‘It wasn’t always like this,’ Al thought to himself, trailing behind the group. Through the dirty and scratched goggles of his battered gas mask, he could barely see the white-clad figures of his comrades make their way through what used to be Venlo. He couldn’t see the sky, just a pale blur, and everything else was a green nightmare.
The small town – like everywhere else – had been reclaimed by the forest; vines and tree roots conspiring together to tear down buildings, hedges and weeds proclaiming their victory over those who had cut them back for so long. Picking up his pace, he hurried to join the others. He knew the dangers someone alone in the toxic jungle would face.
“What kept you?” asked Sara, her voice muffled and distorted by her mask.
“He was probably just daydreaming again,” said Rolf, before Al could open his mouth. “There’s no room for dreamers in this world. If you fall behind again, we won’t wait for you.”
The other survivors – people Al had stood alongside for the last five years – all slowly nodded their agreement. Tears welled in his eyes as his heart sank, dragged into the depths by a merciless green vine. There was no use. Rolf was the group’s leader, and Al had watched silently as others – the weak, the corrupted, the contaminated – had been turned away.
As the group returned to their march, Al took a hesitant step after them, then stopped. What was the point? Perhaps he could go west and find another group of survivors? No. He knew he could never make it that far.
Tearing his gas mask off, he breathed in deeply, for the first time in years. Then he looked up. The sky was a perfect clear blue, like it had always been.
Austin P Sheehan is a writer of speculative fiction, a lover of language, literature and ’90s TV.
Armed with a psychology degree, he went out into the world to further study humanity, and now prefers the company of his greyhounds.
He grew up in the valleys of Victoria’s high country, and despite living in Melbourne for the past decade, he always feels at home amongst the mountains. In fact you’ll often find mountains in his stories, whether they’re sci-fi, fantasy or alternative history.
Austin has also been getting coffees and doing photocopying as the work experience kid at the Aussie Speculative Fiction group.
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