It was raining. Lea was not particularly surprised by this—it had been raining for about three months now. Lea didn't mind the rain; it was washing away the soot and poisons in the air and awakening the seeds of a new cycle of life. Even some of the old trees, which Lea had thought were dead, were beginning to show signs of recovery. No, Lea didn't mind the rain—it was bringing the world back to life. There was something magical about this rain: it felt warm and almost electric on Lea's skin. She was reminded of an ancient Greek legend: how everything had begun with the Earth Mother and the Sky Father; how his tears had awakened life in her body. Of course, like most ancient Greek legends, things got very unpleasant after that. But Lea preferred not to dwell upon that—this was a different place and a different time; things were starting over again, and perhaps this time they wouldn't turn out so badly.

Lea crunched through the blackened underbrush, the rain pattering on the hood of her makeshift parka. As she cleared away the dead branches, careful not to disturb any that showed signs of returning life, she looked for artifacts of civilization, things that she could salvage, could use to help preserve her own fragile existence. It was very difficult for her—food, especially, was scarce—very little vegetation had survived the fire and, even with the seemingly miraculous recovery, there wasn't much new growth yet. Animals were even scarcer—she had seen only a few since that cataclysmic night—and they were virtually impossible to catch (not that Lea was sure she would know what to do with one if she caught it—there hadn't been any hunters in her family for several generations). But somehow she managed to find enough to get by: a patch of blackberries that had somehow survived the flames, an abandoned car with some cans of food in the trunk... She'd even found a truck filled with sacks of potatoes a few weeks ago. Even though most of them had been ruined by the fire and the rain, some of the sacks at the back of the truck had been okay. She had taken them home and piled them up in the corner of her cabin (really just a shack she had managed to throw together) and planted a few tubers that were starting to sprout.

Lea hadn't found anything interesting (eatable or otherwise) today, but she wasn't worried; the potatoes would last her for at least another month, and by then there would be a lot more vegetation around. Most of her time since the night of that catastrophic event had been spent scouring the land around her cabin for useful or interesting objects that had survived the cataclysm—and food, of course. These treks gave her plenty of time to think (of course, she would have had just as much time to think if she stayed home—in fact, it would be even more boring). Her thoughts often returned to that night: her friend had talked her into going on a camping trip that weekend, then backed out at the last moment. Lea had decided to go anyway—she had needed a break from city life.

She hadn't been on a camping trip since she was a little girl, and she was so excited she couldn't sleep. She had pitched her tent in a secluded spot near a small lake—not much more than a pond, really—off of a dirt road in the depths of the National Forest, and was sitting out on the lakeshore looking up at the stars when it all started. First there was the flash: it seemed to fill the entire sky, and for a moment everything was illuminated as bright as noon. Then there was the roar, distant at first, but quickly growing closer, and then the wall of fire racing across the forest. It came towards her almost too quickly for her brain to comprehend. She barely had time to leap into the water before the flames were upon her. The heat was beyond imagining, the water seemed about to boil, but there was nowhere else for her to go. Then, as quickly as it had come, the fire passed on, leaving behind it the burnt-out remains of a once mighty and verdant forest. As she dragged herself to the shore, the rain began. It soothed her scalded skin, and, exhausted, she fell asleep. Lea spent the next few days curled up inside the charred hulk of her car, hardly believing that she was alive, and then, when she finally felt strong enough to move again, had gone out and built her "cabin".

She was quite proud of the cabin. It had taken her most of the first month after the catastrophe to put it together. She had built it from pieces of wood she had scrounged from the ruins of the forest around her campsite with only a few old tools that had been sitting in a box in the back of her trunk (they had probably belonged to the car's previous owner as Lea didn't remember ever noticing them before), and she was amazed at how well it had turned out: the walls were sturdy, and the steel roof (made from the side of an old water tank she had found) kept out the constant rain. Admittedly, there was no furniture except for a makeshift bed she had made from the seats of her car. But she was warm and dry, and that was all that really mattered to her now.

As she sat on her bed that night, Lea wrote out an account of everything she had done that day. This was a ritual she never failed to honor—even if nothing interesting had happened—and it was one she intended to maintain for as long as she survived (or at least until she used up all her paper or her pen ran out of ink). She had begun the first entry by writing "It rained today", and the expression had become a sort of tradition in her journal entries—even though it seemed more redundant every time she wrote it. She intended to leave some record of her experiences—even if, as she sometimes feared, there was no one else left to read it. In all of the months that had passed since the night of the fire, she had never seen any sign of other living humans. She had never been able to tune in any broadcasts on the radio she had salvaged from her car. And with every week that passed, she became more convinced that she was alone, at least in this part of the world.


