She awoke to deathly silence.
As she sat up in bed, she knew it wasn’t hers. The bed wasn’t hers. Nor was the room; nothing was even remotely familiar.
She could not remember going to bed… but for some reason, she did not even stop to question her abrupt change in location. She got up and out of bed.
Everything seemed old, ancient, in fact. There was dust everywhere. She dusted some off herself and went to the door.
She opened the bedroom door that wasn’t hers, and went downstairs. Not her house.
“Mum?” she called out, but somehow, she knew there was no one there.
It was as if someone had been in the middle of a regular day, and had left. The kitchen, the hallway, it all seemed preserved. Like a museum from a long time ago.
“Is anyone home?” She called.
No answer. In fact, there was not a sound to be heard.
She did not even think if soundproofing. She knew something was wrong.
As she walked around the house, there was not a thing to eat in there. She wondered where she really was.
She decided to go around and find answers. She opened the front door.
Never had she imagined what she saw…
It was like a scene in a picture painted by a lazy artist. There was the city, the streets, the buildings, but no people, no animals, only structure.
Why was everyone missing? Was it Sunday? Was she out early? Why was she all alone?
The truth of her last question weighed in heavier and heavier as she walked the desolate roads. The streets, the markets, the city itself seemed to be asleep. There was truly not a living soul for miles. She looked everywhere she could, but knew her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her; unless all her senses were failing, she was sure there was no one, not a sound in the city, only a strange smell, a cold in the air was all her senses relayed to her.
She screamed, if not so much out of fear and desolation as to simply break the eerie silence, it was all too much to take.
Where was she? Where was everybody else, anybody else?
More dust on the path.
She saw what looked like a block of apartments.
Residential localities! There must be someone there, and for then, the desperation for contact with humanity, indeed, any life form, overpowered the general decency that every child was taught, and she decided to try and seek out a stranger. Indeed, seeing a python would have brought her relief now.
She walked into a doorway.
Strange, people’s homes with no security! There was no one guarding the gates, and she was inside.
She walked the stairs to the first level.
What would she say when she knocked on the door? It didn’t matter, she could have hugged them, if only she saw them!
She was a lost traveler, she figured, although how she travelled, and more more importantly why and where she had travelled, she didn’t know.
She knocked on the door.
They may be asleep. It was rude to disturb a sleeping person. No matter. She pounded on the door. She shouted.
There was no response.
She tried another door, and then another floor.
All of a sudden, she knew it was empty.
There would be no point in showing courtesy here, there was no one to be courteous with.
With a strength that comes from desperation and fear, she rammed into the door, it opened all too easily.
It hasn’t been opened in years.
The museum display case continued. Life as normal had been painted in the house, sans the people.
Life at a standstill.
She coughed, the air had a funny smell. There was a metallic taste in her mouth. Whether it was out of fear, if her stomach was acting up, or if it was something in the house, she couldn’t place.
She was in a ghost town for sure, and there was no help for miles. Her heart sank at the realisation. She was truly, truly all alone.
She walked out of the house and broke into a few others.
The city had definitely been populated a long time ago, but everyone had left abruptly, she noted for the hundredth time. What had driven them away?
She walked out into the streets. Perhaps, if she could find her way out of the city, she may be able to find help. Even the smallest chance of getting out, a microscopic sign of hope was enough to get her back up and searching; she wanted out.
And so she did, wandering far through the streets of the still life city, the lifeless city, until the structures became sparse and began looking like ten outskirts of town.
Her heart began beating faster. Was she getting any closer to the end of her nightmare? She walked on, a bare path lay ahead of her.
Nothing for miles.
Nothing but a few big structures in the distance.
She went closer, her heart rate increasing, her heart absolutely pounding, thumping, roaring in her chest by the time she got to the big buildings. They weren’t working, the silence was evidence.
Yet she approached, with only hope guiding her.
There was fear. And something else. She felt a bit disoriented. The metallic taste in her mouth returned.
If this was what fear felt like, she was sure she had never felt fear before.
Her knees went weak, she felt pins and needles all over her face and body.
And then she coughed. Her breathing became heavier. Her vision blurred. She saw it, just before she fell to her knees.
She had gotten too close. She’d been in great proximity, right from the start.
She lay on the ground, breathing becoming harder, and mostly, not necessary.
It was a mistake, a big mistake, but at least she knew she wasn’t leaving without an answer. She suddenly knew where she was.
Reactor number Four… she read through the haze in her eyes, as she closed them, in the outskirts of Pripyat, Chernobyl.