*Winner of the Howler Write-Off*
The week had been long and the days stretched beyond imagination. The hollowed husk of the lonely home stood almost defiantly in the harsh climate, a gray skeleton set against the red sky. I slept in what used to be a living room. The windows provided a necessary outlook on the street beyond, where one could see quick shadows pass by in the night. During the day, under the blazing heat from the sky, I foraged, scouting the barren streets for… something.
A while ago, I found an old, broken HAM radio. It took some redneck engineering on my end, but I managed to get a working signal out.
When the rains came, I set out my collectors and waited inside, sending out signal after signal, checking every station I could find.
Usually without luck.
I felt the days begin to melt together. My feet dragged on the asphalt as I made my rounds on yet another search. What was I even looking for? I’m not sure….
The tally marks on the chipping drywall had turned into a small branching cluster. I sat and stared at it for a moment, trying to assign a memory to each one. Smiling faces, blue skies, warm breezes, careless summers…
On Thursday, it came in the mail.
I remember it like it happened yesterday.
It was… surprising to say the least. Only two steps out of the door and the raised arm of the mailbox was the first thing to catch my eye. In a world that seemed to offer nothing but the same…. This was different. For the first time in a long time, this was different.
With its uniqueness came its own dangers, of course, but… at the same time, what did I have to lose? I was alone. If what was in that pathetic, dented little box managed to kill me before I eventually ran out of supplies and starved to death, well, it would be a cruel kind of mercy, wouldn’t it?
Maybe I was hoping for it to kill me.
That’s probably why I opened it so quickly.
No hope, in a sense.
I didn’t know what I was looking at at first. A small, dark ball, sitting in the back of the mailbox. I reached in and touched it and it was… warm. Warm and soft. Such a stark contrast to the roughened calluses on my fingertips that it took me aback for a moment.
I pulled my hand back, somewhat frightened for the first time in a long time at this… this thing that seemed so out of place with the rough hewn edges of the world I had lived in for the past few years. The only world I was able to remember sometimes.
Carefully, I reached back in, cupping my palm and scooping the small bundle out of the box and into my arms. Still, it curled up, but I could see it better now, in the light of day. The softness I had felt before was fur, still the light and thin fuzz that covers the body of a kitten in my arms. A stormy gray color, paws curled in tight to its body and a small spike of a tail tucked between its hind legs. The animal was small and fragile, it’s eyes still not quite open on their own and ears still folded down. It wouldn’t survive. Not here.
I’m not sure what came over me at that moment, but, after looking around to see a possible source of delivery, I cradled the small kitten closer in my arms and took it back inside my makeshift shelter. I didn’t have much to offer it, but I would do my best.
I ended up finding a way to feed her for the time being, mixing some old nutrient powder with water until she was old enough to bounce around on her own.
I have to admit that it was quite the surprise the first time she dragged a small rodent back into the shelter. She got to keep the lion’s share of the meal as a reward that day.
It’s been three years now, since Harper showed up in that box. I still don’t know how she got there. I still don’t know who, or what, put her there. I’m still not quite sure what happened to the world, or how to fix it.
But I do know one thing.
I can’t give up.
Harper is relying on me.
And I’ll be damned if I let her down.