into the woods for the runaways and others raided the house. From outside I could hear many muffled teenage screams. Soon there was a huge mass of minors standing in the front yard. As the head authority started to calm the crowd to speak I was grabbed from behind. Panicking, I tried to struggle my way free. I heard a heavy laugh, “Take it easy there, Princess.”
I turned my head to see an older man in uniform. He had dark russet hair with sweat dripping from the hairline. His small half smile transformed into a menacing scowl as his grip tightened on my arm. Next thing I knew I was being shoved through the doors and into the huge hallway of the house.
“Whoa, take it easy. I got her, but there are a couple other kids in the room at the end of the hall. You should get them.” A young voice rang from behind me.
The older officer grunted, let go of my arm which was now turning purple and trudged hastily to the room.
The young voice happened to belong to another officer, one that seemed to be around my age. His light, sandy hair and light freckles gave him sort of an innocent look. “Sorry about him, power kind of gets to his head. Are you alright?” He asked and I nodded.
“Good, I would help you tend to that purple arm but we need to get you out of this house and out to the yard for instructions.” I was then grabbed by the hand and rushed out the front door.
The first thing I noticed once I was outside was how tense the atmosphere was. The fear appeared to be radiating off the mass of teenagers; just looking at their terror struck faces and on-edge, wandering eyes gave me a sudden need of assertion. Without thinking, I grabbed the young officer’s arm with a tight grip to keep myself from falling over. Something wasn’t right here, and I obviously wasn’t the only one who noticed. The sky was bloodshot and the air was so heavy, breathing it in seemed to physically hurt. On top of that, the looks on the police’s faces told me that they weren’t here for the party. They wore different masks of expressions ranging from bewilderment to straight up panic.
I don’t really recall much of the instructions we were given because of my desperate attempt to breathe coming before my will to listen. All I know is that they started to group us. There were really no patterns to the grouping, just that we needed to be in sets of about forty. The young officer placed me in a group, took my hand, and told me everything was going to be alright. After that he ran off and I was left with what little satisfaction he gave me. Meanwhile, panic attacks were becoming more of a trend.
We waited for hours with the same amount of fear that we started with. By now, the drunken ones were passed out in the grass and the sober ones, myself included, were quietly huddling around each other whispering. Rumors were already being spread around from group to group ranging from sudden war to the apocalypse. Not giving these rumors much thought, I resorted to studying the details of the night. The grass was slightly wet under my bare feet, and the gravel surrounding the house wasn’t much different. The sky, while continuing to be an eerie crimson color, was now being blanketed by a stretch of black clouds. Not rain clouds, but thin, small and long clouds that were simply as black as night. There were no signs of birds and the stripped trees looked like long silhouettes against the intense sky. The horizon displayed a gold light telling me that it was almost daybreak.
“Creepy, isn’t it?” A voice rang by my ear. I turned to a petite girl that looked no older than twenty. Her strawberry blonde hair was cut short, just above her ears. On her head was a plain black beanie and her eyebrow was pierced. “I thought I saw a familiar face.” Her pouted lips turned into a smile revealing a row of white, but crooked teeth.
“Huh? Who are you?” I questioned.
“Chase,” the name rolled off her lips, “I mean, it’s originally Camille, but now that I’m on my own I figured I could change it to something more fitting. Trust me; I’m more of a Chase than a plain old Camille. Anyway, you’re in my journalism class. I could recognize that wild blonde hair anywhere.”
My out-of-the-bottle white blonde hair was certainly wild and thick. It was a pain to tame, so usually I let it do what it wanted. Tonight I figured it was doing the usual, the tattered strands falling heavily over my chest. “Oh, I think I remember you.”
“Probably not. I notice other people, people don’t notice me.” She snickered.
I stared at her with a loss for words. “It truly is creepy though,” Her green eyes looked up. “I’ve never seen the sky look so red.”
We stood by each other and stared up until we were interrupted by sirens; oppressive, loud sirens that found their way into my deepest fears. Almost simultaneously a line of black buses pulled into the long driveway. They looked a lot like painted school buses with tinted windows. “Line up!” We were ordered.
Each group had their own bus and we were to form a line by the bus while they took our information. Chase and I were last in line. Our vehicle had a large, white six painted on the side. By now, the sirens were playing off and on over the course of time and with each siren I grew more and more terrified. I had so many, too many, questions that I knew wouldn’t be answered. The once red sky was now entirely obscured with masses of black clouds that looked more like heavy smoke. Trees were dancing in the wind; their thrashing silhouettes sending cold air my way. I shivered and shut my eyes tight. I felt a hand grab mine and Chase’s voice whispering, “You aren’t the only scared one here.”
Soon enough it was my turn to give my information and choose to load the bus. The officers assigned to Bus 6 were no other than the young and old cop that I had encountered in the house. The young cop smiled at me with recognition while the other one grunted and pushed me out of the way to get on the bus and stop a fight between two teenage boys. He yelled and threatened to throw the two boys off the bus. “Your name?” I was asked.
