I look at the destroyed landscape, bored as hell and even more hungry, then I see a figure coming closer. It’s a shabby middle-aged man with a long, grizzly beard. He carries a big backpack, wears a black overcoat and winter shoes even though it’s hot. He looks like a tramp. He’s brooding, looks down, deep in thought. He walks with a steady pace. Once in a while, he looks up to see the sun over huge hills made of garbage and ruined buildings. Probably he’s checking how much of the daylight is left before searching for a place to camp. I follow him. He is much bigger than me and seems unfriendly but he may have some food. When the last rays of sun are disappearing he stops, gathers some kindling and makes a fire. I watch him from behind an old metal wreck. He sits with his back to me and mutters to himself for a while. Then he opens his backpack and takes out something that looks like a can.
He turns his head into my direction and says “You can come out, I won’t hurt you.”
Panicking I hide behind the wreck, not moving, panting, trying to figure out what to do. “Ohmygod, ohmygod!” I repeat in my head. Finally, decision made, I come out. But I’m not stupid, I have a sharp knife hidden in my right sleeve. I move slowly towards the fire and the man.
He tries to smile warmly but without most of the teeth it makes a grotesque impression. He asks “what a small thing of a girl like you is doing here all alone?”
I say defiantly “it’s not your business,” and I stay at a safe distance.
Then he mumbles something about manners of this mongrels nowadays. I ignore him eyeing the precious cans he put close to him. If only I could reach one and run, he wouldn’t stand a chance to get me. But he won’t let me have it for nothing.
After a while he calms down and tries again: “Where are you from?”
“I’m from nowhere,” I say, which is technically true because there isn’t anything anymore.
“Everyone’s from somewhere,” He says. I say nothing. He looks at me and asks “Do you want some food?”
“What do you want in return?” I ask.
“Company.” He says softly.
“I’m not doing anything dirty.” I say.
He looks or pretends to look shocked. “Talk, I meant. You’re too young for my taste.” He says.
It was probably true, I am fifteen but I look more like twelve.
“OK” I say “But I stay here, and you stay there.” I add warily.
“How am I supposed to give you food?” he asks.
“But how will you open it?” He asks again.
“Don’t worry about it.” I answer.
He shrugs and gently throws a can of spam in my direction. I catch it and pry it open with my knife in a matter of seconds. Then I start to devour it,
I’ve eaten almost half of it before reason stopped me and made me look up, he was closer, looking at me with hunger in his eyes.
“What does he want, is he going to kill me?” I ask myself. “More likely to rape and then eat me,” I decide. I hide the can in my bag and move a couple of steps away.
“So what do you want to talk about?” I ask him to stop his creepy looking.
“The past, for our present is too miserable to describe and we do not have a future.” He says, with a sad ring to his voice.
“Okay, old man,” I look at him. “What of the past? It’s gone,” I say.
“What year were you born?” He asks.
“2044.” I say, though I’m not sure.
“So you’re fifteen. That’s a grand age to achieve under present circumstances,” he says.
He may be right, most of the folks have died in cataclysms, eco-revolts or wars that followed. The sickly and hopeless rest wanders the ruins hoping to survive another day. There are few children, due to radiation-caused infertility, and even those who are born are weak, or mutated and die quickly. I was luckily born in the last year before the time of death.
“I’m just lucky.” I say.
“I guess so.” he replies.
After a moment of silence I ask: “How it was before?”
He thinks for a while and says “it was good but I didn’t appreciate it, as many others. Nobody thought it was possible, when the first cataclysms started everyone said that it’s only temporary. The Earth is trying to clean itself. And it did. They didn’t expect that the humans were the dirt.” He looks to the side, thoughtful.
“I was the worst of them. I owned factories that made plastic, the ultimate poison.” He says glumly.
I move a step back, shocked at his revelation.
“Yes child,” he says. “It was my fault, among many. I tried to use recycled plastic but it was more costly so I had to go back to the old way or go bankrupt. I wish I had chose right,” he says with a tone of remorse. “But it doesn’t matter now. Enough about me,” he says. “How do you survive alone?” he asks.
