Caroline stood at the top of the hill, the wind twirling her long and straight white hair around her face. She knew it was too dangerous to be standing out in the open like this, but she just couldn’t help herself. She needed to see her childhood home one last time like this. The hill protected the house from being seen from the road, but that also meant anyone on the road could see her. The rest of the house was surrounded by woods and she was less concerned about those areas. The house was a light sky blue with white accents. Two stories. She’d told herself that she wouldn’t cry, but her closed throat threatened her promise.
She turned her thin frame to make sure no one was on the road or had seen her before scrambling down the hill towards the house. The group of scavengers with her followed silently behind. They were on their way out of town. For good, this time. It wasn’t a raiding party to find other resources. There was nothing left to scavenge in this town and as much as it pained them to move on, they had to. They had agreed to go back to the homes they had once had and take one item with them. It’s all they had room for. One small item from their past lives that they wouldn’t trade or get rid of. Caroline’s previous home was the last stop.
The group had heard about a city to the north that had completely started over and their community was successful. Caroline’s town had tried, but it was too small. Too few survivors. Some of them hadn’t agreed on trying to find something else so they had stayed behind, trying to make it work. All of the houses here had already been raided of the valuables and food. This was to be expected ten years after most of the population had perished.
The rest of the group stayed behind as Caroline entered the front door. It had once been white, but now stained with the years of neglect. Inside, the air was stale. There were so many windows letting in the sunshine and it was so bright and seemingly cheery that she could imagine things as they once were. The pine floors were dusty, but she thought about when they had shone and nearly reflected the sunlight. The item she wanted wasn’t on the first floor. It was in the room that had belonged to her parents.
Once she walked up the stairs, her heart was hammering in her chest and she paused at the door that had been her room. It was a children’s room. She was almost 23 now and she had been 13 the last time she had slept in the bed decorated with a hot pink and white comforter. She barely remembered it like it was real life. This life seemed like a dream after everything that had happened. Walking forward, the French doors to her parents’ room were tightly closed. A flashback in her mind rushed through her mind of her as a young girl, squealing as the dog chased her into the room and she had jumped up on the bed to be with her mom. Her mom had tickled her and she had squealed even louder. The dog had jumped up on the bed, licking her face.
Closing her eyes to the memory playing out before her, Caroline reached out with a shaking hand and twisted the knob. The hinges creaked as she pushed the door open, the connecting door staying in place. The room was very white. Or, had been. The whiteness showed age like the white front door. The bedsheets were still twisted and unmade from when her parents had rushed out of the house. She reached the fireplace mantel. Photos of the family lined the white and grey marble. All smiling, laughing, happy.
There was one in particular that Caroline wanted. She had been six, and it had been her mother’s birthday. Caroline had helped her father make a cake. The kitchen had been a mess and the dog licked up some spilled cake batter. Her mom had come home just as they put the cake in the oven, and taken a photo of all of them together, Caroline and her dad covered in flour, the dog licking her chops, and her mom laughing at all of it.
Caroline picked up the silver frame and tried to blow the dust away but it was stubborn. She wiped the glass with a finger across their faces. A tear landed on the glass and she heard screaming from outside. Creeping low, she rushed to the window and her eyes widened in fear.