Chapter 1

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        I think it was a garden once. The wooden frame, like everything in this yard, is overgrown with weeds and brambles. I only found it by stumbling over the lumber with my boot, very nearly falling face-first into a patch of briar thorns. My machete will cut through a lot of things, but I don't have time to chop up old rose bushes when there's a whole street of houses to go through. The house is my primary concern, along with the possibility of fruits and vegetables in the back yard.

            I hack a path through the weeds and beechwood saplings to trace the border of what I hope is a small box garden. The house is to my right, two stories tall. There is a small glass enclosure attached; I think it might be a kind of greenhouse. It could be promising, but there's also a good chance that it's barren. The garden is more likely to yield hidden food.

            The frame ends underneath a crabapple tree. Ordinarily such a find would be worth an hour of fruit picking, even if the fruit is tiny and tart, but although the Pacific winter is mild and damp, it's winter all the same. Any fruit the tree has borne this year has already been picked or is rotten upon the ground, just like the odd pear-shaped fruit at the other end of the yard, brown and soft upon the branch. I don't think it's a pear tree though – the ones that I've seen, down south, are much bigger when they bear fruit of the same size.

            I kneel down and begin sifting through damp weeds and lush grass, thankful for the thick gloves that protect me from rose thorns. Beneath the hardy forest plants, I am rewarded. There are deep green leaves of various shapes, and the soil is still soft despite years of neglect. This rocky island ground, I have discovered, is usually unyielding.

            I shrug out of my backpack and grab my trowel from its place in a side compartment. Then I set to work digging, looking for edible roots and stalks. After a few minutes, I have achieved a bit of success. There are small potatoes and a healthy amount of kale. My mouth waters but I restrain myself. The kale will taste better cooked, perhaps with dried berries.

            There is a sound in the brush behind me and I realize that I've kept my guard down. I wheel around on my haunches and un-sling my rifle in a practiced motion. As I pop the safety off, I stare down the barrel into the placid black eyes of a doe. She munches on leaves, unafraid, though her ears are perked and alert. I am metres away.

            I lower the gun. Meat has been plentiful; it's greens that I need. I don't have the time to deal with an entire deer carcass, anyway. I let her eat and turn my attention back to the garden. I hear her wander off after a few minutes, and I am again alone in the overgrown yard.

            I gather as much as the garden will offer. Not enough to fill my backpack, but enough for at least a meal or two. The interior of the house promises more unless it has already been thoroughly scavenged, and though I will likely find no foodstuffs, there could be other interesting treasures within.

            I check the sky. Grey, dull, threatening to rain as always. It's impossible to tell the position of the sun, and I haven't found the right parts to fix my watch yet. There are two more houses on the street to check. Still, there's enough light for me to decide that I don't need to hurry just yet.

            The back entrance is a sliding door, glass long shattered. The old pieces of glass crunch and pop underfoot, squishing deeper into the moss that has crept well into the carpet of the abode. The glass was probably broken by the earthquake that rocked this area a few years back rather than by looters; many properties had been reduced to little more than ruins, and although some structures survived mainly intact, none were completely undamaged.

            I draw my revolver from my belt holster and step through the threshold.

            I quickly survey the walk-out basement and listen for movement. There haven't been any squatters in the area yet, but I'm not about to let my guard down. There is a kitchen off to my left, cabinets left ajar and empty. Ahead is a living area, complete with computer desks, couch, television and bookshelves.

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