Day 14 of the A-to-Z challenge. N is for nuclear winter, a theoretical drop in temperature following a nuclear war, caused by soot released into the atmosphere by firestorms. Or possibly for nitrous oxide, an anesthetic, engine combustion enhancer, and rocket fuel.
The place used to be an urgent care facility. Now shards of glass littered the moldy carpet. She walked past the vacant reception desk, then kicked open the door to the first exam room. Some previous looter had already broken the door lever.
Cabinet doors stood open, empty drawers lay strewn across the floor. No bandages or stitches remained to do anything about her wounded knee, now gushing blood down her leg and onto the tiled floor. She found nothing to mend the gunshot wound, but did locate a tank of nitrous oxide leaned against the far corner of the room. Her hand was slippery with blood, but she opened the valve and inhaled the gas as it dispersed, sighing as its numbing effect took hold.
Boots crunched on broken glass: someone had entered the building. She sat in the corner as nitrous continued to hiss out of the tank, not worried about the approaching stranger. A silhouette appeared in the doorway, carrying a 20-gauge shotgun.
“You took something of mine,” he said bluntly. “I want it back.”
She giggled. “You caught me. Fine…” Unzipping her winter coat, she reached into the hidden pocket and retrieved a Twinkie. “I’m on a diet, anyway.” She tossed the wrapped snack food across the floor.
The man stepped hesitantly into the room to retrieve it, keeping her covered with the barrel of his firearm. “Shooting you was nothing personal. These are desperate times.”
Now she cracked up. “I know! But you caught her! And you got your little Twinkie back.” Then she broke down into laughter.
The man stared at her, shaking his head. Then he bent down, retrieved the confection, turned around, and departed.
Alone again, the woman continued to sit on the floor, gripping her injured knee. The anesthetic gas had relieved her pain, and her fear. Outside, starving people scrounged through the cold ruins of the city for food and shelter, as a rain of hot radioactive ash continued to fall upon them. Outside, she had been hungry, aching, terrified that she might not see tomorrow.
But inside, she was so happy she was practically floating. No longer terrified, she knew that she would never see tomorrow. Inside, everything was wonderful.