“Well hey there Allison. I’m Luke. First, I’m going to ask if you would like to evacuate, which is highly recommended, however I won’t force you to do anything. Second, if you choose to go I’m just going to get some information here and we will be good to go.” Although his smile was nice and innocent, he talked to me like I was a child. Wanting to look more mature and professional, I stood up straighter and said, “I need to know where we are going.”
He looked up suspiciously.
“I said where are we going?”
“Well Allison I’m not allowed to give out that information, but I can assure you that you will be just fine.” His smiled turned from fake to genuine. “You can trust me. I wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone here, especially you.”
He only laughed and continued to study my face a while more until finally looking down at his papers and filling out my sheet. I peered onto the clipboard and observed him answering my questions.
Name: Allison White
Birthdate: January 22, 2015
Assigned Number: 1280
“How did you know all that about me?” I squinted my eyes to the accurate answers on the paper.
“Yeah,” I furrowed my brow in confusion at him, “sure is.”
It was once I was on the bus that they told us that we had to evacuate the state immediately. The evacuating system was being run by the government and there were to be no questions.
We were on the buses for days. We weren’t allowed to call home, text, take pictures, or look at the news. So basically our phones were on a strict music only policy. Not like it really mattered, most of our phones had died on the first night. Our cure of boredom relied solely on our patience and thoughts. I didn’t recognize a lot of people on Bus Six, only the few that I had met at the party. The ones that got drunk at the event were to sit in the front alongside the officers, and the sober ones filled the middle and back. Chase and I occupied the second to last seat; seat eleven.
There wasn’t much talking either. A few whispers here and there but mostly eerie silence and I wished they would have played music or something. The quiet only made me more uneasy. No one bothered the authorities and they didn’t bother us. It was the second day that they told us our destination. And it was the third day the first person spoke up.
“Why are we being kept in the dark?” A boy asked from the seat behind me. It came out of nowhere but his soft voice cut the sharp silence and I was thankful. The officers turned around and eyed him suspiciously. So did everyone else, myself included. He stood up revealing a tall, lanky body. “Why aren’t we allowed to know where we are going? Where we will end up?”
“We told you. We will be arriving in Michigan in about another day.”
“Yeah but where we will go from there? You basically just took us from our homes for Christ’s sake!”
“Why aren’t we allowed to know what’s going on?” Another joined the rebellion.
More people stood up and argued as well. They were climbing the seats; their lips heaving out profanity left and right. The cops were having a hard time keeping us quiet, and started to use force. The once silent bus was now filled with different screams and arguments. Then there was a gunshot and I looked to see an officer pointing his gun out the window. “I said sit down.”
After that everyone was mute.
I awoke to a heavy hand on my shoulder. The first thing my eyes saw was complete darkness. The bus lights weren’t on tonight, and the only source of light was the passing ones outside the window. “Is this seat taken?”
“Huh? Where’s Chase?” I stared at the now empty seat by me.
The figure pointed to the floor where Chase was busy snoring. “Guess she thought the floor was more comfortable than your shoulder. Mind if I sit?” The voice, once unrecognizable, was now identified as Luke. I nodded and sat up straighter.
“How are you holding up?” He asked once sitting down.
“A little scared, a little confused but like you said, you guys aren’t going to hurt us, right?”
“Right,” I heard his quiet voice snicker, “to be completely honest, I don’t really know what’s going to happen next. I know why we are evacuating and I know where we are going, but I don’t know what’s happening after that. You’ll be just as surprised as me.”
“Right, that’s reassuring.” I looked out the window and let my fear slowly rise up a little more. Not even the authorities knew what was going to happen to us. “I would just like to contact home. I keep wondering about my family.”
“Understandable. The thing is, almost everyone is evacuating so your parents are probably on some other bus thinking the same thing. Mike,” He pointed to the sleeping older cop, “told me that we will try to reunite families once in Michigan.”
I took the time to study our surrounding out the window during the awkward silence. Although dark, the sky was a deep sapphire blue and no longer blood red, something I was grateful for. There were stretches of fields and masses of forest. I let my eyes adjust to the black and found myself imagining the trees as cold, black monsters.
I turned my head and found Luke, now turned toward me, studying my face intently; his brown eyes moving over every detail of my skin.
My skin turned ice cold, and my cheeks flushed from the sudden uncomfortable feeling I was getting. “Is something wrong?” I managed to ask.
“Yeah…I mean no, everything is fine. I was just wondering if you needed a blanket. Those shorts don’t look like they are keeping you very warm.”
“Yeah a blanket would be nice.” I couldn’t help but stutter a bit.
