Afterward: Chapter 1

The air smelled like autumn, that is, like her breath caught in the cold air and faintly of iron. It felt colder than it was, but that was due to of an internal glimmer of hope combined with foolishness preventing dressing appropriately. Somehow, the human brain that had brought her species through millions of years of evolution had failed to convince itself that warmer clothing would be required, and instead clung hopefully to the dying breaths of summer.

As she walked through the dark streets she wondered what things had been like. A variety of rodents, primarily raccoons, skunks and rats, wandered through the night with her. Where they searched for food to ensure that they had enough fat to survive the winter months, she searched for something else. She wasn’t entirely sure, maybe she was just trying to get some time outside. Either way, she had been driven from her current home where it was warm, and there was, on the rare lucky night, hot chocolate sometimes, by some sort of need within her.      

She adjusted her jacket, a green canvas and nearly shapeless thing, for what she figured was the fourth time since heading out into the night, though she didn’t actually remember it was the fourth time, and shoved her hands into the pockets to pull the jacket tighter around her. She had a headphone in her right ear, piping music into her ear to provide a soundtrack to her walk, while the other dangled loose. This was a bit of a safety risk, that much she had to admit. She had gone out for walks like this more and more often though, and nothing had gone wrong thus far. One more time wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Maybe she’d find something useful.

As her boots, heavy leather things with an impressive tread for biting into the dirt, fit snugly and made a heavy “clomph” with each step. She could move much quieter in them, nearly silently if she had to, but the noise served to chase off any wildlife before she had to deal with it directly and served as a small rebellious act with nearly no consequence. With an ache in her stomach, caused by the scant rations, she wished for a cigarette, but knew that if she had a cig she’d just be wishing she had a light.

“That’s the way it goes.”    

She sighed to herself, part-way through the sigh trying to pass it off as attempting to see her breath. Not that anyone could see her. Probably.

Maybe she could go grab some cigarettes. Its true she wasn’t supposed to have them; being only fourteen she had been sternly informed by Michelle and Simon that they would stunt her growth and weren’t healthy for her. The warnings hadn’t stopped her. The way she figured, it was largely a matter of choosing what would kill you; whether it was drinking yourself to death like her neighbour’s dad had when he cracked. Everyone had hoped that he was going to get better and maybe he just needed some time to recover. That didn’t stick though. After a couple of weeks of being sullen he took it upon himself to see how much alcohol he could drink. She smiled to herself at the memory thinking that he never would get to know, would he.

Back to securing cigarettes, she thought, chastising herself for the distraction. It should just be a simple matter of grabbing a light with them. That would be reasonable. She looked into the darkness. She wasn’t familiar with the area yet. They had moved relatively recently. She hadn’t remembered a time that they hadn’t moved, but she had been told that it wasn’t always like this. Being told how things used to be did very little good for her.

That was something that older people did, she mused on while looking for a way to climb a wooden fence, then use the cross plank to climb to a roof, then it should be a simple matter of getting from there to another roof, a little higher up. Eventually she would have a pretty good idea of where things were. They would get a few drinks in and if they didn’t end up fucking they would usually end up carrying on about how good it used to be. She didn’t have any time for that kind of moaning and had thought about running off more than once. She knew that she wouldn’t, but entertaining the thought got her through some of the more difficult nights.

The first phase of her movement to higher ground completed, she tried to figure out how to get from the second roof to the top of the second story. The drainpipe she had spied from a distance had lied to her, she thought, and seeing it up close she was pretty sure that it wouldn’t support her. She disliked when things lied to her, but she realized that it was all too common, biting back tears that came from somewhere, unbidden. She shoved down the memories of that thundering “crack” and the associated wrenching feeling that tore through her as she heard it, crouched outside the door.

“Not now.”

She thudded across the roof, her recent light-footedness gone with the realization that she wouldn’t be able to climb the building she wanted to, when she spotted it. A climbing tree. Not just any ordinary tree; a climbing tree.

Climbing trees were special, she had decided this in previous excursions. They had branches that were spaced just the right distance apart, were thick enough to support her body, and, most importantly, lead to somewhere that she wanted to go. In her excitement she scrambled towards it; moving across the rooftop with great booming thuds as her boots connected with the shingles as she moved across the rooftops. Safety and ‘proper procedure’ were left behind as she neared the tree.

She was running now, sprinting. Her thin[ Need a better word here] legs quickly eating rooftop as she drew closer and closer and she leapt. She loved that part, being airborne and waiting for her hands to connect with her destination. Her hands hit the branch and she shifted her weight so she would swing instead of just connecting and falling. She had fallen a number of times in the past and learned the lesson well. She slowed the swinging from the excessive speed she had come in with to less and less. Hauling herself up on top of the branch she started to climb the tree.

Hand over hand, feet shifting her weight as needed, she moved up the tree. There weren’t any fancy names for any of the techniques she used, names that climbers had invented to communicate their craft. Instead, she just felt her way up via muscle memory to move from one branch to another. She had learned to identify mostly by sight which branches would support her weight, and which ones would not. She still tested each branch what was in questionable before putting her full weight on it.

Reaching the top of the tree she looked out into the night.  She breathed in deep, savoring the flavor of the air. Part of her dreaded the coming winter. Those were always harder. It would be hard for her to spend as much time outside, wandering at night meant risking slipping or sliding on ice, and the threat of rampaging storms could quash all sorts of other fun things to do. For now, though, she savored the freedom.

There. Over by the highway. She saw a building that, from the outline, looked like it could be a gas station. There might be cigarettes there. It wouldn’t be too difficult to get her way into the station, and the box that they locked the cigarettes in. Would that be a locker? She wasn’t sure what they named that metal box behind the counter, but most people couldn’t get into them. She, however, had figured out a trick that most people hadn’t. She would just have to swing back by her building to grab something.


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