‘I wanted to talk with you. And I wasn’t sure how…’When Sarah awoke in the middle of the night, her eyes just … opened. There wasn’t a real reason. She didn’t have a nightmare and she couldn’t remember dreaming. She hadn’t heard anything but she knew immediately she hadn’t gotten enough sleep. Her back and long blond hair felt wet with perspiration. Sarah blinked, once, twice and then felt she couldn’t go back to bed yet.And though she didn’t know it, her subconscious wouldn’t let her fall back asleep until she saw it once again; until she knew for sure, once again.So slowly, without making any noise on her dirt ridden mattress which had a slightly cleaner towel over it, the girl of thirteen rose. Her cold feet with socks lightly touched the wooden floor which made a soft creaking sound as she pressed her weight down. She shivered and coughed lightly, cold now out from her covers. Her white shirt offered little warmth and she had no pants on, only undergarments. Her father always said that sleeping with her dirty clothes on was unhealthy, so she didn’t.Her arms felt suddenly weak as she pushed herself upward from her bed, but she didn’t hesitate in doing so.She had to see it again.
‘I know you’re a big girl now, and not the child I once had. You know that ... that means that sometimes, even at thirteen- that even at thirteen … you have to deal with a-adult things. You understand, right? You have to act- …no you have to be older.’It was the dead of night, and she wasn’t sure what time it was. She could never tell on some nights, as the moon was usually half hidden by clouds and its light didn’t seem to exist. That never happened with the sun. It was too bright, so even when the smog of gray clouds in the sky blocked it, you could always see it breaking through.But after Sarah moved out of her room, leaving behind only the dirty mattress and single wooden chair, she walked out into the kitchen where the broken window was built above the sink. And she could see bright and clear light shining through it.The dust glowed like fireflies in the light, and she walk under it.Her eyes widened in surprise. The moon was out, almost in full view and crystal clear. She could easily tell it was past midnight. About three or four a clock, she figure the time was.The glass was cracked and pieces were littered across the disconnected sink, which they hadn’t bothered with since they had occupied the house a week before. The wooden cabinets that ran along the window's wall were all empty. The small doors remained firm and fixed on the hinges however, useful if needed. Everything was covered in a thick layer of dust and there was grime along the ceiling edges, where constant mildew had built up from the rain.Moving from the kitchen into the living quarters, she found the small room of one couch, holding her dad. He was asleep, snoring slightly with his hat on and unshaven face. He had one blanket over him, was on his back and was using both the couch’s armrest and a small pillow to prop his head up with. On the floor below him, wrapped up in two blankets was his son and Sarah’s little brother. He snored lightly, like his father did. He was strangely sweating too, despite the cold.There were a total of four blankets in their possession, for the four of them that lived there. So when she thought about why her little brother had two of those four and her father had one as did she… it didn’t add up. Her older brother, Mark, needed one as well.
‘Yeah, I understand dad… what is it? What do you need to tell me?’She moved back, through the kitchen and into her room. Outside was silent, not even the sound of cricket bugs or frogs. Dad always told her that was a bad sign. If insects weren’t around, that meant they couldn’t live here and that also meant humans couldn’t live there for long either.‘Always follow the animals. They know the land better than us.’ The quote rang off in her head and she smiled. They wouldn’t be staying here for too much longer. And that was fine with her. This wasn’t the homiest place. It was large and somewhat comfortable with the left behind furniture, but there was a sense of eeriness to it that she couldn’t place. It was the sound of no wildlife and little people in town, living amongst the rundown homes. The moon which was bright tonight- when had she last seen the moon so bright? It was comforting … but haunting at the same time.She avoided the slightly wetter areas on the tile floor, where the leaks had created puddles. If she got her socks wet it took a good day for them to dry off, and that was a day she would remain freezing. Also, who knew what kind of dirt and grime was in that water? It wasn’t clear and that made it unsafe to touch in her opinion.Entering her room, she thought only for her older brother and gathered up her blankets. She wouldn’t let him get sick tonight just because he wanted to have a bed and swapped places with Isaac at his usual spot on the floor. Isaac usually had that bed Mark was sleeping in, and they probably made a deal.She moved silently past them both as she made it into the living quarters once more, blanket bundled up in her arms and half asleep. Sarah had it fixed on her mind to rest with her older brother tonight. It would be much warmer and anyway … she couldn’t sleep. Something was on the back of her mind that she couldn’t pin point.Mark’s door was closed, so she turned the knob and peeked inside to take a look at his bed. She blinked and released the knob, letting the door slowly swing open.He wasn’t there.
