709 words (2 minute read)

Excerpt from Chapter 3

Jenny suddenly turned to the group and said, "What happened to all the babies?" It was true, no one had even thought of children, let alone babies. None of them had come across a single one. When her query was still only met with silence, she continued, "There was a stroller just waiting right there by the manhole. The one I went down. Someone actually rolled their kid up to it and then left it. I mean, do you leave your kid behind? Did they all just die? Are they hiding?"

Olivia felt a pang of guilt. She remembered something one of her best friends used to always say when a a group of girls got judgy, "Women gotta build other women up, we're all we've got." And when she got engaged to Jack she knew one of the main reasons was because he made her want to live her friend's motto. When he grinned, she wanted to kill that cold, calculating side off for good. He made her not want to be better than anyone else, and not need to tear them down to rise away from her own insecurities. In truth, Oliva knew that she wanted to marry him for his chipped front tooth, his thick smile-lines and his uncanny ability to make her feel like tomorrow would actually be alright, but deep down she knew it was more. He made her insides feel like moss in springtime and the leather on a well-polished horse saddle, and she hated the thought that he might see a mean-spirited side of her. She worried that really, she was ashamed that it just might be that she was merely embarrassed to look like a judgmental bitch in front him, like when she complained to her parents about donating her old toys to the poor kids, but hoped that wanting to hide her ugly side was making her a better person anyway. (awkward phrasing here, will need to edit this!)

But without Jack, and like her early college days, Olivia had looked at Jenny once, and then neatly padlocked her into a box reserved only for the famed New Jersey Bimbo. All boobs and no ass, straight hip and skinny legs, in the old world, Jenny surely was the cheap cigarette smoking, perpetually tan hoe who straightened her already fried hair while she applied, thick eyeliner and posted selfies. Olivia felt sick when she realized that all this time she had imagined Jenny in the old world blaring terrible rap in a Hoopdy, thin pale arms with their dark hairs hanging out the car window with an itchy middle finger. She was surprised she hadn't given the imaginary Jenny a tramp-stamp and bejeweled Victoria's Secret sweatpants.

But Jenny, out of the entire group, had thought of the most important thing of all since the P-temp—was there some sick sort of future? Where had all the babies gone? They couldn't

be safe in hiding anymore; not even wealthy paranoid parents could have stocked that many rations. And babies cry. And shit. And need Cheerios and a 2pm naptime. How on earth were they gonna make it in the tunnels? Forget the smell and the shithole bathrooms for a second, and try to just imagine them growin up in a forever night where the monsters in the shadows are real. How can a kid grow up without breathing the crisp clean air at sunset, and how can they sleep without just one night of crickets and the frogs humming all around a vacation cottage? They needed Queen Anne's Lace and daisies, salt water and seashells. Olivia didn't want to think of a generation of kids who never once went to sleep in a bunk bed, dreams filled with fireflies in jars and slowly melting ice cream bars.

Even if there were babies, kids, or even teens, what kind of world would they build when all they know is darkness, hunger and a dull, ever-present, stomach-dwelling fear? Their sleep must be a den of silent, ashy shadows, brains blank from a memory without dream-makers. Olivia shuddered and realized that the only break from such stagnance was through nightmares...How can you dream when you've never seen the sun?