Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Two
Title: The Whole World Went Insane - Part 8
The days, at times, seemed endless. We walked. We found water. We found food. We walked. We slept. Yes, we slept. Never enough. I slept alone. I stayed outside the small clearing where the girls stayed. Kelly had nights she still woke screaming. I know those would last for years, perhaps forever.
The first day I’d carried Beth as far as I could. My ribs ached, each breath burned. But I carried her. She was so hurt, so wounded. When I couldn’t carry her any further, Kelly and Jenny carried her.
She slept. Mile after mile. She slept. Her breath short and ragged. The wounds on her wrists and ankles, where she’d been hung from those posts haunted every step I took. I wanted to find all the men who’d abused her. Tie them to posts in the sun. Let them roast. Without water. Naked, under the burning sun. And every time I walked past them, I’d kick them. Right where it hurts. As we walked, sometimes Beth woke up. Screaming. Sheer terror in her eyes. I always set her down, and let the other take care of her, comfort her, while I hid, off to the side somewhere, among the trees. I don’t know what they said to her, what they did, how they helped her.
Kelly always fetched me when Beth was calmer. She understood I wasn’t dangerous to her. All I could think of to say was, “We’re getting closer to the village. Closer to the camp. Jessica, Hannah and the other will help. You’ll see.”
Kelly walked beside me. Jenny walked a bit behind us. Sally, Mary, Gina and Suzanne held back. They kept us in sight. It bothered Kelly, the way they stayed away from me. “It’s OK. I understand. I’m a male. Like the ones that hurt them.”
We walked. Through the endless trees. Up and down, as the hills grew into mountains. Day after endless day. Night after sleepless night.
Until the fourth day. That day, we stopped. We came upon a small town, in the mountains. I recognized it. I knew every home, every street, every block, every farm. It was my home town. I stood at the edge of the clearing, looking at the remains of my home. A ghost town.
I remembered the night the men came. The gunfire. The screams. My parents, ordering me to run into the woods. Standing there, I still heard the screams of my sister, my mother. The neighbors. I saw my father die again.
I didn’t speak at first. I stood there. Afraid to breathe. I’d never returned. I’d ran, into the woods. My world was gone. Destroyed. My family, my friends, murdered. I’d run. I didn’t know where. I didn’t care where. I’d escaped. I’d run all night. Then all the next day. I’d slept the second night, too exhausted to keep moving. When I woke, I ran again. I don’t remember how many days. I don’t remember what direction.
I’d never returned.
Until that moment.
“Frank?” Kelly took my hand. I could see the concern in her eyes, hear it in her voice.
“I know this place.”
She looked around, “Is it safe?”
“I know this place.” I started walking. Straight toward the house I’d grown up in. “This is my home.”
The girls held back, but followed. They kept a safe distance from me. They watched. Kelly walked with me. Wood splinters were all that remained of the front door to my home. I walked inside. Through each room. What was left of my mother, and my sister, remained on their beds. Skeletal remains, any odors long gone. Many bones gone too.
“My sister. My Mother.”
Kelly didn’t speak.
I walked outside, through the back door. My father’s remains were long gone. “Dad. I came home.”
I don’t know what I felt. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. I wanted to stay. I wanted to die. I wanted to live. I wished my heart was stone, so I’d never feel anything again.
We went from house to house. We found clothes for everyone. Real clothes. Pants. Shirts. Even underwear. We found water from several pumps. I hid inside my home while they all bathed, and dressed. And used brushes on their hair.
I walked past all the places I knew. I felt empty, alone. I’d survived. Perhaps I was the only one who’d survived. Sometime later, I don’t know how long, Kelly found me. “Frank?”
“They killed them all.”
She held my hands.
“All of them.” Men don't cry. My father always said that. Men don't cry. “My mother, my sister. They screamed. They screamed, and screamed.” Kelly held me. I cried. Me. The hero. The big, tough guy. I wasn't the man my father taught me to be. I was weak. Tired Hurting. I cried. For my father. My mother. My sister. Ripped from my life. For a world gone insane.
Kelly let me. She never said anything. She held me, and let me cry.
We stayed in my home town that night. The girls slept in the house next to my home. I took hours for sleep to find me. When it finally did, I dreamed of my family. Still living in my home.
“Good to see you again, son. It’s been a while.”
“I’m sorry. I never came back. I’m sorry.”
My mother hugged me. “Frank. It’s OK. You did what we asked. You ran. You escaped. You lived.”
My sister plunked down on the sofa, next to me. “Hey, big brother! You need to get moving again. Valerie’s waiting for you. She’s worried.”
“You know about her?”
“Yes, silly. We know about her.”
They’d all laughed, and Dad told me, “I’m proud of you, son.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve grown into a good man. A man to make his father proud.”
Mom kissed my cheek, though she knew I’d never liked it when she did. “You’ve made us all proud.”
“You and Dad. You taught me well.”
We all walked outside, and watched the stars in the sky. While I watched the stars, my sister floated into the sky, and turned into a ray of light, drawing a pale blue pattern in the sky as she rose, becoming another star in the night. Then, Mom did the same. Then Dad.
And they were gone.
When I woke, Beth was standing across the room from me. Watching me. She didn’t speak. She almost smiled. She quickly slipped away.
I got up, started moving. It was past sunrise. It was time to we were on our way. The girls were waiting for me outside. Beth almost smiled. Sally, Gina, Mary and Suzanne did smile. “Good morning,” Jenny greeted me.
Once again, we started west. And I wondered if the walk would ever end.
Like what you just read? Have a question or concern? Leave a note for the author! We appreciate your feedback!
Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.