Asher knelt in the remains of his house. The sky was darkening, and he pulled out his flashlight to see the crumbling walls of the place he used to live. It had deteriorated almost to the point of unrecognition, but he knew where it was. How many times had he trudged up the inclining driveway, had run through the neighborhood in childhood glee? The hazy glow of his formative years all took place here, and now it was all gone. His flashlight illuminated the skeleton of a table, where he had fallen and hit his head on when he was four. He was sure that if he even touched the once-sturdy table now, it would collapse into a pile of dust.
Asher pushed himself to his feet, his flashlight beam wavering. He dropped his backpack to the ground and rummaged around. With an annoyed sigh, he used the fading flashlight to illuminate the pocket and shoved stuff aside, finally pulling out a plastic bag full of batteries. He removed the dead ones, tossed them into the driveway, and put in the new ones. He flipped the switch, and the light shone dimly into the musty room.
Asher listened to the wind sifting through the remains of houses and playing with the leaves in the trees. It ran by him, catching his shirt and whistling in his ear. He shivered and lifted his hand. It stayed for a moment, facing upwards and open like he was going to catch a ball, but then he pulled it down. His hand swept the air around him in a circular motion, and a wall of glaring light surrounded him. The wind stopped chilling him, instead of glancing off the shield and going past. Asher pulled his sleeping bag off his backpack and spread it in the center of the barrier, climbing into it. The moon rose higher in the night sky while he slept, and then sank below the brightening horizon.
Asher woke with the sun, yawning. He rolled up the bag, attached it to his backpack, and set the latter on the floor. He dispelled the barrier of light and began his stretches. In his mind, he ran over the list of things he had to do in the near future. He needed water, he thought, looking at the remaining two bottles that he would have to drink today. There was a store twenty minutes walking from his house. Once there, he would continue east. There were a few larger cities that way, and gas stations scattered along the way that he could get water and food from. Cars had stopped working- anything other than his own two feet wouldn’t be suitable for travel.
Asher looked through the crumbling wall of his living room into the garage, where the remains of his parent’s cars sat. There, hung upside down from a bike rack, were two wheels vaguely connected by a rusting metal frame that was all that remained of his mountain bike. Asher walked through the doorway to the garage and opened the storage bins that were stacked against the wall by the tool bench. The bins’ contents were scrawled in a thin, slanting handwriting across the top of the lid. He grunted as he lifted a particularly heavy “xmas ornaments” off the stack. Beneath it was a large bin labeled “camping” with a permanent marker on a strip of peeling duct tape. Stuck to the sides was dried mud, still clinging from his last trip, which was months ago.
Asher pried the lid off. A half-eaten chocolate bar and a bag of stale marshmallows greeted him. He gently set them down on the ground and started pulling stuff out of the bin. At the bottom, below a portable stove and some fire-starters, was a mallet and a bag. Asher lifted them both out and opened the bag. Tent poles crashed to the concrete floor of the garage with a clatter. Scooping them up and tying a cord around them, he shoved the bin to the side.
Behind it were two multicolored tent bags. Asher grabbed the smaller, orange one and put the mallet and the bundle of tent poles inside of it. Asher trudged back into the living room with the tent. His hiking backpack sat on the floor, and he attached the tent to it using the special clips. He unscrewed the lid of a water bottle and took a few gulps. For breakfast, he ate a protein bar from his stash in the front pocket.
Asher had no intention of coming back to his house. However, he knew the temptation lay there as long as it was still standing. He closed the door behind him as he walked out of the house, and stood on the sloping driveway, casting a final glance over the place he had grown up. Like last night, he raised his hand, gathering energy. This time, instead of drawing a barrier around him, he cast the energy towards the bottom of the house like one might skip a stone. Flames rose from the ground, spreading out from in front of the house to the back and climbing their way up the walls. Asher looked away as he began his journey. He felt like it was a funeral of sorts, for his parents, who hadn’t gotten graves or a funeral. The spores had taken their lives on a business trip to Europe. Asher was staying with a friend while they were gone, and he ended up staying with them until the spores came to America.
Asher passed empty houses and his old school as he found his way to the store. He lived in a fairly rural area. Trees towered over the road that he was walking on, only interrupted by the occasional driveway, farm, or neighborhood.
Asher heard the other people before he saw them. Soft chatting, sounding at first like the wind in the trees, reached his ears. Once Asher realized what it was, he paused. Should he see who it was? Should he avoid them? He was paralyzed with indecision. He was fine on his own- he made lists, he knew what to do. It was social situations that made him freeze.
The two people created the hill before he made up his mind. They stopped when they saw him. They were both girls, Asher could tell. They both also radiated energy, like the type he had found he could summon and control after the spores struck. It varied between the two of them, which Asher realized meant different abilities. He flexed his fingers, trying to summon their energy, but it resisted.
They cautiously moved towards him. Asher, to his surprise, found himself also walking to them.
After all, they were other survivors. What could go wrong?