The Bronze Dragonfly
The girl tore through the forest, her heart thumping wildly and her breath coming in searing sobs.
Suddenly she tripped over a concealed log and she went sprawling head first into the muddy forest floor.
She tried to get up, but her legs were shaking violently, and she fell back down again.
She let out a small whimper of desperation and pulled herself into the shadow of the log where she curled up, crying.
Seconds later, a bright light flared just beyond the horizon.
The girl screamed as a fiery, mushroom shaped cloud erupted moments later, billowing into the sky, it’s blooded glow illuminating the world.
It’s been a whole two years since then, and I still don’t know what happened after that. I just remember hearing the blast, and then I passed out, I think, and I woke up sometime later and there was debris falling and- A scurrying sound reaches my ears.
I become aware that I’m on the ground and that there are rocks and pieces of glass cutting into my back and legs.
Slowly I open my eyes. The distant hazy sky comes into focus. The scurrying grows louder.
I sit up with a groan and spot a small nearby rat mutant digging in some indistinguishable garbage.
I hiss at it and it runs off with a panicked squeak.
I notice that I’m at the bottom of what seems to be the remains of an old basement.
I don’t remember falling in, but then again, these days have a lot of blank periods where I don’t know what's been happening.
I hit my head a lot. Not on purpose, though.
I look around and spot my satchel where it had fallen nearby.
I seize it and root through its contents, but when I find my water bottle I'm disappointed to discover that it’s empty.
I sigh and heave myself to my feet, my legs trembling a little with the effort. I can’t remember when I last ate real food.
I’m always alone. Most people were killed in the Blast and those who survived were poisoned by the radiation shortly afterward, or were not strong enough to survive the harsh new, desert climate. The only people I’ve seen so far have either wanted to kill me, or were so lost in their own delirious mutterings that they didn’t see me.
I climb up the ruined concrete wall easily with my satchel in one hand.
My heart skips as it always does when I see the wasteland: a blank sprawling desert where only crumpled buildings remain, and the only water is found deep inside the cracked earth.
I resume my trek across the Wasteland, satchel in hand. I don’t know where I’m going.
I dream of finding a place outside the wasteland, where there are trees and people. A place where I do not have to be the one to bury the countless lost souls.
Days pass after the basement incident. All the time I think it would have been better to have stayed there.
I just walk. Sometimes I stumble over rocks or small ridges in the Wasteland, but mostly it’s just flat, and my feet drag along.
The sun beats down on me.
I think about water. I think about water all the time.
I am very dimly aware of the sweat pouring down my face and staining my clothes. I am very dimly aware of my satchel bumping against my legs as I walk. I am very dimly aware of falling to my knees.
I hear a voice.
The ground rushes up to meet me.
“ Caris! “
I sprawl on the searing ground, my scarred, burned face upturned to the blazing sun.
“ Caris! We received word from your Uncle, they’re going to drop the bomb-
“ What!? How did he find out!? What are we going to do!? “
“ Run, Caris! “
“ W-what about you and Papa? “
“ We’re too slow we wouldn’t make it, you are the only one who has a chance. “
“ I can’t leave you! “
“ Caris! Take your father’s speeder and get as far away as you can from here- “
“ No! “
“ Caris! “
“ I- I love you, Mom. “
“ I love you too… “
“ I- “
“ Caris! Go! GO!!”
“ Mom… I’m scared. “
“ I know, Darling. But you are strong. “
Darkness. It’s the first thing I see.
My head feels clear for the first time in a long time.
I’m wearing clean clothes, and my skin is soft and not coated in grime like usual.
There’s a man’s voice, deep and soft.
“ You are strong. “
I don’t say anything.
All I can see of the man is his dark silhouette.
“ Not many can survive the Wasteland. “
I still say nothing.
“ You can join us. Or we’ll just send you on your way with some water. Your choice, kid. “
The man leaves, and soon I drift into the first peaceful sleep I’ve had in a long time.
Sometime later I am awoken by a gentle shake.
There’s a girl this time. She looks like she’s my age and she has clear brown eyes and dark hair. She’s smiling.
I sit up a little and look around, ignoring the girl. I’m still in the same room I think, but this time it’s brightly lit by natural sunlight.
“ Where am I? “ I ask, my voice a little hoarse.
The girl smiles. “ You’re at the camp of The Bronze Dragonfly. “
“ The what now. “
The girl laughs and helps me to my feet.
“ We’re a group that is trying to rescue Wanderers like yourself. And we’re travelling to Solaris where there’s a rumor that someone is trying to rebuild civilization. “
I have negative two faith that “ The Bronze Dragonfly “ will ever reach their destination.
Of course I have heard Solaris rumors in the past, but being un stupid, I decided to believe it was a trap set up by one of the horrible cannibal tribes that live in the east.
I roll my eyes while the girl’s not looking. “ Anyway what’s your name? “
“ Raen! “
“ You got some food around here? “
Raen frowns at me a little but leads me out of the room. We emerge into a bright corridor of crumbling red stone. We go down the corridor and enter a similar room. At the back of the room is a tidy line of plastic packages.
