September 2nd, 2063 – the Present
The first breath of cold air pierced the lungs. The second burned.
Freda gave a wheezing gasp. Her body bucked as she swallowed the oxygen like water, her eyes stinging in the darkness. A snap of light burst somewhere next to her eyeball, but she couldn’t tell if it was a collapsing synapse or torn wires. A bundled section of coloured plastic cables swung somewhere by her side, crackling like fireworks. The heat from them glowed over her left arm, barely warm enough for her to register it.
Something crunched beneath her as she gingerly rose to a sitting position, giving up halfway as pain whiplashed through her skull. She fell back to the damp floor with heaving breaths. Raising an arm to wipe it across her sweat-coated face, Freda blinked back the stinging water swimming in her vision, glancing at her surroundings.
This place looks familiar. Is it?
Being more careful this time to keep her head at a reasonable level, the lash of pain now dulled, she tried to fix on the objects that littered the darkness. Wires and flashes of electricity danced alongside broken piles of ceiling plaster and metal sheeting, bent crooked. A discarded flag rippled in the stiff breeze blowing from further along the darkness, only a few dirty letters visible through the shower of debris covering it. As Freda concentrated on the fluttering material, memories returned in a jumbled rush.
Wait…I was looking for…what was I looking for? That’s how I ended up in this bunker. I was looking around because I thought I saw someone. Then something got triggered? An explosion. That’s…that must be how everything is all over the place in here. Grunting as she eased herself up, resting back on her heels, Freda winced as the spot on her head that had been hit by falling debris pulled again on her nerves. The snap of it brought back her reason for being down in a dank hole. My brother. I was looking for my brother.
A long sigh rolled from her lips as she pushed herself from the ground, squeezing her eyes tightly as her stomach turned over with the motion. She swallowed back the bitter taste of the bile, waiting until the bunker stopped spinning. Reaching down for the battered rifle lying by her feet, she swung the strap up onto her shoulder. A hand slid to her hip in an automatic movement, feeling for the cold, hungry steel of her hunting knife. Trekking around in the wastes was idiotic at the best of times, but it was downright suicidal without weapons. Sniffing to clear her nose, Freda pulled her hair back into a loose ponytail, tucking it into the recesses of her oversized coat.
Gathering up the small knapsack tossed aside on the wet cardboard strewn across the floor, Freda took a final glance back into the endless dark, further into the bunker. Noises echoed from inside the long tunnel of rooms, but it was impossible to tell if they were dangerous or simply loud echoes of the structure settling. The hair rose on the back of her neck as something clanked. Deciding that survival was currently more important than checking out whatever lay beyond the dingy room, Freda silently turned to make her way out. Prickles ran along her spine as her hearing dwelt for a second longer than necessary on the scraping sound further into the bunker. The sound halted her steps as she froze in fear. Another scraping sound came, a little closer this time, and she ducked down behind a crumpled sheet of metal like an animal vanishing into a burrow.
The sweat returned again, tickling over her forehead. Licking her cracked lips, Freda slid the rifle down as silently as possible, wincing as the strap caught on a piece of wood sticking out beside her. The debris shifted, enough to send a whisper of crumbling dust falling to the floor. The scraping sound stopped abruptly as the particles trickled down, and Freda drew in a hard breath. She knew what was coming, and she never got used to it. How could humanity get used to a monster it had created from its own violence?
Okay. Just keep your nerve. You’ve done this before. Freda glanced around at the blackness of the bunker. Maybe not when it was this dark, but you’ve done this before. I could even sneak out of here without it seeing me. The thought gave her hope, and she carefully put one foot back to see if she could retreat without setting off another ripple of noise. Even before Freda placed the sole of her worn boot flat, she felt the tension of the taut cable beneath, and her heartbeat skipped against her chest. The tiny movement tugged the wire, trapped by the clutter on top of it, and several dark objects moved at once, screeching against the metal floor. She knew the Skin-Eater had heard it too, as soon as the disturbingly familiar scraping sound was replaced by a low, predatory growl, more akin to an animal protecting its territory.
