The way back to my old home was tedious and lengthy. We spent a very long amount of time trying to figure out which way to head, especially after we veered off a few times. Kaylee possesses a great sense of direction, but we both get distracted easily and often by Infecteds, landmarks, fallen buildings, all sorts of things.
Somehow, we eventually make it back to my neighborhood and I am able to navigate us to where my home stands.
My neighborhood is extremely spread out, especially our house in particular. It wasn’t that my family was anti-social; it was actually quite the opposite. Our house is surrounded by a sole fence, about four feet high, and there are nearly no trees around it. We used this clearing and our spacious back yard to have many gatherings and get-togethers with family friends. We threw a few holiday parties, as well as just a friendly social meeting here and there. We used our house to our advantage.
I instinctively walk up to the fence gate, open it with my left hand, and walk up the path to the front door. Kaylee shuts the gate behind me, taking her time walking up the path to examine her surroundings. I cannot tell if she likes what she sees, but she is taking her time to carefully look at every sort of structure - bushes, flowers, even the outside of the house.
Naturally, I wipe my boots on the welcome mat outside, remove them as I step in, and place them next to the mat by the front door. Kaylee does the same, and I am grateful to have such an observant person by my side. She catches on to all of my little habits, and I enjoy it. She is much more perceptive that I will ever be, and I wonder if she’s always been like this or if the situation has changed her.
“Your house is nice. Your mother seemed like a very decorative person.” she comments, and I nod. She was - any little decoration that would outline any part of her prior decorations, she had to have. Flowers, hanging wall decorations, even candles and their smells - especially if the color and smell matched - would absolutely delight her.
At first, the house didn’t seem to hit me at all. It was just a house, I told myself - a house I had known previously but of no significance. And then I started to think. Remember.
I remember all of the games I had played with my family in this house. All the Thanksgiving feasts and Christmas mornings, Teddy learning how to talk and walk, they all come flooding back like a dam that finally burst. I am overwhelmed, enough that I have to sit on the couch, which unleashes a small cloud of dust from the cushion.
Kaylee sits next to me, jiggling her knee nervously. Once I’m done and I’ve controlled myself, I stand and head to the cupboard. Chances are that there are some cans of food still left in the pantry, unless someone else came and looted it out.
The thought of that scares me - any person, whether they’re perfectly healthy or infected, can walk right in, take whatever they’d like, and leave without any consequences. It is so much different that what our old civilization was like.
I find a few cans of vegetables, some jam and peanut butter, and a few tea bags. All of those might be of some significant use in the future, if there is a future, so I place them carefully into my backpack, wrapping them in some old paper towels and newspapers that I also found.
I head over to the cabinets under the counters and find some old photo albums. One is specifically for my mom and dad’s wedding, one for my childhood before Teddy, and one after Teddy came along. They get progressively shorter and more blank, but they send back memories all the same - me riding my bicycle without training wheels for the first time, Teddy’s first Halloween, all sorts of little things that I never thought would make such a difference to me.
Kaylee follows me up to my room, and I find some old clothing articles that I used to like. “You can take some if they’re your size,” I explain to Kaylee, and she rummages through without messing up the neat stacks that the clothes sit in. Taking out a few shirts and unfolding them, she runs her hand over the fabric, and even smells a few. I giggle inwardly at her display, not because it’s unusual; because it’s exactly what I would do.
I pick out a couple shirts that I was always attached to and might fit me for a good amount of time, as well as some t-shirts or some shirts whose fabrics might be useful when ripped or cut. Kaylee shows me the clothes she plans on taking, and I affirm her choices.
I head downstairs and around to the back of the house, let myself out the back door, and stand on the porch. “Hey,” I hear Kaylee call, so I turn and walk back inside.
“I found some alcohol,” she says. My dad’s ‘party supply’, he called it.
“To drink?” I ask, a bit disgusted. Alcohol never appealed to me, and we’re underage.
“No, no, nothing like that.” she answers after a beat. “We could use it as fuel.”
I light up at the brilliant idea. A bit of the alcohol could light something up and keep it burning easily. There are too many bottles to carry all of them, so we take them out and put them onto the counter.
“Before we go…” I start, thinking aloud to myself. Kaylee nods towards me, and I continue. “Do you think we could burn this place down?”
I see her pondering it, wondering whether or not it’s the best idea. I’ve been debating the same issue myself, trying to weigh both sides. I don’t want to see it ever overrun or broken into, and the next time I return, I might find it like one or the other, or maybe even both. It’s quite contained, and the fire wouldn’t have much chance to spread, essentially dying out quickly once it’s done burning. We have more than enough fuel, and we wouldn’t need to use much to light it and burn the house to the ground. It might attract Infecteds, but that would kill them, and that’s a few more that we won’t have to worry about.
But what if Dad and Ted find the house being burned? Will they know it’s from me, or will they think that I got caught inside? Will it add more panic than serenity, having the emotions burned but also bubbling?
We debate this for a little while, weighing both sides, and ultimately we decide to burn it down. There’s no real use for the house anymore, and there are tons of other, more stable houses out there to choose from, homes that have been abandoned and won’t be occupied by anybody but us and a few other choice survivors. If Teddy and Dad were to come back, they’d probably know it was me, as they have known I tend to become very fiery when I’m emotional.
Kaylee takes a bottle and points to it, asking me whether or not it was alright to start pouring. I give her a small smile and she opens the bottle with a satisfying pop, heading outside after getting her shoes from the front door and putting them on at the back door.
I slip on my boots as well and walk outside onto the patio. She is fuelling the base of the house, pouring a small and steady stream around it. I splash some on the walls, walking around the perimeter and spreading out the splashes evenly, making sure that the fire will burn nicely, but not for too long.
This pouring lasts for a good ten minutes or so, until Kaylee steps back to admire her work. I step back with her, putting down the nearly-empty bottle of white wine next to the other empty bottles. There are about twelve or so empty glasses, and about twenty glasses that are nearly full.
I head back into the house, checking each room once over to make sure that I took everything that I wanted. Kaylee helps me to check, making sure that any supplies that we can take and may prove to be useful in the future. Our backpacks are both filled to bursting, so upstairs I open the closet and pull out a larger bag to take supplies in. It’s good for transport, but weighty and not very useful in the long run. I’ll get rid of it once we settle down.
After I scan each room, I walk down the stairs one last time, reliving every morning when my dad would stand at the bottom, reaching for my hand as I neared the bottom. I always felt like a princess - now I feel like an executioner.
Kaylee is flipping an object in her hand, throwing it a bit into the air and catching it. Getting nearer, I notice that it’s a small lighter, and I head into the kitchen to grab another one. I find a nice, red one in a drawer and bring it outside.
She and I count down from three and we both click our lighters on at the same time, the small flame licking eagerly, wanting to devour.
We walk around to the front of the house before lighting it, making sure we have all of our supplies with us and are ready to run out of the front gate after we ignite the house. We go over the plan one more time, taking every precaution we can, making sure that today, this day, is not the day we die. Today is the day we rise.
Both of our lighters’ flames lick at the house and it sets ablaze, starting as a small fire. We run, backs turned, to the fence gate and close it behind us, placing our bags and supplies over our shoulders and on our backs.
I turn back after the fence shuts, watching the blaze grow bigger and bigger. A pang of nostalgia hits my chest, watching my childhood memories, good and bad, burn, but I realize that I’m making new memories now. My old life is gone, and that’s alright.
This is the life I’m living now.