Thank you all for your growing interest in this story, and your reviews. Please keep them coming! Without further ado, here is chapter three:
Preparing for a long journey has always been an easy task for me. It was simple to predict the articles of clothing I would need, the shoes I would have to bring, the books that would help me at least somewhat enjoy the trip. I was what you could call a minimalist; even the walls of my dorm room had been kept bare, not sullied with pictures or posters or useless reminders of memories that I would never need. If I didn't need it, I didn't have it. It was a simple rule to live by, and one I stuck to for many years.
And yet, as I was sitting in my old room, searching for belongings to cram into my backpack, I couldn't seem to let go of some of the most useless possessions I had. A violet and silver dream catcher that my mother had bought for me at the county fair struggled to be released from my fingertips until I was forced to shove it into my bag. An empty picture frame that Chris had given me on my last birthday somehow managed to slide its way into my possessions, right in between two of my obstetrics textbooks. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to let go of those damn books; even though they would continuously weigh me down, it would be even more painful to let them go.
As I was zipping up my backpack, tying my boots, and even desperately trying to take in some calming breaths, the dog that had stumbled upon me only minutes before sat motionless in the corner of my room, gazing at me with unwavering eyes. As I had studied him earlier, I had released any doubt in my mind that I had ever seen him before. Sure, my parents' neighbors had their own family dogs, but those were golden retrievers and German shepherds. This dog clearly had some wolf inside of him, along with possibly some Husky. He was, by no means, a hideous dog; his charcoal pelt was beautiful and smooth, his blue eyes clear and healthy. Who his owner was, I wasn't sure; all I knew was that this dog obviously attached himself to me somehow, to the point where he had even helped save my life.
Once I was ready to leave, I glanced back at the dog that was continuing to watch me. He surely had to have a name; at, at the very least, I'd have to give him one. I couldn't really go around calling him "Dog" now, could I? It was then that my eyes spied the black collar hanging around his neck, silver tags hidden within his dark fur. I slowly approached him, reaching my fingers out for him to sniff. Obediently he smelled my hand and, after a moment, affectionately pressed his cold nose into my palm. As I scratched behind his ears, I checked the metal tag hanging from his collar and read the one word engraved into the silver: Koda.
"Koda?" I asked him now. As if automatic, his furry tail began to excitedly beat against the hard wood. "I suppose your name is Koda then," I couldn't help but grin down at him as I straightened up and gave his head one last pat. "Are you ready for a trip, Koda?"
Koda was instantly on his paws, nearing the door with his intense gaze still watching me. I slung my backpack over my shoulder, along with another long, black bag filled with firearms and ammo that I had ransacked from Chris' safe. He had been collecting various handguns, rifles, and knives over the years and keeping them locked away in his safe; if I was going to go out into a world that was so cold and unfamiliar, I needed some sort of protection. This was the best that I was going to get.
As I slipped out of my bedroom, I tried so hard to divert my eyes from my mother's bedroom. Her body no longer lay there; I had buried both her and my step-father in our backyard, using my fingertips to mark a cross over both of their graves. They now lay beside one another, only inches away from my mother's prized rose garden.
That rose garden was the epitome of my childhood. When I was a young child, constantly toddling around after my mother every second of every day, I would sit out beside those stunning roses, digging my hands into the soft, cool soil and occasionally even pricking my pudgy fingers on a thorn. My mother would rush out at the sound of my cries and kiss the pain away from my flesh, whispering that everything was alright, everything would be alright.
I hadn't been able to say a single word throughout the silent ceremony, so sure that only sobs would be able to escape my body at that very moment.
I descended down the staircase, Koda close on my heels, hesitating at the sight of a photo album spread out across the coffee table. Tentatively I approached the booklet, content, ignorant faces beaming up at me. My mother must have left it out for my homecoming, thrilled to show me photos that had been instilled into my memory since I was a girl. In the snapshot closest to me, my mother had her soft, flushed cheek pressed against mine, a tiny cupcake spotted with four glowing candles sitting before me. Tears burning my light green eyes, I bundled the photo album into my arms and stuffed into the same bag carrying my weapons. One other book wouldn't kill me, I told myself as I set off to the foyer.
The most difficult part of leaving my childhood home was closing the front door behind me. You'd think it would be stepping over the threshold, wouldn't you? But, for me, it was having to turn the sealed door knob and locking myself out of the only true home I'd ever had. Just before stepping away, I pressed my fingertips to my lips and gently rested them upon the cold wood of the door. Whispering a soft goodbye, I turned on my heel and walked down the front steps, away from the only people I'd ever loved.
Taking a deep breath, I glanced down at Koda, who was watching me closely, waiting for my next move. To be honest, I didn't have one. Sure, the safest method of transportation was probably driving a car; at least it would put some sort of barrier between myself and the monsters that were beginning to roam the streets. But there was only half a tank of gas left in my car, and I didn't trust stopping at any gas station to refill it; who knows what I would encounter along the way?
At that moment, I was eyeing the forest surrounding my house. I had lived there long enough when I was a young child to get the guts to explore their depths; I had even found a spot near a tiny brook to read some of my most favorite books. And now, I was looking to them for some safety from whatever the hell was happening to my world.
"I hope you like the woods, Koda," I told the dog as we began to set off into the forest.
Time was beginning to tick past the early stages of morning; the air was cooler now, crisper and far easier to walk through. My bare arms and legs became rough with goosebumps, the cold metal of my handgun digging into the small of back from its place in the waistband of my shorts. There was barely any light streaming through the high tree tops, so I grew more and more dependent on my flashlight. The ground underneath my boots was hard and sometimes even craggy, forcing me to stumble with the occasional step. My long, thick hair, thankfully tucked away in a tight pony-tail, only snagged in a couple of low-hanging branches.
Koda, on the other hand, was clearly in his element; he maneuvered swiftly through the trees and bushes, charcoal fur flashing sporadically in the glow of my flashlight. When we first began, I was concerned that he might accidentally leave me behind, since I hadn't been hiking in quite a few years; fortunately, Koda would sometimes slow his pace down, glancing over his strong shoulder to make sure that I was still in sight. Say what you want about dogs, but this one was most definitely one of the most intelligent I had ever seen; he was thought more like a person than most of the people I knew.
Hues of rosy pink and violet gradually began to splash against the dark sky, signaling the end of my horrific night. My legs were sore, begging me to please take a rest, and my eyelids weighed me down. Every muscle in my body was beginning to ache, and it was clear that I wasn't exactly in-shape anymore, if I ever had been in the first place.
Breath barely escaping from my lungs, I gasped out to Koda, "Wait. Please, just wait."
Legs trembling, they collapsed out from underneath me; as I barreled to the harsh ground, I felt a sickening crack where the back of my head collided with a rock jutting out towards me. As I began to slip towards darkness, I caught a pair of thick-soled, black boots walking towards me, hesitating at the sight of my slumped-over body. "You've got to be kidding me," a gruff voice mumbled as obscurity overtook me.
Alright, so I know this is a bit shorter than most of my chapters. Just hang in there though, okay? Big stuff is coming, I promise!