Putting the shotgun back over my shoulder and walk over to Nell. She is still huddling in the corner with the blanket covering her trembling body. I kneel down and pull it off of her head. She has been sobbing uncontrollably through this whole ordeal and I had no idea. I wipe the crocodile tear from her cheek and smooth back the hair behind her ears.
“Its over sweetheart.” With that she got up off her knees and gave me a very tight hug.
I pick both of us up off the floor and start for the door once again. The bag that I packed the night before is still waiting by the door. Putting Nell down I swing the bag onto my other shoulder. As quietly as I can, I push the door open only enough to peek my head out to make sure nothing or no one was waiting for us on the other side. Its clear. Nell reaches up and takes my hand. It is so cold as if she has been throwing snowballs. Before we walk out of the room, we turn and say a final goodbye to Corporal Raul Martinez. Closing the door to one of the longest nights I have had since this first started.
There isn’t any other place in this building that I can think of that we should go, so we head towards the outer doors to the docks. Walking as swiftly and as quietly as we can ,because I have no idea where those creatures are, we reach the outer doors to the compound and I take one more look behind us. Nothing there, I feel a wave of relief wash over me as I turn the handle.
The sun is up and it shines off the pavement like a mirror and I have to shield my eyes at first until they adjust. Finally being able to see I can tell we are on the other side of the fenced in area where the people were being loaded onto the ships. This is the place that my family boarded the U.S.S. Caraway and to my astonishment the ship was still in port. My mind swims with thoughts and fears for them. Did they not make it to one of the islands? What happened to them and where are they now?
Something really terrible went down here on this dock. The pavement is riddled with bigger caliber shells and holes, bigger pools of dried blood, and there is still some rotting body parts laying around. I move around down the port side of the ship and stop in shock. There is a huge hole in the side of the ship. It is right in front of the loading dock, which is now in the water below. The metal stairs are snarled and entangled with itself but still attached to the ship’s door, like an octopus trying to climb its way into the ship.
What could have caused such a huge hole? As we make our way closer to the hole I see that there are scratch marks around it. It wasn’t a bomb or grenade that made the hole, the metal was peeled back as if a huge cat paw scraped across the side of the ship. At the end of the each of the scratches there is a rolled up piece of metal. Whatever this is I know it couldn’t of been those creatures from the Command Center. This is something totally different and huge.
“We need to keep moving” Nell says to me, trying to snap me out of the state of shock I am in.
“I know sweetie. We need to find the other people and what happened here.” In the back of my mind I just want to find my own family.
Turning from the ship we go right, around the building and away from the fences. At the front of the building we find a hole in the chain link fence and make our way down a desolate street. I am on my guard and walking very carefully, trying not to make any noise. Nell is walking so quietly that it is as if she is floating above all the debris.
We walk for about 2 hours and my mind is so preoccupied that I am actually just walking with no heading whatsoever My family’s ship never left the harbor. I am hoping that they were moved onto a different boat. That would be the best case scenario. The worst case is that they never made it onto the ship and are either lost somewhere in the city or dead. My heart feels so heavy and I fight back the tears so I don’t upset Nell.
There is a cross street coming up and I recognize the name of it, even though the sign was broken in half and upside down. It is the corner of Mulberry Ave. and Roosevelt St. and I once again stop in my tracks. We are now in my neighborhood.
I have not returned to it since that fateful day six months ago. It is a gorgeous, three bedroom, two bathroom, white plantation house with blue shutters. The garden in the front was pulchritudinous with the different types and colors that bloomed. I was never very good in the garden, Christian had the green thumb. He would be out in the garden every weekend weeding, fertilizing, and he always added new flora. I remember making walking stones with Lucy, that we used for a pathway to the front door. We used marbles and shells to decorate them. Lucy wrote her name with her handprint in one of them.
Now standing in front of my house just makes my heart ache, it is in ruin. The garden is dead and overrun with weeds. Some of the windows are broken and most of the blue shutters are hanging on by what looks like just one nail. The walking stones are either broken or missing. I lament not only for the house itself but for the precious memories it holds.
“Who lived here?” Nell asks.
“Me and my family” I told her solemnly.
We begin to walk up the driveway to the broken stepping stones. Nell bends over and puts her hand into the handprint that Lucy made. A wave of grief washes over me as I watch her. I need to keep my composure because if I lose it or I won’t be able to make it into the house.
“This is your daughter’s handprint, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is.” Nell looks around at the other broken stones and places her hand back on the handprint.
“She loves you very much.” I had to walk away from her and up to the door because I almost started to cry.
