The day dragged on into another realm of exhaustion as the hikers made their way along yet another nondescript mountain passage. The world had come to a stand still, and for every step they took, the scenery changed ever so slightly while they remained rigid in place.
And where was this place? It was the middle of nowhere. It was the great wilderness. It was the wide expanse of uncharted territory. It was the raw reality of life on earth where humans did not exist. It should have been beautiful. It should have been breath-taking. But those who walked this route were humans themselves, one's who were beginning to feel just as extinct as the surrounding land suggested.
Starvation had worked its way into their muscles, weariness into their bones, and stagnant depression into their minds. Their plane had crashed three nights ago, and still they hiked. Through desperation and through pain, they toiled always onward. They were searching for humanity, and on a planet that held over six billion people, it was pure frustration that faced them at every turn. They were utterly alone--a small tribe of men and women on a faceless planet of rock and plantlife.
The people had come to blows, screaming at one another under the influence of that mortal fear that crept the alleyways of their subconcious like a virus. Were they going to die? Was this the end? What would happen if they could not find any more food? When would the hunger end and death begin?
"I said we should have gone north!" screamed Jake.
Linus cackled and said, "Why don't you understand? We don't know which way north even is!"
"I told you it was that way!" retorted Jake. "Why won't you believe me?"
And then, the softest of them all spoke. It was Jillian. "I think I see a light..."
Though her voice was only a whisper, an uneasy and unsure whisper at that, the screams died instantly. Jake spun his eyes to the ridge ahead, and Linus gave Jillian a demanding glare.
"Where?" barked Jake. "I don't see anything."
And then Mel spotted it. She was too tired to say anything, but she pointed at the light with wide, hopeful eyes.
The light was shining down from the ridgetop, feeble and weak, but it was at least a sign of humanity.
"The sun is reflecting from a window!" cried Jake, the joy in his voice nasty and arrogant, as if it had been his own discovery.
Jillian smiled with giddy excitement. Could there really be a building up there? Were they not still in the middle of nowehere?
They would soon find out.
The tribe worked their way up this final slope with a burning energy that compressed the last of their strength into a final heave for hope. After entering the tree line, Travis came to a dead stop. "There's a fence!" he cried, his voice cracking.
Jake was soon in the lead, climbing the fence like the commander in charge. "This way!" he cried.
Jillian was still smiling like a little mountain blossom as she watched the antics and excitement of the others. Who would have thought? Meek little Jillian was the one to save them all.
Soon however, as they marched through the forest beyond the fence, this simple hope began to transform into a realization of wonder. They emerged as if straight out of a game of make-believe, right out onto the crisp green lawns of a landscaped yard.
The group gathered on the sloped lawn before the japanese gardens and the duck pond, gazing in amazement at the pruned hedges and the graceful path that curved gently through the garden and orchard beyond. And then, in a dream-like silence, they made their way along the path.
The path soon reached the crest of the hill where the weeping willows stood, and here there sat a single bench that overlooked the wilderness. Jake climbed onto the bench and stood, gazing over the harsh landscape they had previously endured.
"Look the other way," Jillian whispered. "Away from the past and to the future."
Jake made no response and then turned as if of his own volition. His eyes widened, and then he whooped with glee and jumped from the bench to the soft ground.
"There's a house straight ahead!" he cried. With these words, the group found that they had the energy to run. And so they did.
Soon, the beautiful shining windows and the rich textures of the man-made walls and roof came into full view. And as this view stretched before them, they realized that they had found far more than they had ever suspected.
"It's a mansion!" cried Mel. "There's even a swimming pool!" Mel could not contain her glee, and she bounded forward with hightened laughter and gleaming eyes.
The group immediately split up to investigate the yard around this mansion, and they were soon troubled to find that the entire circumference was edged by the expanses of wilderness that they had come to dread.
"I don't understand," complained Travis. "Why is this mansion in the middle of nowhere?"
"Oh, but it's not!" Mel exclaimed. "It's somewhere!"
Jillian had remained silent through all this, and as the others had ran about like children, she had calmly walked around the house to peer through all the windows. And she had come to a frightening conclusion.
There was nobody home.