This story is by Reno Anderson and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The silence was getting harder to take, and I did not know if I would ever get used to it. The scurries of creatures in the walls were the only noise I had heard for many nights; no music, no TV, no yelling, no talking. Only my silent sobs. I curled up in my corner of the room. The moonlight through the small window lit up the door opposite the window, but little else. My legs cramped up from lack of use. Eventually I lay back on my pillow, covered myself up with a sheet, and fell asleep.
I woke up when the moonlight changed to dawn. My stomach rumbled from hunger, and my head ached – no coffee for how many days now? No matter if it felt like eyes were everywhere whenever I ventured near the door. No noise, but eyes. Was there anyone else stuck in their fear too? I needed to find some food, some supplies, some people.
I dressed after washing with my last facecloth and pulled on jeans and shirt stiff with being washed in the sink. Barely dry. Not entirely clean. Who was there to smell me? I had cut my hair myself; now I pulled on a cap and tucked the ragged ends of my hair under it. The bones of my body were more obvious now, and I had to put a belt through my jeans to keep them on. Sneakers would be best, along with a jacket, the one with all the pockets.
With no electricity, cash would be my only currency, so I took 4 five-dollar bills out of the cookie jar and stuffed them into one of my top pockets. A knife went into my right side pocket, unbuttoned for easy access.
Moving to my door, I first put my ear to the space between the door and the frame. Silence. I carefully unlocked the three security locks, and eased the door open, gently turning the doorknob. The hallway was empty. I re-locked my door and turned to go down the stairs. A mouse scurried across the third step, and I choked back a gasp at the unexpected movement. I slipped down to the lobby, ears alert, and eyes moving quickly from side to side.
The door of my building was already ajar. It creaked slightly as I gently pulled it toward me, and I winced at the sound. I stood for a moment in the bright light. Not a cloud in the sky. Not a soul in sight. The windows in the three houses across the street were all closed tight. Not a glimpse of light in Sarah and Matt’s house; or Mrs. Janzen’s house for that matter either. I had no idea whether they were still alive, or if they left at the start of this. Previous knocks on doors had produced no response, but that was weeks ago. I did not see any cars in the driveways; Mrs. Janzen’s dog was not barking at my movement in her window as he used to, and even Sarah’s son’s tricycle was gone from its usual place in her front yard. I carefully walked to the sidewalk and automatically turned left, towards the shops; towards others.
My heart pounded as a tram rushed by at the nearest crosswalk. I did not see one face at a window; no evidence of passengers. And just as quickly it was gone. I turned to stare after it. Was it really there?
The sidewalk was empty. No mothers pushing strollers, no joggers, no school children walking with their backpacks to an empty classroom. Not a car on the road. My feet crossed the big street without pushing the walk button. No need.
Soon, the Rexall drugstore was on my left. The windows were dark. The doors were locked. I peered in, blocking the harsh light reflecting over my eyes with my hand on the dirty glass. The shelves were bare. No one restocking; no one cleaning; no one checking out items like diapers or hair dye or aspirin.
I hurried to the next building, the Kroger’s grocery store, expecting at least one or two people coming in or out. But here the door was not only gone but smashed, as if a car had hit the frame and made it sag. I manoeuvred my way in, walking carefully over the glass of the broken doors. While the aisles were unlit, enough sun came in that I could make out rotting fruit and smelly meat.
I grabbed one very ripe apple out of a pile of slush and bit into it hungrily. A box of crackers lay hidden from grabbers under a fallen sign down one aisle; a can of tuna left behind a post in another and of all things a box of tampons in the middle of the last aisle I ventured down. I grabbed my treasures and debated leaving a five-dollar bill on the empty checkout till. No need; this place would attract no one who would take it legitimately. The tuna I shoved into a pocket and found a plastic bag under the till for the rest.
I stood in the parking lot for several long minutes; tempting anyone to see me, to respond, to even try to rob me. But there was no one. Not a sound; not one human being tempted to kill me for crackers.
Next was the church, and I pulled out the heavy oak door, walked into its cool interior, and let the door close behind me with a swoosh. The cross at the front was stained glass, lit from behind by the sun outside, and beamed its blues, yellows, and golds into the center aisle. I sat in the third pew from the front and gazed at that glass cross. If I was the only one left, would God still save me? I said a prayer and got up to walk out again.
As I turned, I sensed movement behind me. My hand went to my knife, and I sprung it open while withdrawing it from my pocket. I darted into the nearest pew and whirled back to the front of the sanctuary. There was a child, maybe age 6 or 7, a girl with a dirty face and matted red curls. Her clothes hung on her, and her shoes were untied.
“Hi,” I whispered. No need to frighten her further, I closed my knife and put it back in my side pocket. “Hi,” I said again.
“Are you a friend of my mommy’s?” The small voice came out of her hesitantly, as if she had not used it much lately.
“I am not sure.” My voice was not much better. Who was there to talk to? “What is her name?”
“Heather… Heather Kincade. My name is Chloe, and my mommy is dead, I think.” Heather came out as Hatha, but I knew what she meant.
I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “Where is she?” I asked as gently as I could.
“In the back alley, I think. I ran away when the bad man came and hit her. Can I stay with you?” Her voice trembled, and she almost sobbed. “Are you a good lady?”
“Chloe, yes, the best I know how to be. Come here.” I kneeled down and opened my arms to her.
Chloe ran to me, put her dirty arms around my neck, and cried. “I miss my mommy so much.”
“I know, I know.” A child. Much like my eight-year-old Zabrina, who had succumbed to the fever that had racked her body until it overcame her and I had to dig a grave in the backyard of the house we used to laugh in.
“Chloe, where do you live?” The child took my hand and guided me out the door of the church, the sunlight hitting our squinting eyes. She pointed, and I followed her. In 3 blocks we were walking up the steps of a bungalow, nicely decorated front steps, with clever signs on the door, and a lovely painted mailbox. The door was unlocked, and Chloe walked right in, clearly at home.
“I lived here with Mommy and Daddy, but Daddy had to go away to the hospital, and then the bad man made Mommy dead. So now can you stay here with me?” Her tearful smile cracked my heart.
I thought longingly of my meal of tuna and crackers.
“Show me the kitchen.” I said, as I locked the doors behind us.
As Chloe devoured the meal, I found glasses and poured us each a glass of water. It would do for now.
No longer alone. I sat down and asked Chloe to tell me a story about her mommy. Together we would last until we didn’t, but for now, we were not alone.