The once distant future – subject by GambitTheCat/JoshTheCat
The night sky was brighter than the sun. Light blossomed so bright that he closed his eyes and covered them with his hand. He could still see red light through everything, despite his attempts to block it out. And then a thunderous sound that made his ears ring washed over him a scant few seconds before a wave of air knocked him off his feet and sent him crashing into the brick wall over 20 feet behind him. At the point of impact, Josh jerked himself awake and sat up sweating and shivering. That fateful night was already two years in the past, but it woke Josh and the other few survivors who slinked around the ruins of London more often than they would like to think about. Josh threw his feet over the edge of his cot and looked around the small and crowded room and sighed. He stretched his back and his neck popped as he did. Then, after pulling on his worn down trainers he walked out into the dark hallway in search of whoever was on guard duty during that shift. It took them, the survivors, months to find each other after the blast, and even longer to get themselves settled in a building they could secure and fill with supplies and stores. They almost had it done in time too, but just a week before things were completely stocked and secure two horrible things happened. The first was the attack of the animals that had escaped from the London Zoo. The second was a raiding party that came from somewhere in Kent.
Some of the animals had escaped after the bomb hit and had been roaming the city, taking down those who couldn’t defend themselves. They first picked off some of the other animals at the zoo, then found stray animals roaming the streets and took them down, finally ending with hunting humans. There had been stories from some of the people who were filtering in; they heard strange noises, wild noises, things stalking them in the streets. One even told a story about a lioness grabbing and dragging off a woman he had found and was helping. A day after that story was told by the shivering survivor, they were hit by the wild hunting party. Josh was assigned to watch on the third floor balcony, and he saw a pair of people dragging back some large items. It looked like a good haul. He called down to some of the people waiting to help, and just as they were heading out he saw the shadows. Within almost an arms distance behind the chattering pair was another pair, a pair of large lionesses. Josh called out to them, waving his arms frantically, but they just waved back, beaming and carrying their loads. He then called down to the people heading in their direction to help, but they had started arguing, and Josh was stuck on the third floor, watching as the lionesses swatted the feet out from under the unaware. It was quick, and very little blood was spilled. The people were knocked to the ground, one hit their head so hard on the pavement, Josh could swear that he heard the THUNK where he was. The man didn’t move, and the lioness grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him away. The other was a bit more of a challenge, but still not much of one. She landed on her hip, and began kicking at the lioness, but with a few well placed blows the woman’s face was destroyed, and her ribcage had been crushed under the heavy paw of the lion. Then she grabbed her prey and pulled it away from the scene like her hunting partner. By the time the others got out there, the stores were scattered in the road, and the only thing to mark the passage were long bloody marks leading away. They were extra careful after that, only a few more were picked off, mostly those blowhards who said they could take the animals down. The threat lasted for a few months and most of the people were too afraid to go out and scavenge.
Josh had figured how to move between some of the buildings in higher levels, and he had set about roaming parts of the city where it was less likely he’d be found by the animals. So, when he stumbled upon their hidden cache of bodies and where they were sleeping, he saw something that made his heart clench. Most of the escapee predators had decided to live near one another as they had been doing at the zoo. Quite a few of them had discovered the bounty of flesh in the city, and had taken to eating what they could without hunting. The animals were unaccustomed to actually hunting for food, so the action of the lionesses seemed strange now with the scene before him. Many of the animals were sick, the lions included. A few of them were lying far separate from the others. The meat that they had been scavenging themselves was old and tainted from the bomb, but they didn’t know that. They had been starving, and since hunting was mostly a mystery to them, they just scrounged around and got ill. Josh’s heart twisted in his chest as he looked at some of the animals, laying in their sick-up, panting or wheezing, and he decided to go back to tell the others what he had seen.
When Josh had gotten back to the base, he found a group of men gathered and talking outside it.
“It’s time we just go hunt that lot down,” someone said.
“I’m sick of living in fear,” another chimed in.
“I know where we can find some decent weapons, but listen, I don’t know how many of you can actually hunt,” a tall man said. He towered over some of the men, but stood a little bit shorter than Josh. He was thicker too, he lost a good bit of weight, but he still had a belly. He spoke with an accent that usually only the more affluent of the city dwellers used. “If we can make it back to my home, I can give out some weapons. Who here has used a bow and arrow before?” A few hands went up into the air and others murmured quietly. “That’ll have to do. Let’s head off now before anyone else tries to join us.”
