The stinging cold of the endless night chilled the girl to her bones. She was maybe seventeen or eighteen; she lost count some time ago- not that her age mattered anymore. Her multiple layers of tattered clothes topped off with a black garbage bag, of which she also had tied around her feet as waterproofing, did little to help. This was the cold that men and beasts would fall asleep in, only to never wake back up. But there were no more men, and there were no more beasts, ever since The Event. Only she remained from the time before The Night. The girl did not know how long it had been- years, at least, but it was impossible to know when the sun hadn’t risen in longer than she could remember.
She once had a name, not that it mattered anymore. Talking to herself to pass the time or to keep her mind off her dire situation only worked for so long. If she stopped to think about it, she didn’t know if she would even remember what her name was, or what the sound of her voice was. Her laryngeal muscle had all but atrophied to nothing.
The girl adjusted her hold on the long, weathered branch that had been stripped of its bark she used as a walking stick and continued to trudge through the snow across a wide, open field. She knew she’d have to cross through the dense wood nearby to reach a shelter of sorts, the thought of which sent a chill down her spine that was not from the cold. She avoided the woods whenever she could. Not only were the difficult to traverse in the dark, but the Things lived in the woods. She didn’t know what they were exactly, but they were not quite wolves. They were something much larger and more devious, with the capacity for evil.
The only way she could hope to keep the Things at bay long enough to get through the woods would be with fire, which meant she’d have to use precious matches. She ruffled through her rucksack, searching for her matches to count how many there were left. Seven. It would be at least what she was pretty sure was a full day to pass through at the narrow point up ahead. She’d collected some cattails from a nearby pond recently. If she didn’t need to stop for more than a few minutes passing through the woods, she shouldn’t need to soak more than four or five of them in oil overnight. As long as she didn’t break any matches while setting up her small fire before going to sleep soon, she should be fine. She hoped.
As she neared the edge of the field, the girl stopped for the day. She’d never experienced the Things leaving the woods, but she didn’t want to risk it by stopping too close to the edge. After collecting some larger branches, as well as some twigs and bark for kindling, she cleared an area of snow with her feet. She arranged her wood into a small pyramid; she placed the twigs and bark on the inside. The girl also found several large stones to line her fire with to help radiate the heat, placing them in a circle around her pyramid of wood.
She carefully lit a match and started her fire; thankful the match didn’t break and that the flame took right away. Over the years, her eyes had adjusted to the dark, and the light was painfully blinding. Even if she looked the other way, the light from it still burned her retinas. But it was a necessary evil, as nothing else would keep the Things at bay. After pulling five cattails from her bag, she opened up a bottle of rancid oil and placed them in to soak. The putrid scent of the oil didn’t bother her anymore.
There was a sharp pain in her stomach, reminding her it had been several days since she’d last eaten. She didn’t have time to go about gathering anything now; she needed sleep before her fire died. Not that she would have any luck; this area was barren of anything edible from her experience. She shoveled some snow into her mouth to quench her thirst and to simulate a full belly. She lay down next to the fire, curled up in the fetal position. The heat radiating off it did little to ease the chill that was deep in her bones, but at least it was enough that she wouldn’t succumb to the conditions while she slept.
As she waited for sleep to take her, she pondered over her day. What had happened today versus what had happened a month ago blurred together, as if time itself ceased to exist. She allowed herself a moment to mourn her past. Once upon a time, she had been just a young child with two loving parents and an older brother. But no more. Now she was alone, the last person left in a dead world. She wondered if there was any real meaning to living, or if she was just postponing the inevitable by continuing to wake up each new day. But the girl was a fighter. As she drifted off into a dreamless sleep, her last thoughts were of sunlight caressing her skin.