It was three days later that she found the woman. When Lea first saw her, she thought she was dead. She was lying face down in a pile of ashes which had probably once been leaves. Her clothes were tattered and she looked like she hadn't eaten in weeks. But when Lea bent down to examine her more closely, she saw that she was still breathing, albeit very shallowly. Lea lifted her up and slowly carried her back to the cabin. When she got back she laid the woman down on her makeshift bed, stripped off her dirty and tattered clothes, covered her with a blanket, and tried to get her to drink a little water. The woman had a high fever, and didn't seem to even be conscious of where she was. Lea frowned, doubting whether the woman would survive.

Three more days passed, and nothing changed. Lea did everything she could to try to keep the woman comfortable, but there wasn't much she could do beyond placing a damp cloth on her forehead and dribbling water into her mouth. Lea didn't have any antibiotics, and she wasn't sure how she would have given them to the unconscious woman if she'd had any. Nevertheless, Lea stayed by her side and hoped that she would be able to find some way to recover. On the fourth day, the woman's fever broke. By the next morning her breathing had returned to normal, and in the afternoon she opened her eyes.

"Don't worry," Lea reassured her, "I want to help you. When I found you, you had a fever, and I... I wasn't sure if you were going to make it, but now I think you're going to be okay. I didn't think there was anyone else left..." The woman looked up at Lea and a smile touched the corner of her mouth. She recovered quickly after that and soon was able to sit up and talk and feed herself the potato broth that Lea made for her. Her name was Stephanie; she had been driving home with her boyfriend when the fire overtook them. Their car had stalled and skidded off the road, but they had escaped the worst of the flames.

"We did all right at first. We always carried emergency supplies in the car. We thought that our best chance was to try to walk back to town. We had decided to go across country because we thought it would be faster, but after a while we realized that we were lost. Then Jason fell and broke his leg. I... We tried to set it but there wasn't really anything we could do. Jason started to get sick... I think his leg got infected... and I just couldn't leave him behind... but when he died, I guess I sort of lost it—when I came to my senses I didn't know where I was or where I had been. I wandered around for a long time, but there was nothing to eat and I was coming down with a fever, and one day I just lay down and couldn't get up anymore. And then the next thing I knew I was here. I think I must have been lying there for days before you found me."

Lea tried to make some calculations: she thought the fire had been about twelve weeks ago, but she wasn't sure. How long had it been before she started her journal? Two weeks? Three? Or only a few days? Lea just couldn't be sure. It had felt like a long time, but perhaps the pain and fear had dilated her sense of time, imbuing every moment of that initial struggle for survival with greater magnitude. How long had it been before Jason had died? How long could Stephanie have been wandering in the wilderness without food or shelter? Stephanie couldn't remember; the days had all blurred together in her memory and she hadn't kept a journal like Lea had.

Stephanie grew stronger with each passing day, and after another week she began to accompany Lea on her explorations of the forest. Stephanie could not travel very far at first, but Lea worried about leaving her alone at the cabin—even though she had not seen any signs of anything dangerous—and she wanted Stephanie to learn the landmarks so that she would be able to help with the foraging when she was strong enough. Stephanie was amazed at how green the land had become. Over the past few weeks the forest's recovery had accelerated dramatically: ferns had sprouted from the ashes everywhere, the smallest streams were chocked with horsetails, and even some of the most severely burned trees—ones Lea had thought beyond survival—were beginning to show signs of new growth. It was nothing short of a miracle, Stephanie exclaimed. And Lea could not help feeling the same way.


It was a warm, almost sunny day that felt like the beginning of spring when Lea found the house. Lea was beginning to worry about their food supply; she had pretty thoroughly combed the area around her cabin, and had begun to venture farther afield even before she had found Stephanie—that was how she had found the other woman, in fact—and even though things were starting to grow back, she doubted their ability to subsist on fern fronds and huckleberry leaves. So Lea had pushed farther and farther, hoping for another miraculous discovery. And then, as she had crossed the ridge into the next valley, she had seen the house. Admittedly, it wasn't really much—the ruin of someone's vacation cabin, probably—the timbers had been scorched, the windows cracked and melted, the interior incinerated, part of the roof collapsed, but the walls seemed sturdy, and Lea was confident that the house could be repaired. It would certainly be better than the ramshackle hut she and Stephanie were living in.

