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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

A love story, at the end of the world.


By: Athena Williams


Part I - Jack in the Woods


He met her at the end of the world.


Jack stumbled by a stone structure in the woods, and went inside. He found nothing on the first day. After several weeks of visiting and exploring the ruins, he came across a small token on an oak bench inside the dwelling. Picking it up, he saw the can was tightly sealed, the food inside untouched and well persevered.


Ahh, Jack thought. A peace offering. He smiled at the little tin gift.


He knew whoever lived in the same woods meant him no harm. But the gift-giver was not so certain if Jack could be trusted. He had a sense this person was hiding about the stone ruins somewhere, and most certainly did not want to be found.


Jack called out loudly to the shadows. "Thank you! I'm living in a tent by the lake. Close to the willow tree. I'm traveling alone...if you decide to visit me."


He took the food and left the house. It was not an actual dwelling where anyone camped, he knew this outright. It was merely a decoy. He hoped whoever left the can would make an appearance at his camp. He also knew this stranger would be careful, and only venture close to him after days of scouting his grounds by the lake.




Five days later, she came up to him while he was sitting on a log, fishing. He knew she was approaching, he had seen her reflection in the still waters in front of him. He knew the exact sound of her footsteps. She had been watching him for a while until she decided he was truly alone and no threat to her. She sat down next to him.


"I'm Cass," she said, and he had to control his hands not to drop his fishing rod and reach out to touch her and make certain she was not a figment of his imagination. She looked like one of those women who was often described as eartheral, otherworldly; her heart shaped face that belonged in a painting from a hundred years ago. But she was real, all the same, and sitting next to Jack.


Her skin's so pale, Jack mused, she’d blend right into a snowstorm.


Red waves of thick messy hair fell down around her shoulders. Cass had bright auburn eyes, darting around quickly to inspect his camp up close. She was shorter than Jack, by nearly a foot, and must have weighed just a little over a hundred pounds. Cass wore a simple pair of black leggings and a black long sleeved shirt. She had on black boots that were tightly laced up. She wore no jewelry or makeup, as she had a very simple and clean style.


Jack himself had dark hair and eyes, and he wore light colored clothes, earth tones always blended in easily when out in the wilderness. He felt like he towered over her even as they sat side by side, but he thought her height was cute. Her leg was touching his, and he could feel the silky sensation of her thigh brushing up against his own.


"Jack," he said. "Nice to finally meet you, Cass." He felt a tug on his line. "Looks like bass is on the menu, if you're staying for dinner."


"I have spices at my house," she said. "And a working stove. We can cook the fish there."


"In the stone ruins?" Jack asked. "Or at your real house?"


She didn't answer him.


Her real house was underground. Jack gathered a satchel of his supplies, slung his rifle around his shoulder, and carefully hid all signs of his camp in case anyone came wandering into the woods. He followed her with the fish and all his gear, and she asked him politely to please turn as they reached a clearing in the woods. He did so, and heard five small beeps - she was entering numbers to unlock her front door.


When she told him to turn around again, he saw her motioning for him to follow her down dark, moss covered steps. He did so, and she stepped to the side. He had no choice but to brush up against her, and saw her lips part slightly at his touch.


"I have to close and lock the opening," she explained.


"Do you want me to turn around again?" Jack asked, his eyes looking into hers. "I can move ahead and do so."


"Just keep facing me, and I can reach up. One moment." She reached behind him, and he realized she liked being so close to him. It had most likely been awhile since she had come in physical contact with anyone, just like him. He heard the opening slam shut, and five more small beeps, until she lowered her arms.


Jack descended further down the steps until his feet hit a concrete floor. He looked around in wonder at sight in front of his eyes. This was no ordinary bunker or end of the world shelter. Cass had endless bright rooms, filled with working lights run by powerful generators. She had a computer, radios, televisions, and a kitchen, with all the modern appliances Jack had not seen since the fall of Old America. He set his gear down into her parlor room, marveling at the bunker's comforts.


Cass said she was hungry and went into the kitchen. He followed her, and she stood close to him as he gutted and cleaned the fish with his knife. He set the meat He followed her around in the kitchen, still fighting away the urge to touch her. There was something magnetic drawing them both together, but they didn't dare speak of it, it was bad luck to mention something pleasurable. Everyone learned in the plague days not to celebrate anything too early. They cooked the fish in the oven, and Cass carefully separated it onto two plates.


She told him about herself at dinner. Her parents had both been climatologists, and been predicting the doomsday for years. They put their entire life's work into designing their own luxury bunker, and made their fortune selling the bunker designs to the "think tank" politicians of the world. Cass herself had no interest in pitching humanity's end for profit, and chose to study library science at Yale. She explained the most important thing a society would need to rebuild would be the previous society's documented history. She met her husband Kieran at Yale, he was pre-med and appreciated her bookworm geekiness. He worked with the virus patients during his residency until he got sick himself, and she soon lost her entire family in the worst days of Silva. Cass told him of her guilt for her own immunity to the virus, and how she couldn't understand why she had survived, when billions were wiped out in a matter of months. She fell into a deep depression for the first few years of her life alone, watched people come and go in the woods, and grew food in her bunker's greenhouse to survive on. She told him she had to study a book to learn how to make rabbit traps, and she felt a little squeamish learning to skin an animal.


"I miss the days of grocery stores," Cass lamented. "I heard they have them in the New Cities."


"Have you heard anything else?" Jack asked. "I've heard rumors about the New Cities, but never stayed in one place very long to follow any leads."


