You didn't intend to come here. It's cold in winter, even in the settled parts of the state left over after the last World War - the cities abandoned in the wake of the Panic coming back alive with coffee shops, Somalian restaurants, bookstores. The cherry on the spoon rising over Loring - even the skyline mostly unchanged but for broken-toothed skyscrapers.

This is godforsaken. You didn't intend to come here. Asphalt production being what it is, it's a hard road even to Duluth, through ghost towns spilling out along rails just shy of abandoned. But one thing remains, and that's the American road trip.

Vanagons will live until the end of the world, and have, and slime diesel's easy enough to come by. Reactors by now common even along the hole-pocked length of 80, you busked, borrowed, and rarely stole your way as far as the Midwest.

They say you don't want to go further East. Vermont's alright - weird and libertarian, but friendly. Still hocking maple syrup. But not worth risking passing the ruins of Chicago - or the intact city of Detroit, which is worse.

There's nothing out of New York. Victim of a decapitation strike, like most of that seaboard.

You never intended to stay here, but you just plain ran out of money and took odd jobs where you could.

Now, it's minus fifty out. Cold, like it never was back home. Back home they still chop wood like it's a hobby, competitions to see who can get it cleanest, most even, straightest. You groom your beard for style, not protect the face.

In the evening, though, you check your stashes of canned goods, your Campbells, your spam, eternal through every war, your dry goods, all safe under your house in the rock.

The wind howls. It's too cold to snow, but the sky is alight with aurora, and the world spins on.

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