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13th May
posted by amber

The Trek

All she wanted to do was stop walking.

“No, Mom,” her son said, pulling her by the wrist. “We have to keep walking.”

They’d spent half an hour deciding what to take, twenty minutes driving until the highway snarled into a standstill, another five minutes deciding what to carry, and now they’d been walking for five hours. The only ones who’d stopped walking were the very old or the sick. No one else felt they were far enough away to be safe.

Safe from what she didn’t know, nor did anyone else. There had been explosions, that was undeniable. There were planes in the sky. The power had gone off, halting the radio announcements of ‘possible terrorist activities’ and ‘potential contamination of the water system.” She hadn’t seen anything that looked like the mushroom cloud she associated with a nuclear bomb, but some people walking near them had spoken of ‘suitcase bombs’ and ‘dirty bombs’ which might not make such a huge blast but were just as dangerous, maybe more.

She remembers when people had bomb shelters. Downtown there are still some buildings with the radiation sign indicating that a safe haven is found someplace within, presumably in the basement or subway. But out in the suburbs, the only potential safety was found in distance.

She stopped walking. “I’m tired and really thirsty,” she told her son. They had finished the water they were carrying over an hour ago.

“Just wait a minute.”

He tried the doors of several of the nearby abandoned cars, finding them all locked, just as they’d left their car locked, as if the world was still a place where people had possessions they protected. He found a rock beside the highway and hurled it through a window, then reached inside and grabbed one of the bottles of water those strangers had planned to take with them as they drove to their sanctuary.

She drank and after that, her son expected her to start walking again. She did, thinking sourly that ‘I’m tired,’ had been the first and most important fact she spoken.

They walked through the night, taking only short breaks which were not restful due to the constant speculation fermenting among their fellow travellers. Some imagined that they felt ill with symptoms of radiation poisoning, others fretted that it was all a hoax perpetrated by master thieves who were even now stripping entire neighbourhoods of all their valuables, others spoke of strategic targets in the direction they were moving, proclaiming that no place was free of whatever contamination had been visited upon them.

They took food from cars, they took water. When the night became cold, they took blankets and sweaters. Her son broke the window of one car and opened a pet carrier to set a small dog free. She couldn’t imagine why the owners had left it in there.

And still they walked.

Her son walked and every hour he tried his cell phone again, but there was no signal.

Dawn was a faint blush behind them, studded with bright explosions as the night had been, when she told him she would not go one step further. He allowed her to rest, sleeping fitfully in the front seat of a truck which had been left unlocked. After a time which seemed very brief to her, he returned with a cane.

“Surely someone didn’t leave their cane in their vehicle,” she told him.

“No, they didn’t,” he replied, and wouldn’t discuss it further. “We have to get to Aunt Sally’s house. It’s an older house and I think it has a bomb shelter.”

She thought it actually was a root cellar, but she said nothing. It was a goal. When they got there, she could stop walking.

StoryADay suggested today that we write a story in which the protagonist wants something. The long hike I took today was inspiration, though hardly a forced march.

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