Naomi & her daughter are hungry. To survive, they must find food - 2nd Oct '18 Short Shots
Naomi kept her crossbow raised as she trudged across the snow and cautiously topped the rise. Shivering, she surveyed the icy landscape as well as she could through her thick goggles. Nothing stirred, but that didn't mean it was safe. She glanced back to ensure her young daughter wasn't far behind. With a ski mask covering her freckled cheeks and goggles protecting her blue eyes, India shouldn’t suffer frostbite, but that wasn’t Naomi's main concern. They hadn’t eaten in three days, and she feared the combination of cold and lack of sustenance would kill her child. These days, scavenging for food was never easy in the frozen wastelands of Texas.
Reaching Naomi's side, India leaned against her stick. “Mommy, I’m hungry.”
Her own stomach gurgled in response. “I know, sweetie. We’ll find something soon, I promise.”
India straightened and pointed her stick toward a shadow at the bottom of a large mound. “Is that a cave?”
She squinted. “I’m not sure.” With the perpetual dust cloud cover, there wasn't enough light to see over a distance, but India’s young eyes spotted anomalies before she could. “Let’s check it out.” She adjusted her quiver and backpack then cautiously led the way down the slope. As they approached, the shadow morphed into a metal door set into the ground on a slope. She glanced up at the mound and noticed a blocky protrusion just visible to one side, a part-demolished chimney stack.
“Is it a bunker,” whispered India, “like the one we hid in when the rocks fell?”
Naomi was surprised her daughter remembered the shelter. “No. It’s a basement.” She gestured to the mound. “There was a house here.” A chain and padlock secured the door, so unless there was another entrance, nobody was inside. She suspected this place was hidden by snow since the meteors fell three years ago and only uncovered by last night's ferocious wind. Most likely the basement was dangerous—unstable and full of rubble—but it was worth investigating. After all, there could be food.
She glanced around. There was no evidence anybody passed by recently; their footprints were the only ones disturbing the snow. Naomi wished there was some way to avoid leaving evidence of their passing, but snow couldn't be crossed without leaving a trail. She shrugged off her backpack and took out her tools. Her hand felt too numb to handle a hacksaw, but her crowbar might work. She slid the swan-neck of the tool between the lock's shackle and body. When she applied pressure, the padlock snapped open.
“Cheap foreign garbage,” she muttered.
Cautiously, she lifted the door and aimed her crossbow into the dark hole. She could just make out some furniture below—a sofa and a coffee table. The owners of this house used their basement as a den. Its musty odor spoke of stale air and long abandonment, so Naomi felt confident enough to descend. She turned to India. “Wait here and keep watch. If it’s safe, I’ll whistle the first three notes of Rock-a-bye Baby. If you see anything suspicious…anything at all…you hit your stick against the door three times.”
After India nodded and turned to face the hostile wilderness, Naomi crept down the steps into the basement. Once her eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, her vision improved. A stone fireplace dominated one wall. To its side was a huge television set, now worthless. Beside that stood a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf holding a true treasure trove. Just think how many fires so much paper could light! The rafters above appeared solid, and the only other exit was a set of stairs that ended abruptly in a pile of debris. This den was a much better shelter than the ruins they currently inhabited.
She whistled softly, and India joined her, gazing around the room. “Is this a palace from one of your stories?”
“No. Just part of a normal house.” She crouched to take a closer look at the hearth. Before the world as they knew it ended, someone had prepared a fire, with kindling and logs. An honest-to-goodness pack of matches sat to one side. Wind whistled down the chimney; the flue might be clear. She grabbed a book, tore out some pages, and rolled them into paper sticks. After so long in a dank environment, the kindling probably wouldn’t light, but burning paper would set it off. She struck a match and gasped when it actually worked. The paper lit and flames bent toward the flue. “Amazing.”
In the perpetual gloom, the smoke shouldn’t be visible to passersby outside, but she would check. She returned to the entrance and surveyed the surrounding landscape and the chimney. Nothing stirred in the snow, and the smoke wasn't too obvious. She pulled the door closed and made a more thorough examination of the room in the flickering firelight. Shelves filled with cans lined the wall opposite the fire. Her heart leaped. Had they stored food here? She grabbed a can. Disappointment crushed her fleeting hope.
“Paint!” she spat. Everything here was for household maintenance. Any other day the toolbox on the bottom shelf might have raised a smile, but today she only sought food, and there was none. Hiding her disappointment, she rejoined her daughter next to the fire. A pleasant aroma of wood smoke permeated the room, but it wasn’t thick enough to make them cough. Naomi tugged off her ski mask and shook loose her tangled and greasy blonde hair. Without food, they wouldn't be able to remain here, but she would allow herself a brief rest.
India removed her own ski mask, lay her stick on the table, and wandered over to the bookshelf. “What are these?”
“What are books?”
“You don’t remember the books I read to you?”
India shook her head.
“Well, books contain information or stories.”
