The town was surrounded by a thick wall of refuse. Most towns were. They had protected themselves against the wilderness by piling up anything they could find between the buildings at the outskirts. Often more walls divided the town inside from itself. A few places were well crafted from the bricks of fallen buildings, other places were piles of garbage, abandoned vehicles, and sometimes, the now skelotonized bodies of those who had been the most recent to die before the deadliest part of the final plague began. These were always the easiest places to get through.
The girl Stepped one foot in front of the other, heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe along a concrete curb, glancing at the wall periodically, trying to find such a weak-spot. She lifted one foot for a moment, singing a quiet, indistinct song about a lovely ballerina, and savoring her newfound ability to balance on one foot without raising her arms. There were no words in her songs, only the hums and grunts that she was able to make, but the words were clear in her head.
She looked around, glancing quickly at the sky to gauge the time of day, then to the wall, where she saw what she had been looking for.
She approached the spot on the wall, where several skeletons lay upon one another, their clothing rotting off in small strips, their flesh completely removed by insects, animals, and weather over the last ten years. Dangerously sharp and rusted scrap metal was piled above them.
Warily, she reached out and pushed on the bones of the lowest body. Some ribs and a wrist cracked as she pushed, but the skeleton moved mostly in one piece, pushing others behind it, forming a crater in the wall, weakening the already tenuous section. She stopped when she heard the metal creak above her. She had pushed in almost to her shoulders anyway. Carefully, she removed her arms from the wall and stepped back. Looking around, she found a fist sized rock in the dirt. Her wiry arm flung the stone with speed against the wall just above the new crater. The wall shifted, and several pieces fell from the spot where the stone hit. She waited several moments before approaching. She found a horseshoe, a few rusted blades, a car steering wheel, and what looked like a rotted broom handle.
She picked up the steering wheel, being careful not to breathe the red dust that was settling away from the wall. She hopped back to the spot where she had thrown the stone, curled her arm around her body, and, spinning, released the wheel toward the wall. Where it hit, several more pieces of scrap fell away, then more, soon the wall was collapsing. She turned and crouched, pulling the collar of her small leather jacket up over the back of her head. The crashing behind her made an awful and painful sound. After a few moments, she stood, her thin sweater pulled up over her face to keep out the dust. The air still tasted rancid and rusty.
The wall had a V-shaped gap in it, plenty of space for a girl to climb through. She was careful not to injure herself on the sharp, rusted debris.
Walking through the streets of the town, she began singing a loud tuneless song about rusted bones. Her wordless voice reverberated off of the crumbling walls and filled the long silence of the small town. She sang and skipped and spun as she looked at each building in turn. A mile down the main drag, she found what she was looking for: A store with solid walls, windows unbroken, and locks still on the doors.
She approached the front window, still blocked by an accordion gate. The lock on the gate was completely ruined, bashed and cut almost to pieces, yet it was still closed. The window was dusty, and nearly opaque. She quickly noticed a small hole in the window.
She had seen holes like that many times. A bullet hole. She leaned in and looked through the hole with one eye. Inside, a mostly skeletonized man sat with a gun on his lap and a hole in his head.
She stepped back and took a look at the gate, then at the lock. It had the same symbols carved into it as many other unbroken locks which she had found. Perhaps those symbols meant something special.
She remembered a hardware store about a hundred yards back down the road. Its walls were broken, but perhaps some of the tools were still in good shape. As she walked, she sang a song about a tough little girl, searching for a hacksaw in a ruined city.
When she returned to the gate, she held a hacksaw fitted with the most sparkled blade that she could find, since those have always done the best job against metal in the past. She started by sawing at the lock, but after several minutes, had cut barely a millimeter through the metal, and didn’t seem to be making progress. She understood why the person who killed the shop owner had been unable to break the lock. She shook out her hand, and went to work, instead, on the loop which held the lock in place. Here she made noticeable progress, and in ten minutes had the gate open.
