When he woke up again it was still dark but the rain had stopped. A smoky light out there in the valley. He rose and walked out along the ridge, a cough rising from his throat. He coughed once. A haze fire stretched for miles. He squatted and watched it. He hacked loudly trying to muffle the retching with his arm as to not wake the boy. When he rose and turned to go back the tarp was lit from within, the boy standing beside it with wide eyes a fright. Blood. The boy stares. And so it was.
He looked at the blackened trunks of the once proud trees and paused on the road. The boy looked at him curiously. What is it Papa?
Were being watched.
By who? I dont know. Let's just keep going for now. Okay?
They carried on, ignoring the harsh winds and ash blowing around them. Can I hold your hand Papa? Yes of course you can. Leaving behind footprints in the ash they stopped twice more as they headed South.
Listen. They were at the side of the road as the man covered the boys mouth. the sound of crunching snow in the pitch black was abnormal. It was grinding on their nerves. Over the slight hill of the ditch a faint light came. Hello? It was a feminine voice that didn't match the scarred face peering down at them.
What do you want?
Yes, hope. Perhaps a future. It is only natural for someone to want that in this endless abyss.
Why were you following us?
The only way out is children. Children are the future no matter what else has happened. And I wasnt following you, I was simply going the same way.
Papa, can she stay with us?
She could be dangerous. We can't trust her.
I dont think shes a bad guy.
You want to trust her.
Yes, please Papa?
Okay for tonight.
Come down here you might be spotted.
Whatever. The man wondered what she had gone through to get those scars as she brushed past him and into their little camp.
In the faint grey light that signaled dawn the man woke to giggles. It took him a moment to remember the girl. He stared at them for a moment as the girl tickled the boy with raw scarred couldnt remember the last time the boy laughed like that. We have to set out.
Cant we eat first Papa? The man stared at the sunken eyes and dark circles under the boys eyes.
We need to save it for later. Theres not that much left.
Okay. She can stay with us?
Really. Go get the cart, we have to get going.
Okay. The boy walked into the trees to retrieve the cart. Whats your name?
I dont remember. Whats yours?
Okay. And they set out as the boy came back.
The house was silent, paint peeling off walls and the smell of rotting corpses was overbearing. The girl had disappeared up the stairs, where the smell was the worst. Papa will she be okay?
She will. Shes a big girl.
The girl came downstairs with a wool blanket and a bra in one hand. Useful?
It was the middle of the day but they could not go on. The rain was pounding down too hard. The girl sat away from them, she refused to go under the tarp with them, no matter how hard the boy protested. She seemed weary of the man.
What can I call you?
Anything you want. I do not have a name.
I have forgotten.
Forgotten your name?
Okay. Their conversations werent anything that bothered the man. It made the boy happy, and he supposed that was what matter.
The girl once again sat outside the tarp. The man and the boy cuddled together. The boy had once again tried to talk her into going under the tarp with them, but she just wouldnt have it. The man was starting to understand why she avoided all contact with him, if the scars were any indication, she had been abused.
The night was quiet, gasping breaths and sobs aside. In the dim light the man could see the boy holding the girls hand, a language flowing between them that only children could understand, a language long forgotten. the sobs were quiet, the stillness of the night made them loud.
In the morning the man found the girl gone, the boy sleeping soundly wrapped up in blankets. There was no sign that she had ever been with them. It occurred to the man that she had never eaten anything, had it all been a dream?