I stare in confusion at the scraps that have been laid out before me. There’s rotted fruit, a dead bird, and stale bread if you can call it that at this point in its rotting cycle. My eyes travel up to Margot who stands before me. Her eyes are sunken and gaunt. Margot has been my second in command since we met each other years ago in this wasteland we now call home.
“This is it?” I ask in confusion.
Margot nods her head grimly, her sunken gaze shifting to the scraps that sit on the table. We both know this is not enough to feed the both of us let alone the group of girls we have created to protect.
I punch the couch causing dirt to fly.
“Shit,” I curse aloud.
Currently, our group of survivors consists of seven girls with me at the forefront as the leader. The blight is a dangerous place to be. You have a higher chance of survival if you are in a group. Which is why we created ours. We must stick together out here, and it is the only way we’ve managed to survive all these years.
I look back up at Margot. Her curly brown hair barely reaches her shoulders, and I can see her bones jutting from beneath her skin. We are literally starving to death out here.
“Maybe we should leave the blight,” I say. Fear immediately clouds Margot’s gray eyes.
Migrating can mean several things. We would have to scout new terrain, fight off new strangers to claim our territory, risk being killed off one boy one, or worse…. Running into them. To this day, we do not know who or what they are. We just know to stay away and to fear them. They didn’t come in peace. They came to conquer. Their claim over our planet is growing larger by the day. As a result, our chances of survival are getting lower. We live in the blight which is where every survivor from that day lives. Man is a selfish race. We proved that at the time of the invasion. Instead of helping one another to defend our home from intruders, we pointed fingers, shut down borders, and retreated within ourselves.
I watched as a child growing into the woman, I am today that the “Every man for himself” rule exists. Even as my group hides from the Leviathan, we also hide from our fellow man.
Our hideout lies in the backside of an alley in an old, abandoned building. It is safe from the naked eye because the entrance to the building is blocked off by rubble. Our secret entrance is on the side and difficult for most to enter.
I feel tears of frustration beginning to burn my eyes.
“What do we do?” I whisper. Margot shakes her head slowly sinking into the rotting couch across from me. We will die in here. And if we leave, we could die out there. The last time we migrated, we lost three. I can’t put us through that again. I won’t. Due to the lack of food, we aren’t at our usual strength. We’ll be like sitting ducks.
My fingers find their way to the necklace that has never left my throat. It’s a habit I’ve picked up over the years. The motion calms me at times when I feel overwhelmed. Although the chain around my neck has begun to rust, the silver pendant only has scratches across the surface. The pendant was my mother’s before that day. It holds a picture of my family. A family I barely remember this far in life. I was only ten when the world was changed, and that was years ago.
“I think this is it, Iris,” Margot’s cracked voice pulls me from my thoughts. Her gaze matches mine as tears stream down her face.
“I think it’s time we die out.”
I stare at her in horror, immediately shaking my head.
“No…no, that can’t be our only option,” I say in desperation. I rise from my seat.
“We are survivors. I refuse to let us lie down and accept defeat just like that. We’ve been struggling for years and just because it’s gotten tough again you want to give up?” I hiss. Margot flinches from my tone.
I immediately begin wracking my brain for a solution. We can’t just go around the blight stealing food. The desperation among us for survival has gone as far as being killed on the spot for stealing. A member of our group learned that the hard way. Back when we were a group of ten.
Think think think.
I look beyond Margot, my gaze circling the room. The other girls in our group are sitting quietly. Some are sitting on dirty cots while others are huddled near the walls. Their faces all share the same gaunt expressions from being hungry. I suck in a deep breath standing.
“It’ll be alright,” I say as a plan forms in my head. Margot’s eyes widen and I know she understands the direction of my thoughts.
I hold up my hand silencing her. My gaze shifts to the girls around the room one last time. I take in their sunken faces and tattered clothing. The look of starvation that lingers in their eyes is one that haunts me even in my sleep.
“If I’m not back within a week, you take over, ok? You guys will have to move on without me. Don’t stay here. There’s nothing left for us here. Stay strong and stay together. Don’t risk your lives stealing from these people. Just go, Margot. Take them and go,” I say. Tears begin to well up in Margot’s eyes and I offer her a soft smile stepping closer to her to place my hand on her shoulder.
“Hey. Cheer up. Everything will be alright. We’ll make it through this…,” I bite my bottom lip to stifle my tears.
“We have to.”
Margot offers me a weak smile. I can tell by her expression she doesn’t believe me. She thinks this is it. I hate myself for the lingering feeling in the back of my mind, eating away at me. I can’t help but feel something bad is going to happen.
The sound of people dying assaults my ears as I make my way to the outskirts of the blight. The constant barrage of coughing, crying, and moans of pain remind me of the world we now live in.
