Billy came out of the womb looking for something. That’s what her momma said, anyway. Even as a child, Billy seemed unsatisfied with what she saw around her—she would stand at the edge of the yard, leaning over the gate, looking away in the distance.
Without meaning to, she made people uneasy. They always felt like she was looking past them, never at them. Billy was only ever sort of present in any given conversation; her mind was elsewhere.
When it happened, only Billy came out unsurprised, as she had expected the world to end for years and wondered why it took so long. “And after all,” she told the others, “the world didn’t actually end. We’re still here.”
It came on the wings of war, on the back of a hatred that stewed between nations for years until someone stopped walking around the elephant in the room and just bombed the heck out of it.
Billy loved the new world, though she didn’t say it. The one time she had, it almost got her shot, so she kept it to herself. Here there were no expectations, no standards of society, no chains to keep her home. In this world she could search.
The morning of the day she finally stopped seeking dawned with its usual flair: the sun cracked the horizon, high in the trees, birds twittered, and the moon showed its face one more time before dipping below the edge of the earth.
Billy and three of the other survivors from their makeshift traveling group went out to scout for food. It was a lot easier now than at first; there was more wildlife and fewer people.
The house they had slept in for the night was mostly in the woods, but she could see a clearing a bit in the distance. When they set out, she led them in that direction.
They caught a few wild hare and almost got a fox along the way and were in good spirits when they got to the clearing. The building on the land looked plain, but something about it stood out to Billy.
She walked up to the windows—tall, 3 on each side—and pressed her face up against the glass like when she was a kid. At first, she couldn’t see anything, but as her eyes adjusted she spotted a glimmer in the very center of the building. Everything around it was dark except for this strange, blue glow.
“There’s something in there,” she said matter-of-factly, disguising the excitement in her voice. The others looked in and shook their heads.
“Just a light or something,” they said. “Let’s keep going.”
“You go ahead. I’ll catch up.”
They shrugged at each other and headed back to the house to cook rabbit for breakfast. Billy walked around and around the building, looking for a way inside. There was no door, and she couldn’t break the windows.
She touched every edge, every crack, every corner. Time passed without much meaning to her until one of the guys came to the edge of the clearing and yelled at her. “Hey, Billy! It’s getting dark, come back inside!”
“In a minute!” she said, touching the same crack for the hundredth time that day. “I think I’ve almost got it!”
“Suit yourself! But I wouldn’t stay out here long if I were you.” He turned, and she could hear his footfalls running through the woods.
She did come back to the house, but she was up and back in the clearing before dawn. They all came this time. “Billy, come on and pack up, we’re leaving,” they said.
“Not yet, I have to figure this out.”
“There’s nothing to figure out. Whatever was there isn’t now.”
“There’s more, I can tell. There’s more to it.”
“Billy, we can’t wait for you, you know that. You have an hour, then we’re leaving with or without you. It’s what we do.”
An hour passed. Then two. Billy would be fine; she knew they wouldn’t take her things, and she still had 3 boxes of ammo and the rifle strapped across her back. She would be fine. This was important.
Days went by, then a week. She barely ate, hardly slept, just walked in circles around the building. She hadn’t seen a person since the group had left, and she was starting to see things, though she’d never admit it.
Then, one morning, three weeks from the day they had found it, she finally got it. It was a puzzle, and she found the missing piece—a small symbol on the corner she had been considering since the beginning.
Three feet away from the building, she began to draw a circle around the building with her toe. She watched the sky and found North, and drew line perpendicular to that side of the building until the line intersected the circle.
There, she dug a hole, found a handle, and with some work, got it open. The stairs led downward, and she ran down, despite the increasing darkness.
Once she got inside, she had to move slowly. The guys had taken the only two flashlights they had with them, so she had to feel her way through the passage. Finally, she went up a short set of stairs into the building.
There it was, the blue glow she had seen from outside. A small object sitting on a stone dais.
Billy’s heart soared, thumping in her chest as she got close to it. She reached out and picked it up as gently as possible, turning it over in her hands, discovering it for what it was: a shard of glass.