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The Garden

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Chapter One: Apocalypse Blues

Chapter One: Apocalypse Blues

The Apocalypse sounded so cool before I realized what the end of the world would be like. I thought it meant dressing like some tough steampunk chick, with a Skrillex haircut and a sawed-off shotgun on my hip. I thought it meant joining a gang of thugs who would storm the empty streets screaming like heathens and hanging around fire pits revving the engine of my spiked-out motorbike. I imagined zombies and excitement. I thought the end of the world would mean no rules, no restrictions, and doing whatever I felt like. I didn’t know it would be like this. Not like this.

I didn’t think I’d be breaking into locked cars on the side of littered streets searching for shoes that fit and didn’t have holes in the soles. I didn’t think I’d be shivering in the bathroom of a decaying RV hiding alone from a pack of wild, hungry dogs. I didn’t know my life would take me down this path. I thought I’d grow old with a partner by my side and loved ones around me. I thought I’d get to buy Christmas presents for my family and have “back in my day” stories. I never thought I’d have to worry about having enough water for the day or if my clothing would be warm enough for the night. The old me only worried about bills or deciding what I wanted to eat for dinner. In this new world, I worry about life and death.

The year 2020 began like any other: mass celebrations and the banging of pots and pans. Hearing “Happy New Year!” screamed throughout the city, laughing and partying echoed through the night. I have this memory of standing on my old balcony sipping a cold beer with the woman I loved, believing that 2020 was going to be our best year yet. I had so many hopes and dreams for us that would end up being shattered by fate.

“Happy New Year, baby!” I whispered in her ear as we listened to the town celebrate.

“Happy New Year, Myrah!” A warm smile spread across her face as she leaned towards me for a passionate kiss.

I would have held her closer if I had known what the future would bring. I had so many memories of her. It was the only thing that kept me going. The recollection caused my heart to ache as I broke the window of a dusty old van with the blunt end of a small hammer. As I reached in and flicked the handle, the door creaked open. I took a rag from my back pocket and whipped away the dirt and glass from the seat.

I was searching for anything I could use. Clothing, food, water, and anything of use such as weapons or matches. In the beginning, armed gangs and certain military members who worked for EAT broke into the homes of the weak and stole what they could. Most places were emptied or burned to the ground. Instead of wasting my time searching through the rubble, I decided to search through cars along highways that had been abandoned for some reason. Most roads had been blocked off, so walking the streets was safer than taking my chances going through homes or stores.

I flipped open the middle compartment and found a pink lighter and a half-used water bottle. I opened my black, mud-stained backpack and quickly placed the contents in. A light blue wallet filled with old cash and pictures of a family: two little blonde boys, a woman, and a man was sitting in front of a pumpkin patch. A part of me wondered what happened to this family. Did they survive the viruses as I had? Did they survive the wars? Did they make it to a safe place? I wanted to believe they did, but deep down, I knew they were probably just another family who had been slaughtered during the early days.

I opened the glove compartment and found a granola bar and a few other items I thought might be helpful. I searched through the rest of the car and found nothing. I stopped for a moment, thinking I heard something off in the distance: a faint rumble, the smell of new rain on dirty, cracked pavement. A storm was coming. My stomach dropped, and I felt the tiny bits of trail mix I had eaten earlier start to hit the top of my throat. I remembered a time when storms were beautiful forces of nature. A storm would replenish and nourish the Earth and help plants and ecosystems thrive. Now, when a storm was headed my way, I shook on the inside, my blood turned icy, my knees felt wobbly and numb. I only expected destruction, fear, and an urgency to find shelter. Fast.

I looked around, scanning the horizon for shelter. I avoided going into the cities as much as possible. Survivors were not people I wanted to meet up with. People meant danger, not safety. I had joined a few wandering groups after leaving my small apartment after losing everything and everyone. I had hoped to find others who would help each other stay alive and rebuild a better future—what a naive thought. I saw groups of scared, cruel individuals with a taste for power and blood. Human nature, I suppose. My trust had been destroyed along with the rest of modern civilization. That’s why I always stayed alone.

