The old woman lowered the bucket into the well and brought it back up with the winch. Her back made a painful protest as she lifted and poured the water, which emitted a faint sulpherous smell, into a yellowing plastic jug. She thought of all those warnings they used to give about reusing plastic containers; how the plastic supposedly leached toxins into the liquids and foods that they contained. If only those concerned officials had known what was coming, they wouldn't have worried about a few cancer causing molecules in a water bottle.
Grunting she hauled the water back to the hut she had erected near the well when she found it 20 years ago. It was nothing more than rusted metal, plastic sheeting, and bits of wood hodgepodged together to provide shelter. Inside, by the dim light of an oil lamp, she poured some water into a pot on the wood stove used for cooking and heat. On a flat slab of wood balanced on two old wire spools she chopped anemic looking carrots and a slightly moldy potato. She wished she still had a bit of meat left over from a deer carcass she had scavenged several days ago. The thing had had a fifth leg hanging from its belly, but appeared to have died of natural causes. It had still been in one piece, more or less, and she had hurridly hacked off a chunk of flesh and shuffled home as coyotes yipped and barked in the dusk. She didn't want to be out after dark. There were worse things than coyotes in the dark.
The carrots and potato went into the pot. She sat back at the table and stared at the gnarled hands resting on the surface, the right one still gripping the knife she used for everything. Her knuckles were knobby. It was becoming harder for her to fully extend her fingers. Dark blue veins bulged and slithered under cinamon-colored skin when she tried to make a fist. When had she gotten so old?
Memories welled up: working at a bookstore, nights drinking and talking with friends. Earlier memories: catching frogs, eagerly waving her hand in the air in class, the scruff of her father's 3 day old beard; all before The Fire had turned the world inside out. There were others: flames, ash, years when the sun remained hidden by dust. There was a man with wavy brown hair, gentle and doomed; childeren laughing, running, hugging her legs, then coughing blood, large dark eyes staring sightlessly from pale, hollow faces. She closed her eyes and saw another man with white hair and black eyes, and her stomach tightened with a cold rage that had never left her, even after so many years.
She could feel the night closing in on her little home, opening like a void in the world. Tonight there were no coyotes yipping, and that was a bad sign. It meant that the shades were moving across the land. The old women opened her eyes, leaving her memories and prepared for the night.