The door behind was still locked. She tried to use the saw on this lock, but the lock plate was too close to the door, and she made very little impression. Reluctantly, she smashed in the glass door with the saw. When the dust settled, she ducked under the push-bar, and into the musty air of the grocery store.
It was not an unpleasant smell. It was sort of sweet. In the past, she’d found bodies that had been in confined spaces for years, and the odor had been unbearable. She stood before the man, leaned toward his bony face, and looked into the space where his eyes once were. She decided that he looked very sad, and that she was glad he had died quickly, with no pain. She was always glad to see that someone had died quickly, instead of- She shook the images from her head, and looked again at the shop-keeper. She couldn’t just leave him there. She decided to explore the rest of the store before doing anything.
Behind a small door, she found a narrow stair up to the second story. The stairs were badly damaged by termites and rot, but carefully, she was able to ascend to the landing. Glancing around, she saw that the second story was small and had only two rooms. The door to the first was standing open, it was obviously a washroom.
As always, she tried the tap, just to make sure… and as always there was nothing. She tried the second door. The bedroom: A small couch, several lamps, a dark computer console, rotting curtains, and a bed.
On the bed was another body. Beneath the women’s nightgown, the bones were twisted into pretzel knots. There was a bullet hole in the front of the gown… This was the shop owner’s wife or daughter or mother…
The girl looked away, but suddenly felt very sick. She screamed and clamped her fists to her temples as the images and emotions of her mother’s final days came back to her in a flood of tears. Her limbs twisted in never ending agony, every moment of consciousness between fever-ridden bouts of sleep spent calling, begging for death to come, until her daughter finally decided to do as her mother said, until she finally had the courage to-
The girl turned from the room and ran back down the hall, and onto the stairs. The wood around her began to crumble away. The stairs, the walls, the banister, everything around her was turning to dust. Dust and tears.
She fell into the darkness.
She tasted death.
…the cave … she has to leave the cave … has to stop preening Mothers body … has to survive … but, Mother … she will never move again … the screaming is done … good … good …
The dust in her mouth tasted like the smell of death. Something made it painful to open her eyes. She forced them open, but it was too dark to see. Her whole body was sore. She tried to move her arms. were stuck. After a moment of panic, she realized that she was laying face-down on top of her wrists. She rolled, and then lay still, waiting for feeling to return to her wrists and hands. Several minutes passed as she bore the pain of renewed circulation.
Finally, she took stock of her surroundings. There was very little light, but she could tell that she was under what used to be a staircase. It had crumbled away beneath her as she ran. From what? She shouldn’t think about it right away. Maybe later.
She rolled back over onto her hands and knees, and felt out her immediate surroundings: A broom, a bucket, several boxes, various tools on a small shelf… She was in a closet. She suddenly felt very lucky to have only lost feeling in her hands. If she had landed a little bit to either side, she might have been seriously injured by this broom or this cabinet or this glass bottle…
Feeling around some more, she found the door to the closet, and turned the knob, falling out onto the tiled floor of the shop.
There was a little more light here, coming from the moon, by way of the mostly translucent front window. She was behind the register counter. She could see rows of receipt paper on one shelf, along with other various supplies.
Slowly, painfully, she stood. With a little searching, she found a small washroom. She tried the faucet. Nothing. She looked in the mirror. Even in the low light, she could see that she was totally covered in dust and dirt. On her eyes and cheeks, the dust had crusted like dried mud. Images began to return to her:
The upstairs bathroom had a mirror much like this one. Then, down the hallway, in the bedroom… No… She shook the image from her head before it could fully surface. She concentrated on her own reflection. She needed water. She was dirty and thirsty.
She found some water bottles, and some rubbing alcohol in the shop, and returned to the washroom to wash herself. She used the alcohol on the cuts and scraps, when she found them under the dust, just like her sister taught her to do, before the crazies came to the house and took her away.
When she was finished, the sun was beginning to rise, and she decided to start making this place into her home for the winter. Maybe longer if she could find enough supplies, but she didn’t think she would.