I shrug and say “I get by.” After a second of consideration I add “I hunt and I find stuff.”
“What stuff?” He asks.
“I often find Instant ramen.” I blurt without thinking. “My favourite one is curry chicken.”
“Huh, instant ramen?” He says unimpressed. “I remember they tried to ban it before eco-revolts, you know, not eco-friendly.” He pauses for a second. “Do you know what would they do if they found storage of plastic packaging?”
“They would burn it!” He says with a laugh. “Those morons thought it was the best solution,” he laughs for few seconds.
I look at him and say “but they won, most of the countries moved to eco-era.”
“Yes, they did.” He agrees, “but it was about fifty years too late. That’s why the wars started. The time of death made them desperate.” He said. “They thought that maybe, maybe if other countries were dead, their country would survive. So they fired nuclear missiles on all of the non eco-era countries. And these countries retaliated, for they thought the same. And here we are.” He said with an ironic smile. “A bunch of primitive tramps, eating radioactive mushrooms and rats, trying to live one day longer,” he said resigned. “Do you know what a book is?” He asks.
“Yes, I have two!” I say proudly.
“Oh, you can read,” he says incredulous.
“Yes I can, father taught me,” I say.
“That’s nice, a young lady should know her letters. Nonetheless,” he says, “In the books they have foreseen a great future, you know.” He looks at me, serious. “Philip Dick, H.G. Wells and many others, they thought we will reach the stars, explore the galaxy, become immortal, but they didn’t took one thing into consideration – human greed and stupidity.” He says.
“I don’t know who these guys are,” I say, “but they were nothing like Brandon Sanderson, his books are the best.”
“Brandon Sanderson?” He asks. “I don’t know him.”
“He’s the best writer, I didn’t read any other, but even if I had he would still stay the best.” I declare.
“Soo… you read his two books, and you think he’s the best?” He asks. I nodd. “Oh girl,” he sighs.
We sit in silence for few minutes.
“Where’s your father?” he asks.
“Dead.” I reply.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he says with an overemphasized remorse in his voice.
I shrug and look away, the thought of father is still painful. Another moment of silence.
He moves to add some more wood to the fire, or something that resembles wood because the fire is violet and it smells bad. I move to the side, as the wind shifts and smoke is getting in my eyes. He sees that and moves swiftly, tries to grasp me. I try to dodge quickly but he catches my ankle, I wriggle and pull but his hold is strong. I kick with the other leg and it weakens for a second.
We struggle in silence, he’s old and sick but still has more strength than me. finally I reach for my knife and slash at his hand. He pulls it back and screams in shock and pain.
“YOU LITTLE CUNT!” He shouts angry, and moves towards me, I run. After about thirty meters he stops, I hear his panting. I continue to run, but then suddenly my can falls out of my bag, I stop to pick it up.
When I look at him, I see him holding a gun, I duck and hear a BLAM! The gun must have blew up in his face, because he fell down, unmoving. I’m not sure if it’s a ploy to catch me, if he passed out or is dead.
I watch him for a second, then keeping safe distance I circle him and go back to his camp. There I look through his things, I find three more cans of spam, a bottle of muddy water, some alcohol, and a book. A BOOK! It’s a small, black book. On the cover it only says “The Bible”, no author,
I think that’s strange. I hope it’s like Sanderson’s books, I pick it up carefully and put in a safe position in my bag. The rest is just some dirty clothes and some pieces of a strange golden metal, of no use to me. I leave it all.
Then I go back and look at him, he’s still not moving, I’m afraid to come closer so I go back to my nest.
After a few days I go back to check whether he’s still laying there, but he’s gone. I walk around looking for signs of him. I find his overcoat in a trench nearby. Something must have eaten him, or he dropped it when he walked away. It doesn’t matter, injured and without food and water he won’t survive long. But I may.