Neil met Hillary 25 years after The War. Neil was a farmer, and was tall and large in stature. He had hard features and rarely smiled. As a child during the early days after The War you could hardly have blamed him, but times were not so hard now. There was still conflict. The world had been broken by The War after all, but things were easier now. Perhaps he had forgotten how to smile. Hillary was quite different. She was small and round, and she displayed her emotions eagerly. Though she was fun loving she, like her husband, had some wits about her. Perhaps this was what drew such an odd couple together.
They were a quiet couple and lived in a village of no more than one hundred and thirty four, situated on the edge of The Bump near the sea. Though they were quiet and didn’t move around too much, they were well respected and had many friends, and at the age of twenty two, Hillary gave birth to their eldest son Bren. They had three more children after Bren; the twins – Terri and Theo, and Rebecca.
Bren, having lived in the community for near fifteen years, and contributed no end of hours towards his father’s farm (which played a pivotal role in feeding the community), was a quiet youth. He didn’t have many friends, as there were not a lot of families as well established as his – most of the families he knew had only recently settled, their broods still infants – so he would spend a lot of time reading books (although books were scarce. There wasn’t a lot of post-War literature as it was only the 44th year, and the vast majority of books written before The War were, of course, obliterated along with everything else) and exploring. How Bren loved to explore! His father often discouraged his inquisitive nature (which he must have picked up from his mother), but curiosity often got the better of him, and he’d explore woodlands and thickets, hills and planes, nooks and crannies and everything in between – although woodlands and thickets were scarce. The land in The Bump and most other places was – for the most part – barren, which is unsurprising considering the high levels of radiation from – well, you know.
Bren had woken up early one morning to explore a nearby cranny he’d spotted by the creek; a small crack in the cliff face, below and a little to one side of the kennels on top of the cliff. It was a cool, still morning, and the sun could just be seen, peering over the sea in the east. The sky around it was streaked with pinks, pale blues, oranges and yellows. It was a stunning sight. He paused a moment to take it all in. He’d never seen such a dramatic sky.
“Bren!” Jenna was not a homely looking young lady, but neither did she particularly take Bren’s fancy. She talked too much for Bren’s liking – well, it wasn’t that he didn’t like her talking. It was that, despite the talking, she never seemed to say very much. Her worries and concerns seemed unimportant and her babblings even less so. Still, she was nice enough and Bren was happy he had some friends. “Come and look! Rocket found him while I was taking him for a walk. He looks injured. He must have been attacked!”
Her dog had found a hawk – a red tail. Only just an adult. He had one wing tucked tightly into his torso – as hawks do – but the other one was stretched out, lifelessly suspended as the bird hopped about, trying to get away from Rocket (a well-trained dog who would do the bird no harm). He didn’t have to feign an interest this time. He really wanted to help the animal, but what could he do?
“Not likely. Who attacks a hawk? He probably crashed and fell.”
“Still, we should help him. Would your father be able to fix his wing?”
“Father would sooner put him out of his misery.” His father was a practical man and had no time to help injured birds. “But we could make him a shelter and find him some food. I’m not sure we can do anymore for our feathered friend.”
After all the effort of erecting the shelter with sticks and leaves and the generous (possibly overgenerous) gift of Bren’s shirt to cover the shelter – it would be a warm day and he didn’t feel like he’d need it – the bird could not be fussy about what he ate. Jenna didn’t like the idea of picking up insects and digging up worms, so that was left to Bren and Jenna would try to catch some fish with a net. It was mid-day by the time the bird had been sheltered and fed (again, possibly too generously).
Bren had explained that he’d come to explore, so he invited her along and promised that they’d check on the bird upon their return. Once they arrived at the opening Rocket, a playful pup, bounded ahead, eager to have a look. Inside, a narrow pathway lead to a large cavity. It was hard to tell in the dark, but seeing Rocket, sometimes just a golden blur in the distance, bounce around from wall to wall, Bren could tell they’d found a big open space, not known to anyone except Jenna and himself. It went on forever and there was no shortage of room inside. They brought Redtail (the bird) into their new refuge, meaning Bren could take his shirt back – his dirty and recently befouled shirt – and talked about what they could do with the place (and of course this came along with stories of bad hair days and Jenna’s mean father, who wouldn’t let her buy a new cloak because there was nothing wrong with her old one. Oh joy of joys).