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They ran out of bullets. Six months ago. Maybe seven. Or eight or five. The calendar didn't matter anymore. The days no longer numbered up through the months and years. For Erica time ticked down. It slipped away toward certain death and doom.
There were no bullets, but she maintained her watch over the western entrance. The others in the group kept the calendar. She kept her eye out for the ashers, balancing a four-foot steel pipe in her hands. One end was broken into a sharp, jagged point. It wouldn't kill the beasts, but that didn't mean she wasn't going to try anyway.
When she had reached this group of survivors, she'd heard them call the ashers 'Fire Eaters.' A perfect name for the monsters with gaping mouths and an appetite to destroy the world.
She scanned the area that fanned out before her. The light of the orange sun streaked across the desert. The sun still set in the west. It was one of the few things that hadn't changed. Long, black shadows carved away from rock formations and half-fallen buildings. The sky was segmented into large rectangles by thick columns of smoke rising from asher camps.
She rested the pipe in the crook of her elbow and wiped her palms on her pants. Nighttime was warmer than the day and she was starting to sweat. It was already too warm for the heavy cotton coat she wore, but the fabric was the only armor she had. She checked the weapon at her belt. A sheath made from a leather purse and duct tape held a cleaver she had taken from the kitchen before an earthquake had crushed that floor.
There hadn't been any tremors in a while. That meant one was coming soon. Then the ashers would attack during the confusion and scramble to safety. But there was no more safety. Not here. Maybe in the distance, to the south. There were clouds at the horizon and rain that wasn't laced with deadly lightning. It might be safe, if she could survive the journey across the shattered city to get there.
Her hands as dry as they could be, she took up her pipe again and watched the approaches.
Footsteps sounded behind her. She didn't turn. This was a human coming. Ashers grated and scraped when they moved. Nails on a chalkboard. Striking an empty lighter. Bone against bone.
"You don't have to keep watch all the time." It was Ray. He scrambled up the last few yards of crushed concrete to the top of what served as Erica's battlement. "The chains and empty cans will sound if they come too close."
"Too close," she said, voice raspy. She hadn't spoken to anyone for hours.
"Come down. They're preparing dinner. It's Wednesday, green beans and biscuits." He smiled amiably, as if they were camping and he was inviting her back to the fire to sit and have a beer or two.
"Wednesday?" The word felt wrong in her mouth, arcane.
Ray's grin wavered. He was a handsome guy, probably a couple of years older than her. His dark hair had grown long over the months and framed a face that hadn't gone too gaunt. His body was still strong. But like the others, he held on to too much of the past and she questioned the strength of his mind. He shook his head. "I know how you feel about the days, but it really helps if you try it. We didn't lose everything."
Compared to what she did lose, days of the week were meaningless. "We have biscuits every night. You don't have to keep putting it on the menu like it's the daily special."
Some of his smile came back. "Can't just say green beans. That's no temptation at all."