Read the first part here.
I thought they were coming last night, when the lights went out. It’ll be soon, they play games like this when the time is near. I hope John manages to get back before they come and then we can get away, start a new life somewhere. Where that is, I don’t know, there might not be anywhere to start a new life but I’ll take the chance on finding somewhere, staying here is going to have one outcome and that’s death. It’s funny, I often said dying would be better than living here but with the child on the way, I’ve got something else to live for, he or she has given me hope.
The supplies are nearly gone, even if we stay they won’t last long, what’s left will be taken by them. Occasionally someone comes by, they might have something we need, they probably don’t. They’ll be lost, looking for somewhere safe, rumours are we all we have, they can stay if they want to but if they choose to stay they won’t be leaving, they’re not allowed, you make your choice and you live by it. They’ll find out about the lights later.
From the top of the small hill I can see the prison. My instinct tells me John went in there, if he went in then he’s almost certainly still there, escape is rare. It’s my own fault, I should never have told him to go, should have just waited until they came and then left in the confusion. Maybe I was sending him to his death subconsciously, one less person to worry about, one less person to feed while we’re on the road. I can look after myself, he’s my husband but I’ve become immune to emotion, it’s a weakness I don’t need to have, a weakness that will get me killed.
I saw the man coming across the plains, in the darkness, stumbling, barely able to walk, his face cut, his arm hanging from his side, unable to control it, broken. I walked out towards him, cautiously, scared it was a strap. He fell in front of me, I managed to drag him back to the small hut on the hill we use as a lookout. I propped him up against the tin wall, he looked up at me in a daze, I poured some water into his mouth and he flopped to the side. I sat and waited, either for him to die or to come around and tell me what he was doing out here.
After an hour he stirred, his face grimacing in pain as he realised the extent of the damage to his arm. He looked at me, I gave him some more water.
“Where are you going?”
“I came from the west, I heard a rumour.”
“What kind of rumour?”
“They said there were green fields and plenty of food out here.”
“There’s never been green fields and plenty of food out here, why would there be now?”
“You have to cling on to something don’t you?”
“What happened to you?”
“There’s a prison, an old man. He tried to kill me, locked me in a cell. Tortured me mentally, for days, left me to die, then he would bring me some food and water and I’d drink and eat and then he’d go again.”
“How long were you there for? How did you get out? Who was the old man?”
“I don’t know how long I was there for. He didn’t lock the door one night, I don’t know if he ever locked the door but one night I tried and it pushed out. He knew, he must have known. It was just a game.”
“What did the old man look like?”
“An old man! He was old, bent almost double. I don’t know how he was still alive! How did I let an old man torture me like that!?”
“Was there anyone else in there?”
“Not that I saw. There were other cells which were locked though, there were skeletons inside them, I don’t know if it was him or if they were just left there. Shit! My watch! I left my watch! My father gave it to me before I left, I have to go back and get it!”
“You can’t go back there, your arm is broken, you need medical attention.”
“Know any hospitals nearby? Doctors? Not sure my health plan will cover it though.”
“No need to be sarcastic. At least let me wrap it. You can’t stay here, they’ll make you stay, you won’t be able to leave.”
“What the fuck kind of place is it out here?”
“It’s just how it is, how we survive. Surely it isn’t much different from where you’ve come from?”
“You can leave and come as you wish, no one gives a shit, the only thing people care about back there is finding enough to eat. One person leaves, it’s one less person we have to feed. What’s with those lights on the mountains?”
“Soldiers, ex-prisoners, the dregs of society, or what was society.”
“What are they doing up there?”
“Waiting until they’ve decided we’re scared enough, then they come down and take what we have.”
“Don’t you have any weapons to defend yourselves?”
“Jesus. I should have stayed at home.”
“You’re lucky they didn’t see you out there and kill you.”
“What do you do for food?”
“There was an underground shelter. We managed to open it, there were enough supplies down there for a good ten years, there aren’t many of us. We scatter it about, hide it where we can so they don’t take it all when they come.”
“Why don’t you just leave?”
“I want to leave. The rest of them don’t, well my husband does too.”
“Fear. No one knows what the fuck is out there and how far you have to go before we’ll find anything. Besides, they’ve survived here long enough, why take the risk of leaving and dying?”
“You’ll run out of supplies at some point.”
“I know, them up on the mountains will have had enough of their games at some point and come down and kill us anyway. They don’t listen to me though.”
“How long have they been up there?”
“As long as we’ve been here.”
“So, why haven’t they killed you yet?”
“Like I said, it’s just a game to them. They will do.”
“Any idea what’s out east?”
“Occasionally people come by, they all say the same thing, they’re going west, they won’t say what’s back east, like it’s some horror they’d rather leave unsaid. Just shake their heads. Besides, it’s mostly desert, you’d be wasting your time. If you’re going to go anywhere go south, there’s sea that way although no one has ever come through from the south.”
“Maybe staying here is more appealing.”
