He didn’t need to watch. The thick slopes of the valley were impassable even in dry weather, and the months of rain had washed away any trace of footpath or foothold, choked up the clearings with thick tangles of leaves. The rivers that fed the lake had become swollen rapids, more impassable with each rotten, swollen bough that clogged their waterways. The mouth of the valley was the only way in or out. But still, he didn’t have to watch. It didn’t matter that they were hidden, because no-one would ever come looking. His rifle sat by his side, untouched. He didn’t need to watch, but sometimes, he liked to remind himself that they were alone, and safe. That they were gone. That everyone was gone.
He picked up his rifle and emerged from the hide. The rain cascaded off his jacket. His tight, aching legs soon loosened as he walked. He pulled his cap off and tucked it into a back pocket, turning his face to the sky. He felt the cold rain on his head, pouring down past his ears and stinging his eyes. He opened his mouth, wide as he could, and laughed through the rainwater. He walked, eventually turning away from the narrow clearing and into the trees, brushing past wet ferns and tall grasses. The sound of the rain changed here, the drumming of a million raindrops dashing themselves against the leaves above. He walked deeper and deeper into the forest, navigating an unseen path past mossy rocks and small streams, towards the cabin. As he walked, he sang, a low, throbbing tune, resonant and primal. There were words to his song, but what did they matter? There was no-one else to hear them. The bass of his voice seemed to harmonise with the flat, hollow patter of the rain.
When he reached the cabin she was sitting at the window, just where he’d left her. She was staring out onto the lake, a thousand ripples and splashes vying for her attention, the only attention in the world. She didn’t move as he drew into sight, her eyes locked to the water, failing to even change focus. He climbed up creaking steps onto the porch and opened the heavy outer door. He unlaced his boots and hung up his jacket, leaving his cap to dry on the sill. Inside the cabin, he placed the rifle back in its locker. He stood at the entrance to the lounge and watched her for a moment. She sat on the window seat, her legs folded up beneath her in a way he couldn’t imagine ever being able to imitate. She was wearing the pyjama top he’d bought her, years past. It had been a Christmas present. He watched her, and he hoped. He walked to the window and stood beside her, placing a hand softly on her shoulder. He followed her gaze, out onto the lake.
“It’s beautiful on days like this.” he said.
“Beautiful.” she agreed.
It had rained like this on their wedding day. The morning had been gorgeous, warm and golden, but the evening had turned to storm, heavy clouds settling over the church. They’d said their vows to the sound of raindrops on stained glass, echoing through the old building. They’d walked from the church to the reception, alone, sheltered under an umbrella, and he’d apologised for the rain, for the clouds, for it not being the day she’d dreamed of. She’d tucked herself under his arm and laughed. She’d said “I’m with you. This is everything I’ve ever wanted”, and he’d believed her.
It was cool in the cabin, the morning’s fire nothing but embers. There was a time when they’d tried to keep the fire burning all day round, to stave off the chill of the valley’s fog, but now, each morning, he’d come back to glowing ashes. They’d always joked that she was cold blooded, that she needed to bathe in the sun each day just to function, but now she sat in the cool air wearing thin night clothes.
“I’ll make us something special for dinner” he said, “I haven’t checked the traps today. There might be some rabbit. I think I saw some wild garlic starting to flower. Remember those beautiful white flowers?”
She seemed to brighten as he spoke, her attention phasing back into the room, the lake losing its hold over her.
“A whole sea of them. We were on holiday somewhere. Where was that?”
“Monmouth, I think. Or near.”
He squeezed her shoulder.
“I’ll make something special. I won’t be long.” He put on his coat, his boots, his hat, but he left the rifle in its locker. He stepped out into the rain, and turned to head back into the trees. He looked over his shoulder as he walked, and saw her there, staring out at the lake again. He knew there was hope still. There was always hope. He walked deep into the shade of the woods, and as he pulled wild garlic from the soft, sodden earth, he knew he’d make her understand.
About the Author
Ryan Law is the founder of Ash Tales. Startup co-founder and marketing dude by day, post apocalyptic author by night, Ryan created Ash Tales to offer the world’s best post apocalyptic fiction a final resting place.