Dawning Dusk


Rebekah Schnaubelt

Biding Time ‘til Washington.

And so the dusk came fast that day, as it did on the days before.

“The days are growing short.” She whispered into my ear. I nodded, mute, against her shoulder. We all noticed; no one had to say it. But whimpers and whispers floated around our small campground, almost drowned out by the silence. I peered at the tops of the wooden poles, fearing, as I did every night, that this would be the night they get over. I tightened my arms around her waist.

“They’ll never get us.” I told her. She pulled her fingers through my hair. We both knew that I was lying. It was only a matter of time.

Day 92 was when it came to a head. They did not crawl over the barrier, or push through the gate. It was quiet. Sarah got infected.

The midnight stillness broke with a scream when she, just three months old, startled her mother awake. No one quite understood how it happened, but circumstances decreed both dead. One man was screaming that the baby was teething against Lucy’s open wound, while she was sleeping, that she had received the day before. Another yelled that the infection spread into Lucy’s eye somehow while she had the baby near her face. Her husband was sitting against a wall, tears running down his face as Lucy pitched towards him. I couldn’t see her face.

Personally, I didn’t care much what happened. All that mattered was that Lucy was gone. Her baby was gone. And our camp was infected.

The chaos around us was surreal. I had been pulled up out of sleep and towards the gate all at once, but people hooked onto my arm. The world swirled around me as I tried to wake up. One woman took my shoulder and caught my eyes. I stared back at her, letting myself be led away. She had a bloody neck, and looked hopeless. I watched her pupils dilate and her face morph from a plea to hunger. And then she stumbled after me.

My heart jumped to my throat as I felt fear and adrenaline swarm my head. It didn’t matter that we had exchanged vegetables on the street, or that we had spoken of the difficulties and pleasures of life. She was infected, and I had to get myself, and Aria, away. Anywhere, as long as it wasn’t here. I began tripping into a run, finding my feet as I took the lead. Don’t look back, I told myself. Don’t look back.

The gate had been knocked outward in someone’s frantic notion to escape. They lay, dead, at a corner of the wood. Their abdomen had been pierced by a large splinter that looked like it had ripped in their haste to open it. They probably tripped onto it when the gate fell forward. We ran past them.

My feet caught on a small stone, and I pitched forward. My arm jerked in Aria’s grip and my knees hit the ground while I scrambled to get up. She was at my side in an instant, pulling me up again.

“Come on! Come on!” She cried. I hadn’t noticed before now, but she was crying. I nodded frantically while resisting to comfort her, and we ran again.

I couldn’t say how much time had passed. It could have been hours, or it could have been fifteen minutes, but our adrenaline drained from our limbs, leaking out with every pounding step we took. I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. We slowed to a stop and Aria crumbled. My arms automatically reached to catch her, but I instead fell as well.

We lay there, breathing in the smell of rotten leaves and pine across the forest floor.

More time passed this way. Morning rose through the trees and I finally shifted back into a conscious state. The previous night felt like a dream, and a terrible one. I nudged Aria with my shoulder, and sighed into the leaves when she turned onto her side. Her face was pressed with leaves and dirt, her eyes blood shot and tired. We took a few moments before rising.

The morning passed in a blur, just like the night before, and we wandered aimlessly, completely lost. Soon enough, we came to a break in the trees. Sitting pitifully in front of us, a small overgrown, broken cabin leaned to the left. Dead vines grew up its sides, but it had a roof. We cautiously made our way to it. I peered inside. It was dank and dark, regardless of the sun high in the sky. I searched the place for movement but found none. I ducked back outside, squinting against the brightness.

“It’s safe.” I said. My voice was rough. She nodded and pulled me to her as she ducked inside as well.

“What are we going to do?” She asked, not sounding at all like she had been crying or just spent the night running. I shook my head and shrugged. I didn’t know. How was I to know? She stared at me and I looked back, clueless.

“We’ll stay here.” She said. She sounded confident. I don’t know how she did that.

“And then after a few days of getting our…” she paused.

“Feet back under us?” I offered. Neither of us wanted to bring up camp. That wasn’t going to be mentioned for a while. She nodded.

“Yeah. Then we’ll go to Washington. My family lived there. They may still.”

I nodded once more, and pressed my back into the broken wood behind me and began thinking. I thought of the future. Of the present. Of the supplies that we would now need, and of the distance we were to Washington. And I thought of how I wouldn’t make this trip without her.