“Calm down,” he smiled, “Your expression gets lost when you’re zoned out. I’ve never seen anyone’s face just leave the world like that.” He scooted away as if sensing my uncomfortableness, “Sorry if I freaked you out. I’ll get that blanket for you.” And like that he was gone. I closed my eyes and felt a heavy wool blanket cover my body. “We will be arriving in Michigan in a few hours.” He whispered and walked away. I opened one eye and saw him wake up another girl and ask her if she was in need of a blanket. I suddenly felt better. Later everyone on the bus had blankets or jackets covering them. A few more hours until Michigan, I thought to myself. Oddly, I wasn’t all that scared anymore.
It wasn’t long until I was asleep again.
Like I was informed, we arrived in Michigan a few short hours later. Michigan was something different than every other state was passed on our trip. Instead of stretched fields and empty streets; there were buses and construction; brown grass was replaced with a yellow and dried pasture; most leafless trees were now chopped down; and once red skies were now purple. In the lilac sky were the dry, black clouds I had seen the first night. Other buses were everywhere; by our sides, behind us, in front of us, even driving in the fields. Numbers ranging from fifty to three hundred were painted on the sides.
We stopped at a construction site. Buses one to two hundred were to share the same site. The ‘campsite’, as they told us to call it, was basically set upon a huge copper colored field; where the weeds grew high and the trees towered above us. The long road behind us left the sightline as more buses followed it farther into the world. Along the edges of the field were the foundations of future buildings; buildings that would be made with gray bricks and black cement. And in the center of it all was a white tent that held tables and a fire pit which I assumed was for cooking and eating.
Upon arriving they gave us water and food, which was something everyone was complaining about during the long trip. Instead of frozen foods, we were finally served cooked meats and vegetables. There were no instructions the first few hours we were there; so it was an opportunity to meet others and try to figure out what was going on. The people there were all different from their attitude towards the evacuation. There were the angry older men, the ones who threatened the authorities if answers weren’t given. Staying close to the buses were the moms; desperately clinging to their children, they complained to each other about the safety of the child and, obviously, themselves. Us young adults, or teenagers, stayed by a nearby building in construction and either panicked or tried to lighten the mood with friendly smiles. And of course there were the few “free-spirits” who didn’t give a damn about anything that was going on. I liked them the most though; they weren’t scared or confused, they simply just didn’t care.
Later that night we were given tents to sleep in until the buildings were done. We had to set it up in the vast field but we were not able to go out of boundary lines. Although the older men, the ones who ‘needed’ the answers, wouldn’t budge; wouldn’t take a tent or sleep. Some didn’t even eat. Something like a protest, I suppose. Later they were put into a group away from the rest while the authorities whispered to them. They talked for about thirty minutes and I’m sure they got to know the reason of our arrival before anyone else. And for some reason, I didn’t care. I wanted to wait for the answer knowing it would be something I most likely couldn’t handle.
I guess you could say that we already guessed why we were there before we were even given a hint. Laying in that tent with Chase and two other people who needed a place to pass out, I kept thinking. Obviously Chase had been thinking too because she had said the first word. “I know why we are here.” She had said and the three of us looked at her with furrowed brows. “Think about it, the signs are right in front of our faces. You just have to know how to read them.”
We spent that night talking about Chase’s so-called “signs”.
And she was right. The next day they had told us and it left a sick feeling in my gut that never truly went away.
The Virus had gone viral again.
Somewhere out there someone was at home watching television; someone who refused to get on the buses up North. Somewhere out there a family was playing outside awaiting the deadly disease to hit them. Somewhere out there were children who had no idea what was happening and adults that were never informed. Yet those people weren’t any safer than us. And truthfully, if I had my family, I would want to be home right now. I would want to watch television, run out on the road, take a walk along the garden, and do anything as long as I was home and happy. Here, at the campsite with a bunch a strangers, I was not happy.
Chase, being my only little ray of sunshine, was always smiling during the day. Always laughing and cracking jokes. People really loved her there, being the optimistic girl she is. I was just known as the quiet friend who smiled often but held lies behind her glassy indigo eyes. However, Chase was someone else too; someone that only I knew and witnessed. Every night when she thought everyone was asleep; she would leave the tent and cry. I sat up every single night and listened to her discreet sobs. I wanted so desperately to go out there and comfort her, but if I couldn’t help myself, how was I supposed to help someone so much stronger than me? Eventually I stopped staying up and waiting for her to leave the tent. Eventually I started to fall asleep faster.
There was one day in particular that would never fail to leave my mind. The image, still so clear to me, showed up in my dreams keeping every detail exact.
It had been a few (two?) weeks and the buildings were almost done while the grass had surprisingly just become browner. The skies were still purple and the black clouds still sat flatly on the horizon, failing to move. It was at dusk that I had noticed it. Chase wasn’t in the tent; however she wasn’t sitting outside and crying either. I saw no sign of her silhouette in the blue, light absorbing tent walls. By this time, it was past curfew and everyone was supposed to be in their tents doing whatever satisfied their needs. And since Chase had become the only shoulder to lean on in the camp, I grew worried. So I stuck my head out and observed the few officers on duty and decided it was safe to crawl out, knowing that they were too wrapped up in their card game on the other side of the field to notice or even care. I slowly snuck to the small clearing, behind a leafless bush, and discovered that Chase was, indeed, not in her usual spot.
