She is eleven years old and full of questions but still young enough to trust me implicitly.
“Are we there yet?” she asks as we walk through the seemingly endless wilderness.
“There” is the magical place at the end of this wandering I have evoked within her to keep her focused. When I got that bright idea, I assumed we would be dead long before any doubt entered her mind.
Our mutual love of the outdoors made the first lie easy enough, passing this journey off as a backpacking trip, a chance for a summertime adventure together. Common sense told me those familiar with higher altitudes and the wilderness had a better shot at survival so taking her into the mountains seemed right.
We still encounter plenty of “them” up here but in small enough numbers I have easily avoided them or survived the occasional brief firefight. I am armed and capable of protecting both of us. My husband would be proud.
I convinced her that these confrontations were a kind of game we were playing with the others, like paintball or laser tag. The wounds look real due to some special ammunition we are using but they are make-believe, just like in the movies.
So far she seems to believe my body of lies. But as more days elapse, she appears suspicious, curious at least. She is her mother’s daughter after all.
She also believes her father waits at the end of our journey though I have no clue if my husband lives or has been infected. His flight home from his last business trip was cancelled the day the madness began. He has not answered his cell phone since the following day, but I have continued my one way phone conversations with him to validate my lies. I am now using the last battery I brought along and then the phone will be useless anyway since there is no place nearby with any electricity.
I am at odds with my own bullshit, which is being diluted by every step we take, every day that passes, and each encounter we have with the Others. If there are so many of them up here now, how bad must things be down below in the cities, like the one I promised her we are going to visit?
The food won’t last much longer either and then she will have more questions to answer. We have avoided exposure thus far and we certainly don’t want to be hungry if exposed. That only makes it easier to succumb to total infection.
We make camp near the river but not too close since the Others are always hungry and thirsty. Once fully exposed those are the only two human traits left.
“How much longer?” she asks. “Are we almost there?” More questions I can only answer with more lies before she finally goes to sleep.
Then it is time for me to keep watch. As long as the uppers I stole from the abandoned drug store hold up I will stay awake all night, investigating every rustling sound or movement in the light and shadow of the forest. My paranoia grows more profound each night from the drugs and lack of sleep.
This time alone gives me the chance to reflect on today’s revelation, the latest secret to keep. My cell phone has a new text message from my husband’s phone number. It is impossible to know if he sent it himself or someone else is using his phone, but it is a cryptic message nonetheless.
The screen reads: “it is finished.”
While I stand guard, she sleeps soundly, most likely dreaming of the Utopia I have created in her innocent mind.
She is young but not stupid. Soon I must tell her the truth, only to risk losing her trust and my control over the situation.
“Are we there yet?”
I caress the handle of my loaded pistol and wonder if tonight the answer is: “yes.”
© George Wilhite
George Wilhite has been an aficionado of the horror genre since his youth, discovering Poe and Lovecraft at an early age while also spending many summer nights at drive-in theaters watching the contemporary scene unfold. He is the author of the short fiction collection On the Verge of Madness. He has numerous stories published or forthcoming in magazines, anthologies and online. You can learn more about Wilhite at: http://www.authorsden.com/georgewilhite.