“Who are you?” I jump when I hear a voice behind me. I whip around to see the stranger from last night standing behind me, looking at me with such friendly blue eyes. I stare him down, caution and alertness clouding my eyes. “Why should I tell you?” I snap, slowly backing up. “It’s okay; I’m not going to hurt you.” He reaches a hand out to me. I take one step too far back and fall into the deep lake. I frantically kick my legs trying to swim to the surface, only to find myself sinking deeper. I feel something grab my arm and pull me out of the lake and as soon as I break the surface of the water I start to cough and spit out water. I look to see the boy holding me above the water. He smiles down at me and helps me to the willow tree. I sit down under the tree, giving my shaking legs a break and start to shiver. I take off my soaking sweater and ring it out then putting it on the ground beside me. The boy walks up to me wrapping his warm sweater around me chuckling, “Looks like you need this more than I do.” “Thank you.” I mumble pulling the sweater tighter around me. “So, since you won’t tell me your name,” the boy sits beside me, “I’m going to have to guess it.” I roll my eyes at him, looking down at my shoes. “Hm, is it Becky?” I shake my head. “Emma?” I give him the same response. “Ellen? Mika? Julie?” “No, no and no.” I smile slightly at my shoes. “Am I even close?!” I laugh as I shake my head. “Ireland.” I whisper. “What was that? I didn’t quite catch what you said.” He smiles down at me as I look up. “My name is Ireland.” I smile back at him. His eyes widen a little before he shakes his head. “Well, Ireland. My name is Raza.” I tilt my head to the side when he says his name. “What?” “Nothing... I just used to have a friend named Raza. I used to call him Raz.” He nods his head slightly as he stands up. “Come on, let’s take a walk.” He offers me a hand and helps me stand up, then grabs my damp sweater off the ground. We walk around the forest a bit in silence, before I decide to break it. “So, what did you do before this world turned dark?” He looks at me blankly before going into deep thought. “Well, I went to school like every normal kid. I worked at the skate shop down on Harbor Ave. I would have tea parties with my little sister...” “Wait, Tea parties??” I look at him with laughter in my eyes. “Yes, tea parties. I’d dress up with her and we’d have tea and cookies.” He laughs at the memory and turns to me. “What did you do?” I stop dead in my tracks as memories flashed in my mind. “Ireland?” Raza looks at me and I shake my head to clear the thoughts. “I-I didn’t do much.” I stutter and look down at the ground. What I did before the world went dark was a very sensitive topic for me. “I had a younger brother and an older sister. They went to school while I worked at a restaurant to help my mom and dad pay for the bills. Dad never liked the thought of me not being in school, but he knew better than to argue with Mom. I could see that we were struggling to pay the bill that’s why I decided I wanted to be home-schooled. I took my little brother to the lake whenever I had the chance. He loved it there. He wanted to swim in the lake all the time, but I wouldn’t let him because if something happened, I knew I couldn’t save him.” He turns to me with sad eyes. “Why not?” “I never learned how to swim and if anything happened to him, I couldn’t live with myself.” I look up at the sky and sigh quietly. “No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t save him from this.” I tell myself, anger filling my voice. The anger soon disappears, and sadness replaces it. I drop to my knees crying, blaming myself over and over again for the death of my brother. I feel strong arms wrap around me in a comforting hug.
“Shh, it’s okay.” Raza picks me up off the ground, pulling me into his chest. I look up at him with tears blurring my vision and suddenly something clicks in my mind. I can tell something clicked in his mind to because his eyes widen slightly. “Ireland... When your brother, Nathan...” He trails off and I know exactly what he was remembering.
*Flashback* I was 14, I had been helping Raza out with cleaning and I had just gotten a call from Mom saying that Nathan was in the hospital and had been diagnosed with cancer. I couldn’t believe the words that I had heard, “Nathan, he might not make it...” I told Mom to tell him I loved him and I’d be there as soon as possible. After that I had hung up the phone and fell to my knees crying. Raza, who I’d been friends since we were little had to pick me up, off the floor and carry me to the couch. He sat with me while I cried into his shirt. After, he called his mom and then his dad gave us a ride to the hospital. I sat on the left side of Nathan’s bedside holding his hand while Raza would sit on the right mimicking me. He’d make sure I had at least eaten one meal a day and kept me company. After Nathan was out of hospital, Raza would come over every day with his sister, Rose; to play with Nathan as we teens watched some movies. After, Raz and Rose had to move and we never saw them again. Shortly after, I lost Nathan to cancer. I grieved over the loss of my brother and my best friend. *End of Flashback*
“Oh, Ireland!” Raza holds me closer as I cling to his shirt. “I missed you so much...” I whisper into his chest. “I’m so sorry. I left you here with no one! God, Ire, I’m a monster!” I feel a tear splash onto my head and I look up to see him crying. I reach up with a shaky hand, wiping away his tears. He puts me on the ground so I can stand up on my own two feet. I pull him into a bone crushing hug. “You’re not a monster,” tears start to flow down my face once more. “I thought I’d never see you again. I thought you had been taking by this world.” He strokes my hair and rests his chin on top of my head. “I knew you were okay. You’re too strong to be taken out by this.” We stay like this for a while and then I break away and look in his eyes. “Follow me.” I grab his hand gently pulling him forward.
I lead him through the forest. When we get to my house, it’s already dark. I fumble with the key and unlock the door. “It’s changed...” Raz looks around the living room as I close the door. I walk over to him; he’s holding something, a picture frame. I look over his shoulder and smile sadly. The image of two smiling teens, joking around at the fair. The boy giving the girl a piggyback as she gives the camera a thumps up... him and I. “Do you remember that day?” I nod placing my head on his shoulder. “That was the day after Nathan was released from the hospital...” I laugh as I take the picture and put it down. “You want something to eat?” “Sure.” He smiles and I walk into the kitchen, looking around. I quickly make sandwiches but as I’m about to place the knife in the sink, I hear a weird noise and everything goes dark. “Ireland!” “I’m in here!” I feel for the sink and cut myself on the knife that sits on the counter. “Dammit.” I hold my hand tightly and try to find the living room. “Do you know what happened?!” I hear Raza but I can’t figure out where his voice is coming from. “No. All I know is that there was a strange noise and everything went dark!” I trip over something and stay sitting on the floor. “Ire, you okay?” “Um, well no. I cut myself and I fell.” “Okay, well keep talking and I’ll come find you.” I sigh, a little bit annoyed. “Where did you go?” “I was walking around upstairs...” “Great.” I mumble under my breath and I hear him fall down the stairs. “I’m okay!” He yells. I roll my eyes and stand up. I put my hands out in front and shuffle my feet along the ground. “Why did you stop talking...?” He’s around 2 feet away from me, I guess by the closeness of his voice. “Ireland...?” I keep quite after a minute or so I close my eyes and scream. “OH GOD!” Raza yells as he jumps and spins around. I laugh so hard I fall onto the ground, as soon as I hit the ground I stop laughing and grab my hand. It’s now covered in blood. “Um, I need to find something to clean up my hand...” He nods and feels around him for something. He sighs and gives up. I remember my sweater, but then realize we left both our sweaters in the living room. I sit down across from Raza and place my forearm on my leg, applying pressure to the wound on my hand. “Guess we’ll just have to wait this out.”