Even with the gas mask, the filtered air still burned her lungs. Snippets of her father’s rhetoric jangled Charlie’s brain, a cacophony of his gravelly voice raging against those who read the tv news.
She knew where to look. The slight discoloration of the soil before her marked the hidden door that would lead to safety. Its gray color hinted at a scratchy feel, but reminded her of the soft sand in which she and her father had wiggled their feet last summer. Just six. Six short months had passed before the insanity had began. Before the world slipped into violent revolution and one militia group launched a chemical attack that had poisoned the water, the air, the wildlife that once called the Adirondacks home.
She had spent that last month surviving alone in their single-wide trailer, far from the road and hidden behind piles of yard debris– three cars on cinderblocks, an old swing set, a rusted bathtub, and other memorabilia of life before her father had begun receiving his “visions” and proclaimed himself a “prophet of the end”.
Her candles had been burnt to pools of wax, resembling the pools of sand she used to spill onto the ground to make towers for sandcastles near the ocean. Her food was now a can of tuna fish, a bag of instant rice, and dried seaweed she had once used to make sushi. The cold grew nearly unbearable. She knew it was time to leave.
Always, she had remembered her father awake during the night– digging, building, walking repeatedly to the woods behind her yard.
“Workin on the future, honey,” he’d often say when she asked why he couldn’t attend a school concert, meet her teacher, or drive her to a friend’s house.
It seems like he had always he would leave her. The day before he died, before neighbors she had known always stole their food and left her father to die, blood seeping into their carpet like ink into newsprint, on that day he reminded her to find what he called “her legacy.”
His voice always emphasized the word “your” when he spoke the phrase.
“It’s your legacy, Charlie-Mae. You may not understand now, but one day you will need it. And you go out there and do whatever you need to protect it. Don’t think. Just do.”
She swept away the last of the dirt, turned the round door to the hatch, and looked in.