The air is still cold as the sun crests the horizon. Nothing in front of her except sand, and a small dirt path. A sign in the ground reads of the dangers ahead, 60 degrees celsius heat during the day leading to -10 degrees celsius at night, wasteland dogs and large insects. Anne grasps the walking stick in her hand and walks past the sign into the Wasteland. She’s been on this road before, she knows of its dangers. Nobody takes this route to the City, there’s a large river off in the distance that stretches from the small fishing village she was residing in, all the way to the City. The river is poison; sewage from the City, dead bodies of those who have fallen off the ships, it drains into a lake far enough away from the Crystal Sea. The village sits between the two, half of the village is lush and beautiful, untouched by the air of the lake. The other half, where nobody lives, but where everyone works, isn’t safe for any longer than 4 hours at a time. The two halves are separated by a large wall, to make sure the livable side remains so. Anne looks behind her one final time, she’s spent the last 7 months in this village and now she has to return to the City.
The cool air slowly turns hot. The sun hangs large in front of her, baking the Wasteland and anything that dares to enter it. Anne pulls a silk wrap over her head, covering her dark red hair, and the pair of glasses that hang at her neck, she covers her piercing blue eyes. She looks down at the small red haired child hanging in a sling. The baby cries lightly, her breathing is harsh so her cries aren’t loud. Anne takes off her bag, a beautiful, brown leather bag, the royal family crest inscribed on the front, the edges of the crest are frayed from her trying to take it off. She opens the bag and pulls out a small bladder of ice, she wraps it in one of her shirts and places it between her child and herself to keep them from overheating. It’s a 10 hour walk in the heat to the City.
The village is lively at night, a large fire is lit in the town center, fish is cooking on sticks all around it, apples are plucked from the trees all around. The people of the village use the night to celebrate surviving another day and to remember those who succumbed to the working conditions. That day there were no casualties.
Anne sat at a bench, her child at her breast suckling. She just finished eating her share of the food, and nobody there would think to harass her about breastfeeding in public, the last person who did that was the first. An older man approached from where the food was set out. He was eating only an apple, the juice dripped from the side of his mouth as he talked. “May I have a seat, Anne?” Anne looked up from her child, smile on her face.
“You don’t have to ask Doc.” She said in reply. The doctor sat, it was slow and looked somewhat painful. He took another bite from his apple.
“I love nights like tonight. The stars in the sky are dotting the black with their bright whites. The fire crackles with the merriment of warming our souls. Best of all, no one died today.” He smiled an old smile, teeth slowly leaving his mouth, lips cracked from lack of moisture. Then the smile turned to a frown. “I’m afraid that’s as far as the love goes.” He looked down at Anne’s unnamed child, reached out to give it a small pat and stopped short and gave Anne the shoulder pat instead. “You know how much I care for that little child, and how much I wish to help her, but her condition isn’t improving and I don’t have the medicine to heal her.”
He took another bite, Anne looked from the child to the doctor, “I was afraid you’d say that Doc, but I’m not terribly surprised.” Her face turned sour, the thought of having to return to the City repulsed her. “How much time do you think I have?”
The doctor looked at the fire, “The sooner you get that little one the help she needs the sooner you won’t have to worry about watching your little one pass on.” Anne sighed, wished the old doctor well and made her way to get ready for the journey.
The sun is high in the sky now. Outlines of mountains paint the blue with a dark shadow. Below those mountains runs the river that cuts through the wasteland. That’s far in the distance, but Anne can almost see ships, or she’s hallucinating. The heat, can do that, if Anne didn’t have the ice bladders, she’d be halfway to the river or waiting for the birds or dogs to end her suffering.
Sweat drips down the front of her sunglasses, she’s constantly making sure her child is doing well in the sling. When the baby is asleep Anne worries the most, making sure she’s still breathing constantly, and checking her forehead to make sure she’s not too hot. Her hand is numb from holding the walking stick. In the air birds circle, off to the side three dogs follow her every step. She wonders to herself if it’s the same three dogs that followed her the last trip.
On the road there’s a small shack, it’s the only spot on the road that’s safe to rest. Though the safety of the house is relative, there’s an allure to the house that will cause a person to not leave. When Anne comes upon the house this time she checks it for dead bodies, last time she was close to being a corpse, until she saw one herself. It was in the corner, dark for a moment, and the sun was setting and shone on the long dead person. Peaking through the windows Anne sees nothing but the wooden floor, the shack is falling apart, there’s a large hole in the roof, and the floor is wearing thin.