Stephanie was worried when Lea hadn't returned before dark, but became quite excited when Lea told her about the house. She insisted that Lea take her to see it the next day. That night, Stephanie lay awake imagining what it would be like at their new home. When they finally arrived at the house after what felt like a very long walk, Stephanie was decidedly disappointed with what she saw.

"It's a dump!" She exclaimed. "It doesn't even have a roof!"

"Yes it does. Well, most of one... Come on, think about how much better it will be to live in a real house. It's a lot bigger—you'll be able to have your own room."

Stephanie snickered, then burst out laughing. She sank to her knees, overcome with emotion. Eventually she recovered herself and turned to Lea who couldn't help smiling at her friend's reaction.

"I'm sorry," she said, wiping tears from her eyes, "what you said just seemed so incongruous. I mean, you and I might be the only people left on the planet, and here we are talking like we're going to look at a new apartment or something..."

As Lea thought about this, she couldn't help it, she started laughing too, and then Stephanie started laughing again, and soon the two women were lying on the ground, looking up at the sky and laughing about the absurdity of their situation. Stephanie was the first to recover herself. "Come on, let's take a look inside."

The inside of the house wasn't any more impressive than the outside: the walls were coated with soot, and most of the furniture had been converted to ashes—which formed a layer about an inch thick on the floor. However, the drenching rain (which had poured inside once the roof had started to collapse) had kept the fire from doing much damage to the house's essential structure. The walls and floor were sound, and the hole in the roof could, as Lea had insisted, be patched. While Lea started gathering up the charred scraps of furniture, Stephanie stepped outside to explore their new surroundings.

The land had been cleared all around the house—except on the side facing the creek, which was lined with huckleberry bushes that—although they had been badly burned—were showing some signs of returning life. Stephanie was continually amazed by the resilience of life: it recovered so rapidly, even after seemingly total destruction. At that moment, she thought she felt a stirring inside of her, but quickly dismissed the sensation. She walked around to the back of the house where the clearing was larger. The ground here was soft, like it had been worked regularly—unlike the ground in front of the cabin, which had been packed hard (probably by cars parking there). Maybe someone had a garden here, Stephanie thought. At one side of the clearing, near the house, there was a small metal shed which looked to be more or less undamaged. There was a padlock on the door of the shed. Stephanie decided to leave it for Lea to deal with.

Stephanie walked back around to the front of the house. Lea had gathered up the largest pieces of furniture and made a pile in one corner of the large room. She had also managed to sweep most of the ashes out into the yard.

"Come and take a look at the bedrooms," Lea beckoned to Stephanie from the steps of the house. Stephanie looked at the pile of ashes next to the door.

"You didn't find any sign of... uh, you know..."

Lea shook her head. "There wasn't anybody here when the fire struck. If there had been, wouldn't their car still be here?"

Stephanie followed Lea across the large living room of the house. At one time, this space had probably been divided into different functional spaces, but the furniture which had accomplished this task had been destroyed by the fire, and what remained of it was now piled up in one corner of the room, next to the ruins of the kitchenette. Across the room was a large stone fireplace which looked like it would be delightfully warm when winter returned. Beneath their feet was a scorched, but still essentially serviceable hardwood floor. At the far end of the room, facing the creek, were three smaller rooms: on the left and right were two bedrooms, one slightly larger than the other. The fire hadn't burned these rooms as severely, and the skeletons of the furniture were still intact. Each bedroom had a double bed, a desk, a chair, and what looked like a bookshelf, all exhibiting varying degrees of solidity. Between the two bedrooms was a small, almost undamaged bathroom.

"The plumbing looks intact," Lea ventured, "if we can come up with some sort of pump I think we could have running water in here."

Stephanie looked at her, wide-eyed in disbelief, she had never imagined that she would ever again have anything as luxurious as running water. "Next thing you'll be telling me that in no time we'll have the electric lights working again!"

"Hmm..." Lea mused, "We might be able to, at that, if we could find a magnet—except that I don't think any light bulbs survived the fire. But it would be nice if we could have the refrigerator..."

"No, don't worry about it, this place is amazing! You've done so much for me... I don't think I would even be alive if it weren't for you, let alone living in a real house." Stephanie wrapped her arms around Lea, embracing her in an overwhelming ecstasy of gratitude.

"Come on, Steph, let's finish getting this place cleaned up so we can start moving in tomorrow!"


It took Lea and Stephanie another week to finish cleaning out the house, cover up the hole in the roof, and move their possessions from Lea's old campsite. Lea began exploring the area around their new house. About a mile down the road she found another small house, a second about a half-mile farther, and more beyond that—each one in a worse condition than the last. Presumably the fire had burned hotter farther down the valley. Despite Lea's thorough rummaging, these ruined houses—which Lea was now convinced were a series of vacation cottages—had yielded nothing that would be useful to her and Stephanie.

