The Sweetness of Bitter
by Beth Cato
Margo clutched the nine iron and tilted an ear, listening for the crunch of footsteps from the next
yard over. Dead leaves rustled. Even the wind seemed to hold its breath, waiting.
"Is someone there, Mommy?" Tara whispered.
"Maybe." With one arm, Margo pressed her daughter behind her, against the cinderblock wall.
Their last quart of water sloshed within her backpack.
Her fingers twitched on the golf club, a souvenir from salvaging in Palm Springs. It had been
weeks since they had seen anyone alive. No one else was stupid enough to cross the desert
stretch of Interstate 10 between Los Angeles and Phoenix. It'd been a wasteland before the
But now they were on the far western fringe of metropolitan Phoenix. People were bound to
linger here, and Margo was ready for them. Copper stains already marbled the shaft of the nine
"I know someone is back there." The brittle, feminine voice carried from the neighboring yard.
"Looters aren't welcome here. Show yourself and I might not shoot."
Damn it. "Might?" Margo called, gripping the club. She had Doug's old pistol in her backpack.
The silence was long, assessing. "How many of you are there?" the woman asked.
"Me and my daughter. Just passing through, that's all."
"Come out." That voice left no room for argument. "We have you surrounded."
"I can help, Mommy!" said Tara. The simulacrum of a five-year-old girl hefted up a cinderblock,
hoisting it above her head.
"Put it down, Tara!" Margo hissed. Sometimes her daughter's inhuman strength came in handy,
but right now Tara was too fragile. Again.