“Come on Celeste, don’t lose it now. You can do this.” I tell myself as I put my hand on the antique door knob.
I don’t know what brought me here but it didn’t feel like a good idea. Taking a deep breath, I turn the door knob. I am instantly frozen in place standing in the doorway. I hear Nell coming up the front steps and stands beside me. She could see that I was not moving and took the first step into the living room.
“It’s ok Celeste.” she says as she grabs my hand and leads me into the room.
We walk through the living room and the memories flood back to me.There’s Lucy playing on the floor with her blocks. She’s saying her ABC’s as she stacks the blocks up higher and higher. Looking at the now bare walls I remember all of the family portraits hanging there. The little fights that Christian and I used to have over which picture should hang where. The memories make me smile and angry at the same time.
Moving past the living room and all the memories, we enter the kitchen. We spent so much money into renovating it two years ago. Christian loves to cook and he is really good at it. So we decided to make our kitchen more rustic. There is an island with a built in cutting board and a farmer’s sink. The countertops are made of granite and the backsplashes are tiny tile mosaics. The pots and pans hung from the ceiling on an upcycled chandelier. So many meals and nights of wine and laughter were held in this kitchen.
Now there is still one chair and what looks like the remnants of a table. I had to sit down and try to get my thoughts straight. I knew it was going to be difficult coming back in here but I had to check it out and make sure that my family didn’t come back here for any reason. Nell busies herself by looking in the cabinets and drawers.
“I am going to go upstairs and check it out to be sure we are actually alone here.” I said very shakily.
She just nodded.
“Stay here and if anything happens just call my name, ok?”
“Ok, I will.” she says as she pulls one of my mother’s casserole dishes out of the bottom cabinet. Of course that would still be there after the world ends.
Pulling out my 9mm I start the ascend the staircase. Nails line the wall on the way up that once held more of our family pictures. It is as if our whole life has been erased. I get to the landing at the top of the stairs and start down the hallway to my bedroom door. The door to Lucy’s bedroom and her playroom are both closed and I am grateful for that. I would probably freeze up again if they were open. I stop before my door, with one hand on the knob and the other with my gun raised, I take a deep breath and turn it.
I have no idea what I was going to run into in there but I remembered that there is something important hidden in the room. The door groans as it swings open and I think about all the times I told my husband to put WD40 on the hinges because it sounded like a door right out of a horror movie. I laugh at the thought because now I am living my own horror movie.
There is nothing in the room except our furniture and Bill’s rotten corpse. I cover my nose and mouth at the smell that was emanating from his body. His body isn’t bloated like a normal human body would be but that is probably because he was already dead when I shot him. The stomach lurched at the wound that I inflicted. The maggots much have had a field day with his corpse but there are no bugs now. The skin on the left side of his face has slide off from the decomposition and I have to choke back vomit because the odor was so malodorous as I moved closer to him. Grabbing the bottom sheet off of the bed and cover him over hoping to mask some of the smell while I am in here.
I hope that none of the looters that came in here found my secret hiding places. I pull out my knife and kneel down on the floor in front of the window seat. The blade finds the loose floorboard and I lift it up. “Good no one found it” I think to myself. Inside the hole is a small stash of cash, my mother’s necklace, and a family picture that I put in there when the breakout started. It seems silly to hide this stuff but for some reason I knew that I needed to hide it. Moving over to the closet where I have another hiding spot. Inside the closet, behind one of the wall panels, is where I placed my M4. It has a M68 close combat optic gunsight and M203 grenade launcher, will come in handy if I run into anymore of those creatures like at the compound. I place the ammo and the grenade launcher in my bag, slinging the rifle over my other shoulder. I leave my room without a second glance.
Making my way to the stairs I hear an all too familiar creak of the 7th step. With my back against the wall just before the landing, I pull out my knife. I count the remaining 8 steps as the person gets closer and closer to the top. When they are close enough to kill, I push off the wall, ready to stab them in the skull.
“DON’T!” Nell screams.
I stop the swing of the blade and put it back in my boot.
“What are you doing? I told you to stay downstairs.” I scolded.
With tears in her eyes she looks up at me and said,
“I was scared of the noises coming from the floor.”
“The floor?” I ask puzzled, “show me.”
We head back to the kitchen, where we stand for a few minutes, listening.
“Nell I don’t hear anything.” I whisper.
“Just wait, you’ll hear it too.”
Before I can brush it off to the sound of the wind or something. I heard it. It sounded like a muffled moan and she was right it was coming from the floor.
“The basement.” I say quietly and a sickening feeling settles over me.