Sam opened her eyes, finding herself standing in the middle of a gray room. She looked around. No furniture. No windows. No doors. Just gray. As she turned around, her eyes landed on a small mirror mounted on the wall behind her. Curious, she walked over and looked into it. She didn’t see her reflection, but only the reflection of the room. In the mirror, there was a door on the other side of the room. She turned and looked back at the wall. There was no door. She looked back to the mirror, seeing the door in the reflection. Intrigued, she moved to investigate the wall. She gently ran her hands around where the door should be, half expecting to press a hidden switch that would open the hidden entrance. But nothing happened. She took a step back and stared into the gray. She glanced around the room for anything else. There was nothing. Not knowing what to do, she gave up and sat in the middle of the room. Something buzzed, vibrating on wood. She looked around for the source but was unable to locate it. The sound grew to surround her, coming from everywhere. Then, gentle piano notes, followed by an acoustic guitar joined the buzz. They slowly grew louder until-
Sam opened her eyes, staring at the ceiling of her bedroom. The fan above her lazily spun as her cellphone vibrated on the nightstand next to her. “Good morning, I thought you were leaving…” Sam rolled over and tapped the phone, bringing silence to the room again. She lay in bed wondering why she picked that specific song for her alarm as she looked out the window, seeing only darkness greeting her. On days like today, the “good morning” in the song felt like sarcasm, rubbing in her choice to get up early. She sat up on the side of the bed. Most days it did feel like a warm greeting to the day. Not today though. Today was just one of those days where she’d rather curl back up and snuggle with her husband.
Sam looked behind her, seeing Nick with his back turned to her, serenely sleeping, wrapped in the blanket. A pang of jealously set in as she stared at him. She didn’t know how he could sleep through her alarm. She turned back around and rubbed her eyes. She let out a sigh and held her head in her hands for a moment, nearly falling back to sleep. She woke back up, sat up straight and shook her head vigorously, trying to wake up.
“Okay, let’s go,” she quietly told herself. She kissed her fingers and gently tapped Nick’s shoulder, then stood up and headed for the closet.
The sky gradually lightened as dawn approached. The morning air burned Sam’s lungs as she ran down the sidewalk in shorts and a hoodie. Ear buds pumped blues into her head. She always found it easier to run with music, and she took a liking to blues early on, learning to play some of the classics on guitar. She checked her watch. She was behind, so she decided to pick up the pace. At age thirty-one, she couldn’t expect to be able to keep up with her younger, college-athlete self. But she did her best to refuse that thinking. She’d always been athletic and almost obsessively kept track of her records, which she constantly tried to beat. It had been getting harder, but that wouldn’t stop her from trying.
As she ran, she soaked up the scenery of Plattsburgh, New York. She’d moved up there with her husband four years ago. It was very different than New York City, which is where she had lived since she was thirteen. And different wasn’t a bad thing. She never really liked The Big Apple. It felt too large and yet claustrophobic at the same time. Not surprising considering she was raised in Canton. She felt Plattsburgh was a nice change. The more rural area made her feel more relaxed and at home. New York City was never home for her. She knew that the minute her family moved there. The fast paced, get it done yesterday air didn’t suit her and she couldn’t wait to leave.
Sam rounded the corner to her neighborhood and checked her watch. Realizing she was way behind her normal time, she decided to hurry. Sprinting, the air dried her throat as her lungs heaved in and out. Her legs and lungs felt like acid was poured on them, but she kept her legs moving as fast as she could. The wind made her eyes water as she tried to keep her breathing steady. Finally, she passed her house, like she was finishing a close race. She slowed her run and stopped, hands on her knees. She checked her watch: ten seconds over her average.
“Crap,” she said to herself.
She clasped her hands behind her head and slowly walked back toward her house. She unzipped her hoodie and tried to cool off. She noticed the weather had warmed up much quicker this year. April never used to be like this. It’d been unseasonably warm so far this year and meteorologist predicted it to continue.
“Damn El Nino,” she muttered as she walked up to her door.
The front door opened and Sam stepped inside. “Nick, I’m back,” she yelled. Her keys plopped down on the entryway table with a jangle and she walked to the foot of the stairs. “Are you up?” No answer. She walked toward the kitchen. “You’re going to be late!” She saw a sticky note on the fridge and grabbed it.
“Had to leave early, sorry for missing breakfast. See you tonight. Love you! N.”
She set it down. “Okay, don’t feel dumb for shouting at nobody,” she told herself. She opened the fridge and grabbed a protein shake. She cracked it open and drank it while heading upstairs.
