Ariel’s heart raced in his chest as he thought about the two backpacks he had hidden in the forest. He had filled them with enough food and water to last them a day, and they had a few weapons inside them in case he came across any fiends, or demons possessing people. No one in his family, besides his twin sister Eden, knew that he was going to go exploring a set of abandoned houses.
One hundred years ago, thousands of fiends rose to Earth and possessed humans all at the same time. Chaos ensued. Governments fell, and humans struggled to survive while the fiends thrived in their new world. Ariel and his family were a nomadic group that stuck to the forests, and they had limited contact with other people. He had heard a few stories about the old world, and he sometimes felt like he knew more about it than he did the new one.
Ariel laid with his back pressed against his twin sister’s in their shared tent, and he wondered how she could lay so still while he was so full of anticipation. Their mother Mary, who slept next to Eden, never liked them to be far from her sight, especially Eden, her precious, frail daughter, so she would be upset if she knew about them leaving to explore an old area by themselves.
Neither Ariel nor Eden had ever been alone with each other, and Ariel had always wanted to explore some of the ruins of the old world. During the winter months, they took shelter inside old buildings, but they were always small and plain. People had already looted everything useful from them, but there was an old neighborhood that everyone always avoided, even though there appeared to be no people or fiends living in them.
Ariel could hear snoring, and he pushed himself upright without making any noise. The light from the moon was just bright enough for him to make out his sister's open eyes in the darkness, and he nodded to her. She made no movement as she looked at him, and he imagined that was because she was afraid to wake Mary.
When it had been time for everyone to go to bed, Ariel had made sure he had been the last to enter the tent, and he tried his best to leave an opening in the tent that was just large enough for him to pass through it without Mary noticing. She had not said a thing about it or even looked at it again, so Ariel seemed to have gotten away with it.
Ariel slipped out of the opening he had made, biting his lip to keep himself from gasping in surprise when the zipper pulled open further. He crouched outside the tent, looking at the tents of his uncles Ron and Levi and of his aunt Dana. None of them looked out their tent to check on the noise. Eden touched his shoulder when he made it out of the tent fine, and they exchange a nod. They stayed crouched as they made their way toward the edge of the forest.
They were lucky to have planned to go on an adventure when they had. The sky was cloudless, allowing the waning moon to illuminate the forest. The trees were only just growing their leaves so spring, so there was little to block the light.
Ariel had buried the backpacks beneath a pile of dead leaves and sticks a few meters into the forest so it would be harder for their uncles to find them, and he made sure to look through them before they went on their adventure. Each backpack was full of roughly the same things: a flashlight (recharged by shaking), bottles of water, small first aid kit, a spare jacket, and some dried deer meat.
"I buried our shoes by here, too," Ariel said, "so we don't have to be barefoot."
They put on their shoes and jackets, but as Ariel checked on his sister, he noticed she was still shivering from the cold. There was a sharp pain of guilt in his chest. It had taken him a long time to convince her to come with him to see the abandoned houses, and if he had never said anything at all, she would be warm and snug in their tent. She would have been sleeping and having happy dreams.
"Are you sure you're okay with this?" he whispered.
"I figured this would be better than you just doing this by yourself," Eden said, shrugging her shoulders.
Ariel sighed at her answer, but he nodded. He looped his arm around her shoulder so he could help her fight the lingering cold of winter. Carrying their backpack in one hand and flashlights in the other, they ventured Northwest, in the direction of the abandoned houses.
They were only an hour away from the camp when they could see the crumbling brick walls through the trees, and despite himself, Ariel found himself moving just a few feet ahead of Eden just to get a better look at everything.
"Hey, don't leave me behind!" Eden whispered.
"Don't worry! I won't go far."
Ariel stayed a few feet in the forest so he was not exposing himself to anyone that might be near, but he was close enough to see the entire back wall of one of the houses. A tree had fallen into the farther side of it, exposing, a room on the second floor, and there was a pile of brick beneath it. Beyond that, there were several dirty windows and a single backdoor with a pile of rotted wood beneath it. There must have been steps that had led to the door, and now it hovered a good three feet above the ground.
Eden reached her twin brother's side, and she grabbed his arm as if to make sure he would stay near her this time. She peered around him to look at the house herself.
Now that she had stopped moving, Ariel paused to listen for any additional sounds. He heard a bird--an owl hooting--but beyond that was only silence. Ariel covered Eden’s hand with his own, and he jerked his head toward the back door. She nodded. They walked toward the door together, staying close to each other’s sides.
