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New Boots

By Adam J. Sherman

By Adam ShermanPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 9 min read

Freezing water ran over my hand as it poured from the make-shift shower head I’d made just a few days ago out of an old milk carton and some twine. I’d hung it on one of the trees surrounding the creek. I reached out, tentatively, hoping by some miracle, the water heated itself in a matter of seconds.

“Damn,” I hissed. “That’s cold.”

I’d’ve waited ‘til the sun warmed it up, but we didn’t see much of the sun then.

Five years had passed since the Final Revolt, three since the bombings. My grandmother, who always wore a heart-shaped locket—containing photos of my mother and me—had led an army of angry people on the capital. After years of begging our government to change its ways through democracy, the people had finally had enough. And the government panicked, then the world, and after that, it didn’t take long for the bombs to start falling.

I stepped in and let the water pass over me, chilling me to the bone. Even after three years, I wasn’t used to its bite. When you’re used to nice warm showers for twenty-six years, that’ll do it. Either way, a woman has to bathe.

I dried off quickly, then slipped into my clothes and boots. Though excellent in their quality—made of leather and tough rubber for the soles—my boots formed holes in their sides. That was something those post-apocalypse shows never addressed—all those years on the road, and no one ever scavenged for new shoes. I needed to go into town and see if I could find any that would fit. For now, duct tape would have to do.

I moseyed back to camp through a thick layer of ash that rested lazily on the ground yet never seemed to settle entirely. I’d just washed, and now that seemed a pointless effort. The trees of this forest—I’m not sure which one—weren’t touched by the fires that followed the bombs. But ash covered the entire world, and now the trees and forests that remained were dying off. I wish I knew how to fix it, remove the ash. But even Brom, the only scientist I knew, said that even if the ash were removed, there would still be a lack of sun which shone—sporadically, mind you—only about thirty days out of the year.

My settlement stood in a natural clearing in the woods, and people smiled at me as I walked by. We shared everything there, but that’s what you do to survive after an apocalyptic event.

I made my way to our settlement’s leader. I suppose you might call her a governor or mayor, but she never liked those terms, partially because our settlement is only thirty or so people. But also, she firmly believes that it’s titles like governor, president, king, and so on that got the world to blow itself to hell. So we just called her Janette.

“I need to run into town,” I said to Janette, who shook dried clothing off of her clothesline and put it into a basket.

“Hello Val, how are you?” Janette said, looking at me expectantly.

“Just had a cold-as-hell shower. So not bad. I need new boots,” I said, holding one foot up while balancing on the other. “They’ve seen better days, and winter’ll be around before too long. Plus, I could use other supplies.”

Janette paused to grimace at my boot’s sorry state.

“Alright,” Janette said. “But take someone with you. I can’t bear another disappearance.”

I rolled my eyes but nodded. Even though I was perfectly capable of taking care of myself, we didn’t know what happened to those who had disappeared and that was enough to scare me straight.

“Why don’t you take Andy?” Janette suggested. “You might hit it off.”

Across the clearing, Andy pulled burnt bread from a brick oven while his mother scolded him. I wrinkled my nose and made a gagging motion for Janette to see.

“What? He’s nice,” Janette said.

“He’s not my type.”

She laughed. “Bad cook?”

“Male,” I said.

“Uh-huh. Well, take him anyway before his mother beats him into next month. She doesn’t look too happy about him burning that bread.”

“Fine,” I sighed, pulled on my pack, and sauntered over to the young man. He was twenty-three, fair-skinned with more freckles than I thought possible and light brown hair. His mother was walking away as I approached, and he must have heard my footsteps because he turned and looked up from where he was sitting.

“Oh, hey Val,” he said solemnly.

“Hey Andy,” I said. “I’m going into town for some supplies, and I need someone to come with. Buddy system, ya know? Anyway, wanna come with me?”

Andy’s face lit up at the prospect, nodding excitedly. Though whether it was the idea of leaving his mother for a few hours or because he wanted a friend, I didn’t know. Probably both.

“Alright. Why don’t you meet me at the trailhead in,” I checked my Casio, “ten minutes?”

“Sure!” Andy said springing up to gather his things.

The remnants of a sign reminded me that what we called “town” was once known as Bridgeton. We called it town because it was the only one for miles that wasn’t completely demolished by the firebombs. However, Bridgeton wasn’t much to look at, either. Ruined homes lined streets that once held cars and laughing children. Now, all they held was ash and the occasional ruin where people had scavenged what they could.

My boots seemed to be more of a luxury than a reality at this point.

I sighed and started my way down the street toward the mall. Sometimes you could still find some good stuff there. Andy kept pace with me, jabbering about life before the ash. Apparently, he had just moved out of his parent’s home a few months before the bombs. His dad died getting them to safety. Since then, it was just him and his mom until they found the settlement. Since then, all we heard was the constant badgering of mother to son, especially about things that Andy had no control over—like finding a job… after the literal apocalypse.

