Authors: Kellee L. Greene
Book 2 of the
Ravaged Land Series.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
2016 Kellee L. Greene
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author.
First Edition March 2016
In Memory of my Mom
I thought I’d be dead before winter came. In fact, maybe I had been closer than I realized. I lost even more weight, if that was even possible, and none of the clothes I still had fit very well. They hung off of my body like I was a human clothes hanger. It had been hard to sleep ever since I found this cabin with each night seeming worse than the last. I dreaded even trying to sleep because that would mean I’d have to stop watching out the window. I’d have to let my guard down.
Each night was a struggle, and I only ever managed a few hours at a time. I tossed and turned. I was living in constant fear of them finding me.
My eyes would spring open in the middle of the night and I’d see one of them in their jumpsuit, standing over me about to plunge a sharp blade into my chest. I’d always jerk awake in a cold sweat gasping for air.
The lack of sleep and nutritious food changed me, and in more ways than just the loss of pounds. I often felt sick, like I had the flu. I was weak, exhausted and shivering all of the time. Even a fire blazing in the fireplace wasn’t enough to stop my body from shaking. If I made it to spring, I’d be shocked and surprised.
I still had the supplies we packed in the SUV during our trip to HOME. I rationed them carefully, maybe too carefully. But if I wouldn’t have had those supplies, I would have been dead long ago. Dehydrated. Starved. My body would have shut down.
Before the winter came, I had grown a few successful potato and tomato plants, but they succumbed to the cold weather, frosts and eventually the snow. My small garden, if you could call it that, was gone before it had much of a chance. But I was happy knowing the seeds could grow. I could try again when spring rolled around. If I was still here.
Every water bottle I finished from our supplies I saved. I filled them with water from the nearby stream or if I didn’t feel like walking I’d just step outside and scoop up snow and ice. I was lucky my cabin had a fireplace both to boil the water and to keep me warm. With how thin I’d gotten, I was always cold. Sometimes I worried the only thing that would warm me up was if I crawled right inside the fireplace and rested on the burning logs.
I studied the maps I had made before the snow started falling. It snowed nearly every day. I’d make plans for where I’d go once the snow melted and I could travel a little easier. I wasn’t any closer to finding HOME or my friends, but once the snow melted I’d start looking. Things would be a lot easier if I knew where HOME had been located. I knew approximately where the checkpoint was, I was sure I could find it again, but I didn’t want the checkpoint. If I went there they’d probably just capture me, or kill me on sight. What I needed to find was the HOME base. When the helicopter had flown us to HOME originally they had made the ride as disorienting as possible, which I’m sure was intentional. Unfortunately, the helicopter that flew us to HOME originally made the ride as disorienting as possible, which I’m sure was intentional. And apparently it worked.
It was lonely in my cabin. I never felt safe, and I worried about Sienna… Dean… Owen… and Ryan, constantly. I missed them terribly, but the tears rarely fell. My body held onto any liquid I took in as if it might be the last. It wouldn’t waste it on more than a single tear. I tried not to let myself think about them too often, other than to remind myself why I couldn’t just lay down and let it all come to an end.
Since the snow covered the ground, I didn’t leave the cabin very often. Only when I needed to gather water, snow or wood from the wood pile. All I could do was sit alone, watch out the window and wait for spring to come.
If I survived that long.
In the upstairs bedroom of the cabin I had a good view out of the windows. I could see if someone was coming from almost any direction which, of course, no one had. I think I almost half expected to see everyone, including Ryan, running towards the cabin one day waving their arms and shouting for me. It was like a movie that played in my head, but then I’d blink and they’d poof away.
I kept Dean’s bow resting against the wall by the window. When I first tried using it, I was terrible. Before the winter came, I practiced, but without a teacher I was practically useless. Until one day, I was able to get the arrow to fly fairly well, and I tried to replicate what I had done over and over until I could hit my target. I never saw any animals wandering around, so it hadn’t proved to be helpful in gathering food. As for using it as a weapon, I just hoped I’d never actually have to use it. Under the pressure of life or death, I’m sure I’d just end up hurting myself.
The untouched, glittery snow that covered the ground outside was beautiful. It reminded me of the day back at the shelter when the sun came to melt away all the snow. That felt like a lifetime ago, but it had made the snow glisten in the same exact way it was now. I wondered if we’d still be in that shelter, happy and safe, if I hadn’t suggested we leave it.
