“I’m sorry,” the woman whispered into a bundle of blankets she carried in her small, bony arms. A small child with thick and dirty looking hair tugged at her long coat. If you were to look at the coat you would have immediately known it was fur. What you might not have realized is that the coat had been sewn together over the course of several days from the skin and hair of three feral dogs. The woman and the child were walking through what looked like a sea of snow. The sun which was barely visible beyond the countless millions of snowflakes which were tumbling through the air was setting. The woman had meant to find a place to sleep before night set in.
The woman’s name was Anna. This was not important. She had not been within a hundred miles of other humans in several months. The last people (other than her children) she had seen were what she considered to be savages. They had more meat than anyone she had ever seen. This was easy when you ate your own dead. She knew she would never stoop so low. The baby in Anna’s arms began to cry. “Shush Margate. Mommy’s here.” As Margate’s crying softened a tear began to roll down Anna’s cheek.
Anna’s older child was named Daniel. He was five years old. Of course neither he nor his mother knew that as they were unfamiliar with the term year and had never spent enough time in one place to know when exactly the seasons were supposed to start.
“Mama I’m cold,” whispered Daniel to his mother. Anna did not respond. She wanted to say something. She wanted to comfort her boy. She wanted to find some way of making things okay. She just couldn’t. They had to keep moving or they would die. She could not let that happen.
They walked for a very long time. Darkness settled in around them. It was so incredibly dark that for some time they believed themselves to be walking through a thick a forest. Eventually the moonlight hit them in such away that they realized what surrounded them was no forest. It was what had long ago been a thriving city. There were large houses here and there and unidentifiable structures which had been consumed by moss and vines. They could stop here Anna thought.
She threw Daniel over her shoulders. A small house to her right looked suitable enough. Anna approached it and found the door stood ajar. She pushed it further open and it fell to the floor with a loud thump. Daniel ran inside. His mother stumbled in after him. The house was big. Every step they took echoed. It would do for the night.
It took them a little while to locate a bedroom. When they did they were pleased to find a queen sized bed with a thin layer of dust covering a blanket which had been draped over it. That night Anna was more at peace than she had been in quite a long time. She watched her infant daughter and her son sleep and pretended that she thought things were going to be okay. She knew it wasn’t true but the thought helped a little. It was getting close to morning when she finally got to sleep. As her eyes slid shut she saw a hill in the distance. Standing on the hill was a single house with what looked like candles in its windows.
Several hours later sunlight began to stream through the bedroom window. This woke Margate up. It cried for nearly ten seconds before its mother sat up and held it in her arms. She fed her baby. It was still hungry. So was she. She knew Daniel was too. The house was no good if they didn’t have any food. They were all so sickly looking. Anna knew she had to find something soon. The last thing Daniel had eaten was a stale crust of bread the day before. In the last week Anna had consumed two small potatoes. Her skin was sagging everywhere. Her bones ached all the time. She was beginning to look like a ghost.
Anna glanced out the window. She thought about how much easier it would have been if she had leaped out the window the night her mother died in her arms. She couldn’t give up now. She didn’t have that option anymore. She just sat there holding her baby thinking about so many years of pain and regret. She felt so helpless. She thought, “Why did Alex have to stop running? Why didn’t he see the dogs coming?”
She often wondered about her husband’s final moments. She knew if he was with her things would be better. She stared out the window trying to ignore all her troubling thoughts. It was then that she remembered the house on the hill and the candles. Someone had to be there she thought. Maybe they had food.
Anna shook Daniel awake and had him get dressed. As the sun shone brightly down on the snow covered city they set off for the house which Anna hoped would bring some kind of relief to her struggle. Part of her told her this was a silly thing to expect. If there had been people it didn’t mean they were still there and even if they were they were likely to be less than willing to trust strangers.
They walked at a relatively quick pace. The snow was very thick and they were sore and tired but they still kept moving. After half an hour or so snow began to fall heavily once again. It was nearly blinding. They marched on. Every step was harder than the last. There skin felt like it was beginning to freeze and there legs wobbled like frail branches. Around noon they reached the bottom of a very small but steep hill. Anna took a deep breath and then ordered Daniel to climb onto her. She tied her baby around her waist and began to climb.
The climb was a struggle. Snow kept causing Anna to lose her grip. Her arms and legs felt weaker and weaker with every passing minute. “I’m scared,” cried Daniel as he clung tightly to his mother’s back.
“I love you,” is all Anna responded with. When they finally made it to the top of the hill the candles were still burning in the windows. They had been worn down quite a bit overnight.
Anna slowly approached mold eaten wooden door of the small brick house. After a moment of hesitation she knocked twice. She waited for a minute. When no one came to the door she knocked again. This time when there was no response shouted, “Hello is anyone home?"
After a long time of waiting she turned the knob and open the door. The house was dusty and filled with tiny chairs and tables and other pieces of furniture which looked completely useless as anything other than tacky decorations. There was a fireplace. A few logs were burning inside it. The blaze warmed the room significantly.
Several feet in front of the fireplace was an old oak rocking chair. Sitting in the chair was a small figure. Daniel approached the fire. He sat down and got really comfortably warm for the first time in months. He looked over at his mother smiling. Suddenly the boy’s smile disappeared. It was replaced with a look of confusion. Just a couple feet away from him he saw the grey and still body of an old man in in blue and white striped pajamas.
Daniel pointed. “Mom what’s he doing?” Anna walked over to her son. When she saw what he did she felt sick. Looking at what had once been a person was not a new experience for her but she always found it difficult.
“He’s taking a nap,” Anna said.
“Oh,” Daniel responded. “Should we wake the man up?”
His mother sighed, “No I don’t think so.”
After some exploration Anna found a small room on the second floor of the house where there was a bed and a few blankets. She put her children down for a nap and then started searching the house for food of any sort. When she entered the kitchen area she was heartbroken to find that all that remained were a few rotten squash. A knife which sat on the counter caught her eye and she thought then of the people she had called savages and the old man who laid dead. The cannibals had children too she thought as she took the knife in her hand. She knew it would slice with ease through the dead man’s flesh. Anna was at first disgusted by what she wanted to do. Then she thought of digging her children’s tiny graves. She thought of the pain they would go through. She knew there was no other option. That night Anna and Daniel ate their fill of a strange red meat.
Written by Nosaelg