The roof has a big hole today. I wake up from the rain. It tickles my face, but then it burns. This I don’t like so this is not a good thing. I know the hole is bad, so after the rain I search for something I can carry home. The cardboard wasn’t good but I find thin, crinkly metal instead under old bodies. Nothing but bones now, the stink is all gone. Mamma said there used to be a lot of stink. Before I was born the old city was full of bad smells and bad people. They took everything and fought for everything, even though everything is broken.
If I find something whole and new it becomes my treasure. I keep everything in a little tin box. It has a bit of a picture on it, a little bit of an eye, and lots of red and black. Mamma said it had a picture of a hero on it once. She said heroes, although not real, were very strong and powerful, and were born from the minds of people. She said we should try to be like them because they were good and unafraid. I try to be like them now, especially since Mamma can no longer talk and I am alone. If I am afraid I can’t find food, or treasure.
Outside there is not a lot of sunlight, even though it is day. That is because when the bombs came they chased away the sun, and it needs time to come back. Sometimes, on windy days, I can sneak a peak when the clouds travel across the sky. The light hits my face and warms my nose. But this is only for a little while because the sun is shy. I hope one day I will always be warm.
At night I hear the mad men. They howl like the stray dog I once saw by the river. The dog was hungry, and red eyed. It came to me with a sharp angry smile so I hurt it with a rock. It sounded sad and hungry when it cried, just like the mad men of the under-city. They used to look like me before the bombs, Momma said. But the world went smelly and broken and this made them head sick. Not everyone can be strong and unafraid like the hero on my tin box.
Now the roof is all fixed, and I can go and look for food. Momma doesn’t really eat anymore, but I still try. I put the food under her chin and wait. One day I will catch something tasty and she will eat. But now I let her sleep and try my best to be good and quiet.
I creep out of the house like a mouse. I walk the streets careful like a cat. They are good teachers. I watch them hunt. Their eyes see everything, and won’t move until it is sure of the catch. This is good. I caught a pigeon yesterday.
There is a lot to see in the city. The streets are full of rocks, and twisted metal, sheets of glass, springs of grass, old clothes on bones, plastic bags, wheels, lots of paper if you dig under the rubble, and if I am lucky, cans of food. In the holes there is nothing but leftover water from the rain. It is bad to fall into the holes. They are wide and steep, and it is very hard to climb out. The water burns your skin and if there is too much, great red and yellow spots grow on your body, and you die of poison. This happened to my father, Momma said. He walked the streets at night and fell. I don’t remember, but I know Momma cried a lot.
I hear a bang. Like thunder. I glance up at the clouds and wonder if it will rain. I wait and hear it again, but it comes from the ground not the sky. I stop searching for food and decide to walk back home. I try to be brave but the bang made my heart beat really fast. Momma will know what it is, but she can’t talk anymore. Can I be a little afraid?
The ground thunder happens again. This time it claps loud and fast, and many, many times. I walk a little faster.
Maybe the noise is in my mind, like the heroes were in the minds of the people before they became pictures on tin boxes. But there is something else in the air. The wind is always full of dust, but this time there are sounds and I don’t know what it is. Could it be a new animal? I see tracks all the time in the city. I want to go home, but if it is a large animal it might come back and hurt Momma… she can’t run away… I take a step forward. I take the knife from my backpack and start to creep along the broken walls to the noise. I can hear heavy footsteps, the shuffling of dirt, and the crunching of glass and plastic. I think there must be more than one. No sound comes from my feet. I am like a cat.
When I peek around a corner I see them. They stand in a group like pigeons. One is kneeling with its hand on its leg where there is a lot of blood. It covers the ground around its big feet. Another is wrapping cloth around the leg, and I can hear strange low words. Two more are just standing and looking. I keep close to the wall.
Like me they have two feet and two arms. There are five alive and moving, and one asleep. There is even more blood on that one. It looks different from the rest, and I can see it is a man. But I don’t know what the others are. I feel my fingers shake and I hold my knife tight.
They have strange heads. One turns and I see two great yellow eyes like a fly, and it has tubes on the side that go from the head to its back. There is no mouth or nose, but I can hear the big breaths they take.
Savages… One speaks, and it sounds like the air is cracking around it. A big foot kicks the sleeping man. Was that the only one?
I don’t know. Should we head back?
If we still have guns, we’re fine.
They don’t sound like me or Momma, they sound like fire eating wood. My little knife is too cold in my hand. I shove it in my pocket and try to leave, but my foot crunches on broken plastic and there is a snap. I freeze. The bug eyes turn. A gun, it is much bigger and longer than Momma’s, points towards me. I run away.
Don’t shoot it’s a kid! I can hear their strange noise behind me. The sound is alive and it is growing. It is chasing me, eating my footsteps, and following my breath.
Water grows in my eyes. I tried to be brave but I am not a hero. My heart is all twisted in my chest and it hurts to breath; I run so fast.
Stop! Wait! We can help you! They sound angry. Their breaths crack the air like broken glass. I know what they are now. They are the monsters from Momma’s bedtime stories; the ones that make bread from bones, or gobble you whole, or bake you in large metal ovens. I slap my hands over my ears. They keep yelling, calling, but I can’t let them catch me. Momma always made the monsters go away, I will run to Momma.
She is still asleep when I push aside our door. I wrap her in our blankets every morning before I go outside. Now I hide with her, and wiggle under her arm. We stay quiet. I even try to hold my breath. They are outside. I hear their hands touching the walls of our home, and I know they are looking for holes. The door is pulled away. I bury my head against Momma’s side.
Hello? Little girl? You can come out we won’t hurt you. It sounds a bit like a lady, a bit like how Momma used to sound. But it’s fake. A trick. I can’t stop the water from my eyes, and my insides hurt from holding my breath. The shaking won’t stop.
There, I see her… wait… Jesus Christ… Matt! Matt, come here! I need help there’s a freakin’ body in here… Damn that stinks. Another step. The hands are pulling at the blankets. I hold on tight, but they are strong and rip everything away. I scream as loud as I can to make them go away. I scream until my throat feels like sand and my face is hot and I see black and white. The hands grab my arm and make me stand. I push. I kick. I bite… everything is black.
She fainted. Thank god… ugh… do you think it’ll get infected?
…probably, look at what she was living with. Come on let’s get the kid home. And burn the body… burn it all…