At this point I was panicking. The officers took no hesitation in throwing out people in the camp that showed symptoms of The Virus, and although Chase didn’t show symptoms to me, it was a fast infection that could develop a few indications in hours. I observed the field again making sure to keep an eye out for her light navy jacket she wore earlier that day. Again, I saw nothing but blue tents, construction, brown grass, and tired officers.
And that’s when I felt it. A pain, much like a burning sensation, had pierced my neck while blocking my airways. I could breathe, but barely, as another pain appeared like a shot in the throat, suffocating me more. It was something I couldn’t describe but I felt like it was how fire incinerating your skin, inside and out, would feel. I tried desperately to make noise, to get anyone’s attention, but I was too far away for anyone to hear my kicking feet in the dirt. I fell on my back with one hand clutched around my neck and another reached into the sky. I was a writhing mess lying in a pile of black dirt. My eyes grew wet and through the tears I could see Chase and the figure of another woman. As my oxygen was cut off completely I saw Chase waving frantically at the old woman.
Then the pain went away.
I took no hesitation in spitting up the blood in my throat.
Chase was next to me in a matter of seconds and rubbed my back as I continued to spew up red blood onto the dirt. She kept her arm around my waist, as well as keeping her words directed towards me; however her attention was focused on the woman standing in the grove of trees. Her green eyes squinted in an unreadable expression. Then the woman started to walk over, keeping herself hidden to anyone else that could be watching by weaving in and out of trees and bushes.
As I was starting to breathe normally, Chase whispered something in my ear.
Finally the strange woman reached our location, only keeping her distance by a few feet. She squatted down and examined my sweat stained face and blood streaked throat. The woman, pretty and all, had many wrinkles that traced her mouth and eyes. They were small indents in her coarse, tan face. Her eyes were as black as the clouds in the sky, matching her untamed feather invested hair. She was very tall and wore rags, not bothering to cover much up.
Although her face had a civil appearance she looked like she had been raised in the wild. The woman looked at Chase, then me, then up in the sky. The blood chilled my skin from the coming winds and I could see the goose bumps appearing on the woman’s bare legs. She suddenly seemed frantic and ripped off a small sheet of one of her bright olive rags, and slowly crawled towards me like an on-edge animal. Truthfully, I was scared and held my breath as she slowly got closer.
Her black eyes stared into me as one long arm reached out. I looked at Chase, who nodded reassuringly, and let the woman wrap the cloth around my neck. The red liquid took no time to soak up into the rag.
“Thank you,” I whispered slowly and quietly not wanting to scare the woman any more than she was. I looked at Chase again to make sure that I wasn’t going to freak out the woman, making her do something unexpected. However Chase wasn’t watching us, she was eyeing the sky and I realized so was the woman. What was once (rare) blue skies were replaced with the dark purple night and the wind had only gotten stronger. It violently thrashed the trees and shook the tents.
The woman cocked her head slightly to the left and slowly backed away.
The airstreams started to howl as she crawled faster and faster away into the forest; the one farther out than our boundary point. When I felt Chase’s hand tugging my arm, I turned and ran. We jogged the short distance to our tent and quickly jumped inside. Inside were our two “roommates”, wide-eyed and frightened. I ignored their whimpers from the storm, and stared coldly into Chase’s emerald eyes. “What the hell was that?” I hissed.
“We can’t talk about this here. I will tell you tomorrow.”
And although I desperately wanted answers as to who the woman was and why Chase was out with her, I agreed that talking about it in front of two scared teenage girls wasn’t the best. I ignored Chase the rest of the night and used our water bottles to clean the dried blood off of my throat. I told the two teenagers that I had fell running after Chase, and they helped me bandage it up. Instead of helping, Chase sat quietly in the corner staring at her hands.
The wind never did stop howling that night.
The only person who really took interest in my burns was Luke. At first he was angry and then he was anxious to help. I assumed everyone else just thought I had self-harmed or was messing around when I wasn’t supposed to by the daggers their stares brought. Although I didn’t know what caused the burning sensations, I still lied to Luke telling him that I spilled some of the boiling water at dinner last night. I said that someone bumped into me and the sizzling water headed straight for my throat. Luckily, he bought it.
Chase wasn’t talking to me. She would stay close to the officers and conversed with others, but disregarded my attempts to make eye contact. She even slept in other tents doing God knows what, instead of facing me. It had been three days before I couldn’t take the rude glares at my throat and the memories of the woman. I marched up to her while she was busy flirting with a group of officers, and rather crudely yanked her to a clearing that nobody was near.
I demanded to know everything. She told me to meet her at the grove of trees that night, which I did. I waited until the on-guard officers had accidently fallen asleep and snuck out. Chase was sitting at the trunk of a tree staring at the stars that were hardly ever out.
“About time,” She smirked, “almost got worried about you.”
