It was quiet.
Nothing, but the faint hum of cicadas rolled through the air, a comfort I drank in whenever I could. It had become a sound I could fall into easily without the worry of the rot weighing on my shoulders. Somehow, that simple hum had ended up being the only thing worth listening to in the dead of day. The atmosphere had run numb with the rest of the world; how sweet is was to be caught in the sickening silence. The earth was nothing more than a pit, a middle ground where the silence whispered as much danger as the cries of the undead did. A tug around a corner, a turn of a street, death cried out for the living, nothing but static to answer back. I appreciated the slow roll of the quiet ways I was given. At least, with stagnate skies and the stillness of the earth, my head ached a little less.
I stood in the abandonment of a corn field, a vast amount of crumbled soil and bent stalks going on for miles. Once home to crops, a lifeblood for a farmer and a family, now laid as flat land that had not been used in the technique of farming in years. The corn had run stale, the new seeds never planted; it was another loss of the world. All that was left underneath the rubber soles of my boots was the stubble of old corn stalks and jagged rocks that had washed up in the past couple years. The toe of my boot dug aimlessly at the dirt, but I was met with parched land and dust. It had not rained for months and the land was showing it. Perhaps the rain had died off along with the world.
It was strange how my days played out, where my body stood and what caused my heart to shrivel. Alike to a scene of a movie playing out in real life, somehow I had entered all of the classics of horror flicks dripping with gore and worshiping cults built up by the hands of children. Yet, those movies never lived in the daylight; I was the only soul left for the sun to shine upon. I breathed in the real horror that the thrillers never captured, a lifetime spent wondering how it had all gone so wrong, so quickly. No blood induced film could answer that question, nor could I. Ask me, but I cannot tell you how. I simply survived.
Where I stood, no direction within the palm of my hands spoke of safety, a trick not given in the new world. Every corner stood a risk, every snap of a twig flowing through a toss between life and death. Yet, life had always been like that if it was truly broken down. Even before the dead began to rise, no one was guaranteed life each day. It was a miracle to wake each morning, to catch slumber each night. I missed the simple days where awaking to each day and falling to sleep each night made up my worries. It was in the hands of luck to find shelter, to find easy crumbs at the bottom of a bag, to gain a lick of rest for the next hour to come. How exhausting it became to only survive.
I was patient in my decision, no other way to be about it. Time was limitless and it seemed to go on forever in the world I found myself in. There was no such thing as the clock wasting away, when the clock no longer existed. No place to be within the face of the clock ticking away, life ran on and on, and on. Therefore, I stood and I breathed, and I let the field accept me in for a moment.
In the slow times, I let my fingers run underneath the straps of my pack. It weighed at my shoulders heavily, but I didn’t blink an eye at the pressure. Side to side, the straps slid back and forth under my thumbs as I grew stagnate in the soil field. Everything I owned sat packed against my back. Pieces of myself, the little bits I used to stay alive, it was all within and it traveled with me. I laid awake at night many times, remembering how I once lived with a closet full of clothing, and admired the trinkets that lined my shelves. Now, whatever I could carry with the muscles caught up in me, it stayed with me.
I wished to know, for once, where I stood and what part of Georgia land I occupied, and how far I had traveled in my days, but my fingers stopped messing with the maps and compasses months ago. What point was there in knowing where I was if no one else was with me? It had made sense in my mind the day my hands ran numb from caring, but now, the ache sat in me. I had given up on reading signs, stopped paying attention to the roads that carried me far. A name played over in my head, a faint replay of better times. Months ago, before I stopped caring and before it was only myself, we were in Newnan, heading west for no reason. Perhaps I still carried myself west, because I hoped I would find what I needed eventually. Yet, it would be quite hard to find what I needed when that need was dead.
The field I stood within was surrounded, both sides sucked in by full sets of woods. The trees were thick, weeds sprouting up from the edge of the forests. Within the trees awaited a little bundle of sanctuary from the hot sun. Even with patience on my side, the sun was not. Summer ran hot with time, and with the beam the highest in the sky, my skin paid the price. Sweat layered against me alike to a balm, a slick gesture of exhaustion and humidity playing together. I wished for cool grass and a stream to strum out all of the weather from my body. If luck could find the time, perhaps I’d run into something worth eating, a tree worth climbing for safe slumber, a clear sky to watch the stars. Simple requests that always seemed to be too much to ask for. My feet ached underneath me, a prayer from my body for rest, to move from where I lingered.
It was the routine of the new world that I had gotten used to; the constant movement. There was never a place that offered me enough time to remember to live outside of surviving. To the world, I only existed in its sick game of pull and pluck. I could not remember a life where I didn’t sleep with one eye open, where I didn’t awake with trembles from the nightmares that haunted me, where I wasn’t glancing over my cold shoulders every second ticking past. So much energy went into it, keeping myself alive, that I wondered how I even managed to do it at all. After so many months and years of doing the same thing each day, I seemed to forget why I was even doing it at all. Skipping from one point to the next, a ghost in a house full of static, what was in it for me? Tell me, Tess, why do you continue to breathe for a world that will not breathe for you?
When there was dead on the brain, I seemed to let everything else slip passed, even questions that rattled me deep. There was a dagger at my hip, and I tried to keep it there for the most part. I took pride in the blade, but not the blood that coated it from time to time. Killing did not come easy to me, it had not been an action I went out of my way to commit. A hard job, it became, using energy I didn’t have on bodies that had taken everything from me. An act that had been tricky to wrap my mind around, it rolled through me without much of a choice at hand, a fallen thought I caught myself in. In the times where I allowed myself to dwell, I worried myself sick over the names of the ones I killed, the families that had once held them close, what had happened to the person for them to find themselves at the mercy of my blade. Yet, I stopped once my kill count climbed into the double digits. When I could no longer remember all of the names that once caressed my tongue, the worry was useless.
Above it all, in the moment, the sun seemed to be the heaviest of my problems. Rays that found a way of beating harshly along me, down onto every inch of skin that laid exposed, I was in a world of no choice given. Sweat rolled in beads down my temples, grime and dirt most likely finding its way in slicking against the sides of my face. I missed the task of washing my skin, to feel the rawness underneath every inch of filth that clung to me. The heat was ruthless and would continue to be for months. It pressed against my patience even more, testing me to see what I wanted to do, which side I yearned for more, whether the option of turning around jumped at it. Oh, to stand sunburned and indecisive, it ran through my flesh daily.
When the sweat found its way into my eyes, it spoke to me that a moment of shelter was what I needed. I knew what laid behind me, but nothing of what laid ahead. What tangled its way into the forest land of Georgia was waiting to be discovered, and with patience testing a limit, the woods looked more pleasant than ever. Shade to catch under the trees, a coolness to invite myself into for a few seconds. No more thinking, only walking, my legs caught fire under the ache and the sun as they pushed forward. A drag of my pack and my heavy heart, I let neither of them hold me back as I took off towards the sheltered forest; a sanctuary in disguise.