As KendÍka has informed you in the past, I’m working on a collection of short stories about the overdone theme of the Earth’s destruction. Each short story deals with the people who wake up after the disaster hits.
Right now I’d really appreciate some feedback from you.
Sarah is one of the short stories comprising the collection. If you read the short story, could you please let me know what you thought of it? It is important for me to know if I’m conveying the emotions well in this collection.
Sarah stood in the middle of what remained of the cul-de-sac she had played in for the past two years with all her little friends. Crinkling her nose at the acrid smell of burned wood, she searched the crumbled surroundings, moving in a slow circle. She shivered. Her right hand clutched her favorite little doll, the one she fell asleep with before chaos disrupted life. Raising her left hand, she brushed away hair the wind whipped across her sooth-blackened face. She was alone. Something moving in the sky made Sarah look up to see a hawk swooping down in the distance. Looking again, she ran for cover, under an alcove formed by what looked to her as the remains of a fireplace. In these days, hawks were starving just like her. Trembling, she waited for the bird to take flight and disappear in the distance. It wouldn’t be safe to come out otherwise. Sarah had learned the waiting game quite well and after about one hour, she came out of her hiding place. She shrugged and walked along, dragging her bare feet through the dead grass to the next street while looking for food. The stench of decomposing bodies trapped under the rubble brought on a bout of reflux.
The fireballs that fell from the sky reeking havoc on her neighborhood scared her, but it was the earthquake that had terrified her the most.All alone, she searched for shelter. A huge rat scrambled toward her. She screamed. The rat stopped. Pounding her feet, she creamed some more. With an about face, the rat ran away.
In the distance, one house stood tall, amidst the wreckage. Sarah stared at the inviting open door as she advanced. Being two blocks away from her own home, she had no idea who lived in it. With great apprehension she climbed the stoop, crossing the threshold into a two-story entrance with little to no light. She smiled as she rubbed her bare feet on the smooth tile floor.
She searched for the kitchen. Entering the room, she ran for the refrigerator and opened it to see what she could scavenge. Bottled water, two gallons of milk, and a couple of cartons of orange juice sat in the shelves on the door. Even thought only a few days had gone by since the disaster, she had already experienced the ugly taste of spoiled milk and juice. Therefore, opted to grab a water bottle. Dropping the doll on the floor, she twisted the top open and guzzled it down. When done, she glanced around and, not seeing a garbage basket or a recycling bin, placed the plastic bottle on the counter. Back at the refrigerator, she found a triangle of unopened Romano cheese and half a loaf of French bread. She closed the door and sat on the floor to devour her meager feast.
When done, she stood and inched her way through the house, exploring. The kitchen opened into a breakfast nook and a large sitting area. Unimpressed, she went to the entrance and up the winding staircase. A hallway extended on both sides. She looked left, right, then stood for a few minutes, her finger to her lips, and then walked down the right side straight into the master bedroom. She ran and bounced on the middle of the bed, stretching her arms and legs. She sunk into the down comforter. A smile stretched across her face.
Running back downstairs, she slammed the door shut and locked it. In a hurry, she went looking for all other doors and locked them. This would be her new home for a while. It wouldn’t hurt to live in comfort until all the food was gone. Back upstairs, she ran from room to room checking out the closets. One door stood closed. Filled with curiosity, she threw the door open. In the bathroom she found a big cat lying on some thick towels. She smiled. “Hello, kitty.” When the cat hissed and sputtered, she froze. Its hair rose straight up in the air. Moving backwards, she left the room and slammed the door shut. Shaking her head, she continued her tour.
The last bedroom she walked into had pink walls, a canopy bed, and a corner filled with white and pink stuffed animals. She pulled open the closet door to find tons of clothes that looked just about her size. Her eyes widened and her lips curled upward. Sarah ran back to the nursery to look for baby wipes. When she found them she took one packet into the pink room, took off all her clothes and gave herself a wipe bath. When done, she looked for clean underwear and picked a pretty pink dress to wear. Twirling like a ballerina, she admired her image in the full-length mirror attached to the inside of the closet door. For the first time in many days, she wore socks and shoes on her feet.
