Sometimes, denial will end up with a sheet of dirt covering your body. I can remember the day the denial started clearly. A slight breeze came and lazily drifted, unusual for the small town I lived in. The harsh blanket of white powder that always covered the land was no longer present. Now, the dirty, muddy ground lay exposed in the shallow valley where my home resided.
As I stood on the outskirts of the town, I watched the hunters returning. I noticed that there was slightly less meat than usual, not enough to be worried but enough to take note. The calling from my grandmother broke through my thinking.
“Hurry back inside or you’ll get a cold!” my grandmother practically screeched.
“I will in a second!” I yelled back.
“Kalia Resna, you will get back here right this second!”
“Don’t use that tone with me. I’m not the one who decided to frolic all day and not clean the house.”
“I said I’m coming!”
When I made my way back, I noticed the elders gathering around spreading rumors. Out of the mix, I could make out one voice in particular, Old Father. He was the eldest of the town, my grandmother said he had been around before this town was built.
“This has happened before,” he whispered, “Before the old village…”
I never got the hear the end of his sentence, my grandmother hastily grabbing me by my longer than necessary hair, scolding me for not doing my assigned chores. The old man’s words rang throughout my head. I couldn’t help but think of his ramblings. The old man was known for his excessive overreactions to any change. My mother always said they were just the product of an old, dying man’s imagination.
There was no denying the sense of change coming I had felt as I stepped back into our house. I could only hope it wasn’t a serious threat. Maybe, for once the old man had a right to be worried.
The next day, the bare ground was still present to see. The white flakes no longer dusted my clothes whenever I would leave my house. The town still was oblivious to the danger.
After a few weeks, the bears and foxes that use to roam around started to slowly disappear. Quickly following, the meat the hunters would bring back started to deplete. The large bears that were already scarce, now were just a myth.
It was only after the hunters, who had been continuously searching for game, brought back no meat that they started to worry. Usually, they were able to at least get small game. But that day there were no rabbits, no birds, and certainly none of the commodities that we had previously been accustomed to.
The rumors that had been snuffed out began spreading like wildfire again. They began to slowly creep up on the entire town. Those who weren’t prepared were started to suffocate in their own worry.
Our hunter lifestyle that we had cherished was coming to an abrupt halt. We had relied so greatly on Mother Nature to give us what we needed, that now when she turns a blind eye on our woes, we began to perish.
Still they were denying. That our small village wouldn’t survive without hunting. That this wasn’t just a temporary condition. Most continued to do so until their last staggering breath.
The shortage brought many opinions on what we should do. The most common idea was to try and use seeds to plant. Before, no one wanted to resort to that lifestyle but the fear of death opened up many more possibilities.
I had known that there was a group of trees just about a mile outside of the town’s border. They were old trees that had been around long before I had crossed paths with them. There was a group of teens, no older than I had been, who had little experience in dealing with plants tried to take some seeds from those trees and plant them.
I had worried about what would happen to them. The elders never like anyone going against their wishes. My worry turned out to be unfound, as the elders didn’t punish them but instead let them continue in hopes of making a point from the group failing.
Everyone else watched as they did the labor of planting them. Everyone had known that the seeds would take years to grow and produce little fruit, but no one had the decency to tell them.
A month passed, there was no sign of any sprouts. I was disappointed but I had known that they couldn’t possibly start growing, let alone grow any fruit .
As unlikely as it was, the trees grew fast and bore a good amount of fruit. In only a year, we were able to sustain ourselves enough to focus on other tasks in life as we had always done.
A few weeks later, a drought swept through and we were not the only things to suffer. As the drought passed, so did the trees. They were so accustomed to water that the abrupt absence took a heavy toll on all of them. The space where the trees use to reside was now full of wilted, dying trees.
The sight, as dreary as it was, made me feel hopeless. Just as things were beginning to look up everything we previously had built up was destroyed. We had just gotten comfortable on our bed only to have it snatched right out from beneath us.
I was tired of everyone sitting around waiting for something to happen. I knew that we needed to move, that this wasn’t going to do very much good trying to grow anything in the harsh, dry soil that now covered the land.
