It was snowing. Again. Heavy and thick, like the clouds themselves were bleeding into the wind. Greta watched through a hole in the wood that covered most of the window, wondering how the sky could contain so much snow in the first place.
Although it was difficult to tell, since the light outside had been the same all day, curfew was approaching. The clock in the kitchen said it was just after five o’clock and curfew began at six. Greta peered through the snow, hoping to catch sight of her father’s shape among the swirling, endless white, but she couldn’t see him. She tried not to worry, but he was never late.
Greta glanced over her shoulder at the pot bubbling away on the stove. She had made a stew with the rabbits she’d caught yesterday, mixed with dried herbs, potatoes left over from the fall, and a can of green vegetables she’d taken from the basement storage pantry. It actually smelled pretty good and Greta’s stomach grumbled gently in agreement.
They would eat just as soon as father arrived.
Outside, the light started to change ever so subtly. The grey grew a tiny bit darker and the shadows deepened. Greta pressed her face against the glass and scoured the bleak landscape for her father.
Every day he made the trek into the city centre, past all the burned-out shells of buildings, over the metal bridge that had survived the devastation of ’38, and into what was left of the heart of the city. There, the council met to discuss the state of the city, listening to heart-wrenching stories and soliciting ideas that would help them rebuild the city and re-establish communication with the rest of the world.
Father said they were fools to believe there was a world left with which they could communicate. If there was, surely they would have come looking for us, he said. In his mind, their silence meant they had suffered the same fate – or perhaps one even worse.
Greta didn’t remember the storms that had preceded the devastation. She had been a baby then. But she had heard all the stories. How one storm after another had hammered the city for months on end, slowly taking out the power grids and the communication towers, sending residents into a panicked frenzy as they fought each other for supplies and food in the stores that were still standing.
And then the devastation had hit. Earthquakes that lasted for days, thunderstorms that blew down concrete buildings, set fires across the city, and caused flooding of Biblical proportions. Residents of the city had retreated to homes, malls and churches, hoping the buildings would still be standing when the devastation passed. Hoping that it would, in fact, pass.
Of course, it did pass. After a week of being pounded by every force nature could hurl at them, the ground stopped shaking and the skies cleared. The residents that had survived emerged to a completely different world. Greta vaguely remembered coming up from the basement in her father’s arms, shielding her eyes from the sunlight as they stepped outside.
Once the shock had worn off, the new world took shape. Limited supplies meant increased competition. Factions formed, with some groups raiding others for food, supplies and even women. It was a chaotic time, but eventually another group intervened. Members of the army, who had survived in their underground bunkers with plenty of food, access to weapons, fuel and a handful of vehicles, formed a regime and put the curfew in place. To protect our residents, they explained.
For ten years, the army had been the wardens of the city. Every night they swept through the streets, promoting a sense of order. In the early days some of the newly formed factions had tried to take them on. The army’s response was swift and brutal. If you were out after curfew there were no questions, no chances to explain yourself, you were simply cut down. Order requires cooperation, the army said. The safety of all of us depends on it. You must obey the rules if we are to survive.
Father didn’t agree with the army’s position, but, like most residents, he never missed curfew. He believed in the work he was doing at the council and said that you had to pick your battles. Greta wasn’t sure what that meant, though she knew one day she would carry on her father’s work. After all, she was his only child and this was her world.
The sky was almost dark now. Greta looked at the clock. It was nearly six. She wondered if she should go and look for her father, but knew how angry he would be if she did. No one goes out at curfew, except the very foolish and the suicidal.
She returned to the window, narrowing her gaze in the hopes that she would see something. And she did. A lone figure was struggling through the thick blanket of snow, head down against the wind. She couldn’t see his face, but she knew it was her father. Greta breathed a sigh of relief and walked over to stir the stew.
It was only once she reached the stove that she heard the rumble of the army patrol vehicle outside the house. Suddenly, Greta understood her father’s words. You have to pick your battles. Heart pounding, she pulled the rifle from under the kitchen floorboards. It was loaded, just in case of an emergency. Then Greta grabbed her coat and went to get her father.
Want to read more? The story continues in Curfew: Part Two
This is my first time participating in the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge. This week the challenge asks us to explore our idea of what a dystopian world might look like.