I don’t know why she has to be like this. She’ll get better, and then we’ll go scavenge more food and water and we’ll make a home here. My feet shuffle along the ground as I continue straightening up the piles of boxes. I don’t know how she can sleep so soundly, I’ve been moving cardboard boxes around for awhile now. I definitely didn’t take care to keep quiet. A yawn makes its way passed my lips and I bring my free hand up to my mouth. I’d sleep if I could. Not knowing what we’re going to do only makes me nervous. Nervous only leads to anxious, and after I get anxious, there isn’t much to be done. Not long after she went to sleep, I felt compelled to get up and fix up the dangerously stacked pile of boxes. I mean....what would we do if they fell over in the night? Just finding a place to sit down to eat would be a chore. The longer I sat there, the more it bothered me.
“I don’t know how this didn’t bother you,” I mumble under my breath as I straighten the last of the cardboard boxes. There were at least a hundred boxes, if not more, some of which were hiding in the weirdest places. I’ve decided that we are both going to live here until further notice.
“I mean what else are we going to do while you recover?” I question softly, looking over at the curled up ball on the mattress. With the boxes resting in that out of the way corner, the room seems bare. Sitting on the floor next to the mattress, I see her journal. Apparently no one thought about bringing a nightstand into the bunker?
Having no more boxes to move, my eyes are again drawn to her journal. It’s pages and cover still somehow in one piece. Why has she been keeping it so secretive anyway? What doesn’t she want me to see? My heart starts to beat loudly in my ears as I find myself walking closer to her sleeping form. My footsteps are light, yet I can hear them over the thumping of my heart.
“There’s no harm in just taking a quick look, is there? She won’t hate me... right?” I think to myself, as I stop just in front of the book.
“I shouldn’t be doing this,” I berate myself as I slowly reach down for the worn keepsake. I stare at her sleeping form as my hand brushes against the almost leathery journal cover. She won’t wake up....she’s not that light of a sleeper....right? I find myself holding my breath, as I slowly lift the journal off the ground. I’m careful not to make too much noise as it softly scrapes against the floor. I retreat back to the desk that sits alone in the far corner. As I sit the journal down, a small jagged piece of paper slips slightly out of the top.
“Oh, so is this what you were doing?” I mutter to myself slyly as I open the journal. The page is filled with writing and drawings, little doodles of cartoonish characters that seem to be fighting with each other as they dance across the space of the page. I decide to start at the top of the page; I’m here, why not read all of it right?
It’s lonely here. I write in this journal knowing that no one is ever going to find it. How could they? I’m locked down here apart from the rest of the world. I can’t get out; they can’t get in. I thought I could handle this, you know? Staying down here for as long as I needed to, before it was safe to go outside. But I can’t; I can’t just sit down here day in and day out waiting for something to change, because it won’t.
That entry stops there, a space or two between the paragraph that fills the rest of the page; some words even going over drawings. My brow furrows as I scan over the words. The writing is small. Jagged and sloppy compared to that before it. My eyes stop as they catch my name.
Mia, I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have lied to you but I couldn’t bring myself to face you.
“What the hell is this?” I whisper to myself, looking towards the mattress. “What the hell is this supposed to be?” I tear my eyes away from her sleeping form and back to the journal that sits in front of me.
I know this isn’t fair. You shouldn’t have to deal with this. I’m sorry. I’m not going to get better. I know right now you’re probably shaking with rage towards me, but there’s no coming back from this. It’s radiation from the nukes for God’s sake. If we were meant to be exposed to it that would be another thing altogether. And If that wasn’t enough, I’m definitely still bleeding. Hell anything that doesn’t hurt is numb.
“No no no no,” I mutter to myself as my eyes move down the page faster. The words quickly coming towards the end of the page. This isn’t allowed. She can’t do this!
I tried to tell you earlier, but just at the hint of death you flipped. And I know it’s wrong to tell you now, but I love you. I love the stupid little jokes you make. The way you talk when you’re mad at me, which is most of the time we’ve been together. I would give the world just to be with you for one more day....one more second.
“How did I not know you were writing this? I was just opening some cans a few feet from her!” I almost shout in anger, tears falling from my eyes. It didn’t seem like I was taking that long. I wipe at my face before managing to turn my attention back to the journal.
You’re busy opening cans right now. Hell, I’m surprised you haven’t asked more questions at this point. But you're respectful of people's privacy like that. Either way, I know I’m not going to make it till morning. I wish I could tell you all this, but writing is easier.
“Easier for who, you or me?” I whisper dragging my eyes across the end of the page.
You’re free to keep this and read through all of it. To be honest, I don’t remember half of what I put in it. I want you to have something of mine, even though we haven’t been together that long. I know we won’t get to say it, so I’ll write it now. Goodbye Mia.
“Goodbye?! That’s what you leave me with?! You don’t get to do that!” I yell, stalking over to the mattress, my whole body shaking. I bring my hand down to the blanket, that is still tightly wrapped around her form, before I freeze.