Eyes adjusting to the pitch-dark around her, Freda brought the sight of the gun up, flicking her gaze for a second out the corner of her eye, her brain still desperately searching for a way out that didn’t involve possible death. None came to mind. Another growl echoed through the bunker, laced with an angry urgency. Freda’s heart rattled against her ribs like a caged bird. One blue-dappled hand appeared around the edges of the rough hole hewn between the collapsed bunker and the corridor beyond. The fingers seemed elongated to a monstrous degree, thin and skeletal in their appearance, the skin torn as though the creature had attempted to claw their way out from somewhere. The scraping rasp of air from the creature followed, filling the heated air until Freda felt as though she could suffocate on it. Her palms slickened against the hard wood of the gun as the Skin-Eater finally emerged in all its horrific glory, silent as its head roved from side to side, searching the room. Freda ducked further down behind her cover as it turned in her direction, sniffing the air.
Her gaze travelled over the distorted face, the shadows covering much of its likeness. It was skeletal, like the hands, the nose long since gone in favour of the gruesome hole that was the large, round mouth that made up most of its features. The scraping sound came from the creature’s attempts to breathe against its mutilated palate. Its eyes, small and beady, shifted from side to side as it searched. They were hooded by the folds of decaying skin that sank from its forehead. The skin itself was patched with blue-black, as though the creature had been fatally burned, a consequence of the darkness all Skin-Eaters had lived in for decades. The mouth opened still further as the creature lumbered into the room on flat feet, a long rasp coming from the recesses of its throat.
Then it saw her.
Freda’s heart twisted in her chest, making it squeeze against her ribs in agony, as her eyes met the hungry gaze of the Skin-Eater. A thump began somewhere in her ears, making her dizzy, but her finger pulled on the trigger like a second instinct. The Skin-Eater moved with surprising grace towards her, leaping over the wreckage as it screamed triumphantly, its thin hands clawing out towards her. Freda grunted as the butt of the rifle hammered back into her body, but she took aim again and fired. Her shoulder ached with the recoil, bouncing from an old bruise.
The shot flew out, whistling past the creature’s head, doing nothing more than skimming the folds of its decaying flesh. The creature gave a grating cry, reaching up for a moment at its wound, before stumbling forwards and reaching out once more to scrabble at Freda’s crouching space. Freda gave a cry and stumbled backwards into the clutter behind. Something sharp and jagged sliced into her elbow, but she ignored the flash of pain, her fingers trembling as she brought the barrel up once more. Taking her chance, Freda leaned to one side and aimed for the Skin-Eater’s skull, squeezing the trigger hard.
The next shot was the lucky one. It buried itself deep inside the dark flesh, sinking into the recesses of the creature’s head. A single howl came from deep within its chest as it tottered for a moment, its arms dropping limply by its sides. For a split moment, Freda watched with horror as the monster gazed at her with its beady eyes, her limbs ready to dive if it lunged. The eyes glossed over as the Skin-Eater collapsed to the ground like a sack of rocks, only one of its legs giving an involuntary twitch. Black liquid pooled around its wounds, rapidly covering the gaps in the floor.
Oh god, oh god, oh god. Freda breathed heavily for a few moments, her shaking hands still in a death-grip on her rifle. She hated using her ammunition. It wasn’t as though anyone made it anymore. She fell back, leaning her head against the debris behind, her skin itching as the sweat rolled from her scalp. Time to go. Drawing in a deep breath, Freda glanced down at her rifle, her knuckles turning white. Relaxing her fingers, she rose unsteadily and squeezed herself out from the crawlspace, taking care to step around the dead Skin-Eater. She paused for a moment, staring down at the creature with morbid fascination. Its huge mouth was peeled back as it lay prone on the floor, revealing rows of half-broken teeth, stained and dark. They were horribly human in nature. But there was no longer anything human about it.
Knowing more of the monsters would be attracted by the scent of a dead one, Freda pulled her coat tightly around her waist, retying the fraying knot that served as a belt, and turned away from the Skin-Eater to the exit.
Freda shaded her eyes as she came out from the half-buried door to the bunker, squinting against the faint sunlight trying to stretch through the clouds. The landscape was grey as always, from the foot of the distant hills to the burnt fields where she stood. She gazed across the charred land. It had once been farms, full of crops and animals. Now it was black as soot, coated thickly with hardened dust and the remains of vegetation that had been dead for decades. The wooden fences that marked one field from another were broken up and snapped in half, long since used for firewood. A few sheep bones were scattered over the land, the only proof that they had ever existed in this nightmare of a land, instead of inside the artificial lighting of a bunker. Freda’s blue eyes were slow as they travelled over the small mounds and humps where trees had once grown.