“Wait,” Josh called after them.
“Like that,” muttered the large man.
“You don’t understand. The animals aren’t a threat anymore.”
“Yeah, what makes you so sure of that,” one of the voices in the small crowd called out.
“I’ve seen them, they’re dying from eating tainted meat.”
“You’re lying,” spat the large man. “No one even knows where they are, let alone how many.”
“About two km as the crow flies,” Josh pointed. “Some are doing better than others, but they’re all sick, including the lionesses. As for how many, it’s very few. Only about three animals are able to move around well, another three or four are rickety and lying down, and the last few are unable to move at all.”
“And how does a scrawny little punk like you know this,” snarled the large man, shoving Josh while baring his teeth menacingly.
“Because I’m intelligent, and take the time to look at things before rushing off to my death,” replied Josh, shrugging. “Well, not just death, but the waste of potentially good weapons to defend ourselves.”
“That, BOY, is what we’re about to do. We’re going to take down the animal threat to. Defend. Ourselves,” the large man said, while jabbing a finger into Josh’s chest to punctuate his words. “And even your little punk self,” he said while shoving again. “But I don’t know why we should even bother with you, you’re worthless.”
“You don’t need to take my word for it, but you’re causing more damage to all of us by behaving like this and not listening,” Josh shrugged one more time and turned to walk away. Apparently the man was still mad, because a large piece of rubble slammed into his back throwing him forward, and behind him the large man began laughing with only a few in his crew joining in half-heartedly. Josh pulled himself to his feet and walked away grinding his teeth at the pain in his back, and the jeering from the group behind him.
When Josh made it inside, he found someone who wasn’t too busy and had them check his back, there was a large scrape and bruise where the rubble had hit, but it was quickly cleaned up, and carefully bandaged. Josh then wandered until he found the defacto leader of the group, Deidre. She was working on making something for them all to eat for lunch. The smells out of the kitchen were both tasty and sickening. Some of the food had gone bad, and they were trying to look through all their stores to find out what had been making the kitchen smell so horrible. The wood smoke lingered in the air, leaving the spiced stew’s pungent aroma almost completely covered. When Josh stepped in the door, she looked up and smiled.
“You look unhappy,” Deidre said, beckoning him over and then pushing a lock of her hair out of her face with her wrist.
“Yeah, well,” Josh began, looking around the room at the few children that had survived. “That big guy, the one who acts all posh? He’s going to get some weapons and hunt the zoo animals down. Plus, he chucked a huge rock at me.”
Her face darkened, while she continued to work on the bread, then she sighed and walked away from it and called for her husband. “Don’t worry Josh,” she said, smiling reassuringly. “He’ll take care of our big bad hunter friend. Now, let me see where the rock hit.”
“I said chucked, not hit,” Josh said defensively while holding his hands up to ward her off. “I’m good.”
She nodded, and smiled again and when her husband, Marcus, walked in she walked to him and spoke quietly to him. They conferred for a moment, and he walked out like a thundercloud. Josh watched her for a moment. She moved around the kitchen, talked to the children, hugged them all and asked them to start fetching water. When they ran out she went back to the bread dough and looked up.
“Anything else then,” she asked while her hands kneaded the dough.
“Uh,” Josh began. “Well, yeah. How many have asked to be leader?”
“Maybe three now,” she said, looking skyward, thinking. Her wrist came up again and she pushed her glasses up and brushed the hair from her face again. “Yeah, it’s been three, four if you count the kid who lasted just a few hours before getting told off by everyone.”
“How come you’re the one everyone goes to then?”
“Because they lack experience leading. I’ve been in charge of groups of people before, and I’ve managed a family,” she replied, smiling as one of her children came in, carrying water. “And because they get tired of all the others here complaining about things to them.”
“Is it really that bad?”
She shrugged. “Not really, what you’d expect from children, but I’ve learned that most adults are just large children.”
Josh laughed, then looking back out the door as a few other children came in with the water, he looked back to her.
“What’s Marcus going to do?”
“Follow them, talk to them, observe things, and handle it.”
“How does he expect to do that? He’s small!”
