The morning is cold, and I am greeted by some birds chirping overhead. Usually, chirping birds means peace and calmness, but I am not calm at all. I am overwhelmed and terrified, scared of the future but also scared of confronting the past. All I want, in this moment, is to be reunited with my family, to see them once more. That is my goal.
I pack up my wire and makeshift shelter, shoving the blanket and wire into my backpack. It’s stuffed, the zipper nearly failing to shut, but I was able to get it to close. I swing it onto my back and take out my knife.
The knife I hold in my possession is long, with serrated teeth and a long, thick leather handle. I have a sheath that I sloppily made for myself, and it hangs down from the belt I have wrapped around my waist. I keep the knife in there, but I am always worried that I will accidentally drop it or stab myself somehow. Taking extra care, I start to head off, in the general direction of my old home.
I don’t know where to find my family or have any vague idea of where they might be, but my plan is to check everywhere and anywhere. There may be some camps nearby, who take in any wandering survivors; I’ll have to keep an eye out for them as well, as they might have been taken in by those people.
After my mother died, while we were mourning, I found therapy in hunting. I wasn’t hunting Infecteds, not yet, but I would set traps for rabbits and squirrels and other small woodland creatures. Some I would let go, the small, scrawny animals that had barely any meat on them. Some I would keep, the fat ones, and Dad would help cook them. After a while, the creatures seemed to disappear, and I wasn’t able to catch any for hours, days, weeks. I wanted to start hunting Infecteds, but my dad didn’t want me to, for fear of the dangers I might put myself into, and I’m fine with that. Without him stopping me, I might not be alive today.
As the animals became more and more scarce, I would head out farther into the woods. Every time I left, I would tell them to stay safe and shelter themselves. My worst fear at that point was coming back and having them both either dead or infected.
Heading out, I’d always think of my old friends. My best friend, Leah Callahan, was apparently dead early into the outbreak - I saw her family walking without her and stopped to talk, but none of them mentioned her. I brought her up, talking without thinking first, and the entire family became silent, sharing melancholy glances with one another.
Another girl whom I was friendly with was Brielle Myers. She was beautiful and we had been friends for a long time - since first grade. Leah and I went back even further - we had known each other since preschool.
A few of the boys in my school would constantly be getting on my nerves - Jake, Miles, Fred, and many others - but I still miss them.
I miss my old teachers and classes, and I miss holidays too. I remember the celebrations, and getting together with all of my friends and family. If only I could get back together with all of them now.
Walking through the woods, I spot a few Infecteds. I try to get closer to them to see if they’re Reds yet when I hear a huge bang, and then something whizzes past my ear - a bullet. My first instinct is to duck, and I squat down, watching the feet of the Infected shuffle towards the shooter. One by one, the group of Infecteds falls to the ground, with bullets through their heads. I hear footsteps and try to decide whether to stay down or not when someone pats me on the back.
“Are you hurt? Infected?” a voice asks. It’s high-pitched and smooth, and I look up to see an olive-skinned girl, a bit older than me, standing before me. “Sorry about shooting at you. Thought you were one of them.”
I nod and stand slowly, trying not to shake or show any fear, but I know it isn’t working, because she stares at me with a concerned, anxious look plastered on her face. “I’m fine,” I choke out, clearing my throat. I haven’t talked in days, but it feels nice, my throat vibrating, almost like a rusty pipe opening again. “I’m not infected.”
A small smile crosses her lips, but her face returns to the grim expression that she holds. “Kaylee,” she says, and I’m taken a bit aback.
“My name. I’m Kaylee Aberdeen.”
I relax and breathe, “Ebony Wilson.”
“Ebony…” she whispers. “Beautiful.”
Her lips are full and she has big green eyes, taking up lots of space on her face. They wrinkle at the edges, and I can’t help but thinking that she must have smiled pretty often before this entire epidemic happened. She has laugh lines around her mouth that now outline her mouth, and her cheeks are slack and loose, indicating that they’re usually pulled up. I feel a pang in my chest thinking about it.
“Do you have any family? Other survivors?” she questions, and I take a deep breath.
“I don’t know,” I respond, then quickly add, “I mean, they might be alive. I lost them a little while back and I’m looking for them. My dad and my brother.”
“Mhm,” she mumbles. “I’m the only one left,”
I wonder for a second whether or not I should ask who she’s lost. It’s a touchy subject for everybody, because everybody’s lost somebody close to them, whether it’s a family member or a friend or you just saw somebody die. Some people have been turned into rocks, hearts of stone, until you bring up this subject. It can crumble people to dust, or build them up from the ashes. I wonder which type of person Kaylee is.
I decide to ask her.
“Who have you lost?” I whisper, half hoping that she heard me and half hoping that she didn’t.
“My sisters. I had three, I was the oldest. They all got sick. My mom and dad died when I was little, after Annalise had been born, my youngest sister. Got caught in a fire where they worked. After that, I took care of them, and they all died in my care.”
Her face is steel, and I know she’s trying her best to keep it together. She raises her eyebrows at me, in a sense to ask me the forbidden question.
“My mom died of the sickness. Teddy and my dad are out there somewhere, but I don’t know if either of them are sick.”
I pat her on the shoulder, and she tenses at first but relaxes. She seems to be accustomed to living on her own at this point, and I’m betting that her sisters died in the relative beginning of this whole experience. Honestly, I hope she and I stay together. At this point, I’d rather have somebody to talk to, instead of thinking of them as just a waste of food and space.
“So, we’ve got to go find them, yeah?” she asks, and I’m a bit taken aback. I try to smile, but stop after I realize I probably look really creepy. To be fair, I haven’t smiled in days.
“I’m going to try. You don’t have to come.” I tell her, sounding grateful but insisting.
“I’d like to. My family’s gone, but you still have a chance. Plus, what’s the point? This hellhole of a life, might as well help others.”
When I was little, I always wanted to become a teacher. Teaching was what I felt like I was destined to do - I loved being around little kids, especially Teddy, and I would set up all of my stuffed animals like they were in a classroom.
Teddy would sometimes come by and I’d help him learn his addition facts or teach him about stuffed teddy bear anatomy. I’d dismiss them for recess, and on holidays we’d have parties, and I’d invite Mom and Dad. They’d come to talk about their jobs, and sometimes Dad would help me print out some worksheets for them to do. I even had a roll call sheet.
I went through a few stages of deciding what I wanted to be when I was little. At first, I wanted to be a veterinarian, but my fear of needles became evident quite quickly and that possibility was nearly flattened. I still wondered, but it never held a place in my heart.
Then, there was the thought of me somehow becoming famous, even though I had no talent - unless you counted playing Heart and Soul on the piano talent, and even that I messed up constantly. Still, I was convinced that I could become famous, but soon figured out that it was way too hard to get noticed.
Eventually, I settled on teaching after I got a dry erase board for Christmas. I loved to pretend, and I had the perfect scenarios for teaching. I started babysitting some kids in my neighborhood when I was around twelve or thirteen, and really realized that I enjoyed to show kids things that they don’t know about. I taught them what they needed to learn in some fun ways, playing games, and one even told me that I should become a teacher. That was when I really decided.
I never knew what I wanted to teach. Maybe elementary school, but if I were to teach a specific subject, it might be literature or science. After this whole experience, though, science might be out of the question. That or history - teaching about this subject, if we ever make it out and rebuild a civilization somehow, might be a bit too much.