I turned the rifle over in my hands, rotating it slowly back and forth as I stared out at the darkened field. It was eerily quiet, not even the crickets were chirping. But then, it had been strangely quiet ever since The Freezing had occurred. I tried to convince myself that I would become used to it one day, but it hadn’t happened yet, and I knew I was just lying to myself.
There was no way to become used to this. To become accustomed to the lack of noise in a world that had once been alive and thriving with it. To do so would mean that I was ok with the reason behind the quiet. And I was not, nor would I ever be, ok with the death and mayhem that the aliens had unleashed upon us. Never be ok with the horror, terror, and loss that had unfolded because of them. I had lost my mother to them, and I had lost Cade.
My mind shied away from the memory of our last moment together, when he had cut the rope that had been joining us. When he had sacrificed himself for me. He loved me. He’d told me that just seconds before he’d been taken, but I still didn’t understand why he had done it. My life wasn’t worth his. It never would be. It certainly wasn’t worth much since he had been taken from me.
I closed my eyes, taking a deep breath as I tried to ease the pain tightening my chest. I wanted to be more without him, wanted to be better, but I was choked by my grief, drowning within it and I didn’t know how to swim. Not anymore. I’d kept afloat through my father’s death, I’d had no choice but to continue on after my mother’s, and though I was still breathing, still moving, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was no longer able to live without Cade. Acutely aware of the fact I was a hollow shell of the person I had once been, and that person hadn’t been that great to begin with. I simply couldn’t recoup myself after this loss, simply couldn’t put myself back together it was more fight than I had left in me anymore, unless of course I was killing something. I had plenty of fight and anger for that now.
My mother and Cade had both been lost to the monsters we were guarding against now. Monsters I was sitting in wait for. Monsters that had been strangely scarce for the past couple of days. I didn’t know what that meant, but I did know that I wasn’t going to quit hunting them, fighting them, killing them. Not until I knew for certain if Cade was alive or not.
If there was any chance he was still alive, I was going to do everything I could to get him back.
I leaned forward, my hand tightening on the gun as I stopped switching it back and forth. “Do you see something?”
Bret sat up beside me, his broad shoulders brushing against mine. I didn’t have to look at him to know the tender warmth of his soft green eyes, or the gentle sweep of his dark blond hair. His handsome face was beloved to me, and until Cade had reappeared in my life, and shown me what it was to fall in love someone, I may very well have married Bret and built a quiet, simple life with him. But then I had come to know Cade again, and everything had changed. I loved Bret, I truly did, but Cade owned my heart, he owned my soul, he owned every bit of me. He always would.
It saddened me that Bret had been hurt by what had happened between Cade and I. Saddened me that Bret still held out hope that we would one day be together again, no matter how hard I tried to make him understand that we wouldn’t. Bret wanted to believe my feelings for Cade had developed because Cade had saved my life, and because I had been traumatized by the loss of my mother. He wanted to believe that one day I would become as convinced as the rest of them that Cade was dead, and that I would turn to him again.
But even if Cade really was dead, a fact I refused to believe, I wouldn’t turn to Bret again. I couldn’t. The mere thought of Cade being gone for good was nearly enough to crush me, but if it were ever confirmed I didn’t know how I would react, how I would handle it. I didn’t know if I would be much good as a human being anymore, not that I was all that great right now, but I was terrified I’d become even worse. I did know that I would not seek comfort by turning to Bret again. There never could be anyone else, and I would never do that to Bret. He deserved far better than the cold, deadened person that I had become. Far better than the shattered being I would be if Cade was lost forever. Bret deserved to be loved; he deserved the kind of intense wonder and joy I had found with Cade, even if it had only been for a brief time.
I just wished Bret would finally see that.
“No,” I said softly.
“It’s almost time to head back anyway.”
My fingers tightened on the gun. I leaned slightly back; I didn’t want to go back. It was a parole, just like this one, that had been unable to save Cade’s life, but had saved mine. Though I might not feel like my life was worth much right now, there were others out there that may need our help. They could appear at any moment, just as the seven of us had appeared on the beach out of nowhere. I rose slowly, stretching the taut muscles in my back and legs. Swinging the rifle over my shoulder, I bent to grab the flashlight by my feet. My entire body ached from being immobile for so long, I needed to move around a bit.
Bret grabbed hold of my arm; I froze as he placed a finger against my mouth. Still half bent over, my eyes went slowly back to the field we had been sitting near. We were on the outskirts, surrounded by trees, but I felt incredibly vulnerable all of a sudden. Incredibly exposed, even though I knew that we were hidden.
My eyes narrowed as I searched for whatever it was that had caught Bret’s attention. And then, across the field, I saw a flicker of movement. I retreated back to the ground, trying to make myself as invisible as possible as all of my senses went into high alert. It had been days since we had last seen any hint of the aliens, but now there was something out there, just on the edge of the high grass.
I sensed motion to my right, but it was not the aliens over there. Instead, it was the others from our group. I caught a brief glimpse of Darnell creeping through the underbrush to get a closer look, his dark skin and dark fatigues nearly blended in with the night surrounding him. Sgt. Darnell Hastings held the highest rank, and was in charge of the five remaining soldiers left in our group of survivors. One had been killed, and the other had split off toward Rhode Island in search of his sister and his nieces. I hoped he had made it, but we would never know for sure.
Darnell had taken charge of training the survivors, or at least the ones who wanted to learn how to shoot, fight, and defend ourselves. And the thing I wanted most right now was to fight, to kill, and to destroy every single one of the things that had ruined all of our lives. My heart thumped with eager anticipation of what was to come. I was anxious for blood, anxious for retribution.