When Mia said it got cold at night she wasn’t joking, it’s freezing. Mia shivers next to me as we walk, her hand trembling in mine. The only sounds reaching my ears is our footsteps, and the occasional branch snapping as we walk.
“I’ve never thought about it before,” I blurt breaking the silence.
“Thought about what?” Mia asks, her eyes scanning the forest ahead of us.
“The fact that it’s so quiet now. I mean look at the trees,” I say gesturing around us, ” do you see a single bird there? Better yet, do you hear one?” We slow our pace as she inspects the trees, her hand not leaving mine.
“Huh,” She huffs turning towards me, “I guess you’re right. I never really took the time to miss them I guess.”
“Mia can I ask you something?” I inquire, my voice low as we pick our pace up.
“You just did, but as the Great Direction Master I shall allow you another question,” Mia mocks in a regal tone.
“Ha ha.” I laugh sarcastically before continuing. “How are you still alive?” She stops at the abruptness of my question and looks at me, with what I assume would be a quizzical look.
“What do you mean?” She returns starting up our walk again.
“I mean, with the minuscule amount I know about you, I feel it’s safe to assume you weren’t in a bunker for a year like I was.” I take a breath before continuing, ” Radiation isn’t something you can just avoid anymore, not with what’s happened. I mean, you saw that animal. You saw what happened to it. How did you ...stay you?” I question sympathetically. Mia sighs, her frame wracked with another shiver before she answers.
“Well you are right. I didn’t have a bunker to wait out in,” She pauses, clearly thinking of what to say next. “I guess it would be the fact that I had a hazmat suit and a mask. I wasn’t some paranoid survivalist, so stop that line of thinking right now,” She orders glaring at me through her mask.
“Okay, okay, line of thinking stopped. Please continue,” I joke, holding up my free hand in surrender.
“I lived with my brother at the time, or should I say he lived with me. He lost his job and couldn’t afford his rent anymore, so I offered him my couch like any sister would.” She stops for a moment, a sad chuckle leaving her lips. “Anyway, when we heard there was a nuke headed for Chicago he grabbed me and pulled me into my own basement. Apparently he had been moving his survivalist supplies down there, and had been for a while by the looks of it. He even had someone come in and seal the windows and door so they were air tight when they closed.” She stops, taking a shuddering breath in before continuing. “He had a spare suit and mask. He would always say it was incase of a tear in his, but I knew it was for me when I looked at the sizes. Mine was smaller than his. Did you know hazmat suits came in different sizes?” She asks her mind clearly in the past.
“No I didn’t know,” I mumble not wanting to interrupt her
“Everything was chaos for a while. Screaming in the streets, muggers, robbers, just plain up murderers getting a free pass with the end of the world . You could name almost any type of criminal and I would bet you they were out there.” She shudders and I know this time it isn’t from the cold. “Anyway, we stayed in my house until we had to find food and water. The rest is pretty straightforward from there,” She shakes her head as though she’s trying to clear her mind before she turns to stare at me. I open my mouth to say something only to be halted by the world going sideways. In an instant the world tilts right side up and I stare at Mia dumbfounded.
“I told you I was going to stop you from falling over next time,” Mia gloats, her tone light.
“Oh so we are doing I told you so now are we?” I retort gesturing our intertwined hands towards Mia.
“Well, when I did tell you so, yes, yes we are.” Mia comments as a shiver makes its way up my spine.
“Come on let’s just get to your bunker before we both start freezing to death.” Mia orders pulling me forward, starting up our walking again.
“Mock me while you can, because sooner or later you’re not going to enjoy it anymore,” I advise, looking behind me for the culprit to my fall.
“I think I was tripped by a rock,” I grumble as we walk further away.
“Oh really now, you’re blaming a rock for your clumsiness?” Mia asks sarcastically inspecting what little she can see of my face.
“No!” I immediately deny, bringing my attention to Mia next to me, “I’m just saying I think the rock was in my path.”
“What would the rock in your path have to do with your falling, unless you’re blaming it?” Mia points out, narrowing her eyes questioningly at me.
“Well... ” I pause holding my free hand up, as though I was about offer an explanation. I curl my fingers into a fist before lowering it back to my side.
“It would have to do with… the fact that it...” I pause looking at Mia again before dropping my shoulders in defeat.
“Have to do with the fact that it what,” Mia mocks a smile making its way into her voice.
“The fact that it….” I mumble under my breath hoping Mia will let the matter drop.
“Oh what was that? I’m sorry I didn’t catch what you said just there.” Mia smugly questions knowingly.
“The fact that it totally tripped me okay!” I blurt out, my cheeks burning bright red.
“Yeah sure, keep blaming the rock.” Mia allows, walking forward confidently.
“You always have to be right don’t you?” I grumble, as we continue our walk.
