(Okay. Quick recap here. Amy has survived the apocaplypse. She thinks she's the only one has. Her house wasn't destroyed, so all she does all day is watch movies and mope. But, one day, something changes.)
For months, there’s been nothing. No one. Just me and the entire empty Earth. It’s kind of sucked, I won’t lie. I mean I had food and water and movies, but I was getting bored. I’m not bored now. I’m a little panicky, actually.
I found a kid. He showed up on my street, stumbling tiredly, and I let him in. He walked into my living room, mumbled some words, and crashed on the couch. He’s been sleeping for about four hours now. I’ve been sitting across from him and thinking.
I guess I’m not the only person left alive. I should have figured that. There I was again being self-absorbed. I realise, suddenly, that the kid probably needs food.
I heat up a can of chicken noodle in the fireplace, which is where I cook. It’s a good of a spot as any to burn furniture for heat, and it’s nice when objects serve their purpose, you know? The kid wakes up when he smells the soup. He moves a little, then goes still as he remembers where he is. I roll my eyes.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to hurt you. If I’d wanted to do that I’d’ve, gutted you or whatever hours ago. I’m Amy by the way.” I hand him a steaming bowl. I’ve been using my grandmother’s best china for about a month now. He slurps it down hungrily, and messily. I poke him. “Hey, use a spoon.” I toss him one, then serve myself some dinner. As we eat, I study the boy. He still wary of me, glancing up every now and then to see what I’m doing. Poor kid. He’s tinier than the supposed heroine of my dystopian imagination and a great deal less pretty. Big blue eyes though. He keeps blinking them like a bat in daylight. I ask, “What’s your name?”
He regards me with a mouth full of noodles, “Jeffery.”
“Huh, Jeffery. Can I call you Jeff?”
I decide I will call him Jeff. I also decide I’ll feed him until I’ve filled out the hollows around his eyes and smoothed the jagged angles of his elbows.
“What are you doing here, Jeff?”
He shrugs again. “Surviving. And searching.”
“Searching? For what?”
“A city? With, like, people in it?”
“Those are extinct, Jeff. In fact, up until this morning I thought we were extinct.”
He shakes his head. “No. Haven’t you run into anyone else?”
I shake my head back. To be honest, I hadn’t even looked.
Apparently, Jeff is more well traveled than I am. “There’s a small band of survivors, south of here, they took care of me for a while.”
“Why aren’t you with them now?”
“I ran away.”
“They don’t believe in The City.”
“Aaaand what’s that?”
“It’s a story I heard.”
“No! I heard that there’s this group. Of people. They were trying to found a city. A com-mun-ity.” He pronounces the last word very carefully. It’s weird. He sounded so old, for being so little, and then he had to stop and think about how to say “community”. Jeff continues. “They’re in the north. They’ll welcome anyone they can find. They’ll keep you safe.”
It sounds like a fairytale to me. “And you’re looking for them?”
He nods. “Some people might have traveled through here, on their way. Are you sure you didn’t see anyone?”
“Jeff, I haven’t seen so much as a live bird in eight months.”
He sighs. Then shrugs. “It doesn’t matter, I’m looking anyway.” He stands, and puts his bowl down on my coffee table. “Thanks, for the food, but I’m leaving now.”
“Oh, no you don’t.” I leap up and run to the front door. I lock it. Though I don’t know why. It’s not like he can’t just unlock it. I lean against the door, breathing hard. I am ridiculously out of shape. I’ve haven't left the house in nearly a year, and it shows. “You’re sick, Jeff. You can’t keep going.”
“What’s it to you?” Jeff tries to reach the door handle from around my arm.
“Umm, you almost died in my house.”
“No. Really, I’m not, and in fact, I’m forbidding you from leaving.” I wonder if I can do that. I’m not his mom or anything. Then again. I’m quite a bit bigger than him, and he has no mom to speak of, as far as I can tell.
“Please. Just let me-”
“No!” I cut him off. My voice has gone sharp. More commanding than I’ve ever heard it. I take Jeff by the shoulders and steer him back to the couch. I push him down. “You are not allowed to leave. You are sick. You are too little. I am not going to let you chase after some wild daydream!”
“But The City-”
“It doesn’t exist Jeff. I’m sorry, but there’s no way it does. There aren’t enough people.”
He goes still, and sinks into the embroidered pillows my mom bought to decorate the living room. He glares at me. “I hate you. You’re a fat, mean, asshole, and I’m going to sneak out whether you like it or not.”
I shove another bowl of soup in his hands. “ Watch your language. And eat, damnit. I’m going to turn on a movie. Finding Nemo sound good?”
“I’m too old for Finding Nemo.”
I have to practically sit on him to keep him from leaping up and running away.
It’s dark when the movie’s finished, so I go to the linen closet and pull out a pile of blankets. I yank Jeff up and pull him into my room. “Take the bed. I’ll be on the floor.” I tell him.
I don’t fall asleep. I never do. The thing with not having anything to do all day is it leaves you with ample time to nap. Plus, things always seems ten times worse when it’s dark, and considering things are bad already… well, it’s makes it hard to relax. I can tell by Jeff’s breathing that he’s awake too. I always thought it was ridiculous, in books when they talk about the way people breathe. But I get it now. It’s so quiet, and I’m listening for the tell-tale sign of a ten-year old trying to sneak out of the house. Well, I’m guessing he’s ten. Another thing that went extinct last year? Birthdays. My head is so full of cheery thoughts like these that I finally break down. With a sigh, I say, “Jeff? Tell me about your city.”
