Radioactive rain

Decades after the nuclear war most families send out one to care and hunt. This story, based on the classic tale of Cinderella, tells about Cath who took over the position meant for her stepdad. While her mother Alissa fell into depression after her husband died, Frank brought in his two daughters Eyla and Enith to the small family. Without acknowledging it, they all depend on Cath to go out to fight in the wastelands and risk her life. 

Cath opened her eyes, blinked at the sun and looked around. Her sisters were laying in their beds, snuggled into their patched blankets. She got up, grabbed her suit, the old gun and left the room. Loud snoring came from the end of the corridor and the floor reeked of alcohol. Frank had been drinking last night. The dusty floorboards creaked as she went down the stairs just to find her mother on the couch again. The old dress that she had been wearing since forever had new stains. Her mother had unsuccessfully tried to wash the blood from the bright fabric. “One day…” Cath thought, “…I will throw Frank out of this house. With or without his daughters.” She started her daily chores, skinning the rabbits she had found yesterday. The wood in the old oven ignited immediately and soon a soup simmered on the stove. Cath’s father had spent every free day repairing the house. He often talked about how homes and cities had looked like before the nuclear war, even though he had only heard the stories from his father. The little kitchen was all his pride.  

The stairs cracked. Frank came down into the room, reeking of alcohol. He looked around and spit on the floor when he saw Cath. “Why are you still here?” She knew too well that it would be dangerous to counter Frank in this condition. Cath slowly went to the entrance, squeezed into her anti-radiation suit and fastened the gun on her hip. Just as she reached for her bag, Eyla and Enith came down the stairs. “Don’t bring rabbit meat again!” mumbled Eyla annoyed. “I can’t stand it anymore!” Enith added. Cath took a deep breath. Her step-sisters had absolutely no idea what she would encounter outside. Just as she was about to stow her mask in her bag, Frank grabbed her roughly by the shoulder. “Dare not to come back empty-handed.” One could have thought he was worried about the family starving, but she knew what he wanted. “I will try to find something”. She shook off his hand, grabbed the backpack, opened the front door and started walking. “No rabbit meat!”, she heard Eyla yelling behind her. Cath turned around. As always, her mother stood silently at the window as the sunbeams fell into her dishevelled hair. She would be standing in the same spot until Cath returned in the evening, hugging her wordlessly and then go to bed. 

As th sun rose slowly, and Cath sat down on the old dead tree to wait. Old man should arrive soon. She never asked for his name and he never asked for hers. Besides a short greeting, they never talked. Still, Cath knew he cared for her. Maybe she reminded him of a lost daughter or it was just the way he was, but when they were trading, she always got more out of a deal than he did, even if she tried to make it equal. He soon sat down next to her and handed her a pack of fabric. She gave him the rabbit meat she had prepared in the morning and he smiled. “You care too much for me, girl.” He mumbled. “You’ve grown a lot these days and I fear this might be the last time we meet. I am old and someone else will go out to hunt now.” Cath saw his wrinkled smile. “I have a little gift for you. I know you do what you can for whoever depends on you. Be careful, I can’t guarantee for this.” With these words, the old man handed her a map, showing the area behind her usual hunting grounds. When Cath looked up, the man was gone. Maps are not items to give away when living in the wastelands. 

She started to walk and, thanks to the map, found a well-hidden warehouse that she suspected Raiders living in. It would definitely have valuable loot which she could not only use at home but also trade with other hunters if she would encountered them. It was a high risk, but at this time of the day, Raiders would usually be out hunting like everyone else. Careful stepping into the main hall and searching around, she collecting as much stuff as she could carry until the sun rose to its highest point and she heard someone calling from the other side of the hall. “Come on, show me what’s in that backpack.” Cath quickly hid under a table. A self-confident voice answered. “Would you really dare to rob me?”. “Dare? Who do you think you are? Just give us your backpack boy.” Cath looked around, searching for the voices. A young man, around her age, stood surrounded by 7 or 8 Raiders stood in the back of the hall. One of them pulled out his weapon and Cath stood up. “Put that gun down.” She said in a calm voice, the shotgun she just found aimed at one of his comrades. The boy turned around. “Oh my, what a beautiful surprise.” He said smiling. The man with the gun looked angry “What were you doing in our storage?” The boys laugh echoed from the walls. “Robbing the Robbers, what else!”. The Raider shot and the boy dodged the bullet by a few centimetres. Cath switched to the Gun on her hip and found herself standing back to back with the boy. “John’s the name, by the way.” “Nice to meet you, I’m Cath”. Two bullets hit the first Raider, another one the second. “It’s dangerous to enter a storehouse like this Cath,” said John before firing his gun at another Raider. Miraculously, none of the bullets the other men fired hit either of the young hunters. “Says the right one, John.” Cath laughed and shot the last Raider in the chest. “Your skill is impressive, Cath.” John turned around smiling at her. A few dots of blood had landed on his jacket and smoke came out of his gun. Cath fixed hers back on her hip and grabbed the shotgun. “Thanks, same goes for you.” 

