Light flooded in through the open blinds on my window. The room wasn't much, it had only enough space for a small bed and a tiny desk. The view wasn't exactly spectacular either. Nothing to see but the crumbling, derelict buildings on the outside of town and a bunch of trees.
In a way I guess it was pretty. There weren't enough people left to maintain the whole city. Mother nature had begun reclaiming her land, repainting it with lush, green overgrowth. I sat at my desk, my chin resting in one hand and my attention focused on a piece of paper.
I absently scribbled the layout of the scenery as seen from my room. Perhaps I would even draw the window too. I held down the paper with my left elbow, keeping an old fan from blowing it off the tabletop. I had cranked it up as far as it would go in an attempt to ward off the heat. The rattling of the fan's wire cage and the screeching of the cicadas outside gave the impression that you could even hear the scorching temperatures.
A soft knock came at my door. I almost hadn't heard it, so lost in my work. "Yeah?" I prompted lazily.
The door opened and my aunt peered in. "Hey, there you are." she said, entering and coming to stand at my side. She watched as I finished putting a few puffs on the cumulus clouds in the distance.
"Hey Auntie Am, they finally decided to let you go huh?" I said, looking up to her.
Her greying blonde hair stuck to her face, and her cheeks were flushed bright red. Despite how miserable she looked, her hazel eyes were bright and cheerful. "Yeah they did. I thought they were gonna work me to death out there but they called it early. It's just too hot."
Aunt Amber wiped her forehead with her sleeve. She had to wear long sleeves even in this heat. Especially in this heat. She was very fair skinned, unlike me. Though I was much darker in tone than her, we both shared freckles and the same mostly green hazel eye color.
She pointed to my drawing. "Wow, I like this." She said, looking between the sketch, and the outside. "It's very pretty. You can really see where you are."
"Thanks." I replied. "So you're out for the rest of the day now?"
She smiled, "Yes!" She answered enthusiastically. "The heat might have been miserable, but on the bright side I get to spend your birthday with you after all." She moved to my bed, sitting at the foot of it and motioning for me to come join her. It took me a moment to realize that she had been carrying a rectangular box, wrapped in plain paper and twine.
I obliged her wordless suggestion, flopping down on the creaky single bed next to her. "What's this?"
She handed the package to me, "Open it and find out."
I took it, feeling the weight of it in my hands. Now that I could examine it, it was definitely more dense than I expected. I quickly untied the twine bow and I was careful to remove the paper. I didn't know why, but something about it just seemed like I should be gentle.
It was a book. The cover was worn and some of the pages crinkled. I recognized this, though. I had seen Aunt Amber buried in it on more than one occasion, drawing. It was her sketchbook. I looked to her, excited but perhaps slightly confused.
Although she still wore a smile her expression had changed. Her tone sounded as if she thought the moment bittersweet. "I think it's about time you had this."
Curiously, I flipped it open to the first page. I had glanced over her shoulder from time to time while she worked. She was an amazing artist, much better than I thought I could ever be. She had kept this book close, and taken meticulous care of it through the years.
My name was written across the top of the first page. As I opened it a few pictures of a chunky, happy baby nearly fell out but I adjusted to keep them from tumbling into my lap. The first drawing under my name was a small child with dark skin and a cloud of black hair. No freckles yet.
"Yeah." She replied. "Go ahead, keep flipping."
I did as she said, flipping through the pages. There was an entry about how I had lost my first tooth, along with a well rendered drawing of a small child smiling widely with a hole where a bottom front tooth should be. Another entry mentioned how I had enjoyed catching frogs as a kid, accompanied also by a drawing. This time it was a grinning kid with freckles, excitedly crouching behind a frog, ready to grab it.
This was my life. Even in the absence of cameras, Aunt Amber had documented my whole life in pictures. Here were memories, captured in sketches and illustrations that she had lovingly drawn over the entire eighteen years of my time on the earth.
I was dumbfounded as I flipped through more pages. Another picture fell out near the middle. This one was a photo. In it, a slender blonde woman held a tiny baby me, swaddled in a blanket with an oversized pink bow on my head.
The woman in the picture had fair skin and freckles, and barely looked a day past twenty years old. Next to her, with his arm around her, was a tall man with strong features and a much darker complexion. He was clean shaven and dressed in army fatigues. He didn't look much older than she did. They smiled, happy and hopeful. The start of a small, perfect family.
My parents. My father had died overseas when the outbreak began and my mother became lost in the chaos that followed. I didn't remember either of them but my aunt had told me stories. I felt like I knew them anyway.
"I had been keeping up with this, hoping that it would help Amy if we ever found her. I didn't want her to miss out on you growing up and I always hoped she'd turn up somehow." Aunt Amber said, a sadness evident in her voice. "But you're an adult now and I think you should keep the memories. You're a great artist, you could add some of your own."
I didn't know what to say. The words wouldn't come out, but the tears flowed uninhibited. I knew Aunt Amber loved me, she had raised me as if I had been hers. This book was the most precious thing to her and she had given it to me. I put the gift down on the bed beside me and threw my arms around her. "Thank you!" I exclaimed.
"You're very welcome." She said softly, tightly hugging me back. "Happy Birthday, Caydie."
The rest of the day was possibly the best birthday I'd ever had. There was no cake, no ice cream, such things weren't really available. I didn't really miss them, I had never really had much of either. There were freshly picked blackberries and blueberries. My favorites. We ate them as I explored the sketchbook further and we reminisced some of the better times.
The next time Aunt Amber would knock on my door was a few weeks later. She dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night, a storm raging outside my window. "Caydie, Caydence, get up. Now!" Her voice shook and her hazel eyes were full of fear as she hastily grabbed my pack and threw me some clothes.
I could hear crashing outside the room, further toward the front door of our small apartment. My heart jumped into my throat and I was instantly more awake. "Auntie Am, what the hell is-"
"Remember the plan, Caydie. You have to go, now." She said, tossing my boots to me. She grabbed my desk chair, wedging it under the doorknob in order to barricade the door.
With shaking hands I dressed as quickly as humanly possible. I didn't have much to put on since I slept half dressed these days anyway. I knew what all of this meant, but it was too soon! We hadn't planned to leave for another few days at least! I suddenly realized that she didn't have a pack herself. "What about you?" I asked.
"I can't go with you." She replied. "You have to go alone."
"What?!" I nearly shrieked, barely able to catch myself.
"There's no time!" She grabbed me by both arms, pulling me close to her and giving me no choice but to look her in the eye. "Promise me you won't stop." She said forcefully. "You will make it out of here, do you understand?"
I stared wide eyed, my mouth opening and closing. I must have looked like a fish out of water as I stumbled over words and failed to organize them into anything coherent. My thoughts became even more jumbled and frantic as a loud crash resounded down the hallway. Whoever was here had knocked down the door to my aunt's room. There were only two bedrooms, this one was next.
"Promise!" She pressed on.
I nodded. "I-I promise!" I stammered.
"Don't slow down and don't look back. I know you can make it." She said hastily, giving me a tight hug. "I love you."
"I love you too." I squeaked back.
She let me go giving me a shove towards my window just as the pounding on my door began. "Now go!"
Author's Note: Hey thanks for sticking with me this far! as always feedback is appreciated! I would like to get better at this writing thing. Let me know how I'm doin' and I'll try to keep this rolling right along!