As a first step, she finished looking around. In the back of the store, she found palettes of plastic tasting water, stacks of canned goods, some of it with pictures of cats and dogs on them, and another door, a heavy metal one with a big lock. She decided right away that she would spend the time to block up the front door, and use this one exclusively.
She returned to the hardware store for a shovel, and started digging in a patch of dirt near the back-door. She spent most of that day digging, and in the evening, she carefully carried the shopkeeper’s body, and his chair, out to the grave. It was dark when she placed the marker stone over the loose dirt.
The next day, she decided to get some clothes. Her clothes were dirty, and since new clothes were free, it made more sense to get new ones than to waste water on cleaning the dust off of the old ones.
She walked around the shops until she found one that looked like what she wanted. When she went inside, she found that the store, as usual, had been split down the middle, with practical clothes on one side, and impractical, easily torn clothes on the other side. She walked back through the store, past the mostly empty racks of adult-sized clothes, to the mostly full racks of child-sized clothes. The smaller clothes were almost always still around.
She knew that someday soon she would need those bigger clothes, and she would probably have to visit people’s homes to find them. She dreaded that day. There were always so many bodies in the parts of town where the houses were. She was also noticing that it was getting more difficult to fit snuggly into the practical clothes as she got older. Although there were a few pieces on the impractical side that fit, and seemed functional, so this was where most of her clothes came from on this trip.
She spent the entire day looking through the stock. She returned to her new home at nightfall, pushing a wheeled cart filled with clothing and the few blankets and pillows that the looters had missed. Everything was a little dusty, but nothing a good shake didn’t help, and not nearly as bad as her old clothes, which were not just dusty, but also stained by blood and urine.
At first, she didn’t recognize the sound. She sat up from her bed-roll, and listened. Grinding and gurgling from far away. The growling of a sick dog.
In a flash of memory, the sound was clear. The crazies had made that sound the night they came to her house.
It was louder, closer, and mixed with the hoots and hollers that always accompanied the crazies. Father had kept the family inside since the crazies started murdering people on the street. Mostly, people who stayed in their homes were safe.
This time, however, they stopped. One of them broke a window. Another kicked in the door. Gunshots. Mother screamed as Father fell. Sister was slumped across the back of a motorcycle, and they were gone. It was over in seconds, and only she and Mother were left, and Mother couldn’t live in the house anymore.
The girl sprang up, and ran toward her pack, knocking over a tall stack of emptied cans with cat’s faces on them, which she’d been building up over the last couple weeks. She paused a moment, thinking to rebuild it, but decided that it could wait.
At the bottom of her pack she found what she was looking for, a rifle scope, and rushed out the heavy door. She sprang past the small grave marker, and leaped onto the ladder on the wall of the building.
When she reached the top, she listened again for the sound. The reverberations across the town made it too difficult to figure the direction, but it had to be close. She raised the scope to her eye, and searched the streets.
A half-mile away, on the other side of a collapsed shopping center, she saw it: A dirty, black motorcycle. Just one, and just one rider. It was driving away from the hole the girl had made in the wall, now cleared enough to let the bike through.
She watched the bike cross the town, slowly, the rider looking left and right at the buildings, until it came to a stop in front of a convenience store only a street away. The rider dismounted. Looked around, and took the helmet off.
Long, auburn hair, sharp features. Sister!
The girl dropped the scope and clamored down the ladder, falling the last few feet, and twisting her ankle against the grave marker. She hobble-ran between mostly fallen walls and steel beams to the convenience store. In moments, she was peering out from between two concrete columns at the store, and the big motorcycle. The rider emerged from the store with a small package in her hand: perhaps a pepper-meat-stick. She sometimes could still find those on the floors and cabinets of the corner stores.
The woman leaned against an old gas-pump, and opened the package. It wasn’t Sister. She looked a bit like Sister, but she wasn’t Sister. Trying to decide if she should leave her concealment, the girl shifted her weight, and knocked a chunk of concrete loose from the pillar. The sound startled the woman, and she turned to look, but the girl did not wait to meet the woman’s gaze. She quickly ran back to her store, and after a few minutes, she heard the motorcycle start back up again.