After the Big Hit, everything was burned in atomic fire, long before Freda had been born. But the fire wasn’t the worst part. The worst part came before, when the Illness had spread. And after the Illness and the bombs, when people fought and killed one another for what was left. The survivors fell sick, and died more slowly than those caught in the blast, coughing up blood for months until they were released from the horror. Some survived, but not as they had expected. Except for those who had been in bunkers. Freda’s mother and father had been two of the lucky ones. ‘Brit-Bunkers – the future of humanity’. That was what all the posters had proclaimed, pasted over the metal insides of the suffocating underground city.
Stop daydreaming. Get moving. Shaking herself from her reverie, Freda glanced back over her shoulder to the entrance of the bunker. The doorway was sunken into the hillside, a small metal door that led down a vast corridor to the inner bunker door – a thick steel effort that had sealed in the inhabitants for the past few decades. She couldn’t say what had happened to make them leave, however. It was obvious no one had lived inside this one for a long time. Since coming out into the wastes, she had realised some people in the bunkers hadn’t done as well as hers. A shiver ran along her spine. Pushing the thought to the back of her mind, she turned on her heel and set off towards the distant road, visible beyond the dried reminders of the hedges. She put a gloved hand out to catch the branches as she passed, each one snapping off as though it was made of fragile glass.
A forest loomed to one side, mostly full of blackened trees, but a few leaves were starting to return, green and full of whispered promise, proof that nature would find a way. The forest was broken up by decaying buildings, hidden in the shadows, proving that once it had been part of the city ahead. The road spiralled out towards a place called Ripon, the remainder of one of the cities. The other direction led to the so-called Badlands. They had once been nothing more than beautiful moorlands for tourists to visit, and for locals to enjoy, but now it was full of all the people a sane person hoped they would never meet. Freda shook her head at the reminder, panic bubbling under her skin. She didn’t ever want to return in that direction. You don’t have to. We never have to go back that way again. Raising her chin, she gazed defiantly towards the distant city ahead, catching sight of the crumbling cathedral tower that was so prominent. Her oversized boots rubbed against the patchy socks she wore, made worse by the moisture collecting through the holes. Every step burned a little more, until she clenched her teeth to force herself forwards. Standing still was not an option. It was bandit territory. And bandits didn’t take prisoners. They did much, much worse.
The scattered grey of the sky above rumbled as thunder rolled over it, warning of the storm to come. Instinctively, Freda reached and pulled her hood up without looking at the gathering clouds. There were storms almost every day. Ever since the Big Hit, the country had fallen into permanent winter. Nuclear winter. Scientists before it happened had claimed the winter would only last a few years, a couple of decades at worst. They were wrong. The winter was never-ending, full of freezing temperatures, rain, and storms. Rarely was the sun ever seen. Freda had heard that sometimes the storms spat fire, but she had never seen it herself. Shoving her gloved hands into her pockets, she continued trudging along, hoisting her shoulder as she felt the strap of her knapsack slipping.
The crumbling tower grew closer with each heavy footstep, but so did her trepidation. Swallowing nervously, Freda took a glance to her left, towards the thick forest of dead trees. It was unnervingly silent. When she had been a child in the bunker, it had always been full of noise. People talking, generators running, air pumps constantly freshening the stifling air…silence was uncomfortable for her after growing up associating noise with safety from the outside world. Normally even the remaining birds could be heard crying out in the woods, but there was nothing. Nothing always meant there was something.
As though answering her fears, she caught sight of a shadow out the corner of her eye. It was fleeting, but there. Freda’s pulse rocketed against her temples as she ducked down behind a tree stump, slowly sliding the rifle down again into her hands. Her eyes darted from side to side as she tried to catch sight of the figure again. She spotted them, cautiously peering from around a tree. It was a young woman, maybe in her early twenties, with loose blonde hair in patches over her skull – ones of the few who had the Illness. Freda let out a relieved breath, relaxing her grip on her weapon, a relieved smile crossing her lips. The sick ones were no threat. The poor woman was probably just lost on her way to the city.
Freda was about to stand up and keep moving, when she caught sight of another figure, not far behind the sick woman. Something about the way this one moved set her nerves on edge again, and she glanced back at the woman. The blonde darted around the tree, her chest rising and falling rapidly as she peeked around the side, as though attempting to stay out of sight.
