Kahayatle Page 1


I stuffed the sleeping bag down into my backpack with angry, punching motions, sick and tired of having to be here and having to do the same thing over and over again. I hated camping, I hated being organized, and more than anything, I hated what this exercise stood for.

“Don’t do it like that. I told you - you have to conserve the room as best you can. You have to travel as efficiently as possible. Take it out and start over.”

“I don’t see what difference it makes.”

“Trust me, it’s going to be a really big deal to you in the not so distant future.” His voice sounded hollow.

“Says who?” I was being ornery. I knew the answer to the question already.

“Says me, Bryn. And the news. Look around, would you?” He sounded like he was pleading now. “Stop defaulting back to the rebellious young teen act, and get serious. We don’t have enough time to play those games anymore.”

“They’re not games, Dad. I am a teenager. I don’t care what the news jerks and the government say.” I threw my backpack down on the ground. “And it’s not rebellious to not want to play friggin’ survivor in the backyard every day.”

My dad looked at me with a sad expression and sighed, reaching over to pull me into a tight hug. He dropped his nose to my head and inhaled deeply.

My face was pressed up against his shirt, and I could smell his sweat mixed with the sweet scent of his aftershave. My dad always said he was the last of a dying breed, using that stuff. He couldn’t have been more right.

“Maybe it’s not going to happen here … to us.” I said it just to hear the words, but I knew it was only wishful thinking.

I could tell he was getting choked up again when he started talking, his voice now hoarse.

“I wish, more than anything else in this world, that you didn’t have to be standing here with me in this backyard playing survivor.” His whole body started to shake with silent sobs. “Oh, God, Bryn. If I could do anything to change this, anything at all, I would. I swear to God I would. But it’s happening. No one can stop it.”

I put my arms around his waist, letting go of my earlier stubborn anger, now choking back my own tears. “I know, Dad. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes, you did,” he said, sniffing hard and clearing his throat, shifting to hold me at arm’s length. He was staring at me while he smiled through his tears, giving me that look. The one that always made me confess.

“Okay, so maybe I did mean it. But I’ll shut up about it for a little while.”

“Not for too long, though. You wouldn’t be my daughter if you weren’t complaining about something.”

I tried to slap him playfully but he moved too fast for me. My dad is light on his feet, an expert level-one practitioner of krav maga - a certified badass. He’d only recently taken up camping.

“Pick it up,” he ordered, now back in control of his emotions. “Do it again. Only this time, get the air out of that bag first, condense it down …”

I cut him off. “I know, I know … ‘down into the smallest footprint possible.’ Geez, Dad, I’m not an idiot.”

I shook the sleeping bag out and started rolling it up quickly, using the moves I’d been practicing for four months straight to squeeze it down into a lump the size of a small loaf of bread. I folded the whole thing in half, pushed it to the bottom of the backpack, and then let it unfold itself one time, before putting the other items in on top of it: unbreakable water bottle, half-liter of bleach, square of plastic, cup, hunting knife, and various other tools my father was quite certain I would need … once all the adults in the world had died off, leaving us kids alone to fend for ourselves.


I HAD EATEN ALL THE rations that were left in my house, except for five cans of baked beans and two bags of noodles. It’s all I’d been eating for a week, and if I had to have another bite of starch I was going to puke. I didn’t like the idea of going through my neighbors’ houses to find food, but the choice was being made for me now. I was desperate.

Morning would be the best time for me to make my move. I’d heard the sounds of other people - teens like me - moving around in the daytime; but usually it was in the afternoon or at night. Groups of them had gotten together, looking for stuff in the houses that didn’t have kids in them. None of the houses had adults in them anymore.

I needed to move without being seen. Leaving my house unprotected would be a very bad idea. I knew that these gangs were soon going to stop showing respect to the houses with kids in them like me. It was only a matter of time before the resources left in these neighborhoods dwindled down to an amount so small, it would no longer be enough to support the number of growling stomachs that roamed the streets; not without the hungry breaking into the occupied places too.

I hadn’t heard them hit the house behind me yet, maybe because there was someone living there. I’d never met that neighbor, though, and had never seen any sign of a kid there. There were two other houses on my street that used to have kids my age in them, but they had left - I assume to join one of the roving gangs. I guess they figured they had better chances of surviving in a group.

I didn’t feel that way at all. before the world had gone into the crapper, I’d been pretty much a loner anyway. I liked my music and my books and didn’t bother with after-school clubs or hanging out at the local cafe. Besides, my dad had me in martial arts training every weekday and most weekends, practically my whole life; it didn’t leave much time for socializing. I’d only moved to this town six months before my dad was suddenly gone. He’d hoped to outrun the apocalypse, but it eventually caught up with him like it did anyone who wasn’t going through puberty.

The guys I trained with at various dojos over the years - I was always the only girl - were as serious as my dad about their skills. They lived for the feel of total control and absolute domination, in any situation. I appreciated the power, but it was never really my thing. I did it to make my dad happy. I’d advanced through the ranks, but didn’t get as far as he’d wanted me to. Now he wasn’t here to help me move forward, and I wished like hell I’d tried harder. For him and for me.