She started the next day by sealing up the front of the store. As she nailed a tarp over the broken glass door, she sang a song to herself about a little girl trapping herself in a dangerous dungeon, and tried to ignore the sound of the motorcycle still moving around the city. She was admiring her work, when she felt a breeze, somehow still coming through. She checked all the edges of the door, and felt nothing, then she remembered the bullet hole. She looked at it. It was surrounded by cracks, and looked very weak, but somehow, the window was still in one piece after all this time, so something was strong about it. She looked around the store until she found a wide roll of tape. Carefully, she placed a small square of it over the small hole in the window.
There was still a draft from somewhere. She wandered around the store, feeling for the draft. She was drawn toward the narrow wooden door, leading to the broken staircase. It was the source of the draft. She shuddered, not because it was chilly. Inside, the stairs were ruined; there was no way to reach the second story now. So, instead of see what was open upstairs, she stuffed bits of cloth into the seams and nailed the door closed. Then, she did the same with the closet door on the other side of the space. The air was still after that. She would be able to keep warm in here for the entire winter.
She started to feel a bit uncomfortable in the stillness. She realized that she was thinking about something upstairs. Something was right above her, and it would be there all winter, and she couldn’t think about it. She couldn’t think about it if she didn’t want to end up like the crazies.
To distract herself, she climbed back up onto the roof to retrieve her forgotten scope. While she was up there, she took the opportunity to look for the woman again. The sound of the motorcycle had stopped, but she found the woman after only a few minutes of searching. She was at another corner-store with gas-pumps, and she was standing next to a hole in the ground, running a hose down into it. After a moment, she turned and let the hose drop down by her side, seeming to stare directly at the girl, so the girl dropped behind the lip of the rooftop to hide. When she peeked back over, the woman was still looking her way, and now she was waving.
It was three days before she saw the woman again. It had been getting colder than expected in the small shop, and the girl was searching the stores for something to hang in the large front window. She was hoping to find something to keep out the cold at night, but which she could move out of the way in the day, as that window was her only source of light.
The girl was skipping from shop to shop singing a wordless song about dancing with the sun and the moon when she spotted the motorcycle outside of the hardware store on the other side of the cracked four-lane street. She stopped and stared for a moment, and the woman peeked out from behind the doorway of the store, smiling when she saw the girl. The woman slowly stepped out onto the sidewalk on her side of the street. The girl took a step back, bumping against the wall behind her, and dropping her pack. She was about to run, and it seemed that the woman could tell because she raised her hands in a sign of non-aggression.
The girl stood still, only watching as the woman, slowly crossed the street toward her, hands still raised. When the woman was only a few feet away, she reached a hand out to the girl. The hand was dirty, and the smile was lopsided, and the girl was suddenly reminded of her the way she had to approach small animals in the forest for food.
She turned and ran then, visualizing her own blood spilling into the grass or making pretty red clouds around the rocks of a clear stream. She ran, without looking back, all the way to her store. She slammed the heavy steel door behind her and latched it. She collapsed exhausted and crying to the floor.
She spent almost all of the next day building up the courage to go back out. In the evening, she finally crept, as quietly as she could, out of her door, and back along the street. When she got there, she was surprised to find that her pack was still there. It didn’t even look like it had been touched since she dropped it.
A few days later, the girl was entertaining herself in the ruins of an old toystore. She had started by playing a hunting game, where she tried to find as many intact plush animals as she could, singing a song about bears and elephants, but when she had found an entire crate of them pinned under a fallen column, she got bored with the counting.
She spent hours searching through the boxes of electronics at the back of another store, but, as always, there was not one working toy or device. However, she had found a large box full of silver-backed devices that she thought she could decorate the walls of her store with, so she loaded them all into a rope-handled paper bag, and lugged them away from the store, dragging the sturdy bag over and under broken walls, and bits of neighboring stores. It was getting dark, and the girl was tired, so she headed directly for her home. She picked back up her song about the animals, and so didn’t notice the dog.
