Authors: Mae Redding
“Em… Stay there! Jade…” Already off the bed, I met him in the doorway as he handed me my rifle. “You know what to do…”
“Do you think it’s the guy from the truck?” I asked, slightly panicked then followed Trey into the hall and stopped at the top of the stairs.
“I don’t know…quiet. It could be anybody,” Trey said, “if they get past me-”
“Trey I know… Shoot them.”
The thought made me sick. Kane had to pull out his gun on more than one occasion when transients came through. Some, who were like-minded, stayed maybe a day while they searched and took possession of empty, abandoned houses. Most people were desperate and begged for food, water and maybe a night’s rest as they fled the big cities, which Kane gave if they looked like decent people. A days’ supply in exchange for no problems, continuing them on their way, but there were many times when others wanted to take what wasn’t theirs. Kane and Trey learned quickly they needed to protect what was ours and on more than a few occasions, they did just that.
The rustic, knotty alder door creaked as Trey slowly swung it open. The hinges needed oil but Kane left it like that on purpose. I watched from the stairs, peering through the railing.
“I need to talk to Kane,” a man grumbled, around Kane’s age and someone I’d never seen before. He stood just outside the door, his dark hair short but unkempt and not the cleanest in appearance.
“He’s not here,” Trey said, his back to me. His expression, unseen, but by the stoic tone in his voice, I grew wary of our unwelcomed visitor.
“When’ll he be back?”
“He didn’t say.”
“Who’s here with you?”
The man reached for the screen that separated him and Trey. I clutched my rifle tightly in my trembling hands.
“You can stay right where you are... What do you need?” Trey said firmly, my heart surged in my chest.
The man paused and tried to look inside as Trey closed the door slightly to limit his view. I couldn’t see him anymore, but heard him say, “just tell him Rubin stopped by, Dale Morrison wants to talk to him.” He chuckled, and then I saw him through the window as he walked down the driveway.
“That was strange,” I said as I walked slowly down the stairs.
Trey just nodded, a little irritated as he took my rifle.
“Who was he?”
“I don’t know,” Trey said. “I’m going to feed the horses so lock the door behind me.”
“No you’re not.”
“Lock the door, Jade… And stay inside,
away from the window
He glared at me until I finally nodded. I followed him towards the back door and stopped at the table. I felt reluctant to agree, but only because I was sick of being stuck inside and I didn’t want him to leave by himself. No way would he let me go, I knew that, and not just because Emery would be left alone.
I watched Trey through the double paned kitchen window as he jogged through the light misty rain through the fields, the opposite direction of the barn. Frustrated, I sighed as I leaned over the sink to get a better look. I knew by the determined look on his face when he left he was headed somewhere else and I watched him disappear down the wooded trail at the back of our property.
I turned from the sink and walked through the kitchen. I stopped next to my mom's china hutch and leaned up against it as I looked through the front room to the door. Trey had returned my rifle to its usual place, safely propped in the corner, mainly for Emery and me since Kane and Trey sported arms at all times.
Despite Trey’s meaningful threat, I drew my gaze to the big bay window. I moved towards it and pushed the sheer curtains back. With the window inches from my nose, I looked through my faint reflection as my breath clouded the glass. I balled my fingers and with the side of my palm, cleared a circle of the condensed moisture causing the pane to squeak. I shuddered at the sound and looked across the yard, down the road. The grey pickup, gone.
I shuddered again from the coolness the window emanated and glanced at the wood burning stove then moved towards it. Orange flameless coals illuminated through the amber smoke-stained glass as the pleasant scent of burned pine and smoke lingered. The hinges screeched as I opened the door. A tiny flicker of a pale orange flame emerged from underneath when I stirred the coals with the iron stoker and I placed a few more logs on the dying fire.
“Jade, are they gone?”
I turned to see Emery, hugging the banister at the top of the stairs. “Yeah…”
Hesitantly, she made her way down and I sat on the couch with her huddled in a blanket. Still, almost eight months later, I questioned the bleakness of our reality.
I remembered the family ball games, lazy days by the lake after chores and rides in the mountains. The dinners around the kitchen table full of the laughs of us kids at Trey’s silly jokes. My mom and dad with their subtle smiles and glances exchanged, happy in their lives together. Cherished memories lingered of my mom at the kitchen sink, my dad sneaking his arms through hers to surprise her with a kiss. They didn’t think we noticed. Kane and Trey rolled their eyes as I laughed leaving Emery to wonder what was so funny.
I loved my life before. I’d just started my first year in high school and played on a co-ed competition soccer team with Trey for four years. The high school coach invited me to play on the girls’ varsity high school team as a ninth grader, which didn’t happen very often. My horse, Fire still served as my escape when life got too crazy. I still did no wrong in my dad’s eyes and as long as I kept my mischief undiscovered and to myself, I got along good for the most part, with my mom.
I remembered all of it and anger surfaced in it's absence, taken from me, gone forever. My emotions spiraled as it had many times over. I desperately needed my life back. Why did everything have to change so drastically? I thought back to the memory of that dreadful day when everything ended. September first...
“We still going to the lake?” Emery asked no one in particular as she walked into the kitchen. With a bucketful of eggs to prove it, she’d been up since the crack of dawn helping with our list of chores.
“Yeah, get ready.”
“Let’s braid your hair,” I said to Emery.
“Hurry up though,” Trey grumbled.
