Dev never stopped because that was a good way to get yourself killed. Too many people stopped to search the dead or find shelter too close to a road. Easy mistakes to make if you weren’t smart enough.
The only people left alive were the smart ones.
Dev never considered himself smart by any means, but he had good common sense, and sometimes the world needed more of that. Common sense told him not to pass under that creepy looking bridge or not to go into that town where the streets were too quiet.
The only side effect of having good common sense meant Dev traveled alone. Alone with his thoughts, his horse, and his gun he tried hard not to use.
Having common sense was lonely. So Dev gave it a name—Jerry.
Jerry wasn’t any fun, but at least he kept him alive. He had the best intentions and that was all that mattered.
So three days riding past the Texas border, when Dev saw a broken, abandoned house in the distance, his common sense—Jerry—told him to keep riding.
So Dev kept riding, until about one minute later when he stopped his horse and looked at the house again.
Something about it was different, even though he didn’t know what. Something about it lured him to it. To see what was behind the broken door and dirty windows. To find any secrets that were hidden inside. Maybe to find someone else just as lonely as him.
Jerry told him to keep riding.
Dev turned his horse towards the house.
There was an old car parked in front of the garage. He thought parked, but really the metal frame rested on the ground because someone poached the tires a long time ago. Probably one of the motor gangs that he kept off the highways to avoid.
The porch was nice at one point in time, even though it was broken and there was now sand in the cracks leading up to the door, Dev imagined it how it was once was. Someone’s home. A place where you could come out in the morning to drink your coffee and wave to a neighbor.
Dev would give anything for a cup of coffee.
He slide off his horse and walked up to the door that was no longer a door. It hung off by a single hitch, making a gap wide enough for him to slip past.
“Hello?” Dev asked, his voice hoarse from disuse.
Nobody answered him and even though he wanted to ignore it, there was a small pang of disappointment.
The house had been ransacked long ago and there was barely anything left. Just trash and sand blown into the corners from the broken windows.
Dev let out sigh and was about to leave when he saw a small box in the corner. It reminded him of the box his mother had that she put jewelry and keepsakes in.
Jerry whispered for him to leave.
Dev walked over and picked up the box. The surface was smooth with no engravings or marks. It was something his father would’ve made in his wood-shop when he was a boy. A time he could barely remember anymore. Long before the world went to shit.
When Dev lifted the lid, there was only one thing inside. A heart-shaped locket barely bigger than his thumb. He set the box on the bent windowsill and took out the locket with careful fingers, afraid it would crumble in his hands. The chain was all tangled and cinched, but he could always fix that later. Inside the locket, there was a small picture of a woman. Just her smiling face with faded color on her cheeks.
Something welled in his heart—a longing that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
The very thing he pushed away to stay alive because he had enough heartache for the whole world. Having people close to your heart only meant heartbreak in a world like this. It was inevitable. People died and he was left alone, like a broken record left out to play for the rest of time.
If Dev was with someone like this woman, he knew how it would end. Her broken body in his arms, unable to keep her alive because there was nothing in his world that wasn’t cruel.
Just like yesterday and the day before, Dev would continue on, avoiding people to avoid heartbreak.
But then, what? Was he cursed to spend the rest of his life alone? Forever wandering around with no purpose other than staying alive?
But what was the point of staying alive if you had nobody to share it with?
Dev closed his fingers around the locket and at this point, Jerry wasn’t happy at all. Jerry was Dev’s fear, heartbreak, and everything that made him afraid of what he was about to do.
He left the house with the locket, mounted his horse, and rode off with only one thing on his mind.
He wasn’t going to be alone anymore.