If it got much colder, she was going to need to get serious about starting a fire. The problem was that fire meant smoke. Smoke meant attention and attention meant gunfire. Gunfire meant noise. Noise meant more attention, and so it went. As it was, she’d keep as warm as she could without it.
The fuel station she was hunkered behind had held nothing worth taking. She’d be hunkered inside but had grown wary of closed-in places. Anyway, years of water accumulation had left most roofs void of structural integrity. On top of that, staying indoors reduced the number of exits. Exits were important this deep into the old city.
A few had predicted this would happen. The rapid tumbling of the dominos of civilization had not started without a telegraphing of movements. Some contemporary shamans had derived meaning from the entrails. The repetition and volume of well-coifed doomsday preachers across 24-hour news outlets had reduced the impact of the message, though. Sometimes Chicken Little is right in end state if not in timing. And so, the wise loaded up two by two and the world around them remained ignorant until the rain started.
These thoughts were far from the forefront of her thinking. They burned dimly in the back of her mind but matters more pressing dominated most of her attention. Questions of security, sustenance, and shelter were as high as her hierarchy of needs normally got. Self-actualization was as useful to her as the keys to her apartment that she had carried for months.
Her submachine gun, battered but functional, provided security. Canned food was rarely found anymore but small animals like rats and birds could be trapped rather easily. There were many bird nests to raid eggs from in the upper floors of buildings. Passed in whispers from stranger to stranger around nervous fires, the survivors learned what plants were edible. In this way, sustenance was derived.
Shelter was a compromise. Hiding in dilapidated buildings could provide some cover from the elements but had a habit of collapsing. When one building fell, it often took out more with it. The dust produced could choke out blocks for days at a time. She knew of more than one survivor that had endured a collapse only to suffocate in the aerosolized detritus of the building.
The city was her best chance of finding supplies. It was simple math. In the country, structures could be miles apart. Structures were where humans used to store goods. In a city, these structures were concentrated into tight aisles, neatly aligned. She could pick through a dozen buildings in the time it took her to walk between two in the countryside.
She needed to deepen her larder if she was going to survive the trek south. The coast was hundreds of miles away through mostly empty lands. Scavenging and trapping game would be much harder out there. She hoped the journey would be worth it. Over the past months, it was the one rumor that had refused to be snuffed out. A boat was picking up survivors from a pier and shuttling them to an island colony.
Sometimes when she heard the story it was a Navy vessel, bristling with weapons and rotating dishes. Others told the tale of a large barge docked for a week at a time. Every story agreed that the boat stayed a few days, gathering materials from around the pier, before slipping back into the fog with whoever wanted to go with it.
Part of her knew this wasn’t enough proof to risk such a long, dangerous journey. A larger part of her understood that this was the only thing she should be risking her life for. In this new world, only her own sacrifice would grant salvation. The days of crowd sourcing messiahs had passed and those left waiting at the tomb for resurrection would remain so in perpetuity.
The sounds of a collapsing building echoed through the streets; a prolonged shriek followed by the waterfall sounds of tons of concrete meeting earth. This silenced her inner monologue and got her back to her feet. The building sounded like it had come from where she’d been picking earlier. Had her earlier presence in the building been the catalyst for its demise? A worthless thought. She had work to do. A time was approaching when the totems of her old city would be erased from the surface. She intended to be gone before that happened.
2 thoughts on “Breather”
First, you hit us with an amazing diorama, that by itself would be enough, but then you follow up with this engaging story on top of it! ‘Aerosolized detritus’ might be my new favorite word pairing.
Thank you! Perhaps it’s a pretentious pairing. Haha