Right before the End, it was broadcasted on live television throughout the country that the world was overtaken by the virus, and that no one could be saved. It was unsafe. There were no working vaccines. No country was projected to survive.
Before the war started in America, there was an election. Two candidates from different political parties. Some voted for the person still residing in office while others voted for the new candidate. With half the country trying to hold onto old ways and the other half trying to evolve with the times, something just snapped. Evelyn couldn't remember when, but she did remember the shootings that started in all of the major cities. So many had died. Then the war moved throughout every single state. The entirety of America was the front. There was no escape. No way out. It seemed hopeless. Except for last year, when the world went silent. Cellphones stopped working. Electricity was gone. It was quiet for the first time in a long time. Wildlife came back. Granted, life became much harder but it was peaceful.
There was an adjustment period from being so used to canned and prepackaged foods, to fighting hunger pains from the lack of food to be found. Even when it came to not being able to bathe everyday there was some struggle. Dental hygiene was sorely missed, too.
The year since the End turned out to be better than expected. Evelyn joined a small group of college kids who she went to college with. They found some more people along the way, even some young kids. There are maybe twenty of them now. Not a large group, but substantial enough.
Evelyn looked around to her group mates. To the children. They'd been walking since before the sun came up. It wasn't hot, but sweat dripped down numerous foreheads. Exhaustion creeped into their bones but they still trudged on.
It grew harder and harder to carry the pack on her shoulders no matter how many times Evelyn adjusted it, and despite only carrying a few things the weight felt like it continued to get heavier. Her arms shook just a little and her legs burned. When would this be over? She didn't know, but for the kids' sake hopefully it's soon.
"Hey, Evie?" One of the group's youngest pulled at Evelyn's hand. Speckles of dirt sat above her brow.
"Hello, Lily May. Do you need something?" Evelyn wrapped her arm around the child's shoulder, adjusting her pack once more. Winter was approaching and the group still had yet to find a suitable home to last them until spring.
"I need to go to the bathroom." Lily May whispered, cupping one hand around her mouth.
Evelyn walked up to one of the other leaders and took Lily May with her. "Hey, Daniel? I've got some kids that need to go to the bathroom. Do you think we could find somewhere to stop?"
Sweat dripped from his nose and he shakily swiped it away. His resolve was thinning, but he managed to keep it up for the kids—and Evelyn—but she could see he was struggling, too. Daniel glanced down at her and nodded. "Yeah. Let the other kids know."
She walked to the back of the group and informed the kids they would be able to go to the bathroom soon, and to be patient. It was not too long, either. Daniel had found a good enough place to stop for everyone to go.
"Ten minutes, and then we're back on the road. We have to make it to a shelter before nightfall." Daniel announced, adjusting the pack on his shoulder.
While some took the opportunity to relieve themselves, others cracked their bones and stretched their sore muscles. Despite this pause in their journey, it could be seen that nearly everyone was anxious. Almost no food or water left, no place to stay for the night, and the nights continued to get much longer, leaving less light to travel in during the day. All around them smelled like late fall and fresh air, reminding everyone of something from when they were younger, creating a calming, temporary distraction.
Birds flew gracefully above the tree line, attracting the attention of some of the group members. The black swarm dropped low and then rose back towards the clouds, startling some of the children. Evelyn looked from these birds, then to the sky and knew there wasn't much time to waste. She approached Daniel, again, with only one question in mind: "How much light do you think we have left?"
"Maybe an hour. Why?" Daniel's brows drew close as he studied the sky.
"We are running extremely low on food and water, and I don't know how much longer the kids can walk for." Evelyn looked over at some of the children who huddled into a warmth circle. "Not only that, but we also don't have proper winter clothing."
"You're right. Thank you for telling me." Daniel turned to talk to the other two leaders while Evelyn rounded up the rest of the children and did a headcount.
It had been roughly an hour since the group had stopped and there was still a small amount of light left. No houses had appeared, no driveways, just the road ahead of them. All four of the leaders grew nervous and brought the kids to the middle of the group. The women led and the men stayed in the back.
Once the sun finally set behind the hills, the kids grew restless. They murmured amongst themselves about sleep and food, even about using the bathroom again. With only the moonlight to guide the group, it became increasingly difficult to find a good place to stop and make camp.
Evelyn feels something familiar about these trees, though. About this particular stretch of road. The specific shade of yellow that makes up the dashes to indicate the center of the road. There is something about this place. She swore she had been here before, but couldn't place it. The cracks and potholes beneath her feet tried so desperately to pull a memory from her brain, but it still refused to come to her.