I listen to him breathe for a minute. Then he speaks. “I heard about it a couple of months ago. There were these people, about your age, I guess. They… were hopeful? They didn’t think the world was too shitty to be fixed.”
Apparently, they also didn’t believe in censoring themselves in front of a kid.
Jeff sighs. “They fought with our group’s leader. She wanted to stay put, where it was safe. They wanted to find other people.” He rolls over on the bed. It’s king-sized, and in the dim moonlight I can barely see the little lump of blankets that shows where he is. “I heard them planning to leave. I was behind a crate of supplies- they didn’t see me. They’d heard of The City. They wanted to find it. To join whoever was there. They said that they’d start it even if it didn’t exist.”
“Is that what it’s called? The City? Why not give it a name?”
“It doesn’t need a name, Amy. Names are used to distinguish something from others things like it. There are no others. There’s just one. Just The City.” He was using that voice little kids use when they think they’re explaining the obvious. Very emphasized. The word “idiot” is implied at the end of every sentence.
I say, “Oh.” And he keeps talking.
“Anyway, I wanted to join them. I told them I knew what they were doing. I wanted to help. One of the girls, Julie, she used to tell me stories of what The City would be like. She said that they’d have lights, so bright they’d be blinding. And food, with sugar in it. She said they’d have dogs, fuzzy and fluffy and big and small. I’ve always wanted a dog.”
I’d had a dog. He had a long pink tongue that was always rolling out of his smile, and couldn’t stay clean for the life of him. He died in the apocalypse. Almost immediately after my mom, actually. It was the final straw to that awful day. I’d let him out to pee, and when I turned back around, he was gone. He never came back. I never went outside again. Dead dogs always break my heart. In every movie, I’m always fine until the dog dies.
My voice is just a little thick when I tell Jeff I’ve always liked cats better. He tells me he’s allergic to them. He continues his story, shifting on the bed.
“They didn’t want me to join them, they thought I was too little. But I threatened to tell on them. Julie managed to persuade them to let me help. I faked getting really sick, as a distraction for them. Did you know I can cry real tears when I want to?”
“I can. Wanna see?”
“Not right now.”
“Anyway, the everyone was in a fuss about me. They thought their food got contaminated or something. Julie and her friends managed to sneak out. They promised they’d come get me. I waited for them. They didn’t come.” He clears his throat. “I ran away a few days later. I’ve been trying to catch up. Maybe find The City for them. They said it was north. I have my Dad’s compass. I’ve been going north, but I can’t find it.” His voice gets muffled by a pillow as he turns his head into it. I get up and sit on the bed. I hug him. He cries, and I pat his back, awkwardly. I’ve never been good with kids.
Mostly I try to not squeeze him too tight and let him sob. I tell him, “Shh… It’ll be okay.” Because that was what my mom always said.
He cries for about ten minutes, but he’s exhausted, and it's no long before he falls asleep. I don’t. I stay up and think. Stupid, naive kid, for believing Julie and the others. Stupid Julie for lying to his face and leaving me to clean up her mess. Stupid compass for leading him here and messing up my listless routine. Stupid me, for doing what I’m about to do. I stand to go and grab my suitcase from the basement. I spend the night packing.
Jeff wakes pretty close to dawn. He’s got a massive bedhead, and has my comforter wrapped around around his shoulders. It drags behind him, picking up dust bunnies. He sits on the couch. He watches The Lion King while I make breakfast: Beans, and then for dessert, canned pineapple. It was the most sugary thing I could find.
I sit next to Jeff and watch the movie. When it ends I say, “Well, I guess we’d better get going.”
“If we want to find your City, I’d like to get as far as possible before it gets dark again.” I hand him my last bit of pineapple.
Jeff goes very still. “The City? I thought you said I couldn’t go.”
“Of course you can’t go. You’re too little. Anything out there could swallow you whole.”
“I’m going with you. I’m bigger than anything out there. Meaner too.”
Jeff’s face splinters into a wide grin. He’s missing a few teeth. I make a mental note to find him a toothbrush. He goes, “You mean it?”
“Sure. There’s an empty suitcase by the door. Go fill it with food, and blankets. Make sure it’s not too heavy though. And pick a few books from the shelf. I’ll read them to you.”
“Okay.” He leaps up, and goes running. I stand more slowly, picking up my grandmother’s bean-covered china bowls. I put them in the sink, Then I go to my bathroom, searching for an extra toothbrush for Jeff. I shout to him that I want to leave in ten minutes. He shouts back something unintelligible. Then I hear the sound of several books toppling to the ground. I laugh, which I haven’t done in a while, even for funny movies.
I think about what it means to leave this house. I’ll probably never come back to it, which is a shame. I hadn’t finished all of my mom’s movies. I’m scared of what’s out there. I'm scared we’ll starve, or be killed. I’m scared we’ll never find anything, or anyone. But, I’m going anyway. Everyone else is dead, but my heart’s beating hard. I am going to go with Jeff, and we are going to find something worth hoping for. If not The City, then at least people; and if not people, then at least a dog.
I never did say why I hated the term End of The World, did I? I hate it because it’s such a lie.The world’s still here, isn’t it? Still turning. I’m in it. Jeff’s in it. Jeff’s City might be in it. I’m not exactly the smartest person in history, but even I can see: The world hasn’t ended, not even close.