“Stories like your fairy tales?” She grabbed a book, came back to the fire, and sat cross-legged with it in her lap. Naomi placed the crossbow on the table and stripped off her gloves, relishing the warmth of the roaring flames. Though she was a teacher before the apocalypse, she hadn’t taught India to read; it wasn't a priority. Firelight illuminated the wonder in India's eyes as she admired the book's colorful illustrations. “What are these pretty things?”
“So that’s what they look like. They're where wood comes from, right?”
India turned the page to an image of a New England woodland path that reminded Naomi of The Road Not Taken. “What are these trees with the yellow things called?”
“They’re maples and those things are leaves. Actually, they’re usually green, but this photograph was taken in fall when they turned yellow.”
Naomi sighed. There was a whole wealth of knowledge here that India didn’t know. Sadly, they couldn't carry it all with them when they left. “Never mind, sweetie. Just look at—”
Voices outside halted her mid-sentence. Men’s voices. Heart pounding, she jumped to her feet and grabbed her crossbow. Lately, every encounter they’d had with strangers immediately turned violent. If it hadn’t been for the self-defense her father taught her, she doubted she would have survived. “Quick!” she said to India. “Hide behind the sofa.”
India snatched up her stick and disappeared from sight. Gripping the crossbow close to her chest, Naomi moved to stand to one side of the door so she would be less visible if the men entered.
“Told you there wus tracks,” said a man on the other side of the door.
“Aw, Beaufort, you don’t know tracks from horse shit.”
“See that? That there’s a boot print. A small boot print, so it’s a kid or a woman. If it’s a chick, I call dibs on first go.” The door creaked open.
She swallowed. These weren’t men; they were animals. She pressed against the wall and raised the crossbow, willing her hands to remain steady.
Two burly men rushed down the steps with knives in their hands. They halted in the center of the basement, scanning around. Their features were indiscernible beneath layers of clothing, and they both wore strange necklaces around their necks like bizarre Hawaiian lei garlands. Aiming quickly, she shot the larger in the chest. He screamed and fell.
“What the…” said the other and rushed her.
She dropped the crossbow, drew her own knife, and danced aside. His momentum carried him past. She attempted to stab him from behind in his exposed neck, but he spun around and knocked her knife hand aside. Then he threw her to the floor, pinning her knife hand with his knee while his hands tightened around her neck. She couldn’t breathe, and her vision became blurry.
Behind him, India crept into view. She swung her stick at his head. He yelped and released Naomi’s neck to face the perceived threat.
Air flooded into Naomi’s lungs, and she gasped in relief. She reached across with her free hand and snatched the knife from her other. He was still straddling her. She rammed her blade into his most sensitive area. Fortunately, his clothing didn't block the point. He squealed and struggled to his feet. She took advantage of her position and grabbed his leg. He fell backward and hit the floor hard. She crawled across him and shoved her knife straight through his eye. He stopped moving. Naomi checked the other man. He was dead, too. Now that she could see what their necklaces were made from, she shuddered: dozens of human fingers, some displaying a wedding ring, some so small they must be children's. These men were mass murderers.
India nudged the nearest corpse with her stick. “Whatcha gonna do with them?”
She rubbed her sore throat. “Leave them here.”
“Won’t they smell?”
“We're not staying.”
India gaped. “We’re leaving? I like it here, Mommy.”
“Sorry, sweetie. Their friends might come looking.”
“Can’t you kill their friends too?”
She smiled at her bloodthirsty daughter, so confident in her mother. “Maybe, but there's no food here, so we must press on.”
India gestured to the corpses. “Do they have food?”
With all the confusion, she hadn’t thought to check. She rummaged through their pockets. Nothing and they had no packs. Her stomach clenched. She stood and pondered the corpses’ thick arms and legs. They must have eaten well to get so big. Where had they found so much food? She kicked one. “Why didn't you bring food, jerk?”
India slumped to her knees. The stick slipped from her hand and clattered to the side. Because she hadn’t eaten in so long, she probably had low blood sugar. Naomi helped her stand and moved her to the sofa to lie down. There was nothing more she could do without food, and she hadn’t found anything edible in days. She believed her daughter was going to die. “Ah, God. I’d do anything for food for my baby.”
Something shifted behind her. Naomi spun. A rat scuttled from behind the bookcase and shot out the door. Damn! She missed her chance to catch the only animal she’d seen in weeks. Except, of course, for the two evil creatures she just killed. Suddenly, the reason these men were so well fed became clear. Like rats, they thrived because they ate anything, even members of their own species. No wonder they wore those trophy fingers; they were cannibals. Although the idea of eating people was disgusting, she couldn't fault their logic. A supply of fresh meat lay only a few feet away. She shook her head to ward off the unwanted thought. She couldn't eat a person. There must be another way. She examined her daughter and bit her lip. India would starve before Naomi found an alternative source of food. There was no choice.
Having made this decision, the tension melted from her shoulders. She smiled and drew her knife. Mommy had a meal to prepare.
Word Count: 2000
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