My thoughts were interrupted by a loud roar above me. The thunder shook the ground, and I jumped and covered my head. I had to act fast. Heavy rain hit the windows and flushed the dust away, the wind swirled around me, picking up debris and crashing it into the sides of the vehicles. There was a house about a football field away. I spotted a tall wooden fence around the backyard. I had no way of knowing what was beyond that. I had to choose between staying in this rusted van or running towards the unknown.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I trusted my intuition. I grabbed my bag, zipped it up, and quickly jumped out of the van. I covered my head with the hood of my ragged sweater and started to jog towards the house. I had to dodge flying rubbish as I kept my eyes on the ground; a twisted ankle would not be ideal. Out of breath and drenched, I finally reached the fence. I quickly looked for a gate but didn’t find one. I shook a few of the boards, hoping one might be loose so I wouldn’t have to try and jump over the 6-foot wall as a 5-foot two woman who refused to go to a gym in my previous life. I didn’t feel I could manage jumping over this thing. I felt a few of the board’s creak and sway. I was in luck. I grabbed my hammer from my waistband and pried the wood free.

I chucked my bag onto the other side and quickly squeezed through the gap. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my stomach, and a warm liquid oozed down my skin. I realized a large nail had dug across my stomach. I knew I had to hurry into the house to assess the damage done to my already weakened body. I was soon on the other side and darted my eyes around the yard. I saw a medium-sized doghouse, a tire swing hanging from an overgrown tree, and a small wooden porch that led into the home. I didn’t see any signs of life, but I had to be careful. I had already made too many mistakes, and the storm was getting worse.

I flung my backpack over my shoulder and hugged my stomach. I slowly crept across the yard and peeked through the nearest window. It was getting dark, and the storm clouds had caused the sun to be shadowed entirely, making it hard to see who or what was on the inside. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I crept my way onto the squeaky porch and jiggled the door. Locked. I took my hammer and tried to pry the door open. After a few failed attempts, I realized I would need to find a window to climb through.

The pain stung as I gripped my stomach and prayed the lowest window would open. Luck must have been on my side because the seal broke, and the glass flung open after a couple of hard pulls. I ungracefully wiggled my way in and landed with a thud on a carpeted floor. Winded and wet, I lay there trying to catch my breath. I looked around and saw a pleasantly furnished living room. It looked as if nothing had been touched in years. I sighed with relief feeling a rush of security fall over me. I leaned up and closed the window, which was letting the rain soak the floor. I slowly stood up and pulled a flashlight from my bag.

The room was dirty from age, but overall, in decent shape. The rumbling from outside shook the building, but I was enclosed within four walls for the first time in months. There was a living and dining room, a kitchen, three bedrooms, and a bathroom. I crept my way through each room, checking to make sure I was the only person there. I reached the last bedroom at the end of the hall. For some strange reason, I had a sense of fear. I almost chose not to check; I wish I hadn’t. I gently opened the door and showed my light towards a bed. There, wrapped up in sheets, were two corpses with bullet wounds in their heads. Written on the wall in paint, or at least I hoped it was painted, were the words “I’m sorry. May God help us all.” I quickly shut the door and fell to my knees.

I had seen many terrible things since the beginning. I had grown calloused to most of it, but only because I had to. I had also seen many people die, but this hit me hard. Some people couldn’t handle the way this world turned out. I had lost count of what year it was. It had been three winters since I stood on that porch on New Year’s Eve, but it seemed like longer. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far. I hadn’t planned on it. I had been merely surviving the best I could. I could have quickly done what they did. I could have taken myself out of this hell, but I chose to stay. Perhaps I was afraid of the nothingness that I figured was waiting for me beyond this existence. Yeah, I was afraid of that.

I slowly stood up and braced myself against the cold wall. I suddenly became fully aware of the pain in my stomach. I lifted my damp sweater and saw the damage. My skin had been ripped open deeply. It hadn’t pierced any organs, but it could quickly become infected. It needed to be cleaned poorly. I had a small first aid kit in my backpack, but I wanted to save that for as long as possible. Instead, I decided to search the bathroom cabinet. I found alcohol, gauze, bandages, and a needle and thread. I knew I needed stitches. I slowly removed my wet clothing to reveal a body I didn’t recognize.

I had always been curvy, but the constant moving and the lack of food had taken a toll on me. I was slender for the first time in my life. It wasn’t an attractive feeling. It was sad and pathetic. I caught sight of myself in the mirror; I stared at my body and my sunken face for a moment. I wasn’t the woman I used to be. I didn’t even know who that person was anymore. I looked down at the jagged cut on my pale skin and winced. I shoved a handful of my shirt in my mouth. The damp cotton tasted of dirt and grime, but I knew this was going to hurt. I poured the alcohol down my stomach and bellowed. I carefully dabbed at the wound with gauze. I slowly pressed the cut together and slipped the needle through my skin repeatedly. I cursed loudly through my clenched teeth and covered the gash with a clean dressing. I was exhausted and freezing. I could hear the storm raging outside. The wind howled, and lightning flashed across a darkening sky. I needed to get warm. Should I even attempt a fire? I didn’t want to risk being seen by survivors. The thought of that made my veins run cold. However, I was shivering, wet, and so fucking tired.

