The air crushed down, hot and humid. Breathing felt akin to a chore, difficult and laborious. Light
skin suffered in this weather, but through painstaking attempts to avoid the sun and a constant
application of sunscreen, she remained nearly unblemished. Her dark eyes and short, dark hair caused
most to take more than a second look. A couple of men nearby shot knavish glances in her direction and
she thought about pulling up her tent and moving elsewhere. She checked the back pocket of her shorts
making sure the Inprod was still there.
Satisfied by the feel of the device, she glanced around the campsite and saw other women she had
not noticed before. Still early, she guessed they had probably been inside other shelters. She counted
four women. Two were seniors, one was a bit older than her with tattoos on nearly every part of
exposed skin, but her face. Another was much younger—she guessed probably still in her late teens.
Dwellings scattered throughout the camp in no particular order. High traffic areas where people
walked frequently were dust zones. She noticed most people set their shelter away from those areas.
Shelters ranged from discarded plywood to abandoned vehicles, pup tents and recycled cardboard.
Someone had even made a tent from a blue plastic tarp, held down with rocks, structured loosely with
sticks. Loose areas of the tarp would catch a breeze on occasion and flap loudly.
She had set her own small tent near a tree. It was a cheap, red, two person model that could be set
up in a flash. Shake it out and voila! Insta-shelter. Still, she was not going to knock it. It was a roof over
her head and kept the bugs from her when she slept.
Most campers lounged under the oppressive heat. Like other places she had stayed, the season
dictated behavior. Summer had turned them into children of the night. They would rise at sundown,
puttering through daily tasks, cooking if food was available. As the night wore on, some would
scavenge, beg, or look for hourly work.
She had watched from the trees for a couple of days before deciding to join the camp. Stragglers,
male and female had come and gone, but most stayed to themselves. Occasionally, a few would get
together, but this was not a tightly-knit group.
So far, she had seen no children in camp. She had seen many succumb to the harsh conditions in
one way or another. Malnutrition, heat exhaustion and abuse, mental and physical, were killers of the
young. If they did manage to survive, they became meaner versions of their parents. Cruel and savage.
Sometimes they traveled in menacing packs, wreaking destruction whenever possible; beating and
torturing those they found alone and vulnerable.
She had set up her tent and had a walk through before the sun came up. A food preparation area sat
at the west end, with a large make-shift grill put together with stones and pieces of scavenged metal. A
few yards from the camp and to the north were bathroom facilities, if you could call them that. A
couple of lean-tos over deeply dug holes. Pieces of fabric covered open doors. A few people still
retained some form of modesty, though most could care less.
Grateful for the shade of trees, she knew if a storm blew in they would have to find other cover. An
urban cave of some sort; overpass or tunnel. She had not seen anything like that nearby. Across town,
on her way in, she had noted a freeway overpass, but it was too far to be convenient.
Moving into her tent, she pulled the Inprod from her back pocket, closed the flap and hung it from a
ring she had attached to the pole running along the top. She pushed the velcro on the back of the device
against the flap, made sure it stuck and then pushed a tiny green button to insure protection.
Anyone attempting to get into her tent would be in for a shock. For that matter, anyone even
brushing up against the small structure would receive a jolt of ten-thousand volts. She felt fine with
that. Remorse no longer belonged in her vocabulary.
Laying down, she listened to the sounds around her. People shuffled through the camp quietly,
talking in hushed tones. Metal scraping against stone, the creak from a car door. After awhile, she drew
an electronic pad from her satchel and placed the bud in her ear. She turned it on and hit play.