“Worried about me? You are the one sneaking off, never coming back for curfew, and hanging with strangers in the woods.”
Her smile faded. “Listen Allison, I really am sorry. But I’m also trying to figure out everything. It was a lot to take in, you know?” I crossed my arms and pursed my lips. Her eyebrows rose. “Let’s take a walk.”
She headed towards the woods past the boundary line.
“Are you crazy? We can’t go back there!”
“Lower your voice a little, would ya? Besides, what are they going to do to us? The officers are all asleep, they will never even know. You can trust me.”
Oddly enough, I did trust her. After a hesitant look back at the snoring authorities, I followed her until we were at the edge of the woods. The trees were tall, black, and naked.
“The woman,” Chase spoke so inaudibly that I had to huddle next to her to hear, “she told me that she lived in here. She lived here with some other women; a clan is what she called it. It was hard to understand her, but I think she said she had been watching us for a while.”
“Her clan is going to try to harm us, Allison. The whole camp, the woman warned me. Told me to get out of here.”
“Harm us? What do you mean Chase?”
“Allison. The woman was a witch.”
That night we cautiously ventured into the woods. The atmosphere resembled a Snow White theme with the black forest, monstrous trees, and black thorns. However the plants didn’t grab and snap at me, like they did in the movie, although the heavy winds made it seem so. Even Chase was frightened; I could tell by how close she would get to me every time we heard a soft noise. After a while we were practically in each other’s arms.
“Tell me why we are in here, again?” I asked some-what annoyed, some-what curious.
She didn’t answer as we, for no reason, kept walking farther into the woods.
It was almost like we were looking for something. Not the witch, that’s for sure, but like a sign of her. Chase started to tell me things about the woman like she thought that that was an appropriate conversation at that time. Yet I still hung on to her words. I learned that the witch’s name was Evelyn. I also learned that the burning pains in my throat were caused by Evelyn. Apparently she thought I had been spying on them and used her powers (magic? sorcery?) to choke me from afar. She also told me that Evelyn had told her about a sign. The howling winds? That meant a clan of witches, specifically outraged ones, was near. The stronger it got the closer and angrier they were. If Chase had been right about the witches wanting to hurt us, then the strong winds we got was a sure sign.
As we kept going we started to notice strange things. First it was just red stains (I wanted so desperately to believe it was paint) on the trees making the impressions of symbols. The symbols were weird and made lines that pointed towards the sky. We should have turned around there, and Chase wanted to, but it was me that wanted to keep going.
Next we came across burnt leaves. We were basically walking on top of ashes that may or may not have been more than just plants.
Finally, we came across a campfire. It wasn’t lit, of course, but it did seem like someone had been there recently; the white ashes had yet to blow away in the wind.
The one thing that I wouldn’t be able to describe from that place was the smell. The horrid, yet powerful, smell was enough to make your eyes water. Even breathing through your mouth was useless; it appeared as if you could actually taste the foul odor. We looked around everywhere for what could make such a smell. Or maybe we didn’t care about the smell, and we looked for loot or emblems. All I know is that we were searching for something.
The leaves whistled above me and I heard a soft thud. It continued with the loud creak of a tree branch above me. Chase and I stood by the fire pit, her head at her kicking feet in the white ash, and mine starting to turn upwards. I peered up the tree, expecting an animal, however Chase’s shrill scream was enough to tell me that it was something much bigger than that. High up on the tallest branch was Evelyn’s dead body, hanging several feet over our heads. The lifeless body descended towards us in a dangling motion as the wind brushed past it. There were multiple cat-like scratches on her legs and a large gash resting upon her stomach. Her rags had fallen by the fire pit, already infested with bugs; however her long hair hid almost the whole upper half of her body.
The open mouth that was frozen in a deathly scream had me shaking and I turned to run, without Chase and all. She yelled my name but I kept my feet going.
Before I realized it, I hit someone else; slammed right into them as we both went tumbling down. I wasn’t even thirty feet away of the campsite. I lifted my head to see that I was laying on a figure that possessed a long face, tall body, and rag covered skin. It was a woman, much like Evelyn, that seemed scared, anxious, and angry all at the same time. The woman’s long fingernails dug deep into my skin while Chase was screaming behind me. After that everything was gone. Everything was black.
I woke up to a light sky and an itchy lawn. I was lying in a field of long green grass, something I hadn’t seen in about two months. I sat up and observed the lime plants and trees and the bright sunlight. I smiled to myself knowing that the purple skies and dried up life was no longer surrounding me. Maybe everything was behind me. Maybe I was blacked out long enough for everything to return to normal. Maybe, just maybe, everything had all been a dream. I heard birds chirping in the distance and I couldn’t help but grin bigger. I was all alone in my own little field of sunlight.
Suddenly, a low and very raspy grunt interrupted my grinning and I shot my head backwards to reveal a woman. No just any woman, but THE woman; the one that broke my fall on the horrid night in the woods. She sat on a stump, playing with something in her hands, and staring at me closely. I started to sweat.
