Macy considered Duke might be leaving her, like everyone else, when the lanky Great Dane tore after a sleek grey cat into the woods. She considered turning around. She could sulk back to her dilapidated cabin, save herself the effort and inevitability. But Duke was all she had left, and that dog needed her. She needed him. Quietly cursing, she zipped her tattered raincoat and trudged off the deserted road into the woods.
Soggy dead leaves crunched beneath her worn sneakers; the damp rot soaked into her socks. Macy should have felt nervous about being alone in the woods this close to sundown, but she doesn’t feel much of anything anymore, not since the blight took her family. Macy Westfall was the last of her bloodline.
Ahead, she heard the faint crunching of Duke’s steps slow, but she still couldn’t see him. Deeper and deeper into the forest she marched, further and further from the safety of the main road. The canopy above shielded most of the warm sunlight she had abandoned. The cool damp air sent a shiver over her too thin body.
Macy halted when she finally saw Duke. He sat at the door of an A-line cabin in the middle of a small clearing. The mossy roof made the building appear to be a thing of the forest, but the two-story glass windows suggested otherwise. A plume of smoke billowed from the chimney. Macy looked around for signs of a road or a trail leading in but only saw dense wood circling the structure.
“Duke. Come,” Macy whispered from the cover of the woods. Her voice sounded foreign to her. She realized it probably had been days since she had muttered a single spoken word.
Duke gave her a board look over his floppy black and white ears and scratched his paw to the front door. The cat was gone.
“Duke, get over here now,” she said a bit louder this time.
Again, he scraped his large paw to the door.
Unwilling to leave him, Macy left the cover of the trees and tiptoed through the wet grass, praying that whoever or whatever dwelled inside had not heard her dog’s ridiculous knock.
“You bad dog,” she said as she finally reached her canine companion on the small wooden porch. Reconnecting his leash and collar a tad snugger this time reminded her that the both of them needed to find more food soon.
As she stood to leave, the door creaked open, just enough for the face of a man to appear in the crack. Macy stilled and reached for the knife at her side.
“Who sent you here?” the face asked her in a low, deep voice.
With the lighting, Macy could barely make out his features, though she could tell dark eyes darted around, searching.
“I’m sorry. My dog got loose, chasing a cat,” she said as she held up her leash. “Didn’t mean to disturb you, we’ll be on our way now.” She stepped back carefully, hand gripped on the blade’s handle.
The door swung open, and the man ducked under the threshold to stand outside. He stood at least a foot taller than Macy and his stature suggested he may have built this cabin himself. He wore a black linen tunic that hit just above his knees with matching black linen trousers. Long straight black hair, like silk, flowed down his back. His eyes hid beneath squinted lids and long black lashes.
“What is your name?” the tall man asked Macy, not bothering to look down to her. He tilted his head to the sun above and inhaled deep.
Macy hesitated to speak, to move. Not only was he the first human being she had seen in the last year, but she had never seen someone like him in her life. Duke wagged his tail.
Finally looking down at her, he said, “I mean you no harm. You both look hungry. Would you like to eat?”
Macy wanted to say no. She wanted to flea back to the safety and familiarity of her shack but the grumble in her stomach clouded her judgement. Also, she was curious.
She nodded her head in response.
The man held his long arm towards the door. “After you.”
Duke led the way in.
Once inside, Macy stiffened at the clean, apartment-like aesthetic, nothing like the mossy cabin on the other side of the door. From the entry rug, she took in the granite white kitchen, the white open shelving stacked with an array of bamboo dishes, glass jars filled with beans, pasta, and other grains she hadn’t eaten in months. He had an entire shelf dedicated to spices; Macy didn’t have salt. Fresh herbs grew in the window above the sink. The sink alone was nearly all the counter space Macy had in her shanty. She had two counters, a utility tub she used for all manner of washing, and an old range.
“How do you have water and electricity out here? I didn’t see… and the size from the outside… how?”
The tall dark man smirked as he gracefully pulled a biscuit from a jar on a top shelf and gave it to Duke, who ate it and continued sniffing around. “Maybe let’s eat first and I can explain all of that. My name is Omari. What is your name?” His voice was deep, dark, and velvety.
“How long have you lived out here, Macy? Water? Coffee?”
“Coffee. Please.” Macy’s heart swelled at the thought of a fresh cup of java. She ran out months ago, the last of the small daily joys she allowed herself.
Macy looked down at her soggy sneakers, covered in damp leaves and grass, and felt a twinge of embarrassment. She knew she needed to remove her shoes to enter further, but the socks she wore underneath were soaked and speckled in holes.
After stripping to her pruned bare feet, Macy padded to a stool under the long granite kitchen island. Cupping the mug, she inhaled the warm bitter aroma Omari made her.
“Just over a year,” Macy finally said to him as he pulled ingredients from the refrigerator, placing them next to a chopping board.
His dark eyes met hers. “You’ve been living alone out there for over a year?”
Macy thought she saw something like pride in his eyes. She would never feel proud of herself. She should have died long ago, left with her family. But somehow, she stubbornly survived.
Macy pulled up her sleeves to show Omari the tell-tale scars on her hands from the disease that had ravaged much of the population. Few survived and those who did wore the scars to remind them daily what they had lost.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” He bowed his head.
“You avoided it here?”
“In a way. Yes.” Omari kept chopping the vegetables but seemed to frown at the thought.
“Where’s your cat?”
“I don’t have a cat.”
“But Duke chased… that’s how we ended up here and --”
“We had to get you here somehow,” a female voice said from behind.
Macy whipped her head around to see a carbon copy of herself, her exact mirror image clothed in a clean grey tunic and leather pants. The coffee mug slipped from her hands and shattered on the floor.
“I’ll get that,” Omari said as he glided around the island.
“Who… what? What is this? Who are you?” Macy’s head swam, her vision narrowed.
The woman sauntered toward Macy, only stopping when she was close enough to feel the warmth of her breath. She had the same long wavy golden-brown hair, the same brown eyes, even the same constellation of freckles across her nose.
She brushed Macy’s cheek with the outside of her hand. “I thought I’d never see you again, sister.”
Just before her vision went black and her body limp, Macy thought she heard a deep, velvety voice say, “You could have let her eat first.”