This novel is inspired a dream that my boyfriend (at the time) told me about. We're not together...
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Among the Ghosts
The sun had turned pink; time was almost up for me.
I stared up at the hazy orb that loomed over me in the sky, mocking my failure as it raced unstoppably Westward. I leaned against the weak stone wall, remembering when a sun that color was only possible when a terrible fire burned the air, and how it used to hurt your eyes to stare into its white-hot light; the ashes and smoke of my old home took away even that familiarity away. I wondered when they would stop burning their own territory
in an attempt to force into the open the only brethren that I had left--that was, of course, if any but me remained.
I resisted the urge to heave a sigh—even the smallest sound, when fallen on another ear, could be the end of me—and reached into the dark green outdoorsman’s backpack that was slung over one of my slight, pathetically bony shoulders. I felt around the nearly empty side pocket until my pockets grasped the cold, metallic circle. I held the cool silver in the palm of my hand and toyed with the latch of the pocket watch, its quiet ticking the only sound among the wreckage. Before the Wars, the incessant ticking would have driven me up the wall, but now it was just about the only thing that broke the stifling silence. It was a strange trinket to carry around through the wreckage of a rebellion, but it was the only piece of my old life that I’d salvaged from the rubble of my home.
My stomach twisted unhappily and I fought the wave of emotion that descended upon me at the memory of that day, but at least I was beyond shutting down at the thought. Or maybe I was becoming the hardened, unattached person who was really the only version of myself that could last in a world like this. I didn’t want to be that person, to lose myself to a monster in order to adapt to a dying world.
I pushed back the wave of nausea and begrudgingly forced myself from the wall that separated the houses’ backyards, and willed myself back into the doorway of my own personal hell. The house was merely an empty shell of the home that my sister had created for her family, but the kicked-in doors and the overturned furniture left plenty for my poisoned imagination to fill in the blanks with. I already knew coming into this place that there would be signs of a struggle—there was in every house that I’d forced myself to enter, because who would willingly be carried away by people who had invaded their country?--but this house held entirely new levels of terror. I knew which faces to imagine twisted in fear and I knew whose cold, empty presence was tangible in the air. I’d known it the second that I’d taken a step into the city limits, but some stupid hope had coaxed my desperate, lonely heart in this direction in what had started as a mission to sustain my frighteningly low food supply.
I’d failed both missions. I’d risked life and limb sneaking back into Albuquerque, and all I had to show for it was an empty stomach and a new arsenal of nightmares to leave me screaming in the rare moments that I actually allowed myself to rest. It wasn’t as though I didn’t have terrorizing nightmares to begin with, but starvation wasn’t something that I could just grit my teeth and push through for months on end. It had always loomed just beyond the horizon, but I’d always managed to scrape by; now, however, I had no time to do anything but to go back to my pathetic hideaway far outside of the city limits. Samaritan had somehow picked up on my presence and had sent out troops--dozens of them because they wouldn’t take any chances and the city was crawling with them to begin with—to dispose of the rebel who was encroaching on their supposedly flawless rule. If they caught me here, one of two things would happen, and the order would be given before I’d think to struggle; either they would put a bullet between my eyes and leave me for whatever scavenger that dared to look for food among the ruins, or I would be bound and hauled away to the unknown horrors that awaited captured rebels. Although it made me sick to know this, the latter option was almost guaranteed. They would probably torture me for information on the rebellion--which was laughable because not only was any organized rebellion crushed before the fires could be extinguished, but because even if there was one I had heard nothing about it. Besides, if I had managed to uncover the answers to their questions, I wouldn’t have been living this life, scavenging crumbs from painful memories of my past; I’d have used the information to find a way to track down the only person for whom I’d fought so hard to survive. We’d run off together and forget the world and all its horrors, and we’d spend the remainder of our lives carefree and safe and, most importantly, together.
But, I reminded myself sternly before I got carried away by daydreams, that wasn’t reality. I was as in the dark as Samaritan and I’d have no answers for neither me nor them. However, being the monsters they were, they wouldn’t accept that. Instead of spending the rest of my life in a fairytale, I’d spend the remainder of my existence in chains. They’d get as much from me as possible before they would stop torturing me and begin toying with me. At that point, they’d cause as much possible damage before they’d leave me to die, beaten and bloody and broken…
More of a reason not to be caught. Driven by the thought of what was at stake, I walked back into the kitchen with a resolve to find something of value, even if that something was just a trinket to toy with in the moments that starvation took me. I’d checked the kitchen in the places where I knew that food could be, but I hadn’t checked everywhere. Penny was often frazzled in her attempt to take care of a four year old while her husband was at work, and Maddie was in that stage where she carried things off. Food could have been misplaced, and I would find if it that happened. I immediately went to work on the cabinets that I hadn’t checked, throwing open each little door without stopping to allow myself to be afraid of what I might find. I only had until the sun was just touching the horizon, with just enough light tracing across the sky to guide me but enough shadow in the crevices to conceal me as I snuck out of the city once more. I’d planned to have left before now; I’d have to walk through the night and id need food to keep me pushing through the darkness.
I hurried through the first two cabinets without missing a beat, but those held nothing but broken bowls or fine china. I swung open the first cabinet and couldn’t help but cry out in ecstasy as my eyes stumbled upon three cans of soup and beans in the darkest corner, untouched by scavengers that had been quicker to this place then I. I pried open one of the cans and immediately drained half of it. I sputtered a little when I choked at the noodles that raced down my throat, but it was heavenly none the less. Not only did the soup fill a mouth that had not been completely full in weeks, but the way it settled into my begging stomach ignited a new fire in me and yanked my head above the uncertain waters that had threatened to drown me. The two remaining cans wouldn’t last me long no matter how conservative I was, but all I needed was a few days for Samaritan to search the area and move on.
Easy there, I reminded myself, you’re not home yet.
I smiled grimly. I’ll never be home again.
Slightly upset by the fact that I’d just argued against my own point and worried that one of the cans was already halfway empty, I shoved the two remaining cans into my pack and finished the third before closing the cabinet and turning away from the kitchen. I knew that my sister would have had water bottle in the house to support her active lifestyle, I just had to find out where. There was a linens closet by the door, which was probably my best bet. I started toward the door, making a mental checklist of where I could check if they were not here. I didn’t think that I could bear to venture upstairs, to the most personal spaces of my family members that would be think with their presence. I hope it didn’t come to that, but I wouldn’t have a choice if I needed to survive the New Mexican heat.
Looking back, it’s no surprise. I had let my little discovery go to my head and make me feel untouchable. I was careless, letting my mind wander to my journey home and my priorities slip, because I thought I’d already accomplished this priority. I wasn’t listening for the roll of tired on the hot pavement or trying to sense the presence of another person. Even though I was walking toward my death, I had no idea till I heard that deadly sound.