The Home You Thought was Gone

by faun

You walk away from the city.
You climb hills. You wade through streams. You struggle through an overgrown path. You arrive at the clearing that embraces The Hall.
The Hall is weathered and stained but still in one piece.
Sam is proud to see you here.

You understood that The Hall has been uninhabited ever since the raid, back before you were born, when Babylon came and rounded everyone up and began to strip your people of their culture. Sam remembers those days vividly.

Sam talks about how it used to be, back when things made sense. She tells you about how your people used to live alongside animals. You treated them as friends, instead of treating all wild animals as pests and all tame animals as stock, as Babylon does.
Crows used to nest on the building. They could find you anything, or anyone. All you needed to do was give them a picture and pay them in meat. A family of wolves always used to make den in the barn during the winter. Sometimes, new pups would be born, and everyone in the Hall would celebrate. They would share spiced meats with them, and coo over the newborns as if they were our own children.

Sam must return to The Makeshift Hall in the city, now. You know that it misses her achingly. You are ready to get to work, here. Sam explains the details of the renovation tasks you’ve been sent here to do.

It does not take long to find and patch the leaks in the roof, given the tools you have. Your next task is to clear the filth off of the wooden floor of the barn.

All you have been given for breaking up the dirt is a hoe. It is quite unsuitable. It is heavy and blunt. You find that you have to repeatedly drive down to stay under the layer of dirt. The wooden floor, though thick, is partially rotted, your hoe catches on it, again and again. You struggle for an hour. You are only a third of the way done. You sit. You cannot rest, but you sit. You rehydrate. You go at it again. You are slower now. It takes another hour to get to the halfway point. You’re over a milestone, you have unlocked a zombie’s persistence, you are dead and you are undead, you plow on, nothing can stop you. Two hours later, you finish.

You walk from the hay shed, drenched with sweat, filthy, triumphant.
You drift down to the watering hole and you soak.

You limp back into the hay shed shivering, but clean.

The sun beams in and warms up the room. You collapse onto a hay bale, utterly exhausted. Lying here is right. Moving again would be wrong. You are not undead. You are alive and now you need to be dead.

You anticipate The Hall. You think of what it was, and what it will be again. The thought glows with such excitement.

You hear something at the wide barn door. You look, and you sit up at once, terrified. You see one of Babylon’s attack dogs, standing. They’ve found you. They’ve been monitoring the building after all. Will they arrest you? Will this be the last straw, will they burn The Hall to the ground?

Immense relief begins to dawn upon you.

It has not barked. Though frightfully big, it is not as big as one of Babylon’s attack dogs. It does not stand or move like one, its fur is lighter, and longer, it glows in the setting sun.

The wolf walks towards you and sniffs you. It smells of moss and strength. You reach out to it and it noses and licks your hands.

It lays down in the hay. It watches you.

Two more arrive. They each begin to do as the first did, and they get in each others’ way. As more arrive, you feel that they are more concerned with tousling over who gets to be first to meet you than they are concerned with meeting you. They whine and growl as they convolve.
The first one is now laying on its side with its eyes closed. One by one, the others join it. You lay down too.

You thought they’d stopped coming here. You can’t stop staring, but as you lay still, their breathing eventually pulls you to sleep with them. By dark, you find that you have pulled them all around you. You feel the cold night air, but they are here to protect you from its worst. You won’t move from here, not an inch, in case it breaks whatever spell allows these majestic ghosts to revisit your fallen present.

You dream of the hall, the way it used to be. You can’t believe they’re here. The wolves and The Hall, returned to life, fill your dreams. You hold them. You didn’t know that you would ever get to come home.