Chapter 5: Hold Steady (FWF: Believe)
Amy’s relief at her escape from the dogs was palpable, but the tears making hot smears of grime down her face were not out of relief, not really.
She had seen so much in the two days since she’d left her shelter, and she’d barely made it anywhere. It is so hard to push onward. What is the goddamn point? She had yet to find a single soul with whom to share this miserable existence. Everywhere she turned, she found only death, drabness, and decay. And what was waiting for her at the end of this journey? Some vague belief that she might find her brother, alive and well in West Virginia?
What evidence had she seen of that? Not a solitary living person so far and she expected to find her own brother, of all people? Amy had known Jake to be a resourceful person in everyday life, but Bear Grylls he was not.
And as if the landscape weren’t bleak enough, now she had to be faced with a pack of rabid dogs. And who knows what else she was likely to encounter. There was no guarantee she would ever make it to Charleston. Right now, even Pittsburgh felt unfathomably far away.
She grimly wondered what horrors might await her in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, but the prospect of finding help and some semblance of civilization were too great to pass up, especially considering that Pittsburgh was situated in the correct direction and might offer her the best chance of finding passage across the Ohio River. Amy was not optimistic about the state of the infrastructure that she, and everyone else, had long taken for granted.
But she couldn’t possibly be the last person left alive on this depressing rock, could she? Wasn’t that even more unrealistic than the idea of finding her brother alive and well?
She was dead whether she stopped or whether she kept moving. Would it be something so simple and sad as hunger, or a valiant death at the hands of the radioactive spawn of Beelzebub? One sounded a little more interesting than the other.
So she decided to believe. To believe in her own untested ability to survive. In what she might find at the end of her journey. In the power of humanity to survive. She would keep moving on.
Amy took a deep breath, wiped the tears from her face, and shoved herself up away from the door, where she’d collapsed a few minutes earlier. Her legs were shaky, and, as the adrenaline from the encounter with the dogs was wearing off, it was replaced with an intense weariness. It was approaching dusk, and Amy had already subconsciously settled into the idea of spending the night here. She did not have the energy to go back outside, nor was she eager to find the next pack of dogs in her path.
She looked around at the inside of the old Victorian, the carpeted staircase to the left, the traditional parlor to the right, a hallway between them leading deeper into the house, and dusty hardwood floors beneath all. Common sense told her she should further investigate her current dwelling, but she was just so tired. Every limb felt as if it weighed 200 lbs. Her back ached, and her legs were barely holding her off the ground. Her utter exhaustion went most of the way toward convincing her to give it a rest. Any remaining doubt in her mind was put to rest by the complete quiet within the house. So quiet she could have heard a mouse fart.
With little conscious thought and darkness closing in, both in the world and under her heavy-lidded eyes, which were still swollen and bleary from her tears, Amy shuffled into the parlor across the dusty hardwood floors. She slumped heavily onto a large antique floral-patterned settee, grabbing an old blanket from the edge of the seat as she did do. Amy eased her tired legs up onto the cushion beside her, and laid down, covering herself haphazardly with the blanket.
From the settee where she lay, Amy could see out a large picture window overlooking the porch. As the light faded, she wondered if she’d seen the worst of her troubles for a while. She was unconscious before she settled on an answer.
She woke with a start, warm light splashed across her eyes. It was morning, and she could tell it was no longer early.
I must have slept for at least 12 hours, she thought. She’d never been a heavy sleeper, 6-7 hours being the norm, so this was certainly an anomaly for her, particularly given the fitful and nervous way she’d spent the previous few nights.
Amy groaned as she sat up, taking inventory of herself. Her arm was scraped and red where the Golden Retriever had gotten a hold of her, but it appeared the skin was unbroken. Legs and lower back felt stiff and brittle from the adventure of the past several days. And she was sore all over. So, so sore. She wondered if she’d ever walk again.
But after a few moments to compose herself and rub her eyes, Amy was on her feet. The soreness was going nowhere fast, but she could feel a small amount of stiffness dissipating as she forced herself to move.
Amy reached for her shoulder and grabbed the leather strap of her rifle. She’d slept with it on all night. Lucky she was a side sleeper. It would have been less than ideal to wake up with her back split by a three foot long piece of wood and steel. Pulling the gun over her shoulder, she glanced around the room for her backpack, but saw it nowhere. It was gone. Amy began to panic.
She did not believe the pack was critical to her survival deep down, but it contained all of her treasures in the world. Her food, the ammunition for the rifle. The contents of this pack were what saved her from having to constantly explore death-defiled houses. They’d been dearly paid for, and she was not ready to give them up. Amy walked over to the parlor window to look out across the porch and front yard, half expecting to see a pack of dogs laying in wait for her.
The backpack was laying right below the porch stairs, looking slightly bloodied, but really no worse for wear than it had before her ordeal yesterday. A multitude of scuffled footprints and pawprints surrounded the pack and ranged across the front yard of the house, but of the dogs themselves, Amy could see no sign.
She did not want to go back outside with the dogs, but she would have to eventually. Might as well break the seal before her fully awake mind could talk her out of it. Gripping the stock of the rifle tightly with her right hand, she grabbed the doorknob with her left and eased the door open. She stepped quietly through the doorway and unconsciously shut the door behind her, a now-meaningless remnant of polite behavior.
Amy brought the rifle to her shoulder and quickly glanced left and right, searching the yard and the surrounding buildings for hidden threats, but finding none. She slowly made her way down to the backpack, nudging it with her toe, as if the backpack itself could be hiding a dog within its small confines. To her relief, the bag did not move. Most backpacks tend not to.
Amy bent over, grabbed the pack, and shouldered it as she continued to scan the yard and back her way up the porch stairs to the front door.
She grabbed the doorknob and turned it to go back inside. At least, she tried. The doorknob was unrelenting.
“Goddammmitsonuvabitchareyoufuckingseriousrightnow,” she muttered. She would have screamed it, if not for her ongoing fear of the dogs. There was nothing she needed in the house, strictly speaking, and yet, it was hers, wasn’t it? The house had given her a safe night of sleep and little trouble. She was not quite ready to depart it, this adventure notwithstanding. Amy set down the rifle and grabbed the knob with both hands. Still nothing.
Amy let go, shook out her hands, and prepared to jerk the doorknob as hard as she could, setting the weight of her right shoulder against the door as she did so. At first, it seemed as thought the doorknob was going to continue standing fast, but, as she continued to pull and leaned harder into the door, it suddenly gave way, and opened into the house with a bang and a crash as the door flew wildly into a wall just inside the entryway.
Amy fell headfirst into the room, with an “Oof.” and an “Ughhh.”
“There is something very wrong with that freaking doorknob,” she told herself. “Either the lock isn’t working, or that thing is horrifically misaligned.”
Amy made a mental note to find another door to use if she went outside again. She scooted over to the door, reached out for the rifle, and set it inside, then moved out of the way of the door.
It was just as she was again shutting the demented door that she heard the noise coming from the second floor.