You dig out a fraying scarf and use it to wipe the sweat from your eyes. The day is mild, but you are dressed for the artificial chill of the bunker. The natural light of the sun burns your retinas. A dull throb in your temples warns of an impending headache. You curse the loss of your last pair of sunglasses in the most recent skirmish with Mike’s gang. Spiteful asshole gave them to his newest squeeze. You perch on the side of an overturned Coles truck, carefully scanning the crumbling homes and weed-choked footpaths for any sign of movement. The air is oppressively still, the silence palpable. Almost painful. Your ears strain. You desire movement and you dread it. Your Smith & Wesson is glued to your moistened palm. You resist the temptation to rest your finger on the trigger. You remember the first time you held a gun. You remember the chill in your blood matching the cold indifference of the steel in your hand, the unexpected weight in your loosened grip. That was after the bombs. After the raids. After guns and blood and death quit being a Hollywood construct and became your daily bread. You swing your arm to the right, in the direction of a harsh crack, straining to see through the shadows. Just a piece of falling debris, you decide several minutes later, allowing trembling arms to return to your side. You are relieved and disappointed. You should be savouring the momentary peace, but you are acutely aware this uneasy calm is the storm’s eye. A small, unacknowledged, part of your heart despises the serenity, welcomes its transience, eagerly awaits the coming chaos. Before the war, in the world-that-was, you despised the cold spread of adrenaline. Now you crave the exhilaration and terror of combat, the struggle to eke out one more moment of existence. It is as necessary to you as food and water. A sharp whistle warns of Sue’s return from the latest supply run. You count bodies as they pass your position, relieved to find none missing. You exchange bawdy jokes before signalling the all-clear to the other sentries. One of the younger recruits tosses up a bag of Minties she managed to scavenge to curry favour. You give her a wink and a wave as she disappears into the bunker. The suffocating silence returns, and you resume your scrutiny of the surrounding ruins. You savour the long-missed freshness of mint and contemplate rewarding her initiative. Your concentration wavers as you anticipate sharing your bed for the first time since the bombs detonated.
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Categories: Fiction Friday