Lea was still worrying about their food supply. She didn't think they had much more than two months worth of food left; and there didn't seem to be anything more to find in this area. Lea was starting to question her abilities as a forager. Of course, it wasn't her fault if there wasn't anything to forage for anymore. While the ecosystem seemed to be making an astounding comeback, after what had seemed, at the time, to be a veritable apocalypse, it didn't seem to be producing anything that human beings could subsist on. And Lea still hadn't found any signs of other survivors—besides Stephanie and herself—and she wasn't sure how much longer the two of them would last.

Lea had worked her way up the creek from their house, and was resting by a calm pool at the foot of a small cataract when she first noticed movement on the surface of the water. It was an exceptionally warm day and the spray from the waterfall had soothed her into a complacent serenity. It had been a long time since she had simply been able to forget her struggle for survival and enjoy the peace of this newer, calmer world. At first she took no notice of the ripples on the surface of the clear, still water. But after a moment, the incongruity of it began to attract her attention. She bent forward, peering into the clear water of the pool. There were shadowy shapes moving, slipping through the water. Fish! Lea realized with a start, there are fish in there! How they had managed to survive the fire Lea could not imagine, but there they were. Perhaps their troubles were finally over. Of course, Lea knew no more about fishing than she did about hunting—but maybe Stephanie could help... Lea had never asked her about anything like that.

Lea leapt to her feet and hurried down the creek, eager to tell Stephanie about her first real discovery since the new house. Below the pool, the creek bed was particularly choked with underbrush. Lea had had a very hard time getting through this stretch on her climb up, so she decided to strike away from the creek and work her way back to it down by the house, where the ground was clearer. She was thinking about how they might be able to catch one of those fish—and starting to wonder if her discovery wasn't quite the miracle she had initially thought—when a shard of dead wood slipped under her foot. She stumbled, slipped, and fell to her side, hitting her head on a fallen log as she went down.

When she opened her eyes again it was dark. Her head hurt. She reached up to examine it. There wasn't any bleeding, but something didn't feel right. Perhaps she had a concussion. Then it struck her: it had stopped raining! And there was something else. Lea looked up at the sky. Clouds were scudding across a background of stars. How long it had been since she had seen the stars. And there were so many stars—more than she could ever remember having seen. This must be what the sky looked like before we invented electric lights, she thought. Lea knew better than to try to travel at night—even with the light of the stars to guide her—but there was something that didn't feel right about this place, and she was keenly aware that Stephanie would be worried sick about her.

Lea got to her feet and set off down the valley. She picked her way carefully over the starlit ground. Her uneasiness grew with every step. Nothing seemed familiar. Could she have been wandering around in a daze? What if she had passed their house in the darkness? Just when Lea was convincing herself that she should stop and wait for daylight, she heard something moving in the bushes to her right. Lea froze. A pair of eyes were staring out at her. Fear permeated her body. A shadow emerged from the bushes, took on form. Lea recognized the lean contours of a coyote. She began to relax a little. The coyote seemed to beckon to her. Lea stepped closer. The coyote moved away up the hillside. Lea followed it, drawn by an urge that she could not begin to explain.

The coyote led her up the side of the valley to a large outcropping of rock that thrust itself up from the ground. In the silvery light, Lea could make out patterns inscribed on the rocky wall—lines, figures, primordial symbols with inarticulable meanings. The coyote sat at the foot of the wall and looked up at the petroglyphs. Lea looked at them too, feeling strange sensations swirling around in her brain. Ancient insights were being dredged up from the depths of her subconscious. She picked up a rock at her feet. It was smooth, hard, sharp-edged. For some reason, the word flinty came to mind. Could I make an arrowhead out of this? She wondered. When she was a girl, she had taken a class, she vaguely remembered, in Native Crafts—or something of the sort—at the natural history museum. She tried to dredge up anything she could recall about the manufacture of arrowheads. The feel of the rock in her hand stirred up something very primordial in her soul—something vaguely felt at the edges of her awareness.

The coyote was looking at her now, as if trying to urge her on. If only you could speak to me, she thought. But maybe you don't have to... Maybe I already know what I need to know, and you just had to remind me of it. The coyote turned and started walking back down the hillside into the valley. Lea followed it, trying to mark their path so that she could find this place again, but everything seemed different, as if she were walking through another world. Lea couldn't explain it; it was as if some aspect of her awareness had subtly shifted—as if everything had been rotated along an axis perpendicular to all three dimensions.