“Why yes, yes I do.” Mia says smugly, a small spring in her step. She laughs and my breath catches in my throat. Her laugh is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. It’s a light silvery tone that bubbles up until it can’t be contained by her small frame. It’s like taking a dip in a swimming pool to cool off in 90 degree weather. It’s… just... right.
“You still with me?” Mia asks, snapping her fingers in front of my face, making me jump.
“Yeah I’m fine,” I hurriedly answer as I feel my cheeks redden… again. I try to run my free hand through my ratted ponytail only to be stopped by the hood of my hazmat suit. I sigh at my forgetfulness as I let my hand drop back down to my side.
“Well that’s just great,” I mumble, annoyed.
“Oh and what would that be?” Mia asks still riding the high of being right
“My hair is gonna be tangled forever,” I sigh, gesturing to my hair with my free hand.
“It wouldn’t be if you used a hairbrush,” She states matter-of-factly.
“If I had one I would use it,” I grumble back, a hint of agitation in my voice.
“Well I have one.”
“And you’re telling me you didn’t think to mention this earlier?!” I yell flabbergasted.
“Well earlier we were, oh I don’t know, running for our lives?!" Mia agitatedly berates me. I pause a minute letting her words sink in, the only sounds being our footsteps as we continue our trek through the forest.
“Okay you’ve got me there, but still. There was a point in which our lives weren’t in danger.” I point out.
“Well it wasn’t really at the top of my concerns list.” She states, putting her free hand on her hip.
“Stop making good points and just let me use the damn thing,” I order, unable to come up with anything else.
“Well when you put it like that,” Mia says her hand cupping her chin in thought, “no.” She finishes sternly, dropping her hand back to her side.
“Bu- why not?!” I sputter, staring at Mia.
“Because we need to get back to that bunker of yours so we can actually rest,” She points out picking up our pace, practically dragging me behind her.
“Fine, but you better let me use it when we get there,” I answer indignantly matching her pace.
“Can it go back to being night?” I groan as sweat makes its way down my forehead, narrowly missing my eye.
“Less complaining more walking!” Mia calls from ahead.
“Easy for you to say miss, I’m used to walking through the night!” I huff as I drag my sore legs forward.
“Well maybe if you weren’t complaining so much you would have energy to keep walking!” She yells back at me.
I draw my mouth into a tight line as I pull myself forward. With the sun out, everything I do seems unnecessarily difficult. Breathing through the mask helps to some extent, but the humidity it generates far outweighs the positives. My shirt sticks to my skin, sweat nearly drenching the whole article. There isn’t an inch of skin that doesn’t have sweat on it. I close my eyes tight in an attempt to block out the world, but I only manage to focus on how sweaty I am.
“How do you deal with how hot it is with one of these suits on?” I complain to Mia as I catch up with her.
“I focus on my plan to get somewhere cooler. That usually helps a bit,” Mia answers glancing over to me for a second.
“Oh that’s really helpful!” I complain, throwing my arms up in agitation.
“Less complaining, more walking,” Mia orders from next to me, picking up her pace.
“Sir yes sir,” I salute mockingly as I pick up my pace to match hers.
“What was that about?” Mia questions, looking back at me quizzically.
“Nothing General Bossy sir!” I mock again, catching back up with Mia.
“Oh so now I’ve graduated to General Bossy have I?” Mia questions, a small laugh slipping from her lips.
“That is correct sir.” I continue mocking, a smile now plastered on my face.
“Well can I at least be called ma’am? I mean I am a woman.” Mia laughs a bit, our footsteps almost in sync.
“Ma’am yes Ma’am!” I jokingly salute again, a small laugh getting passed my lips.
“What exactly got me promoted to General Bossy from Captain Bossy?” Mia questions, as she starts swinging our intertwined hands.
“Well, that is a long story General Ma’am,” I offer confidently, looking over to her.
“Well I think we still have time before we make it to your bunker,” Mia pauses, lifting her fake watch to her face again, “Ah yes, right here it says it. Just enough time for a long story before we get to your bunker.” Mia lets her free arm fall back to her side looking at me expectantly.
“Well it started when you decided to give up your ship and title as Captain Bossy,” I start, nodding to myself as I think.
“As General Bossy, I find it hard that I would give up such a title,” Mia argues playfully as we walk.
“That’s just it. You didn’t want to give up your title but you had no choice.” I quickly interject, drawing Mia into my story.
“Oh and why is that” Mia asks, clearly invested in the story.
“Well Captain bossy made a deal that if she couldn’t lead her crew to a deserted island within a day, she would have to give up her title of Direction Master and-”
“That’s Great Direction Master to you,” Mia corrects as we walk.
“Oh… I’m sorry Great Direction Master,” I correct myself, continuing my tall tale. We stay that way as we walk. Mia listening to my story, and correcting where she feels it necessary, and me telling it as we grow closer to my bunker. Making the trek that lies in front of us just a little more bearable.