Margo clutched the nine iron and tilted an ear, listening for the crunch of footsteps from the next yard over. Dead leaves rustled. Even the wind seemed to hold its breath, waiting.
"Is someone there, Mommy?" Tara whispered.
"Maybe." With one arm, Margo pressed her daughter behind her, against the cinderblock wall. Their last quart of water sloshed within her backpack.
Her fingers twitched on the golf club, a souvenir from salvaging in Palm Springs. It had been weeks since they had seen anyone alive. No one else was stupid enough to cross the desert stretch of Interstate 10 between Los Angeles and Phoenix. It'd been a wasteland before the bombs dropped.
But now they were on the far western fringe of metropolitan Phoenix. People were bound to linger here, and Margo was ready for them. Copper stains already marbled the shaft of the nine iron.
"I know someone is back there." The brittle, feminine voice carried from the neighboring yard. "Looters aren't welcome here. Show yourself and I might not shoot."
Damn it. "Might?" Margo called, gripping the club. She had Doug's old pistol in her backpack. No bullets.
The silence was long, assessing. "How many of you are there?" the woman asked.
"Me and my daughter. Just passing through, that's all."
"Come out." That voice left no room for argument. "We have you surrounded."
"I can help, Mommy!" said Tara. The simulacrum of a five-year-old girl hefted up a cinderblock, hoisting it above her head.
"Put it down, Tara!" Margo hissed. Sometimes her daughter's inhuman strength came in handy, but right now Tara was too fragile. Again.
Beth Cato's steampunk fantasy novel The Clockwork Dagger, will be released by Harper Collins Voyager in late 2014. She's originally from Hanford, California, but now resides in Arizona with her husband and son. Her short fiction, poetry, and tasty cookie recipes can be found at .http://www.bethcato.com
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quote:Therefore, I submitted it for group critique at the Cascade Writers Workshop--where it was eviscerated. I have received hundreds of critiques and given as many, but this was my first time enduring it all in person. Mind you, my fellow writers had plenty of nice things to say about it, too, but I left feeling dizzy and overwhelmed at the depth of the experience.