Suddenly raindrops started to hit the roof. “It was sunny moments ago!” “What do you expect John? It’s the wastelands.” Cathy turned around and smiled at the young man before putting on her hood and the mask. “It was nice to meet you.” “Wait! Radioactive rain is…” “…dangerous, I know!” She started running. Frank would be too drunk to bring his daughters or her mother in the basement. She ran and ran until she could see her mothers face behind the little kitchen window. She was holding the girls, waiting for Cath. 

The rain lasted the whole night and Frank didn’t show up. Eyla and Enith looked up to Cath. “Why don’t you go out and find him?” Eyla mumbled. Enith looked down “I know he is not a good man but…” Cath looked up to the trap door at the ceiling. “Did your dad ever tell you what the wasteland is? What hunters risk every day? What I have to do because he doesn’t go hunting for you?” She sat down in front of the girls. “He never told us. Mom went hunting while he drank and when we got here, you were the one.” “Do you want to hear?” They nodded. Cath told her sisters about RADs, the creatures roaming in the wastelands. About Raiders and other hunters. About the radioactive rain and the burns, it leaves on the skin. About the charming young man, she met who fought with her. When the rain stopped falling Cath smiled at Eyla and Enith. “Let’s search for your father girls”. “He is not our real father,” Alissa whispered. The sisters both looked at Cath. “Let’s not. He doesn’t care for us at all and it’s just a question of time until he…” “Next time we tell you about mom.” 

Cath opened the trap door and helped her sisters and her mother out. The morning sun was beaming through the windows and the dead trees outside shone with the fallen rain. Eyla and Enith grabbed an old cloth and wiped up the small puddles on the kitchen floor. Slowly, life came into Alissa and she started to cook. Cath searched for her backpack to see what she got on her trip earlier. “No…”. “What is it, little?” Alissa asked. Cath looked at her mother. Her first words since years. She stuttered “I, I… Mom I think I forgot my backpack at…”. A firm knock echoed through the kitchen. Everyone stopped in their tracks. “Behind me. All of you.” Cath grabbed her Gun and approached the door. “Cath…” “Be careful…” Her sisters hold onto Alissa. Cath opened the door, pointing her Gun at the person in front of it. “Hello, Cath.” “John…” She lowered her Gun and her view fell on the backpack over his shoulder. “This might be yours if I’m not wrong.” A smile came across his face, handing her the old brown leather bag. 

Snow crunching

I turn to the lights of the funfair while my phone calls my mom. Occasionally, you hear calls of children, but most families left long before me. What remains now is a strange mix of the smell of cotton candy and beer. “Honey?” I hear my mother ask. I didn’t notice her picking up. “Oh, mom, sorry. I just want to let you know that I’m on my way home. I hope I didn’t wake you up!”. My mother is always worried when I come home late, something that will probably never change. I turn away from the lights and start walking. “You are not going alone, are you?” her worried voice murmurs through the phone. “Anna accompanies me to the intersection. It’s not far from there. Don’t worry.”. I try to sound convincing. Anna is living in a completely different part of the city and called a taxi half an hour ago, but mom doesn’t ever remember where my friends live. “Alright, just ring the bell when you’re home, I’ll let you in.”. Her voice sounds a little less worried. “Alright, see you then! I love you!”. I hang up quickly and a smile wanders across my face. Although I moved out two years ago and only visit home for Christmas, she acts like I’m still 16. 

