It all started with a war. It was almost Apocalyptic. Near world ending. Definitely life altering, both on an emotional and physical level.
The radiation took effect quickly, as it usually does. Not only did it force survivors underground, but it killed a third of the world's population.
A hundred years of tunnel dwelling and those brave enough to go to the surface did so with great caution. Needless to say the Earth was a different place.
Desolation and death flooded where forests and cities had once stood tall. After being exposed to what radiation was left, most people became immune. Some mutated and so did their offspring. A few weren't so lucky. They became wild and feral.
They are known as the wolf pack.
These creatures, no longer completely human, attack at night. They rely on their large numbers to ransack villages. Having a fairly short mortality rate and most of them being completely sterile, those that are able take a young girl. The results end with a child that is healthier and smarter than their animalistic parent. They become stronger than the average human as well.
Over the years, as the numbers of the human race dwindled due to hunger or illness, mingling between species became normal. The world was a different place; dangerous, hostile. And it's people were desperate.
The nights were still cold as the last parts of winter melted into dirty puddles. Frost came at night and clung to the windows and grass until the sun rose.
In a one room shack just outside of Kinland, a fair sized gated village, a fire was lit casting odd flickering shadows as it fought with the sun for its own illumination. The sun won the battle and as if feeling defeated, the flames retreated slightly. A man lay asleep in a small bed next to the fire. He snored loudly, a stub of a cigar hung loosely from his chapped lips, threatening to drop to the floor. The cigar died a longtime ago leaving the thick and stale smell behind.
On a worn and molding arm chair a young woman lay curled uncomfortably under a blanket dotted with mismatched patches. She slept anyway, in front of the fire as the sun shone through a window behind her.
It wasn't until the light became so bright that sleep became impossible, except for the man on the bed, that the woman opened her eyes at the familiar sight. Sleep never came easy to her so she made it a point to start her day no matter how early she woke.
She glanced over at the sleeping man on the bed. Her father, although he was no good at it. Come to think of it, he was no good at anything. This man, who raised a child, was a poor, drunk, gambling thief, She had never come to love her father, only tolerate him.
She hated to think it, but he was the reason they were kicked out of Kinland. He owed too much and let her mother die instead of paying a doctor to treat her. Their home, their belongings, his dignity and her virtue, all taken because he couldn't stop. And he still refused to quit.
"It's only a matter of time before we're dead," she said aloud, not even trying to stay quiet.
He wouldn't wake and she knew it. The smell of whiskey was still on his breath and she walked over to him to pull the cigar from his mouth.
"You'll either set the damn place on fire, or piss someone off enough to kill us both. You know that?"
Her father choked on a snore as if that were his answer.
She sighed heavily and shoved his boots on. They were far too big but her shoes were worn through the bottom. On her way out she cut a large piece of stale bread before grabbing her torn winter coat from the nail it was hanging on to.
Her father stirred in the bed behind her.
"Calla?" he called out, half drunk, half asleep. "You going out?" His voice was hoarse and thick.
"Yes. Do you need anything?" Calla turned to face him completely.
He reached under his pillow and tossed an envelope at her feet. She barely tried to catch it.
"What is it?" Calla asked, bending down to pick it up.
"Last night's winnings," he said proudly.
Calla investigated the contents. Food ration certificates. They were crumpled and yellowing from use which meant they were good. Fresh printed ones are too suspicious and often confiscated for evaluation.
He wasn't lying.
"Congratulations," she said. The words came out a little dull but she was truly surprised. Surprised even more that it was something useful.
Usually it was cookware. Behind the shack was a rusted bathtub overflowing with pots and pans. Completely useless except for gathering rain water or hauling water in from the river.
"If you need to sell a couple for new shoes go ahead," her father added.
There were plenty of them for sure. She just may if the price was right.
He rolled over and fell back to sleep. It wasn't long until he was snoring again.
Calla left for Kinland. She'd have to sneak in, not that it was difficult, but not being able to come and go as you please in the town you were born thrust another rock down her throat and sank in her stomach. She stuffed the envelope in her pants pocket. As early as it still was, the air was just cool enough and warming quickly. The boots crunched and squished through sticks and mud.
The walk to town took less than an hour. It gave Calla time to think, something she tended to avoid doing. Thinking breeds memories. Memories breed emotions. Emotions are useless. Just like the piles of cookware behind the shack, rusted and almost forgotten.
Calla stood at the fence. It was tall and overbearing. The outside was wooden and a thick layer of barbed wire lay on the other side up her her chin. A chain link fence stood half the height of the wooden fence on the other side of that. Difficult to get through unharmed without being caught. But only if you're dumb enough to not notice the gaping hole just wide enough to fit through. The opening was covered with loose brush and easily spotted, never regarded.
Calla took off her coat and uncovered the opening. She knelt down and the smell of earth filled her nostrils so strongly that her mouth watered.
After clearing her throat, Calla crawled through the hole, leaving her coat behind. She was small enough to crawl under the barbs on her belly. There was a hole dug under the fence and the metal was flared up. Calla clawed at the dirt and mud until she was safe on the other side.
Luckily for her, no one cared how dirty she was. Even more luckily, she didn't care. There were only two people she needed to see: the grocer and his wife.
The grocer was set up in the middle of the village square. Calla cut through alleys as a shortcut and to avoid being seen. The day continued to grow warmer and her eyelids grew heavier.
Maybe I'll take a nap later, she thought with no intention to do so.
Calla waited in the shadows, eyeing the grocer's tent. A crowd of people were walking about. She stayed and waited for an opening.
After a few minutes there was a break in the crowds and Calla made a run for it. She was clumsier in her fathers' big boots but just as quick.
Inside the tent, the air was warmer and a bit stale. There were tables of fruits and vegetables of all different kinds and colors. Against one wall was canned food lined and stacked in piles and rows. Bags of dried beans and rice covered the floors under the tables.
A short divider laid down the middle of the floor. On the other side were clothes and shoes mostly. Some hand made jewelry and hygiene products. Nothing she could ever afford. They also went into the useless pile with the emotions and cookware.
She bathed in the river once a week with nothing more than a ragged piece of cloth. Being dirty was a normality.
"Calla," a voice called to her left. It was the grocer, Ed Boeing. He was a tall and fat man and wore clean clothes covered with an apron with a trace of dirt on it.
Calla turned towards him. She looked more like a shadow with her already dirty clothes covered in mud.
"What are you doing here?" He looked less than pleased to see her, and sounded even less so.
"Relax Ed. I can pay." She shoved the dirty envelope in his chest. Calla had a proud grin on her face.