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When The World Burned
My parents gifted me with the strange name, Adeen. My father told me that my name was Irish, it meant little fire. I didn’t care about the meaning, I wanted a normal name. Why couldn’t I be an Amy or maybe even an Elizabeth? When I told my father this he had simply laughed and assured me that God had created me special. I am sixteen; therefore, you can imagine my response to that. I had rolled my eyes. My mother always assured me that if I kept doing that my eyes would get stuck like that. A tear slides down my cheek. My boyfriend, Caleb, slips his hand in mine.
“Please don’t cry, beautiful.” He mummers to me softly. “We survived. We are going to be alright.”
“Everything is gone.”
He slips his arm around my waist and together we look out at what used to be our world. I feel him tighten his hold on me. “Not everything.”
When the earth started to grow warmer over the last few years everyone was sure that global warming was upon us. People were worried about the ocean drying up. Worried that the ice caps would melt, making enough water to flood the earth, and we would all drown. No one knew quite how the world would end, just that it would be sooner than we anticipated. While everyone was looking down though, no one thought to look up. Very few people knew what I know now, that the world…the world would end in fire. We thought that we were so advanced. So evolved. We destroyed the earth. We were put here to protect it and we became its undoing. While we had used our technology to ‘better’ our lives we had punched these cute little holes into our ozone layer. The only thing protecting us from the harmful rays of the sun. Then the fires had come. The earth had burned. I, my boyfriend and about seven other teenagers survived. That was it. I don’t know why we were alive. God knows we didn’t deserve it after the things we did. My father was a preacher of a large church. I had sat in the front row every time the church doors were opened and I listened to him preach about God, Heaven and Hell. I never doubted a word. For one thing he was my father and I knew he wouldn’t lie to me, and secondly because it was the way I was raised. It was part of my life from the creation of the world to the days when the Lord would come back. Now as I looked around at the earth in ash and ruin I could only think, this must be Hell.
“It’s time to go.” He tugged me towards the others. “We need to search for other survivors.”
I nodded, but didn’t see the point, there were none. We were all that was left. Two of the girls held onto each other crying. Even the boys had tear stains down their ash covered cheeks. We were only kids. How were we supposed to live in this crumbling world? I wished my mother was here, she was a doctor and always knew what to do, but we had destroyed her too. Before the fires we had been getting crazy with our new technology. Maybe crazy wasn’t even the right word. I think it was greed. We found the cure for cancer. The world had rejoiced together, but then we decided that we could make a vaccine that would prevent it in the first place. That’s where we were greedy. The vaccine didn’t work. It had infected them. Not everyone was affected, but the ones that were changed. The world then mourned together as the disease infected even more people. My father said that the vaccine took their soul. Their appearances changed until they no longer resembled themselves anymore. They no longer spoke, but moaned and screamed. And after the change was complete they attacked the people they once knew. Killing the ones who loved them the most. Two months before the fires my mother was infected. My father had refused to see her, said that he could not bear to see her become a monster. So I spent every day by her side, talking to her without her actually hearing me. Forcing her to eat and drink enough to keep her alive. At night I slept on a couch in her room and listened to her scream. She got worse every day. Her screams more tortured every night. Listening to her agony felt like dying slowly. I couldn't believe how mans greatest intentions had became our undoing. Then, on my mother's final day, as I held a cool cloth to her brow I saw the change become complete. The moment I saw the humanity leave my mother’s eyes was the moment I stopped believing in God. That’s why when Caleb said,
“Should we pray before we go?”
I didn’t so much as bow my head. The others needed to believe in an all knowing, all powerful, merciful and loving God. They should pray, but I wouldn’t. I couldn’t force myself to believe the lie any longer. Even if there was a God, he had turned his back on us. As I watched them pray I saw two of the others lift their heads out of the group’s prayer, not even bothering to show respect. Slowly they would all realize that we were alone. And we would have to learn how to live in a world without a God. If we lasted that long in this man made Hell. I barely heard the ‘Amen’ over the pain that seemed to be tearing me apart. A girl with choppy brown hair moved over to me. I recognized her from my school. We never really hung out in the same circles, but it felt nice to see her alive. We started walking slowly behind the group as we trudged through the ash and over a hill.
