This story is by Alexandra Wollny and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Julia and Cassandra had survived the war.
It seemed like there was nothing else that could tear them down.
Not the war, not the aftermath.
Julia, the oldest of the two, knew this terrain like the back of her hand. She remembered the battle that was fought, the aftermath of it all and the ruins that still stand to this day.
This city, unlike the other ruins, had a forest edging on it. A forest that was regrowing and taking the city back. And with the forest, there were animals.
Cassandra, seven years younger, was not very good at hunting which meant it was up to Julia to catch their food.
It was either catching animals and cooking them, or ransacking the few stores that were left with shelved food.
She went out, like any other day, a spear in hand, a sword on her belt and a knife on her back. Crouching low, she made her way into the forest. It had not been a good few days for food. That was the danger in settling in a place like this; too many people and not enough resources.
The forest was unlike any forest she remembered as a child. It had strange bushes and new trees growing, with fruit growing on its branches.
Was it fruit?
It had been so long since Julia had some fruit.
She edged slowly further into the forest, the sun becoming more and more distant. This forest, untouched by hands, was thick and dense with plants straining to find some sunshine.
There were so many different noises, so many more birds than Julia remembered. Something had changed, something was new. It was difficult to focus with the amount of noise that became louder and louder the deeper she went, searching for the traps she had laid.
The hair on her arms stood on edge, her shoulders crouched forward. She stopped suddenly, hearing a deep electronic voice shout unfamiliar words.
It was a foreign language she had never heard before and yet it was so familiar that it made Julia’s blood run cold. The voice came closer but she couldn’t move, couldn’t break away.
With her heart beating frantically, she felt as if her presence was incredibly loud. She pulled herself to the side, ducking into a thick bush as two men came into the pathway she had been following.
The robots were both tall and muscular but their skin stood out the most.
Not a scratch on them.
Another man came out from between the trees, carrying a woman. In contrast to the light clothes of the men, with soft, pale colours that looked beautiful and soft, she had bright orange overalls on with long dark hair falling over.
The man carrying the woman laid her down underneath a tree, careless and rough.
The men spoke a few more words with each other then all nodded, turning around. They walked back from where they came from in silence.
Julia shook her head, internally conflicted.
Where did this woman come from?
She should help her. It’s a rough world and help is so rare.
On the other hand, Julia really couldn’t afford to feed another mouth. She wasn’t a great hunter and Cassandra wasn’t a great source for food either.
But if Julia left the woman, then what kind of human would she be?
Turning her back on someone in need?
Julia could relate.
So, against her survival instincts, she walked slowly closer to the young woman. She had a strange sense about her, a sort of electrical current in the air around her. The hair on Julia’s arms stood upright, but Julia ignored this. This forest was odd in all sorts of ways. The animals she’s been catching are all radiated to the bones probably. She put down her bow next to the woman, leaning forward and shaking her slightly. The woman flinched violently, lurching forwards and hunching over. She groaned quietly, rubbing her head.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. It’s okay.“ Julia assured her, holding her hands up to signify she wasn’t a threat. “Are you okay? You look okay.“
Which maybe, the young woman did not look okay, but Julia wasn’t going to tell her that. The young woman didn’t say anything in response to Julia and instead crawled on to her knees, slowly trying to stand up. But as soon as she stood upright, she wobbled and threatened to fall over. Julia quickly put her arm around the young woman and helped her stand properly.
“God. You look like death.“ Julia blurted out instead of remaining quiet. “Do you have a name? Are you okay?“ She asked slowly, unsure if the woman could understand her.
The young woman looked up at her, her hair falling back and Julia could see her face. On instinct, she gasped at the terrible scar across the young woman’s left eye. Even though it had completely healed, Julia cringed in the shared feeling of deep scars. Not only did the young woman have a nasty scar on her face, but her face looked sunken with blue bags underneath her eyes. Sleepless nights, Julia thought. Familiar. The young woman wasn’t as tall as Julia, a few inches shorter.
“I-I think I’m okay.“ The young woman said slowly, her voice croaky as if she hadn’t spoken for months. Years, maybe. “And, I don’t know what my name is. I-“ She paused, looking down. “I don’t think I can remember my name. Or anything else.“
“That won’t do. We have to give you a name.“ Julia frowned as the young woman stepped back. She looked around then to Julia, looking her up and down.
“The last thing I remember was a city, I think. Tall buildings. Grey sky.“
“Ha! You won’t find anything like that around here. Cities don’t exist anymore. Can you walk?“ Julia gathered up her weapons, anxious to get back to work. If this young woman was unable to walk, then she couldn’t survive in this world. The young woman nodded, following Julia as the older woman started walking.
“What do you mean, ‘cities don’t exist anymore‘?“
“Exactly that. I haven’t seen a city since I was a little girl. And that was a while ago. There was a lot of destruction during G-W. Which you might not remember, if your last memory was of a city.“ Julia thought out loud, lowering her body as she walked through the forest. The young woman mirrored her.
“Mh, what is G-W?“ The young woman asked her instantly, watching her every movement.
“Stands for Global War. And I think that’s pretty self-explanatory. Anyway, I was on my way to get food for myself and Cassandra. And now, you as well. So we have to be very quiet to succeed. I’ll answer all of your questions when we get back to camp, okay?“ Julia paused at the moment, a thought of a name on the tip of her tongue but it didn’t feel quite right. The young woman nodded simply and the two checked on all the traps that Julia had laid.
By the end of it, they had found two dead rabbits and an injured raccoon. Julia, when seeing the injured raccoon screaming, snapped its head quickly.
“That has to be enough for a couple of days. I hope you enjoy stew. Cassandra should still have some berries as well. So, you know. Berries with rabbit stew. My favourite.“ She told the young woman, being sarcastic.
For a woman found in the forest with amnesia, she seemed to understand Julia’s sarcasm. Julia appreciated that.
The walk back to camp was uneventful as the young woman did not ask Julia anything else. When they reached the edge of the forest, Julia stopped for a second. The sun was shining brightly, the heat sinking in as the trees became far and in between. She turned to the young woman.
“Are you wearing anything underneath your- uh, clothes?“ She asked hesitantly.
The young woman looked at Julia with raised eyebrows then patted down her body. “I’m wearing something. Why, do you want me to undress? Because I don’t know what world I am in but I remember back then we at least would go on one date before that-“ the young woman laughed. Julia interrupted her, rolling her eyes.
“Not for that reason, moron, it is about a million degrees outside of this forest and you’re wearing orange overalls. It’ll be a bit hot for you but if you want to keep that on, be my guest.“ Julia huffed and moved on.
The young woman stopped laughing and slowly undid the top part of her overalls. “Calling me a moron is a bit much, don’t you think?“
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s quite right. Come on.“ Julia softened a bit but continued on anyway. It’s been a while since she’s seen another woman.
It gave her hope for the future, now that their small group was growing.