I turn into a small parkway, framed by trees. The snow crunches under my shoes and I pull up my scarf. The reddish light of the street lamps wafts through the bare branches of the trees and makes the scene appear warmer than it is. I cut my pace and breathe in the cold winter air while my phone plays ‘Today and Tomorrow’ and walk across the next street. Suddenly, I hear the snow crunch from someone walking behind me. I shake off the strange feeling I get when I imagine someone following me and turn the music a little quieter. I turn right and try to concentrate on the beautiful winter night again. Snow piles up on the sidewalk since the town focused on getting the streets free and forgot about those who walk their way around town. I pass my old school and get flooded with memories of snowball fights and worried teachers trying to calm kids down. I’m tempted to take a quick walk to the schoolyard, completely snowed in, untouched and lying in the dim light. 

Isolated cars drive along the small road, with their lights being reflected by the fresh snow. I hear someone coughing behind me and take a deep breath. I have always been nervous in such situations. Nothing ever happened to me, or to my friends, but still, this strange feeling creeps over me every time. Now, however, I can’t shake it off. I decide to take an old shortcut and turn into a narrow side street. The snow crunching behind me becomes quieter. I breathe in, turn my music louder again and walk down the alley. Snowflakes start falling and land on my hair. I turn the corner and notice with fright that the street lamps are not working here. The entire alley, my old shortcut, is in the dark. I consider turning around, but it would be a detour to turn again. Also, I can’t shake the feeling that someone follows me. I start walking again, orient myself by the lights that turn on in the doorways as I pass by. Luckily the alley is not too long, and as I walk around the turn, I see the lights of the intersection.  

I press the button of the traffic light and watch its colour change through the falling snow. One of my earpieces slides down into my scarf, and I hear whispering behind me. The snow lights up green. I start crossing a little too fast and almost slip on the icy road. I try to escape the voices and reach the underpass. I forgot about it when I took the shortcut, but there is no way to avoid it. There is ice under the snow, on the stairs and I slow down.  Immediately, the whispering a few feet behind me gets louder again. I try to breathe calmly but can’t shake off the weird feeling that creeps up to me. My heart starts pounding louder with every heartbeat and my chest starts to feel tight. I reach the bottom of the underpass as the light suddenly begins to flicker.  

“Hey Honey!” a deep, unsympathetic voice suddenly calls behind me. I turn my music louder and try to walk faster. “Hey, come on Sweetie!”. This was definitely a second voice, drunker than the first one. A cold shower runs down my back, and my hands start to sweat. Why didn’t I call a taxi? “Sweetheart, you lost something.” a third, uncomfortably sweet-sounding voice calls out. I reach for my bag, but it’s shut, and the weight has not changed. I feel my phone and keys in my pocket and decide to take the risk. “Hey don’t be afraid, come on! We just wanna talk!”. It’s the drunk guy’s voice again. I decide to go for it and catch myself nearly running. In that second, the light goes off. I stare into the pitch-black darkness and tears well up in my eyes. I can hear the voices curse behind me and turn around, trying to locate them. “Honey, where are you?” the deep voice calls out, way closer than I thought it would be. I freeze, eager to not make a sound and reveal where I am. “Man, you’re scaring her” the weirdly honeyed voice laughs. The lights flicker for a second, and I see a black coat right next to me. “There you are!”. It’s the drunk guy. A gloveless, cold hand reaches out to me and grabs my wrist. “What a beauty.”. 

The light goes off again, and I snap out of my frozen state. I break free from the cold, painful grip and just run in the direction I’m guessing the stairs at. The light flickers again, I fall over, and hear them laugh. I ignore the pain in my knee, my wrist, grab the handrail and climb up the stairs. As I reach the top, still stumbling, I turn around to see who is behind me. Darkness stares back at me. I run down the street until my lungs cannot take the cold winter air anymore. I turn around the corner, try to slow down my breath and walk up to our front door. My mom is standing in front of it, looking worried. “Is everything ok Hun? It started snowing again, and I wasn’t sure if you…”. I hug her. “Honey?”. She looks at me worried. “Is everything ok?”. “Of course, mom, I’m just cold.” I laugh. She joins in with her bell-like laughter. “Come in, grab a blanket. I’ll make you a coffee.”. I avoid stepping on the snow on my way in.