Dew dripped lazily from the charred fringe of grass that skirted the fresh crater puddles beyond the shelter door. Roana could still detect a slight, acrid tang in the unseasonably warm air as she emerged from her metal cocoon to survey the freshly churned field.
She didn’t expect to find anything. It had been weeks since she had seen anyone near the farmhouse. Most of her neighbours had abandoned their homesteads when the ever surging frontier had begun to ebb into the adjoining county less than 15 kilometres to the west. She was amongst the last.
Then she saw the shoe.
It was not a large shoe; she might easily have missed it. But it hadn’t been there the night before. Of that, she was certain. Its singed heel poked up forlornly from one of the puddles just a few metres from the doorway. Once she caught sight of it, she was mesmerised.
As she processed this new object’s implications, a single question formed in her mind.
Why hadn’t they cried out?
So close to the shelter, the shoes owner could have called out. They might have been saved had they just made a noise to let her know they were there.
Then a second, grimmer thought took shape and brought with it the leaden feeling of guilt.
Perhaps they did. Perhaps they did call out as the shells bloomed in the surrounding countryside. It was conceivable she might not have heard them over the noise of the murderous downpour.
The thought that they had come so close stung.
With a weary heart, Roana closed the shelter door softly. Stepping lightly between the puddles, she retrieved the shoe with funereal reverence and carried it back to the farmhouse to bury with the rest of the nameless remnants.