Sam stepped out of the shower feeling renewed. One of life’s simple pleasures was a nice, warm shower after going for a morning run. She dried off, put on her nurse scrubs, and applied a bit of makeup. As Sam dabbed foundation onto her nose, she began her daily criticism of it. All her life, she’d hated her nose. She wanted a cute, slightly curved, button nose like most of the other girls she grew up with. Instead, she was stuck with a straight nose that was slightly too big. She felt like someone took the nose of Michelango’s David and stuck it on her face. It wasn’t that prominent, and she knew it. But on bad days, that’s what it felt like. Nick adored it though. He said it made her look strikingly gorgeous. She did love her vibrant, green eyes though. They both agreed on that.
Sam grabbed an elastic hair band, pulled her brown hair into a ponytail and wrapped the band around it. She checked herself in the mirror. A fog settled in her head and a sense of familiarity struck her. As she gazed into the mirror, details of her half-remembered dream began to clear the haze from her mind. She stared at her reflection for a moment.
• • •
Sam jolted awake. She quickly checked the room in a panic. Nobody. She lay back down and let out a sigh of relief, sending a cloud of her breath into the air. She slowly surveyed the room again. Sunlight slipped through the curtains and dust drifted through the rays. It was the first time she had seen it in the light of day. Posters of action movies lined the walls. A computer desk held a dusty monitor. It looked like a teenage boy’s room, though nobody had been in it for a while. She wondered how things could have changed so much in just eight and a half months. She rolled off her sleeping bag and packed it up. She clipped it to her backpack, slipped on her coat and pulled down the mattress she had leaned against the door as a barricade. Carefully, Sam made her way down the stairs of the apartment building, conscious of every sound she made. The cold January wind hit her face as she stepped out onto the streets of Buffalo. “Thank you, God, for El Nino,” she said to the sky.
As she walked down the road, she took in the all too familiar scenery. Weeds growing through every crack in the sidewalks. Abandoned cars, broken store windows, garbage blowing across the streets. It looked like a riot had taken place throughout the entire city. Except there were also decomposed bodies lying about. The city of over a million people had become a ghost town. Every city and every town she’d come across since she left Plattsburgh had been the same. But that didn’t make it any less eerie. These places were supposed to be bustling with people, energetically going about their normal lives. People meeting friends for coffee, taking dogs on walks or trying to get to work on time. Just seeing people, even if she never really interacted with them, was a comfort. But all that was gone in this new reality. Now when she came across someone, she wasn’t sure if her life was in danger.
As the day dragged on, Sam munched on a protein bar and checked her watch. Despite having walked all day through the city, she still felt as though she was running behind. She turned a corner and stopped in her tracks. Further down the street was a man in tattered clothes, baseball bat in one hand and picking through a garbage can with the other. He looked up and saw her, the front collar of his shirt stained with old blood. He immediately dropped the garbage and charged for her with aggressive grunts.
“Shit,” she said before darting across the street and into an alley.
The man followed her, chasing as fast as he could. She burst out of the alley and spotted a busted restaurant window across the street. Without breaking stride, she hurdled into the restaurant and rushed through the kitchen. She looked back and saw the man climbing through the broken glass. She tried to open the back door, but it was stuck. She wound up and threw her shoulder into the door, jarring it open.
She stumbled out the back door and ran down the alley. The man followed after her. She rounded the corner to the street and backed against the wall, unholstering the tactical tomahawk from her backpack. She readied it, listening for the man’s footsteps. The man rounded the corner and she swung, burying her tomahawk into his chest. The weapon was ripped from her hands as the man fell down from the blow. He gasped for breath as his hands took hold of the weapon embedded in his chest. He pulled the tomahawk out, letting blood flow freely from the open wound. He tried to get to his feet, but Sam quickly grabbed his bat and cracked him over the head. He collapsed to the ground, not moving.
She dropped the bat and stood up. Wiping a bit of blood from her cheek, she spotted another man down the street. She bent down, grabbed her tomahawk and came back up. The man was looking at her. She held her hand up. He raised a gun and aimed it at her. “Whoa whoa!” she yelled. He fired as she scrambled for cover. The man screeched and ran toward her. She dashed back into the alley as he fired a few more rounds, the bullets sending fragments of brick into the air as they struck the building. She ran down the alley as fast as she could. Suddenly, a door opened in front of her and another man stepped out. She slid to a stop and readied her weapon. He pointed his pistol at her. Each waited for the other to make a move, but neither did.
“Behind me,” she said, out of breath. He held the door open and motioned for her to get inside. She slipped past and he shut the door behind them. She leaned against the wall, catching her breath, “Thanks.”
“Sure. Todd,” he said as he extended his hand. She grabbed it and they shook hands.
“Samantha,” she replied
“You alone?” he asked. She nodded. “Not anymore,” he smiled.