Raen slits one open with a small dagger and hands me a piece of dried meat from inside.
“ So what is your name, Wanderer? “
“ ….. I don’t have a name. “
“ Yes you do! “
“ No. “
“ Fine then, I’ll call you….. Arha. “
“ Arha…. I like it. “
Raen waits until I finish eating, then she grabs my hand and says “ Come on! I’ll introduce you to everyone else! “
She leads me around more rooms and hallways until we arrive at a circular room where all of the others are grouped.
She shouts “ Hey guys! Ahra finally woke up! “
Silence falls among the group and they turn and look at me. After many months on my own I feel quite wary, but they did save my life after all.
Suddenly a man speaks, and I recognize the voice of the man who spoke to me last night. “ So? Have you thought of my offer, Wanderer? “
A lump rises in my throat, but I swallow and say in a small voice “ Yes. “
“ Well? “
“ I shall join you. “
The man smiles and says “ Good choice, child. But if you stay with us you have to give something in return. “
I nod uncertainly and I can feel Raen’s eyes on the back of my head.
“ You must be our pathfinder. Since you appeared to have survived so long in these harsh conditions, we think you can help us find our way safely to Solaris. “
For the first time since the bomb, I laugh. I hold out my hand. “ It’s a deal. “
It’s about a year after I joined The Bronze Dragonfly. I’m thirteen now.
We haven’t found Solaris yet, but I can feel it in my bones….. We’re close….
Raen and I, we’re best friends, naturally, we go everywhere together, hunting, scouting, all sorts of things.
The Bronze Dragonfly have been real good to me, they're my new family. I’d follow them anywhere. Well technically they’re following me, but whatever.
Raen wakes me early one morning. She tells me we’re going gathering.
I laugh and tell her that there’s nothing left to gather, but I get dressed anyways, and we head out of camp together.
The Wasteland is bathed in a pinkish grey light, and the tip of the sun peeks over the distant ridge of the barren mountains.
Raen and I slowly pick our way through the ruins looking for scraps of debris or the occasional edible leaf, and as we chat quietly I think of my lonely wanderer days, and I think of the days before that too, when I still had my parents…
Suddenly something hits me from behind and I fall to the ground with a shriek of pain and surprise.
I hear Raen’s panicked shout “ Ahra!! “
I flip onto my back and I see one of the horrible radiated mutants that live among the ruins and prey on travellers.
It has short dirty hair and many grizzly scars and it has short blunt teeth, and a powerful jaw. Most frightening are the eyes, though, the wild, rabid, merciless eyes that are the last things most Wanderers ever see.
It junges at me again, but this time I’m ready, I grab it’s long flat jaws and hold it tight, while it’s claws worry my side frantically. After a moment my arms give out and I fling it away from me and it crashes into the side of a ruined archway.
I scramble to my feet breathing hard, my eyes on the animal. Raen runs up to me and yells “ We need to get out of here! “
I nod and we turn and run in the direction of our camp. Suddenly my legs give out from underneath me and I’m laying on the sandy ground.
Raen turns and I can tell by her expression that she’s just noticed my wound too.
She screams and claps her hands to her mouth. My voice shakes as I say “ It’s okay Raen, It’s okay. “
My hands press uselessly against my side, but more blood seeps out of the long deep cuts and spills onto the sand and stains my hands.
Raen kneels next to me and I can feel her breath tremble on my cheek. “ Ahra, it’s okay w- we can fix this. “
I know she’s lying because I can feel the darkness gathering at the edges of my mind already.
My breath is loud and shallow in my ears and Rean’s hands tremble and she struggles to suppress the sound of her terrified sobs.
I lay back against a nearby pillar and watch my own blood pool around me, but for whatever reason I feel calm inside. Just…. Calm. I look at the cloudless light blue sky and I feel the soft sand between my toes and I can smell distant desert flowers…. All I can think is…… what a lovely place to die
Raen clutches at my hands and my spell is broken. Now a sense of turmoil rises inside me and tears sting the edges of my eyes. What will happen to Raen and the other members of The Bronze Dragonfly?
“ Raen. “ I say, and I am surprised to find my own voice so feeble.
She looks up, tears spilling from her eyes.
“ Ahra is not my real name. “
She just looks at me.
“ My real name is Caris. “
“ Thank you for taking me in. It was the best year of my whole life and-
I hope you find what you're looking for. “
I slump back against the pillar, breathing shallowly, now dimly aware of the pain in my stomach. I’m also aware of the way Raen is warbaling in and out of sight as if in a heat haze.
I grasp Raen’s hand more tightly and whisper “ Thank you for saving me. “
The darkness obscures Raen. The darkness obscures everything.
But in the distance I think I can hear my parents voices.
“ You were so strong, Darling. ‘
We did find what we were looking for. We found Solaris, a place with people and trees; a place where Wanderer girls don’t have to be the ones to bury the countless lost souls.
Caris did it. She led us here.
And I’m always watching out for lost Wanderers, so that I can give them a chance….