“Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, dont you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.”
— Cormac McCarthy, The Road

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I'm running. They’re too close for me to hide. There’s a steep drop off ahead. I can’t go anywhere but straight ahead—there's so many trees. I stumble on a hidden branch. I'm falling. They’ve caught up.

I got her, a man calls. He claims my legs before I can kick. You don’t know when to give up, huh?

I’m not, I say. I can’t. When he leans closer to me to hold down my arms I reach for the last blade in my belt and push it into his neck. The blood spurts everywhere. It’s on my face. But he lets go. I’m free.

My sister is running too. I need to find her before they do. Their voices are not far at all, and I have to move. I trip and roll down the drop. They can’t possibly hear the noise of the dead leaves I crush. The first thing I see once my eyes can focus is a body. Dead, no question, though not long. They could take it instead of me. I stand and go on.

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I pass a small cabin, roofless and rotting. It’s not a place to stay. I continue, their voices growing smaller and smaller. It reminds me of the games we used to play at home. Capture the flag. Cops and robbers. I always won those.

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Dark comes before I can find refuge. With the moon comes the cold. I cannot make a fire while they are in the area. I hold on to the hope that my sister will be at the meeting point, and keep on.

girl and blonde image autumn, photography, and hands image Temporarily removed girl, photography, and black image

The chirps and howls and screeches of the night do not frighten me. My limited sight and dropping body temperature do not frighten me. The black of my surroundings helps me see a memory. A good one, before the madness started. Home. Night. Sister. Rain. She is afraid of the thunder. She comes to my bed and lays with her back to mine. No words. But we’re okay. Morning comes and the sunlight filters through the gloomy clouds, through the window. She’s still in the bed, I turn to face her. She’s in a fetal position, her spine visible through her tight shirt. I poke her back. She turns slowly. I smile. Then I can see her face and it’s not her, it’s a vessel of her, missing eyes and gray skin and a dead grin and—

I come back. That is not real. That is what the night does. That is what frightens me.

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It’s when I’ve counted the fourth boot-print in the muddy trail I came across hours ago that I hear a scream’s echo in the night. My heart ignores the metronomic beat I force it to cling to because it’s her, I know it is, and I shout her name and break into a sprint along the trail I can hardly see just so that I can save her from whatever caused her to make that awful sound—

There is a railroad station. A break in the forest of trees led me to train tracks and a small wooden building not far from my position. Through the broken window and even from this distance in the dark I can see a struggle happening inside. I run faster than I thought I could in this condition and approach the building with no caution, bounding through the doorway to see my sister kneeing a masked man in the crotch. He doubles over and she takes it as an opportunity to get away from him. He instead grabs her waist with his arm and throws her against the control panel on the wall. Glancing frantically around the room, I don’t see anything I can immediately use to damage the man. With barely a thought, I’m undoing my belt and pulling it from the straps, releasing a battle cry and tackling the man from behind, pulling him down on top of me.

The girl I’ve known for her whole life utters my name quietly and broken, the shock evident in the way she stares at me as I yank the belt around the man’s neck and tighten my grip as much as I can.

She is not surprised at the brutality. This is commonplace. It is what we do to ensure that we’re not taken from each other, to be able to say we have a care for someone in this purgatory that was once called Earth. Playing nice won’t keep us alive.

So the shiny glint in her eyes disappears. She drops to the floor to restrain the man that had tried to hurt her moments before, and watches the irises of his eyes roll into the back of his head as he loses the ability to breathe.

He stops moving.

I release the belt after several seconds, wrap my right arm around his neck, and twist his head towards me. Click. Pushing the corpse off me, I catch my breath and stand.

I look to the person I did this for. The moon casts a blue light across the left of her face. She gazes absently at the dead man on the floor.

Hey, I whisper. Her attention comes to me. I raise a brow in question. You okay?

She nods. I ask her to get her stuff because we need to move. This man might have friends. She pulls on her backpack from where it was abandoned underneath the controls desk. I face towards the back door of the station and usher her to follow me. Adjacent to the door is a cracked mirror. My reflection is unrecognizable. Who is this girl that stares at me, covered in dirt and blood that is not her own? I turn away from that stranger and walk away with my sister. She’s scared, I know this, and behind the eyes she tries to hide this emotion from, I still see her. The person she was before. I cannot lose that.

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First we walk. Then we run.

Where are we going? she pants beside me.

Forward, I tell her. We have to go forward.

note: This was inspired by an amazing book called The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I highly recommend. I wrote this last year for a writing workshop in one of my classes, and after that, it was never seen again by another person. So if you've made it this far, you're super special.