Legend says dawn used to be the rising sun. But then legend says the sun was a ball of fire hanging in the sky that brought day and warmth and dragged night behind it. I don’t know about that, ball of fire in the sky seems pretty unlikely to me.
I do know about the ragestorms though. My dawn is when the first hungry flashes of lightning flicker across the horizon; when the first hints of that angry, bruised rumbling reach my ears; when the black sky becomes turbulent grey. Clouds, they call them… sky ain’t nothing but clouds, I say, why we need two words?
I lift molly onto my back, take up my staff and peer out from where we hid for the night. With the ragestorm dawn there is dim light, enough to risk the world, a short space of time before the weather is fully on us in its fury and its passion. Crossing a city in full darkness is mad suicide, their shattered concrete corpses are full of falls and pain just waiting to happen, and the Nightmares.
Careful, Molly says.
Ain’t I always?
She’s so light it scares me. I almost cry, but my tears got all dried up long ago, like the world.
I mark my goal. So tall I can’t miss it, tallest thing for miles, so close now I reckon we’ll reach it today. They used to call them tower blocks, my mam told me, and people used to live in them. Wouldn’t everyone I ever met even fill a tenth.
Thirteen days, Moll. Told you it wouldn’t be three hands.
She doesn’t really understand numbers, I never got round to teaching her like my mam taught me. But I count off the days as we go. Count my fingers to remember by. Not my toes though, my toes don’t go up to ten.
I knew this city’s name once, but I forgot. Another thing I can’t teach Molly.
Everything is covered in dust, and worn. The ragestorm picks up the dust and hurls it round and round, scrubbing everything smooth. Mam said most of the dust used to be the buildings; one day, she said, there won’t be anything but dust. And maybe she was right, I seen a man out in the storm once, got scrubbed clean down to his bones. Never want to see that again.
The dust settles deep sometimes and looks solid so I use my staff to test as I go. Dust can be tricksy like that; fall in and you ain’t ever getting out, ain’t no amount of swimming gonna save you. Bad way to drown, dust. Ain’t good to drown any other way, mind you, not that you’ll find water deep enough these days.
This staff is some kinda metal, strong, but rusting. Bits of it flake onto my gloves; good, thick gloves to keep my hands safe. You clamber through cities you gotta protect your hands. ‘Specially round rusted things. I heard of a man cut himself on rusty metal and got all frozen up and twitchy, couldn’t open his mouth. Slow way to die.
Too many ways to die in this world.
I been two days in this city already. Progress is slow when you only got dawn and dusk to travel by, when I gotta allow enough time to find somewhere safe for me and Molly to hide from the demons riding the ragestorm, demons man called up and set on himself; then there are the Nightmares that come out after the storm’s passed, when everything’s gone quiet and the world’s wreathed in blindness. They ain’t Nightmares really, mam said, just dogs gone wild. I never seen one, just heard them, their growling and their claws on concrete. Shuffling, huffling, scratching things with a whine that feels like ice right down your spine. Nasty as hell when you’re hiding in a hole, hoping to sleep.
Molly don’t complain though. Do you, Moll?
I ain’t a scaredy-cat like you.
No, Moll, you’re the bravest little girl I ever knew.
The winds are just starting to pick up as I reach the base of the tower block. The ragestorm’s just hitting the edge of the city, can’t be too long now; reckon I can reach the top before it properly gets here though, just hope there’s somewhere safe to hide. Up there we’ll be caught in the heart of it, won’t be like anything I ever knew before. I get a move on, hauling myself up cracked staircases, pulling myself from one broken floor to the next. Then I find a shaft clear up the middle of the building and I pull myself up a cable for a bit, but I ain’t got the strength to go the whole way like that.
When I finally get up there I’m exhausted, dropped my staff somewhere along the way. Hard to catch my breath, with the winds picking up, pulling the air straight outta my mouth, I’m left gasping and gasping like the only fish I ever saw. Best meal of my life. Thanks, mam.
Shame you didn’t ever get to taste anything like that, Moll.
Don’t guess anyone ever will again.
No answer, Moll?
I pull cloth over my mouth, the wind’s up enough to lift the dust and I can hear the rage getting close. The grumbling crescendos up to a roar and lightning scythes down only a few streets away. Too close.
You’re right, Moll. This ain’t a time for pondering.
I lift her down. Take her out of my pack. She was so small, even when she was alive, still can’t believe all her ashes fit in this tiny box though. Grant’s best box, strong and painted all pretty, but I insisted, only the best for our girl. Then I broke my promise to never leave and I ran away with her.
I set the box on the rooftop, open the lid. And there she is, my little girl, all grey-white flakes and black dust. Moving, lifting, shifting again as the wind gets to her.
I get myself in a good hole and block it up as best I can. Then it hits us, pure fury, I never been in a place that shook so much, can’t believe the building ain’t coming down.
I imagine my Molly up there, dancing on the wind, laughing and screaming. She always wanted to fly, always believed the stories of the blue up there, the sky above the clouds, the ball of fire. Maybe she’ll get up there, above everything, safe.
Bye, mam. Thanks.
Seems I can still cry.
Come the apocalypse John Xero fervently hopes there will still be a place by the fireside for the storyteller. Failing that he’ll settle for tribal shaman. Until that inevitable day join him and explore the Xeroverse every Sunday and Wednesday.