‘There was an accident.’The bed was empty. Pillows, blankets and even his jacket that he kept on the edge of the bed at night, was missing.He hadn’t gone out, he knew that was dangerous… where did he go? Sarah thought about it for a minute, trying to recall something that she couldn’t; it was something important.
‘An accident?’Could he be grabbing some water from outside? No. The living room door was closed. Out back using the bathroom maybe, or perhaps he heard a noise and was checking it out… Was he in her room, making sure she was okay? Was he checking on his little brother? Or was Mark talking with their dad about something private, about what the future plans were and other important stuff that she and Isaac weren't allowed to know about?No. She had just been near all the rooms of the house and he hadn’t been in any of them. So Isaac was using his blanket and that wasn’t fair. He would be mad when he came home.
‘It happens sometimes, and you know that it does. And um, it’s, that we can’t…’“Where did you go…” she asked silently, staring at the bed for a long minute. She continued to watch it, determined to stay there until he got back. It would only take a few seconds, she knew. He’d come through that door any moment now.All she had to do was wait.“Where did you go…” she whispered again, sitting on his bed. And suddenly her hands reached up to her forehead and she grasped her hair, pulling it. She took in a deep breath, feeling weak again. She exhaled in a trembling and weak sort of way, impulsively cutting off the air as it left her lungs.
‘Sarah. I, I don’t know… he isn’t… um… when he left to grab … he’s gone, Sarah. They found his … we’ll bury him … don’t tell …’“…” and she waited for another hour.
***Her sobs went unnoticed by the rest of the house, but it was the first time she had cried over her brother, so she was grateful she had some privacy. She thought she was anyway.Her father had cried when he gave her the news in private yesterday, telling her to not say anything until they returned home. And she didn’t, not a single word.Isaac had found out later, but he was too young she supposed, being only ten. He hadn't fully grasped it … maybe like she hadn't.The tears fell onto her pale arms as she constantly swiped them away. Crying aloud, sobbing, sniffing and then back again.She still held the covers in her arms and after the hour of waiting in his room, was back in her own.Her brother was dead.Even in all the chaos of the world and the depleted food since the war, it had never felt as though something like that could happen. She saw people often who were going to or had died; on the side of the roads while they traveled them, there were starving and begging and the dead. She was never ignorant to the fact that it could happen to her family one day. But she could never imagine losing just one. It was her family: all of them make it through or none of them.And now what? She asked herself. Who’s going to watch over us? God, who will help dad find food? Who’ll let us stay up late when dad tells us to go to bed, or take us to the other kids and gather them together to play ball for fun? Who will be there? It’s always been me and Isaac … Mark … what about the three of us…“God … oh God…” she whispered over and over, the volume of her voice increasing, more of reality setting in. She rocked on her bed and felt like getting sick, her head was dizzy and fresh tears found their way to her eyes again.She felt like suddenly puking, and held it in, her body wanting to let everything go.His dark short hair and lanky body, with that smile of confidence you can find in any seventeen year old. He was the oldest, the oldest out of the three them. And now … there were just two.Now she was the oldest. The new responsible one. The adult, her dad had said. She was Mark.Sitting upright, she pulled her hair back over her shoulders. She thought about what that meant as she slowly fell into her bed.It meant she had to be strong. She had a responsibility now that was handed to her, and her brother had trained her for this, hadn’t he? He taught her to follow her father’s decisions, even if she didn’t always agree. He taught her to know when to lose and back off, but to try again and sometimes from a different direction. He taught her to always keep on moving, no matter what. To have confidence in what she wanted to do, even when she wasn’t the strongest or smartest, that she could get better.I can’t be that… she thought, worries plaguing her mind like a large black fog. I don’t even know where to begin… What do I do?She thought she’d ask her dad… but it wasn’t the same. She’d rather ask her big brother.“What do I do, Mark?”‘Just take it one step at a time, and know what you’re moving toward.’“One step at a time,” she whispered to herself those words he said in some distant memory. Slowly closing her eyes, thinking about what he last looked like, the last time she saw him yesterday.Tomorrow… she’d ask her dad what their plans were, where they were heading next and gather word if the settlement twenty miles northwest from here, was true. She’d run to the near river, and collect as much water as possible for the journey. She’d make sure her brother and dad were well dressed, nice and warm for the trip in case it got too cold. And she’d make sure Isaac wore his brother’s jacket, because some day it would fit him well and it was worth too many precious moments to leave behind.And she didn’t want to stay here anymore, she wanted to move. She never wanted to return here, in this small nothing of a village.She didn’t think any of that would ease her pain, but if it could make her forget, just for a little while, that would be something.Sarah wasn’t sure though of what would come later, of what would happen after…______Grant-Sud Presents:
Edited by Quote (Mr. Traveler), Oct 03 2012 - 11:35 PM.