Living on the boundary of what used to be civilization isn't easy. We play games with our lives every day. Hunger and thirst are the least of our concerns, though we do suffer through famine. No, our struggles with the wild cats, if you can truly call these beasts cats, are our biggest problems.
Their size rivals that of an extinct bear, and that only adds to our enemies' strength. The cats make no sounds as they slink through the waters surrounding our small village. They fear nothing, and they stop at nothing to steal our last breaths.
And they've stolen so very many over the last three years.
Every night I stand guard over my brother and two sisters. All three are too young to fight. They are even too young to leave our hut. In a few years, I will teach them how to watch, how to protect what's important, but for now, they must survive. Only.
My parents protected me, and now I am the second eldest remaining human known to mankind.
Or at least known to our village, the longest surviving since the animal outbreak.
Click, click, thump, thump.
That sound is never good, always a warning, and comes from the only person older than me: Graham. My heart hammers against my chest. No matter how long I've fought, no matter how many battles I've won, the cats always scare me.
Fear keeps me alive.
I turn around and close the hut's door. So flimsy, made of twigs and scrap branches tied together with whatever twine we could salvage from abandoned home improvement stores, before they burned to the ground—people do crazy things when the world as they know it ends. The other building materials were too heavy; they would have gotten us killed had we tried to take them, but they would have protected us a lot better. Our version of a door doesn't even cover the hole in our mud huts.
"Matt," I whisper, stirring my little brother. He needs to learn to be more alert. "Matt," I whisper significantly louder, significantly more dangerous.
Rubbing his eyes, he sits up.
So slow. If the cats don't kill him, I will. "Hurry up."
Matt throws his blanket from his legs, then puts his face up to the top of the door. "What's wrong?"
"What isn't wrong? Watch your sisters. Do not open the door. Block it with anything you can find. They're here."
He nods then takes off toward our pile of logs in the back of the hut. I keep my eye on him to make sure he does what he has to, but then he rushes right back up to me.
I growl. "If we all die tonight, it's your fault."
My brother slinks back. I'm too hard on him. He's only seven. I'm twice his age, plus two years.
"I'm sorry, Matt. I will. I love you." I run away before the tears come. Crying will get me killed for sure. Mom was crying the night she died, and Dad died crying over her.
"Rissa," Graham calls. He's crouched behind a tree, spear in hand, blond hair glistening in the moonlight.
This is not how we typically prepare for a fight. I jog over to him then kneel beside him, glancing every which way to make sure nothing is about to attack.
Graham points across our moat, pathetically dugout moat at that. "I saw light, behind those two trees over there."
"Light?" We ran out of batteries months ago. Hell we ran out of everything months ago. After the last of the adults died, Graham and I were left in charge of two-hundred middle-school aged children. We aren't exactly parental material . . . yet. Though given our two-year age difference, he may be my only option in life. Not that he's a bad option.
"Yes. Like flashlights. The cats are smart, but not that smart. I don't know where the stupid things came from, but aside from their strange golden collars, I've never seen them have things like light." He stands, stretching out his long, muscular legs. Thank God for him. He's brave and willing to protect his people, and Graham has the strength to back up his best qualities. "I'm going to check it out."
"What?" I scramble to my feet and grab hold of his arm before he can walk away. "You can't. No one has ever come back. Ever, Graham. You can't. You can't go away and die and leave me with all these kids. I need you."
The muscles in his face tighten. He knows I need him. He knows everyone has died. Graham can't be stupid enough to make this mistake. Not him. Anyone but him.
"Three years we've lived like prisoners because of these cats. We've lost our friends, our families, our childhood." He turns his face away from me, clenching his teeth and fists. "I can't deal with it. I can't deal with looking at you every day and knowing if I fail, this day could be your last."
I touch his cheek, trying to get him to look at me again, but he refuses to budge, refuses to meet my eyes. His skin is so warm, so dry and rough against my blistered hands. My breaths quicken, and I back away. I've never touched him like this. Ever. "Why are you worried about me?" I whisper, staring at my feet.
Graham storms toward the water, but I'm not stupid enough to follow him into the open. "Stop. Where are you going?"
"To figure out what I saw and to find a way to get us out of this. I'll be back."
No he won't. He won't ever be back. No one has ever returned. But trying to stop him would be suicide.
Those tears finally fall. I know I shouldn't let them, but I'm tired of losing people I know and love. I'm tired of staying up all night and sleeping all day. I'm tired of being in charge, of burying people I know—or what's left of them.
I stomp back to our hut, sobbing like a little baby, then cross my arms over my chest to stand watch. Like usual.
"You shouldn't cry, girl. Crying will get you killed," someone with a smooth, deep, sadistic voice says.
What the . . . ? I spin around, but no one is here. Nothing.
"Look lower. Look where you like to stab my creations in the eyes."
Emerging from the darkness, a big, black cat with green, glowing eyes walks up to me.
"I-I don't understand. Why are you speaking to me?" Why is this thing speaking at all?
He lowers his head, bringing it too close to his front paws. The beast plans to pounce me. Maybe I should have gone with Graham. Maybe we all should have.
"I am not like the others." The thing shakes—violently—then transforms into a man. A tall, dark-skinned man with bright cat-like, green eyes. Naked. Completely and utterly naked.
I'm trapped. I won't open the hut door. My brother and sisters are in there. Safe. For now, but I wish I could run away.
"I created them to be like me. Man who can turn into beast, be free, experience a carefree life, but they did not inherit the man in me. Only the cat."
I shake my head, clutching the weapon in my hand tighter and tighter. "Don't come any closer. I will kill you."
The maniac grins, revealing his brilliant white teeth. "And not figure out where your precious Graham went? He followed the same light as all the others. Don't you want to know the secrets to this new world you live in?"
Not another word. I lift my spear then thrust it into his heart, but my efforts were for nothing.
Transforming back into the cat, he laughs then lopes off toward the water. "Sooner or later, he'll come for you. Maybe he'll even eat you."
"Maybe he'll eat you first," I scream, slumping against the hut.
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Today's entry is from one of my novels in progress.