When I was back at my grandma's house, I used to get weird panic attacks at nights. Sometimes I'd wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn't understand where the hell I was. I'd always have to remind myself that I wasn't at home, this is my grandma's house, Celia was here too and I'm okay.
Now, as I opened my eyes, I felt the same panic rushing over me.
I was not at home.
This is a swamp by the highway E13.
Celia's body is here.
I am not okay.
I realized I was half lying with my body in the water and my head placed on a sunken tree, but I didn't even try to move. I looked at Celia whose body was icy blue, just as her eyes used to be. With her white halo and blue skin she looked like an Ice Queen. I forced down a sob, took her hands and placed them on her chest. I noticed that her hands, legs, even her lovely face were swollen and her skin was wrinkled. I lifted my hand up - it was wrinkled too. Maybe if I lay still I will become just like her - a beautiful careless creature who does not feel any pain.
I looked around to see all those other people who marched into the water with Celia. None of them were moving. Stupid, of course they won't move. They're dead, just like Celia. I placed my hands on my chest just like I did with hers and stared up at the pink fluffy sky which was hiding shyly behind the treetops. What if I lay still at Celia's side until my face gets swollen and my skin turns blue like everybody else’s? I should be dead. Why aren't I?
I took a deep breath and stole one last glance at Celia. Would she have wanted me to die with her?
Tears came streaming down my cheeks as I sat up and buried my face in my hands, whispered "I'm sorry" thousands and thousands of times and stood up. I felt like I was made of steel and I couldn't lift my own weight. Even the swamp was trying to pull me back and lay me down with all the others, but I didn't. I kept pushing and pushing myself forward without looking back and whispering the words of apology with every single step I took until I was out on the road.
I trembled as a soft late summer wind flew past me. I didn't realize how cold I was - I could barely feel my feet. For a moment I just stood there with a single thought echoing in my head: "You have nowhere to go." which was true. Although there was one thing that still smelled like home here. I gathered all the strength I had and managed to get to Celia's jeep. I climbed into the passenger's seat and hopelessly looked at the key hole which was obviously empty.
I brought my legs up onto the seat and curled myself into a ball. I let myself close my eyes and rest my cheek on my knees. My chest was still trembling and I thought it was never going to stop.
That swamp was greedy - it took not only the most important person in my life and countless other innocent people, but also all of my tears. I felt like crying but it was like I had no tears left inside of me - I've left them all out there, in the swamp.
I noticed Celia's blue sweater in the backseat and put it on. It still smelled like her. Like home.
I gathered up my strength to breathe in and out evenly. Right. Okay. Think, Alice, take control. I looked around and grabbed my phone which didn't have signal, same thing with her phone too. I balled my fists and put them in sweater's pockets and hopped out of the car.
Then my hopeless journey began - I searched every single car around us for car keys or normally functioning mobile phone or even a working radio. Alas, all of my actions were pointless, so I just sat in a red Toyota and let the despair sink in. The swamp was far behind me and I tried pretending it wasn't there but I couldn't. I mumbled a sob and buried my face in my hands.
"Lady?"said a small voice behind me which made me jump and hit my hand on the steering wheel. I looked back and saw a little girl with wet cheeks and a lilac tutu and a teddy bear.
It wasn't any girl. It was the girl.
"Oh, hi," I said in the calmest voice possible and noticed how it cracked with every single word that escaped my mouth.
The girl rubbed her big eyes with her tiny fist and asked "Where's mum and Estera?"
I felt a pang in my chest. "I.. I don't know."
"You must have seen Estera," the girl cried. "She's just like me, except her teddy's name is Rosie, not Marvin, and she has a pink skirt, not a purple like mine. Did you see her?"
I dug my nails into the seat which was soft and smelled like women's perfume - citrus with a hint of flowers. Should I say anything? That I saw Estera? That I saw how she, like everybody else, walked to her death?
Two owl-like eyes were waiting for an explanation.
I leaned forward. "What's your name?"
"Marina," the girl mumbled and hugged her teddy.
"Listen, Marina, I don't know where Estera is," I said and took a deep breath."But I have a feeling she's not coming back."