"Hey, Eve. Do you think we'll find somewhere to stop soon for the night?" Autumn, one of the college students, looked up at Evelyn with worry. She trusts Evelyn's insight. After all, Evelyn is one of the leaders.
"I believe so. There's something about this road..." and then it clicked. That mailbox, still as crooked as the day it was staked into the ground, was her beacon. Who knew one day it would be her saving grace. "Guys!"
"What's going on?" Daniel made his way to the front of the group. "Is something wrong?"
"No, I know where we are." Evelyn pointed to the mailbox. "Not only will we have a roof over our heads, but we'll have some food."
"Then lead the way for us, Evie." Daniel said, returning to the back of the group.
The driveway was just the way she remembered it, except some grass had found its way through some new cracks. Evelyn, albeit tempted to take her shoes off and sprint through the grass, refrained for the time being. She stepped onto the stone porch, reached into the hanging flower basket, and pulled a metal key from the dirt. After wiping it off on her pants, she pushed it into the lock and twisted. Finally, she is home.
The group hurried into the house and closed the door behind them. The rooms were dark and eerie, and no one really wanted to move from their current spot, but they needed to. Each young adult held onto one of the children, assuring they are safe.
Evelyn made her way to the closet door, remembering exactly where everything was. The wallpaper still has some of its smoothness, but her fingers could detect the tiny cuts and peels off the material. Her wandering hands led her to a door that opened to reveal a closet. She knew exactly what she was looking for, found it, and pulled it from the closet.
"Someone, come hold this please." Evelyn straightened the wick and placed the candle in the palm of the person in front of her. She lit the match and pushed it against the wick until it caught fire. "Follow me upstairs. There are three bedrooms and an office. A total of four beds, but we can make do for the night."
The college students made sure the children had a nice place to sleep. With the two beds from one room pushed together, five kids could fit. Three children slept in the second room and the last two slept in the third room. Evelyn found three college students who'd be willing to sleep on the floor in each room in case the children needed something. The others went downstairs and tried to figure out how to make themselves comfortable.
"So we've got two couches, a rocker, and a recliner." Evelyn started moving some furniture around. "Of course one person gets the rocker and one gets the recliner. One person can have the small loveseat and we can fit the last four on the larger couch if we use the coffee table as an extension of the couch."
"Evie," Daniel interrupted, "you said there was food here?" He wanted to be able to get everyone fed soon before there was no food left to find.
"Yes, there's a garden near the creek and there may still be some canned food in the cellar along with some extra jars. It was my Grandma's hobby." Evelyn stood near the window and looked to where the garden should be.
"So that's where we are. Your Grandma's?" Another boy spoke up.
"My Grandparents'." Evelyn smiled. "I think we'll be able to stay here for a while, especially with the creek."
"You're right." Daniel handed out blankets to everyone. "Let's talk more tomorrow. We all need sleep."
Everyone agreed and the candle was blown out.
The next day, the young adults allowed the children to sleep in and decided to survey the land. Evelyn was right. There was still a garden here, but it was nearing the end of its growing season.
"This is the probably the last big crop we'll get before winter." Evelyn inspected the corn and the pumpkins. "We need to prepare and can all of this as soon as possible."
"Do you think we can find enough jars to can this with?" A guy by the name of Sebastian asked.
"It shouldn't be a problem." Evelyn worried, only slightly. "There are also some peppers, pumpkins, corn, strawberries, cucumbers, and potatoes here." She listed the foods off on her fingers. "If I do remember correctly, there's a rhubarb patch closer towards the house and some wild raspberry bushes near the creek. We should collect all of this now, we have no time to waste. There are baskets and a wheelbarrow in the garage, even some tools."
They walked up to the garage, which was oddly separated from the house, and lifted the door over their heads. It smelled a little musty and the floor was coated with dust and some animal droppings. The scent is almost homey. The shelves lining the walls are covered with woven baskets and the wheelbarrow leaned against the back wall. Evelyn looked at all of the tools on the wall and pulled down some things that would be useful for this project. Everyone moved to collect anything they needed that would help harvest the food from the garden and placed it in the wheelbarrow.
Once the group made it back down to the garden, Evelyn chose to divide people into groups.
