By Ziatajia Crenshaw
The taste of dehydrated squirrel would forever remain imprinted on Alicia’s tongue. It’s was a flavor she couldn’t quite name nor was she sure she enjoyed it; but survival was necessary. There had been no rain since the Great Migration one year ago. On January 1, 2030, it was made public that Earth was set for demolition by the Galactic Federation, the Elite began taking off into space, and those who could not afford a ship or seat, were forced to seek shelter and wait out the destruction.
In the Before, Alicia remembered the family dinners she and her parents would have every Wednesday after gymnastics practice. She also held on to the last time she saw either of her parents, smiling and hopeful as they left Alicia waiting in the lobby of the Department of Spacial Affairs which was providing tickets to the Trans-Universal Compound on Mars. Just after they disappeared down they long hallway, Alicia heard a deafening “BOOM” and was thrown into the wall behind her, knocked unconscious.
Alicia awoke covered in debris but she was able to unbury herself despite the ringing in her ears and aching in her bones. For days she wandered what remained of her home, searching for some sign of life. For her efforts she came across more lifeless bodies and limbs than her now empty stomach could handle. It was when she stumbled over a young woman almost completely pinned beneath the rubble, Maybe she’s the same age as momma, Alicia had thought, and stared into her pleading eyes, that Alicia decided to end her search for others.
“Please”, the young woman whispered to thirteen year old Alicia, “kill me”.
Tears streaming down her eyes for this stranger, Alicia grabbed the largest piece of debris her small body could hold, and dropped it on the woman’s head. As the young woman’s last breath quietly faded away, Alicia fell to her knees, sending painful screams into the silence. She cried for herself, she cried for her mother and father, and she cried for the many people still begging for death under the ruins.
When her tears were spent, she pulled herself to her feet and started back walking. She made it to what used to be a Walmart and scavenged what she could fit in a backpack and a carrying bag. Canned beans, matches, water, and a couple rolls of tissue among other things. Although Alicia had never been forced to care for herself, she had plenty of friends, who often bragged about their lives with less involved parents. She knew she also needed to grab at least two of the guns she passed in a still intact display case. But what kind of bullets, she thought as she surveyed the many options scattered around her. Assuming that if everyone was dead, it didn’t matter, she decided to take what she knew was a shotgun and what she hoped was a Glock along with, presumably, bullets to match each. Just to be safe, Alicia stuffed three other types of ammo into the backpack with the smaller of the two guns. She rummaged through the remaining debris to fashion a sling for her shotgun and once complete, she was ready.
Alicia traveled to nowhere for three months. She spent her days wandering through barren cities and her nights, which seemed to be shorter than she remembered, attempting to remain unseen while she rested. When boredom took hold, she recited any lessons she could remember. What was the last book she read? Withering Heights. What is the mean of a set of data? The average? Or is that the mode? Alicia focused her mind on any knowledge she could recall to convince herself she wouldn’t go insane.
She’d lived in Phoenix, Arizona in The Before with her parents, and believed she was traveling south when she first started walking. On the fourth day of her fourth month traveling she noticed that she could see nothing but desert and began to panic. That night instead of sleeping, Alicia focused on locating the North Star as it hadn’t occurred to her to get a compass or map until now. She’d use the North Star and begin traveling back through Arizona instead of continuing further into… which desert? The Sonoran? Maybe, she thought.
With no rain well into the sixth month, Alicia chose to become stationary to store water. She’d go out on three to five day scouting trips and bring back as much water as she could carry, along with canned foods or anything she could gain sustenance from. The trips were long and grim, filled with awkward conversations with herself and made up relationships with the dead people she had to drag out of her way. The occasional squirrel would cross her path, forcing Alicia to learn hunting. She was a terrible predator to start, causing more harm to herself than anything. So she created a coach, Rachel Rough House, played by herself of course, to help better her aim with the self-made bow and arrow. Soon, no trip was complete without a fresh kill, not because she enjoyed the dish, but because she had fun catching them. She never came across paper or anything to write with on her trips, but she often sharpened small branches and practiced writing in the ground. It didn’t last but it helped.
As what would have been a holiday season neared, depression set in. There’d be no Halloween this year, no Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Alicia focused on stocking up dried meat and avoided any memories associated with three of her favorite days of the year. If there was no rain, maybe there wouldn’t be snow or any type of winter, but she couldn’t risk it. She found herself bursting into tears at all times, unable to contain her pain and self loathing. How come I haven’t seen anyone else? Why in the world won’t it rain? Her thoughts urged her to insanity but her work never stopped. If she did stop, she was sure she’d go crazy. Along with water and food, she started collecting weapons. Any usable knife or gun with at least one bullet, Alicia took it. She didn’t expect danger to come knocking, but if it did, she was ready.
The year was coming to an end with no sign of precipitation in the near future. The squirrels were, however, even fewer than they’d been all year as if winter was indeed coming. Satisfied with her stock of food and water, Alicia chose a new endeavor. She’d use the trees in her secluded oasis to build a solid home structure. If she was going to stay, Alicia needed an upgrade from a sleeping bag behind a boulder and leaf canopy. It took her three weeks to construct her space. Floor, walls, and a door. It’s perfect, she’d thought as she admired her work.
