Glen died on the third morning. Alena ignored me for the next two. We walked in silence. The thick layer of decaying pine needles scratched my bare feet. I wasn’t about to cry over something so small, not after Glen. So I toughed it out the best I could, thinking back to the small white house where I’d left my shoes. Each night, when Alena was asleep, I would pull my feet into my lap and peel off the bloodied skin from the undersides of my toes.
By the end of the week, Alena left. I was alone for the second time in a year. The freedom from an adult’s watchful eyes was more of a threat than a blessing. I was vulnerable, alone and incapable of doing even the most basic survival skills. But I wasn’t about to be an idiot. Steadying myself on the trunk of nearby trees, I began the gruesome trek once more.
It always confused me why authors always described forests as beautiful places, why people loved to come out here to relax or see the wild animals scamper around. Because these woods were a freaking nightmare. You could hardly see anything through the thick underbrush, full of poison ivy and thorns. If anything, I wanted out of the suffocating world of branches and bark as soon as I got the chance.
Brookes had always warned me to steer clear of enclosed terrain. “It can kill ya quicker than any of those potheads could.” He would nudge me hard in the ribs, to make sure I was listening. But then again, he was also the one who told me that, “shooting em was just as inhuman as being em.” I reached up to tenderly check the bald spot he’d given me; the hair was starting to grow back but the memory of the event was still freshly burned into my brain.
I wish his death was an easy subject, I could talk about Glen all I wanted. I’d make up stories aloud about what his childhood was like, what kind of friends he had, or what his favorite game was. Brookes was different. I knew him, I knew what he was like, I met the people he worked with, and I saw the people he told me were “the cause of this whole living hell”. Glen didn’t have a life, but Brookes did.
I met Brookes my second week alone. It was nice, having someone to relate to that wasn’t trying to beat you with a shovel. We cooped up in the little white house, barricading the outer fence that bordered the once beautiful property. At night, he would hold me close and tell me about the world he was going to build for us, once all this was over. Then one day, Alena showed up.
By the time Alena came to stay with us, she was seven months pregnant. Brooke’s used to call her “a shrieking cockatoo God sent to disturb our sanctuary”, but I wouldn’t let him kick her out. Within a week of Alena being in our little white house, she insisted on me sleeping on the couch, away from Brookes. “A grown man shouldn’t be that close to a child!” She would yap, arguing with Brookes about whose rules should over power whos. I slept on the couch.
At the end of January, Glen came around. He was small, pink, and annoying. Alena insisted on naming him after his father. Brookes told me, “there was no way she knew the real dad, not with all the men she’s had.” After that, I moved to the floor to give way to the new member of our mismatched family.
Brookes rarely got mad, but when he did, I learned to duck it and move or deal with the consequences. But Alena ravished this side of him. She’d poke and proad at anything that seemed to annoy him, which didn’t end well on most occasions. The first time Brookes slapped Alena, it was fine. She didn’t cry, or scream, or wail like I assumed she would. Instead, she slapped him back. She didn’t cry when he did anything to her, on most days she would yell or hit him back. The first time I saw her cry, was when Brookes dropped Glen, who was only a few weeks old, into the upstairs toilet.
I never loved Glen, but I wasn’t as stupid as him either. I kept the scene stuck to the back of my skull, where Alena insisted “important things were stored.” She explained that was why she had to teach me how to hold Glen correctly, or I might hurt the “special spot”. I think Alena is an idiot.
The fence near the backdoor had always been a bit rickety. Brookes and I always watched in case one day it collapsed, I had been promised a weapon if that day ever came. Of course, Brookes didn’t trust me with the pistol I’d found under the bed in the master bedroom, but he let me pick out one of the remaining dinner knives left behind by the previous owners. I kept the knife tucked under my pillow each night, and tucked into to my elastic waist band during the long days in the white house.
On my thirteenth birthday, the fence collapsed. It didn’t interupt much, birthdays were of little importance when all there was to chew on was expired cans of beans and corn. Alena and Brookes had been fighting over who would be in charge of fetching more supplies next, when I came screaming up the rotting stairs to alert Brookes. Alena’s nose was bleeding, and a thin shade of purple circled her eye from their argument the other night. Brookes grinned and charged down the steps to the backdoor, whooping and shouting. I eagerly started down the steps after him, it had been a long time since I’d felt the grass against my toes, or the hot sun on my pale skin. Alena had other ideas.
She slid quietly down after me, grabbing my arm and hissing. “Don’t you dare let that man back in this house, you hear?” I studied her face, it had grown old and tired. Maybe that’s what fear does to you. It kills you slowly, keeping you locked up in your own mind for so long that you forget what’s real and what isn’t. Glen wailed behind us, a squirming bundle of blue blanket and dark flesh.
I broke free of Alena. Going slower now, letting Brookes savor the outdoors, giving him the chance to get back before the door to safety was locked for good. I wasn’t an idiot. Brookes was dangerous, and Alena was a friend. The brass knob felt like Death himself was shaking my hand. With Alena’s eyes burning into the back of my skull, I shut the door.
I turned the heavy lock Brookes had installed insisting that, at the time, it was “the best thing we can do to protect ourselves.” I wish it took longer for him to realize the door was shut. I wish I hadn’t turned my back to his death. I wish the potheads had torn him up before he came back; screaming and pounding at the door.
It only took a brief moment for his filth stained fingers to reach down through the broken glass of the window, and grab at my hair; yanking until he was able to get a tighter grip, now at my neck. Between pained breaths and bleary eyes, I reached out for Alena. Brookes was snarling like a mad dog in my ear, the undead’s cries echoing just behind. I refused to make out any words he was threatening me with, my throat and scalp alight with unfamiliar pains. My own voice would have been a pathetic disappointment to my friends back in New Hope. I kicked and shouted, blinking away the tears I had once had for my attacker. But Alena’s help never came.
Up on the top step, Alena watched. Glen was cradled close in her arms, squealing like a pig. I didn’t need an invitation to understand the woman. She was just as much a wimp as Brookes claimed she was. I dug my heel into the peeling paint of the door, and grabbed at the dinner knife before it could slide any further down my pants. The metal had become sleek with moisture, not quite as poetic as fiction, but close to it.
Forcing myself to stop my useless scratching at Brookes fingers, I jabbed the knife into them instead. In a sudden motion, Brookes’ hand, my makeshift weapon, and a large clump of my hair disappeared back through the thin panes of glass on the top of the door. I scrambled to the kitchen table, panting and watching for any signs that the man might be stupid enough to try getting in again.
Once the shouts of the rotting were the only identifiable noises, I relaxed. Alena wouldn’t talk to with me, much less look at me. She started shoving things into a bag. I went to retrieve Glen, whom she had left on the bed beside her frantic packing. Rather than thank me for helping her, she struck me hard across the face.
We left that night; making an unspoken agreement to not talk about what had happened. Alena raided Brookes body once the potheads had lost interest. I stood awkwardly to the side, telling Glen off for crying so much. In the distance a few of the freaks were gathering again; almost mingling amongst themselves as they watched us. I told Alena to hurry up or I’d feed Glen to them myself. She didn’t think it was funny.
I knew Glen wouldn’t make it the second he was born. He was too fragile, too soft. He only proved my point by shutting up for good so soon, taking Alena with him. Emily told me I was born rough, which was what all New Hope kids were born like. My feet had loosened up during my stay at the little white house, but soon they’d be immune to nightly bleedings, then I’d be a New Hope kid again.
A sharp breeze reminded me of the terrors this dead world had in store. Winter wasn’t going to take a break for us to pull ourselves together again; and I wasn’t going to wait around for help, or death.