Author : Denni schnapp
Oil painted rainbows on the pavement. Franklin coughed as he dragged Chrissy behind him.
“Keep your mask up,” he rasped, holding his own to his mouth with his free hand. The fumes made his eyes sting.
He paused, squinting. “Not–” Deep breath “Far. Now.”
His daughter remained silent, holding his hand as he resumed at a gentler pace.
The wind picked up, clearing some of the smog to reveal the silhouette of the Outer Settlement. There would be people, and air clean enough to breathe.
A sudden glare made him stop, Chrissy colliding with the heavy cloth of his coat. He pulled her behind him.
“Who are you? Where are you going?” a metallic voice rang out.
“Franklin Howards and my daughter Chrissy. Please–the bombs…”
The bombs had killed almost everyone before going on to poison the land.
“There’s no room! Leave the kid.” The latter an afterthought.
Chrissy clung tightly to his arm.
The bombs hadn’t killed her mother; cancer had seen to that. At another time there might have been kindly relatives, perhaps help from the government, but with millions struggling all that remained for Franklin was to return to the refinery, taking his daughter to live in one of the prefabs with their thin walls barely keeping out the noise and smell.
There had once been a forest, cut down during the building work. Only a few patches of shaggy grass remained. The kids had to play indoors. Not that there were many: another girl and two boys, all with wheezy coughs. Franklin couldn’t remember their names; he saw little of his daughter, let alone the other kids. By the age of twelve, they would be sent away to school-workcamp.
When the bombs fell, Chrissy had just turned eleven.
“Please, we’re just passing through!” Franklin fought for breath, inhaling deeply so that he could speak with a loud and confident voice. Don’t let them hear us wheeze.
“You people are always passing through.”
“We’re on our way to the harbour.”
“Ha! And where, pray, would you go from there?”
Franklin winced. Not in front of Chrissy. But his daughter gave no indication that she had understood, her eyes wide as she stared at the light.
“Give us the kid if you want, but you make your own luck.”
For a heartbeat time stood still. The school-workcamp was in the Outer Settlement. Chrissy would be better off there, with kids her own age.
“Leave the kid and go.”
Chrissy seemed to come to her senses. She tugged at his sleeve and Franklin stumbled back. After a few paces the beam cut off. They had rejoined the twilight zone and were of no further interest.
The sky was streaked with gold up where the soot couldn’t reach. The light settled on his daughter’s face. Franklin crouched.
“Chrissy, I want you to be safe…”
“Daddy, don’t go!” The mask distorted her voice.
He swallowed a lump in his throat. “Don’t you want to see–,” dammit, what was the boy’s name? “–Ollie again?”
“Ali,” she sniffled. Good, she was listening.
“I meant Ali. And the other kids that have left for school?” Workcamp.
Chrissy blinked and nodded. Brave girl.
“Come with me, Daddy!” She was keening.
There was no point trying to make her understand. If she was to have any future, he had no choice. He rose abruptly, holding her so tightly that it hurt him, but what hurt most was that she did not try to struggle.
The glare returned as he stepped over the perimeter. They stood motionless, waiting for the patrol to pick her up.