Authors: Richard Murray
Pat and Rachel had cleared their first house and were just entering the second as we approached our final door. I took up my now customary place at the window as Lily went to knock. Whether it was an instinct or a movement out of the corner of my eye I don’t know, but I ducked just as the shotgun fired.
Glass rained down around me from the shattered kitchen window and my ears were ringing from the gun being fired so close to me. Lilly was beside the door and screaming at me. I shook my head and pointed to my ear to try and tell her I couldn’t hear very well at the moment as Pat and Rachel came running.
“Thieving bastards! Get away” was shouted from within the house.
I risked a glance through the ruined window and saw an old woman struggling to reload her double barrelled shotgun. I readied my hatchet and considered my chances of making it through the window before she had reloaded.
“We aren’t thieves” called Lily. “Please, don’t shoot. We didn’t know anyone was here.”
I glanced at her and she met my gaze as she shook her head in a firm ‘no’. I felt that was more than a little unfair, this woman had taken a shot at me, it was only right that I could kill her for it. I became aware that I was glaring at Lily and she in turn was glaring right back at me.
When the frown appeared on her brow I decided to give up. If she felt that strongly about it, then I would have to leave the group to kill the batty old woman and I wasn’t quite prepared to do that. I flashed a grin at Lily and shrugged to show her that I had given in.
“We don’t want to hurt you or steal from you.” Lily called out to the old woman. “Things are bad out here. We were just looking for things people had abandoned.”
“Bah! This is why I didn’t leave, I knew some bugger would come and rob me blind” the old woman shouted back. “If you try and come in I’ll shoot you”
“No. Don’t do that. We won’t come in your house.” Lily said trying to placate her.
I waved Pat and Rachel away and they left reluctantly. I saw them enter the house they had been looting when the old woman shot at me, before I crept across to Lily.
“Go away!” shrieked the old woman.
“If you won’t let me kill her, let’s just go before she does hurt someone.” I whispered.
“No, she can’t be left here alone, it’s not safe.”
“She clearly doesn’t want to go and seems more than capable of protecting herself.” I pointed out.
“I need to try and get her to come with us. I can’t leave her here alone.” Lily said, her voice was strained and I began to realise that she did actually want to help this mad old woman.
“You can’t save everyone Lily, we can barely feed ourselves at the moment.”I paused and looked her in the eye, “I will start loading the van. Stay away from the door and window and if you haven’t persuaded her to come by the time I am done, you will leave her be. Agreed?”
She nodded and called once more to the old woman telling her she wanted to talk. I left her there and went back to the first house and our piled loot. I began to slowly move the items over to the van and a nervous looking Claire. It was slow going as I had to avoid walking within sight of the old biddy’s gun, but I managed to gather it all beside the van.
By the time I had everything Lily and I had gathered in the first house, Pat and Rachel had finished their second house and started to bring their gathered loot as well. It quickly became apparent that we had more items than space.
After a brief discussion we left some of the clothes we had gathered figuring it would be easier to find more of them when we needed to. We did keep one change of clothes per person, though we would all be wearing ill fitting and mismatched clothes for a little while. I did find a nice thick coat to wear, which I immediately pulled on.
We loaded the rest of the items. We had two rucksacks, a varied selection of tinned food, plenty of pasta and some eggs and carrots. Pat and Rachel had found four bottles of water, two large bottles of fizzy cola and several boxes of cereal, as well as some pans and some matches.
Claire was more than happy to see Jars of Jam and tomato sauce as well as a reasonable amount of sugar, flour, butter, coffee and tea. I was just happy that someone else had also thought to gather toothpaste, deodorant and the feminine items that Claire had been so embarrassed about earlier.
When Rachel handed me a bottle of household bleach I was confused until she explained that she had heard somewhere that a little bit added to water could purify it. She wasn’t sure about how much should be used but that was something we would no doubt figure out.
Everything was loaded and Pat climbed once more into the driver’s seat, Rachel chose to sit beside him again. I wondered briefly if they were becoming intimate, I had no particular attraction towards Rachel but it had been a number of weeks since I had had a sexual encounter and options were limited these days.
I dismissed the thought for now and looked to see how Lily was doing. I was immediately annoyed to see that she had her head poking through the broken window as she spoke to the armed old woman. I jogged across to her.
As I approached Lily finished her conversation and turned to me, she didn’t look especially happy but she hadn’t been shot, so I considered that a good thing.
“She won’t come with us.” Lily said sadly.
“That is her choice. She may be safe up here for a while at least.” I told her, hoping to console her. She didn’t look consoled.
“For a while. How can you not care what happens to someone who is alone” she demanded.
“Why should I care?” I asked, genuinely puzzled.
“Because she is a human being. Because it’s the right thing to do, to care for other people.”
“What makes it so right?”
“Caring for other people makes us human; it gives us hope of something better.” She snapped, “If no one cared for other people we would never accomplish anything.”
“Perhaps we would accomplish more if we didn’t have to waste so much energy on pointless things.” I retorted.
“Are you kidding me? Was it pointless when you saved me? Was it pointless when we rescued Claire and Maggie?” She was yelling now, her finger jabbing painfully against my chest as she gestured. “If it is so pointless caring for other people then why did you save us all back at the farmhouse?”
“Because you are useful to me” I said and immediately knew it was the wrong thing to say. Lily’s face flushed a deep crimson and she trembled visibly before storming off towards the van.
I shook my head at her departing figure before setting off after her as the batty old woman cackled her amusement. It was time to leave this place and keep moving. We had spent most of the day here so far and I hoped we would find somewhere reasonably safe to spend the night and perhaps have something to eat.
