I finally found the lake house a few weeks after leaving Scarlett behind. The place seemed too good to be true. I spotted it while I was swimming on the other side of the lake.
It must have been someone's summer home, one of those survivalist types who had a place to escape to when the world ended. I guess I beat them to it.
There was an old dune buggy outside that looked like it hadn't moved since the outbreak. It was a little rusty, but otherwise good to go.
I had spent the entire previous year hoofing it through the mountains in northern Idaho and across the barren hills of Montana. It was exhausting.
The buggy was a perfect way to scavenge for any supplies I needed in the nearby area, and if a hoard of monsters came through, I could make a quick getaway.
That was three years ago. I haven't needed to make a getaway of any kind in a long time. These days, my routine is pretty much the same. I'll get up with the sun and make my morning coffee.
Then I'll make breakfast, usually something canned. I like to save the good stuff for dinner. Fresh meat is getting harder to come by.
It's something that I spend a lot of time talking with the folks down at the bar in Sawatch whenever I'm in town.
I like to make at least one trip out there every few days. It's a little settlement of about twenty people on the second floor of the Sawatch Hotel out in Kensington.
It's just on the other side of the lake, and the buggy makes the trip in no time. Sometimes it's only for supplies, but other times it's just nice to see real people again.
Kensington is mostly cleared out. I think the people in Sawatch went for a sweep of the town years before I came through. I'm not sure why they all stick to the hotel.
I know some of them are locals, maybe it's too hard for them to be back in their homes. Maybe it's just how they feel normal.
A bunch of people just hanging out, listening to old records, shooting pool and drinking beer. It's just like the good old days. It's the only thing that makes sense to them.
That's what I've been trying to do since I got here.
There are times when I'm out on the dock with a cold beer, watching the sun go down over the valley and waiting for a bob out in the water, where things almost seem normal.
I could be just another guy by the lake, taking a break from the stress of the real world. Then I go to sleep and the cycle begins again.
I could never have imagined that I would end up living like this when things were at their worst.
Things first started getting crazy a month after my twenty-fourth birthday. My fiancé and I lived with her sister and ten-year-old nephew in a duplex in the outskirts of Portland.
I was getting my life back on track after years of some serious addiction problems. I had just found work as a car detailer and met my future fiance, Beth.
As soon as word started spreading of an outbreak, we wasted no time getting out of the city.
We managed to get ahead of it in our neighborhood, but by the time we hit the freeway going East, the lanes were starting to fill up. We had an argument about what to do.
In the end, we decided to abandon the freeway and go north on back roads until we crossed over into Washington.
From there, things would be quiet and we could push straight through Idaho to Montana where Scarlett's ex-husband had a farm.
Things had gone from bad to worse immediately after we left the city. Millions were dying across the country, and the army was being sent in.
I thought immediate evacuations sounded a little strange. Usually, when things got that serious they would always tell us to lock our doors and stay inside.
It didn't take long for us to find out why.
The next day, we stopped along I-90 for some gas. The sun had just set as we were about to pull into town.
While I was waiting for the car to fill up, I was watching the stars in the distance and the sky lit up behind me. It felt like the air around me changed. It was denser, warmer.
I don't know how to explain it. I turned around and saw the most horrible thing that I've ever seen, even to this day.
Just over the horizon to the west, cresting over the Snoqualmie mountains like a second sun, was an awful ball of fire shooting up into the night sky. It was when I knew that the world was over.
I sat down in the dirt and stared up at the grand beast, billowing the ashes of the old world and spraying them out for miles in every direction.
It must have been Seattle, we were only about 150 miles away. Millions of lives gone, just like that. We were in a waking nightmare, and nothing would ever make it go away.
Our lives, whatever they were before, were over. Once nuclear explosions start going off, there's really no turning back.
Beth didn't make it out of Washington. It was the next time we gassed up. I swear I cleared the place before I turned on the pumps. I go over it in my head sometimes when I can't sleep.
She went in to grab some food with Scarlett while I was pumping the gas.
