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I woke up in darkness and silence. The ground under me itched my face. I sat up slowly and looked at what I was laying on. There was just enough light shining through a dirty window on my right to see I was sleeping on an old threadbare carpet that smelled of misty mornings and chilly nights. I heard muffled footsteps, and I squeezed my eyes shut, pretending to be asleep, and not doing a very good job of it. The memories of the day came spilling back into my head, depositing themselves in my chest and gut where I pushed them further down with my mind. Memories that had sharp blades and cut quick if you didn’t force them down into the dark. I saw Mama’s face smiling down at me through unforgiving flames. I felt the loss deep in my bones and tried hard not to let my emotions betray my face. I wasn’t as good at that then as I am now. I sucked in a shaky breath of air and let it out in a shudder.
“You up?” The old man’s voice sounded like sandpaper, but still had a bit of a sing-song quality that I imagined what it sounded like when he was much younger. His shadow went to the corner of the room. He fiddled with something, and the room was filled with light from one single bulb on the ceiling. My eyes squinted, reacting to the unnatural light. I rubbed both of my eyes with the back of my hands. I’d seen houses with electricity before, but in these times, they were only for rich people or people who had access to solar panels and knew what they were doing. Technology from before, things that were slowly breaking down. The world from before was mostly gone, but I’d learned a few things from an old encyclopedia Mama scrounged up. She always said, even if there were no schools anymore, it was no excuse to not be educated. I didn’t mind, I loved reading about how the way things were. The old man smiled down at me from where I sat and then took a chair directly across from me.
The dry wood creaked as the old man settled his weight. I stood up and pushed my back against the wall. I was trying to get as much space between him and me as possible. He saw me looking at the bulb, and his smile got wider.
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