She’s not moving. The blanket doesn’t even shift as she lies there. I knew this is what I was going to find, but seeing it, seeing her, makes it real. She’s gone. All that she was and could have been, just wiped from the world.
“Wake up!” I call, shaking her shoulders in a vain attempt at waking her. Her limbs are stiff and hardly move with my touch. “You have to get up!” I call again, this time shaking her harder, tears blurring my vision. She moves limply from side to side, the blanket falling away from her form. “You can’t leave me with just a letter!” I almost scream, my voice cracking with every syllable. Her skin is cold but I can’t lose her. She can’t be gone. I bring my other hand down and shake her harder, managing to roll her towards me with the force. Her face is pale, and her lips blue. She hasn’t been breathing for a while now. Dried blood clings to her face just below her nose. It dripped sideways across her cheek. Despite the blood, she looks peaceful. My legs shake, and in the blink of an eye, go out from under me. My hand slides limply from her shoulder, bringing her arm with me as I fall. I hit the floor hard, no doubt bruising my knees, but the pain hardly registers. I keep her hand in mine as tears make their way freely down my cheeks.
“You’re such a jerk, you know that?” I whisper brokenly, wiping futilely at the tears that continue to fall. “You can’t face me yourself, so you have to write it down for me to find later.” My thoughts are jumbled and disconnected. My emotions coming all at once.
“How can I be okay with this when I didn’t even have time to be okay with us?” I whisper to deaf ears, as I try to right my thoughts. I thumb at the tears that still spring to my eyes.
I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here on the floor, still clinging to her hand. I have to get up, the pain in my legs growing too loud to be ignored. I clutch her hand tightly in mine as I carefully make my way to my feet. The tears in my eyes have long since dried. Tenderly, I set her hand back onto the bed, laying it flat on the covers. Gently I pull the blanket back up around her. A part of me still clings to her because maybe, just maybe, if it looks like she’s still sleeping, she will be.
I’ll just go back to where I was, and eventually she’ll call my name and ask me what the hell I’m doing sulking in the corner. I’ll just turn around and smile, because sulking in a corner is kind of a weird thing to do. I’ll say, “No idea. Why are you still lying in bed?” She’ll just laugh that small laugh she does and say that she can’t get up without my help. I’ll look over at her with a knowing smile, and say something flirty about her making excuses now to get close to me. Then she’ll laugh, really laugh this time, clutching her side with the force of the sound as I get up and sit next to her on the bed.
“I didn’t realize I needed excuses,” She’ll answer back, looking up at me with that smile. I’ll smile back at her before I gently cover her hand with mine and tell her she doesn’t. Then she’ll lean up and kiss me. After a bit I would pull away, blushing of course. “We have planning to do,” I would announce, and we’d go from there.
I pull my mind out of would be’s and sit down in the old oak chair that waits quietly in front of the desk. Everything is quiet now, without the sound of another person filling the room. I find myself staring blankly at the journal. Just staring at the words I’ve just read, not thinking. Somewhere deep down, I know I can’t just keep sitting here like this. I can barely bring myself to plan for the now, how can I plan for the future? I keep waiting for her to call my name....to take a breath....to do anything.
The survivor in me rages against my frozen state, yet I’ve hardly melted. “We have to find more food and water!” It yells passionately at me, yet I can’t bring myself to look up from these pages. I’ve let my emotions out from their cage and they grew fast, gluttonous for the freedom I provided. I let them run rampant, filling my heart with hope, passion, and love. Now they’re gone and I’m left only with despair, disinterest, and grief. They swirl through me and cloud my mind, battering the hard shell of a survivor that I’ve held for so long. I find the smooth feel of the journals pages between my fingers as I flip through them. My mind not really registering anything other than the changing of pages.
“These are her words,” a clear thought makes its way through the fog of my mind. Her words and her feelings; her stupid little drawings that can tell you so much about a person. Every page holds a piece of her; her sense of humor or her stupid little jokes that only she would laugh at. I flip another page and stop, my mind clearing at the words on top.
It was stupid thinking it wouldn’t end like this. What good did nukes do anyway?
The two pages, the last two pages, are filled from left to right. Filled with her thoughts and her story. So many words fill these pages. They take up every available spot of white and fill it with meaning. She writes about what she knew. About how the world became what it is; how we handled the change.
No one ever thinks about the simple things when the end of the world happens.
These words shake me to my core, because she’s right. I didn’t think of the simple things. I didn’t think about what I would do when I was alone, or even about being alone. I only thought about what I needed to survive, and where I could find it. I didn’t think about keeping myself in a group, or even where I could go after. I only thought about food, water and someplace familiar, someplace safe.
I didn’t want to be alone in all this, but that doesn’t matter anymore.
