Tabitha looked out at the horizon and the huge boiling clouds that raced towards her. The dust storm would hit soon, the house was already creaking and groaning in the wind. She wrung her hands together, hoping she’d spot something in the vast plains in front of her, anything to suggest that Jeremy was still alive. He’d gone out the day before and hadn’t returned. She hadn’t slept well, her dreams had been filled with Jeremy falling and hurting himself, of him being found by some of the gangs. She caught of glimpse of something outside, a figure in the distance. It stumbled, then fell from view. A second later she saw the figure struggling to their feet. She knew it was Jeremy, it had to be, there was no one else who’d be walking alone out here, not with the storm coming. Tabitha ran to the door and threw it open before she dashed outside, the wind tugged at her clothes and the fine soil blew up into her eyes but she didn’t stop. Behind her she could hear the door to the house slam closed. Looking ahead she could make out more detail of the person, it was definitely a man, though beyond that it was difficult to say. He had light coloured hair and his clothes were dark, but whether that was their natural colour or if they were just stained with dirt Tabitha couldn’t tell. Ahead the man stumbled and fell, this time he didn’t get up.
Tabithas breath came in heavy gasps, there was a painful stitch in her side but still she kept running. He was so close, the dust storm was coming but if they were lucky, and she was fast, they might just make it back to the house. Tabitha fell to her knees beside the man who was lying face down, ignoring the sudden flair of pain on her kneecaps as she dropped, she rolled the man over fully and saw it wasn’t Jeremy. She didn’t know who this man was. He had old scars criss crossing his face, he had a black eye and there were fresh scratches on his face. Tabitha pushed the disappointment down, she could still help this man and he might have seen Jeremy somewhere out here. She glanced up at the looming storm, it looked as though the entire world was ending. If they were caught out here they were both dead, there just wasn’t time. She pulled her hand back and slapped the man across the face. His eyes flew open and he sat up, flailing about himself wildly. Tabitha jerked herself backwards out of the path of his fists. “Hey! HEY! Stop it. Your safe but we need to get moving”
His swings weakened then he stopped, collapsing backwards. “There isn’t time to rest, come on, we have to get back to the house.” Tabitha helped the man to his feet, she struggled under his weight but she managed, with one of his arms slung around her shoulders the two of them began to walk drunkenly towards the house. At first Tabitha kept glancing behind them, tracking the storm, every time she looked it seemed as though it was right on top of them. Grit and dust stung as it lashed across her cheeks and arms, she coughed as the dry dust coated her mouth and lungs. The storm would reach them when it reached them.
Between panting breaths, Tabitha gasped a question, “what happened to you? Why were you out here?”
the man was quiet for a few seconds, “we were looking for food, water, anything really. There’s nothing left out there.”
“There’s nothing left here either.” each word was punctuated by a gasp.
“Did you see anyone out here? I thought I saw someone”
The man looked around wildly, stumbling to his knees on a rock, he looked up at her, “What did they look like?”
“It was a man, about six foot, he had blondish hair and dark clothes. I couldn’t make out anything more.”
the man struggled to his feet, “we have to move, quickly. I ran into him while I was searching, he attacked me, he tried to kill me. I’m lucky I survived.”
Tabitha paused, that couldn’t be right, Jeremy wouldn’t have attacked someone, not unprovoked. They were struggling but they weren’t at that point yet. She glanced at the man, at his grime covered face, he had said we earlier. “How many were in your group?”
“There’s twelve of us. There were more but we lost some of them. We were attacked for the little food we had.”
“Why did that man attack you?”
“I don’t know, he was looking for food and water too, we all are. I had a water skin and maybe he was desperate for it. He took it and left me for dead.”
He stumbled again and this time there was a flash of silver, a necklace had worked its way free, a small silver cross that Jeremy refused to take off, even when he bathed. Even with her squinting eyes she knew that it was his necklace. The man had lied to her, she knew Jeremy wouldn’t attack someone. She glanced behind herself again, the storm was almost on top of them now, the house was still a good distance away. She with a cry she shoved the man to the side and started running. She was slow, already tired from his weight, but she was faster than him and that was what mattered. The man landed heavily with a groan, he called out to her but the wind stole his words and garbled them. She didn’t pause, she didn’t look back. Tabitha panted and gasped as she half ran, half stumbled over the hard dirt. Her mouth was impossibly dry and her legs felt as though they would just simply stop any second. She didn’t look back as she ran, she expected to feel the mans hands grasping at her every time she stumbled or slowed, expected to feel his hot weight on her again, but this time dragging her down to the ground.
Tabitha reached the porch just as the storm hit. She struggled to close the door against the wind but she managed. She collapsed against it, too tired to do anything but get her breath back. When she finally did she started to cry, the tears cutting streaks through the drying dirt on her face. She stood and shakily walked to the sink, her legs barely supported her. She turned on the tap and watched the murky water flow from the tap, she took handfuls of it and splashed it against her face, enjoying the cold. The water was no good for drinking or cooking, but she could bathe in it at least. Tabitha screamed as something slammed into the front door. Again and again the pounding came, there were words there, she could just make out the begging and pleading over the howl of the wind and the creaks and groans of the house. She looked out the window above the sink and saw nothing but the swirling dust. The banging turned into feeble knocks and a moment later there was silence.
The storm ended the next morning, Tabitha found him lying on the porch, huddled over. She had no sympathy, it was too good for him, he should have suffered more. She dragged the body from the porch, ignoring the pain in her legs and arms. Once he was a little bit away from the house she left him there before returning to the kitchen, there she found a sharp knife. It wasn’t ideal, but she would just have to make do, she was a survivor and she was going to survive, no matter what.