I decided to go to the house behind me to search for food. Maybe there was a kid there, maybe there wasn’t. It was worth checking out, at least. I could get there by climbing my backyard fence, and no one who might be out on the street would be able to see me. Up until now, no one had bothered to try and come into my house. I’d put a note on my door that said to stay the hell away and that I had a gun - which was the truth. But in doing that, I’d essentially become a sitting duck. Eventually, they would come for the things they hoped were in my house - food and fresh water. It was going to be time to leave soon. But until that day came, I needed something else to eat. My hunger was gnawing a hole in my stomach.

Two more hours and I’d go over the fence. My hand went nervously to the ring on a chain that hung at my neck - my dad’s old wedding ring that he’d given me just before he went away for good.


I walked out into my backyard and closed the door behind me softly. An earlier check of the street in front of my house said it was empty. I’d stayed hidden in my bushes for five full minutes, just to be sure no one was lying low, scoping me out. Five in the morning was apparently still too early for the raiders; it was nice to know that habit hadn’t yet changed.

Once I was sure I wasn’t being watched here in the backyard either, I went to the fence that separated my yard from the mystery neighbor’s place. I peered over the top, my face hidden by high bushes on their side. I could see the back of their house, no movement coming from within.

I used the horizontal board that was about two feet off the ground, holding the vertical fence parts together, as leverage. One foot there gave me the little bit of lift I needed to get my other leg over the top. I used my abs and strong arm muscles to pull myself the rest of the way over. It wasn’t pretty, but it did the job, landing me on the ground behind the bushes.

I stayed there for a couple of minutes, calming myself and checking for any signs of having been seen. There was nothing - still no movement from the windows at the back of the house.

I slowly crept from the bushes to the back door, checking the handle to see if it was unlocked. It wasn’t. I shook my head at all the people who’d locked their doors to die inside. I hoped these neighbors had done the better thing, and gone to the hospital to do that bit of nasty business, like my dad had.

I was grateful for his final gesture, even though at the time it was the worst day of my life, watching him drive away like that and leave me all by myself. I don’t think I could have buried him in the backyard. That would have been too much, and like he had said, I wouldn’t have been able to leave him behind when it was time to go. He wanted me to be mobile and flexible - memories shouldn’t be tying me down to a sinking ship, he’d said.

I wrapped the hand towel I’d brought with me around my fist and punched the glass panel nearest the door handle to break it, reaching through the hole I’d made to unlock the deadbolt. I opened the door slowly and stepped inside.

I left the door open, tiptoeing through the back hall and into the kitchen. I don’t know why I was trying to be so quiet. I guess knowing I was breaking into someone’s house made me feel like I should sneak.

I took a whiff of the air, testing it for the smell of rotten flesh. Nope, no dead bodies in here for sure. That was a relief. I’d smelled that odor now many times, when the wind blew strongly. Whenever that happened, I wondered how long it would be before that smell stopped being a regular part of my new life.

I found the pantry and opened it, expecting to find it full. But it was nearly empty too.

“What the hell?” I said out into the room. The raiders must have beat me to this place, but it was weird because when they came, they usually made a big mess; and this place was spotless. Everything on the counter was lined up with regimented perfection. Even the hand towels were hanging on the oven door handle as if they’d just been laundered and ironed, put there for the evening’s dinner preparation.

I shut the door to the pantry and nearly dropped a doodle in my drawers when I realized I wasn’t alone in the house.


“Holy shit, dude, put that thing away,” I said, feeling my blood pressure shoot up like a rocket and my heart start to beat triple-time. I was staring down the barrel of a big ass handgun. It had to be a .357 Magnum or something. The kid could barely hold it up, it was so heavy.

“What do you think you’re doing breaking into my house? You know you’re not supposed to do that.” His voice sounded like a girl’s, it was so soft and high-pitched. How had he survived if he hadn’t entered puberty yet?

“I didn’t know anyone lived here, I swear. I thought I knew all the kids who went to Winter Park High in this neighborhood, but I don’t recognize you.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t go there. I went to Seminole High. But that doesn’t give you the right to break my window and try to steal my stuff.”

“I’m sorry, like I said, I didn’t know this place was occupied.”

I frowned at the kid. His hands were shaking and he was resting his elbows on his stomach to give his arms more support. I guess he wasn’t twelve, being in high school, but he sure was small for his age.

“Would you put that stupid thing down before you shoot me, please?”

“Why? So you can eat me and my food?”

I laughed. I couldn’t help it. “Eat you? What the hell are you talking about?”

“The canners. You’re one of them. Where are your friends?” His eyes darted to the space behind me. I could tell he wanted to turn around and look behind himself too because his eyes kept jerking to the side along with his one shoulder, but he was too afraid to take his eyes off me. He was seriously freaked out.