Everyone else was already settled as I climbed into the back of the van and pulled closed the door. Maggie was sitting and reading whilst eating a chocolate bar. Lily was sat as far as possible from the back of the van and my usual seat as possible; her face turned away as Claire sat beside her, arms around Lily’s shaking form. She spared a moment to glare at me before turning back to Lily and speaking softly.
Pat did a quick check that we were all inside before starting the engine and slowly pulling away from the houses. I settled back into my customary seat and tried to ignore the others. I had upset Lily and she knew my secret. If I didn’t set things right I would have to take steps to ensure I was not left behind. Things were getting complicated.
With the way the items had been stacked in the van, I could now just see through the front windscreen so I could at least distract myself with watching where we were going. It all seemed peaceful enough, we were in the countryside fully now and the roads were clear. A sign at a junction ahead indicated that a large village lay one way, so Pat turned the van down the other street and crossed a bridge over a canal before heading down a long lane with nothing but trees along the side of the road.
Pat drove steadily and seemed to be constantly watchful for any potential hazards on the road. The trees soon enough gave way to fields full of grass and a variety of animals. In one of the fields we passed a few figures crouched over the remains of a cow, pulling meat from the dead animal. It was a stern reminder that we were not safe even away from the towns and cities.
“Wait, stop a moment” I said to Pat. He glanced at me as if to ask why, but did as I asked.
“Why are we stopping?” asked Rachel.
“Back up a bit. I saw a sign for a stable.” I told them. “It will be dark in a few hours and this could be a good place to spend the night.”
“Sounds good to me” said Pat as he reversed to the driveway we had just passed. The drive led up a slight incline and around a corner. The gates were open and I could just see some open areas beyond but little else. Pat slowly drove up the paved driveway.
At the top of the small hill the driveway split. To the left was the main house and to the right was a barn and the stables for the horses, along with a large dirt field in a rough circle that the riders would practice in. All looked still and ominously silent. A red car was parked by the side of the house.
“Ok we should search the house and stables and make sure it’s safe and all clear.” I said, “We can do it like last time, Claire and Maggie can stay here to look after the van....”
“How about you go to the stables and the rest of us check the house” Lily interrupted brusquely. “I am sure you are more than capable of looking after yourself.” She added.
A few glances were exchanged between the others but no one seemed to think it odd. I imagined they had heard Lily shouting earlier and knew she was annoyed with me. I shrugged and gathered up my hatchet before opening the van. If I was to do this alone, then so be it. I set off along the drive towards the stables without a backwards glance.
Large trees surrounded the stables and the paved driveway soon gave way to bare dirt, damp and pungent from the recent rain and whatever god-awful stuff that came out of the animals. I really did detest the smell of manure.
The stable buildings were single story and made with a mixture of breeze blocks and wooden panels. The roof of each stable was made of plywood covered in roofing felt and slanted to allow the ever present English rain, to slide right off.
The smell of death filled the air and became stronger the closer I got to the stables. I cautiously poked my head into the first stable and gagged at the stench. The remains of the horse were lying on the floor of the building. Dark blood had pooled below the corpse and made a sticky mess of the straw that had been used to cover the floor.
I inspected the remains as best I could and I couldn’t help but think that the wounds had been made by a weapon and not by teeth. I checked the rest of the stables and found much the same in each. Someone had systematically gone from stable to stable and slaughtered the horses.
Wondering what I would find, I headed over to the barn, alert for any potential threat. The horses looked like they had been dead for several days at least but that didn’t mean whoever killed them was not still around. I pulled open the barn door and paused a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim light within.
My gaze was immediately drawn to the naked young lady who sat with her back against one of the support posts, her arms bound with rope and attached above her head to the wooden support beam. She was covered in bruises and filth, much of it I would imagine to be her own. She looked like she hadn’t moved from that position for several days. She whimpered as she saw me and turned her head away.
I scanned the shadowed areas around the barn, before circling the girl. I wanted to be sure I was alone. I had no intention of letting this girl’s captor attack me. When I was sure I was alone, I stood before the girl and gazed down at her.
Lily would of course want to help this girl, she would want to give her any medicine we had and use up our few resources to feed, clothe and protect her. One more person to look after, one more presence in the van that already had too many people in it. This scarred and broken girl would be useless to us, to me.
No one else would bother to check the barn, I could easily end her suffering and dispose of her remains without anyone being the wiser. I could certainly improve my mood with a fresh kill. I readied my hatchet.
The rope that bound her had split easily with a few swings of my hatchet. The girl struggled feebly as I picked her up and cradled her in my arms. I told her coldly to be silent and carried her out through the open door. I was not in the best mood.
I stomped past the stables and across the driveway to the main house. I noted that the van was empty which meant the house had already been cleared if Maggie and Claire were inside. The front doors stood open and I walked through with at least an attempt to not bang the damaged girl into the frame.
The front door opened onto a hallway that stretched the length of the building, a number of doors lined the walls to the side. I heard voices from a room to my right and headed in that direction.
Rachel and Pat were standing in the living room receiving instructions from Lily. They were deep in conversation as I walked in and didn’t immediately notice me. As I placed the girl on the sofa Lily glanced across and saw the girl.
“What happened?” she asked as she rushed over.
“I found her tied up in the barn, she looked like she had been there for a while” I told her before adding, “I thought you would want me to help her.” I hoped she would grasp that this was my way of apologising for upsetting her.
She glanced once at me and then turned to the others to issue some instructions. “Pat you go and find Claire and get some hot water. Rachel you go and find some blankets.” She looked once more at me, “I don’t know why you didn’t cover her up before bringing her in.”
I shrugged. It didn’t actually occur to me to do so. “Get out” she said to me. I gave her a confused look, was she still upset with me?
“This girl needs some privacy while we try and clean her up.” Lily said her voice softening, “You go and get something to eat.”