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The ash fell like snow, little flakes settle in their hair, on their skin, clinging to everything they find. They stick to the water, coating it in a thin line of dirty white, dull, in the grey light of the early morning.

 

It is morning, the night has ended, and everyone they know is dead.

The boat bobs, rocking lightly in the water. Air rustles their hair, caring yet more ash across the water to glue itself to their skin, sting at their eyes, stain their clothes.

 

The ash spreads, and the sun rises. It is up properly now, fully over the horizon, and with the sun comes the slow realisation they have nowhere to go but back.

They wouldn’t make it to the mainland, not in a boat of this size, they would never make it. But they can’t just stay here, floating out, in the shallows forever.

 

They take a breath, eyes meet, as though in silent understanding. There is only one place to go- “We have to go back, don’t we?”

“…Yes.”

 

He rows. She watches the horizon, staring at that familiar strip of land before them, at the flames, eating away at anything that’s still left.

The journey doesn’t take long, Leeza almost wishes it had taken longer, that they had been given more time in the in-between before they had to face what was left of their homes.

 But they don’t, the trip is short, and before they know it, they are back.

 

The boat hits the sand, and Warren climbs out, drags the boat the rest of the way up onto shore. He holds out a hand to help Leeza climb out as well-

“I can’t…”

 

She can’t stand. They are stuck, alone, on a half-burnt island, and Leeza can’t even stand.

Warren doesn’t know what to do.

He stands on the beach, staring at the smouldering, burning mess before them.

Everything was either burnt or still burning. He can’t help but wonder if there is even anything there to find at all.

 

His house is there, somewhere, what’s left of it at least.

His parents… they were somewhere in there, one of those smouldering piles of ash.

And not just his parents. His friends, classmates, the people he went to church with, everyone.

He doesn’t even know where to start searching. He doesn’t even know what he is searching for.

 

“Warren! Look!”

 

He turns, and finds she’s pointing at a body, sprawled on the sand. It is the only person they can see, only one who isn’t ash. It’s the sheriff, the dark colours of his uniform standing out stark against the surrounding world.

 

He runs, across the sand, towards that one, familiar shape. He kneels in the sand, a hand resting against the sheriff’s shoulder, and feels his heart racing. The sheriff could be alive. He could still be alive-

He is breathing. Warren feels it, the ghost of a weak, raspy breath.

 

The sheriff is still alive, but he doesn’t know what he can do to help.

He turns to Leeza, surprise showing on his face, “he’s still breathing.”

 

Leeza jolts forward at that, reaching out towards them, “get me over there-”

So he does.

He carries her over, a desperate, frantic scramble, he half drops her in the rush, both collapsing into the sand beside the sheriff. Leeza pulls herself up, knocking hard against the older man’s shoulder. She presses a hand to the wound in his abdomen, trying desperately to cut off at least some of the blood that was still leaking out.

 

Leeza looks up at him, and Warren hates the fear he sees painted across her face.

“We need a phone-”

He stares back, shakes his head in empty desperation, “the tower is down, even if- even if we find a phone, we can’t call anyone.”

“Someone- someone will have seen it- won’t they, the fire- they will come, they have to come.”

“I- I don’t know.”

 

“…what do we do?”

“I don’t know.” He doesn’t. They have no phone, no boats big enough to matter, no way to contact anyone. No help.

 It’s just them, and the sand, and a sheriff, already half dead on the shore before them.

 

“We have to do something.”

 

 

 

He runs.

He doesn’t know where he’s going, what he’s looking for, but he runs.

Looking for anything that could help.

 

He runs past what was their house. It’s gone now, little more than a husk of the structure left. It had been the first to burn, of course it was gone.

He makes his way up the street, past the ashes, the smoke. The remains of houses, now nothing more than burnt beams and half collapsed walls.

He keeps running. He passes Erin Greene’s house, the supermarket, the sheriff’s office, the school. Everything- all of it, burnt to the ground.

Some still burning, the further into town he goes- he can see the church in the distance, still ablaze. Burning bright, the last beacon, lighting the way.

 

The air is still thick with fire down here, stinging at his eyes and heavy in his lungs. He coughs, choking on the smoke.

He turns, takes a side street, turns away from the church, away from the worst of the blaze.

 

And finally, finally, down one side street, he finds a house still standing, or half a house at least, by the grace of god alone it wasn’t completely burnt. He doesn’t recognise who’s it is, but its something.

 

It isn’t safe- half the roof caved in, lying on the living room floor, but the other side is still intact.

So he scrambles in, over the smouldering wooden beams, some still glowing – still at risk of sparking up again.

 

The kitchen is still intact, untouched by fire, so he starts there, yanking open cabinets at random, searching for anything that could help. Anything they could use.

Jackpot- a first aid kit, a general, store-bought variety, tucked under the sink. It isn’t much, but it’s something. It could help.

He grabs it, and he runs.

 

Back, along empty streets, air still thick with smoke. Past empty shells of familiar buildings, along a street stained by ash. 

Past his house.

He runs back to the beach.

 

There is Leeza, kneeling on the sand. Her hands are red, with the sheriff’s blood.

He approaches slowly, suddenly scared again,

“Is he…”

 

She looks up, at the question, “… he’s still breathing.”

He hands her the first aid kit.

Helps wrap clean bandages around the sheriffs leg, press clean fabric against the hole in his side.

The man was still breathing, there was hope. He might be okay.

They would be okay.

 

He takes a seat, on the sand beside Leeza,

They stare out, across the water, whatever is left of the town is still burning behind them.

 

Beside them, the sheriff groans, the only sign of life beyond breath that he had offered all morning.

Still breathing.

 

“Someone,” he says with unearned certainty, “…someone will come.”

She smiles at that, squeezes his hand, hard,

“We will be okay.”