This isn’t your fight. Leave. Leave now. You don’t know how many bandits are after her. Freda swallowed hard and spun herself around, gazing over at the road towards Ripon. All she had to do was sneak away as quietly as possible, and they wouldn’t even see her. They would be too focussed on their current prey. It was the way of her world. People didn’t stop to help, they looked after themselves. Survival of the fittest. But something stilled her as she went to put her gun away. Taking a deep breath, she tossed a glance back over her shoulder towards the woman. She had no weapons, and it did look as though only one bandit was searching for her. The snap of twigs became louder as he made his way nearer to the woman. Freda could see streaks of tears running down her face. A memory came back to her, of something her mother once told her. A quote from before the Big Hit, but she couldn’t remember who had said it first. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. Of course, that was back when her mother could be bothered speaking sense.
“Damn it,” Freda hissed through her teeth. Twisting back, she raised the barrel of the rifle onto the top of the tree stump, narrowing her eyes as she followed the movements of the bandit. He moved erratically, but there was no mistaking the long blade in his hand, or the feverish way he was searching for the blonde woman. Licking her lips, Freda blew out a slow breath, her finger wrapping around the trigger carefully. Just as she did so, the woman looked in her direction, and her eyes widened as she caught the glint of the barrel. Before Freda had a chance to shake her head, or otherwise indicate she should be quiet, the dead trees rang out with the echoes of the woman’s screams. The bandit’s head shot up in her direction, before he too caught sight of the rifle. “Fuck!” Freda swore, knowing she had a split second before he moved. It wasn’t the best shot in the world, but she had to take it.
Just as the bandit dived to one side, her finger hammered down on the trigger, and the bullet flew out, speeding towards him. It didn’t travel far enough to hit her target, but it sank into the back of his leg like a whiplash, and he buckled, sinking to the ground with a yell. Not wasting a moment, Freda beckoned to the woman, crying out, “Over here! Now!”
The woman paused for a moment, looking back over towards the bandit. Freda let out an exasperated noise, beckoning faster. The bandit was groaning, slowly pulling himself up from the ground. Freda knew there would be more of them any minute – especially if she hung around. And she only had six more bullets left. Ammunition was rarer than sunlight on green leaves. “Get a move on!” she cried out, shaking her head at the woman. Another glance towards the bandit on the twigs and debris, and the woman finally moved, running towards Freda on spindly legs. The bandit twisted around as he lurched to his feet, using the nearby tree trunk as support, and Freda raised her rifle again, resetting the gun. She fired again, this time hitting him squarely in the chest. The man faltered for a second, blood spraying from him onto the dead bark, and Freda let her eyes rove across the area behind him as she heard distant shouting. The rest of his gang had heard the shots.
The blonde woman stopped before her, heaving hard for breath, clutching at Freda with bony hands as she stared out with panic-stricken eyes. Tears dripped off her face as she gasped, “Oh my god! Thank you so much, I thought I was going to d—”
“We still might if we don’t get moving,” Freda interrupted, her Yorkshire accent thick as she shrugged off her outer coat, wrapping it around the woman’s shoulders. The woman was wearing nothing but a thin dress and plastic bags on her feet. Freda gave them a glance in worry, but she only had the one pair of shoes. Snatching up the woman’s gaunt hand, she half-dragged her along as she turned and set off at a run for Ripon. She wasn’t sure what she would find there, but it had to be better than being outside with no cover. The woman gave a cry but followed as fast as she could, stumbling more than once.
The cries and shouts behind them grew louder as the bandits came closer, and Freda gritted her teeth as she hammered her feet along the crumbling remains of the grey road. She could hear the woman’s cries as her makeshift shoes offered little protection along the rough surface, but she ignored it, pushing them harder. A few cuts and tears would be nothing compared to what would happen if the bandits caught up to them. Keeping a death-grip on the blonde woman’s hand, she pulled them both around the bend of the road, where hopefully they would be out of sight from the bandits.