"There's only ten of us adults, so we still should stick to pairs of two. Two of us need to go back to the house and stay with the kids, wake them up and let them know where we are. Make sure they get fed." As Evelyn described what needed to be done, people would get into their groups of two and go where they needed to go. "I need two at the raspberry bushes down at the creek, two with the rhubarb, and four in the garden."
Evelyn walked up to the rhubarb patch and talked her friends through picking the plant, ultimately doing the same with her friends down at the raspberry bushes. She made it back to the garden and gave some more instruction.
"So for the potatoes, you're going to need to till the earth and pull the dirt up in order to pull the potatoes out, because they're in the ground. Pull out as many as you can find." Evelyn then went to talk to Autumn.
"Hey, Eve." Autumn smiled. "Thank you for finding this place for us."
"I'm just glad I recognized where I was. It's no problem." Evelyn shrugged. "So, you'll be in charge of the peppers, strawberries, and cucumbers. I know it seems overwhelming, but it's easier than it looks."
Autumn let out a nervous laugh and rubbed the back of her head. Evelyn smiled and kneeled next to her friend, picking a strawberry from the stem.
"You can tell if a strawberry is ready to pick because they tend to smell incredibly sweet and have a dark red color." Evelyn began, allowing Autumn to smell the fruit. "The peppers and cucumbers will have a much darker or vibrant color if they're ready. You got it?"
"Yeah, I think so." Autumn blushed, tucking a stand of hair behind her ear. "Thanks, Eve."
"It's no problem."
Evelyn then occupied herself with picking corn from the stalks and putting it into a straw basket. In the year that happened between the end and now, she'd forgotten what corn smelled like. It was fresh and clean, even sweet. Her grandmother would shuck a cob for her younger self every single time she came to visit in the fall. Evelyn sighed heavily, missing her Grandmother. She then thought about her family; not a day went by when she didn't think of them. It was still weird, not being with them. Although this may be true, Evelyn knew that she had a family in the group she'd meet along the way to where she is right now.
"Evie!" Daniel waved her over, a magnificent grin on his freckled face. "So we've finished the potatoes. Do you want us to take them up to the house?"
"Yes, would you mind putting them in the sink?" The boys thought her request seemed odd, but they did it anyway.
By the time Daniel and his partner got back down to the garden, Evelyn had finished the corn and moved on to the pumpkins. Autumn had finished her job and carried as much as she could up to the house, as did the two other pairs of people with the raspberries and the rhubarb. Towards the middle of the morning, most of the group members helped bring the pumpkins up to the house.
There was much to accomplish today, and yet so much had already been accomplished.
Throughout the day, everybody pitched in to help can their new findings. Even the young children. The group hadn't been this lucky in a long time, it almost felt like a dream.
At lunchtime, everyone took a break to eat. The fresh fruits and vegetables tasted so much better than the nuts and packaged food they had to survive on in the past. It was energizing. Unbelievably delicious. The kids grew much more excited than the adults. It was the first time many of them smiled or laughed in months.
After the lunch food had been cleared from the table, a plan was devised to tackle the food chore and the water chore. The kids would stay at the house with four adults and the other six would bring water from the creek up to the house.
Evelyn pulled Autumn and Daniel aside. "Autumn, I need you to be in charge of the kids. Don't forget to tell everyone that every part of each fruit and vegetable is important. Everything has a purpose." Autumn nodded and walked to the kitchen; Daniel and Evelyn began walking down to the creek.
"What's up?" Daniel studied the wringlets that framed her face.
"I'm gonna need a few people to build some extra shelves in the basement for all of the water and food we're gonna store." Evelyn thought some more on what else the group could need. "Just to put it out there, we will need new clothes for all of us for the winter. We might also need to consider bringing some beds in the house as well. Maybe even building an addition onto the house for extra housing? A shower? A bathroom?"
"You're right, I've been thinking about these things as well. Tomorrow morning we can have someone start working on the shelves. We can also send a small group out to find beds and clothes for us. It'll take a while, but in the end it'll be worth it."
"Thank you, Danny." Evelyn smiled, thinking things are finally going up for their people.
"You don't need to thank me." He brushed his hand over her shoulder and walked to the creek by her side.
The rest of the afternoon was well spent. Fresh water was brought into the house by pails and set on the kitchen counter. It was filtered and boiled, then bottled for future use. The food had been canned and set on the kitchen table while some was left out for that night's meal.
Evelyn walked up to a small group of the younger kids and spent some time with them. "I just wanted to thank you guys for helping out today. I know that you've all worked so hard and I'm incredibly proud of you."