Jason trudged through the streets, looking for food and any signs of survivors who might still be buried under the rubble. It felt strange, at the age of seventeen, to find himself alone in a new reality he had a hard time reconciling. He moved from street to street, watching and listening. This day, he’d been walking for hours and thought that by now he should have come upon other survivors, instead all he found were dead bodies buried in the debris.
A house in the distance appeared to be in perfect condition, a good target to search for food and water. Darkness began to creep into the perennial gray sky. Jason scanned his surroundings and accelerated his pace. Struggling to reach the house before it became dark, he ran. It wouldn’t do to get caught in the dark, that’s when all the gangs came out and one time as he hid in the rubble of his own home, he heard a couple of gang members talking.
“It would be nice to find an animal to eat.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t care if it was a human, I’m so hungry.”
“Don’t worry, for the past few days the meager portion you’ve been eating was human meat, at least that’s what Razor said.”
The fellow keeled over and vomited.
Jason shook his head to try to forget the conversation. It made him sick to his stomach.
As he pushed and turned the doorknob, he slammed into the door. It was locked. He scratched his curly hair and searched for an open window, but each one he tried was locked tight. He huffed and returned to the front door to knock. All the curtains were drawn and he couldn’t see inside.
Not knowing who might be in the house, he opted not to attempt entry. Too late to find other accommodations, Jason rolled out his sleeping bag and settled between the front brick wall and the thick bushes for protection against the cool breeze. It took only a few bites to finish the piece of hard bread and drain the half bottle of water he had left. When his stomach growled, he ignored it and snuggled inside the sleeping bag, trying to drift into slumber.
Light filtered through the bushes, and although Jason had pulled the sleeping bag over his face, the change woke him up. The outside world looked as dismal as it had the previous days. He stretched, but stayed warm inside the bag. A house still standing had to have people inside. The thought gave him some comfort. His right lip stretched into a half smile as he snuggled. No need to hurry, with nowhere to go he took his sweet time. The burning sensation of hunger made him wiggle out of the sleeping bag. After rolling and securing it, he squeezed out from between the bushes and climbed the porch stairs. To be heard, he banged on the glass screen door.
He banged again, and waited before circling the house, looking for any sign of movement. He spied a little face peeking out through a window upstairs. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, “Hey! Can you open the door?”
The little face disappeared and the door didn’t open. He kicked the ground and tightened his fists, glaring at the house he couldn’t enter. His stomach growled. “Hey, I’m really hungry. Can you hear me in there?”
He waited and the back door cracked. Jason ran to the screen to pull it open, but it was locked. “Are you going to let me in?”
The little girl shook her head. “If you wait here, I’ll bring you some bread and cheese.”
“Can I talk to your mom?”
The girl shook her head and slammed the door.
When she came back, Jason prepared himself. As she opened the screen door to hand him the food, he pulled the screen and took a giant step into the house. Afraid that he scared the little girl, he knelt before her and said, “I really need to talk to your mother.”
The girl said nothing.
He smiled. “What’s your name?”
“How old are you?”
“Is this your house?”
She didn’t answer.
Jason stood and locked the doors, took her by the hand and walked to the foyer. The silence of the house hinted that Sarah might be alone.
He knelt before her again. “Are you all alone in the house?”
He caressed her cool cheek. “Tell you what, I’m all alone too, but I’m older than you and can help to keep you warm. The house is cold. Are you cold?”
“My name is Jason. I can be your big brother and you can be my little sister and from now on we’ll look out for each other. What do you think about that?”
Sarah stared at him and shrugged.
“You’ll see things will be better if we stick together. You know, I’ve always wanted a little sister. Are you ever going to talk?” He stared at Sarah who looked at him with furrowed brows. “Is something wrong?”
“I don’t think the food is enough for both of us.”
“Well then, when it’s gone I’ll go search for more. Did you have breakfast?”
“Show me where you sleep and where I can sleep.”
Sarah took his hand and brought him upstairs to show off her pink room, the baby room, another big room with a large bed, and the master suite. Jason settled on the master bedroom, which had a fireplace. He bounced on the bed. Its soft comfort made him feel like a king.
