“Oasis” by Lauren Hildum

Lauren Hildum


The sun’s rays begin to retreat from the sky, bidding its farewell before the moon arrives. It seems that the days are becoming shorter, like an eye losing its sight with every day that goes by, and one day it will see nothing but darkness. I try to soak up its warmth as much as I can, but my skin remains as pale as the moon despite my efforts.

*          *          *

It’s been dark for sixteen hours now, my tiny pocket-watch reporting the time as four p.m. Through the network of branches towering over me I can see the sun beginning to rise, and I silently rejoice at the scene. To my left my little sister lay still under a torn blanket, and the sight sends my heart plummeting from its celebratory beat. I have to bury her today. I’ve put it off way longer than I should have, hoping it was all a wicked dream and she would soon wake up to smile at the rising sun with me. Now she just lays limp, her jubilant personality having vanished without a trace and instead leaving behind a cold, pale corpse.

“I’m sorry.” I whisper beside her. My hands brush through her blond locks absently, like I did every time she was upset. The small action never failed to calm her down. I would tell her stories of the better life we would live soon, a promise I knew I could never keep. This is my punishment. The unforgiving plague has stolen everything I cared about, and the last candle I held so close has gone out with my sister’s last breath.

As an act of procrastination, I decide to hunt for breakfast before burying her. The forest is nearly empty of life, but somehow I manage to shoot two birds. It almost feels like a crime to steal what little life is left, but I’m selfish. I’ve survived mainly on squirrels and birds for the past few months. Most animals and even humans went extinct in the first six months of the plague, but somehow I’m still alive to witness the world being sucked into a black hole, a fate worse than death.

*          *          *

I pile the last bit of dirt together, packing it in tightly. A make-shift cross made of sticks stands in front of the outline of the grave. Her name is carved as intricately as I could manage in the wood, something nobody will ever see but I think she deserves it anyway. Dirt now accumulates beneath my fingernails and fills the creases in my palms. I’d wash them in a river if I could find one. I only come across puddles anymore.

My bag waits for me against a tree, carrying my fresh puddle-water and some scraps of meat for the way. The way to where, I don’t know, anywhere but here I suppose. I’ll walk for hours, set up camp, stay for a few days, and then move on in hope for something better. Maybe I’ll find other survivors. It’s a strange thought, but one I add to my list of pointless hopes.

Swinging my bag over my shoulder, I head off towards an uncertain destination and leave behind my sister, who now sleeps beneath the forest’s floor. An ache in my chest grows stronger with every step I take away from her, and I wonder why I even continue to walk. I continue on without answering my question, busying myself by looking for any sign of water or meat.

Then I hear it, a calm rush in the distance; it’s the familiar sound of waves being tossed over each other in a race down the bank. It’s a song I never thought I would ever hear again. I forgot how beautiful it was. The sound comes from straight ahead, so close I can almost feel the water under my fingertips. Without a second thought I take off, abandoning my bag to get to the river as fast as I can. It’s farther than I expected, but worth the breath I loose getting here. My last few steps are timid, as I approach cautiously to the curtain of trees that stand between me and the water. The leaves here smell sweeter than those I’ve been acquainted with for so long. The grass is greener and the sun shines brighter in this rarity I’ve been blessed to come across. It’s an oasis of life and I’m afraid I’ll disturb it, as if my experiences will somehow hollow out this thriving life. So I walk gradually to the slope of mud that leads down to the rushing water. Only when I finally touch the water, letting it caress my feet in its chilling embrace, I’m struck with an unexpected dread. There, not too far down the river, a giant animal rolls in the water gleefully. I can’t tell what exactly it is, but its size sends a shiver down my spine. My feet involuntarily back away toward the trees, but I trip over a rock and tumble into the water. The animal jerks its head up to reveal that it’s a bear. Our eyes lock with each other in a stalemate. I don’t dare to move, I just sit in the water and let it wash over me as the bear and I stare each other down. I didn’t think a bear would even exist anymore. That realization melts the fear I previously had into awe. The bear stands on its back legs but doesn’t break our eye contact. Its massive body towers over the small island it stands on, its fur caked in mud but still beautiful. I’m not sure how long we stay like this, but then it lifts its arm slowly, as if to wave. The sight of it brings a smile to my lips, the first smile I’ve worn in a long time. I feel revived somehow, like all the death and despair I’ve witnessed has been washed away by this small experience. Before, my energy and motivation was worn down to a thread. But just seeing that much life in one spot- the river, the grass and the bear- is refreshing. It’s just what I needed to keep myself going, despite everything this world has thrown at me to keep me from a hopeful future. Something I didn’t have any hope for that gave me all the hope and determination I could handle, and now because of it I will keep going.