Dead. Everything was dead. The trees were ashen, the thin, burnt bark peeling away like dead skin. The grass was coarse and dry; it crunched with every step we took. Even the sky appeared dead. Smoke and fog clouded the once clear, blue sky. All the lively creatures that once inhabited the small town had completely disappeared. As for the people…
"Annaleise!" Kieran's deep voice called from a few metres away. I could sense the urgency in his tone of voice, but I was in such a state of shock, my mind just shut it out. I wandered aimlessly through the wasteland. This town had been our home. Our home had been reduced to ruins.
"Annaleise!" Kieran shouted again, this time more harshly. "Can you hear me, Anna?"
"Yes…" I whispered softly, my mind still floating somewhere far away from my body, somewhere far away from this world. "I can hear you."
"We need to get out of here," he ordered. "We don't know if this place is safe." Kieran seized my arm and led me away to the nearest, old country cottage. He peered through the tattered fly-screen, then cautiously pulled the door open. The inside of the home looked just like any other simple home you'd find in the town of Alumuna. Wooden floor-boards, a couple of bedrooms, a reasonably hygienic bathroom with just a hint of rust forming on the metal shower-head, a small yet functioning kitchen stocked full of food, and a basic living room complete with a comfortable lounge chair and old, bulky television set.
I slumped down onto the lounge chair whilst Kieran darted around the house like a fly, checking each room for any sign of life. Apart from the sound of his thumping footsteps, and the highly irritating dripping tap in the kitchen, everything was dead silent.
"I still think coming back was a stupid idea," Kieran groaned as he slumped down beside me. "You know this is basically suicide, right?"
"I'd rather die here than anywhere else," I murmured. "Besides, who are you to judge about stupid ideas? If I recall correctly, it was your idea to hide behind a horse during a game of hide-and-seek when we were six, your idea to go for a swim at the beach during jellyfish season when we were eight, your idea to spray paint our names on the pavement at school when we were twelve, your idea to drive your father's truck through the flooded river when we were fourteen…"
"Alright! Alright! I get it!" he growled at me. "Will you shut up, Anna? Seriously. Now is not the time to be making stupid jokes."
With a wave of rage rushing through my veins, I rose from the chair. "Stupid jokes?! Kieran, these 'stupid jokes' are our memories! They're all we have left! Don't you get it?! Everything and everyone that we knew is gone!" It was then that every emotion I'd been holding in since we arrived back came flooding out. I'd felt completely numb up until this point, even the most painful thoughts hadn't stung me at all. Now, I was shattered. The past seventeen years of life had been smashed into millions of miniscule pieces.
I bolted to one of the bedrooms, slammed the door and locked it behind me. I didn't want to Kieran to see me like this, with tears pouring from my swollen, red eyes and my whole body trembling. I sat hugging my knees with my back resting against the hard bedroom door.
The bedroom reminded me of my own many, many years ago. Obviously, this room had belonged to a small child. Several stuffed animals were lined up in a neat row across the small bed and, at the end of the bed, was a magnificent wooden toy box with a flowery pattern engraved on it. Pink, sheer curtains draped down over the window and, up against the left wall, was a large mahogany wardrobe.
Two years was a long time to be away from home. Two years was a long time to be living in a tedious boarding school. Two years was a long time to be left pondering over what disastrous events could be occurring back home. Two years was a long time to keep begging to know the truth, only receive superficial answers and have everyone continue to lie to our faces on a daily basis.
That's why Kieran and I escaped at midnight three nights ago. That's why we used all the money we'd saved up to buy train tickets that would bring us close to home, and walked the remaining thirty kilometres to Alumuna. After two years in a prissy, pathetic boarding school, I had become ridiculously depressed, and Kieran had evolved into this volcano of anger ready to explode. The school was turning everyone into robots. The teachers and dorm supervisors had brainwashed everyone into not caring about what was happening back home. They'd somehow managed to weave their way into everyone's heads and kill their curiosity, but not ours. Kieran and I were far too intelligent. We knew something wasn't right. We knew this wasn't just some government arrangement to improve our education and better our future, but we hadn't expected things to be this grim.
Suddenly, there was a knock and a voice at the bedroom door. "Anna…"
"Go away, Kieran," I moaned, wiping the tears from eyes with the back of my hand.
"Look, Anna, I'm sorry about what I said before. It's just… I'm so angry that they lied to us all this time. I'm so angry that we wasted two years of our lives in that pathetic prison of a school," he mumbled, shuffling his feet awkwardly as he spoke.
I rose from my sitting position on the floor and unlocked the bedroom door. Kieran must've noticed my red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, because he slowly moved closer to me, wrapped his muscular arms around me in a rather awkward hug and playfully tousled my long, brown hair.
"Now," he said, once we broke apart, "do you know how to cook something good for dinner, because I'm starving."