The little girl grabbed his hand and pulled him. “You must see the sick cat in the bathroom.”
“Ok, I’m coming.” With a big huff, Jason got up and followed her into the bathroom. Tucked in the corner against the bathtub and the wall lay a fat cat on a few plush towels. He stopped at the threshold not to annoy the expecting mother. “That’s no sick cat! She’s about to give birth to little kitties.”
Sarah clapped her hands and screamed with joy. “She’s going to be a mommy?”
“I believe we’re going to need water.” He ran down the stairs, searching. In the garage, next to the beautiful corvette he found a red wagon. From inside the house he took several big pots, placed them in the wagon and walked down to the river to fill them with water.
Back in the house, he locked the door and took one pot upstairs to the bathroom. When he opened the door, he flinched at the sight. One kitty was born and another was well on its way.
From behind, Sarah squealed. “How gross!” She turned around and ran into her room.
Jason smiled, grabbed a few more clean towels and dried the newborn kitten. Four kittens in all came into this dark world. Jason shook his head. Caressing the mother, he lifted her off the soiled towels, replacing them with clean ones. The cat settled and Jason pushed the four babies close to her tummy, making sure all the kittens got their first taste of milk. He cleaned the floor with the water from the river, the dumped it into the tub. Leaving the bathroom, he closed the door to make sure Sarah did not come back to bother the tired mother.
With no running water and no electricity, Jason searched the house for logs. The wood-burning fireplace looked in good order and in the back yard in a storage room, attached to the back of the house, he found firewood. He hauled several pieces back into the house and up into the master bedroom for the night.
Sarah walked into the room. “What are these for?” She ran her finger along the bark of a log.
“If the night gets real cold I’m going to light a fire to keep warm. If you get cold you can come and sleep near the fire.”
“I like my room.”
“It’ll still be your room, but if you get cold you’ll know where to come to warm up. Now can you show me where the food is?”
Sarah took him into the kitchen’s walk-in pantry filled with canned goods.
“Wow! That’s a lot of food.”
“How do you know?”
“With just the two of us and a fully stocked pantry, I think we’ll be fine for a while. Does the house have a basement?”
“Well, let’s open all the doors and see if one of them has stairs.”
Back near the laundry room he found the door with the stairs leading to the basement. Midway down, Jason stopped to let his eyes adjust to the dark.
He let out a loud whistle. Oriental rugs covered the deep cherry finish of the hardwood floors. Three elegant Bombay chests adorned three of the walls with elaborate gold mirrors hanging above them. Huge leather sectional faced the fourth wall, parading a ninety-inch TV plastered into the wall. “Have you ever seen such luxury?”
“Can we go back upstairs?”
“You go up I need to see if more food is stashed down there.” He watched Sarah do an about face and run back upstairs. He figured she went back into her room to play with the stuffed animals. In the basement he found a wine cellar filled to the max. He rolled his eyes and went back upstairs.
He slapped his forehead wondering why he didn’t bring more water from the river. Now he had to go back and being out in the open scared him. What if a gang member saw him? In just a few weeks, people seemed to have gone crazy.
While Sarah played in the pink room with the stuffed animals, Jason went to the backyard, pulling the little red wagon behind, filled with more empty pots. The yard sloped down into the Potomac River. He made his way to the river’s edge and filled the pots to the rim before pulling the wagon back up the hill and into the house. Setting them on the counter, he glanced at his watch, 10:35am.
He went upstairs to spy on Sarah. Friendly little kid. He pushed the door open. “Sarah, can we talk?”
She turned around, glanced at him, then buried her face into the stuffed doggy she held in her arms. “What do you want? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“Sarah, why did you open the door when I asked for food?”
“Because you used to be my brother’s friend and I didn’t want you to starve.”
Jason stared at Sarah unblinking, juggling his memory. “Who was your brother?”
Sarah cocked her head, closed her eyes, and a small tear trickled down her pale cheek. “Nathan.”