I looked around the house a little more. Surprisingly, this neighborhood seemed to have survived without much of an impact. I glanced around the front and saw a ghostly image of suburban homes with overgrown yards, yet not a soul in sight. I searched through the quaint kitchen cabinets and found some outdated food. I didn’t care. Canned food lasts forever, and I desperately needed some nourishment, even if the food was a bit old. Against my better judgment, I decided to use the rest of my energy to start a fire. I found my way into the garage and saw a box full of old but very dry wood. I placed the pieces of lumber into the fireplace and searched for paper. Folded neatly on the coffee table was old, dusty newsprint. The headline read, “The End Is Near.” I shook my head. I was starting to believe I was living in some messed-up purgatory. Not that I wanted to, but I hadn’t seen anyone for weeks, and I had wondered more than once if my end had already happened, and I hadn’t been invited to the pearly gates. Regardless, I knew I’d never been one of God’s favorites.

After sitting for a moment listening to the fire crack and pop, I decided a bed would be nice to sleep on. First, I placed a large pan on the porch to collect the rainwater. Then, I pulled the mattress from one of the bedrooms and put it in front of the fireplace. I poured some canned stew into a metal pot I had found in the kitchen and heated the mess. I hadn’t had a decent meal in a while. The food tasted like metal and processed meat, but it was amazing considering expired. I smiled faintly. I almost forgot what that felt like.

The bed smelled of mothballs and dust, but it was comfortable. It felt like a 5-star hotel compared to the cars I had grown accustomed to sleeping in. My stomach was full, although tender to the touch. The storm had calmed to just heavy rain. I got lucky. I was warm and finally dry. As I rested, my mind began to wander back to when life wasn’t just about surviving. I ran my hand down the side of the mattress slowly. I closed my eyes and could almost feel the warmth of my partner, Skylar, beside me. Flashes of our life together flooded my thoughts. I remembered her smell the most, like a sweet vanilla flower on a hot August day. Her voice was soft like harp strings. Her touch always lingered, and her laughter was contagious. I remembered the way she would hold my hand when she was scared. The look in her deep amber eyes haunted me as the memory of seeing her for the last time crept into my mind. Tears slipped down my cheeks, and my bottom lip quivered. I suddenly realized that I felt safe enough to cry.

I wept myself to sleep but dreamlessly rested the entire night. The bright morning sunbeams kissed my eyes as I awoke. I felt sore, but overall, I felt alive. I suppose that’s what mattered, although I wasn’t sure why. I instinctively listened for any artificial noises. After silence answered me back, I assumed no one had seen my fire smoke, or if they had, they decided I wasn’t worth the effort. I rose from the mattress and peeked out the living room window. The storm had brought random rubble into the yard, but my pan of water lay untouched; for that, I was thankful. I wandered around the house, looking at the treasures left behind by the homeowners. Pictures hung eerily on the walls. The faces of an older man and woman from the last room down the hall smiled back at me. I wasn’t sure what to do. After some serious thought, I decided to leave the couple in their tomb. I just didn’t have it in me to bury them. I prayed they understood, and I prayed for their souls to find peace. Not that there was anyone who heard me.

The house felt homey, even with the presence of the past lingering in that back room. I found a morbid comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. As much as I enjoyed the warmth of the house, I knew I couldn’t delay for much longer. I might be able to manage a few days without notice. I knew I could stay long enough to safely maneuver my environment without causing further harm to my wound, but nesting would be reckless. This new world wasn’t kind to those that chose to stand still. Living meant moving, even if it wasn’t the ideal experience. I would scavenge what I could find and move on.

As I rummaged around looking for valuable items, I recalled a memory of the first time I looted. The walk to the nearest store was nothing short of a blur. I wondered about the ruins, searching for anything I could eat or drink. I somehow managed to find a bag of beef jerky and vitamin water. After Skylar had been taken to the “survivor camps” by rogue EAT soldiers. They had promised safety, but we had heard rumors it was a death sentence. We watched through the windows as the men dragged people out of their homes, screaming and putting them on painted black buses. We had seen viral videos of this happening before the internet blackout. We just never thought it would happen to us. Suddenly, we heard pounding on our door. We knew our apartment was next. It was a split-second decision that altered both of our lives forever.

“Get in the closet, Myrah.” Skylar stared at me, dead serious.

“What? No! Skylar, I won’t hide if you don’t.” I insisted.

“Myrah, they’ll search the place. If they find at least someone, they’ll leave. I promise I’ll come back for you. It’ll be easier if only one of us needs to escape. Now, get in the closet and don’t make a sound.”

