Somehow it was colder out in the open. The sky gave the impression of a dull dusk and the open space felt like the arctic but Paul knew it was midmorning. He remembered the balmy breezes he used to enjoy only a few years earlier. He looked down at the girl and saw that she was shivering. He crouched down and made sure she was bundled up tightly.
“If we get moving we’ll warm up a bit, okay?” he said straightening up. The girl looked up at him but he couldn’t make out any expression through the scarf and hood. He started to move and she stayed with him. He knew that she couldn’t walk very quickly and he was in a hurry but he wanted to save carrying her for when he needed to so he could conserve his energy and make the deadline.
Paul tried to not think much of the girl. He wanted to keep her safe, but he didn’t want to get attached. Most of all he didn’t want to think of where he was bringing her. He easily convinced himself that it was likely a better place than where they came from.
There was a little snow blowing around, but mostly things were covered in thick blankets of ice and frost. The world didn’t look dead; it looked like life had just decided to move on. The cold and ice had caused a lot of damage and with no one to fix anything it compounded. Things weren’t in ruins, the cold held things together, but the damage was visible. Paul imagined that it wasn’t unlike what an alien planet might look like after all its inhabitants had moved to a more hospitable place. For a second Paul thought he saw something move just outside his view. He spun around but just saw wind and snow.
They spent the day walking, with Paul carrying the girl when she got tired. She didn’t talk and he didn’t mind. He was busy trying to remember his route without recognizing any more than he had to. It was a dismal sight and he wanted to pretend it wasn’t the remnants of the place he used to live. He wondered if the girl recognized anything, or if she was even from the same town he was. The thoughts started to bother him so he focused on checking the map instead.
They had done alright for the first day, but he was worried it wouldn’t be enough. He knew that tomorrow would be even more difficult after having already spent a day fighting the cold and the wind. It was starting to get darker and colder and Paul thought he should start looking for a place to rest for the night. They would need to build a fire and block the wind. The days were shorter than he remembered before going down into the bunkers – even after the event.
There were a few houses spread far apart along the side of the road with fields stretching out behind them. Paul considered trying one of the houses, but when he took a closer look he decided against it. He thought starting a fire any of the houses near by would bring it down on top of them. He looked behind the houses to find a shelter when he saw another flash of movement in the distance. He was sure he saw it this time but had no idea what it could be. He hoped a fire would keep it away, but he knew he would at least be better able to protect the girl with a shelter. He picked the girl up and headed for a small barn at the edge of the barren field. It was a little large to be called a shed, and it would be more than enough for Paul and the girl.
The barn was in poor shape, some boards were missing and the roof had a large hole near the back but it would work for what Paul needed it for. He gathered the loose wood and brush he was able to find and pulled a few boards off the fallen door. The fire burned low and smouldered, but it was enough to bring some light and warmth to the little barn. Paul lead the girl to the spot he thought was getting the most warmth and sat where he could see the entrance. He took off his pack, dug out a protein bar and a thick meal replacement and forced himself to eat slowly. He wanted the food to last him as long as possible. He swallowed a bite and spoke to the girl.
“Did they give you some food?” he asked. “You should really have something to eat,” he continued when she didn’t respond.
She stared at him with no expression he could make out under her scarf and goggles. He moved next to the girl. “My name is Paul,” he said trying to think of a way to make the girl feel comfortable. “What’s your name?”
The girl sat silently.
“I’m going to look in your bag to see if you have any food. If not you can have some of mine. Is that ok?” Paul asked. The girl continued to sit in silence. Paul started to think of her like a small scared animal. He dug into her pack and found food of her own along with and envelope filled with papers and a small locked box. Paul took out a protein bar and a drink similar to the ones he had eaten, but slightly higher grade, and avoided the rest. He opened the packages and handed the food to the girl. She hesitated but with a little prodding she took them and ate.
Paul continued to eat and examined the map. “We are about as close to half way as I can figure,” he said between bites. The girl still didn’t respond but he continued. “We’ll try to get some sleep here and set off in the morning. I don’t know who’s waiting for you but I’ll get you there, ok?” He finished eating while he chose the route for the next day. When he was done he put the map back in its sleeve and watched the girl. She had eaten half her protein bar and finished her drink. He asked her if she wanted anything else while he put the half eaten bar back in her pack.
