I am constantly on guard. Listening for anything out of the ordinary. It is difficult though, because nothing here is my normal habitat. I am a city girl. Born and bred. Yet here I am. In the middle of a forest. Living like some lonely hermit, trying not to accidentally poison myself by eating a toxic magic mushroom or a fatal dew-covered berry. If only my momma could see me now. She’d be rolling over in her grave…if she were in a grave. But I digress.
I have no formidable hunting skills other than using a can opener, which the lovely prior inhabitants in the remote cabin I lucked upon did not see fit to leave in their wake. But I have become quite adept at using the small paring knife they left. I have only come across a few tiny fish that seem to jump into my waiting hands when I am in dire need of sustenance in the trickle of a stream located a few meters from my new abode, but between the tiny fish, and the bit of foraging I have managed, I am still here and kicking. Which is more than I can say for most of the people I knew before.
Some days I miss my old life. Full of friends and family. Work. Stress. The daily grind. But then I sit on the sagging porch of the dilapidated old cabin, the wind blowing through my hair, and I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to be. Free from the worries that accompanied my past.
There is no electricity here. No cell phone towers to connect me to the outside world. If there was an outside world left to connect to. But as the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, I grew less gloomy and more appreciative of my current circumstances. Dire though they may be.
I woke up on a regular Thursday, got ready for work, and went downstairs to have breakfast with Mama like always. Unlike always, the backdoor to the kitchen stood open, a chair from the small dinette knocked over on the floor, and the bacon frying on the stove beginning to burn. The tea in the kettle whistling angrily unattended. My mothers' happy place was anything but. It was a scene in chaos.
I turned off the stove, removed the kettle, righted the chair, and began calling for my mother. She was not in the backyard garden area. I searched the house. She was nowhere to be found. I called her cell. Then my fathers. Then my siblings. All phones were going directly to voicemail.
I ran into the front yard and saw bedlam in the streets. Some people were half-clothed, some with blood dripping from their mouths, others foaming at the mouth, all walking around with a dazed look on their faces.
I ran back into the house and locked all the doors. I tried calling 911 to no avail. It kept ringing busy. Then just hanging up. When I tried to pull up the news on my phone, the cell phone kept saying to check your internet connection. I finally went to the television. There I saw newscasts that caused me to cringe as reports continued to come in of a plague that was quickly overtaking the nation. They were advising people to quarantine if they had been in contact with anyone who had been infected. I clicked through the channels looking for answers. Everyone was repeating the same thing. Lock the doors. Stay inside. Do not come into contact with the infected.
I kept the television on low as I peered through the windows. Hoping and praying that my parents were not infected. But knowing that the scene I had encountered did not bode well for either one of them. My father always left before I woke up in the mornings. My mother and I usually had breakfast together before I left for my job. My older brother and sister had already moved out years before.
I sat at the window looking out at the mayhem in the street, barely leaving my post, for nearly two days before I saw my mother, or what was left of her. It was her mauve bathrobe I noticed first. Limping along the road in front of the house down the street. Her face was so misshapen I could barely recognize her. I could not be sure, but I think she may have looked at our house. I wanted to run out in the street and pull her inside with me where it was safe. But I knew she was not the mother I knew anymore. She was one of the infected.
I never did see my father or my siblings. I waited for another two weeks before I decided I had to leave that house. The streets were crawling with the infected and the broadcasts had stopped. So I packed a bag with the nonperishables that were left, as much water as I could carry, and got my old ten-speed out of the garage.
I locked up the house in case someone made it back and headed towards the forested area of the state. I wasn’t sure where exactly I was going. But I knew it had to be as far from civilization as I could if I was going to survive this plague.
I rode for a few days. Taking rests only when I needed them. When I decided I was far enough away that I wouldn’t encounter other people by chance, I parked my bike in a thicket of greenery, on the off chance I might one day make it back, and began my long journey into the woods.
As luck would have it, I happened upon a tiny abandoned cabin that fit my solitary needs. I have lost track of time at this point. The plague may have ended the world as I knew it. Or they may have come up with a cure. But for now, I will relish this solitude and try not to eat any venomous berries or terrifying mushrooms, and be grateful for the tiny fish that seem to jump into my waiting hands when I am in need.