She looked down at the item moving back and forth from each of her hands and grunted again. “I will not hurt you.” She talked very quietly and muffled.
I nodded wanting to avoid eye contact.
We sat there for what I estimated as twenty five minutes before she spoke again. “Allison?”
I looked up.
“That is the name you possess, ye? Miss Allison White.”
She took a few moments before telling me hers, “I am Amani.”
Again, I nodded and looked down. I had no idea what to say to the woman or how to even find my voice. It was obvious I wasn’t even trying to hide my fear for her.
“Camille Winslet. That is your friend, ye?”
“Yeah, Chase, that’s her.” I finally found my voice although I couldn’t help the shakiness of it, “Do you know where she is at?” It was a question that had been bothering me since I awoke that morning.
Amani pointed towards the woods. “Looking for camps.”
We sat again in silence until Chase came back. She didn’t seem hardly as afraid of Amani as I was; how she smiled at her and easily made conversation.
Later that night, when we all had warmed up to each other a bit, we made a campfire. Amani told us ancient tales about the woods and clans, while Chase told her about our experiences coming here. Although Amani’s stories were a lot more interesting, she intently listened to Chase, her low croaky voice grunting along indicating that she was hanging on to every word.
After a while Chase told us about a nearby camp, only about two miles away. There was a tent filled up with bags that held clothes and food. I looked down at my own indigo jacket and blue jeans stained with mud and grass. At our camp they gave us a new set of clothes every couple of days. They were all donated clothes that were never washed to begin with. Really, we were basically sitting in garbage bags. So, fresh clothes, not to mention food, sounded nice.
“The camp is guarded though. And these guards aren’t like ours, they don’t take visitors lightly. It will be a struggle to get by them.” Chase explained.
“Is there any sort of plant or vegetation near this tent?” Amani asked.
“It’s by the edge of the woods. There is a guard who stands by to watch but he switches places with another every thirty minutes. I suppose we could sneak in during one of their rotations.”
“We will sneak into the tent tomorrow. Tonight, we get good sleep.”
As Amani and Chase laid on the dirt for some shut-eye, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why are you helping us?”
The woman sat up and stared at me a little too suspiciously.
“I mean, you’re a witch, right? I thought you were supposed to be hurting us, not helping us.” I added a “sorry” after I realized how rude I sounded. However Amani didn’t take my sorry as her face scrunched in either fury or frustration. “I am not like the others. I am not like my clan. I am, instead, like Evelyn. The one that got killed for helping you. We were planning on getting Camille out of here; we saw something special in her. But Camille insisted that you came for some reason,” Her black eyes made my blue ones physically hurt, “I don’t need to hear any more from you tonight.”
Chase looked slightly surprised and looked at me with sorry in her eyes. I shook my head and laid on the cold hard dirt, facing away from the fire. I stared at the stars until I fell asleep.
I awoke to Amani and Chase pouring water on the smoking ashes of what was once the campfire.
“Get up. We are getting ourselves some fresh food.” Chase smiled at me and started off in the direction of the camp. I slowly got up and followed.
“So, I haven’t looked in a mirror for weeks. How bad do I really look?” I asked Chase with a little laugh in my voice to show I was joking.
“Actually you don’t look that bad. Your hair is even bigger than before though.” She giggled and pulled on a curl. “And truthfully I don’t think any of us really smell like roses either.”
Amani walked behind us and added in, “We will wash up later,” not catching our joking sarcasm.
Eventually we got to the camp. We stayed hidden in the bushes and spied the few people walking around. As Chase had said, there was a male guard staked at the open flap of the tent. Inside were dozens of blue and red duffle bags.
“This camp is really emptied out.” I observed.
“The sickness has wiped out many here, yes.”
I gazed over at Amani, “If The Virus has killed many here isn’t there a good chance we are going to get it? It’s highly contagious.”
“Don’t worry, we can’t get it. I’ve protected us.”
I didn’t question her any farther, knowing it was probably some weird witch magic or something. Plus I didn’t want to piss her off any more than she was. I looked back at the tent. “So who’s going to get the bags?”
It had been decided that I was the one to go, probably because Amani wouldn’t care if I got caught or not. I waited until the guard walked off behind another tent and crawled fast until I made it inside. I was to grab two blue bags and two red bags. The bags were stacked high, much higher than I could reach, and it was a struggle to get enough in time. I could hear faraway crunching footsteps in the dirt and I hurriedly reached for my last bag. The heavy footsteps got louder and louder. Finally I grabbed the last red one and I was about out the open flap when a silhouette approached. It was a woman in uniform with a high black ponytail. She stood right in front the opening.
I tried to sneak behind a stack to keep myself hidden and in the process I managed to make more noise than I intended. The woman turned and peered into the tent. I watched her from a little opening between two bags behind the farthest stack, the one in the corner. She took a step in and continued to scan the surroundings closely. She stood there for what I thought was a long time, which was probably just seconds, until finally walking back out to the front of the tent. I breathed out heavily, just realizing that I had been holding my breath the whole time. I took the bags and kicked them out the bottom of the tent, which wasn’t secured to the ground very well, and crawled out after.
