VIRGINIA

Virginia
by Marietta Miles
as published by Thrills Kills and Chaos, August 2013

Virginia by Marietta Miles

Virginia Walker judges the distance to her target, tucks the stock comfortably against her shoulder and tightens her hand on the grip, finger over the trigger.  She leans farther out her second story window and watches the town square.  The wind changes direction and now she hears clearly the melee which woke her from a bad sleep.
***
Weeks before, a radiating light scorched the summer sky.  Three violent attacks burned the United States from the inside: industries and facilities became useless corpses.  In the east, where coal was king, mountains glowed with uncontrolled fire: men trapped by flames.  In the south, levees failed and the sea flooded port cities: people drowning in their homes.  Along the Mid-Atlantic, refineries dumped black oil. The oil turned to flame and at last to poison.  Virginia’s hometown, Marion, became a mucus colored waste.

Marion Nuclear Power Plant broke down soon after the first attack.  The power failure shut down utilities and drained power, the nerve center refused to deliver energy or information.  The reactor was unable to cool and water boiled low, revealing a super heated core.  Fires followed and people ran in flames, jumping like burning birds into the North Marion River.  Those who did not burn to a cinder were trapped in radiation, their skin blistering and peeling.  They also ran for the river.
Further down the tributary, the ChemQuest Plant also slipped into turmoil.  Safety systems stopped.  Thousands of gallons of bright green fertilizer and blood red pesticide pumped into the clear river.  Chunks of hot chemicals slithered atop the water and tangled in the roots of ancient oaks.  Soon, half dead bodies from North Marion Power Plant floated into the stew.  Those that died stayed dead.  Those with a drop of life soon pulled themselves from the river – changed.

***
Again Virginia eyes the town square, feeling the cool of her husband’s gun against her cheek.  He taught her to shoot.  He had been an expert hunter but put his gun down after their girls were born.  Every now and again, if he spied a strong stag, he traced it with fingers aimed like a rifle.  He would pull the pretend trigger and whisper, “always take the shot.”
Virginia frowns and tells herself to stop thinking of him, scratching at his memory.  She could not breathe when she thought of her husband, the man she chose.  And it was of no matter, their girls had to be looked after, they had to grow up.  She had no room or time for his memory.

***
On the day of the attacks Virginia and her girls, Beatrice and Regina, had been swimming at their grandmother’s lake.  Their father, a senior train conductor on the southern sent Palmetto Star, worked a trip from which he would never return.  Bea and Regina, sun burned and stuffed with peanut butter sandwiches and lemonade, dozed in the cool of their bedroom.  Virginia was reading in her favorite chair.  All that came after she decided to forget.

They learned to burrow, scavenge and hold very still.  Camping equipment, last seen during a holiday to the Blue Ridge Mountains, set their living space in the rear of the attic.  The stairs were barricaded, doors and windows blocked by furniture.  Only one small window, sitting low in the rear mud room, was used for their entry and exit.  Survivors turned mean.  No law or constable types showed up to pull things together.  Virginia assumed the entire world had burned down.

One evening, the girls tucked away, Virginia made for Marion Public Library.  She kept memories of past Saturday morning visits: old, soft chairs, sternly bound books and reading until the sunlight dimmed.  Signs of violence, against the books and the two kindly ladies who kept them, hung in the once colorful aisles.  She stopped near a basket of books, overlooked by looters.  The top cover showed a worn, stuffed rabbit in a sun hat, a tea set neatly in front of her.  Virginia leaned down, wiped away the dust and tucked the paperback in her jacket, ignoring the throbbing in hear head.  She knew she was sick, so she found books to keep her girls company after she was gone: swiftly tilting planets and mysteries behind red staircases.  “These’ll do,” she whispered, heading quickly home.

***
Virginia hears her youngest child.  Turning from the window, staring into the dark, she sees Bea and Reggie beneath their pink sheet.  Their chests rise and fall with deep, full breaths.  Thick blue cold syrup stains their little mouths.  It is medicine to sleep through the night or to sleep through what they may need to forget.  Another cry rises outside and Virginia quickly raises her site to the field.

She watches a horde of men in fatigues, swinging bats and pipes.  They are herding a young woman in a stained yellow nightgown towards center field.  The lady slips, falls and the trappers are on her, howling and barking.

Virginia stares at the woman on the field and imagines her own girls. The lady is a daughter, maybe a mother too.  Shoot the men and save the stranger, blow their heads away.  Some would run off, little ones or fast ones, and bring more men.  Shoot the girl, just to end her pain, and still the wolves would be at her door.  This time Beatrice does call out, crying in her sleep.  Regina turns over, throwing her arm protectively over her sister.  Virginia holds very still and listens only to the gathering wind.  The wind brings a whisper, like a kiss on her ear and Virginia takes the shot.

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