“I’m Brittany,” Her lips twitched like she was going to smile, but she couldn’t force it to happen. “I think I’ve seen you at a few parties before.”
“No,” I let my eyes lazily focus somewhere to the left of her ear. “I was never allowed to go to parties.”
She looked puzzled for a moment then realization hit her.
“Oh my god! You’re the preacher’s daughter!”
I nodded. That was me back then. I didn’t party, curse, drink or hang around the wrong crowds. I probably wouldn’t even have a boyfriend if I hadn’t met Caleb at church. I had never met anyone like him. He was by no means perfect, but he was perfect for me. He wasn’t as big on Church as I was, but he liked that I was. He accepted me as I was and never pressured me to change. I remember praying that I could spend my life with him. In the beautiful world my Lord had created.
“Adeen!” Caleb called me back to the grim reality. “There is someone moving down there!”
Impossible. I rushed down the hill so quickly that I would have fallen on my face upon reaching the bottom, if Caleb hadn’t caught me. He pulled me to his side and pointed out at the vast area of fallen, burned trees that used to be a forest. There was something moving out there for sure.
I yelled to the others. Brittany and Caleb followed me despite my order. I didn’t have time to argue with them. Flinging ash in my wake I raced towards the figure on the ground. When I reached it I slid to my knees. My red braid slapped me in the face at the sudden stop. I looked carefully at the figure. It was trapped under a fallen tree trunk. It thrashed around madly. Its hair resembling snakes. Its eyes solid black and sunken into its skull.
“Get back!” I shouted making Brittany and Caleb skid to a halt. “It’s one of them!”
They didn’t need to ask me what I meant. I saw the panic rise in their eyes. Caleb reached slowly towards me, but before I could grasp his hand it had my wrist. I whimpered as its grip tightened. I could feel my bones grinding painfully together. Taking another look I noticed it was wearing a dress. It had been a woman. She jerked my arm down pulling me closer to her. Her mouth snapped near my ear. She was hungry. Then Caleb was there. He lashed out, kicking her in the gut. She wailed in frustration. Brittany’s manicured hands pulled on me, trying to get me away from the monster that wanted to kill me. I about choked on the smoke in the air as I gasped for breath. My heart beat painfully inside my chest.
“Go back to the others,” Caleb instructed. “Go Adeen! You don’t need to see this.”
See what? Suddenly a flash of light hit my eye as he pulled a knife from the inside of his jacket.
“No!” I shouted. “You can’t! She was a person Caleb! She was someone’s daughter, someone’s friend, maybe even someone’s mother!”
“Honey,” He looked torn. “I know how hard this has to be for you. That’s why I don’t want you to see this. It has to be done. They are dangerous.”
“You can’t just kill her!”
“Damn it, Adeen, she is already dead!”
He had yelled at me. He never yelled. He is scared too, I told myself, and you can’t blame him for this. Seeing my hesitation he dropped the knife and wrapped his arms around me tightly. I broke. Grabbing his shirt in my fists I sobbed against his chest. It took me several minutes to realize that he was crying too. I heard Brittany walking back to the others. We held each other until I had no more tears left. I set my jaw and looked into his deep brown eyes. If he took a life, even one already changed, it would destroy him. I could do this for him. I could protect him.
“Turn around, baby.”
He must have known what I did. He didn’t even protest. Taking the knife up from the ground I knelt beside the creature.
“I’m so sorry.” Without thinking another moment I brought the blade down, deep into her chest. Her scream cut through me. Tearing at me from all angles. I stared blankly at her until her scream faded and she was at peace. Something shone at the base of her throat. I took it. It was a little heart-shaped locket. Inside was a fading picture of a woman, smiling happily at a man who was kissing her forehead. Caleb watched silently as I stood and clipped the locket around my own neck. A few days ago that would have been disturbing, now it felt respectful. Walking up to him I pulled his mouth desperately to mine. He seemed surprised, but kissed me back with equal enthusiasm.
“Those kids up there?” I gestured towards the others. “They need someone to be in charge. I have never been a leader, but I know what we need to do. Will you help me?”
He smiled sadly. He brushed my hair gently out of my eyes. “Until the world ends, my angel.”
I let out an uneasy laugh. It was either laugh or start crying again. Linking our hands together Caleb and I marched back to the others. The world may be in ruin but we weren’t about to let it end.