Amani and Chase were standing at the edge of the woods motioning for me to come fast. I guess I had made more noise because the woman was back in the tent. I could tell by her voice asking if anyone was there. I grabbed the bags and ran. I think Chase and I might have ran the whole way back, making sure we were completely out of range before even breathing.
Once we made it back to camp we opened the duffle bags. The red ones held clothes and the blue ones held food. Later, we found a clean stream which Chase and I had bathed in. We soaked in the water and scrubbed each other’s hair. I had taken a gray jacket that was tight around my stomach and Chase got a large black hoodie that hung low around her thighs. We both got new blue jeans. Amani still wore her rags and made sure to bathe away from us.
We stayed at our so-called camp for a few nights more before finally heading north. I had no idea where we were headed and every time I asked Amani she would just shrug. Later I grew homesick. I stayed up many nights, and cried, just like Chase had. I made sure that no one was awake and let the tears soak my skin. Every night I heard the sound of my hands punching the ground; I heard the snores of the unsuspecting women by the fire; I heard the echoing screams and the rip of my hair when I felt like it just got in the way. I often wondered about my family, my friends, and if they even missed me; which I had doubted because at the time, I wouldn’t have missed myself at all.
When I managed to sleep I had dreams about Evelyn and Luke. Some were nightmares and some were pleasant, but with each dream I grew more terrified and unhappy. An empty feeling had made a knot in my chest and I began losing sleep for fear of more nightmares.
The pain stayed and the headaches came. The aching bones and muscles, the droopy eyes, the empty chest, the tired thoughts all came at once and that’s how the panic attacks started. Every night I would have difficulties breathing; my head would spin in all directions and my legs would shake. I would whimper and hold my head and, most of the time, weep. My heart had sunk like a stone in a pond.
All of it was a heavy pain that took a toll on my emotional and physical health. See, I wasn’t ever the strongest person, or the bravest. So instead of trying to suck it up, I would just go on my way and freak out. In time I stopped talking altogether. There was nothing ever left to say. Chase’s questions were left unanswered and my thoughts were sealed tightly in my head. I would hum children’s songs or trail behind and stare at the sun, wondering how it could be so stunning yet so harmful. I found myself thinking about leaving Chase and Amani and traveling out on my own. By that point, I didn’t care about surviving or ending up safe. I just wanted a way out.
The night I was planning to leave was the night the witches came.
Several long, rag covered bodies surrounded us. They ranged from short haired teenagers to white haired elders. They all had their course skin and jagged teeth, which they bared at me with humanly snarls. Chase and Amani were sleeping by the fire while I stood and stared at the dozens of black eyes. My head felt like it was spinning although I remained completely still. It reminded me of movies, how the camera would circle around a character to make it obvious that the character’s heart was rigorously beating and there was fear in their veins. I felt like I was that main character. The witches seemed to chuckle at me sensing my fear. The wind had picked up hours before but we thought nothing of it. As soon as the witches came it started howling which sounded much like dense cackling and the numerous low grunts didn’t help with the uncanny atmosphere. It wasn’t until I felt one grab me that I blacked out.
I had awaked lying on the ground. I was on a pile of black leaves in a dark, cold forest. My vision blurred but I could sense a warm fire somewhere to my right. No matter how many times I blinked, I could see nothing but swirls of obscure branches and hazy ashes drifting over me. When I looked to my right I saw a large red blur, what I was guessing was the fire, and quite a few silhouettes. I recognized Chase and Amani almost instantly as Chase was a lot smaller and Amani stood right next to her as everyone else kept a distance. There were whispers and murmurs however the cackle of the fire kept me from hearing what was being said. As my sight slowly got better I saw that Chase and Amani were stripped, their hands bound with rope.
Soon the fire calmed down and the witches talked louder therefore I was able to pick up some of the conversation. There were many different raspy voices.
“Do they die?”
“No, they might be useful.”
“What if we torture them? After all, it is a runaway with an outsider.”
“No. We will keep them unharmed; bring some clothes for the women.”
Green rags were handed to Chase and Amani as their ropes were cut.
“We will continue to follow their path up North.”
“What about the other outsider? The one lying right over there?”
“She is no use to us.”
All heads turned to me as I pretended to still be passed out.
“We can’t leave her. She’s a witness.”
“She will never survive anyways.”
“There is always a chance.”
“Not if I can help it,” a low growl joined in and I could almost hear the grin on her lips, “blind her.”