“Stay if you want, but you won’t be able to go, that’s the rules.”
He went silent as he contemplated which expanse of nothingness was best to explore. I took an old cloth which was on the floor of the hut and wrapped his arm, a makeshift sling that was only cosmetic, the pain apparent in his face. He was a good looking man, his eyes were a deep blue, you could see he had seen things you wouldn’t want to see, they held pain and misery but oddly, they also held hope, misguided but hope all the same.
“I’ll go south. I don’t hope to find much. I need some water, my backpack is left in the prison. I have nothing to boil water out of the rivers and all my empty bottles are gone.”
“I’ll give you some bottles and some water, I think I have some matches as well, you can take them, you might find something to burn out there.”
“The old man in the prison, did he have a scar on his hand?”
“I didn’t see his hand. It was dark mostly, I didn’t pay any attention. Do you know who he is?”
“No, no, I have no idea, I guess he was just some wanderer who’s made his home there. He might even have been one of the prisoners and never left.”
“He’s a dangerous man.”
“You can stay in here until tomorrow night if you wish. You need to rest and I’m the only person who comes up here. If you leave tomorrow night there’s less chance of anyone seeing you from the mountains.”
“Why would they bother me? I have nothing.”
“They might not, but you’ve made it all this way, why take the risk?”
“Thank you, I’ll sleep here if I can.”
“I’ll be leaving in a few hours, I’ll come back tomorrow evening before sunset, if I have anything I can give you I’ll bring it.”
“The old man, I do remember something strange about him now, he kept whistling a song, the same song every time he came past the cell or when he came to give me food and water, he’d walk off and start whistling.”
A shiver went through my spine. It has to be him.
This morning I came up to the hut but he was gone, he’d left with no water. I have no idea if he will survive. I hope he makes it to where he wants to go, but I doubt he will and if he does the dream of fields and food is unlikely to be realised. It was because of him that I know ‘he’ is in the prison. A person who I’d hoped was long dead, someone I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, if I didn’t know better I would say he let him go on purpose, he knows I’m here and he knows the only place to go after the prison is here. I don’t want to think about him, I can’t!
If John’s not back in a few days I’m going to go, I’ll sneak off in the middle of the night, there’s nothing stopping me. They trust me to sit up here and watch, once they’ve found out I’ve gone they’ll not take the chance of going further out into the desert to find me. I’ll take supplies one by one up here and on the third night, I’ll go. Just me and the unborn child, we’ll take our chances.
The sun is setting behind the mountains, I sit and wait for the lights. It disappears behind the mountains but still there are no lights. What are they playing at now? There is one light in the distance but it’s low down, at ground level. It flickers two or three times and then goes out, it must be the prison. I’ve never seen the lights on there, not the outside ones. Halfway between the mountains and our little settlement a red light flies up into the air and there’s a loud crack. Orange flashes start to fly high above my head, more cracks. They’re coming!
I run down the hill to the settlement. Already everyone is outside, holding on to each other, we’re always fearing it will be the last time but this time there’s a certainty that it is. One of the old men is sitting on the floor, he looks unmoved, as though he is happy it’s finally coming to an end. The healthy are grabbing all they can and fleeing into the darkness and away from the town. There aren’t any hiding places out there.
I run to our shell of a house, I pick up the bag I’ve prepared, there are enough full and empty bottles, matches and tins of food from the shelter to last for some time. Which direction do I go? My own advice was to go south, that man said there was nothing west. Why not north? Why didn’t I think about this before? I’ve had enough time. Fuck it, I’ll go south. I stand at the doorway, the flashes and the cracks have stopped, the small settlement is deathly silent. I can make out figures moving in the shadows. They’ll see me if I run now.
The old man is still sitting down on the floor, there’s a glow coming from his mouth, he’s smoking a cigarette, he must have saved it for this moment. The tension simmers, I squeeze my own hand tightly. From either side of him, two shadows approach. As they get close enough to him to touch him, he laughs out loud. There’s a loud crack and the old man slumps to the floor. It’s the last time, they don’t usually kill. A woman runs out from one of the doorways to the old man, screaming in grief, it was her father. Another crack and she stumbles, falling on top of her dead father, one more crack and she stops moving.
They’ll be everywhere, how am I going to get out of here alive? A small figure walks out from the same doorway as the woman, it’s her child. Little Sarah, the one shining light in the settlement, the one little thing that makes us all smile. If I go out and grab her, they’ll kill me, then my own child will be dead. How can I let such an innocent walk to her own death? The small figure walks up to the fallen bodies of her mother and grandfather. She sits down next to them and rests her head against her mother. Run! For fuck’s sake, run! A shadow appears beside her, I can see the outline of a rifle at the back of her head. They’re going to kill the child!
Another shadow appears and picks her up and runs off into the distance, they’ve taken her. Dying might have been a fate better than having to go back up there with them. The shadows start to swarm around the settlement, silently, menacingly. I look to the back window, they’ll be waiting out there too, there’s no way out. I slide down against the wall and roll under the bed, hoping they’ll miss the house or decide there’s nothing interesting in here, they won’t but it’s a hope worth clinging to.