“Nathan?” Jason swallowed hard. Nathan had been his best buddy since first grade, but he didn’t remember Sarah. “You know, Nathan and I became friends when we were five years old?” The memory of the little bundle always crying when they first brought her home from the hospital disenchanted him. As a toddler she touched everything and even broke a few of his treasures and sleepovers and hang out times moved to his home so he wouldn’t have to get aggravated with Nathan’s little sister. The last time he actually saw the little girl was in church when she was five years old and her mother had to take her out into the vestibule because she was being too loud. I’m such a jerk. She’s pretty sweet.
“And you recognized me?”
Again, Sarah nodded.
“Oh my God! You’ve lost so much weight I didn’t recognize you.” He moved closer and have her a hug. “How did you recognize me if I haven’t been over your house in so long?”
“Nathan always showed me pictures on his phone.”
“I’m such an idiot.”
Staring at him, she pulled away. “Do you think you can go get more water so I can take a warm bath?”
A whiff of his own body odor made him acknowledge the benefits. “That’s a wonderful idea, but you won’t have so much water that you can soak. It’ll be enough to wash your body and be clean.” Jason didn’t want to spend the entire day hauling and boiling water from the river.
“What about my hair?”
“We’ll leave that for another day. It’s a good thing I don’t have long hair like you.”
She laughed. “You would look silly.”
The banging on the front door startled the two, who turned in unison to stare. Jason took off his shoes and placed his finger on his lips, signaling Sarah not to move. He tiptoed to the door and stared through the peephole. A young man, with cropped hair and a weapon strapped to his back, stood at the door.
He banged his fist on the door. “Open up. I’m a soldier of the United States army.”
Intimidated by his words, Jason opened the door but left the glass door locked.
“What’s your name, kid?”
“Jason. What’d you want?”
“I saw you carry water from the river. How many people are living in the house?”
“Son, we’re trying to make sure you’re all right.”
“The soldiers of Fort McNair.”
Sarah came running to the door. “Are you a real soldier?”
He smiled. “Sure am.”
“Is that a real gun?”
“My brother wanted to be a soldier, but mommy always told him he had to finish high school first.”
“Is this your brother?”
Sarah shook her head ready to cry.
“Her brother died,” said Jason.
“Then who are you?”
“I’m her brother’s best friend.”
“The two of you alone in the house?”
The soldier crouched behind the glass door. ”What’s your name?”
“Sarah don’t you get scared at night all alone here with just Jason?”
Sarah shook her head, pushed Jason out of the way and slammed the door. “This is my house now.” She yelled at the top of her lungs, waltzed up the stairs and disappeared down the hall, leaving Jason to stare after her.
“Hey, Sarah, come back down here.” Jason stepped to the door and opened it, leaving the screen still locked.
The soldier stood waiting, passive.
“I’m sorry about that.” He moved to the stairs. “Sarah did you hear me, come back down here.” He turned to the soldier. “What’s your name?”
“So, what is it you want with us?”
“I would like to take you to Fort McNair. We have a large community where you two can go back to school, and Sarah can go back to being a kid and have a few playmates her own age.”
“She is a kid, playing upstairs as we speak with stuffed animals and dolls.”
“It’s not safe for the two of you to be alone. Too many gangs running around hurting innocent people like you. Son, the smell of decay around here is terrible. Rats and other rodents must be crawling all over this place. The two of you could get seriously sick if you stay here.”
“The house is clean and we have plenty of food.”
“Not if a gang comes through here.” He looked behind him and saw the Humvee coming around to pick him up. “We have transportation. We could carry a hell of a lot of things and later we can come back to collect more.”
“I don’t think Sarah will go with us. Something must have happened before we found each other.”
“Can I come in and take a look around.”
The Humvee stopped in front of the house and the soldier driving came up the walk. “What have you found, Jensen?”
“A couple of kids.”
“Well, what’s holding you up?”
Jensen ignored him and turned back to Jason. “Well, Jason, can I take a look?”
“Sure, why not.” Jason opened the glass door and let the soldiers in the house.
As they walked around the soldiers took inventory. After searching the entire house, they grabbed garbage bags and filled them with canned goods. Upstairs, they took all the blankets and stuffed them in several bags and then went ahead and bagged all the heavy clothes. When Jensen came to Sarah’s bedroom door she slammed the door and locked it. “Bad people carry guns.” She screamed at the top of her lungs.
