Only the Loons Know – SL Nickerson

You must understand, post-apocalypse Hamilton couldn’t get much worse than pre-apocalypse Hamilton.

Lemma and I sat on Dundas Peak, our legs hanging over the edge with the whole southern view to ourselves. Below us the railway snaked west over the Niagara escarpment. A CN freight train remained where its fuel had dried up a year ago, the harbinger of the apocalypse that soon followed its halt. Every compartment was opened and long ago looted of any cargo. Two people walked beside the tracks, hand-in-hand through dried leaves, out of Hamilton. I wondered where they were headed because those tracks only led to Brantford “The Telephone City”, though I supposed even a nothing city like that was better than Hamilton.

Our eastern view was of Hamilton itself, a black butt oozing over the lowlands that crept on Lake Ontario. Apartments scratched the skies, preserved on the outside like the day they were built, but inside lay the bodies, the roaches, the bats and the bedbugs. Behind the apartments were the smoke stacks and steel mills, cluttering an artificial peninsula that speared Lake Ontario. Tanks of who-knows-what topped multi-tiered towers that fed colossal pipes. Rusted ramps networked the mills amidst conical piles of industrial rubbish.

“It’s so much more picturesque without the smoke clouds and the giant plumes of fire,” Lemma said.

“Not too much has changed,” I said. “The infrastructure is still in decay, Jackson Square still doesn’t sell anything useful, and it’s still faster to walk than take the bus.”

“And unlike at Waterloo, there aren’t any Mennonites around here to wag their fingers at us and say, ‘I told you so’.”

I eyed the pack by her side. It looked under-full. “Your traps didn’t catch anything, eh?” I asked.

“Not today,” she said with a small shrug.

“Not any day, not ever!”

“I try my best. Yours were better—can’t you keep making them?”

“If I was busy minding traps, then I wouldn’t have had time to track this.” I jerked a thumb back at the sleigh behind us that held a dead deer, my arrow stuck at her throat. When I brought the deer back for Oubliette there would be no end to her pleasure. She loved venison. There were so few things left for her to love from before the apocalypse; I collected everything after to bring some joy to her pain-riddled days. “I can’t be the only meat-getter here. If hunger teaches you, then so be it.”

“I gathered gooseberries, and some fungi,” Lemma added. “And I tried to chase a garter snake.”

I clicked my tongue.

Her lips tightened, and then she spoke. “It’s not my fault I didn’t grow up on a farm. We can’t all be country girls like you.”

“It wasn’t a farm.”

“Fine, a town in pisspot nowhere whose main attraction is a tin museum.”

“You’d starve without me, city girl. Be thankful I’m still here.” I waved my hands at the far steel mills. “It’s certainly not for the view.”

Lemma stood and turned her back to me; I said nothing more and let her stew. We each took a rope of the sleigh, and went down the forest trails. I heard rustles in the woods, but whatever they were fled too fast for me to ready my bow.

read the entire story in Pulp Literature Issue No. 1, Winter 2014.