Will woke up at daybreak as usual. Something didn’t feel right but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Shaking his head to clear it, he began his morning ritual. Rising from his sleeping furs and quickly putting on his layers of insulating clothing was the first step, followed by a quick wash from the bucket near the cast iron stove. There was just enough coffee left for a single cup and his supply of foodstuff was also dwindling quickly. That meant a full day’s trek to what used to be a nearby village to raid the shopping center for supplies.
Will’s thoughts were projected backward by the thought of the village, backward to when he had gone on his first trek with Mother and Father. They’d bundled him up in a snowsuit and scarf, settled him into a nest of thick blankets on a sled, and taken turns pulling him along the frozen path that had once been a two-lane road. They talked as they walked.
“Remember how beautiful this place was in Spring,” Father had asked?
“How could I forget? It’s where we met, down by the river.”
“Right, during the Spring Carnival.”
Father and Mother had both smiled for a moment. A moment was all it had lasted.
“2042. The year before the war.” The words were as cold as the wind that cut through the air and even partially penetrated all the protective layers in which they clothed him.
The war had been what Father called a ‘nuclear exchange’ between nations. The survivors had begun to try and rebuild, then Winter came and never left. Temperatures had fallen, the ice from the far north and south had advanced further and further until most of the land mass was covered. Only a few hardy souls had been able to adapt quickly enough to survive.
Will hadn’t traveled far when he once again felt something was wrong. Not bad, just not normal. Trudging through the snow, focusing on staying on the nearly overgrown trail, he still wasn’t able to determine just what it was that troubled him and he didn’t really spend much time on it. He had to keep his attention on the trail.
It took most of the morning to reach the village and clear the door into the long-abandoned supermarket that served as his supply cache. Boxes of butter crackers, frozen blocks of cheese, even meat that had frozen before the power failed went into the sled. Before he donned his headgear again he heard a sound. It was familiar but he’d never heard it outside of the cave. Somewhere in the building, water was dripping.
Will wanted to investigate but he knew he had to get back home before dark. He buttoned up all of his gear, pulled on his hood, and dragged the sled out of the building. He put the heavy piece of sheet metal over the door to keep out unwanted visitors and turned toward the path to the cave. As he turned eastward something else startled him.
He took a moment to realize that his shadow, foreshortened by the early afternoon sun, was clearly visible in front of him. Curiosity made him look up for the first time he could remember and he was surprised again. Through the once perpetual overcast there was a patch of blue and the sunlight burst through the opening unimpeded by clouds for the first time in his life.
Bewildered but unwilling to stop to figure it out at that moment, Will started again toward the cave. Shortly before he arrived something else caught his eye just off the path. It was a patch of bare ground, dark loam showing through the snow that had always covered everything. It was then he realized he was sweating and his clothing was actually keeping him too warm.
The final clue came to his ears a second later, a sound he’d only been told about by Mother and Father. He pulled the hood from his head, yanked off the covering, and sought the source of the sound.
In a nearby tree he spotted a small, feathered creature he recognized from stories his parents had told. It was called a ‘bird’. Will fell to his knees. Melting snow, blue skies, a bird chirping in the trees. It had come as they had said it would. His eyes filled with tears of both sorrow and joy.
“Mother! Father! Spring is here!”
updated by @americymru: 11/28/17 04:57:24PM