I'm scrounging through the rations in the small green duffel bag for the last candy bar when I hear Mom returning from the morning hunt.
"Jacob," she yells. "come out here. I need you to see this." I'm sitting behind large rock formations that hide our campsite rather well. The fire from last night is still warm, and our beat-up, dusty blue Chevrolet carries everything we have left: clothes, cases of water, and food.
That's what happens when the world ends. You camp out in the Nevada desert for the rest of your life.
Mom calls my name again, and I maneuver my way around the rocks. I find her standing tall, with the wind in her crisp, yet messy blonde hair, which is tied in a ponytail. She has her .36 revolver in one hand, and a tied up man in the other. She shoves him onto the ground, onto his knees, and she points the gun in his face.
"Mom," I say with innocence. "what's going on?" I'm young, around twelve. Probably too young to know how to jumpstart a car, how to shoot, or how to prepare lizards for consumption.
But I learned.
I haven't seen another human -- other than Mom, of course -- in quite some time. Maybe five or six months? I can't remember. I do remember having Dad, but that was before the bombs fell. Since then, it's been me and Mom.
The man, still on his knees, is sweaty, tan, and balding. And pleading. "Think about what you're doing, ma'am."
Mom ignores him. "I found him close to camp. Now what do you think he was doing?"
The man raises a hand and shakes it. "I'm just scavengin', is all. I mean no harm."
"Or," Mom says. "you were planning on scavenging everything we have after you kill us, is that it? I found this in his pocket." Mom tosses a large knife on the sandy ground, the kind used to kill men. "That's a mighty big knife for scavenging, don't you think?"
The man says nothing, but is still shaking his head. "Look," he finally says. "let me go and I'll be on my way. I'll forget I ever saw you."
"Fat chance." Mom says, and she clicks back the hammer on the dusty pistol.
She then slowly returns it back into its position. I'm standing close by, confused.
She raises her empty hand and motions me to come over, the gun in the other still on the stranger. "Come here, Jacob."
"Yeah?" I say.
"There's something you need to learn."
"About survival. We are survivors, Jacob. There's one thing we do best, and this is it. Looking out for each other. You don't survive by taking on every freeloader that walks by. It slows you down, makes you soft. This world -- whatever is left of it -- is full of survivors. We are alone. People like him," she says, motioning to the unknown man. "are liars and thieves. Today, you will learn how to survive."
Mom lowers the gun, and hands it to me.
My face says I don't understand.
Mom's face says I will MAKE you understand.
The gun is now in my hand. Although I know how to use one, the object is completely alien to me. Mom points her index finger at the kneeling man, whose wide-eyed expression is one of fear.
"Wait, kid. Think about what you're doing. You don't--" the man starts.
"Do NOT talk to my boy. You will stay quiet." Mom turns towards me. "Jacob, aim and shoot. You know how to do that, right?"
"But why?" I ask as I stare at the weapon.
"Don't ask." she says, her gaze never leaving the man. "Just do it."
I'm quiet for a second. "Why?" I feel like I'm seven again, always asking why to the most mundane situations.
"Because I asked you to. Because one day, you'll thank me. It gets easier the more you do it, believe me." Mom replies. "You will learn to survive this way."
"Wait." the man says. He's backing up and he's leaning against a small boulder. I'm aiming Mom's gun at him.
"I don't want to." I say. I can see as the man gives me a slight smile.
"You will." Mom says, and she kneels down to my height. She grabs my hands and guides them, aiming the revolver at the target.
I'm scared. I know I'm scared. But Mom continues to guide my hands as she puts my fingers onto the trigger. "Squeeze." she says, almost soothingly. "Just squeeze."
I freeze up, as does the man. I can hear my heart beat over his heavy breathing. "Jacob," she says. "I am your mother and I am telling you to PULL THE DAMN TRIGGER!"
The gunshot is louder than it normally is. I didn't pull it. Not really. Mom had helped.
He's not moving. The man now has a bloody hole in his forehead and he's not moving. I have tears going down my face, but I'm not making a sound. Mom stands up, takes back her gun, and goes to check the stranger's pockets.
"You did well, Jacob." she says. "But next time, I'm not helping you. Survive or die. You will learn."
She finishes with the body and walks back to the campsite, leaving me on my knees in the blood-soaked sand.