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Walking still isn’t easy for Sonjia, but she won’t complain knowing full well that she is lucky to be walking at all.

“Here, let me help you,” says Mari, guilt overriding her need to look cool.
“No. I have to do this on my own. It’s the only way that I’m going to get strong again. I don’t want to be a shut in like Mom,” says Sonjia more harshly than she intended and Mari winces. “Go on now, go play with your friends. I’m going to walk the perimeter and do the exercises that mom showed me. Go on.” She sounds old even to her own ears though she’s only 5 years older than Mari.

Mari hesitates only for a second before she runs head first towards the cluster of what Sonjia and her mother Lucy refer to as the minions. Mari and her friends have a honed talent for finding trouble. Bloodhounds in pigtails, thinks Sonjia wryly.

As she shuffles along the playground perimeter she sees her sister bouncing and leaping and she rubs her sternum trying to soothe away the burn of jealousy. Instead, she looks for a step or a ledge to do the calf extensions on. She straps the homemade weights to her thighs and as she does she uses the image of her mother’s scared, melted head for motivation. Gritting her teeth against the growing pain and fatigue she pushes from her mind the cramps that will rack her legs tonight forcing both tears and sweat. Her mother says this pain is her body learning how to use the muscles that she has left, the pain of rebuilding. Refusing to give into self-pity she counts. “23…24…25…”

“Sonjia what is that?” she hears Mari say through the fog her efforts. “Sonjia!”
“What!” she growls irritated.
“That!” says Mari pointing to the sky.

Sonjia looks up and sees the horizon dotted with hot air balloons drifting their way.

“More survivors!” says Mari, voice tinged with hope and glee.

Maybe it’s Sonjia’s state of mind which has been darker since the fog got her, but she senses hostility in the formation of the balloons like birds or fighter wings from the old world. Sonjia tries to make her eyes see further than eyes were ever meant to see, when the awful realization washes over her, friend or foe, the invaders will be upon them soon. Then she hears floating down like feathers:

Gently, gently over the rise,
when the wind blows close your eyes.
Gently, gently in the above,
come the reapers for all you love.

Harshly, harshly is the landing,
but not as bad as the branding.
Harshly, harshly does skin heal,
that’s how you know it was real.

Gently, gently in the above,
come the reapers for all you love.

Inspired by: The lovely smash up of Nirvana’s Plateau and Hot Air Balloons