The clump of grass next to Winona's head evaporated away in an instant, taking the world's sound with it.

For a second, the world hung still, dark and silent, uncountable atoms suspended by tension alone - 

And then with an otherworldly clap, it came back.

The bullet slammed into the ground, throwing up dirt and debris over Winona's still form, followerd by a second third fourth fifth - an automatic? where the hell did they get - no, no matter. Not important. What was important was the other end of that gun - the hand clutching it and the person attached, barely visible as a small blurry speck in the fading dusk light, perched behind the edge of railing some two hundred feet away.

Two hundred feet

of tall grass that hides Winona from view while also guaranteeing that any attempt to attack or flee further will unhide her

of dead air and dry plant matter, dry enough to burn, maybe, but fire is a fickle thing - doubly so, in a world like this

of purple blue black pale pink night particulates (byzantium is the word Winona wants but can't find)

connecting a motionless girl in the dust who is lucky to be alive, the bullets lodged in the ground beside her still warm, and an unknown - someone full of anger and fear and possessing a gun to act on it with

that feels like it could be ten thousand feet, a gulf unimaginable between two islands in a sea of certain death

yawns wide and quiet.

The last echoes of the gunfire faded away, and the quiet ringing of crickets and noise filled the air. The holes in the ground next to Winona were the only sign that anything had happened. It seemed as if the world had reverted, silently and unnoticeably, back to a state where she hadn't thought it would be a good idea to check out the structure (a mish-mash of rusted metal and broken foundations that looked like it had been built and rebuilt a dozen times since the world had gone to shit), and where her curious approach hadn't been met with gunfire.

And then the voices started up, and at the base of the structure, a door opened up, and the unmistakable silhouette of a Person peered out, stepped out, and began to creep forward into the grass.

Ah, shit.

Whoever these chucklefucks were, they weren't messing around - and if Winona didn't act fast, they would find and kill her before she could explain why, exactly, she was crouched in the grass outside their encampment, rifle in hand, trying very hard not to be seen as the sun slipped past the horizon. And that's assuming that they even cared enough to talk; by and large, the stories Winona heard in the settlements about roving bands of bloodthirsty raiders were exaggerated at best - most people were more concerned with keeping a hold on their own lives than they were with indiscriminately ending others', but it was a dangerous world, and those stories had a grain of truth in them. And even if these were decent folks (though most Decent Folks didn't carry still-functioning automatics, most Decent Folks couldn't find that kind of ordinance without killing someone else and taking it), they were more likely to follow the golden rule: shoot first and ask questions later.

It was a good rule.

It was a rule that Winona stuck to, at that moment, as she slowly, carefully, raised the rifle - taking care not to rustle the grass and give herself away - and took aim. Two shots. Two shots - no, not two shots; for all she knew, there were more people inside, and she didn't have that many bullets left. The little packets of brass death were getting rarer and rarer, and until she stumbled upon a settlement where someone was handy enough to make her some, she would have to act conservatively. One shot. One shot to take out the man on the railing. The person in the field - getting closer! creeping closer with every second - their shot would have to be replaced with a knife and a lot of hope.

Slowly, with a whispered prayer (hedging her bets), she slid a shot into the chamber, lined up a head in her sights, and fired.