Jensen knocked on the door. “Sarah, no one here is going to hurt you.”
Sarah remained in her bedroom with the door locked.
Jason pounded on the door. “Sarah, stop it.” He yelled over her screams.
“Son.” Jensen placed a hand on his shoulder. “Tantrums are best ignored. Trust me. I have two just like her.”
They loaded as much as they could in the Humvee, leaving one space for Jason. He would have to hold Sarah on his lap.
When it was time to leave, Sarah was nowhere to be found.
“I can’t leave without her.” Jason protested.
“You are leaving. I will search for the girl.”
Knowing Private Jensen stayed behind to look for Sarah convinced Jason to go with the other soldier to Fort McNair.
After screaming her lungs out for what seemed hours, Sarah wiped her tears, opened the closet, put on a coat, gloves, scarf, and hat. She grabbed her favorite stuffed animal and walked out the front door in search of another big house to claim as her own. She never looked back and this time decided, no matter who knocked on the door, she would not open it. Only bad people carried guns and she wasn’t going to go with them.
Closing her eyes, the images of many nights ago played in her mind. While hiding against a crumbled wall she saw a man with a gun beat another man because he wanted the man’s blanket. He had a gun. She shook her head. I’ll never go with bad people.
She walked along the river’s edge, looking left and right, for another mansion the fireballs had missed. All afternoon she walked mumbling to herself, “I’m so thirsty. I’m so hungry.” Dropping to the ground, she stretched her sore body and yawned. After a while, she pushed herself to her feet and continued her search. At last, in the distance she saw a two-story house. Tired as she was, she still ran. The back door stood ajar. She yelled, “Is anyone here?” No response came. Twirling and jumping for joy, Sarah walked in and locked the door. Again, she searched the entire home before coming back down to lock all the doors and windows. The refrigerator, like the other one displayed a variety of food and beverages. Before going back upstairs, Sarah grabbed some water and food to satisfy her rumbling tummy.
The house did not have a pink room, but she did find one that looked like a girl’s room and settled right in. The soft sheets felt cool against her skin. She shivered and got up to search for more blankets before the light vanished. In the walk-in-closet she found several comforters. She put one on the bed and then crawled in—time for sweet dreams.
She sat up, remembering the cat with the newborn kittens. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders, she grabbed the flashlight she always carried with her and left the house. The darkness scared her. Bad people could see her as she ran through the backyards to reach the old house with the cat. Even though afraid, she turned the flashlight off.
The back door of the house was unlocked. She sighed. Walking in, she locked the door. I don’t want any bad people to find me here. With a quick gesture, she shut the curtains hanging on the door and ran upstairs. The cat with her kittens was still snuggled in the bathroom on warm towels. “Good. You all sleep. I’m going to my room to sleep,” she whispered caressing one of the newborns.
As her eyes began to close, a crash woke Sarah from her sweet dream. Noises in the house made her heart thud in her chest. Wide eyed, she tried to peer through the dark. Many feet stumped around the house, even upstairs. She jumped off the bed and hid under it, her hands over her mouth to keep from making any sounds. A bright light illuminated part of the room. A person walked in and moved the covers around.
“The covers are warm. She must be around here somewhere.” A deep voice without a face yelled out. Another pair of footsteps came into the room. Sarah curled into a ball, shaking. She didn’t want to go with them; she liked living in a nice house with nice things and lots of toys to play with. The bed skirt went up, she gasped as the bright light blinded her. A hand grabbed her and pulled her out from under the bed.
“Sarah, why did you run away?” Jason’s familiar voice asked.
Still shaking, she wrapped her arms round his neck. “I want to live in this nice house.” She yawned.
“Let’s move out,” the deep voice said.
Jason stood and carried Sarah to the Humvee that waited outside.
“No,” she screamed. “We have to bring the cat and her babies with us.”
Jensen placed a hand on her head. “Sarah, we wouldn’t abandon the cat. Right now we need to get you to camp so you can settle down. In the morning when you wake up you’ll find the cat and her kittens in your tent if that’s what you want.”