She walks through the door, sets a blanket on the ground along with her daughter, who’s hungry and needs to be cleaned.
The look her father gave her that night, disappointment, disgust, caused Anne to cry harder than she ever had before. “What’s wrong with me wanting to be happy?” She screamed.
Her father, who is large, always drunk, and should never be in charge of a large population of people, yelled back, “Everything is wrong with that. You’re not supposed to be happy with who I choose to have marry you.” The father to Anne’s future daughter wasn’t the man she was betrothed to, the man she was supposed to marry is the son of a rich businessman. “It’s about the power and money.” At least her father is an honest man.
Anne punched her father in the face, a large red mark appeared on his face. “I’ll be with whoever makes me happy father.” The ‘father’ was said with disdain and emphasized the hatred she has for him. She remembered her father being a good man when she was young, but something turned in him. “I don’t need to be the next Queen or whatever,” she stared at her dad, her eyes pierced his soul. The Royal family has been in control of the City since the day the walls came up, Anne never learned the origin of the City or her family.
Her dad returned the gaze, anger burning in his eyes, fists balled. Anne didn’t let him consider making a move, she hit him again first.
Her mom sat in a chair in the corner, she watched the altercation without uttering a word. She stood up after the second punch, walked over to her daughter and pulled her arm toward the door. “You should leave, if you want to be happy, leave the city.”
Standing out in the hall Anne saw her dad, straightening up and rubbing his face, “Where am I supposed to go mother? If I left now, what will happen to Mike?” Anne saw her dad walking toward the door.
Her mom had a look of urgency, “Look, if you stay here he’ll have you killed, even though you’re our daughter. Talk to Mo about getting out of here, he’ll help you.” She began to close the door, the large man behind her screamed incoherently. “I love you, honey.” She quickly gave Anne a peck on the cheek and shut the door. Anne turned and started to head downstairs, when she got to the end of the hall, the door to her parent’s room flew open.
“Don’t ever come back.”
Those were the last words her dad said to her. Anne packs the blanket and her daughter, she only has two ice bladders left and half a days trip left. She kisses her daughter, nervous about leaving the shade of the shack. She takes a deep breath and walks out into the sun and heat. She doesn’t have a plan for getting back into the City.
Dogs are sitting at the edge of the road, their teeth bared. The birds that were flying above are perched at the edge of the shack. Anne grips the walking stick tighter than ever, ready to swing it at any moment. One of the dogs steps onto the dirt and makes its way toward Anne, she takes the stick and swings it at the dog. The thwack of thick wood making contact rang through the emptiness, the dog doesn’t back down. The next swing hits the animal on the nose, it stumbles to the ground. One of the birds flies down, and the other two dogs walk forward, both lunging at Anne at the same time. She manages to hit one away but the other sinks its teeth into her leg. She screams in pain, and shoves the stick down, but the dog hangs on. The other dog, jumps toward her other leg.
The cries of her child and the instinct to survive are strong enough to overpower the dogs. Before the one is able to land a bite, Anne beats it down, cracking the walking stick in the process, which she uses to stab into the dog at her leg. She drops to her knee, the pain intensifies with every beat of her heart. She pulls the wrap off her face and quickly ties it around the wound.
She stops when she sees the wall. Unable to move forward any longer, the wound infected, her leg swells. She falls to the ground, her daughter asleep unaware of what’s happening. The last ice bladder no longer keeping their body temperatures at a healthy level. Anne tries to stand back up, it’s a miracle she made it this far with her wounded leg, she believes she can make it all the way. She collapses the leg unable to support her any longer. She pulls the bag off her back, and checks the sling, it’s secured to her body. She pulls herself forward, her arms and good leg working in tandem. She presses on, no matter how much her leg hurts, or how hot her fever makes her, she tells herself. “I’ll get you to the City.” She cries as the words leave her cracked lips.
The wall draws ever closer with every strained movement, her arms stinging from exhaustion. She stops and screams for help. Tears rolling down her cheeks, she grabs the necklace that hangs around her neck and takes it off. A heart shaped locket hangs at the end, inside it is two pictures, one side is her and her father, the other is her and her mother.
Two men walking on the dirt path see a woman laying dead on the ground, they approach and hear the light cries of a baby.