by Beth Cato
Bear-bear is silent, and stays silent, no matter how hard the woman squeezes his paw. She feels the weight of him in her backpack purse now, heavy as the world. His muteness bothers her more than the hollowness she once knew in her gut, or the billowing ash that burns her eyes.
"I'll find you new batteries, Bear-bear. We won't let Pariyat down." Her voice rasps.
Skeletal cars clog the street, their shadows imprinted on the asphalt. Colors smear into grey and black, reality blurred.
The woman staggers to a stop. Something clicks in her mind as she recognizes chimneys. The bricks are scorched, the spires strange and low. A house. A house would have batteries. She stumbles into the wreckage and coughs against her arm. Water. Water would be nice. She vaguely remembers the people who walked by ages ago. They said something about food, water, shelter, but knew nothing about batteries. Onward she walked.
She had been at work in the library basement when... something happened. That was in the morning. Heavy clouds smother the sun now, but it must be afternoon.
She kicks aside charcoal and bricks. Glass crunches beneath her greyed running shoes. A rubber ball lurches away, one side melted. Her breath seizes in her throat.
"Bear-bear!" she wails, and tugs him from her purse.