It was feral, and starved. Its fur was matted and ill-maintained, and before she could react it was upon her. It leapt first at her throat, and she instinctively swung the bag from the electronics shop, striking the dog away, and breaking the bag. Small boxes scattered around the street, some of them flying open, so that their mirrored cargo scuffed and scrapped against the pavement.
The dog was back in an instant, and had clamped down on her ankle. The girl collapsed, howling in pain, and tried to pull away. This only caused the dog’s grip to tighten. The girl struggled to draw her dagger from its sheath at her belt. The dog was shaking her, and that combined with the fear of him was making it difficult to unsnap the clasp, and grip the handle, but as soon as she had it free, she stabbed and buried the knife into the dog’s coarse neck.
It let go then, and thrashed on the pavement for a moment before falling still. The girl grabbed her ankle with both hands and howled again with pain, then cringed and allowed herself to collapse, supine, to the pavement. She watched the clouds for a moment, silently forcing herself to ignore the pain. She needed to get back to the store and clean and bandage the wound.
She forced herself up and took a moment to gather her knife from the dog’s body. Having no way to clean it, she simply held it in her hand as she limped away. Pain pounded against her ankle with every step, and several times she stumbled and fell. It was going to be a long walk home.
Before the girl had gone a block along the road, the woman turned the corner ahead, and faced her. She looked worried. She must have heard the pained howling. When the woman spotted the girl, she stopped herself short, and took in the scene. She looked from the girl’s face to her knife, to the dog in the distance behind, and finally to the bloody holes in the girl’s pant leg.
The woman held up one finger, and the girl watched as the woman brought a smaller, leather bag out of her pack. She searched around in this smaller bag for a minute before she brought out a small plastic card with her picture on it, and a clip on one end. The girl had seen these before in office buildings, but couldn’t read the words.
With her ankle in this shape, she couldn’t run anyway, so she let the woman approach, holding out the badge in front of her. When she reached the girl, she motioned for her to sit down on the curb a few feet away. The girl complied, in too much pain to protest.
Once the girl was seated, the woman started unloading her small bag onto the street around her. She carefully laid out about a dozen small silver tools, along with various little bottles and rolls of gauze. The girl understood then what the woman was doing, and relaxed a bit. The woman cut away the bottom half of that pant-leg, and carefully removed it to get at the bite.
The wound stung as the woman poured clear fluid over it from a plastic bottle, but it was easier to handle when someone else was doing the pouring. The girl saw that the wound was not as bad as it felt, and as she calmed down from the attack, the pain also began to fade.
When the woman was done with her work, she tried to help the girl up, but the girl refused to be helped. She didn’t want help walking either, so the woman left her alone to continue on by herself. However, the girl had the feeling, the whole way back to the little store, that she was being watched.
The day of the first snowfall, the girl saw smoke rising a few streets away. She was walking the streets, singing a song about dancing snowflakes as the new snow crunched under-foot. She had bundled herself into a bright-blue snowsuit and pink rubber boots. Some years there was no snow at all, but she liked the few days when it did snow, as it was the only way that the dark world ever looked clean.
The dark billowy column was coming from a restaurant on the main street which was still mostly intact. The girl walked around the building until she found a small window, and looked in. The woman was sitting before a fire-place against one wall. She had broken apart most of the tables and chairs, and stacked them against the wall for firewood. She was sitting in a large arm-chair with a book open in her lap. The inside of the restaurant, where the woman had obviously been living was much different from the girl’s home in the store. The walls, and floors were mostly wood and stone, rather than concrete, and the floor wasn’t covered in empty cans or discarded wrappers. The girl suddenly felt a little ashamed that she never cleaned up after herself in her own place.
The girl was starting to get uncomfortably cold standing in one place, so she decided to move on. As she passed the front of the restaurant again, she heard a door open behind her. She turned to see that the woman was standing in the doorway of the restaurant, staring at her. When their eyes met, the woman motioned to the girl that she should come inside, and then walked back inside, leaving the door open behind her.