Marina started crying uncontrollably and threw her teddy on the floor. Oh god, how do you make it stop? I have never been good with little children - they're just little balls of screams and poop.
"Hey, hey," I tried to catch her hand and when I finally did, Marina gave me a look full of worry and despair and, most of all, fear. "My-my sister is gone too and I don't know where she is either, but I know she's not coming back." My throat ached with every single syllable. "Maybe we could go somewhere safe, yeah?"
Marina slowly nodded and picked up her teddy. I got myself out of the car and came around to open the backdoor, but it was locked.
Two dark brown eyes were watching me from behind the window.
"Marina, we need to go," I knocked on the window and it rolled down slowly.
"Mummy said I shouldn't talk to strangers," she said in a small voice.
I sighted and ran a hand down my hair which was tangled and wet and smelled like rotten trees. "Okay. My name is Alice, I'm from Florida. My favorite food is spaghetti and favorite color is icy blue. Are we friends now?"
Marina's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Favorite princess?"
I leaned on the door."Mulan."
Marina's face lit up with a little shy smile as she opened the door and basically fell out of the car with Marvin in one hand. "I really like her too, but I think Kida is much more prettier."
My stare wandered to the road that seemed to go on forever with millions and millions of shut down cars and no people.
And yet, here I was. Here we were.
Marina stood hugging her teddy as the setting sun cast pink shadows on her warm brown skin and tangled in her puffy little curls.
Now I couldn't just give up. There were two of us who needed to survive.
Once more, the horizon and the infinite road caught my eye. I was right, there was nowhere to go - except forward.
And so we did - we went on and on until the sun died and we were left with the blue darkness surrounding us. Although my feet hurt and I felt dozen of blisters and the heat had wrapped me in a blanket that made me choke, I didn't say it out loud, because she didn't say anything. Of course, Marina was tired and confused and scared, but not a single complain escaped her mouth - she kept her round lips pursed together and her stare locked on something in the distance.
Are all kids supposed to be that quiet?
"Okay," I squatted down so I could talk eye to eye with Marina. "I guess it would be cool if we found a place to sleep now, right?"
She nodded furiously and I stood up scanning our surroundings. On the left side there was the swamp which still made me feel paralyzed every time I looked towards it. On the right there was the never ending forest and right in front of us - a fallen motorcycle, crushed mini cooper and a white van with a bent side.
I could've sworn I saw angelic light shine down on that glorious car.
I took Marina's hand and went straight to the vehicle. I popped my head in through ripped passenger's door. The front window has been completely shattered, so there were dozens of little pieces of glass and a couple of branches lying around. Other than that, the car looked like a five - star hotel to me. With its huge seats and a little travel sized pillow it felt like heaven.
I had to help Marina climb in because she had ridiculously small chubby legs. She stood clenching Marvin whose head would propably have been crushed and ripped off thousands of times now. Lucky bear - sometimes it's good to have a head full of cotton.
"We're gonna sleep here for a while, okay?" I got myself in and handed her the little green pillow that was lying around on the passenger’s seat. She nodded and climbed on the huge backseat while I sat in the front.
As soon as I closed my heavy eyelids, I immediately felt my body dissolving into nothing and drifting away. I almost heard Celia's laugh and caught a glimpse of her white hair. The bittersweet fantasy was torn apart by a silenced whimper.
"What's wrong?" I mumbled and immediately bit on my tongue as soon as the words escaped my mouth. What a foolish question to ask. What wasn't wrong right now?
"Me and Estera always hold hands until we fall asleep and now she's not here I tried to do the same with Marvin, but it turns out he has no fingers and it's not the same," Marina said quickly.
I groaned and got out of my comfortable seat to get to the girl. As I took her shaky hand, she let out a deep breath and curled up against me. For a long moment my stare lingered on Marina's face. How old was she? Four, maybe five? She didn't deserve to be sleeping in an abandoned car with a strange girl who smelled like mud and corpses while her family was dead -
Again, none of us deserved to be in a position like this.
I looked towards the swamp. None of them did.
I reached to pick Marvin up from the floor. Dammit, Marvin, don't you dare leaving her too. As I put him next to Marina, her eyes flew open and a horrified whisper escaped her mouth.
"Something's coming for us."