Lullabies

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He falls asleep when the sun sets, and I cradle him in my arms as I watch the last of the light fade from between the buildings, the deserted streets. The sky grows black, cold against the color of a rising moon. I leave the window at last and lay him down in the sports bag I salvaged for him, tucking the thin blanket against the cool night. The office building we’re hiding in hasn’t had heating in more years than I can think to count, but the ceiling of this room is intact, and the walls. Even the window isn’t broken, although the desk was flipped against one of the walls. The claw marks in the wood are old, and there is no blood. So tonight, we’ll sleep here. Maybe tomorrow too. Not longer.

The desk is oak. This must have been a CEO’s office once, or some Vice President. I pushed it against the door after we came, and who knows, it might hold out.

If they don’t come through the window.

I leave him sleeping and go stand by the window again, leaning against the glass. Cities are dangerous now. Too many people are filtering back in, searching for places to live among the rubble. Railway tunnels, old buildings, the sewers. They gather, and the Hunters find them.

But we’re not staying long. I came here for supplies, for baby clothes and whatever else I can find. When I’m finished foraging, we’ll leave again. Tonight and tomorrow. That’s all.

I press my forehead against the glass and close my eyes. I can hear them in the silence, even through the walls. The Hunters. Their cries echo among the buildings, shrill as the scream of a seabird on the coastline. They came for the cities first, in the beginning. People said heat drew them. All those bodies in one place. Most don’t travel in groups of more than two or three because of it. Even families split apart.

Most families, anyway.

I glance over my shoulder, watching the sports bag sway gently. I hung it on the legs of the desk, just like a real cradle, and he’s been quiet as a mouse in it. Not that he ever is very loud. He doesn’t cry very often, not loud, and especially not at night. I worried about that, in the beginning. I’ve never had any family, only him. Two is more dangerous than one, but one mother and a baby can’t give off that much heat.

At least, that’s what I tell myself when the Hunters are screaming.

I leave the window and go sit by his cradle. My sleeping bag and the backpack I carry with me everywhere are tucked up beneath the desk, next to where I hung his cradle, and I curl up and rock him gently, waiting for the night to end. When he shifts and begins to fuss, I sing for him. All those stupid lullabies I remember from listening to the radio. My voice cracks, and I don’t remember most of the words, but it’s better than listening to the Hunters shriek. After he falls asleep again I keep singing, more for the sound of my own voice and the familiarity of the words than anything else.

Somehow, the night isn’t so dark with a lullaby.

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