Lea was hardly aware of the passage of time when she suddenly heard the creek beside her. The coyote leapt across and Lea followed, picking her way over the slippery stones. The coyote lead her up the creek until she saw a light peeking through the trees. Lea looked around; the coyote had vanished, slipping away into the night. It was getting dark—the clouds were closing in, once again blotting out the stars. Lea continued towards the light, and soon the house came into view. Stephanie was sitting in the doorway, her face drawn with worry. When she saw Lea emerge from the trees she jumped up and ran across the yard to meet her.

"Where were you? What happened?" Stephanie exclaimed, "I was so worried."

"I'm okay, you don't need to worry anymore; I'll tell you all about it in the morning."


In the excitement of the move, Lea had forgotten entirely about the shed behind the house—until Stephanie reminded her. Lea had been telling her about her discovery of the fish in the creek, and how she wanted to try to catch some, when Stephanie had suggested that there might be something in the old shed that could help them catch the fish. Lea, remembering how the shed seemed to have been hardly touched by the fire, quickly agreed that they should take a look inside.

The door of the shed was held in place by a sturdy padlock. Lea and Stephanie hadn't found any keys when they had cleaned out the house; if the key to the padlock had been there it must have been destroyed in the fire. Lea hefted the stone she had brought with her from the petroglyph wall and, after a moment's consideration, struck it smartly against the padlock. The lock didn't seem to sustain any damage, although a substantial shard of rock broke off. Picking up the sharp-edged shard of rock, Lea felt distinctly reminded of something—perhaps something about how people used to make flint tools—but she put the thought aside to concentrate on the problem of getting the shed open.

Setting down the rocks, Lea looked around until she found a particularly large and solid tree branch. Holding the branch like a club, she lifted it over her head and brought it down on the lock with as much force as she could. With a resounding crash the branch splintered against the door of the shed. The padlock was still there, but the latch had come loose from the door.

"Well, so long as we can get in..." Lea quipped as she swung the door of the shed aside.

Stephanie stepped closer to look into the shed. Leaning against the walls she saw a large assortment of tools. Most were gardening tools: shovels, hoes, trimmers, rakes; but she also saw two large saws hanging from the wall and an axe leaning in the corner. Along the back wall of the shed there ran a row of shelves lined with smaller implements.

"Some of this stuff might be useful," Stephanie remarked, thoughtfully picking up a shovel and turning it over in her hands.

"I'll say..." Lea mused. Her attention had been drawn to a pair of flat metal boxes on the middle shelf. She picked one up and opened it. "Oh my god..." She exclaimed, "Stephanie, you have got to look at this."

Stephanie put down the shovel and looked into the box. It was filled with neat rows of little waxed-paper packets, each one neatly labeled and sealed with a piece of tape. Stephanie picked one up.

"Peas," she read. She picked up another packet. "Asparagus." And another. "Corn... Bell pepper..." She looked at Lea, not quite buying into her awe. "They're seeds, right?"

"Yeah. Don't you realize what this means? We'll be able to grow our own food now."

Stephanie blinked, the import of this discovery dawning on her. She had never really thought about where their food would come from, what they would do when their pile of moldy potatoes and few remaining cans of tuna were used up. She had never thought about what they would do when it turned cold again, if there would be enough food here to sustain them—and if they would even know what was good to eat. As she realized this she thought about what Lea had been doing, and she understood why she was always exploring the countryside, looking for anything that could help them to survive.

"It's incredible—it's almost as if something out there wants us to survive." Stephanie looked up at the gray, drizzing sky, as if the clouds could answer her questions. And, at that moment, she felt an undeniable stirring inside her belly. She clutched her stomach, leaned back against the shed and burst into tears.

"Steph? What's wrong?" Lea asked, her voice suddenly filled with fear.

"No... nothing," Stephanie husked. Lea took her hand and pressed it against Stephanie's abdomen. Her eyes went wide as she felt the faint stirrings of motion there.

"Stephanie, are you...?"

Stephanie nodded. "I didn't think it was possible, after all this time, after all I'd been through... It's a miracle, I guess... Like the seeds."

"Like the seeds..." Lea echoed. And she realized then that they were going to survive—they had to. They would learn how to grow their own food, how to save the seeds so they could keep growing more. They would learn how to hunt and fish and make tools and do all of the things that human beings had forgotten about in the last few centuries. They would have to because they needed to have a future. Stephanie's child needed to have a future. It was as if they were being given a second chance. And this time, Lea thought, things will turn out better.