Nuclear bombs. That’s what the news had said… right? They’d hit Concord and Portsmouth. Or had that just been Dad speculating? Regardless, Portsmouth remained mostly intact as far as Elizabeth could tell as she reached the wide, churning Piscataqua River flowing inland from the cold Atlantic. The moonlight was caught in the shimmering waters of the ocean, seeming to lose its shimmer at the river mouth for which the city was named. Blocky silhouettes rose against the shimmering sea with gaps in places where she imagined buildings might once have been. The lone spire of a church steeple stabbed toward the sky.
Three bridges spanned the Piscataqua. Elizabeth was sure they all had names, but she couldn’t be bothered to remember what they were and wasn’t paying attention to the sign she passed reading: Sarah Mildred Long Bridge. The salt air swept over her as the road pitched upward gradually toward the lift bridge and the Town of Kittery, Maine beyond. There had been a time when Elizabeth would stop to appreciate these things, but those days were gone. As she passed beneath the first of two green, twelve-story risers on which the center deck of the bridge would lift for boats, she barely registered that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, though only moonlit, clearly wasn’t there anymore. Soon she’d crossed the Piscataqua, New Hampshire's natural border with Maine.
* * *
Within the quiet of night the Kittery Outlet Malls sat flanked by the silent lanes of I-95 and US-1. The various businesses pushing goods that, for the most part, were almost entirely irrelevant in the New World seemed only to wait for that morning’s renewal of business. Were it not for the smashed-in windows, cars welded together in the parking lot from some odd collision, and the sudden appearance of corpses in all stages of decomposition, she might have waited around and done some shopping. Maybe found some new clothes or shoes.
Drawing in a long breath, Elizabeth held it for a moment as she considered the girl who’d been called ‘Beth.’ That girl would have wanted to get into the Super Shoes Outlet for some new Sketchers. She would have wanted to hit Aeropostale and Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch where she would have worn a beaming grin as she loaded up a cart with all the clothes she could ever possibly want.
She halted, nearly tripping over the broken body of a child curled up on the sidewalk before her. Fingers fondling at the strap of Dad’s rifle, she paused to consider the corpse. The flesh of its gaunt face looked waxy in the moonlight, clinging to its skull as though stretched over it after the fact. Elizabeth glanced up and down its body with clinical detachment. It wasn't really even human to her, though it stirred other feelings.
The boy was wearing a black baseball hat, which had apparently managed to stay on his head for as long as he’d been out there. Elizabeth couldn’t say for sure how long that was, nor could she determine how old the child had been when he’d died. What stayed with her as she stepped around the dead boy was that he’d either been left there after death or had wandered alone until something (the water, probably) got him. Not that it mattered; he was one of the lucky ones.
He and Andersen, she supposed.
* * *
Day was breaking and Elizabeth was still pushing forward when at last US-1 delivered her to her first very recognizable landmark: Flo’s Hot Dogs. The place was famous for its dogs, though it was the way they served them that made them special: loaded up with mayo, celery salt, and their own brand of hot relish. She’d pitched a fit when Mom insisted she eat her dog with this odd combination of condiments. It was one of the first times in her life she remembered trying something new and loving it.
This landmark was little more than a red double-wide trailer, presently doused in red sunlight, and would easily have been mistaken for a hovel or some recluse’s lifelong abode were it not for the cars jamming traffic outside in the summertime and lines stretching down the shoulder of US-1. Like so much of the New World, it had been reduced to its base character, and as she passed beyond it and gazed down the swatch of highway cutting through thick pine forest, she found it very easy to banish the memories of Flo’s away.
It was just a red double-wide trailer. Just some hovel.
A sign began to take form on the side of the road. Elizabeth squinted at it, trying to read through the hazy blur of tired, itchy eyes as her legs screamed at her and Dad’s voice repeated over and over and over in her head: Don’t let the New World destroy my baby girl.
The sign read: OGT 2 MI