'Why do you look like a dog?'
Is there a tactful way to ask such things? Up until now the only options I'd come up with made me sound like a passive aggressive high school diva – or at the very least a bit on the insensitive side. But it didn’t stop the question scratching away inside my skull, and sooner or later it would find a way out. I just hoped it was courteous when it did.
We'd left our pick-up on the side of the road looking much like I felt – damaged, and Sasha was leading me through some woods, taking me to a house she’d 'smelt' and gone to visit while I was having my little unscheduled cat nap. I wondered if the house would have more Grateful Dead T-shirts, which was the limit of wondering my brain was up to at the moment. My head had been killing me since I woke up, and probably a bit before, plus tripping over every rock and root in existence wasn’t helping much either. Sasha however was navigating the trees with a comfortable ease that was more at home in the animal kingdom. She was definitely not your average little girl, although being the only girl who I’d met recently, maybe she was the average. I wanted to ask her how she’d survived this long, about her background, her family, her silky coat, but my brain cranked up my pain receptors to remind me that, for now at least, it wasn’t ready for such inquisitive thinking.
A low rumble from the sky made me realise that I hadn’t been paying enough attention to my surrounds, not the healthiest of past-times nowadays, and the first drops of rain had just started to fall when we reached our destination. Nestled in a little clearing was one of those cliched stone and wood cabins that you always see in movies, the type that are either cozy romantic or the location of a horror film. It didn’t take long to realise which type this would be, but it was raining and I was getting wet.
I took two steps into the clearing and froze. Sticking out of the ground around the door were a dozen or so sharpened wooden stakes, all about 5 foot in length, and all pointing outwards. Very medieval. It said ‘don’t knock, no one’s home’ in a way that didn’t really care if you believed it or not. The thing that really caught my attention though was not the incredible lack of hospitality, but rather the fact that the spikes were obviously a post apocalypse modification. Someone might be inside. Someone alive. I’d gotten so used to being alone that just getting my head around Sasha’s existence (albeit a unique one) was difficult, yet alone the possibility of someone else surviving in this nightmare. I wonder what sort of animal they’ll be.
So with Sasha in tow, I made my way gingerly past the welcome stakes to the front door. A simple wooden door weighed down with a million possibilities. I drew myself up to my full height, took a deep breath, and knocked. Deliberately making noise. Didn’t think I’d be doing that again. I stood there waiting for something to happen, and the way my heart was beating indicated I thought it might be something bad - but nothing did. I turned to give Sacha a shrug but she was giving me one of those looks kids give adults when they think they’re doing something stupid for no good reason.
‘There’s no one here.’ she informed me. I was going to ask how she knew, but then I saw her ears, upright and alert, pivoting one way then the next like little meerkats. High-strung meerkats. I shot off my shrug I’d been saving, turned the handle and stepped into the cabin.
She was right, no one was home, but not in that ‘no one is ever going to be home’ way. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, it just seemed more alive than anywhere I’d been in a while, like the air had been through someone’s lungs in the last week. The place was a stylish mix of cosy cabin and doomsday prepper. The furniture was simple, wooden, handmade. In fact, everything was simple, wooden handmade, but whoever lived here had been busy in a way that made me take off my proverbial hat and applaud (also proverbially). The cabin was a single room with a small fireplace and a bed in the corner, but lining the shelves on every wall were cans of food, jars of preserves, boxes of sustenance, bags of deliciousness. I was already devouring them in my mind. There were tools of all kinds, too. Animal skins, camping gear, even a section dedicated to what can only be described as very well thought out improvised weapons. While I’d been running around with a metal pole for hitting things, someone had compiled my end-of-the-world wishlist. Then weaponised half of it.
I chose a jar off a shelf at random and popped the top. Pickled eggs. It had been a long time between eggs, pickled or otherwise. I looked to the heavens and mouthed silent words of thanks, though I doubt anyone up there was still paying attention. I was about to pull one out when I noticed the axe hanging on the wall in front of me. It looked well used in a way that involved a lot of force and very little cutting down of trees. I gingerly put the jar back. Maybe I would ask first.
I looked around this little cozy house-of-everything-I’d-ever-wanted and smiled. I’d never been materialistic, but seeing all this goodness under one roof made me happy. Truly, beaming with joy happy. I felt like I’d achieved something, that all my scampering around dirty and malnourished had finally paid off. All my Christmases had come at once and Santa gave me everything.
And as I stood there, hands on hips, radiating happiness, the truth came home to roost. It wasn’t Christmas. Someone or someones had gone to a lot of effort to gather all this under one roof and maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t want to share.
But for pickled eggs, I was willing to find out.