As she stepped out into the early morning air the wind instantly swirled around her, whipping the long brown hair out of its fastening and into her face. Smiling, she pushed it back off her forehead and set off towards the field at a running pace.
She wasn't supposed to be out in the field alone, especially without any kind of weapon or protection, but she had never really understood this rule, and often went against it. It was simple – nothing was comparable to the freedom of being in the fresh open air, forgetting for a few precious moments about how things were, and simply revelling in how the world used to be.
The field was full of untamed grass which reached up almost past her waist, and made her running more difficult. She slowed her pace as she reached the middle of the pasture and the trees came into her sight. Escaping to the field was one thing, going into the trees alone was another. It was something she instinctively knew not to do; she didn't need anyone warning her of that.
Finally she came to a stop and bent over slightly to regain her breath. The shoes on her feet were not a perfect fit, but they were comfortable and had served her well over the past few months. The trousers on the other hand had seen better days, the material was simply too thin and had worn down, especially around the knees – leaving gaping holes that needed to be fixed. But the promise of blue sky made her abandon thoughts of her lower half and instead she looked up fully to the sky and closed her eyes against the warmth of the sun. It had crossed her mind many times since It had happened: how can everything be so fundamentally altered, when the sun still beats down in the same old way? The thought comforted her. Her life may have changed beyond all recognition, but she still began her day in the same way she had. It was one of the only things she had left to cling to. And she clung to it with every fibre of her being.
After a few blissfully silent minutes she looked back to where she had set out, and smiled at the sight. The farmhouse stood at the far end of the field, barely showing through the greenery and shrubs that surrounded it. It was not her home. She wasn't sure she could ever have a true home again, but she had become fond of the quaint little structure, and felt safe within its walls. She supposed the guard tower looming over its right side probably added to that security, although it did ruin its ambiance somewhat.
She waved at Bill in the tower. It had taken her many weeks to convince him to allow her into the field alone, even though technically he was watching her the entire time. And she did understand why he was hesitant, especially as James was so adamant about the rules. But she had quietly and gently persisted, and eventually he allowed her to wander freely within the confines of the field for a few precious minutes every morning when the meeting was taking place.
Bill waved back for a moment, then continued his intense perusal of the distant tree line. The barrel of his gun followed his line of sight along the edge of the field, down to the left hand corner and then diligently back up again. She knew this kind of defence was necessary, but it still caused goose bumps to rise on her flesh and dark thoughts to enter her mind.
Trying to shake off the bad feeling in her gut she looked around the tall grass for a reasonably flat space to sit down. Once there she lay back and was content to watch the clouds drift slowly across the sky.
After a few moments her thoughts strayed to James, and the meeting going on in the main house. She had long ago given up on attending; practically there was little she could contribute to the defence of the community. What she made up for in passion and downright stubbornness was not enough to change her physical worth. She had been petite before It happened, and the months of little or no food had left her even smaller, and physically unable to hold her own in a fight against grown men. She accepted that her worth would be measured in keeping the community happy, rather than defending it from those outside. A concession for feminism perhaps, but one she was unable to contest, and slowly she began to accept her domestic role amongst the men. And James liked it, he preferred for her to stay out of the serious daily affairs and that suited her just fine. As long as she had her precious morning walks she was content to stay in the background.
She stretched her arms above her head and took in a deep breath of the morning air. There was really no better feeling. And just as she allowed her eyes to close and her breathing to become shallow, a noise sounded out across the field from the line of trees bordering its far edge. Several birds burst forth from the green canopy and took flight across the field, passing over her head and out over the houses. Fear instantly clawed at her stomach and for a moment she couldn't breath, couldn't move. There was no sound but the blood pumping in her ears, and her eyes canned the tree line – desperately searching out any kind of movement. Several seconds passed before she realised her name was being desperately called from behind her.
Knowing she may only have seconds once she turned her back she slowly got to her feet and stood up tall, slowly stepping backward. She could see nothing but the trees, but she knew – was absolutely certain – that someone, or something, was watching her. Bill's voice increased in volume and urgency and she knew it was now or never. Taking a deep breath she turned on her heel and sprinted back toward the safety of the commune.
She fled as though a thousand rabid dogs were at her heels, and in a way it was worse. Running from the unknown scared her more than she cared to admit, and it pushed her to run faster and stronger than she thought possible. She almost wept when she saw James running out from behind the farmhouse toward her, his face was dark with determination and fury and as she neared him he stood still and raised his gun past her toward where she had been sitting. Faltering slightly, unsure as to whether she should stay with him she slowed to catch her breath.
"James.. I'm sorry I-"
"Inside. Now." He didn't even turn to look at her, and she hesitated. Even in this situation she hated being told what to do. Always had, always would. She braced her shoulders to argue when she saw his stance soften a little.
The slight pleading to his voice placated her and she quickly took off toward the house. Bill was watching her with a look of guilt and fear on his face. She mouthed an 'I'm sorry' to him, although she knew it would be little consolation. James would be beyond furious, and she felt more than a little guilty for creating the entire situation.
With her head hung low she entered the house and bolted the door shut behind her. Automatically she went round the windows and fastened their dead-bolts too. Often she had complained to James that these were excessive, and as she closed the last one she knew that was another argument she had lost.
Now alone in the small dark room she was at a loss, and as the adrenaline began to leave her body she found herself unable to remain standing. Lowering herself onto the rocking chair next to the fire she tucked up her legs and held onto them tightly. Burying her face into her knees she knew she should be crying, weeping in fact. But she didn't. Crying had long ceased to be something she did. Instead she was angry, irrationally angry.
Angry at herself for getting herself into this, angry at James for shouting at her, angry at whoever was out there denying her the elements of normality she so desperately craved.
And as she rocked back and forth with her eyes squeezed shut she knew the biggest reason of all; she was angry because she was living this life, this existence, and with each day that passed it was proving itself to be hardly any kind of existence at all.