Unearthly quiet fills creeks and crevices. Swings sway loosely in the intermittent wind, their rusty chains straining against the tongue-tied backdrop. They make their way through littered streets, Luna’s fingers loosely curved around Elian’s palm like the branches of a wallowing willow.
“My feet are so sore,” she says sadly, stooping to poke a finger down the back of her slack boot.
He knows they’re too big, but a good score nonetheless. There they’d been, waiting for him it seemed, on the red and gold foyer rug. He’d swung open the heavy double doors and their soft leather had slouched, making them look half as tall, their laces still strong and intact.
He’d found them in a house, clearly once cozy and comforting, now forlorn and deserted. Unable to face a childless life, many had fled the outbreak thrust upon them, running in search of a life restored. Luna had long been wearing sandals that barely clung to her feet and with winter approaching, he’d known that despite the size difference they were meant for her.
Anything left behind is fair game as far as he is concerned.
They come upon the market with its soaped out windows now caked in dirt. A yellowed newspaper lounges on the cement, lazily waving in the breeze.
“Won’t be much in there,” she smiles a little. Her hair, lit by the cold sun, looks like the soft caramel he used to eat.
Panic had ensued as missing person reports increased by the day. Hours had dissolved into a myriad of search and rescues, candlelight vigils, prayers and séances. Confusion and chaos became a way to survive and finally, angst and torment, depression and mourning, a way of life.
“It’s boarded for a reason.”
Elian has always been wise but has had to hone his wits since this all began. He is responsible for Luna and will protect her with his life. However, he needs to ensure it doesn’t come to that. He must remain with her and avoid any risk that might separate them.
He walks Luna over to a dormant vending machine and has her lean against it while he checks the perimeter of the market. Once he decides it’s safe, he returns and begins prying off the boards that have been haphazardly slapped over the entryway. They come off easily enough but he feels Luna watching him intently and is again reminded why he needs to maintain his strength.
As he wrenches the last board, she is at his side, wiping imaginary sweat from his brow, anything to stop the useless feeling that often overcomes her.
She coughs as a billow of grime hits them in the face.
On the second day of what they now call The Salvage, Luna’s younger brother and sister had disappeared. Like so many others, gone without a trace. After months of searching and hoping her parents had decided to journey on in pursuit of peace, maybe to the next town, perhaps across the ocean, they didn’t know, but Luna would not go with them.
She and Elian had taken over the family home, but were forced to leave when it became overrun with drug-toting squatters. Again, Elian had been wise in realizing it wasn’t worth the fight. He’d had to pull Luna by the arm for miles while she sobbed, devastated her siblings might return to the nightmare she’d left behind.
“Normally, I’d say after you, but in this case…” Elian steps inside and bats away the cobwebs that immediately engulf his face.
There had been many town meetings in which ideas were thrown about. Terrified mothers worried there’d been a mass killing and the bodies just hadn’t been found. Fathers held their shotguns at the ready, waiting for whoever had taken what wasn’t theirs, to return.
It was a long time before sense was made, but bit-by-bit, the town’s people had little choice than to admit the children now gone were conceived without love. They were the ones that had grown from desperation or greed – a marriage that needed repairing or a hole that had to be filled. At times, money had been the motivator or sadly, some were born an appointed whipping post.
The women, eager to replace what had been lost, tried to conceive through despair but their loveless attempts were no longer fruitful.
Luna follows behind Elian as he clears a path. Once inside, they stop in awe. Canned goods and jars of jellies practically glow on the shelves.
Elian opens a package and spreads a thin plastic tablecloth over the dirty floor.
“You’re my everything, Luna.” He says watching his wife stroke her pregnant belly.