I make sure to grip my weapons tighter as I make my way past the refugees of Earth. I have a blade, a spear, and a grenade that was found months ago on our scouting trip. The plan is to go outside of the blight for food. I am the strongest and the smartest when it comes to hunting. We’re never supposed to go hunting alone, but I know that if anyone came with me, they would only hinder me. Especially since the lack of food has them much weaker than most.
It’s foolish of me to go into the woods alone. Before we understood how cruel the blight was, one of our girls left the blight alone to hunt. She never returned and we never got an answer as to why. This time however is a matter of life and death. And I refuse to let any of them starve to death. Not while I have the strength to prevent it.
I pass by a dusty window, briefly glancing at my reflection. I stopped caring about how I look a long time ago. My dark hair is stringy and matted from years of dirt and neglect falling barely past my shoulders. Growing up I prided myself on inheriting my mother’s green eyes. But now, I hate that I can’t remember how they looked on her face. My skin is sunken and thin, my cheeks hollowed from lack of nutrition over the years. I’m just like my girls at this point.
I flinch as the rays of sunlight slowly penetrate the trees waking me from my slumber. I open my eyes to look around, making sure no one is watching, and my weapons are all still in place.
It’s been four days since my departure. I’ve managed to catch one deer and fought off three people in the process. I look around at the lush paradise that sits outside of the blight.
The world has had plenty of time to heal and grow since the eradication of humanity. Since the departure of cities, planes, cars, and every other toxic element humanity managed to create, the actual forests have overtaken most of the land. It’s beautiful. It makes me wonder what type of creatures the Leviathan are. They leave no trace of their existence other than their Utopias.
I shiver as a gust of wind breezes past me. Even though the sun is rising, there’s a chill in the air. I don’t know what month it is, or even what year it is. But I know that it is nearing autumn. That information means food will be scarcer, and disease more prominent. We have everything to fear in the coming months in addition to the Leviathan.
I make my way through the forest, keeping an eye out for enemies. I have not only wild animals to fear, but my fellow man. Out here, they are my worst enemy. My body is beginning to war with my brain from the level of exhaustion I feel. My exhaustion mixed with my hunger is more than I can bear. The only thing that keeps me going is the idea of heading back empty-handed. They need me. Even chewing on leaves all day does nothing to staunch my hunger.
I can feel my body threatening to give out from hunger.
The day is spent trying to find more food, but I once again come up empty-handed. Once the sun begins to set, I decide to cut my losses and head back to the blight with what I have. It may not be much, but it will give us a little energy to scavenge the city.
The trek back to the blight takes a day and a half. My heart is pounding as I try and force my legs to move faster. It’s crucial that I get back before dark. Being around the border of the blight is dangerous, especially with food.
I pause when I hear something in the distance. Screaming. I tense as the scent of flames reaches my nose. I break into a sprint, willing my body to move. My footsteps immediately falter as I gaze up at the place, I’ve called home for the past few years.
It’s up in flames.
My eyes widen as I take in my surroundings. The homes that were once here are burning piles of ash. I quickly scan the area but see nothing out of the ordinary. I tense as more screams flow in my direction. They’re coming from deep within the blight.
I take off, my adrenaline spiking as I make my way deeper into the city, my hunger all but forgotten as I make my way to our hideaway. Tears begin to form in my eyes. The closer I get, the worse the condition of the city is. I see bodies. People are both dead and dying.
We’re under attack.
I don’t know if it’s from humans, or from Leviathan, but I say a silent prayer that it’s humans.
I round the corner, my legs immediately halting at the sight before me. My body feels weak, my stomach is suddenly nauseous as I take in our hideaway. What was once a small building is nothing more than a ruin. I run towards the crushed rubble, falling to my knees in front of it. I don’t hesitate as I reach for the boulders, pulling them back.
“Margot! Leah! Chrissy!” I shout the names, begging for someone to respond. I pull back another boulder and gasp. Chrissy. Her entire body is crushed under the rubble, her eyes still open with a look of shock etched into her features. I reach out with shaky hands to touch her face. She’s cold.
“…No…” My sob fills the air just as another explosion comes from the distance. I immediately reach up, squeezing my necklace as I search for guidance. I open my eyes, reaching for the boulders still surrounding Chrissy’s body.
I don’t know how long I spend digging through the rubble. Or how long it takes me to dig Chrissy’s frail body out. I can still hear the explosions in the distance and the screams of my own people. Even though my pain and sorrow, I know the world as I know it is about to change.
I take my time burying her. Even when I realize my fingers are bloodied and torn, my nails broken, I don’t stop until her body is safely tucked away, and I feel she is at rest. I stare at the mound of dirt letting my tears fall.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
Turning, I grab my blade making my way deeper into the blight to search for any survivors. Margot may not have made it out, but that doesn’t mean that the others didn’t as well.