Dragging her companion hard against the crumbling stone wall that lined the road, Freda placed a finger against her lips as she caught her breath, cautiously gazing around the corner. The woman nodded, trembling as she stared back at her protector. Freda held her breath, her chest vibrating with the force of her rapid pulse. No sound followed them. Nothing. They must have gone in the other direction. She blew out the held breath. Releasing the woman’s hand, Freda turned back to stare her over, jerking her head in the direction of the city, now less than a mile away. “Come on, let’s keep going. We’re not far away. I think we’ve lost them for now, but if we hang about here, they will find us.”
“Fine by me,” the woman whispered back shakily, nodding her head so rapidly it looked as though it was bobbing. Wiping a hand under her running nose, she added in a rough, rasping voice, “I didn’t think anyone would help me. You’re an angel. A real angel.”
Freda froze at the words, giving a hard shrug. Reaching up to pull her hood closer around her face, keeping it in shadow, she gruffly replied, “No one is an angel. Humanity is dead. Let’s get going. I want to be there before dark.”
March 24th, 2038 – the Past
Freda and Gareth gazed up at the large, partially-torn poster hanging outside their bedroom, their eyes large with curiosity. Gareth was two years senior to his sister, but at seven years old, he was still small for his age. Most blamed it on the fact one of his legs had never fully formed when he came out of the womb, but Freda never noticed. To her, Gareth was her big brother, and as such, the moon and stars in her enclosed world of the bunker. Slipping her tiny hand into her brother’s, she whispered, “What does it mean?” Her foot scuffed against the rough blue carpet that covered the floors of their home—and all other homes in the bunker. The room was built of steel, just like everything else, furnished with the same matching set of plain furniture that everyone else had. Just enough for the basics, not enough to truly be comfortable.
Putting on his best ‘older brother’ face, Gareth gave a casual shrug, as though it was an easy answer. “Well, it…er…it means that we’re all down here. For all of the future.”
Freda reached up for one of her chestnut pigtails, chewing on the end for a moment as she considered Gareth’s answer. The glaring words stared back down at her – Brit-Bunkers—the future of humanity. Swaying back and forth for a moment in silence as both children gazed back at the image of a happy family waving from an artist’s rendition of their bunker, Freda finally replied, “What did Mummy and Daddy say?”
“They said it means we were saved by the bunker. Lots of people didn’t get in, you know.”
The small girl’s eyes opened wider, if that was possible, and her grip tightened. In a fearful voice, she hissed, “What happened to them?”
Her older brother’s lips curled for a moment in a mischievous smile, as if he were about to tell a lie about them mutating outside, or worse. He turned his head to look at Freda, and the smile faded. Biting his lip, he gave a sigh, answering, “They…they found other places to hide. You know, at the Big Hit. They’re okay, Freda.”
“Oh, good.” Freda beamed back at the boy by her side, revealing her childish need to have all around her safe and intact. Gareth chuckled and wrapped his arm around his sister, hugging her in close. The two siblings were thicker than thieves, and went everywhere together in the bunker. Freda leaned into his side for a moment, both of them silently looking at the propaganda that decorated their apartment. Both were startled when the front door was rattled by someone attempting to put the key in the lock, before the keys were subsequently dropped outside. Someone muttered under their breath, and a second later the keys jangled again, finally finding the slot and clicking the door open.
The two children spun around as their mother stumbled in, clutching a plastic shopping bag full of clanking items, the bag itself ripped and stained from years of use. Fixing two bloodshot eyes on her children, Amelia muttered under her breath again, clumsily leaning against the door until it closed. She twisted around to the kitchen area, slamming her bag of glass items on the counter top, yanking open a cupboard and pulling out a chipped mug. Reaching into the bag, she pulled out a half-bottle of whiskey, spinning the cap off and throwing it to the counter, before filling the mug and slamming the bottle back down. As she took a long draught, she finally gazed back over at her children, her eyes narrowing. Teetering as she nodded towards them, she slurred, “What the fuck are you looking at? Children. Little brats, the lot of them.”
The air grew thick with tension as she took another swallow of whiskey, and Gareth gave his sister a nudge. Leaning in, he whispered in her ear, “Go on, Freda. Go to our room and play.”
“No. I don’t want to.”
“Here. What…what are you whispering about?” Amelia slurred in a rasping voice, stumbling forwards over her own boots, jabbing a finger in their direction. The boots were too big for her, but everyone in the bunker got whatever they were given. Clothing hadn’t been a priority when food and water supplies were low before the Big Hit, so everyone had hand-me-downs, or made do with patching garments up. If someone needed new clothing, they picked something, anything, out of the general store’s large box.