That was four days ago, what should have been the thirty-first day of the twelfth month. New Years Eve. Alicia didn’t celebrate or try to create some false sense of excitement for the impending year. She stuck to her tasks: set traps, cut wood, eat dinner, rest. There was only her and this small desert forest. No happiness to experience or share, and Alicia had accepted that.
Now, on the three hundred sixty ninth day in her post apocalyptic world, Alicia crouched low behind a wide bush, chewing slowly on a piece of dried squirrel meat. She watched closely as the small kitten rummaged through debris. Her scouting had led to a small town, about eight miles from her haven. She usually traveled much further but chose to stay close today, and her reward was great. Rather than take it for food, she watched it. Appearing to be no more than three to five months old, Alicia knew a mother wasn’t far and that meant an entire family. Companions! Alicia maintained her excitement as to not startle the tiny creature and just sat observing and waiting.
In the distance Alicia heard a familiar sound, something she’d not heard since The Before. As she tried to place the sound, her mouth grew terribly dry and she was very thirsty all of a sudden. She stood up and scanned her surroundings, past the collapsed buildings, charred and decaying remnants, and into the desert beyond. Seeing nothing, she assumed her imagination was taking over and reached down into her backpack for her water canister. While her fingers scoured the bag, she searched for the kitten. Noticing it in a small alley devouring a bone, Alicia peaked into the backpack in confusion. She couldn’t find the water, none of it was there, not the bottles she found in a broken down convenience store, or her two canister with water from a well she passed. Growing frantic, Alicia dumped the entire contents of her pack onto the ground and spread everything out. Gone.
“What in Gods name has happened to my water” she screamed aloud.
The kitten abandoned its meal and scurried under a pile of rubble. Upset about losing her new friend so quickly Alicia grew even more desperate. She could feel her throat closing in as it seemed to lose moisture as each moment passed. She spun around quickly looking behind her and around her in every direction for a clue as to the culprit. In the midst of her frenzied state, she heard the sound, much closer now, and this time, she immediately recognized it. It sounded like it was raining. Momentarily distracted from her missing hydration and growing dehydration, Alicia ran towards the sound, bursting with exhilaration. She ran until she found herself at the city’s edge staring into the open desert. Not a drop of rain was falling but Alicia could hear it as if it was pouring down right above her.
The child fell to her knees and lay down on her side, sure she had crossed over into insanity. She held herself there and cried. Unseen rain pounding in her ears along with gut-wrenching sobs drowned out any other sounds to Alicia. She was unaware of the creeping scorpion behind her. Lurking, it came up on her exposed ankle and paused for a moment. Had Alicia turned around, she’d have recognized it as a Bark Scorpion, one of the animals she learned were poisonous by way of her last Biology class. The creature was startled with Alicia’s next scream and immediately struck her ankle before scurrying in the direction from which it had come. With an astonished shriek Alicia jumped to her feet and rubbed the now aching spot. Unable to locate her assailant, she settled back down onto the ground, pulled her knees to her chest and sat there rocking. Soon she found herself forgetting her pain as the bright orange sun set next to her. She allowed herself to stretch out and lay right were she sat as her ankle became numb. Walking back home was out of the question and she really didn’t care anymore, so Alicia let her eyes close and drifted into blackness.
“Wake up!” Someone yelled as Alicia felt herself being shaken to consciousness.
Struggling to focus her eyes, Alicia zeroed in on the sound of raindrops hitting the roof of a car, and the feel of cold droplets hitting her cheeks before cascading down to her neck. Once she fully realized her face was wet, with rain, Alicia blinked rapidly until she could see clearly. Directly in front of her was her mother, a confused stare on her face, and behind her mother, was her father, holding his large umbrella with a silly grin. Alicia took in the pouring rain all around them and was overcome with delight. She fumbled clumsily with her seat belt in a rush to get out of the black Jeep. Free, she jumped down past her mother and took off running up the stairs to their front door. She stood there and looked out onto the quiet Arizona street, ignoring the puzzled looks on her parent’s faces.
“ Must’ve been some nap”, her dad smirked as he and her mother walked towards their home.
Alicia remembered when and where she was and the floodgates opened. She hugged herself tightly while tears flowed freely. Her parents ran up to her and took her into a group embrace. The trio stood there silently together until Alicia’s aunt pulled around into their driveway blaring “Wannabe” by Spice Girls. Alicia grinned at her parents before taking off into the rain. Stopping outside of her aunt’s car door, she did her best version of the robot, sending the entire group into uncontrollable laughter. Her mom and dad joined as her aunt was getting out of the car and soon, a “soul train” line had been formed despite everyone getting completely soaked. They danced until the playlist took a slower direction, sending Isley Brothers blaring into the neighborhood. Giggles and hugs saw everyone into the warm house.
Once dry and full from dinner, Alicia stepped outside to gaze up at the sky. She remembered every meal she’d caught, every sip of tainted water, every patch of dry skin she had while living post apocalypse. She looked down at her hands, no calluses or scars, no bruise on her ankle where she’d just been stung. No way, she thought, It felt so real.