There was a loud ringing noise in Kate’s ears as she gradually drifted out of unconsciousness. Sunlight from a nearby window poured over her body. It was warm and comforting compared to the harsh cold of the snow outside, but painful and blinding as she attempted to open her eyes. As she got the courage to brave the sunlight and open her eyes fully, she realized her body was neatly placed on an unfamiliar couch in a straight line with her arms at her side, completely linear; perfect. It was almost unnatural and she would certainly never fall asleep in such an odd position. Had someone moved her to be like this?
The ringing in her ears began to fade and she tried to prop herself up, only to let out a sharp cry as pain coursed through her shoulder and, as if triggered by the first, a second burning sensation shot through her stomach. Tears quickly welled up in her brown eyes but she held them back. She forced herself up, clutching her stomach with her uninjured arm, and looked down at herself. She realized there was a thick binding of gauze expertly wrapped around her abdomen. She could see only a small amount of blood, meaning it had been changed recently. When she looked at her injured shoulder, she saw the same thing, only the wrapping was slightly messier. Whoever had dressed her wounds was probably working from their own experiences and hadn’t ever needed to work on such an area. Nevertheless, it was still well done.
Kate gently lifted her hand up and continued to stare at the bloody gauze as unwelcome memories of Skye began to flooding back. She could remember Skye’s face, wild with insanity and rage, as she was standing above her, gun aimed directly at Kate’s head, as she pushed her against the snowy forest floor, shouting various insults and threats. Kate shook her head as though attempting to force the thoughts from her mind. She could remember everything that had led up to the traumatizing experience perfectly clear, however, nothing come to her mind when she tried to remember how she ended up here. She stopped abruptly, realizing in a panic that she didn’t know where ‘here’ even was.
She turned her head slowly to get a view of her surroundings, careful not to irritate her wounds and further her pain. She felt her eyes widen and her mind filled with wonder. She was in some sort of cabin with long, wooden walls, elegantly lit by a dwindling sunset outside. The windows were clear and completely uncracked. At their side were thick, dark brown, sun-blocking curtains, which had been pulled to the side to let in light.
The living room furniture was clean and, with the exception of Kate’s presence, looked untouched by any life. To her right, against the wall, there was an unlit stone fireplace with fresh logs placed inside. Small candles and well-crafted wooden carvings of strange animals and creatures adorned the mantel. They looked purposeful, like each one had a special meaning and needed to be there. There were two dressers made of sturdy of dark oak on either side of the fireplace with heavy books on top that were, of course, exceedingly old, and falling apart at the seams. A grey wingback chair that matched the couch was tilted toward the fireplace. It was tall and looked comfortable, to say the least. What brought the small living space together was a dark, rectangular rug, sitting just underneath the grey chair.
The floor was quite open, and Kate could see beyond the living room into the dining room and partially into the kitchen. She could also see one stairway that led to the upper floors, and another staircase behind an arch in the wall that presumably went to some sort of basement. She shuddered, completely unsure of how to take in this new environment. It was almost the complete opposite of every other wasteland structure she’d ever come across. It almost seemed as pristine as the Institute. It all reminded Kate of the way she’d been placed on the couch.
Kate felt like her existence there made everything wrong, like she was a wrench stuck in the gears of a large, machine, preventing it from functioning properly. Was this what a pre-war house looked like?
She shuddered and moved her legs so they hung off the couch, as she did so, she heard the distinct crunch of paper beneath her. Startled, she scooted to the side and looked down. On the couch there was a note on a thick piece of paper. Kate picked it up gingerly. Upon closer examination, she could see that the paper was handmade. The writing was in a beautiful cursive that spiraled wonderfully on the page, flowing elegantly through the note, spiraling and twisting with grace. The writing was more like a decoration than something that was supposed to be read. She found herself tracing the letters with her fingers, entranced at how beautiful they were before stopping herself to read it.
You’ve been out for a few days. When you wake up, I’d recommend drinking water. The tap works, but use it sparingly; the river water it’s hooked up to sometimes has radiation spikes and humans generally can’t handle such things.