“I love you,” I whispered with tears streaming down my cheeks. The banging got louder, and heavy footsteps shook the staircase.

Skylar stared at me for a long moment as if she were taking a mental photograph. “I love you.” Her voice shook. She grabbed my face, kissed my lips hard, and shoved me aggressively into the small chamber. I hid in the closet, covering my mouth, sobbing. It all happened so fast that I didn’t have time to make an alternative decision. I heard her tell them she was alone, and she was right; they didn’t even bother to check for anyone else.

They dragged her away, and I was left alone with my emptiness. I had run out of everything, and I was beginning to starve. I was in an unhealthy frame of mind and beyond frightened, but she had insisted I stay hidden until she returned. I still don’t know how long I was tucked away for; I just know eventually the world got quiet. I had begged God every night for her return, but it was a promise I knew she would never be able to keep.

By the time I came out of hiding, the roads were silent, and there wasn’t much left of our town. The soldiers who worked for EAT removed residents from their homes, and from what I was told, very few escaped. It was the darkest part of the early days and the most challenging part of my life. Our building had stayed intact, but the entire first floor had been damaged beyond repair. I didn’t understand why I had been spared, but I gathered what was left of myself and jotted down a note for Skylar, fully knowing it would never be read by the one person I left it for. I wrote it anyway.

“My love,

I am so sorry; I can’t stay here any longer. I know I promised to wait until you got back, but I can’t. I’m out of food, and I don’t know how long it has been since they took you. There is nothing left. They took everyone and destroyed our town. I will always look for you wherever I go, I swear it. If you are reading this, I love you with every bit of my soul. I will never forget you or our love.

Forever Yours,


My thoughts were interrupted by an odd sound I couldn’t place coming from the front yard. My insides jumped, but I didn’t make a noise. I slowly made my way to the front and carefully peered through the peephole in the hard-wooden door. My breath caught in my throat when I saw a tall, lanky man lurking near the porch steps. He looked greasy and unkept with long salt and pepper hair. He wore a dark blue jumpsuit that was filthy and torn. I felt utterly sick. People weren’t safe. I didn’t have a weapon besides my hammer, and that small tool was just that, a tool. I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance in a physical altercation with this man. I had to leave as fast as possible. I knew I shouldn’t have started the fire. I suppose I can add that to my list of regrets.

I glanced towards the lock, double-checking to make sure it was secure. I then slowly and silently snuck towards my pack near the handmade bed. I snatched it and began to inch my way toward the back door when a sudden thought crossed my mind. The couple in the bedroom shot themselves. The house lay untouched. During the entire time I had been wandering the streets; I hadn’t encountered a gun. I had to make a split-second decision; do I risk being found, or do I leave and risk never finding one again? I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I needed that weapon. I quickly shot down the hallway towards the tomb. The man started banging on the front door violently and yelling incoherently; I was sure he had spotted me. I had to make this quick, or my life would be cut short.

I reached the bedroom and flung the door open. I quickly shut it behind me and luckily realized a lock on the doorknob. The air was stale and rotten. I heard a loud crash and discovered the man had broken in. I jumped towards the corpses and searched the bed frantically. After tearing through the sheets, I finally saw a light metal shine. There grasped in the woman’s hand lay a small pistol. I reached for it and held it firmly. My body shook as I heard mumbling and heavy footsteps getting closer to the room. I shoved the pistol in my jeans and lunged towards the window; gripping the seal, I tugged hard but felt my wound tear open. I hutched over, holding myself tightly. I breathed heavily, digging deep within to find the willpower and strength to open the exit way. The man had reached the tomb, he attempted the handle, but it was locked. He then began pounding hard on the thin wood.

“Open up, little girl! I know you’re in there! Don’t make me break this damn door down!” The man’s tone was husky and stern.

My thoughts raced, and I felt myself zone into autopilot. My heart throbbed in my ears, and my adrenaline soared through my blood. I gripped the frame and again tugged with all my might.

As soon as the seal broke, so did the door. I quickly turned towards him. There he stood. He was a large man, probably 6 foot something. He seemed more like a monster than a person. As he opened his mouth to speak, I saw his deep yellow teeth through his gnarled beard.

“Got ya!” His chuckle was deep and alarming.

His body heaved with excitement as he beat his chest with his fists. Finding me was a form of victory in his mind. His smile lit up, but his icy blue eyes seemed paralyzed and dead. Our gaze met, and at that moment, I realized it was either him or me. I chose myself. I grabbed the pistol from my jeans, aimed it at his head, and pulled the trigger.

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