“There’s something more out there.”
“No, there isn’t,” I heave, adding another tally to the number of times she’s said that. My eyes roll from where I stand next to her at the edge of the city, a place she returns to whenever she gets in this mood.
Staring intently into the vast nothingness before us she murmurs, “there has to be.”
“Why?!” I snap, sick and tired of this game. “Why does something have to be out there?!” My hand flicks in the direction of the open ground. “Can’t we just be the end of civilization? Can’t this just be it?!”
Shocked from her world she grants me her attention. Her brows furrow in confusion, no doubt from my outburst. Yet, she doesn’t concede. Instead, she turns adamant. “Because we can’t be it.” Once more she glances to the flat land outside the city. “If we’re here, something else has to be…” Her eyes flick back and forth across the horizon as she softly adds, “there.”
I give up. My shoulders droop. My head shakes and I turn back towards the row of houses that mark the boundary of the city. “That may very well be, but you’re never going to find it. Now, let’s get back. Lunch break is almost over.”
Footsteps echo behind me, but they don’t grow louder. They soften. They distance themselves from me, spinning me back around to where she should be following me. She isn’t. Slowly, she strides away from the city into the blank void that is the rest of the world.
“What are you doing?!” I shout, my voice cracking with fear. My heart races.
No words return to me. Mine don’t even earn a glance back from her as she continues to walk away from the city, away from home. The sight was enough to send my heart into a flurry, but her not responding to me shallows my breaths. My hands shake at my sides. I’ve never gone that far out before. No one has. Anything could be out there. I swallow hard.
Farther and farther she goes.
Adrenaline slams through my veins with enough force to propel me away from the city. I race forwards. My hand nabs her shoulder and whips her back towards me. “What are you doing?!” I screech.
“I’m going to find out what’s out there,” she answers plainly. While my voice shakes, her’s remains flat as if she were unafraid of leaving the city.
How?! How can she not be afraid?!
“You can’t go out there! There’s nothing there,” I try to reason with her even as my panic scares away all traces of control from my voice. I probably sound like a frightened child, but I don’t care. If fear can keep me in the city, maybe it can keep her there, too.
Her head shakes. “You don’t know that,” she returns evenly.
“I do know that!”
“How?” She questions, not losing herself to any powerful emotion other than wonder.
“Because-” I start only to realize I have no answer. “Because that’s what everyone says.”
“How do they know?” She offers. Her tone remains smooth, unthreatening. She’s not trying to corner me with her question, but it has the same effect either way. “How does anyone know?” She asks again, meeting my gaze steadily. “If no one has ventured out of the city since it happened, how do we know that nothing’s out there?”
I hate her right now. I hate her for using reason against my fear. I hate her more than anything because she’s right and she knows it. Even as I gape at her, I know she’s made up her mind. She’s leaving.
“But you could die out there,” I warn, my voice more feeble than earlier.
Her shoulders shrug in response. “I could die in there,” she counters, gesturing back towards the cold frame of the city. “I’d rather find out for myself whether we’re all that’s left or not.”
“But-” I start again, wanting something, anything, to make her reconsider. “Shouldn’t you prepare supplies or something?”
For once her eyes drop to the ground between us. Her eyebrows furrow and her lips twist in consideration. I love it when she does that. My heart pounds at the sight of her.
“I think…” she whispers. “If I were to wait any longer, I’ll never go.” Meeting my gaze again, she sets her jaw firmly. “I’m sorry.” Her hand caresses my cheek gently. “But I have to do this.”
I cover her hand with my own, fighting back the sense of dread forming in my stomach. My eyes close. For a moment I absorb the warmth of her hand on my cheek, wanting never to let it go. “Then I’m going with you,” I inform her before I even realize what I’ve said.
She snatches her hand back. “No, you can’t!”
My eyes flash open, meeting her gaze. “What?”
“I mean,” she fumbles, stepping back from me. “You don’t want to go.”
Stepping up to her I grasp her hand gently. “I don’t.”
“Then don’t!” She bites, trying to pull her hand away. I hold firm.
“I’m not letting you go alone.”
Her head shakes, a sudden sense of fear contorting her features. She bites her bottom lip. Her brows furrow with a twinge of sadness. “You have to.”
“You are my best friend, Alice. I’ve never let you do anything without me and that’s not about to change just because you’re leaving the city.”
She purses her lips. The wrinkle in her eyebrows turns dark, almost angry. “Why are you so stubborn?” There isn’t even a flicker of amusement in her tone, but even so, I put one in my.
“Because I have to keep up with you.”
Next Installment: ‘Igniting Embers‘