Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

The air was heavy with the stench of decay and turbulent with dust. The walls reverberated with the sound of treads biting into the war torn asphalt outside. A man half crouched and half ran from one shattered row house to the next through holes broken in walls and battered door frames until an overturned bathtub offered itself as a hiding place, and he crawled gratefully inside. He pulled a well worn thermal blanket around himself and the infant girl strapped to his chest, careful not to leave any skin exposed to the scanners outside. He then ceased all motion, and waited.

It was not supposed to be like this. He would not have brought a daughter into this world if he’d have known that a day before her first birthday he’d be fighting for their lives hungry and homeless. It shouldn’t ever have come to this.

She seemed to understand, she never cried, never fussed, just curled up against his chest and waited with him patiently until the danger passed. These streets had been vacant for months, no one lived here, nothing lived here. Soon the patrols would leave and he would be able to forage food for them both in relative peace, at least for a time.

He could sense the prying electronic eyes burning through the walls, scrutinizing the spaces for any living creature they may have missed. He dared not move, he barely breathed for fear the warmth of his exhale would expose them, and all would be lost.

The grinding of the machines faded, yet still he waited until he could be sure it was safe before climbing out of the tub, and venturing tentatively outside.

A sudden flash of light on the horizon caught his eye, and he could but stand and stare as a wave of bright light walked the landscape towards him in silence, obscuring everything beyond it’s boundaries, bearing down on them like a judgement.

He clutched his daughter to his chest, and looking down, was suddenly caught in her gaze. This would have been her three hundred and sixty fifth day of life, and he’d failed to keep her safe. She stared back at him, eyes filled with a light of their own, of peace and understanding. He was still staring when the wall of light struck them.

Blinding light turned to utter blackness, blankness, and then the dizzying rushing of his world gave way suddenly to the sound of a new born baby’s cry.

“It’s a girl, you have a baby girl”. He followed the sound of the words on waves back to the nurse who had spoken them. “Would you like to hold her?” With trembling hands he accepted the pink mass wrapped in blankets and cradled her to his chest.

In the hall outside the delivery room, a news reporter spread across a wall of TVs spoke of unrest overseas, of diplomats trying to diffuse a delicate situation before it could escalate into armed conflict. He warned of a potential world war.

“It’s good luck you know, to have a daughter born on the first of the New Year.” The baby was silent now, straining half closed eyes against the light, trying it seemed to find his gaze with hers. “Have you picked out a name?”

He had. “Hope.” Speaking the name out loud released a torrent of emotions, tears suddenly streaming down his face. “We’ll call her Hope.”
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