Darkness—so thick not a single sliver of light could be found. Until shrill screams, from a woman in unthinkable pain, cuts through it. Cracking the darkness. A blinding white light burns it all way but before the light subsides… before her eyes are able to recover…she wakes.
It was just a nightmare, if you could even call it that anymore. She’d that same dream for as long as she could remember. So it really didn’t not frighten her anymore. When she was little it had terrified her. She would wake up with her own screams filling the darkness of her room, so sure that she was still in the dream. Back then it had always her grandfather that came in to sooth her. He would come in and hold her, all night if he had to. “My sweetheart, I know you are afraid but you have to be brave,” he’d whisper to her in the darkness.
Tonight she hadn’t screamed or cried. Her grandfather wouldn’t have come even if she had, for it had been years since he died. Still, she must have stirred or something because Logan was up and checking on her. He was the only one left to sooth her now.
“I am fine. It was nothing,” she whispered to the little dog. “Go back to sleep.” She ran her hand over his soft fur and he settled back down next to her, resting his muzzle on her chest. With his warmth next to her, she quickly fell into a peaceful sleep.
Elaina awoke for school the next morning just the same as she did every morning, but this morning was not the same. Her heart was thumping wildly with excitement, her stomach was turning with anticipation and yet a heavy sadness held her in her bed.
The familiar sounds, coming from the rest of the old farmhouse, made it clear she had already slept in. The sounds of Aunt Sara setting the table downstairs, means breakfast is almost ready. The heavy thumping of Uncle Jez’s boots, taking him down the old wooden stairs, told her they would be starting without her.
With a deep breath she pushed the excitement and sadness away with her tattered blankets and forced herself up. Motivated purely by the fact, that once her Uncle’s plate is full, Aunt Sara would come looking for her. With the hope of avoiding yet another lecture, she jumped into her school clothes and quickly pulled a brush through her hair. She just managed to get it up into a ponytail when her bedroom door opened. Aunt Sara looked disapprovingly at the ponytail but did not comment on it.
“Breakfast is ready,” was all she said before she turned to go.
A bit puzzled Elaina stood there, and listened to her Aunt’s soft footsteps moved down the hall. “That was odd,” she said aloud to Logan. He looked at the empty doorway and cocked his head to one side in agreement.
Aunt Sara rarely missed an opportunity to tell Elaina how a proper lady should be. She had prepared herself for ‘A proper lady rises early to greet the day.’ Or at the very least a comment on the ponytail, Aunt Sara has always hated ponytails. She believed a proper lady should take pride in her appearance and put forth more effort. Elaina had always thought that was easy for her to say, Aunt Sara’s perfect short blonde hair never had a strand out of place. Deep down she knew her aunt just wanted what was best for her, yet somehow she still felt like a disappointment. As Elaina headed down to the kitchen she realized that today’s lack of a comment did not make her feel like any less of a disappointment. In fact just the opposite… it seemed her Aunt had given up on trying to turn her into a “lady.”
Down in the kitchen, Elaina slid silently into her chair at the table. Almost instantly Aunt Sara was at her side filling her plate with eggs and toast. I must really be running late, she realized seeing that her Uncle Jez was finished and her cousin, Ryan, is almost done. She had only just started her eggs when Aunt Sara was next to her again, this time she quickly tied a red ribbon in a bow around Elaina’s ponytail.
“There that’s… umm… better,” said Aunt Sara, as Ryan began to snicker.
“Big day. You ready??” Ryan asked from across the table still grinning about the bow.
“Guess so.” She tried to sound indifferent but still shot him a dirty look after checking that Aunt Sara’s back was turned. However, it only succeeded in making it harder for Ryan to hold back his amusement.
“Ready to get to it?” Uncle Jez asked with a slap to Ryan’s back.
“Yes sir,” he said and hopped to his feet to join his father.
Ryan looks so much like his father. All the Cooper men were tall and broad shouldered but Ryan and his father share the same dark brown hair and dark brown eyes. As they were getting ready to go, Aunt Sara rushed over to kiss her men good bye. She was tiny by comparison. Even on her tip toes both men had to bend down a bit to receive their kiss. Elaina’s eyes fell to her plate. She’d lived with the Coopers as long as she could remember, but it was times like these that always made her feel like an outsider. Elaina never knew her father and her mother had died when she was two. After that she was primarily raised by her grandfather, Ayden, until he passed a few years ago. He’d been Elaina’s only tie to this family and he was her only real family. She has always called Sara “Aunt” but there was no real relation. Elaina’s grandparents took Sara in when she was orphaned as a baby and when Elaina had no one left, Sara’s family returned the favor.
“Hurry up, Princess. Don’t be late for your last day,” Uncle Jez called to Elaina before walking out the door with Ryan on his heels.
“Yes sir,” Elaina replied between bites. ‘Princess’ was a nickname her Grandfather had given her. He’d always called her his little princess but she hated it when anyone else called her that. Mostly, because she was very much not a princess, or the proper lady Aunt Sara wanted her to be. However, she did not seem to mind it as much these days when Uncle Jez uses the nickname. Maybe it’s the fact that they’d grown much closer since her grandfather’s passing or maybe it’s just because he was the head of the household now. Or maybe, she just missed her grandfather.
Aunt Sara was at the sink and focused on the dishes. Elaina scooped the last of her eggs in her mouth, grabbed the remaining slice of toast in her hand and silently slipped out of her chair. Calling out a quick “Good Bye.” she made it out the door before Aunt Sara had time to protest.
Out in the yard, Logan waited alone. His littermate, Creed, would have left with Ryan but Logan as always waited for Elaina. Both little dogs were unfailingly loyal and would never choose to be very far away. But after they both showed a particular talent for steeling food, Aunt Sara banned them from the kitchen during meals. Elaina tossed him a bite of her toast and he fell in step beside her. Together they headed down the old familiar path to the school house, just as they had done so many times before.
Elaina’s mind wandered as her feet follow the old path. This is my last day of school. My last day as a kid… according to the traditions of the settlement anyway. She will be expected to start on her life path. The children of the settlement almost always followed in the life paths of their parents. So she was destined to be a Scavenger, just as her like her mother and grandfather. The whole settlement was excited about having a Scavenger again. It had been a long time since her grandfather had been able to make trips outside of the settlement for supplies. The people of the settlement have always been able to pull together to survive but there was no denying that supplies from the outside world would vastly improve everyone’s lives. Elaina on the other hand was finding it hard to get excited, after all being a Scavenger for the settlement had cost her mother her life.
The path dropped her and Logan right at the door of the little old church that the settlement turned into a makeshift school house. Friendly chatter rolled out to greet her as she approached the wide open oak doors. Most of the children from the settlement were already inside. Elaina paused in the doorway and looked in at her friends and classmates. She wanted to join them, but she found herself frozen in the doorway by the thought that she was seeing them all for the last time. No. That’s silly, she thought, shaking the idea from her head. It’s just the last day of school. It’s not like I am leaving the settlement forever.