She laughed then, and the children began giggling in the corner where they filled up the makeshift well. “Well, first, he’s a lot tougher than he looks. Second,” she said leaning over and planting a kiss on a child’s head. “Second, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. And last but not least, he likes animals a lot more than he likes people. He’s not going to let them hurt animals unless they’re really a threat, or they need to be put out of their misery.”
“Oh,” was all Josh could think of to say.
“If you’re staying in here, I’m going to put you to work,” Deidre smiled.
Josh smiled back at her and bolted out the door. When he got through the next few rooms, he saw one of the other teens named Ben pacing back and forth.
“What’s going on,” Josh asked, watching the erratic pacing.
“Found something,” Ben said. “Something big, but don’t know what to do about it.”
“Why don’t you sit and talk to me about it then,” Josh said while sitting down on one of the small pallets they used for sleeping.
Ben sat quickly and leaned over and began whispering in Josh’s ear. “Found something in the underground. A few of the machines survived, and we can get two stops up and one back on it. Problem is, two stops up is where the animals are. One back has a store in it, but I don’t want to scavenge alone.”
“Comon then,” Josh said, pulling his lanky frame back upright. “Don’t worry about the animals, but let’s get a few of those bags and head to the store. There might be something useful.”
The run to the store was only a little fruitful, but what they did get helped a good bit. At dinner that night, Josh noticed quite a few of those who had gone after the animals weren’t back at the table, but a few of them were. He opened his mouth to question what had happened when Marcus came and sat beside him.
“Leave it,” he murmured.
“Leave what,” Josh asked.
“Leave the subject of the animals alone. They don’t know you’re the one who ‘sent’ me, and right now that’s better for you.”
“What happened,” Josh asked his face ashen.
“I found them pretty easily, because the windbag was so loud,” Marcus scowled at the memory. “Anyway, I asked them what they were doing, and after I was told I said I’d tag along. We got the weapons from this ratty and torn up apartment, and headed toward where the windbag said the animals were. When we got there, the scene was pretty bad. I could smell them from a way off, but apparently none of the others could. We approached and one of the lionesses came up, sniffing at us and the morons shot at her. Not a single one hit, but she recognized the gesture for what it was worth and attacked. I moved out of the way, not everyone was lucky enough to get away. Once those who had fled were gone, I watched the animals. They’ll enjoy this supply of fresh meat for another few weeks, but the sick will die, and they’ll move on. The healthier ones seem ready to move on now, but they’re waiting. A few of them have already started leaving. I think the whole lot should either be cleared out or dead by month end or mid next month at the longest.”
“But where are all the hunters?”
“See those three,” Marcus pointed to one sitting and eating on his pallet, and two others lying down.
“Yeah,” Josh replied, his voice lilting up as if asking a question.
“That’s all that made it out of there after the windbag started shooting.”
Josh turned to look at the three in their little corner, and when he turned back, he saw Marcus sitting beside Deidre and picking up his bowl. For a while, Josh couldn’t bring himself to eat, so he just sat, motionless, thinking about what Marcus had told him.
Things had been quiet for a while, the animals had died or moved on, and the last of the cities refugees had found their little colony. We had even started seeds in hope of growing more for us to eat. But the relative peace amidst the struggles was quickly over when one of the scavenging parties ran across a well armed and mounted party from Kent. They were brought back to our growing little group, and Deidre had to scrounge up more supplies to feed them. The leader of the group was a weasely looking old man with watery eyes. His greasy hair was combed back and the way he looked around, it seemed like he was sizing it up to either raid it or to take it over. Deidre came out and had the children set up extra pallets for the group, and then to drag the tables together so they could eat a large meal. When she saw the man appraising the community, she smiled and walked up to him.
“Welcome! It’s mighty nice to know that others survived,” she said, extending a hand to him.
“Yes, well,” he said looking at her extended hand scornfully. “Why don’t you run along now and get me the leader of your little group?”
“Ahh… Well then, “ Deidre said, her smile becoming wooden. “That would be me.”
The man grunted and waved his hand and literally pushed Deidre aside. Marcus was beside her in a moment, and the man didn’t seem to notice that she was holding him back. The rest of the colony had gathered around as well.