Slowly, warily, the girl padded up to the door, and felt the warmer air escaping into the cold day. She stepped over the threshold, and closed the door behind her. She could see the bar area of the restaurant now, and noticed that the bar was stacked high with cans of various shapes and sizes, and that a door leading into what must once have been the kitchen was covered with a blanket nailed into the wall. The motorcycle was propped in a corner next to a bedroll. She set her pack down on the floor next to the door, and sat beside it, pulling up her knees and hugging them to her chest. The woman watched from the middle of the room as the girl settled in, and then smiled once more before returning to her arm-chair and her book.
The two sat this way for some time before the girl finally removed her snow-suit. Seeing this, the woman set down her book, and walked over to the bar. She selected a can from the stacks and carried it with her back to the fireplace. After adding a few more chair-legs, and stoking the fire a bit, she opened the can, and poured the contents into a small pot which she placed over the fire.
The smell of broth slowly filled the cozy room over the next few minutes, and when the woman finally removed the pot from the fire, the girl’s mouth was watering. The woman produced two bowls from behind the bar, and set them out on a table which had been left whole in the middle of the room. She set two places, complete with placemats and flatware, and then filled the bowls from the pot. She sat at one of the places, looked at the girl, and waited patiently.
Staring at the woman the whole time, the girl moved slowly over to the table, at sat at the other place. The woman began to eat then, and the girl joined her, slurping hungrily at the soup.
When the meal was done, the girl bundled herself back up and left the small restaurant for her own home, singing a song of warn soup on the way back.
The snow melted the next day, and the next few weeks were a bit warmer again. The next time it snowed, the girl returned to the restaurant, and received the same welcome, and a similar meal. Then she started visiting almost every day, looking forward to the hot meal, and the silent company of the woman. A few times she fell asleep in the woman’s big comfortable arm-chair, and she would wake in the morning with a blanket over her. After the third time this happened, the woman added a second bedroll to the floor.
As winter deepened, and it became more obvious that this winter would be a very cold one, perhaps the coldest that the girl had ever had to live through. She spent more and more time in the warm restaurant. The woman showed her how to tend the fire, and convinced her to stop eating from the cans with the cats on them, even though those were once the girl’s favorite.
On a particularly cold night, the coldest yet, the fire wasn’t helping heat the small building, and both the girl and the woman were chattering their teeth, and shivering violently in their bedrolls. The girl felt like she was so cold that she might die. She had seen animals die that way many times. Small cats or squirrels lying on a side-walk or under a ruined car, they look like they are sleeping, but they’re frozen solid, and they never wake from that sleep.
She was picturing herself blue, and frozen stiff when she felt that another body was climbing into the bedroll with her. She wanted to fight and run, but she was too cold, and so let herself be enveloped in the woman’s embrace. She too was cold, but where they touched it soon became warm, and as the cold melted slowly away, so too did the girl’s fear, and though she slept only fitfully, she was relieved in the morning, when the sun came up, and she was not frozen.
The next cold night, the girl went to the woman’s bedroll, and placed herself into the woman’s arms, who held her gently while they slept.
Mother was moaning in her sleep again. Soon it would come to screams. The girl and her mother had been in this dank, cold cave for two years. Mother had refused at first to go back to where there were any houses, where there were crazies, but now when they had seen no one else alive for three months, and returning to the houses would be easy, she was unable to move on her own any more. The girl had to find food for the both of them, and for the last few days, mother couldn’t even feed herself, and even when fed could barely keep it in her mouth. The girl knew her mother was in pain; she’d been sick for months. She’d been trying desperately to tell the girl, but, just like everyone else, her words had been the first thing to go when she fell ill. That was the first symptom, and no one seemed to be immune to it.
Some people she had met had simply lost their voices, and that’s where it stopped for them, but most people lost their minds soon after, or worse, some were bed-ridden with inconsolable pain, their bones trying to lengthen and shorten at the same time. Most died quickly from this malady, but some, like Mother, lived on in perpetual agony.