"Are we going to live here for a while?" Esma asked. She is the oldest of the children; almost twelve years.
"We are." Evelyn made sure to give the child a bright smile. "Hopefully you'll all be getting new clothes soon, and if we're lucky, new beds."
The kids grew ecstatic almost immediately. It's not comfortable sleeping in the same bed as another person, let alone four, but they had not slept in a nice bed for a while. The idea of clean clothing was also a winner. Some new shoes, too, maybe. Evelyn decided to leave a piece of paper and a pencil with the kids, letting them write down what they think they need.
Evelyn made her way up the stairs to the office and sat in the computer chair. Her Grandpa used to sit in this chair. Pushing that very thought from her head, she pulled a yellow notepad from the shelf above her and began writing a list of items the group needed. Another list was made to use when counting the food stores. There was so much to do in what felt like so little time. Sometimes it was easy to forget that she has help.
It was an hour before Evelyn moved from her chair. List after list she made of things they needed to survive their first winter as an entire group. Was there a way to find it all? Maybe. Evelyn found it somewhat humorous to write, as she hadn't done so for as long as she could remember. The penmanship surely isn't as neat as it used to be, but it got the job done.
"Evie?" Sebastian knocked on the doorframe. Evelyn dropped her pencil.
"What's up, Seb?" Evelyn smiled kindly.
"So I was wondering if there are any stores or places nearby that you think might have something that we need?"
She thought for a second. It's been a whole year. There wouldn't be one place that hasn't been exploited by someone. Every Walmart, sporting store, and pharmacy within a ten mile radius would most likely be cleaned out. Of course there are other houses but there is a large chance they would be empty as well.
"Maybe a K-Mart, a BJ's—"
"That's it!" Evelyn jumped from her chair and threw her arms around Sebastian's shoulders. Before she knew it, her exclamation gained her a small audience. "So about a week before the war, the BJ's in this town closed because of the pandemic. The workers boarded the windows and doors due to some of the break-ins that happened. There's a possibility that it wasn't hit as hard as other stores. It's in a weird location and we're only a few miles from it."
Daniel's head popped up from behind the doorway. "Tomorrow at first light we will check out this place and see if it has what we need. We have a lot to do to prepare for winter this year."
"You're right." Sebastian nodded.
"What will we do with the kids tomorrow?" Autumn stepped into the office with her question, knowing the children couldn't go with the adults the next day.
"Lets have a meeting about it after we put the kids to bed." Daniel suggested. "Right now we need to focus on dinner."
Everyone agreed and followed through with Daniel's order. Some more discussion was had at dinner over how the sleeping arrangements would be and who would take inventory later that night. It wasn't foreign to have discussions like these, but it was unfamiliar to have a roof over their heads and full bellies. It felt nice, though.
Each child was soon after put to bed with the understanding that they would be joined by someone soon after their guardians had their meeting.
"Evelyn, how are we going to go about tomorrow?" Daniel asked. "You know this area better than any of us."
"Most importantly, the kids need to stay here and I think five or six of us should stay behind." Evelyn pulled the lists she made from her pocket. "We need a ton of stuff to survive this winter and we need to get a lot of stuff done before then. Tomorrow on our walk we can talk about the specifics of the things we need to find, but right now we need to focus on the overall game-plan for tomorrow.
I need two leaders to stay here with three or four others to watch over the kids, pick food, and collect water. Myself and three or four others will walk roughly two to three miles to get to BJ's." Evelyn held everyone's attention as she described what needed to happen the next day.
"What about in the long run?" Autumn played with the ends of her dark hair. "What will we need to do here to survive through the winter?"
"Well," Evelyn started. "Someone needs to be assigned to making shelves to put in the basement and we need to build an addition to the house for more bedrooms. We need a few outhouses and maybe even a shower."
"I could build the shelves for tomorrow." Blair spoke up. "I could also draw up some designs for the bedrooms, shower, and outhouses if you'd like?"
"That would be greatly appreciated, and you're welcome to use any of the tools in the garage. There's a ton of extra wood in the room attached to the garage, the key is on the wall in the kitchen." Evelyn felt like things were finally coming together.
Everyone had so many questions, it seemed like the meeting went on for hours. Little did they know that the "sleeping" kids caught every word. In remembering the past year had been the hardest any of them had ever faced, they each felt obligated to help their guardians out. Especially after everything their guardians had done for them.
"So this is the game plan—".