One of the first things I did after I had found the cabin was to change my hair. I found a grocery store that I marked on one of my many maps for future reference. The maps helped me remember where things were, but more importantly helped me find my way back to my new home. The store had been fully stocked with a wide variety of colors to pick for my new look. When I saw the scissors nearby I took that too. I guessed not many people were worried about changing their appearance. I cut my hair into a rather short, jagged bob that I’m sure was even more atrocious than I thought. Then I dyed it black. I barely recognized myself. Surely no one from HOME would have recognized me. Maybe my friends wouldn’t either.
I’d often wonder about the storms. What had caused them? Why hadn’t the weathermen known how deadly it was going to be? They would have seen it all coming on the radar wouldn’t they? The meteorologists knew a thunderstorm was coming, but they hadn’t warned people that it would be the storm of death that would wipe out civilization as we knew it. It didn’t make sense. There had to be a reason that so much destruction happened all at once over the whole country, maybe even the whole world. Perhaps it had been caused by some type of global climate change that was just going to happen and no one could have predicted it. Or maybe they hadn’t realized it was going to be so severe or widespread. And maybe I’d never know. After all, who could explain it now? Everyone was gone. Everything was gone. Did it even matter any more why it had happened?
Right now all that mattered to me was getting my friends back. I didn’t even know if Ryan was alive. But they were my family now. I needed them. It was the thought of finding them again that kept me alive. I was sick and tired of being alone.
“What the hell?” I said out loud even though the only one that could hear me was me. Well, and the little dust bunny that lived near the closet door.
There was a strange guy wandering aimlessly outside near the stream out behind my cabin. He didn’t look well. His hands reached out in front of him and he wobbled around, weaving back and forth as if he was drunk. He seemed even worse off than I was, but that was probably all part of his plan. For all I knew he was someone from HOME. This is how they were going to get me. By sending someone who looked like hell, someone suffering, and when I least suspected it, he’d kill me. Who better to send than someone who appeared to be confused and looking like they were knocking at death’s door?
He snapped a small branch off of a nearby tree and started to stab weakly at the ice on top of the stream. The guy was just thirsty, desperately so, and probably cold too. I didn’t know why he didn’t just suck on snow or ice but maybe it was too cold, and would do more harm than good. Or maybe he had been when necessary.
“Aww crap,” I mumbled to the dust bunny, but he didn’t say anything back. I figured it didn’t want to get blamed if I did what it said and it ended up being the wrong choice. “Well, you’re not much help.”
The guy was wearing a jacket that appeared to be fairly warm although it did have a tear in it by the elbow. He was wearing winter boots, but even though he was dressed for the weather, he still looked like he was freezing. I couldn’t help but wonder how long he’d been out wandering around in the cold. His cheeks were so red they looked burned, and even at this distance I could see his eyes were glassy.
He hesitated before he dropped the stick. He had failed to break through the ice to get to the water beneath. I knew he could see that water below sparkling downstream taunting him. The hole I had made the other day must have already frozen over.
His body moved rigidly as he forced himself to turn towards my cabin. The fragile stranger narrowed his eyes as if he was trying to see something. I quickly pulled away from the window hoping he hadn’t seen me. After several minutes I carefully peeked out, but he was gone.
I got down on the floor and crawled over to the other window that looked out over where the SUV was parked. He wasn’t there either. The floorboards creaked underneath me as I worked my body back and forth between the two windows trying to determine which direction he’d went. He appeared to have vanished as quickly as he had appeared. I removed my gun from my waistband and descended the stairs as silently as possible, even though I would have heard him trying to enter the cabin.
My body was pressed against the wall as I made my way to the first window near the front door. I looked outside… nothing. I started towards the next window and stopped abruptly when I heard a noise outside the door. It sounded as if he was kicking the snow from his boots on the porch steps. Then, he knocked.
I froze. My breath got caught in my throat and threatened to make me cough. A cough that would let him know there was someone inside. It made my chest prickle to hold it but I managed to keep it in. I had never actually come up with a plan for what I’d do if someone did come to my cabin. Yes, I had thought about defending myself against those who wished me harm, like those from HOME, but what about someone just looking for help? Or just passing through? A potential good guy. Were there even any good guys left?
“Hello?” he said, his voice cracked as if he hadn’t spoken a word in weeks. Or maybe even longer. “Anyone in there?” he said again, as he started to find his voice even though it still sounded rough. He weakly knocked again.
He had to have seen the smoke coming from the chimney. And even the SUV parked outside could have been a clue that someone was inside, although it was covered in snow and clearly hadn’t been used in quite some time. But he wasn’t afraid of what might be waiting inside for him, or maybe he was at a point where he just didn’t care any more.