She heaved a sigh of regret; the rocky, rutted, leaf-strewn ground crackling, as she hauled her aching body into a sitting position. Ash mumbled and rolled over, swiping at some invisible threat with his scarred, chubby hands. She rubbed her blurry eyes and groaned when she realised the events of the day before had once again slipped from her grasp. The image of a man she knew she should recognise and a lilting whisper, “Cairnon, honey. It is safe there. Take Ammi and Ash with you. We won’t be far behind.” These had haunted her for the past months.
“Come on Ash, we gotta get up. We just a coupla hour walk from Cairnon.”
“Aww, Wynni, I sleepy,” he murmured.
“I know Ash, I know.”
Gripping a nearby gnarled tree trunk she heaved herself to battered feet. Taking a sip of water from the pouch she carried, she made a mental note to fill it again at the next stream. Stooping down Wynta gathered her brother into her arms, nestling him back into the makeshift sling she had made. The horizon seemed to consume the receding light as the final hue of day was overtaken by the voracious night.
“Jus’ relax and try to get some more sleep Ash, we’ll get to Cairnon soon enough.”
She startled at a rustling in the dense shrubbery behind her; her blistered feet whirling in the soggy leaf-litter. A twig snapped a few metres away and she felt her heart thump sporadically. Ash whined as she tightly gripped his small feet. A rat scuttled across the path, shattering her fear induced trance. She set off at a sprint towards Cairnon, mud coating her feet and rotting leaves sticking to her calloused heels. The glinting lights of Cairnon flickering through the distant smog.
Two men emerged from the shadows, wide grins plastered on their bedraggled faces.
“You sure it’s her Josiah?” a slim, dark haired man asked.
“Can you think of another blonde, teenage girl with a toddler who would be running around in these woods?”
He chuckled at his companion’s silence.
“Yes Arthur, I’m sure that is the girl we have been looking for. Let’s go home and tell them that she’s headed to Cairnon.”
Ash tumbled from her quivering arms and her breaths were raspy and haggard, as she pulled herself over the crest of the hill. She swore at the sight of the unnaturally massive men clad in black leather, machine guns hung casually over their bulky shoulders, patrolling the looming gate.
Mud-caked hair snagged on her shaky fingers as they ripped through the knots of the tangled mess covering her face. Ash whimpered when she hauled him up to rest on her bony hip as she staggered to the guarded, iron opening.
Each slow, quaking step caused a clang that snaked up and hissed at her heavily thudding heart. A guard barked at her to stop, his harsh voice nipping at her heels; hastening her stride. His thick, heavy fingers dug into her bony shoulder, yanking her back. She slipped on the muddy, metallic surface and cried out as she felt herself topple over, twisting her body so as not to fall on Ash. The guard lurched forward grabbing her collar, his gun swinging around and smashing into her face. She grunted in pain and disgust as blood streamed from her nose, seeping through her lips, trickling down her neck and painting his grasping fingers. Dirt and blood stained her hands as she tried to staunch the flow.
“Stoopid girl,” he sneered, smearing her blood over his trouser leg. “Go find Medic.”
His accent rolled off his foul tongue like oozing, black tar. Her fingers scrabbled for grip as she crawled backward, offering soothing words to the now wailing Ash. Standing up she glanced timidly at the Dense again before she scampered off into the obsidian night.