Kate fiddled with the paper in her hands nervously, questions fizzing inside her; who was ‘A’? Why had they saved her? Why did ‘A’ have such a shockingly clean house in the middle of the alaskan wasteland? And, what did ‘A’ mean by ‘humans’? What other species could ‘A’ possibly have in mind; mutants, ghouls? Was ‘A’ not human?
Although, the one question that continued bubbling to the surface of her thoughts had nothing to do with the note. She was wondering where her dog was. The last time she’d seen him had been just before Skye had pinned her down, and the more she sat there, the more worried she became. The little thing couldn’t survive on his own and had always relied on Kate for all of his needs; food, shelter, protection. Without her, he’d certainly be found by some savage creature and be eaten, or maybe killed just for the fun of it.
Kate folded the paper and put it into her pocket after taking a brief moment to admire he cursive yet again. Her clothes were worn out, dirty, and had holes in the seams. They were almost as thin as the gauze wrapped around her stomach and weren’t much protection against the winter cold lurking outside. Of course, she’d noticed this much before then, but it was a social norm to have tattered clothes as a wastelander or, as she was, a raider. Being in this relic-of-a-house had simply made her aware of what type of life she’d been living-crude, lowly, and insignificant-it made her self conscious.
Determined to follow the instructions left for her, she got herself off the comfort of the couch and forced her feet forward, hunched over slightly from the pain shooting through her stomach. It felt like someone was pressing a live coal deeper and deeper into her flesh with every step she took. She swallowed back tears yet again and pushed forward. The cabin wasn’t large, so it didn’t take her too long to cross the room and get to the kitchen. The ringing in her ears had begun to pick up again and the back of her head pulsed. She managed to hang on to the counter to keep herself upright. She saw the sink, and by it was an empty glass with a note slipped underneath it. Kate clutched the note, struggling to concentrate. It read:
Try not to touch anything.
Kate let out a small laugh after reading the note. Whoever A was, they definitely weren’t the most charismatic person she’d ever seen. Her brief happiness was replaced with anxiety as she grabbed the cup with unsteady hands and filled it halfway with water, making sure to follow directions and not take too much. What if she’d already done something wrong? She brought the glass up to her mouth and took a long sip, downing all the water in one go. The first note said that she’d been out for a ‘’few days’’ so she knew she had to be dehydrated. She thought about it for a few moments before realizing that a few days in unconsciousness, medically speaking, was actually a light coma. She’d likely slipped into one due to the trauma of her injuries. She furrowed her brow. If she would’ve woken up any later, she probably would’ve died, there’s almost no way to take care of a comatose patient in the wasteland, she’d tried.
Kate refilled the glass, taking more this time, but drinking it slower. She stumbled her way to the dining room and clumsily pulled out a chair, which she slumped into immediately, setting her half-empty glass on the table. A window behind her continued to let the sunlight wash over her and she let out a sigh. Clearly no one was home. If someone was, they would’ve heard her and come to investigate the noise. Kate pushed her glass forward with her pointer finger.
Taking a look out the window, she could tell that the cabin was somewhere in a dense forest. There probably weren’t any other people for miles on end unless there was some poor traveler who’d gotten lost in the dark expanse. She cast her eyes out, trying to see if there was anything other than trees and shrubbery, but it was no use and her sight was greeted with everything but a sign of human life. She shivered, imagining the feeling of being lost in such a seemingly endless wilderness. She wondered how lonesome one could feel here, isolated and companionless, away from the sight of anybody. But then again, she thought to herself, some people might prefer life that way.
The sound of a dog’s bark cut through the silence like a gunshot and Kate straightened in the chair, its wood softly creaking beneath her as she began to bounce her legs up and down nervously, her anxiety beginning to climb and catch in her throat.
Heavy footsteps climbed the stairs of the porch, the sound muffled by the closed front door, but getting louder with each second. For a brief moment they stopped. The soft clicking of the doorknob slowly twisting open sank into Kate’s heart as she sat ridgid in her chair, unmoving, completely terrified. Being in the kitchen, she couldn’t see the door, but she heard it creak open, bringing with it the sound of dogs padding against the wooden flooring, the old boards creaking beneath their weight, and boots treading softly. The carrier walked with such extreme agility that
the sound of the shoes tapping against the floor was hushed, nearly impossible to hear. Each step was carefully planned within each given second, using perfect strategy with every move made to minimize any and all noise.