She didn’t say anything.
“You should get some sleep,” he said still sitting next to her. “I’ll stay up a bit and make sure the fire will keep burning and then I’ll go to sleep too. We’ll be safe here.” As he finished his sentence a figure appeared in the doorway.
Paul was as still as the girl. He couldn’t seem to think fast enough. He considered going for the gun at his belt but knew he couldn’t get his gloves off and grab it fast enough to stop the figure from doing whatever it intended to do. He had decided to go for the gun with his gloves on hoping to scare the person off when she stepped into the light and introduced herself.
“Hi, I’m Kate,” she said assuredly. “Mind if I share your fire?”
She only came up to Paul’s chest, but she seemed to tower over him. She wore clothing similar to his, but if possible, even more worn. Instead of a pistol at her waist a large rifle was strapped to her back along with a bag that looked like Paul’s too.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I told you sweetie, I’m Kate – and I’d really like to get in on that fire.” She moved in and sat across from Paul without waiting for him to offer. “Don’t worry hun, I can share too. What’s your name?” she asked flashing a smile at least as warm as the fire.
“What do you want?” Paul asked still following his own line of questions. He was determined to not let her push her way in.
“I already told you hun. It gets pretty cold at night and I like your fire.”
“What are you doing here?” Paul asked undeterred.
“Aren’t you listening,” she started.
“Outside,” Paul clarified. “What are you doing outside?”
“I’m on a job, same as you I expect.” She paused to let him catch up. “I’m looking for something.”
“I can’t say. Sorry sweetie, you know the rules. I promise it’s not you or your little friend there.”
Paul looked over at the girl. She had been watching them talk back and forth but still showed no expression.
“So, are you going to tell me your name?” Kate asked.
Paul looked the woman over and tried to figure her out. He didn’t think he could trust her, but he thought she could definitely help him keep the girl alive – as long as it was in her interest.
“I’m Paul,” he finally said trying to sound confident in the fact.
“Hi Paul,” Kate said with another disarming smile. “And who’s this tough customer,” she said looking at the girl.
“I don’t know her name. She hasn’t said anything to me.”
“Don’t want to give anything away, do ya? I get it. Well you don’t have to worry now,” she said addressing them both, “Kate’s here and she’s got a surprise for you.”
Kate took of her bag and reached into it. Paul tensed and moved to keep himself in front of the girl.
“Got it,” Kate exclaimed making Paul jump. “Someone’s excited,” she said, “Can’t blame you.” She held out a foil covered bar to both Paul and the girl. “Go ahead,” she said smiling wide.
Paul took the bar and examined it. It was about four inches long and two wide and light. He smelled it and pulled away a corner of the foil. His jaw dropped. “No,” was all he could say to the woman.
“Enjoy it sweetie. There isn’t much left.”
Paul broke off a crooked square and popped it in his mouth. He chewed it and let it melt in his mouth, coating it with the flavour. It took him a full minute to eat the small square. When he finished he reached out and took the second bar. He put it in the girl’s bag and broke off a second square of his bar and handed it to her.
“You’re really going to want to try this,” he said. She tentatively took it and smelled it the way Paul had then ate it. He thought he saw her smile, but it was gone as quickly as it came.
“Thank you,” he said to Kate who had been intently watching them.
“Happy to share hun. So you don’t mind if I stay here tonight?”
“No,” he said sheepishly.
“Great, I’m exhausted,” she said deflating a little. “You don’t mind taking the first watch do you? I could really use the shuteye.”
“No. No problem,” he said.
“You’re a peach.” Kate said and moved over to where the girl was sitting and laid by the fire. “Come on sweetie, it’s time to get some sleep.”
The girl looked over to Paul. “Go ahead,” he said inclining his head. “It’ll be warmer there.”
The girl shuffled over to where Kate was and laid down by her feet. She made sure to be close enough to touch the woman, but out of reach herself.