Just a year earlier, someone my age voicing their opinion was unfathomable. I knew that I would get support if I opened up the subject of leaving. It was a sensitive topic to the elders, although they never agreed with anything they didn’t come up with themselves.
I decided to gather up the teens that had planted the trees. The meeting was late at night, away from anyone who might venture out at this late of an hour. As I told them my proposal, I could tell that they didn’t believe my plan could work. The moment I was finished I was face to face with the opinion of four headstrong teenagers.
“What exactly are you planning to do?” Kenley asked. “It’s not that easy to convince anyone to do something without a definitive solution.”
“That’s besides that point. Where are we even going to go?” Resa spoke up.
“There is little food left, but more worrying is the edge of the river is getting lower and lower yet,” Seth added.
“I would rather stay here and die of hunger of thirst than leave on some suicide mission,” Tessa said.
I knew that was plan was brash and had a very low probability of success. I also knew that they had fought with the elders for countless hours, never getting anywhere. I wasn’t the only person to trust their instincts. The elders believed this was sacred land, all except the Old Father but he spoke against the council of elders in everything.
“I will go alone if I have to,” I began, “I can make it. If I die at least it wasn’t here surrounded with delusional people.”
I saw three heads turn to look at, Kenley, a look similar to a lost puppy appearing on their face.
“Provide us with food and water for at least a month and you have a deal,” Kenley said.
I was surprised at how quickly the whole encounter ended. They must have wanted out of here even worse than I did.
It only took a few minutes for the five of us to reach a consensus. We had agreed on leaving three weeks after the next day.
Those few weeks passed by quicker than I had ever experienced. The nervousness I had felt going into the third week developed into a wave of anxiety. The days began to approach and I questioned myself if this was a good idea or nor.
As the day of departure arrived, I knew I had to go through with it. The day passed like any other day, the same chores and the same scoldings, everything seemed normal. The elders who, after our meeting in the night was eventually found out, would give the five of us suspicious looks had gradually began to decrease until now where I could look around no watchful eyes stared back at me.
We ran north for two straight days following the path the moss left on the northern side of the trees. Only stopping from pure exhaustion, not able to take another step without collapsing. The place we stopped was well sheltered and would provide enough protection from nature long enough for us to sleep for a while.
I was woken up by the sounds of desperate pleading. As I opened my eyes, I saw everyone trying to shake awake, Kenely. His was pale and his body was completely still, not even the slight movement of breathing was present.
We carried his body out to a river we had passed by not long out, Resa, had insisted on not letting his body just rot in the forest like some animal. I had opted to leave after seeing their faces filled with grief, not wanting to intrude on such a private moment.
When we set off again I could tell that they started to give up already, the possibility of death we had all known but seeing it happen just days after our departure was a shock. They denied the weight that was now on their shoulders, but I could see it in the way their feet dragged across the ground. No one was at fault, but most of them looked like they had brutally murdered Kenley with their own hands.
I wasn’t surprised when just a week later the two girls, Tessa and Resa, vanished without a trace. Even if I had expected it, a sinking feeling in my stomach was blatantly present for the rest of my journey.
WIth only one companion left the only conversations that were held was quick hand motions to signal where to go. The soft crunch of snow underfoot began to become a common occurrence.
It was only after we had made a considerable dent in out distance traveled that we came across any significant sign of life. We had found signs of life before, but this one was different. It wasn’t just a rabbit track or a lame animal.
There in the snow, an old, shred up blanket had rested. I was certain that no wild animal could have made a blanket. It still wasn’t a sure sign that there were people nearby. It was, at least, a sign that there were people somewhere. Maybe not near, but close enough to travel.
Another ten days and ten nights passed until we found a small village. We had fallen into exhaustion just as we had found shelter along the border of the village. We were so sleep deprived we hadn’t realized just where we had stumbled onto.
Upon our awakening, the two of us were introduced to the new village and settled in quickly. At times, it was like we had lived there our whole lives.
Here we still are forty years later, in the same village we escaped to never truly knowing what happened to the rest of our friends and family.