by Dean Hardage
Will woke up at daybreak as usual. Something didn’t feel right but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Shaking his head to clear it, he began his morning ritual. Rising from his sleeping furs and quickly putting on his layers of insulating clothing was the first step, followed by a quick wash from the bucket near the cast iron stove. There was just enough coffee left for a single cup and his supply of foodstuff was also dwindling quickly. That meant a full day’s trek to what used to be a nearby village to raid the shopping center for supplies.
Will’s thoughts were projected backward by the thought of the village, backward to when he had gone on his first trek with Mother and Father. They’d bundled him up in a snowsuit and scarf, settled him into a nest of thick blankets on a sled, and taken turns pulling him along the frozen path that had once been a two-lane road. They talked as they walked.
“Remember how beautiful this place was in Spring,” Father had asked?
“How could I forget? It’s where we met, down by the river.”
“Right, during the Spring Carnival.”
Father and Mother had both smiled for a moment. A moment was all it had lasted.
“2042. The year before the war.” The words were as cold as the wind that partially penetrated all the protective layers in which they clothed him.
The war had been what Father called a ‘nuclear exchange’ between nations. The survivors had begun to try and rebuild, then Winter came and never left. Temperatures had fallen, the ice from the far north and south had advanced further and further until most of the land mass was covered. Only a few hardy souls had been able to adapt quickly enough to survive. Since his parents’ passing in the blizzard of 2056 when he was twelve, and in the ten years since, Will had seen no others.
Trips to the village were necessary but dangerous. The predators of the Arctic had come south with the ice and everything was prey. He wiped down the .30-06 rifle and slid it into the scabbard on the sled along with the few other things he needed. He hadn’t traveled far when he once again felt something was wrong. Not bad, just not normal. He couldn’t figure out just what it was that troubled him and he couldn’t spend much time on it. He had to keep his attention on the trail.
It took most of the morning to reach the village and clear the door into the long-abandoned supermarket that served as his supply cache. Boxes of butter crackers, frozen blocks of cheese, even meat that had frozen before the power failed went into the sled. Before he donned his headgear again he heard a sound. It was familiar but he’d never heard it outside of the cave. Somewhere in the building, water was dripping.
Will wanted to investigate but he knew he had to get back home before dark. He buttoned up all his gear, pulled on his hood, and dragged the sled out of the building. He put the heavy piece of sheet metal over the door to keep out unwanted visitors and turned eastward toward the path to the cave. He took a moment to realize that his shadow, foreshortened by the early afternoon sun, was clearly visible in front of him. Through the once perpetual overcast there was a patch of blue and the sunlight burst through the opening unimpeded by clouds for the first time in his life. Despite the desire to stand and stare at it, he knew he’d be easy prey standing in one spot.
Will began his homeward trek to the cave. Shortly before he arrived something else caught his eye just off the path. It was a patch of bare ground, dark loam showing through the snow that had always covered everything. It was then he realized he was sweating and his clothing was keeping him too warm.
The final clue came to his ears a second later, a sound he’d only been told about by Mother and Father. He pulled the hood from his head, yanked off the covering, and sought the source of the sound.
In a nearby tree he spotted a small, feathered creature he recognized from stories his parents had told. It was called a ‘bird’. Will fell to his knees. Melting snow, blue skies, a bird chirping in the trees. It had come as they had said it would. His eyes filled with tears of both sorrow and joy.
“Mother! Father! Spring is here!”
Reviews by HawkandYoung:
Dean Hardage’s story, Nuclear Spring, very quickly transports the reader to the world’s possible future. He portrays the protagonist’s naivety in such a way that it resonates with the child inside each one of us. This well crafted flash has an overwhelming message that your mother can fix anything, like Mother Earth fixing herself. This story has an old school sci fi feel that made me believe Larry Niven or Roger Zalazny had come again. ~ Young
This story combines survival with hope. The tension and urgency created here is palpable. Clearly, safety is in that cave. Yet as the world melts, it’s obvious it will soon be too hot for polar predators. This piece leaves me wanting to see this new world, what creatures survived, and how the main character will face them. Are there other humans who will come out of hiding? I have hope for them, too. ~Hawk
Dean Hardage, born in 1958 in Clovis, New Mexico. He has been a soldier a father, a traveller, and most recently a technician. He currently lives in Clovis after all of his other travels and lives with his wife, Robin, their two sons Jonny and Tony, and six little furbabies that keep them on their toes.