She wrenched the tin of beans open with her pocket knife and swore when she almost cut her hand open on the sharp edge of the can. “Fuck!”
“You shouldn’t say that”, said her brother
“I’m sorry”, she mumbled, rather halfheartedly.
He inched closer and watched as she poured the beans into the banged-up pot. Their last cans of beans. Their supplies were dwindling faster than she wanted to think about.
She glanced over to the others. Her mother was repacking their backpacks, checking every piece they owned and making a mental list of what they needed. The list grew longer every day.
Her father was building a fire with the new people that had joined them a few days ago, an old man in a green army jacket and his grandson. She remembered when he had taught her to light a fire, back when she was a kid and every kid wanted to be a boy scout (or girl scout in her case) and live a life of adventure in the wilderness. Now, a fire meant risk, it could be spotted by looters or worse things. But no fire meant no food and no warmth in a cold night.
So far, relying on her instincts had not led them wrong.
“I don’t like beans”, mumbled Toby.
She sighed. “Me neither. But it’s better than nothing.” She moved to get up, but he caught a hold of her sleeve.
“Are we going to die?” he asked quietly.
She sat back down again and turned to look at him. “No”, she said firmly.
He looked at the ground. “Other people died.”
He didn’t have to tell her. She could smell them when they passed the houses, could tell when there was a mauled body in a parking garage or when someone had blown his brains out in his cellar.
“Toby, look at me.” She waited until he had lifted his head. “We are not going to die.”
“Do you promise?” His eyes were big and his voice was so small.
Her fingers clenched until she was sure her knuckles had to be white. “I promise.”
“Y’know”, said the old man as he stacked the logs, “We used t’say you could see‘t in their eyes, back in ‘Nam. After a while we could tell who was gonna come back ‘n’ who wouldn’t.”
The young man at his side sighed. “Not the war stories again, grandpa.”
“And what is this if not a war? Listen up, y’could learn something.” He sat down and watched as her father lit the dry grass first. “Now where was I? Ah, yes. Some people just had it. The fire in their eyes. You could see’t if you knew how to look. They always came back, and when they didn’t, it was t’ save a dozen other men. Heroes, they called ‘em.”
The fire started as a small flame, but quickly grew bigger.
After a bit of thought, the old man added, “Your girl, she’s got it. Can see’t in her eyes.”
“She’s only sixteen”, she heard her father say.
“Well, she’s got it. Can’t do nothing ‘bout it but hope that it’s enough.”