38 Pickering Street

One firmly placed, steel-toed booted foot and a strong kick at the weak spot of the door was all she needed to gain entry to the house. She walked into the foyer of what had been someone’s home. Maybe it was once their sanctuary, the only place they felt safe. She always thought that, for an instant, as she crossed the threshold.

Then she remembered. No place was safe anymore.

Jenna listened. A telltale shuffle. A cough. The smell of a snuffed candle. Anything could give them away. She was alert, but she was not afraid. Two years and eight months, give or take a week, since the End. If there were someone alive in here, they would be weak from malnutrition. Or insane from the pleasure of their own company and the contaminated water supply. It was better these days. Only one a hundred or so was dangerous. She had grown braver. Foolishly so, her boss would say.

She checked the rooms on the first floor. A dusty piano, no fingerprints. If someone was here, it was not the person who had played the piano. She scanned the floors for footprints in the dust. None. No sounds. Probably another empty house. But she had to complete her search, had to cross number 38 Pickering Street off the list by the end of the day before she could move on.

The wall going up the staircase was full of framed photos of smiling people. A couple and one child. The son had been around ten years old at the End, or they had never bothered to frame more recent photos. These were the kind of thoughts that Jenna held on to; kicked around in her head to keep out the loneliness during the long weeks on Mission.

In the last bedroom on the left, she found the answer to her question. The son had never grown much bigger than the pictures. He had not been dead long. She could still tell he’d been blonde. She turned away.

A raspy breath. She spun back around, an arrow in her bow in an instead. She scanned the dark room for the source of the noise.

The shadow in the corner was barely a woman. The mother. Jenna kept her bow aimed.

“Get up,” she ordered the frail shape. She wasn’t sure the woman had enough strength to stand. She would have been dead in a matter of days. When was the last time she’d eaten? Impatiently, Jenna strode past the corpse and grabbed his mother’s arm.

“Up,” she repeated.

“Are you…” The woman’s voice was barely audible. “Who?”

“Your savior. Get up. You won’t die today.” Jenna said brusquely. The woman’s eyes were fixed on her son’s lifeless body. She said nothing.

Jenna dragged the woman down the stairs and out the door. She shriveled from the sunlight, cowering and backing towards the house. Jenna looked her over. Barely 90 lbs. She hit the button on her walkie talkie.

“Pete, do you copy?”

“Go ahead.”

“I’ve got one. Female. Forties.”

“Be there in twenty.”

The woman sat on the stoop with her back against the door. Jenna sat down beside her.

“Where?” she asked.

“You don’t want to know,” Jenna answered.