By Daria Cherkasova
I woke up at seven in the morning that day, frustrated; it was my day off, and I really, really wanted to have a good sleep. I woke up because my parrot Elf was picking at my hair. I sleepily murmured something and tried to get him off me, but he clawed at my head.
I took him in my hands gently, and he chirped joyfully, apparently very pleased with the fact that he got all of my attention. Then he started singing, just softly tweeting some sort of an unfamiliar tune. It was quite simple, but it bugged me, as I heard it for the first time. He could have picked up the tune somewhere, but something was disturbing about it.
I would come back to this moment, to this tune, time and again, humming it under my breath.
But back then it was different. I continued with my morning chores, totally oblivious.
Only when I found out that I ran out of milk and needed to go to the grocery store, did I realise something was off. I went out on the streets and noticed the lack of the usual noises of the waking city. No cars, no voices, everything was cold and empty. The grocery store was open, however, no one was inside, and all I could hear was the quiet buzzing of fridges. I picked up the milk and called out to the cashier. No one came. I waited for fifteen minutes. Feeling extremely uneasy, I put the milk back on the shelf and went out of the shop. It was eerie outside. The feeling of panic crept up on me, and I ran. I needed to go out to the bigger streets, to find someone, anyone, because the sudden surge of anxiety was threatening to overwhelm me. I ran and ran, until my legs were numb. No one was around. The city was dead, the silence was terrifying. I went back home, dazed out, not knowing what to think. That’s how my journey began.
There has been a lot of crying in the first month. Firstly, there were tears of terror, because I was all alone in the city, all the communication channels were off. Then there were tears of grief, as I realised that all of my loved ones were gone too. Soon enough there were tears of rage: I was drowning in questions and didn’t have answers. Was it some sort of a massive evacuation, and I was simply left behind? Was it aliens? Some unknown disease that swept the whole population, and again, I didn’t notice?
My only consolation was Elf. I would talk to him, and he would look at me with his tiny black eyes, and sometimes I would fool myself into thinking I could actually see recognition there. Perhaps I was just delusional, craving for understanding.
After a few months I came to terms with my unfortunate position. I started going out and wandered aimlessly for hours, still hoping to find a living soul. I also started reading a lot more; now it was one of the few pastimes available to me. I read tons of books, picked up painting, sewing and knitting. All the necessary craft materials were at my disposal, after all. The only thing I missed was music, so I found some cassettes and a tape recorder in a local vintage shop. It was a happy moment, listening to the songs again. Then there were tears of joy.
Soon enough I had to switch to canned goods, because all the meat and vegetables in shops started rotting. I had a huge supply of preserved food, but how long can a person live eating only that? In the future I would have to grow vegetables to sustain myself, and that was a horrible thought. It implied that I would live like that for the rest of my life, and no one would show up to save me from this predicament.
A year passed. I knitted myself a warm sweater and was very proud of my work even though I had no one to show it to. I walked out on the streets to have my usual two-hour stroll and this time I took Elf with me. I knew he wouldn’t fly away, and his company was comforting. We were walking down the dusty alley when I heard a faint sound coming from the corner of the dirty building. I stopped abruptly, and Elf pecked me in the cheek gently, probably trying to calm me down. I haven’t heard any noise on the streets for a full year, and now I felt hope rising inside me as well as the fear of the unknown.
Slowly, I approached the corner and immediately had to clap my hand over my mouth to hold back a surprised gasp. There was a person standing in the alleyway, a real, living breathing person. A man, to be exact. He was standing with his back towards me, and I could hear him whistling that damn tune which was in my mind the whole time. My first instinct was to run; get the hell out of here before he could notice my presence. However, I willed myself to stand still. I even tried to give myself a threatening look, which was no easy task considering the fact that I was wearing a giant rainbow sweater and a tiny parrot was sitting on my shoulder.
“Who are you?” I finally asked in a small voice. He turned around, and I subconsciously took a step back: his face and neck were covered in ugly scars, his lips were bruised. He smiled, however, and winced immediately, because his lip cracked.
“Finally”, he said, “I was starting to get impatient.” Noticing my silent shock, he sighed heavily. “Look, I’m sorry it took so long to get through to you, but we don’t have time for explanations. The basics: you are in a chemically induced sleep, the whole thing is a twisted experiment orchestrated by a very powerful organisation. I came here to wake you up. Let that sink in, because the sooner you realise that this is not real, the sooner we can get the hell out of here and continue with our business. So?” He looked at me closely, waiting for my answer, and I just stood there, unable to produce a sound. “The… the tune…” I finally managed. “That you… were whistling.”
“Ah, yes. That is the reaction of your brain. Subconsciously you knew it was a ruse all along. You couldn’t get this “tune” out of your mind, yes?” I nodded, still dumbfounded. “Now, let’s get moving. I promise you I’ll explain everything in as much detail as you fancy, but now is not the time.” The man reached out his hand to me, and I noticed it was as badly scarred as his face. Hesitantly, I took his arm, and then the world blacked out.
It’s been six months since my rescue. I am part of the resistance now, helping people to escape this horrible nightmare. I’m not fit to fight, but I’ve been in a few scrambles. Elf got hurt one time, and now has a badass scar on his neck. Needless to say, now we both try to stay out of fighting. But I’m able to pull my own weight. I’ve been knitting scarves for the members of the resistance, so they could travel to the colder regions. We’re a growing force, something to be reckoned with, and I truly and wholeheartedly believe that we will survive and overthrow the bastards who put us through the living hell. This letter is a reminder for myself to stay strong and never give up. No matter how tough things are, there are people who are still trapped inside their minds, people who think they’ve been abandoned by everyone. So we will keep fighting, for their sake.