Freda shook her head determinedly, her tiny hands clutching tightly at Gareth’s side. Gazing up at him with a frown, she cried out, “No! I don’t want to go play without you. I don’t want to go to my room!”
Finally finding the armchair in the sitting area, no more than a few feet away from the children, Amelia sank down with her mug in hand, artfully stopping it from spilling over as she tripped over the scuffed army boots, one of the frayed laces hanging loose. “Go to your room…what are you babbling about? Just be quiet.” Latching her crazed eyes onto the mug, she pulled her lips taut. “Why you were my child, I’ll never know. What did I do to give birth to some mutated little freak? Why couldn’t you be normal?”
Gareth’s eyes shimmered with tears, but he said nothing, staring back coldly at his mother as she knocked the mug back again. It was something Freda had heard many times before, when their father was away at work in the generator area, and their mother had her usual drink in her hand. Gareth and Freda had both constantly been told how disappointed their mother was that her son was deformed. How she never wanted a mutated child, because it wasn’t natural. It was part of ‘out there’, in the radioactivity and destroyed world. How she found him disgusting. She never said it around their father, and they never mentioned it to him. It was a twisted little secret. The only real connection the children had to their mother.
Seeing the tears glimmering in her brother’s eyes, Freda plucked up her courage, her tiny body shaking as she yelled back, “You mustn’t say that to him, Mummy! He’s not a freak, he’s my brother. I love Gareth, and so do you, Mummy.”
Amelia’s hand paused as the mug travelled upwards to her mouth again, and her gaze shifted to her young daughter. Something about the redness of her eyes took on a dangerous hue, and Gareth instinctively pushed his sister behind him, leaning hard on his crutch with his spare hand. Licking her lips as though they were dry, Amelia hissed, “You ever speak to me like that again, you little bitch, and I’ll slap you hard enough to make you scream. You understand? Don’t you dare backchat me.” Seemingly placated by her own words, Amelia swayed for a moment before falling back into her chair, giving a shrug. “Of course I love you, Freda. You’re my children. I love Gareth, too.” A tear slipped out the corner of her eye with her last words, and she swallowed another hasty mouthful of drink. “I must have done something to deserve you both, mustn’t I?” A cruel laugh. “Nothing good. But I love you, like flies love their ugly little maggots.”
There was silence, then Gareth’s voice rang out, sweet and true. “Mummy, I’m not a freak. I’m sorry my leg is gone.”
Freda nodded solemnly, her own eyes sore with the tears brimming in the corners. “Yes, Mummy. You mustn’t be horrible to Gareth.”
The two children gazed back in half-terror as their mother looked back at them, blinking without speaking, a blank expression on her face. She nodded slowly, her lip trembling as her face creased up. Her shoulders shook as she buried her face in her hands, sobbing hard, her mournful cries hidden in her palms, breaths coming out as high-pitched, squeaking gasps. Giving a loud sniff, she stared back at her children, her features contorted by ugly misery. “No, I’m sorry, darling. It’s not your fault. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Holding out her arms and beckoning them over, she spluttered, “Come here. Come here, to me. Mummy’s sorry.” Her voice lowered. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
The two children dutifully stepped across to be enveloped by her whiskey breath and sweating arms, but their faces remained etched by fear. Amelia’s mood-swings were as sudden and dangerous as a knife spinning on its edge, and they never knew how long a good one would last. She continued to sob into their hair, pressing mutters and kisses against their heads. Pulling back, her face lost in a running dissolve of tears and snot, she added in a croaking voice, “Mummy is…very ill. In my head, you know.” As if to add emphasis to her point, she tapped a long-nailed finger against her skull. Another unhinged laugh. “That’s what Daddy and the doctors say.”
Freda found Gareth’s hand again somewhere through the sweaty, alcohol-fuelled huddle, and she whispered fearfully, “Are you going to be okay, Mummy? You’re not going to die, are you?”
Amelia’s lips twisted into a half-smile as she grasped her daughter’s cheeks in her hands, breathing hard. The small girl wrinkled her nose against the smell of her mother’s soaked breath. Shaking her head, her mother responded, “No, sweetheart. But I wish I was. I wish we all were.”
Her laughter chilled the two siblings.