A shadow appears at the doorway, it moves slowly across the floor, I can only see his feet now, coming closer and closer. The figure bends down next to the bed, a torch comes on, he knows I’m here. A face appears, a tattoo of a tear dripping from one of his eyes, a smile spreads across his face. It’s the end. He stands up again and moves out the door. What’s he doing? Why didn’t he just kill me? Why does everything have to be some sort of game? Two figures reappear at the door, no light from the torch, moving towards the bed. I want to come out and face them, have some pride in death.
One of them drops to the floor, then the other. Neither of them move, what’s happened? Are they dead? Next to my face there are another two feet, one of them kicks the body softly, it doesn’t move. The new figure kneels down, a hand reaches out and grabs mine, pulling me out from under the bed. I stand up, waiting to be struck down again, nothing happens. I look at the figure in front of me, a man with one of his arms dangling by the side of his body. It’s him who escaped from the prison. He puts a finger against his lips and takes my hand.
We look out the window, they’ll be expecting their two friends to be having fun, they won’t be looking for them yet. Shadows still move in and out of the other houses, getting out of here without being seen is going to be impossible. A loud bang goes off in the middle of the settlement, it lights the place up as if it was day time. The shadows are no longer shadows but men running to see where the explosion has come from. The man grabs my hand and we run, I stop, if we don’t take the bag there’s no point going anywhere, I must get it!
I run back into the house and grab the bag, I look down at the two bodies on the floor, one of them has a knife stuck between his shoulder blades, the other still lying face down motionless. His rifle! I take the rifle, as I take the rifle a hand grasps mine, the body rolls over, the face with the tear running down it, a smile back on his face. I kick out at the face, he still doesn’t let go, the smile never leaving his face, I pull the trigger on the rifle, it jumps out of my hand and I fall back, there’s a thumping sound, the body still on the floor, still smiling, his eyes open looking up at the ceiling. I grab the bag and the rifle and run.
I keep running, I don’t care if it’s the same direction as the man, he saved my life but I haven’t got time to look for him. I keep running out into the open, not looking back, there’s still some light from the explosion in the settlement, they’ll surely see me. I’m going south, not by choice but because it was the way I ran. If I keep running I’ll hit the old train tracks, I’ll just follow them. I begin to tire, stumbling on the hard ground, my legs feeling like dead weights. I fall to the ground, rolling over and then sitting up. The whole settlement is ablaze, it’s gone, and so is everyone in it.
Where has that man gone? He might not have made it out alive, if they saw him, they’d have killed him. He must be able to look after himself though, he managed to kill those two in the house, even with a broken arm. Who is he really? He can’t be just some wanderer, he escaped from the prison and killed two of them. He could be useful, he could be dangerous too. I get up and start to walk, unable to run, my legs are too tired. I don’t think they’ll be coming this way, they’ve done what they wanted to do.
It’s dark again, the light from the fire too far away. I trip, falling face first on to the floor. I push myself up again and rub my stomach. I think I feel a kick but I’m not sure, it reassures me. I tripped over the train tracks, they weren’t as far away as I thought they were, I’ve only been walking for an hour. If I follow these I’ll come to an old train station, we went there once years ago to see if there was anything worth taking. I walk alongside them, there’s no trains anymore but for some reason it feels safer than walking in the middle of them.
I reach the station, walking up the slope of the platform. It’s only a small station, the town it served empty, no life in it for many years. I sit down on one of the benches and take a deep breath. I’ll just have to keep following the tracks until I get somewhere, the desert doesn’t go on forever. The desert isn’t the worst of the problems out there. I have the rifle, I have water and food. Should I wait? Just one day? If John’s alive, he’d probably think to come here, I’m not sure, one day could be the difference between me making it out of here and not.
A figure appears on the platform. It’s him. He walks over to the bench and sits down next to me, his arm still dangling. Doesn’t he feel pain? He puts his heads in his good hand and sighs loudly, then looks up at me, still bent over.
“Where did you come from?”
“I went east, decided it wasn’t the best thing to do so I came back to the hut, you weren’t there and then I saw what was going on.”
“You can handle yourself?”
“Past life, I can look after myself.”
“I’m heading south.”
“You want to take a pregnant woman with you?”
“I’m guessing he’s already dead.”
“I’ll take you south, I don’t know what we’ll find.”
“We’ll find death or a miracle.”
“Let’s hope for a miracle.”
Chapter 3 will be posted tomorrow, follow this blog and like the Facebook page to get updates when the new chapters are posted. Make sure to share with your friends if you enjoyed it. This is the first book in a series set in a future world where society has broken down and the survivors do what they must to keep going. If you’d like to join the mailing list for notifications on when each book is released please sign up below. (You don’t have to fill in the comment box). Thank you for reading!