irishgirl1616 - בְּסוֹף (In the End) Alice let out a tired breath and readjusted her shoulder pack as she reached the crest of the hill. Glancing over her shoulder at the endless knolls of the valley and the warm rays of the struggling sun, she felt her determination raise again at the thought of how far she had come, how far she was still willing to go. Turning forward, she headed up to the thick copse of red oaks that hid what was up ahead. They loomed before her like gates to a mysterious new world, etherly and surreal. The leaves were emerald, the trunks a rich, dark burgundy. Alice hesitated. What could possibly be worse than what was behind her? Would her father have even hesitated? As Alice entered the trees, her breath caught in her throat and her eyes began to blur. A tightness began in her chest and squeezed until her heart beat like a bird trapped in a cage. Panicked, she dropped to her knees and frantically shook her head to clear it and the feeling passed as quickly as it had come. With its disappearance, a memory replaced it. The choking smell of sulfur and smoke, the rotating flash of lights, the scream of the sirens that soared through the streets to try and save the city. The high-pitched screams of a child piercing through the inky black smoke… Alice’s hands flew to her face as she tried to hide from the images that replayed over and over in her head. She let out a small moan and it was like that was all that was needed for the recollections to evaporate. The silence was suddenly deafening. Twigs cracked in the slight wind and leaves whispered to her as she stood and slapped off the dirt and gravel from her pants. She trembled as she took off her pack, unzipped it, and shuffled around for her map. She had to have taken a wrong turn somewhere…but a small voice in her head laughed at her. Finding the worn map, she put the bag back on her shoulders and stared at the map. She was exactly where she had thought she was; right where she was suppose to be. Alice shoved the map into her back pocket and was all of a sudden aware of the hushed forest. Goosebumps covered her skin as she began to weave through the enormous trunks of the trees. The crunch of the underbrush was the only noise as she laced between the enchanting trees. As she began to go deeper, Alice slowed. She looked back to see only a few rays of the sun from the edge of the copse. She pulled out her map to study it harder. She had followed the haphazardly drawn line down to a tee, and she was on it still. But she caught something she hadn’t before. There was no forest marked on the map. Alice’s eyebrows scrunched together as she wondered why her father wouldn’t have indicated a grove this large on his map. A gust of wind that rattled the treetops and swirled the debri from the ground had Alice’s head snapping back up and as she did so her stomach twisted. Hidden in the clingy shadows and darkness between two of what had to be the largest oaks, sat a wooden door. It was cloaked in ivy, a brass handle just showing through the mass of shiny leaves. Alice gulped, wondering if this is what her father had meant by the unexpected. Her heart beat in her chest and her feet seemed glued to the ground. She stood completely still, holding her breath, sure that if she moved at all it would be gone. All she could do was stare at it, expecting it to disappear with every blink she took. When the door seemed to prove to Alice that it wasn’t going to fade away in a whirlwind of mist, she timidly walked up to it. It wasn’t as mystifying up close as it had been when it first appeared. Alice reached out her hand and touched the brass handle. It was solid, and cold, and real. Alice walked around to the backside of the door and only saw more undergrowth , as she walked past it to get back to the front, a snake reared it’s head and hissed at her. Alice jumped out of reach and stared at the abnormally large, green reptile. It’s black knowing eyes seemed to appraise Alice, then it flicked out it’s tongue and slithered away back into the bushes from which it had come. Glancing around to see if it had snuck up on her, Alice walked back to the front of the door. She crossed her arms. This had to be it, right? It was the only thing that had surprised her so far and even then, the whole closed-door-that-leads-to-no-where thing hadn’t been a huge shock. This was it. An opening in the ivy caught her attention as she was looking at nothing in particular. She walked up to it so that her shoes were pressed against the wood. Engraved into the wood was a word. עדן. Eden. Her breath once again caught in her throat and blood roared in her ears. Alice let out a whoop of pure elation and her eyes filled with hot tears. She had made it. She couldn’t waste anymore time. Everyone had said that the path would be marked, you would know you were there as soon as you saw the sign. What greater clue was that one word? That one place on Earth where God had wanted us to be equal and happy and safe? The rest of the world was dead, demolished, devastated. The people who survived were driven to desperte measures and were more animal than human, and still the people who had maintained an ounce of their humanity had given up. They had just laid down and given in to the fate of our civilization. But Alice had made it. She had made it to the place that God had set up for exactly her purpose. To live a life of happiness and prosperity. She could taste it already. Alice clutched the door. Closing her eyes, she pulled it open and stepped inside. She expected to be blinded by a light, overcome with feelings of jubilation, greeted by a chorus of angels. When nothing came, nothing happened, she opened her eyes. Rotting tress and brusque bushes void of leaves loomed before her. The gray sky gave everything a dreary, dire hue. All color was leeched from her eyes as she gazed at everything that was dead or dying. A scream built in her throat. But unlike before in the woods, her scream did nothing to shatter this picture that was burned in her mind, for this reality was to heavy to shake off. Humans weren’t the only ones who had given up on humanity.