It doesn’t matter now. She’s left me alone and didn’t give me a say in the matter. Being alone is the worst thing that can happen now. If there’s no one to keep you out of your own head, what’s to stop you from going over the line?
That was last year. At least I think it was last year.
“Last year?” I think to myself, astonished. Just over a year ago the world was normal? People walking in the streets and talking about what new television program had come on the night before. It feels like so long ago now, like a distant childhood memory.
I decided to use my last few journal pages to write this so, even if I don’t return from whatever’s out there, someone could find this and know what happened to the world and not repeat our mistakes.
She had such hope. Hope that things would get- no, could get better. That there was a next step to take in all of this. That once we rounded up everyone that was left, we could work together. The thought that people would want to go back to the way the world was is naive in itself. Everyone only looks out for themselves, never helping or caring for the problems of others. The world has gone to shit and no single person can change that.
If you have something or someone you love, never take it for granted, because you never know how long it will last.
“But I did just that didn’t I?” I think to myself sadly. I refused to acknowledge what I knew was happening. I didn’t want to get hurt again, but in the end, that’s exactly what happened. I wanted to stay closed off to the world, because.... because if I stayed closed off then no one could hurt me like I was hurt so many times before. I wouldn’t have to feel responsible for someone’s death again. I wouldn’t have to feel like they sacrificed their life for mine, because they thought mine was worth more than theirs. If I kept everyone away, I wouldn’t be sitting down in this damn bunker, unable to lift more than a Goddamn finger! I wouldn’t be sitting here, hoping against hope, that the impossible would happen.
“Not again,” I whisper, picking myself up and wiping at the dried tears on my face. “Never again.”
Finding my gas mask and suit took longer than it should have in this much cleaner bunker. I pack the last of the food tightly into my pack, leaving room for the the hazmat suit that hangs in the corner of the room. I look around the bunker making sure nothing of value is left behind, before I make my way towards the ladder. My steps falter at the sight of the dried blood stain.
“It’s in the past,” I mutter to myself as I step through the old puddle and start up the ladder. The cold of the steel seeps through the suit that protects me, making me shiver slightly. I’m at the top of the ladder in what feels like seconds, pausing for only a moment to steel myself for the change of lighting. I take in a deep breath and force the heavy steel door open.
“Huh,” I exhale surprised. It’s dark outside, still brighter than the bunker, but not by much. I quickly start on my task, walking over to the burned remains of her house. I search for at least a half an hour, before I find a piece of wood that will work as a shovel, without cutting my hand every time I push it into the crisp dirt. I make my way back to the door of the bunker while looking for a spot that will be shielded from the sun.
“She would like this,” I think to myself, as I break the hard soil to the right of the bunker. By the time I’m done, the sun has long since risen in the sky, turning my hazmat suit into a sauna. It’s shallow, but it should do the job. Pausing, I look down at the fresh grave at my feet. I don’t want to face what happens next. I hate knowing that when I go back down there, I’ll have to wrap her in her blanket just to be able to get her to the ladder. I don’t want to feel the cold of her skin on mine as I bring her up. I hate that she can’t just walk up the ladder herself. I don’t want her limbs to be stiff and unmovable, making carrying her up a ladder just that much harder. I dread going down there and being forced to look at her, knowing she won’t ever look back. I don’t want to be forced to see her unmoving features as I carefully bring her up the ladder. I don’t want to carry the burden of her cold body against mine, knowing that I failed.
“I don’t want to face the fact that she’s gone!” I cry, letting myself fall to my knees just inside the bunker door.
“I want to go back to before I knew she was gone! I want to go back to pretending that she’s still okay, still alive!” I whine, pleading that this is all just a bad dream. All my life I’ve known pain, and yet, this one is so much worse than the rest. At times it’s like just breathing is painful. Like there’s a weight that sits on my chest, and every thought of her just makes it that much heavier. Every little joke I think of brings me back to her, and there’s nothing I can do to escape the thought of her, or the tightening in my chest. I don’t remember how to move on, to feel nothing, to keep surviving. And in a moment, the pain is gone, taken over by the survivor in my head that knows how to do this. The part of me that knows how to handle grief and how to keep moving anyway. The part that can handle carrying the lifeless body of the one person I still care for up a ladder and to her grave. The part of me that knows what to do next.
That’s what I’ll do then. I’ll let the part of me that knows how to keep going take over. I’ll let the survivor that’s kept me alive this long, dictate my actions. I’ll keep moving, finding food and water and shelter. I’ll stay away from people, because so very few of them have good intentions. I’ll keep to myself until the thought of being alone makes me want to scream until my voice gives out. I’ll... I’ll.... be alone, again. I push that thought as deep down as I can manage before making my way back into the bunker. I’ll go back to how it was before. I’ll go back to being able to get up in the morning and only thinking about what I’m going to run out of next. If I can just go back to making it through the day, one day I won’t have to pretend; I’m not a few steps from the edge.
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