Mother had been screaming unceasingly for a week when the girl finally understood what she needed to do. She walked over to a corner of the cave, and grabbed a large rock from a pile of boulders. She took the rock over to her mother’s sleeping, screaming form and raised it above her head.
The woman looked up at the girl, wide-eyed and frightened. She wasn’t screaming. She wasn’t making any noise at all. She was scared, but still, and patient, and confused.
The girl snapped back to the present, and lowered her arms, finding the steel pot in her hands. She dropped the horrible thing, and ran horrified toward the door. She struggled with the latch, slicing her hand on the catch before flinging the door open, and running from the building. Tears froze on her face as she ran down the street, away from the memories; away from her mother’s twisted, murdered corpse, just as she had done that night, years ago, searching for anyone anything to comfort her, to tell her it was okay, knowing that no one would ever tell her anything again.
She found no one out in the cold. It had snowed again, and she was bare-footed, and slightly dressed, running and slipping through the street. Not running toward anything, but just running. When she reached the town wall, here sturdy and made mostly of bricks and steel, she finally stopped. She looked down at her feet and hands, pale, and icy. She couldn’t move her fingers or toes, and the wound on her hand was icing over. Her breath was short. Then she was falling and the snowy gravel of the road against her face was her last sensation.
The girl awoke in the arm-chair in front of the fire. Her hand was stinging and wrapped in a bloody cloth. Her feet were bandaged as well, and she could tell from the shape of the bandages that several toes were missing. This was more curious than frightening, and she reached out to touch the place where her smallest toe had been on her right foot.
Her hand was grabbed by the woman, unseen beside her, and the woman’s other hand waggled a finger. The girl saw that the medical bag was out again on the table nearby, surrounded by the small shiny tools she had seen weeks ago on the street. The girl looked up at the woman, who smiled sadly back at her.
Spring always comes. Even after a cold, long winter like that one, spring always comes. When the days grew warmer again, the girl began to think about moving on from the town. She would spend the warmer months, as she always did, searching for her sister, although each year she felt less and less like she could ever be found.
The girl was packing her important things back into her pack, getting ready to never come back to this store, to this town. As she was placing several unopened water-bottles into her pack, she heard the motorcycle start up. She hadn’t heard the motorcycle in weeks, and figured that the woman had decided it was time to move on, as well. It was a nice day, and there would be no more cold days until next winter.
The girl realized then that she would miss this town, not for the store, or even for the restaurant, but for the woman who lived here with her these past two months. She would miss the warm soup, and the quiet company that the woman had brought, but she’d been on her own for four winters now, and she could be alone again without trouble. Soon, she wouldn’t even miss it anymore.
After a few minutes, the motorcycle was still running, and it sounded like it was getting closer. The girl realized that the sound was coming from just outside the store. She grabbed her pack, having just finished loading it anyway, and said goodbye to the store with a pat of her hand against one wall. She went out the heavy back-door, without bothering to close it behind her, and rounded the building to see the motorcycle.
The woman was sitting astride the bike, dressed the same as she was the day the girl had first seen her. Her helmet was dented, but shiny, and the black jacket and jeans looked comfortably worn-in. The woman was holding herself in place with her feet, and when she saw the girl she lifted the visor of her helmet, and the girl could see in her eyes that she was grinning.
The girl looked the bike over, and noticed something new. Hanging from the seat behind the woman was a shiny blue helmet, slightly smaller than the one the woman was wearing. The woman reached back, and unhooked the helmet from the bike, holding it out to the girl.
The girl strode up to the offer, long-since having lost her shyness or worry about the woman’s nature. She took the helmet, and pulled it down over her ears without a second thought. Without really knowing how, she climbed onto the back of the bike, and hugged the woman tightly. After some adjustments of their sitting positions, they were ready to go, and as they left the city, the girl hummed along to the words in her head, a song about two best friends exploring the ruins of a lost and forgotten world.