A hand was raised in my direction and with a quick snap of the wrist; I felt a razor-sharp pain paralyze my face. My eyes, frozen open, fogged over with a tingling sensitivity which had caused me to scream. My vision was white, then brown, then blue; while my eyes continued to itch and my skin; sting. I clawed my face, which was now dead from pain, and continued to bellow. Tears had gathered in my eyes but had no way of falling down my skin, and after a few long seconds of severe agony, I saw nothing but black. My mouth tasted of cold iron. I could hear Chase calling my name and the sound of faraway footsteps; however I was alone in a matter of seconds. I laid on the ground as the numb feeling subsided. I sat up and rubbed my eyes yet I could see nothing. I felt around me. The wet leaves had a rusty smell and I felt the warmth of the fire only a couple yards away. I was still unable to cry as the pain sat around my eyes, seeming to weigh them down.
My head weighed to the side as soon as I was on my feet, and in no time I was back to lying in the leaves. I tried again to stand, but my ears popped and my head fell to the side once more. I buried my face with the bugs under the soil and sighed, giving any habitants under the leaves an earthquake with my pounding headache. The air was cold and so were my clothes as they had gotten soaked on the forest floor with mud and dew. Therefore I crept towards the fire and stopped only when I felt the burning ashes under my hands. Sitting there, with a scorching face, is when I came to the realization that I was stuck in a foreign forest, with no sense of direction, and the disability of impaired vision. I had tried my best to fall asleep but in the back of my mind I knew the nightmares would come. I knew I would wake up shrieking and have no relief when I grasp the fact that reality is the worst nightmare I had. The night was filled with the cries of owls and snaps of twigs. I stayed up that whole night holding my ears, blocking out all the frightening, far-off sounds.
In the morning I opened my eyes and, surprisingly, I didn’t have a cold black screen over my sight. Instead I saw foggy white and blurs of nearby objects. My sense of touch and smell had heightened during the long night and I recognized the smell of wet leaves and fresh air. The fire had long been out and the cold breezes caused my skin to crawl. I figured that sitting in the woods would never give me a chance to live, and for some reason I had a whole new hope. So again, I tried to stand up and after a little trial and error, I managed to walk. I lifted each leg high and grabbed any trees my hands could find. I was headed to what I thought was south, back to a camp in Michigan.
It had been probably an hour before I came across an open field. I walked around in circles trying to find a campfire or stumps to tell me that this is where we camped the night before. However I did not find anything and I continued to feel my way south. Before long, I was blanketed by total darkness and I stopped for a rest.
That night I managed to sleep.
The next day I succeeded in going farther without stopping; same with the next day. On the other hand I had become weaker with hunger. I could easily find streams by listening for running water, but food was something that was almost impossible to get. The pain shot my stomach with each step that was taken. By the next day, I was convinced that there was no hope for me. My vision was no better, if at all worse. I was weak, famished and blind.
However, later, I had picked up the scent of something sweet. The wind had gotten a little stronger and the smell blew my way. It was a very faint aroma and I almost thought that I was imagining it, but my desperation got the best of me and I crawled towards the scent.
The smells lead me to a bulky shrub, I could tell by the leaves scratching my arms and face. I felt around the plant and found many small round objects which I assumed were berries. I sniffed them and sure enough, they were giving off the sweet smell. Without giving another thought I devoured the handful in my hands and any others that I could find. The sugary taste on my tongue reminded me of home, and yet again I thought of my family. I was a mess that sat on the ground scarfing down berries and whimpering from longing.
There was a grunt behind me as I was licking the finial traces of nectar off my fingers. Not a grunt like Evelyn and Amani would have made, but a very low, very scared grunt; one that sounded like a cry for help. My first thought was an animal, a vicious one that would consume me in minutes. I turned my head and tried my best to see a figure in my foggy vision which had surprisingly gotten better. Instead of blurs, I could see full silhouettes although details were still very hazy. I assumed that maybe the spell or whatever the witch casted on me, would wear off in a matter of time. However at the time, that was just a guess.
I was interrupted again by the same sound only a little louder. I blinked and made out the figure of something hunched over, its legs bent close to the ground. It didn’t look much like an animal, at least one I’ve ever seen. The smell, much like the one I witnessed with Evelyn’s dead body, was horrid and reeked of rotting skin. The thing tried to groan again, but it came out like a heavy sigh with scratchy pitches. Then it hummed a little, crawling slowly towards me, twitching violently with every move. That’s when I realized that it was a human; someone who was badly hurt and obviously not in the right mind. I took no hesitation in getting up and running. I heard the person behind me also get up and with a scream limped towards me with alarming speed. I turned once to see the figure struggling to keep up. They turned into a little black blur as I got farther and farther away. The croaky voice kept screaming with force; the sound stabbed my eardrums with a pick of distress.
Something found their way under my feet and I collapsed face first into a thorn bush. The sharp branches stuck to my skin; yet I was more afraid of the approaching maniac than the pain of the thorns. But with my hair and clothes caught, I wasn’t able to get up. I frantically fought and rolled around in a panic. Each time I rolled, a sharp thorn would pierce my skin and I would exhale in discomfort, making it harder to free myself.
Wake Forest, North Carolina
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