SHORT STORY: A WORLD LIT ONLY BY FIRE

I left the camp to hunt as the dawn broke across the eastern sky. The snow was ankle-deep, cold right through to my bones.

I left the fire burning low, the young ones still asleep on the ground. I checked my bag of arrows. And followed the trail I once found for you. Do you remember that way?

The sun-lit leaves looked like they were covered with blood. It would be a while before the day warmed up, stopped turning my breath to steam, let me feel my fingers again.

I had to stay alert, had to stay awake. These woods are dangerous. If it ain’t the wolves, it’s the farm guys or those dudes who used to run the gas station. They don’t care who they kill…or what they eat.

This is a world lit only by fire.

Down by the river, the traps were a welcome sight. I counted two voles, a rabbit and a fox cub. The rabbit was still alive, both legs trapped. I quickly snapped its neck. I only kill to fill our stomachs. The young ones would eat for another day at least.

An hour after sunrise I had a brace of ducks and some fresh water to add to the kill from the traps. As I picked my way back to the trail I heard a sound and dived for cover. It was just a boar snorting and huffing through the undergrowth.

I really didn’t wanna cross the guys from the gas station. They’re not nice people.

Oh for a gun! ‘King For A Day!’ Maybe a week with practise.

The traps, well, they’re doing okay, I guess. But what I would give for a burger, a working freezer full of curry and rice and ice cream and cake. Imagine that!

But I had to focus….be realistic. Things like that don’t happen – not now, not here. Not in Hell. I miss the old world, but it’s gone….solid gone.

This is a world lit only by fire.

I know where the crocuses grow. I’ve been there so many times and they come up anew each spring. They were your favourite flower. You worn them in your hair on our wedding day. In the glade, the ice is melting on your headstone just a few yards ahead of me. Always a little warmer here. I sat for a moment, listening to the silence.

‘So what’s my news?’ You see, I can’t help talking to her as though she’s still alive.

‘Well the young ones are doing fine, considering. Found an old book about cars yesterday. God! Were there really ever such things? Oh, how the world has changed. But then we knew it would, didn’t we?’

I stood up and walked close to the headstone, crouched and read the inscription. These were the words I carved myself with a penknife I had in my pocket the day the world changed.

It had taken me days to carve those words, but I had treasured every second of them. My final gift to you, my love.

And every word on the headstone was true. You were wonderful and I still love you.

I pulled myself up again and heard my joints creak. This is a hard life, I thought. But I had a feeling this was going to be a good day. It would bring me one day closer to you.

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