When the dust settled into the corners of the window sills, I knew it was the first of the month. The second day was cleaning day. Our little house was cleaned from top to bottom, every surface getting a touch from the worn rag. The straw broom, missing a quarter of its bristles, made its way all over the house as we swept up dust, dirt, and the dreams that we had held onto. It was a new start. A new month of maybes and you can do it with the hope that they would morph into yeses and I can. Maybe if we had a bit more time, another cleaning day, we could have had our yes.

Market day always came after cleaning day. I stood at our doorway, staring out into the empty street, wondering if it was worth it. Stepping out into the dirt after cleaning day always made me feel a bit soiled. Like I was taking my soul and dragging it through the muck. But, boots were only for battle. Under your instruction, we kept them under a blanket in the corner so that we couldn’t see them. In a way that was worse. It made me think of a funeral shroud and those thoughts always made me think of faces pressed into the sand. The grit sticking to eyelashes and coating tongues through mouths frozen in fear.

I curled my toes into the soft silt before me.

I breathed heavily through my nose to push past the thoughts. To put the boots away. Back under the shroud. Away from the memories. I desecrated my soul on the way to market.

Grey monolith walls guided my way that day. Sand drifts pressed against them. For the past month howling wind storms had ravaged the land. The wind didn’t bring anything worth having. No rain. No good tidings. Just the smell of death and decay. Sometimes far off sounds from monsters that mixed in with the whistle of the wind. I pulled the scarf covering my hair tighter as a gust of wind blew down the street between the buildings. I curled against it, making my way slowly. Something shifted and the wind slackened enough for me to hear the tell-tale scream. I doubled over in the street, basket rolling away. My stomach in my throat and my heart in my ears. I barely made it to the alley before the rumbling began.

The earth shattered around me. Dust suspended in the air. But all I could see was Navid’s head at my boots. The sand filling his mouth as the wind blew. The screams grew louder. My body felt like it was being pulled apart at its seams. I prayed for my soul. Wished for my boots. Wished for my gun. But that had been taken from me after the last attack. After I had brandished it at you thinking you were one of the monsters. After I had screamed for help for Navid. I knew that much at least. Yes, that day I at least knew that much.

Hands gripped at my arms and I unclenched my eyes to a man cloaked in desert fatigues. He was speaking, but the words were a mess. A monster. I was sure this time. I batted at his face. Hands reaching for his neck. Another appeared and they gave something to me. They held me until whatever it was took hold. The screaming subsided. I looked around, expecting to see the ruins of our town, but everything was as it always had been. Everything, but me.