I make my way through the city, the blazing flames spiraling out of control around me. My chest aches at the sight of the bodies. People both dead and alive. Some are holding their loved ones while others are crouched, paralyzed in fear. None of these faces are familiar. It seems like the deeper I get, the louder the screams grow. I don’t want to make my way towards them, but I must. Screams mean living. And living means there’s a possibility of my girls being there.
I round the corner, halting in my tracks. A man is standing with his back to me. Warning bells immediately go off in my head. He’s one of them. The uniform he wears matches the one I saw in the park all those years ago. My eyes drift to the weapon in his hand. It’s foreign, definitely from their own armory.
It takes me a moment to realize there’s a child in front of him. Tears streak his dirt-ridden face as he stands over what remains of a corpse. The boy’s back is to the stranger, completely unaware of the fate that’s about to befall him.
My brain shifts into overdrive, my adrenaline fueling me. I tighten the blade in my hands holding my breath as I sprint towards the stranger. I keep my gaze focused on the place near his lower back where his kidneys should be. I make sure to hold my blade directly in front of me as I come closer to him, ready to strike.
Suddenly, my body is launched back by an invisible force. I gasp, not at all sure what it was that knocked me off my feet. My body hits the ground in a heap, and I cry out from the force. Before I can open my eyes, let alone think, I’m hauled up.
I open my eyes, reaching for the force that holds me, immediately freezing. Icy fear grips me like a vice, staunching any instinct I had to fight.
This must be one of them. The invaders that took over the world. The Leviathan. I’ve never seen anyone-no, anything- like it.
He’s a tall man with sharp features. His jaw is strong and defined, adding emphasis to the sensual curve of his lips. Lips that are set into a frown as he studies me. His hair is stark white, held out of his face by a jeweled pendant that allows it to flow freely down his back. Only a few rebellious strands would dare touch his forehead. It finally clicks in my head that I know this creature. It’s him. From that day in the park. The one that was leading the Leviathan. But as I stare at him from this close proximity, all of my hatred dissipates, replaced by fear. Pure fear as he studies me with those eyes.
They’re purple. A vivid, mesmerizing purple with flecks of blue sprinkled in them. They’re unlike anything I have ever seen… He’s unlike anything I have ever seen. And he is glaring at me with a completely unreadable expression.
“You were attempting to kill him,” he says. Just the sound of his voice causes a chill to ripple down my spine. His voice is like silk. Smooth and sensual without trying. His gaze narrows slightly at me. I vaguely note that he’s dressed in all white. And in opposition to his subordinate, not an ounce of blood colors the material.
Finally, the initial shock of this being in front of me wears off, and panic sets in. My instincts finally scream at me to get away and crippling fear snakes its way into my body as the gravity of the situation weighs on me.
This inhuman being has caught me in the process of trying to kill his own. And he does not look pleased. I immediately begin to struggle, trying my best to pry his hands away from me but it’s no use. My struggling is nothing to him.
“Please…!” I scream after minutes of trying to free myself from his grasp.
He still doesn’t move. Not an inch. He only studies me. His eyes moving over me with a predatory-like interest.
I tense when my earlier target approaches with the unconscious boy I was aiming to protect. He has a fistful of his hair as he holds him up. He opens his mouth, and an unfamiliar sound comes tumbling out. He’s speaking their language.
The Leviathan holding me scoffs lightly, his gaze never faltering. He opens his mouth responding in the same language, his eyes remaining on me. The Leviathan behind him listens, calmly nods his head, and continues the conversation.
I’m still in a panic as the conversation continues around me.
Imagine, sitting in the middle of an intersection watching as a car speeds towards you at eighty miles an hour, knowing the fate that awaits you upon its approach. Imagine that suffocating fear that crawls up your throat from deep within your gut until it chokes the last bit of air from you.
I feel that thousand times over. I have no idea if I am simply looking death in the face.
Finally, the Leviathan holding me moves. His eyes shift slightly. It’s such a small movement and so graceful as his gaze glides down my body and finally back up to my face. I can’t form a coherent thought let alone beg for my life.
He releases me. I drop to the ground like a dead weight, dirt flying around me. I gaze up at the being trying my best to read the situation, but I can’t. There isn’t an ounce of emotion on his face. He’s like a statue carved and sent from heaven itself to pass judgment.
He reaches towards me without another word, and I don’t stop the violent shiver that overcomes me. This is it. This is how I die. I finally remember the grenade I keep with me just for moments like this. My last resort. The one thing that will save me from a fate worse than death and possibly kill the being in front of me. I force my body to move, squeezing my eyes shut as I yank the grenade out of its hidden place, looking my enemy in the eye as I release the pin.
A small smile creeps over my lips and I see something cross over his features as he takes in the gravity of his situation.
My words ring out in the air, and I notice the corner of his mouth twitch slightly before I close my eyes, waiting for the sweet caress of oblivion to overcome me.