Short Fiction – The Camp (By Melissa R. Mendelson)
By, Melissa R. Mendelson
White snow clung to metal, begging for escape. Its watery fingers traced the barb wire. Cold tears fell, circling and plummeting to the ground, eaten by oblivion. A glimpse of sunlight tried to catch it but failed, and the fence shook with sadness. More snow clung and fell to the metal barrier that surrounded a prison that had seen the war, the dead and now the bitter end.
Large, green watchtowers covered each corner of the prison. Guards once stood there with guns in their hands, watching their enemies, and when their enemies attacked, they would whistle a cold sound like a bellow of winter. Now, those watchtowers laid empty. No more guards posted. The guns were silent. Their enemies have won, and snow cascades off the rooftops, soft but broken. And it crashes down to the ground near a basketball hoop that still stands tall, but its net is torn. Its ball is somewhere buried underneath snow and debris, and nobody was going to look for it. No more games were to be played here. It was just ruin, silence and winter, and even winter was withering away.
The yard with the basketball hoop was about the size of a dining room joined with a family room, surrounded by the watchtowers. Men used to roam here. Life was simple then. They would pick at the grass, stare up into a gentle sky, and just breathe, enjoying what freedom they could. Their only worry was on how to escape, never realizing that this would be the place to escape to. They would laugh at that, but nobody ever saw the dead coming. And if not for the long barb-wired fence and the steel, locked doors, the end would have come a lot sooner.
Most of the steel, locked doors remained secure. There was no need to open them. Only the sound of the master keys now rattled, unlocking a few chosen doors. Most of those doors were in the safety hub, where security once gathered to monitor the surveillance screens, scan and wand those coming in and out of the yard, or just shoot the shit while hanging out in their little hub. It was just another day to them, and at the end of each and every day, they went home, thinking that tomorrow would be the same. But now there was no more tomorrow. There was just darkness, dead, black screens, and only the ghosts were manning the fort while the dead laid buried outside. And for all those survivors, they were now in the morgue. All of them except for me.
Keys jangled as I unlocked a building door. It was one of the four buildings that surrounded the yard, and every door had to be unlocked and then re-locked. It was procedure. At least, it was, and a long, brown staircase met me, leading up to yet another door. This door was self-locking, but it was heavy, almost defying me entrance. But I used the last of my strength to heave it open, and I nearly fell out into a dimly lit hallway with several closed doors. There used to be offices in here. There used to be people working in here, but these rooms would never know that life again. And now the mice and dust have laid claim to what remained, and the birds perched on top of unused air conditioners, making their nets, and fooling themselves into believing that life goes on. But as I stand now against a barred window, looking out at the cruel sky, I know that life will not go on. This was where I had watched the end fall.
When the bombs dropped, everything changed. Everyone changed. The sickness spread fast. I seemed immune, watching the survivors die off around me, one by one by one. Only now, I’m starting to feel more than the cold, and I know in time that it will be the ghosts left to walk this place, if they have not all gone to wherever they had to go. And if gone, then my presence will be the last that this prison, our camp will ever know.
Then, a funny thing happened. I always played with the little, black radio parked next to the window. I was so used to the static. Then, I heard a voice, but as quickly as I heard it, the voice disappeared. But I know what I heard. Somebody else had survived.
I walked the yard, wondering if that voice was real, but could I talk to them? My voice was now a harsh whisper. My lips were chapped and raw. It was a long time since they felt anything, voice, warmth, or even love. My face was as raw as my hands, scarred, and my legs were weak, struggling to move with the large set of keys stuck to my waist. Still, I moved, looking, hoping for something, anything, but I have not seen anyone since the last death had met me in this place. What would happen to here once I was gone?
The sun teased me with its warmth, but the sky was as ugly as that day. The storms have been brutal. I don’t know how I survived, but somehow there was still warmth inside these buildings. The water was probably toxic. Still, I drank, which probably made me sick, and the food was stale, old. There was no place around here for miles, and all the cars were buried beyond this fence. I could have left here a long time ago, but where would I have gone? I felt safe here behind the fence, just in case any of them had survived, and I will die here. This will be the last winter that I will ever see, and nobody will ever man the watchtowers again. No one will walk this yard except for the ghosts. No more hoops played. No buzzing in, and doors locking in place. It’s all quiet at the prison, where we made camp, and we thought that we would survive. Now, I’m just playing the waiting game.
Again, I walked the yard, watching the snow fall off the metal, barb-wired fence. Even the snow was struggling to survive, but it still fell just like I would. When I fall, would I make a sound, or would the remains of winter come and bury me? The yard was my only peace of mind, a mind that refused to unravel, but it will be going soon, which is why I am writing this letter for any of you that may have survived. I hope you find this, and I apologize for the bad handwriting. My hands have not been the same for a very long time, but if you can read my words, I beg of you to follow my last request. Take my friends out of the morgue, and burn them. Let their ashes fall to the ground beside the basketball hoop, where I wish to be buried. This place had spared us from the nightmare that had waited outside to tear us apart. Say a prayer for my friends, and let them rest in peace, release their ghosts from this prison. And please say a prayer for me, but leave me here. Let me stay here, so that I can stand guard at the watchtower and look for all the lost souls that still remain trapped between here and there.
Melissa R. Mendelson graduated college with both an AA in Liberal Arts and BA in Mass Communication: Critical Analysis. She was a Long Island news reporter from 2002 to 2004 and later went to work for the State of New York. She has written a variety of writing that continuously is published by the Antarctica Journal News, and she recently finished writing her first Horror/Sci-Fi novel, Lizardian, which can temporarily be found as an E-book on Amazon Kindle.