"Just three transmissions, the last one was six months ago. I made contact on the radio with the Commander of the Guard in Solitude, one of the new cities. I could garden, grow food, or do anything productive they wanted. I asked for a position and citizenship within the walls. He said they had collected and preserved books in Solitude, and wanted me to work as their librarian."


"But you stayed here?"


"It's the roads I'd have to travel to get to the new cities. The Commander said I absolutely should not travel alone. It'll be another six months until they can come here, there are several others in bunkers like mine they need to rescue first." Cass laughed. "I don't even know if they'll actually come or not."


Jack sighed. "The promise of the New Cities is just that...a promise. And we've heard them broken, a million times, when the virus began."


"So what's your story in the days before Silvavirus, Jack?" She asked, passing him a plate of wild strawberries and homemade whipped cream. "Did your wife and children pass away?"


Jack shook his head no. "Never had a wife, never had kids. Was in the marines for a couple of years."


She raised an eyebrow, at the mention of the military. Silva had spread like wildfire among US Troops. "Did they let you out in the first wave?"


"No. They let me out in the third wave. I guess that was about seven years ago."


"I remember," she said. "Everything had nearly collapsed by then; I lost my parents and Kieran in the second wave. The third wave...I stayed inside for the majority of it all. You remember all the rumors. That it was created in a lab and it was accidentally released in the first wave. That the marauders then got hold of it and spread the deadlier strains so by the third time it surged, the world was on fire, and we were in hell."


"I remember. I was terrified," Jack said. "Everyone was so sick by then...but I wasn't.  I waited it out, living in a hotel, as everyone dropped like flies around me with the Silvavirus. Every day, I'd wake up thinking, today is the day. Either the virus or a few too many Marauders. But that day never came."


"Where did you go after the hotel?" Cass asked, licking whipped cream off her index finger.


"To another hotel, for awhile. Different ones, but everyone always got sick. It was very dangerous in the old cities. The woods were safer. I met a few survivors here and there, but not many."


They had finished eating, and cleaned the dishes together, still orbiting each other. He could smell the lilac water in her hair, and felt a little dizzy. They were suddenly kissing, and neither of them knew how it started, but they knew they couldn't stop what was now set in motion.


"I need you, Jack," Cass said, her voice low and soft, demanding.


"I know, sweetheart,” he said, picking her up and carrying her into the bedroom.  “I know you do.”


Later than night, Jack gently tucked Cass into bed, sliding in next to her, pulling the blankets up around their bodies. Jack wrapped his legs around hers, her head resting on his chest. She was already in a deep sleep, exhausted from the hours he had spent savoring her. Jack kissed her heart shaped face and slept, breathing in the scent of lilacs. He slept soundlessly until in the middle of the night, awakening instantly when he felt Cass stirring in his arms.


"Jack. There's a group of people outside. I can hear the clicking noises on the camera monitoring feed, it means someone has been detected." Cass' eyes went wide. Suddenly she sat up. "Tell me the truth, Jack. I watched you for weeks and saw no sign you were in communication with anyone. Were there signs of anyone else tracking you?"


"There was just you," Jack said. "That I know. But I was a little distracted after finding the stone house."


"All right," Cass murmured. "I was distracted too, I just wanted to meet you. I forgot all about monitoring the rest of the woods. Let's go watch the cameras and see what they want. They're most likely just looking for food in abandoned cabins. Everyone who is passing by usually is just looking for food and they'll leave once they think they've gotten all they can find."


They quickly wrapped themselves in bathrobes hanging on hooks by the bed. The security camera revealed there was a group of marauders in the woods, perhaps in their mid to late twenties, investigating the stone structure. Jack counted 5 of them total, all men. They carried pistols, baseball bats, and heavy backpacks, a pack of four hunting dogs circling close by. Jack frowned at the sight of the dogs sniffing at the ground. Cass was watching them carefully to see what they did in the stone structure. He put his arm around her and she leaned into him, nuzzling closer. He was struck with a sudden realization: there was a gentleness in her...that worried him. Cass grew up hidden away by her scientist parents who doted on her. Her husband had been a well-polished college boy, he had most likely never known real work outside of vigorous practice on his Yale rowing team. Cass was a survivalist in her own right, being born and raised in these woods, and a bright woman raised by brilliant minds who gave her every advantage. Her quick mind was the best weapon she truly had, the bunker her armor. When push came to shove, she was a sweet little with enough homestead survivalist skills to make it through the winters; not a marine who could slice through marauder after marauder. Protecting the woods and Cass from marauders could prove to be a never ending and daunting task if they set up camp and set their sights on her and the bunker. Jack knew what the world was like out there - the leftovers that were scattered around the Earth who banded together. How quickly they could turn on each other; mad dogs fighting over the few scraps that were left in the world. It was a world he had always known, and one Cass did not.


Once upon a time, Jack learned not to emotionally attach himself to others. He knew he would set himself up for disappointment when they were no longer there. His life had taught him that fact, and the fall of humanity had confirmed it. However, he had grown weary of being alone in this new world. The solitary life he lived in the time of the Silvavirus brought him no real refuge or true pleasure. He touched Cass' soft cheek and she looked at him, her eyes bright. She would be unhappy if she had to stay in the bunker forever, keeping herself out of sight. She belonged in a library, surrounded by her beloved books, protecting them for the new generations to come. Cass had far too much of a life ahead of her to stay in the woods forever. And so did Jack. It was settled. He would take her to the New Cities.

Submitted: October 25, 2020

© Copyright 2020 athena williams. All rights reserved.

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