Keep Moving South

The rain pounds outside. The sleet mixes in, bangs against the windows and tin roof, like an angry wolf attacking a helpless rabbit. It is cold and raw; the kind of day where layers of clothing don’t matter, not that the thin shreds clinging to Tabitha shelters her from the cold. The wind bellows in through the cracked glass windows, blowing little knife shards of ice into the small space that she crouches in.

Tabitha can’t remember when it all stopped. One day, she was showering, getting ready for work, screaming over the bathroom fan to ask Todd to make her a coffee to go. And then the shower stopped, the morning news turned off, and the green light on the coffee maker blipped dark. Soap still in her hair, she fumbled with the faucet knobs, yelling to Todd again. Todd came in to the bathroom to tell her the power was out.

A few days passed before they knew anything else. The National Guard marched into the city and units of two soldiers spread out like a spider web, canvassing each duplex and apartment complex, each single family home, even the homeless still on the street. Leaflets rolled tight and handed out like burritos from the vendors outside of dance clubs Tabitha used to party at in downtown Denver.

Three months later, the water stations began to dry up. It got to be a little scarier walking home, no matter the time of day and you most definitely didn’t go at night. Tabitha had never seen darkness like the darkness we all experienced, every night, since the grid went down. Rumors floated around about North Korea striking America; maybe that explained why the National Guard had started thinning out their soldiers. The Safeway grocery store once had a dozen soldiers and now, two lone sentries stood at the entrance.

Other rumors came from the west, from the ports of San Francisco and San Diego, that it wasn’t just mainland America but the entire world was without power. Todd dismissed these rumors outright, explaining to Tabitha that it was impossible to knock out the entire world’s power grid. Tabitha didn’t know if Todd was just saying that because he always knew how to put her fears to rest or if because it was true.

Tabitha remembers Todd’s smile. The easy way it appeared at the most unlikely times. She remembers it most clearly the night they decided to leave the city almost six months after the power went out. Tabitha wanted to stay but Todd had convinced her it would only get worse. There were signs of waning resources. They had maybe a week’s worth of water stockpiled, a few days of food left. Todd reminded her that winter was coming and they had to be somewhere warmer, somewhere food could be grown. He turned to her, that big grin plastered across his face, and said, “You can finally garden full-time. It’ll be like early retirement.”

She laughs at the memory. She wishes he was here now. Tabitha doesn’t know what to do next. The sun would normally start falling around this time,  casting long, skeletal shadows from the leafless Aspens. Instead, the wind and rain and sleet picks up, the corner of the tin roof raps against the wooden frame. Tabitha startles at the sudden abrupt sound. She is so tired. Tired of moving, of being cold, of being alone. Wrapping her arms tighter around her shoulders, she pushes her body tighter into the corner of the shack, lays her head on top of her knees.

Todd drilled it into her, every day. Keep the sun to your right. Head south. Keep going until you find something, anything. And then he went out to get water and never came back. Tabitha waited hours, and then days, and then a week. Her food rations had been eaten. She had begun eating Todd’s. She sat in the same space day in and day out until Todd came to her in a dream. You have to move, Tabby, he whispered in her ear that night. She awoke startled.

That was two days ago. Two days and a hundred days, they had no meaning anymore. They could all be the same to her. It was all the same without Todd, without food, without power. She knows she must find water soon. She knows Todd will come back to help her. She shouldn’t have left. She knows she will stay here, at this rickety shack, and wait for Todd to find her.

A hunting party two weeks later comes across Todd’s rotting corpse at the bottom of a ravine, his leg a masticated jumble inside a bear trap. A few days later, they come across Tabitha, her arms still clutching herself and head on her knees, rigid and solid. The hunting party leaves both bodies, the ground too frozen to dig. The animals will need the food, says the bearded leader.