I don’t understand.
“Alor, we don’t have time for this…”
He’s just standing there, staring off into a world that doesn’t exist to us anymore.
“We can’t stay here anymore, it’s too dangerous.” I seem to say only to myself.
I make Alor move and lead him along the path into the forest, while behind us we hear the cries and screams of those long beyond saving.
“I know where we can hide. It’s not much, but it will do.” Now I’m just thinking out loud, which truthfully seems to help keep the fear and anxiety locked away. If I stop to think, I may lose my composure altogether, and then all will be lost.
We continue down the path and see the destruction all around us. I can’t fathom that just a few hours ago, Jorni and I were walking down this very same path planning our future together. This is the road where we would have taught our children how to walk. These trees were the symbols of home and the realization of years of hard work and sacrifice.
As we reach a clearing by a lake, I see the plot of land that would have been our future. About a hundred yards to the side was a cave, surrounded by the many colors of autumn, and I felt at ease for the first time in hours.
We walked over to the cave and entered its gaping mouth and even though it was dark, I knew this place like the back of my hand. We take our first left after 32 steps, avoid the gap 41 steps after that, and then as we continue forward, we begin to see the light.
As we reach the area we’ve been coming to since we were seven years old, I let loose a sigh of relief. In the middle of a maze of tunnels and confusion hides a hidden pond with a hole in the cave the beckons sunshine to beam through, and quite possibly my favorite place on this planet. We start a fire in the pit Jorni and I have used countless times before and lay our heads down.
I think it’s safe to say sleep consumed me even before my head touched the ground.
Three Hours Later
I finally wake up from a loud splash. As I regain my clarity I realize what Alor had done.
Alor was good at a lot of things, yet swimming was not one of them. Now, he has fallen into the dark, freezing water and it’s up to me to save him yet again.
He instantly starts fighting my rescue. I use all the strength I have left to get us back to the land of the living.
He falls to the ground and I notice that stones were tied to his ankles…how did I miss that?
“What were you thinking!?” I yell.
He says nothing.
“Alor…You have to talk to me. We are in this together and we are all each other has left. If you left…I would be nothing. Look, what happened back there was horrifying and while we lost everything, we still have life. That’s what is most important.”
However, for the first time in a very long while, I see life in him. He cracks a smile and shakes his head ever so slightly, as if to say “Welp…that wasn’t very smart, now was it?”
He gets up and begins walking, and of course I walk with him.
“All is not lost. You know that. I know that. We will get through this, we always do. The only way this ends is if we are no longer breathing. We survived. We beat the odds. Maybe others did as well. Maybe Jorni or Mother…“
Alor stop in his tracks and a single tear streams down his face.
“You know, they could be alive. Maybe they escaped? I know…I know the chances may not be that great, but we can’t just give up, can we?” I say to my ever-stoic companion.
He nods and seems to shake off some of the demons weighing him down and we continue our trek to find some other survivors, and possibly the most important of them all.
As we emerge from the belly of our cave, we are greeted by the sound of birds and the rustling of wildlife around us. For the first time in what seems like ages, life feels normal again. We push forward, putting as much distance between us and the danger that ever lurks behind us.
“We have to find Mother. I don’t think Terwal has been hit yet, and we may find the help we need. Also, since Jorni wasn’t at our cave, she may have headed that way as well.” I proclaim, yet Alor just keeps trudging along, with a renewed vigor that is resonating from deep inside him.
We travel for the next couple of days, taking camp at night, and walking all throughout the day without so much as a word. I’ve just come to expect the fact that conversation is just not in the cards at the moment.
We finally reach Terwal on the third day and find it perfectly intact. Well, except for the fact that this great town is completely empty. Aside from the hungry yelps from street dogs, no sign of human life is present.
We continue towards Mother’s house. As we arrive at the home where we learned how to survive this world, we see a note pinned to the door.
I hope this finds you alive. I love and miss you so much. We couldn’t stay any longer and needed to flee to the mountains. Do you remember where we took that trip when you were a child? You will find us there. Let’s sort this all out together.
P.S. Jorni is here too, and she loves you very much.
“They are alive…” Alor says, with but a whisper.
“I am alive.”