I heard a scream and saw Scarlett burst through the door. She yelled something at me, but I didn't hear it. I was paralyzed.
I only snapped out of it when I saw a figure stand up from between the isles. Time slowed down when it stared at me. It was a woman once, maybe my age by the look of it.
Its skin was ashy and grey and covered in blood and cuts. The eyes were the worst part. They had that awful yellow glow that all new infected have.
Its mouth was covered in Beth's blood, with pieces of her flesh hanging out between its teeth.
Scarlett grabbed me from behind and pulled me into the car. She opened the back door and pushed me in, then jumped in the driver's seat and took off like hell was hot on our tail.
Something broke inside me that day. I sat in silence, trying to make sense of the world around me as it sped past on the highway towards the Idaho border.
The one thing that keeps me up at night the most is that I know that she might be out there somewhere, shuffling along with the rest of them. I couldn't save her from death.
I hope someone put her down, and she's found some kind of peace.
I feel like she's still out there, maybe walking along the highway where we left her, slowly making her way East, trying to find me. I have a lot of nightmares where she does.
I don't sleep much these days.
It wasn't long after that where I found a place that I thought we could call home. It was a mansion up in the mountains in the Silver Valley. There were thirteen others there when we showed up.
They welcomed us with open arms once they found out we had a kid. We had only planned to stay for a few weeks, but we ended up getting snowed-in for the whole winter.
By the time the spring came, we decided that it would be better to stay there for good instead of risking our lives trying to get to Montana.
We had a pretty good run there, all things considered. We managed to survive in a nice, peaceful little place for almost a year and a half with no incidents.
It had a pool table, sauna, and its own set of generators. It was also the best sleep that I had since the outbreak started.
There were even some nights where I slept all the way through without waking up screaming once. It was a miracle.
The next spring, Devin and the other kids were out playing in the forest. He slipped on a rock and fell down the side of the mountain.
By the time we got to him, there was nothing that we could do. He had broken his arm and was pinned under some rocks for over an hour. He died shortly after we got back to the house.
We planned to bury him the next morning but, unfortunately, the universe had other plans.
He turned at some point in the night, and by the time I got up, he had managed to get into the house and had already turned two of the others.
I managed to grab Scarlett and get out in the chaos. Just like that, out of nowhere, we were on our own again.
Scarlett never recovered. She wouldn't eat, and she would barely talk. She would just sob all day.
I'll be honest, and this is something that I would never tell anyone else, but I was a little relieved when I woke up to find an empty sleeping bag next to me about a month later.
We were traveling along the Snake River as it curled through the Idaho Panhandle. I got up and figured that she was out using the bathroom or getting some water.
I saw her clothes bundled up along the shoreline in a neat little pile with her phone and sunglasses on top. I never bothered looking for her. I figured she didn't want to be found.
I took the phone with me and left the rest.
There was a part of me that was so angry at her for what she did. We all lost people, but she just couldn't take it. I guess I thought we shared a bond after everything that happened to us.
I was wrong. She was my last connection to the old world, and she left me all alone.
Now, everything that I have left exists in a bubble. I'm surviving, but I don't feel alive. What was the point of any of it? Beth and Scarlett were the only friends I ever had. Beth was my life.
She pulled me out of the darkness and set me on the right path. She saved me, and now she's dead. They're all dead.
They're all dead, and here I am, lounging back and taking in crisp mountain air without a care in the world. What a sick joke.
Sometimes I think about going back out there. I'd stock-up in Sawatch and take the buggy out on the open road. I could try and go up to Vancouver and find my mom.
I could do those things, but I won't. Despite how much I hate it here, if I left I would end up dead or worse.
No, I think I'll stick to lamenting to myself with a cold beer as the sun sets over the lake. I know I don't deserve it, but I'm too afraid of anything else.
I think what I've got is the most anyone could hope for in the world we live in, or at least the most that I can hope for. Maybe one day I'll be able to get back on the trek.
Just like maybe one day our world will heal.
I guess we'll see which one happens first.