Some people’s mothers.

The old mall was a ruin with more than half of it rubble, but there were still a few stores that bombs, nor people, never made it to. So, when it came to gathering supplies, it was mostly all for us. Mostly.

Marauders and other scavengers often traveled near, looking for things to filch if not flat out rob people, which was why it was rare for anyone from our settlement to come out this far or try to take everything back in one go. It just wasn’t practical.

But here’s the thing, for all the fear of outsiders trying to hurt us or anyone else they came across, I never saw anyone that wasn’t a part of our settlement.

“So, where to first?” Andy asked. When we reached the mall’s entrance—which was more a pile of cinder blocks and rubble—one had to climb over to get inside.

I paused for a moment, thinking. It had been a while since I’d last been here, and I’d only come a handful of times.

“I need to find some shoes,” I said slowly. “I think the closest store is down the hall from here if I remember right.” I looked at Andy, hoping that he knew more than I did about the mall. But he just shrugged.

“Alright then,” I sighed, nodding, then climbed up the pile of rubble.

I pulled the flashlight from my pack and switched it on, aiming it down the slope of cinder blocks and rebar. Andy did the same with his. The white LEDs shone beams of light into the darkness of the mall, and I was glad that all the sci-fi/horror books, video games, and T.V. shows I knew as a kid were only stories. I couldn’t imagine having to wander in the dark with nothing other than a dinky flashlight all the while monsters from your worst nightmares stalked silently behind, waiting for the right moment to strike. We may be the last of us, but at least I didn’t have to deal with cordyceps-zombies around every corner.

The first stores were always empty. They had been since the day of the bombs. I remember when people scrambled, looting everything they could fill in their arms, baskets, even shopping carts, only to be incinerated moments later by bombs. I had been lucky enough to have very welcoming neighbors who had a bunker. Yeah, a real fallout bunker, like the ones from the late 1950s, in their backyard. They were the kind of conspiracy theorist crazies that you saw on reality T.V. only. They were right. Well, half right. In the end, no one wanted to cause as much damage as nuclear weapons would cause. Turns out that ash does just as much damage to the environment, though… Only slower.

We finally made it to the last few stores, and I was relieved when I found the shoe store I was thinking of. I pilfered through shoe boxes and finally found a pair of boots. They weren’t as good quality as my old ones, and they were a size too big, but with some socks stuffed in the toes, they’d do just fine.

Andy found some shoes, too. Though they weren’t exactly what I would call good.

“I know they’re not practical,” Andy explained, obviously having seen the inquisitive expression I wore. “And that they’ll get dirty as soon as we step outside. But I always wanted some and never got the chance before… everything happened.”

I smiled. Everyone needed something.

I led us through the mall, looking for anything that might be used, and loaded the few items into our packs. Then we made our way back, climbing the rubble pile out of the mall and onto the street. The sun was in the lower half of the sky now. Damn. I’d hoped that we’d be back in the mountains by now, but there wasn’t much we could do about that. Only “keep on keepin’ on.” As my grandmother used to say.

We picked up the pace, but as we made it to the town limits, I saw something I never expected to see.

I saw another person.

She had long, flowing red hair—the kind that would have to be shampooed regularly—and wore worked-in overalls over a brown shirt and boots. She staggered along the way, ash plumed from under her steps, and when she saw me, I could have sworn she looked more scared than anyone I had ever seen before.

I stopped dead in my tracks, but Andy kept going, eager to help.

“Andy, wait!” I called, but he didn’t seem to think my warning was important. Why would he? Obviously weak, this young woman wasn’t of any danger to us. So I picked up my pace, as well, but before I could make it to her, she crashed into a tree—charred and completely dead from three years ago. Collapsing onto it, she grasped it with hands that were cracked and bleeding at the knuckles.

And as soon as she touched the charred bark, the tree began healing! The black bark turned to a pale green, then a hardy brown of its original color. It sprouted limbs, then leaves that I immediately recognized as maple. Then, as if the act of healing the tree had taken the last bit of energy she had, she passed out, letting go and collapsing to the ground. The maple tree shrank back down, its leaves shriveling, its bark turning back to the charred black it was before.

“Val?” Andy said, tentatively lifting the young woman into a sitting position and leaning her against the tree. “What the hell just happened?”

“I…” my voice faltered. I had no clue as to what the hell just happened.

Short Story

About the Creator

Adam Sherman

Fantasy Author--Builder of Worlds

Welcome to my life as an author. Grab some tea, your notebook, and a pen, and get ready to write. Together, we will discover new worlds, magic unknown, and abilities untethered!

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