A Safe Place

This one deserves some explanation. I was exhausted and completely devoid of caffeine, but was suddenly taken by an urge to write. I scrounged around for some ideas and ended on a small note scribbled down in my notebook. I thought, “What could it hurt?” and quickly typed it out in under an hour. Here it is, unedited. It fits the mood I wanted to give it, so it’s postable, at the very least.

 

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The bombs had driven out all but five of the city’s occupants: five lonely, dirty people, too helpless to leave. They huddled under burnt husks of cars, squinting into sandy gusts of wind and always searching for a way to survive. Sometimes, they found a way to laugh. But usually, all they could do was hunch their shoulders against the dry cold and limp along.

Days were short. Nuclear-fueled winds howled. Sometimes, there were howls even without the wind. The family shivered.

The father and mother kept their children together, huddled for warmth and company. When the sun managed to scrape between leaden clouds, they snuck out for canned food. It never lasted long. There was no water, so they drank soda.

“Coke’ll wash the rads away.” The father nodded solemnly, as if his words were sage wisdom.

The children’s mother would nod her agreement, but her eyes betrayed a deep, sickly fear that the world had gotten to her husband. But what could they do?

They were all they had. It made them cling tighter.

Months passed. They couldn’t leave. The roads leading out were dangerous and lacked food. If they were all that was left, the husband reasoned, they could live without fear of going hungry. Not if they stayed.

It didn’t take long. It never does. The windless howling worsened, then began to get cut short. Sometimes, this was followed by a distant echo as if some tremendous sound had echoed into indistinguishable sound waves that vanished just after they trembled past the family.

“Dynamite,” the father would mutter. His eyes sunk deep into his head. His hairline receded inches every month. Sometimes, he coughed madly without reason.

Once, at night, fire began to flicker against the walls of their hideout. It was distant, blocks away, but its light carried in a city unaccustomed to it.

The family saw.

The father wrapped a blanket tight around his little ones with a spare finger to his lips. They acquiesced with wide eyes, saying nothing. Their mother looked to him desperately. How could she persuade him to stay?

He whispered without issuing sound, “They will have a vehicle.”

How could she argue? Even in madness, his only thought was of her and their children. Her resolve broke and she struggled to withhold tears.

“If you die?” she finally managed.

“Then you will be safer,” he responded in kind and pressed her against his chest. She shed a single tear–there wasn’t room for more in this cruel world–but it left wet spot on his crusted shirt. “If I do not come back, you will find safety.” He smiled down at her, clarity at last shining in his eyes. “We will be together again.”

“Promise me.”

“I already have.” He swept from their hiding place, into the flickering darkness.

It was silent for a time. Anything with meaning begins without even a mouse’s heartbeat as signal.

Then, as violent with noise as it had been screaming with silence a moment earlier, the source of those eerie echoes shattered the silence with its report.

The children watched as their mother’s shoulders hung from her frame like they were suddenly too heavy. Her slender body, silhouetted by the orange flicker, shook a few times and went still.

“Is he gone, Mama?”

She fell. It was too much that her little ones should understand so easily.

Something outside roared. It was louder than anything they had heard in a long time. The mother lifted her head, torn between terror and hope.

“Come.”

The voice, though weak, was familiar. She scooped up her children and ran from safety.

A vehicle rumbled in the road. It was scuffed with dirt and rust, but ran without suspicious noise. The children’s father sat inside, white in the face from some hidden shock, but he smiled.

“Sooner than I thought,” he smiled to their mother.

“It felt too late,” she said in reply.

Soon, they were free of the city’s wind and sand.

“There is a safe place.”

The children’s mother gazed at her husband fondly. “I know.”

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