Nuclear Family

Written by Carl Malcolm

The skeletons of concrete towers dotted the east-side of the city. Buck had always thought they made the horizon look like a row of wonky teeth, but Gilly argued they looked like the wall of a castle. Buck had seen plenty of wonky teeth in his life, Gilly had never actually seen a castle outside of her storybooks, so he decided that he was right.

A brilliant glowing river cut through the ruins of the city. Buck stood on the riverbank with his arms out to the side while Gilly tied a rope around his middle. Oil danced along the surface of the river, bending the water’s glow into a kaleidoscope of pinks and yellows and greens.

“Okay, you’re all set,” Gilly said. “Now remember, we only want metal. Don’t waste your time on rocks.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek and a smack on the bum and he hopped down into the glowing water. Buck giggled as he felt the mud squishing between his toes. He loved to watch the bright colours ripple along his skin as he trailed his hand through the water.

Other people stood on the river’s edge, casting improvised fishing gear into the water and seeing whatever scrap they could pull out. They were too scared to go into the river. They reckoned the glow came from poison left over from the bombs that people dropped on each other all those years ago. Buck wasn’t afraid though, he’d been going in the water for years and he hadn’t grown any extra eyes or toes.

His foot hit something hard as he waded. “Oop, think I’ve got something!” He called to Gilly. The people on the bank stopped to watch, curious as to what he’d found. Nobody had ever tried to take their stuff, but Gilly always carried her big pointy stick just in case one of them got brave enough to try their luck.

Buck bent down and tried to scoop up his prize. It was half-sunk into the riverbed, and he had to dig his hands down into the muck to get a good grip. His face hovered just inches above the surface of the water, and the glow was so bright that he had to close his eyes. A grin split his mouth once he got a hold of it and recognised its shape. A metal cylinder with shallow grooves around its middle and a ring pull at the top.

He strained to lift with his knees and not with his back, just like Gilly had shown him. It didn’t want to come with him. Buck clenched his jaw and pulled with all his strength, and almost toppled backward as it came free. He brandished the can in the air and grinned. “It’s a full one!” He shouted to Gilly.

“Brilliant! What is it?” Gilly asked, hopping excitedly on the spot.

Buck’s face turned serious as he held the can next to his ear and shook it. The grin returned to his face and he shouted back, “It sounds like beans!”