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Aim & Shoot

Aim & Shoot

photo cred: Daiga Ellaby

published online in The Cabinet of Heed, Issue 10

June 22, 2018

“Don't touch that!”

My voice whips across the small kitchen and freezes Kiera’s hand mid-air, hovering over the handmade bow I left strung in the corner. A quiver of accompanying arrows rests alongside it, their feathers dull and ragged. I feel a small measure of pride in my monstrous creation. The bow isn't much in the way of craftsmanship, forged from scavenged hardware-store PVC pipes and a roll of para-cord; it had taken quite a few attempts to find the correct shape, just to get the contraption to shoot.

Someday, I know I’ll have to teach Kiera to use it. I'm not ready for that yet, but if something happens to me, she’ll need some way of protection. Some method of survival. It’s all I can think to give her, and what else is there, really. I don’t have anything left to give.

Kiera looks over at me with glinting eyes, her lower lip sticking out. I sigh and wipe my hands on the sides of my cargo pants, moving around the kitchen island where I was laying out strips of leftover rabbit meat, drying into jerky. I grip Kiera’s shoulders and kneel so we’re on the same level, looking deep into each other’s eyes.

“I'm sorry to raise my voice. I just don't want you to get hurt.”

I sweep the stray curls across her forehead and touch my lips to the smooth skin there. She smells like wood smoke from the fires we build in the stove, and a tiny hint of pine. Her special scent. Our mother told tales of entire forests smelling like that, with soft green needles for leaves, back in the times before the wall. She used to bury her face in Kiera’s head and take a big, exaggerated sniff, sending Kiera into a fit of giggles. The memory makes me smile, and I loop a curl of Kiera’s dirty-blonde hair between my fingers. Kiera smiles back and twirls a strand of my own hair in her hands.

“Can I braid it, before you leave?” she asks.

“Of course.”

I turn around and feel her fingers comb across my scalp. She separates the long raven-black strands into triplets and begins intertwining them. I relax into the rhythmic motion of her hands, the feeling of her touch against my head.

“Can’t I go with you?” Kiera asks.

“It's safer for you here.”

“But I don't like being by myself.”

“I won't be long,” I say, “and you have to keep watch, remember?”

Kiera finishes braiding my hair. I turn to see her eyes wide in protest, but she nods. “I just wish I could go with you.”

I stroke a hand across the fishtail swooping down my back. “I don't like leaving you, either, you know that. But it’s important that you’re safe.”

Kiera grows quiet, staring down at the floor. She bites her lip in the way she does when she’s holding back.

“What’s wrong?”

She doesn't answer.

“Tell me what it is, sunflower.”

Kiera shuffles her feet and crosses her arms. “What if…” she trails off and looks up at me with tears threatening to overflow. “What if you don't come back, this time?”

I pull her close. “That won't happen.”

Her thin arms wrap tight around my neck and squeeze. She hasn't hugged me so hard in years, since we lost our mother.

“Promise?” she whispers, her voice reaching my ears like water slipping over velvet.

My hands grip her slim body closer. Her ribs are prominent, like resting my fingers along an accordion. I hear her breath slipping in and out. There’s a slight wheeze developing, and I'm afraid she's becoming sick or the smog is getting to her.

“I promise you. I’ll always come back.”


photo cred: Erik Witsoe

After dinner – a couple strips of rabbit-jerky each, canned beans, and two chunks of stale bread – I gather my supplies. Slipping my brass knuckles on, I holster my knife to my hip and throw a knapsack over my shoulder along with the bow and quiver. I tell Kiera to lock the door behind me and slip out. Our current hideout on the eighth floor of the Locust came with a set of keys, so I feel better leaving her inside at night.

It’s gotten quieter in our city and if you listen closely, you can hear it deteriorating. The screech of rusty metal beams in stripped-down department stores and apartments. The sigh of wood rotting on itself after years of standing strong. The entire city, surrendering. Even the old church has been consumed by mold and disuse, offering no sanctuary from this place. We’ve been doomed to starve in this broken town, or worse. But I have other plans. I adjust the bow and quiver slung on my back.

The sky begins to darken overhead, making the smog appear thicker. First thing is check the traps. I found them while scavenging for weapons at the old hunting lodge. Ugly traps with dark metal teeth along with a handy pair of night-vision goggles, which I wear on top of my head until it gets darker.

Crazy to think there used to be a whole world connected to this place before they built the wall. A forest with all kinds of animals bigger than rabbits. Meatier and juicier, tastier. That’s what our mother used to tell us. About that and the sky. All those twinkling lights. Nothing I’m ever likely to see, but something I hope Kiera does one day.