Hello again my lovely readers! It’s been a month now since I started this project, and so for the eighth instalment of my increasingly random blog, I’m going to do something a bit different – a short story! The title is ‘The Survivors’, and the task was to write the opening (first chapter) of a novel set in a place of extreme weather. I hope you like it 🙂
“Do you blame them?” Nico asks, bluntly. We’re fetching water, dragging our bare feet the long, dusty miles to the water-hole.
I am silent for a while. I stare at the flat horizon, searching for any signs of the armed gangs Nico is here to protect me from. Momma hears the stories and won’t risk it, and I suppose it means more water for her, as we’re both carrying large, rusting metal buckets. They’re light for now; I dread the journey back.
“I mean, the people before the Great Heat. The ones who started it, with their greenhouse gases and their electra-, elec-”
“Electricity?” I provide the little-used word he struggles with, and sigh. We often have this conversation on the way to the hole. It’s the best time to be alone, just us two. Talking publicly about what caused the Great Heat is forbidden by the grown-ups.
Do I blame them? There is a lot to be resentful for. It’s hot now. Hotter than anyone Before could ever have imagined. The sun swathes everything in a tight-fitting, suffocating heat. What once was luscious grass and squelchy mud is now dry soil and straw, baking hot for bare feet to touch. Fires break out spontaneously and the sweet taste of cool water is desperately, desperately scarce. The older members of our village, the ones who remember the Before, often describe our Earth now as a living hell. But for us; the youngers, it is all we have ever known.
“I try not to. It’s hard, but there’s not much use in hating. Life’s difficult enough as it is,” I preach gently, as the waterhole comes into sight.
It’s not much, just a three metre deep well of warm, murky water, but it’s the last we have left near us. Forty years ago there were eight separate wells, but each gradually dried up in turn, until now this last one is at least four hours there and back of a morning.
We approach, and I start to feel uneasy. Nico slowly grabs my hand in anticipation, as we notice the silence. Normally, the water hole is the only place where what’s left of the scraggy wildlife conjoin to chatter and drink. But all that greets us this morning is ominous silence.
We peer down the hole, and sure enough, the water is gone. Not even a cupfull of wet sand lies at the bottom, and if we hadn’t come here yesterday, I wouldn’t have recognised the place at all.
I start to feel sick, bile rising up in my stomach at this latest disaster.
“O Gods of the Cold! Please, please give us water. This can’t be happening,” Nico prays feverishly, and I don’t blame him. No one wants to be the bearer of this final, shocking news to our precariously peaceful community.
We sit at the hole for over an hour, waiting in vain for the Gods to answer our prayers. The dejected silence we bring on ourselves is awful; the vomit feeling in my belly only growing. We don’t have the heart to return, guiltily prolonging the moment we accept the disaster, go back and break the news.
And then Nico hears something. A rustling in the bushes; the drag of a rifle on arid ground.
“Run,” he whispers, and we break into an immediate sprint, Nico quickly taking the lead. His strong, masculine body has enviable stamina and each second that passes the distance between us lengthens. However ever hard I try, my legs just will not go any faster.
Shouts, shots, behind me are blocked out by my brain as my ‘flight’ adrenalin kicks in. Nico dives around a corner, safe, and I rush to join him. I am almost there, my pounding heart screaming; sweat dripping down my forehead; my skirts perilously close to hindering me. Metres close in and safety opens its warm, cosy arms to enfold me…
I trip. One second upright; the next flat on the ground, the boiling floor smarting, stinging my grazed body. Voices; far away, then closer, then standing over me.
My vision swims, purple spots appearing, growing larger, quickly obscuring my vision to a blessed black.
And that’s the last I know for a long while.