A Story Well-Travelled

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Chapter 3: Emerson

Adelyn should’ve gotten her letter by now. She’ll read it and respond to me on Friday, then our cycle will start over and it’ll be my turn.

I wish I could just talk to her now, in person. It’s unbearable writing a letter and waiting for the return letter, but we’re bound by the confines of our dimensions.

I’m filled by just a tinge of guilt from my last few letters. I describe my world as being so wonderful, always leaving out the gory details or the ones she might not want to hear. And I want to paint this beautiful picture of the world for her—she seems to really need the hope—but describing the stars just seems so mundane to me. As dull and boring and familiar to me as my big toe.

What I don’t tell her is that my world is silent. Sometimes, I feel as though the entire planet is hushed and I can hear the blood rushing in my veins. I can feel the loneliness creeping up on me, predatory and vengeful. I love the group I live with—Porter, Cade, Kenzi. Maybe Zofia, if I’m feeling generous. But the rest of the world is terribly empty. It’s a rare day if we come across another survivor or group of people. The stores and towns we pass through only hold the memories of ghosts. It’s quiet and eerie.

She describes this bustling life and flurries of activity, and I just yearn to be tangled in the chaos of an eventful life. I want to see her world. I want to breathe the air that smells of people instead of nature. The beauty of the world I’m provided is something I truly treasure, but I’d surrender the stars any day for the taste of change and the start of a new era.

Cade nibbles on a tomato from our garden. How he can eat the food raw and with nothing to alter the taste in any way is beyond me. His bites get bigger and bigger as he gains hunger; the single, pronounced wrinkle in his forehead deepens with his concentration.

Zofia feels the same way I do. “Yuck.” She says with a scrunched-up face and an aura of superiority. “That’s disgusting. Wait, no—you’re disgusting.”

Cade grunts his response, looking her in the eye and biting a large hunk out of his tomato without breaking eye contact. I have to admit, the self-discipline there is impressive, but I’d rather starve than do what he’s doing.

“Guess who caught a deer?” A proud someone walks through the doorway to the living room we sit in. Porter’s head almost hits the top of the opening, his afro dangerously close to it. “Well, I’ll tell you.” He says. “It’s me. Who wants dinner?”

Zofia scoffs. “Cade’s already eaten.”

Cade shoots her a look. “I’ve had a single tomato.” He protests, his voice gruff. “I can eat some meat. I need to eat some meat.”

“Barbarian.” Zofia accuses.

Cade glares. “Brat.” For an older guy, Cade acts like a child. Right now, in the rare moment where he doesn’t have his leather jacket on, I can see his tattoo of a cartoon bunny on his left bicep. It fits in with his childish behavior, but he’s refused on many occasions to explain where on earth he got the tattoo and why.

Porter turns his attention to me, realizing that reasoning with Cade and Zofia is like reasoning with two rebellious teenagers. At least Zofia has an excuse—she actually is a teenager. “Kenzi got a fire started.” Porter says. “She’s getting dinner ready.”

“Perfect.” I stand up and walk over to the doorway where Porter is. We’re the most alike out of our group, even if our skin colors sharply contrast. His dark skin to my milky white. Either way, we understand each other’s constant exasperation with the others. “I’m starving.”

“You could’ve eaten a tomato.” Cade points out, popping the rest of the food in his mouth and licking his fingers.

On this, I have to agree with Zofia. “Barbarian.” I say, but it’s a joke coming from me. Cade gets it and barks out a laugh while Zofia bristles. Her eyes—lined with dark mascara and eye shadow—narrow. How she keeps a steady supply of makeup is beyond me. How she finds the motivation to maintain her appearance is even harder to understand.

When only four other people see you every day of your entire life—with the exception of Lee, the letter guy, on Tuesdays and Fridays—you learn not to care in the slightest about how you look. My black hair has probably a year’s worth of tangles. My eyebrows haven’t been plucked since my mother ditched us four years ago. And I’ve been wearing this same blue hoodie for…a week? Two?

I make a mental note to wash it in the river later before following Porter out of our house. It’s a huge building with enough bedrooms to fit us all. Still, most of the time we sleep in the living room on bundles of blankets to ward off the incessant feeling that the universe is empty. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

The days drag by, one after the other until it is finally Friday. I wake up early in my personal bedroom of our house. The mattress on the bed has a permanent indention where I’ve been sleeping for years and the blue blanket covering smells like smoke from a fire, but the bedroom is mine and I’m grateful.

Despite the early hour, everyone else is already awake and in the living room when I get downstairs. Cade weighs one end of the flower-printed couch down with his excess weight. His leather jacket is back on, and with his bald head, he looks pretty intimidating for a man with a bunny tattoo.

Zofia sits on the other end of the couch, curled up in a nice little ball of condescension. She looks down on the others in the room like their obstacles in the way of her success.

Porter and Kenzi are sitting on blankets on the floor, where they slept last night. I elected to sleep in my room for once, but the rest of the crew hung out here all night.

“It’s letter day!” I come swinging into the room, a wide smile on my face. “Who’s ready for their letters?”

Each of us has a different pen-pal, even Zofia. And while they tone down their enthusiasm, I can see it simmer beneath the surface. They’re all just as excited as I am.

Tuesdays and Fridays, letter days for the group, are some of the only days we see other evidence of human life. It’s dangerous going into town if it’s not necessary. The few people we do come across are usually on the look out for anything to steal. Jackets, backpacks, and shoes are all fair game.

But none of us are willing to give up our pen-pals. It’s a risk we’re willing to take. Plus, I may or may not have a miniscule crush on the letter distributor, Lee.

“Here’s an idea.” Zofia says, dragging me back into the conversation. She hugs her knees tighter to her chest. “Maybe we could go to get our letters some time after the sun rises? I mean, why so early?”

Okay, so most of my group is just as excited as I am. But we’ll drag her along and do it happily. Zofia is never happy; we’re just used to her groans and complaints.

My envelope comes with another envelope inside of it as well as a letter. Adelyn does this every time. My world doesn’t exactly have a functioning store to go buy envelopes, so Adelyn has to provide some for me.

Lee wasn’t there today. An older lady named Gladys took his place. My disappointment forms a thick, constricting layer around my heart, but it doesn’t dull my mood for long. I open the envelope carefully and take out the letter.

Emerson,

I can’t wait to hear about your group (even Zofia!). That made me realize that I haven’t really told you about my family or friends (other than Aspen, a little bit).

My “mother’s” name is Ezra, even though you know she isn’t my real mother. She’s…stoic? She’s basically a statue, but a frail one at that. I could knock her down and break her by breathing in her general direction.

My “father’s” name is Sebastian and he is indifferent as to whether I’m a millionaire or a drug addict. Maybe I should be thankful. At least he isn’t super strict, but I think I’d like him to show some hint of caring about me.

You’ve heard about Aspen, but someone I’ve been thinking about lately is a friend from my childhood named Grayson. He was one of the kids who was supposed to be on the Council with me before we were so brutally disregarded. And he used to tell this story about a lake that could take you to the place that you longed for the most. I thought you would like the story, so I’ve attached a copy on the next page. I couldn’t remember all of it, but I’ve retained the meaning and the premise, so I hope you like it!

Also, thank you for telling me about the stars. I’d love to see some one day, even though I highly doubt that’ll ever happen. Maybe Resdon will have a giant blackout of power and I’ll get lucky. Or maybe I’ll see some in my dreams tonight. That wouldn’t be ideal, but I’ll take what I can get.

So tell me all about your group in the next letter. And enjoy the story.

Adelyn

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