It was easy enough to imagine how it had all begun, looking over the vast crumbling waste. Gertie hoisted her pack higher on her shoulder and squoze her little brother’s sweating hand. Addie turned bleary, out-of-focus eyes up toward her, a mess of dark hair matted against his feverish forehead.
I have to get him somewhere cool, she thought, not for the first time. From where they stood, she could make out the glint of a snaking stream off to the north, what she knew was north because of the dense, curling moss on that side of the trees they’d just come through. Between their woods and that stream was a groundswell of tumult, and silence.
It was one of the eeriest pieces of this disaster: the one lonely caw of a raven, maybe returned in hopeful camaraderie, maybe echoing out like fingers grasping in the dark for a friend no longer there.
Adam sniveled a little, bringing Gertie back from her reverie. It was difficult to stay focused when the dim, umber air clung so close.
“You feelin’ a swim, l’il bro?” she asked more cheerfully than she felt.
“Water,” he nodded, solemnly.
Gertie swung her eyes over the dirt-to-gravel-to-pavement path before them, into the hulk of what was once “the city.” She inhaled deeply, steeling herself, and that nasty, sour air twisted in her lungs, but she held in her cough and breathed it out slowly, slowly to keep from making the same racking sounds Addie’d been making for the last hour.
One foot out, she began to lead him down.