Abigail rose from the tangle of blankets, wringing wet. The bedding reeked with her sweat. She staggered to the window, chilled less by a limp breeze, more by what she would see when she looked out.
The barren street mocked her.
She rubbed her thin arms and turned away from the emptiness: empty cars that would never go anywhere again; empty benches where no one sat; empty sidewalks devoid of walkers. The worst? Lack of noise. No screaming sirens, wailing babies, horns honking aggressively, people arguing, the swish of skirts and click of high heels; coughs, snorts, sneezes and wheezes. Laughter. Nothing.
She grasped the handle of a pan and threw it across the room just to hear the sound as it hit the wall. It thudded unsatisfactorily and clanged unconvincingly when it hit the wooden floor.
Abigail had selected the apartment for the view out the window. The pandemic that wiped out the world population, apparently leaving her the single survivor, had driven people from the neighborhood looking for safety somewhere; anywhere. The stench of death didn’t hover here, as it did in many places she’d encountered in her search for other survivors.
She was it. There were no others, not one.
She picked the pan up from the floor and returned it to the counter, setting it down with more force than necessary, just to hear the sound.
She’d had her pick of places to settle in. The complex she’d chosen wasn’t fancy but it was well-maintained. The studio apartment was on the second floor, facing the street. The higher you went, the better the view and the more expensive the rent. That didn’t matter anymore.
Her selection of the studio apartment came down to one thing – apart from the view; it was the only apartment on the second floor facing the street that stood open. All the other doors were closed tight and locked even tighter. Whoever had lived in 227 B had left in a hurry.
In her wanderings, before arriving at 227 B, Abigail had seen a perplexing mix of evidence that humanity was crazy as hell. She had heard – when communications networks were still functioning – that as bodied piled up in make-shift morgues, people went nuts, burning, looting, killing. Entire neighborhoods were decimated by violence. If the creeping, killing virus didn’t get you, the guy next door might, probably would, and then he’d steal you blind, rape your wife, kill your kids. You gave up trying to decide who was friend or foe. Survival meant you trusted no one.
Now there was no one left. Trust was no longer an issue, was it?
Abigail had plenty of food, most of it in cans with tab-top openers. For the cans that didn’t have tab tops, she had found a manual can opener at a trashed hardware store. At first, she left money on the counter when she took something, until she ran out. By then she’d come to realize she was the only one left.
It was a recurring and unanswerable question. Everyone in the world – as far as she knew – was gone. Dead. Until she’d come to this town, this neighborhood and settled in 227 B, the stench of rotting corpses had clung to her hair, her clothes, her body. She’d left death behind and was glad to be rid of it.
In her heart she believed – hoped – there were other survivors, but where? In this town, state, country? How did she find them? In the beginning, she’d taken cars abandoned along roadways, driven them until they ran out of fuel and then commandeered another one, searching always, honking the horn, hoping someone would run into the streets to flag her down; to say, “Here! Here! I’M HERE, YOU’RE NOT ALONE!”
But it hadn’t happened.
She hadn’t given up hope.
And if she came upon someone? What then?
Trust no one. Her mother’s dying voice rang in her head during the day and haunted her dreams at night.
The apartment, at least for the moment, had running water and electricity. The appliances were electric and in working order. If she didn’t know bone crushing loneliness, she would be fine. How long everything would continue to function was something Abigail chose not to think about. She was okay for now, and now was all the mattered.
The apartment also had the advantage of being small, which suited Abigail very well. Despite knowing she was alone, she was terrified of potential unknowns that lay beyond her door. When she was in the apartment, she set the deadbolt and for insurance, lodged a chair back under the knob to prevent anyone from entering. For added protection, she kept an archery set close by. She’d found it in a sporting goods store and taught herself how to use it. It was a skill she practiced every day so it became an extension of who she was.
Abigail went out every day, bow and a quiver of arrows strapped rakishly over her shoulder. She did not walk openly in the empty streets. She skittered down back alleys, looking for anything she could use to survive. Stores of any kind that had battered down doors were fair game. She pilfered from a Walgreens, stocking up on bandages, over the counter meds, makeup (why makeup she didn’t know; she never used it), paper goods and nonperishable foods, books, magazines, batteries, anything that she could use to make her life bearable. There was also a neighborhood grocery store, not one of the chains, but well-stocked, although the fresh meats, fruits and vegetables had long ago gone bad, the bread products moldy or rock hard. She took sparingly from the freezers, hoping they would last as long as the food in them did. She stocked up on clothing that spanned the seasons, sensible shoes, practical and sturdy. She took what she could, day-by-day, stacking it up outside the apartment when she ran out of space inside 227 B.
How much would she need? She didn’t know, but she didn’t want to find out by not having enough.
Some days she would ask herself, “Why bother? Why not just roll over and die, take the still-functioning elevator to the top floor of her 24-story building and fling herself off the roof? She didn’t know why, but she was determined to survive.
Her restless night clung to her as she put on distressed jeans, found in a trashed boutique; $200 price tag, more than she’d spent on clothes in a year in the time before. She slipped a hoodie over her T-shirt and stepped into her favorite tennis shoes. It was a chilly day, early signs of fall in the air.
As she walked along, she wished she’d stayed in the apartment as she trundled her pilfered shopping cart down the alley, packed full of her finds. She hummed some half-remembered song from her youth to keep herself company.
“HELLO! HELLO! ANYONE? ANYONE?”
“HELLO? ANYONE THERE?”
Where was the voice coming from? Abigail darted her eyes side-to-side, not looking for the owner of the voice; she sought instead a place to hide.
Male? Female? She couldn’t tell. The voice was raspy, raw from yelling, as hers had been when she screamed and screamed the same unanswered greeting for days on end.
“HELLO! ANYONE THERE?”
The voice was coming closer. Trust no one.
Abigail quaked. What was she to do? She scurried down the alley like a frightened mouse and hid behind a dumpster that had never been emptied; its sour smell stagnated by time.
Footsteps approached, the sound plodding and dreadful.
Trust no one. Abigail swallowed a gasp of fear and squeezed her eyes shut, as if she could shut out approaching doom.
“Well, well, well. What have we here?”
Abigail swallowed a sob and opened her eyes expecting something – someone – to be leaning over her.
“Looks like somebody’s been shopping.”
Abigail dared to peek around the edge of the dumpster. A woman, if the long brown hair was an indicator. Still, it could be a man, which worried Abigail. A man would take over. Steal everything, leave her with nothing, maybe not even her life.
The figure rummaged around in the cart and pulled something from the carefully arranged stacks. A Payday. Abigail’s favorite. For one foolish second she thought to leap from her hiding place and snatch the candy bar from the intruder.
Intruder? Isn’t this what she’d hoped for, another survivor, someone to share the burden of survival with her? But she remained still.
“What do you think of that, Chloe?” The voice asked.
Definitely a woman. Who the heck was Chloe? Abigail leaned further around the edge of the dumpster to see if there was another person there. No one, just the woman eating her candy bar.
“I think we found home, Chloe. What do you think?”
“I agree. Now we have more provisions to add to the store we already found. Let’s go home.”
She started pushing the cart quickly down the narrow alleyway.
Trust no one.
Abigail knew then that she’d been found, that this greedy woman was taking over her life. She wasn’t about to let that happen. She rose from her hiding place, an arrow already notched in place and let it fly just at the woman turned and fired a gun point blank at Abigail, as though she’d known all along where she was hiding.
I am an indie author of six books and two chap books of poetry. Check the BOOKS tab to find out more. Follow me at www.vandermeerbooks.com, https://www.facebook.com/vandermeerbooks, Amazon Author Central