A few nights ago, I started reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Since then, I have had the same dream for two nights. Set in a world like hers, but not like hers. This is where today’s story comes from…
On Tuesday, she found him. Or maybe he found her. He arrived with a truckload of survivors coming from the southeast. They were dirty, hungry, and tired. She didn’t see him at first and he didn’t see her. The rest were given a hot meal and access to a shower. Then they were given the rules of the settlement and processed (name, date of birth, special skills). They were then loaded into one of the few reserved trucks and delivered to their new homes with work schedules in hand. But he remained sitting at the back of the barn, not raising his eyes from the ground.
While processing the others, she had asked their leader who he was. The leader replied that they had picked him up a few days back. He had been sitting on top of a car in the middle of a parking lot staring off in the distance. He hadn’t talked to any of them, but completed simple tasks if instructed. That was all he knew.
Soon, the rest of the new arrivals had left, leaving her and him, still sitting at the back of the barn, still staring at the floor. She approached warily. Often she had encountered ones who had “lost their marbles” due to the stress of life now. She was afraid he was one of those, but she still had to try and reach him. Maybe there was some sort of recognition in the form that made her less afraid than at other times. Or maybe she was having a hopeful day. For whatever reason, she approached him and slowly knelt into his eye line. She looked into the face and cried aloud his name. He merely stared back. She cried his name again, grabbing his hands, squeezing, hoping for some kind of response. He simply stared. Maybe he was too far gone, but she wouldn’t allow that thought to stay. She cried his name again, this time his full name. She started to recite the story of how they met, the fun things they had done together. Very quietly, barely audible, he said her name. And with that admission some kind of life flowed back in his eyes.
She clutched at him, drawing him into a tight embrace. They hadn’t have been lovers, but an outsider wouldn’t have known that from their embrace. When the world ended, people did away with conventional notions of relationships. The survivors needed each other for survival for some sort of normalcy. People came to rely on each more and more each day. And so she held him tight to her body not wanting to let go.
She had to take care of him now. He wasn’t in any shape to be processed and sent off into some unknown house with unknown people. And so she found the former waitress to take over at the reception desk. She get him a meal and let him eat. Afterward, she grabbed a welcome bag of toiletries and a towel and pushed him into the shower. The entire time he bathed, she stood just outside the bathhouse, not willing to stray too far from him. He finished, dressed, and emerged looking more like the man she used to know. They proceeded to slowly walk, hand in hand, to her house. Because where else was she going to take him? He was hers to take care of now and she wasn’t going to lose him in the chaos of the settlement.
That night, she had a hard time falling asleep, replaying all the events that led up to him sleeping in the next room. Before she could finally nod off, she felt a presence at the door. He tried to sleep, but couldn’t. He wanted to lay with her, for the comfort of another alive human being, for the comfort of knowing someone from the Old World. For this was the New World. Where life had been completely turned on its head. Where all that they held dear had been shattered by the sickness. Where the most simple tasks took on new meaning when faced with the future. Where people reached for each other with more yearning than ever before. And so she moved over so he could climb in. They didn’t speak, didn’t move all night. Just slept the first peaceful sleep each other had in months.
Now that they had found each other, maybe the future held some hope. Maybe the settlement would survive. Maybe they could learn a new life with new people. Maybe, just maybe, they could survive and have a real life….