Both Ariel and Eden looked all around them as they approached the door. Ariel put a gentle hand on his sister's shoulder when they were just a few steps away from the pile of rotting wood beneath the door, and he reached his hand over the pile just to see if he could reach the door handle.
"Be careful," Eden whispered.
Ariel remained silent as his hand grasped the doorknob. He held his breath as he turned it, and to his surprise, there was a loud click. The door let out a creak as he pulled it open, and he paused, turning toward his sister. Eden covered her mouth to keep herself from making any more noise. They paused to listen, but there were no other sounds. Even the owl had stopped hooting.
"I'm going to open it all the way," Ariel mouthed.
Eden nodded. Her hands trembled as she brought them to her chest, and she clasped them together.
Ariel pulled open the door, and it let out a horrible screech. They paused to listen to any more sounds, and out of the corner of his eye, he could see Eden frantically looking all about them.
Inside the house was only pitch black darkness. Ariel grabbed his flashlight, and he shined it into the room.
It was a kitchen. Many of the cabinets and counters were broken, and some were mere piles of wood on the floor. Ariel recognized a refrigerator and a stove, which were similar to the few he had seen in smaller abandoned homes. Everything was covered in a layer of dirt and dust. He could see a door with a large crack in it, but it otherwise seemed intact.
Ariel reached out his hand to Eden, and she took it, squeezing his hand too hard as she continued to search for anyone watching them. Her eyes were wide with fear, and that painful feeling of guilt crept into his chest again.
“Do you want to go back?” he whispered. "We don't have to keep going if you don't want to."
"What? No, no, I'm fine. I'm just a little spooked, that's all."
Eden let out a nervous laugh as she continued to look all about the area.
"I'm going in," Ariel warned. "I'll help you up."
Ariel waited for Eden to respond. She nodded, and he returned it. He turned to the pile of wood beneath the door, and he noticed it he would be able to step on it with little trouble. With the step being three feet off the ground, Ariel vaulted into the house, and the floor creaked with his every movement.
They both paused to listen for any suspicious sounds again. Ariel turned to Eden, and he held out his hands to help her. She was silent as she accepted his help into the house.
"Do you think there would still be anything left in these cabinets?" Ariel asked.
He shined his light on a pile of broken lumber as he stepped closer to them.
"It's been one hundred years. Everything would have been looted by now."
"Let's just look to see if something might have been overlooked."
Eden sighed, but she took out her own flashlight from her backpack, and she started looking through the opposite side of the rubble as him. They lifted up pieces of wood and set it into a different pile as quietly as they could, despite all the noise that had already been made, and they searched through all of the cabinets.
Ariel moved a little faster than the trembling Eden, but by the time he was halfway through his side of the kitchen, Eden gasped. He spun toward her, and to her surprise, there was a grin on her face. She held a cylindrical object that was as big as her head, and she held the end of her flashlight with her teeth.
It was an aluminum can, something that was rare to find nowadays, but there was a living group of people who had the equipment to make them. This one, however, had a sheet of paper glued to it, and after brushing the layers of dust, they found the words "Monty's Peaches" printed onto it.
"One-hundred-year-old peaches," Ariel said as he took the can from her. "Do you think we should take these back to the group as a peace offering if we get caught?"
"We're definitely going to get caught," Eden said, "but I'm certain Uncle Levi would eat these if we dared him."
After she said that, there was nothing that could convince Ariel to leave the can behind. He stuffed it into his backpack, and they continued to search through the rubble. There was nothing left to see, so they turned their attention to the cracked door.
"Should we keep going?" Ariel asked.
"It would be a shame if we didn't."
Ariel looked at Eden, raising his eyebrows in surprise, and she shrugged her shoulders.
"I mean, we haven't caught anything's attention yet, so we might as well, right? There could be something else that had been left behind."
“Are you having fun?” he asked, nudging her in the arm with his elbow.
Eden turned her face from him, and she cleared her throat.
“We’re going to get into serious trouble for being out here,” she clarified, “so we might as well make the most out of this.”
Ariel knew Eden was too stubborn to admit to anything contradictory to things she had said earlier, so he just turned his attention to the door. Now that he was closer to it, he could that the door was rotting, and the crack in the middle of it ran from the top all the way to the bottom. He turned the door handle, but as he opened it, the door broke in half. Only Ariel kept it from falling onto the ground.