He wanted to be gone hours ago. I smiled as I remembered how many times he waited for my mom to comb piggy tails into my hair when we were young. I could still see him, perched on the rim of the tub. He never complained, just watched with a long face and his big green eyes, heavy from boredom. I couldn’t stand being left behind and was glad he waited for me.
“It won’t take long.”
Trey grinned as we ran upstairs then went outside to saddle the horses.
Emery’s endless chatter about school muddled through my ears while I braided her hair. The news on the television played in the background and I barely listened to the warning. The over-reporting of the virus played around the clock for the last seventeen days and became noise in the back of my mind.
Seventeen days ago, the news started reports of a new, highly contagious virus. People became severely sick. It started on a U.S. Military Base somewhere back east, thirteen cases originally. A day later, there were twelve more people confirmed to have the virus scattered over Europe and twenty nine more cases confirmed across the United States. Ten of them in Washington DC alone, all government officials.
“Jade! Are you two coming or what?” Trey hollered impatiently through the house.
“Come on, Em... Grab your lunch,” I said, then flipped off the television and rushed through the kitchen.
Little did we realize that as we ran out the back door, our lives would never be the same again...
There wasn’t a road access to the lake, just the trail that wound along the small river from the lake through the mountains that met the edge of our property.
“I’ll race you!” Emery called back to us with a smile as we rode onto the trail. I smiled back and she took off.
I looked over at Trey. “Well, come on, let’s go. You’re not going to let her beat us are you?”
Trey nodded for me to go first so I took off after Emery and he followed last. The feeling, amazing and never got old as Fire carried me through a blur of swift moving trees. The cool wind hit my face and blew back my hair. I heard Emery’s laughter ahead of me as Fire’s powerful legs stretched out with the rhythmic pounding of her hooves in the soft dirt as the sounds of the leaves in the trees rustled in the wind.
Emery arrived first and squealed with excitement with a smile that beamed from ear to ear that she won. We stopped to catch our breath. The sun, strong and my cheeks felt warm. I felt refreshed and soaked in the mild weather, still quite warm for the first day of September.
The crystal-clear, sapphire water mirrored the reflection of the rolling foothills and grand violet mountain range while azure skies with fluffy white clouds completed the picturesque landscape. We followed the trail around to the far side and found our rocks where we usually sat. The horses grazed, knee deep in a small grassy meadow behind us.
“Are you ready for the game tomorrow?” Trey asked. He squinted through the morning sun and glanced at me quickly as he threaded the fishing line through the hook. He twisted a knot to secure it and bit off the excess line with his front teeth then baited the hook.
“You know they’re going to come out ready, especially after we beat them in the championship last year... So far, this year they are undefeated.”
I laughed at the thought as I cast the line out. The mirror-like reflection rippled from the disturbance as the writhing worm sank into the smooth water. That team did not take losing lightly.
“Yeah… but so are we. I hope that one guy doesn’t remember me.”
“Oh, he’ll remember,” Trey grinned as if he was proud of my feat, “so will everyone else.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just be ready for anything. You know a few of them like to play dirty.”
“I know,” I sighed. My competition continued to get bigger, tougher, and I knew I would need to step it up since Trey and I were the youngest by two years on the league. The referee had called a foul after the player tripped me inside the penalty box. He set me up perfectly for a free kick and some of his teammates weren’t too happy with him. We won the game because of it.
“I got another one!” Emery gloated, as the fish bounced around and dangled on the line.
“How many is that?” Trey asked, encouraging her.
“Em… you are going to empty out the lake,” I chided to give her a hard time. She flipped her long dark hair as she whirled her head around quickly. She gave me an almost believable scowl with her striking hazel eyes and turned up nose.
“Are you throwing some back?”
Emery’s scowl softened and her gaze distanced while she looked past us for a moment as if she contemplated something of concern. The worry on her face was brief yet painfully evident. I looked behind me, nothing unusual that I saw.
“Em,” I said, she didn’t respond. “Emery,” I said again, using her full name to get her attention, “what is it?”
She startled slightly, woken from her trance, as if I pulled her from a dark place back to the safety of the here and now. “Nothing…” Then as if nothing happened she returned to her usual chatty self. Emery’s episode left me concerned but I kept it to myself and my worry waned as the rest of the afternoon passed with nothing more out of the ordinary.
I glanced at Emery, curled up to me under the blanket on the couch. Thankfully, lost in a calming sleep, her face looked relaxed without a worry. The memory of that day left me empty, lost. Her brief vacancy left me confused, and as crazy as it may seem, I wondered if she somehow felt some kind of warning.
I let my eyes drift closed as pulled her closer to me, struggling to get past the tug of war in my heart. Torn between the guilt and a selfish wish, I hoped our day could have continued. I wished that I had detained the day, slowed its progression. I wanted somehow to make it last longer, forever. I felt torn, during those ten hours we had a calm and carefree day together. Free from worry, free from fear, free from the pain, while those same ten hours for my parents and so many others were most likely filled with anguish and suffering, the very opposite from ours.
I expected to see our mom as we returned from the lake but she wasn’t home yet. Kane sat pinned to the television but stood as I walked through the kitchen.
“Why are the sirens at the firehouse going off, Kane?” I asked, as I stumbled through the back door. They started as we rode home. I found it odd and their eerie screech annoyed me.
Kane met me at the stairs as I headed for my room. He let Emery go upstairs but stopped me.
“Go to bed, Em.”
“Okay,” she replied, as her worn out body found her room. I knew she made it to her bed when I heard the old bedsprings squeak as she dropped onto it.
“Where have you been? Where‘s Trey?”