This is something that just sort of... popped out of my head. I was musing about post-apocalyptic fiction, as you do, when I thought about the fact that most of what I know about it has a male protagonist. Also, it focuses on the very male aspect of survival. One thing that I tried to write with some friends at University featured my own character, a man who was obsessed with the need to avoid relationships with others to allow him to commit the unspeakable acts that would have him starting a war in the climax. All a bit Boy's Own Adventure really.
So, with that setting firmly in mind, I though about exploring the world differently. Writing a different kind of story within what I still feel is a pretty well constructed and well-known world. Well, well-known to me at any rate.
As ever, I am the queen of self-analysis and so I thank the makers of 750words.com once more (if you write, this is like word porn):
Rating: PG (sexual content[? - I do hope not])
Feeling mostly Affectionate, and concerned mostly about Family - well, it is a mother and daughter
Mindset: Extrovert - Negative - Uncertain - Feeling
Time: The Past; Primary Sense: Sight; Us and Them: Us
22 minutes at 49 words per minute
"What is that, Mummy?"
Weak sunlight picked out something hovering in the distance, just above the horizon, brilliant white against the dark and brooding background, below the peaks of the far hills, mouldering and sulking in the gloaming. A wind from the north whipped over the expanse between them and us, catching her hair in the breeze.
"Probably a bird," the ground was harder here, the remains of some rockfall blocking the path effectively. Overgrown humps of twisted steel and stone laid a trap for the unwary and too many accidents had ended badly on the route. "I wouldn't worry about it."
"Oh, I'm not worried." She was young still, sometimes it was hard to remember just how young, and her confidence was the best that she could muster in her inexperience. "I think it looks very pretty."
"Yes," I avoided grunting as I got a proper foothold and braced against the side of a straight piece of concrete, "That's lovely. Come on, you need to follow me up here. Take my hand."
She, of course, ignored it, remaining transfixed by the view and the distance. "I think the trees look pretty too, don't you think Mummy?"
"Of course, darling, they are wonderful. Now, take my hand, we'll need to be careful over this next bit, I think there's some loose stones."
"Do you think birds like the trees too? I do. I think the birds like all of the trees that are growing because birds can sit in trees." Her face turned back to me, "I think the trees are pretty because they are green and I like the colour green, don't I, Mummy?"
"Yes, yes, you do. Hand."
Thankfully, she took it, and began climbing up behind me as safely as one so young could manage without being scared witless and thus rendered incapable of independent action. When we had been at the last settlement her natural fear at large crowds had proved interesting to say the least. Young she was, yes, but she was not as small as she had been and carrying a small child for any length of time was exhausting. Braced as I was, I was able to pull her onto the top of the ancient landslide and avoid the spines of steel that protruded from the summit without too much trouble. She kept flicking her gaze back to the huddled hills in the distance, and then back to the ground like she had been taught, and taking in as much as she could.
"Will there be hedgehogs?"
"Where?" Some stones were dislodged by my clambering, but luckily I was able to use the steel to my advantage and hang on until I could join her on the top of the mound.
Wearing the look of the truly exasperated she turned to face me again. "Mummy. You know what I mean. Will there be hedgehogs? Can I see one?"
A wan smile was the best I could muster, it was still early, "I'm sorry, little one, if there are hedgehogs I think they'll have gone to bed by now. We may see some sheep and some big birds of prey if we're lucky though. We've got a long way to go and there are lots of woods. Maybe there will be foxes, but I think they'll stay away."
"Oh, that's a shame."
"It is, honey. Now, come on, we'll take that way, down near that stream, and we should be back on better paths soon."
They had warned us against continuing north. Said that the old roads and paths through the mountains were dangerous and crawling with wild animals. Apparently they felt that a small child would slow me down or make us both more vulnerable. Bandits were supposed to operate the routes here, cutting off the settlements along the Old Road from civilisation in both directions. It wasn't that I didn't believe them or scoffed at their parochial beliefs, it was more the fact that we had travelled from the south, through the 'bandit country' and seen no one but traders and news-couriers. There had even been a troop of cyclists from the University that passed nearby, on some lower ground near the coast, as we had made our way north. Elizabeth had befriended another child at one of the rest stops we made, coming from a family caravan making their way south with malleable metals mined from the north east, and I had chatted with someone who was convinced that the Orkneys would provide spices beyond the wildest imaginations of any cook.
"Look, that bird is gone," it was more to make conversation than anything else. The Old Road was indeed less passable than it had been before Ken Carrow settlement, but it was still a road and the emptiness was beginning to raise my hackles. "Maybe it found a tree to sit in."
She laughed and then ran on ahead, as she was wont to do, looking around all the time.
This part of the journey was certainly more rugged for countryside. To the West were the escarpments of high peaks, to the East a vast valley with the remains of a brick viaduct still visible, rising above the deciduous woodlands, and here, on the Road itself, there were low shrubs either side as the forest closed in. Beyond the end of the hill we walked upon there was a river running, we could hear it clearly, but nothing could be seen through the dark woods.
It had not been here long, the oldest trees looked no older than sixty years in girth, and the low-lying shrubbery bore the hallmarks of being grown through ancient ruins and abandoned signs of civilisation. This was good ground for Elizabeth to find something that she wanted to add to her treasure box: pottery or coins or other plastic nick-nacks she could pick up and spy from the soil. It was a source of endless amusement to her but we were strict about what we could carry with us and only her very favourite bits of junk ended up in the carry-all.
In the end we spied her long before she saw us. Walking alone, further down the slope from the Old Road, with a long walking stick and a large haversack on her back. Long hair fell over her face and her walking boots were carefully patched with what appeared to be cow leather. Worn, warm-looking and oft-repaired clothing showed that she was probably a herder of some kind, from the high plains beyond the hill country or else the valleys and lakes of the West.
"Mummy, look! It's a lady!" Inevitably, Elizabeth had started running to the stranger with wild and happy abandon before I could reach her. "I'm going to be her friend!"