Kate heard the sound of another door opening and the tall, dark shadow of a man came looming forward, though, he was still not fully visible, his appearance was safely hidden behind the wall dividing the living room from the kitchen. Two massive dogs emerged from behind the wall, trotting ahead of their owner happily. The smaller of the two was enormous, with long, fluffy white fur, a long snout, and two bright amber eyes that stared ahead of himself intently. The second had a thick, dark coat of fur, with patches of deep brown circling his black eyes and running up his large, strong legs. He had a long, pink, scar running from his snout over his left eye, leaving the dog looking even more aggressive than he already was.
Kate felt her heart drop and she began to shake. She drew herself out of the chair and stood at her full height of 6’1, preparing herself to meet whatever intimidating stranger was behind the wall. She walked forward, stumbling slightly, but her mind was set on making a good impression and she was fixed on remembering not to judge anyone at first glance.
Kate could see the shadow of the man stiffen as he stepped inside completely. He’d heard her stand up from the chair and was even more alert than when he first entered, his steps somehow even lighter than before. “You’re awake.” he said, not moving from his spot behind the wall.
His voice was an example perfect balance of sound; deep, but not to the point where it was unsettling or overdone. It was smooth and seemed to flow almost alluringly from his mouth, captivating Kate with only two words, leaving her yearning to hear more.
Kate cleared her throat, which was dry from lack of proper use. “I woke up a few minutes ago. Maybe twenty.” she said hoarsely, she took the folded note out from her pocket and took a brief moment to look at the handwriting. “Are you ‘A’?” she asked. “I love your handwriting.”
She could hear him shift his weight back and forth. The white dog padded towards Kate excitedly and sat down in front of her, his bright eyes fixated on hers. He gave a bark and wagged his silky tail, his fur gliding across the wood floor silently. Kate hesitantly reached out a hand and gave the dog a quick pat on the head, which he responded with nothing but positivity to, leaning in for more. He was absurdly gigantic, about the size of a small horse, and sitting down, he reached just below her shoulder. Despite his size, he appeared not to be aggressive in the slightest. Kate wished she could say the same about the dark dog, who’d stayed behind from his counterpart and was glowering in the corner of the living room, his hostile black eyes focused on Kate.
“Yes, that’s me. My name is Anthony.” The stranger spoke again, gaining all of Kate’s attention. He completely disregarded the compliment. “How are your injuries?”
Kate stepped a little closer to his shadow, curiosity beginning to overwhelm her. She needed to know what he looked like. She wondered if her previous questionings were true; perhaps he really wasn’t human. He couldn’t be a ghoul. Ghoul’s had raspy, grating voices from extreme damage in their vocal chords. He couldn’t be a mutant either, at least not the type that she’d met. The types she met were brutish, unintelligent and spoke in broken english (if any language could be spoken at all) even furthering her point, the mutants she’d met couldn’t write. But there was something about his presence that told Kate he wasn’t human. There was something haunting about his company, something was undoubtedly abnormal about him and she needed to know what that something was.
She inched even closer. His shadow didn’t shrink away or grow nearer. “I might’ve accidentally hurt myself earlier while walking into the kitchen.” She replied, only half joking. “The ringing in my ears from earlier has almost fully stopped, though.”
She heard him hum softly. “You must have a lot of questions.” he paused, drawing back slightly. “However, I have important things I need to attend to before I speak to you.” Kate watched his shadow walk away from the wall until out of sight. She could hear his quiet footsteps as he headed upstairs. “You can expect me down in just a few moments. The dogs won’t hurt you, if that’s something worrying you.” He called over his shoulder. “Don’t touch anything.”
With that, he left Kate to her own thoughts in silence with the two dogs. The fluffy white one was still sitting obediently at her feet, waiting for more attention, which Kate happily provided.