“Who here is the real leader of your motley little group,” the man said, his watery eyes raking over all of the assembled faces. His eyes landed on the grim face of Marcus, and he nodded. “Very wise, sending a woman out to do your job.”
Marcus said nothing, but stared at the man. Deidre’s hand clamped tightly over Marcus’ wrist.
“Either way, the rest of you can go to seeing to my companions and the horses, I need to speak with this chap,” he made a shooing motion as he stepped toward the pair. The crowd dispersed some muttering, others moving to where they could watch the interaction, and others going to check on the newcomers and their horses.
“I’m the Honorable Judge George Wentworth, Mayor of the newly reformed township of Bromley, and you are,” he asked, extending his hand to Marcus.
“Name’s Marcus, and I carry the post of ‘Scourge’ here in our little motley group. If you need to talk about anything, Deidre here is your man, or should I say woman,” Marcus said coldly while pointedly not taking George’s hand.
“Scourge,” George scoffed. “No man should have to serve a woman. Aside from that, where did you come across such antiquated language as that? Does anyone here even know what a ‘Scourge’ is?”
“They only need to know when I need to do my job,” Marcus shrugged. “But, a good bit of them know, yes. I have my own little peace keeping team, and we’ve been training.”
“Well, I could use a man like you. Our current Constable is old,” George exclaimed while patting Marcus on the shoulder. “We have a nice building put aside for the headquarters, and we’re working on a few other things to help with that. Tell me what it would take to sweeten the deal for you to come back with me?”
Marcus looked at the man, then turned and walked away. Deidre’s eyes followed him as far as she could before he was out of sight.
“So,” Deidre said, looking at George. “Why have you come and what do you need?”
“I thought I made it clear to you that I’m not dealing with a pathetic woman,” George said again, shoving her aside and almost knocking her to the floor.
“Josh,” Deidre called.
Josh was standing with some of the other half-curious, mostly angry onlookers and when he heard his name he strode forth. When he reached Deidre, he helped her to her feet and she tugged him down to whisper to him.
“Josh, listen to what this man from Kent has to say. He might be offering something worthwhile. When he’s done yammering, tell him you’ll hold a council meeting and come tell me what he said, we’ll decide what to do then. Okay?”
Josh nodded to Deidre and looked back at George. “This way Sir, we can talk at the table that the children have finished setting up. Let me just go grab a notebook.”
“Good, I’ll be waiting for you, we have lots to discuss and negotiate,” he said to Josh’s retreating back. “You,” he snapped, pointing at one of the children. “Bring me a cup of something to drink, my throat is dry.”
The child jumped and ran into the kitchens. When Josh returned, the child was carrying two cups. He placed one cup before George and the other by Josh.
“Thanks Michael,” Josh smiled at the boy. “Deidre has said if your duties are done and the tables are properly set, you can have the rest of the afternoon off. She also said ‘enjoy the outside, weather’s been turning, run along,’ and it’s best to listen. She’s in one of THOSE moods.”
Michael nodded, ran to the children and the motley company tromped and giggled its way noisily out the door. Josh smiled after them and clicked his pen open and flipped to an empty page in the notebook. “So, what do you need me to bring up at our council meeting,” Josh asked, looking up from the blank paper before him.
“First off, you need to get a proper leader here, not some pathetic, worthless, foolish woman.”
“Deidre has been elected by the Council,” Josh said flatly. “And no one wants the job, or can actually keep the job anyway,” he thought to himself.
George sniffed with disgust and turned his head. “Well, it matters not. None of my demands are to be brought before her. Just go straight to the council and let them take care of it. We’re going to need our water filled and some food. We’ve found little canned food here in the city, and I suspect that it’s because you’ve already taken it. Also, since our township is larger, you’ll be come a satellite of New Bromley now. We will be sending people to collect a portion of what you find every few weeks. We want precious things, not just food. Any finished and in decent shape jewelry pieces or working electronics. Also petrol and generators are useful, we’ll take one for every two you find.”
Josh kept his eyes down and wrote, but he knew the demands were higher than even the most foolish here would agree to. When George would pause, Josh would nod when he had finished writing things down and was ready for more.
“Plus,” George smacked his lips after taking a long drink. “We want some of your women. We only have a few. We need more to keep the place running. We could take a few of the female children that are a little older to train them better than they’ll be trained here. Letting them off to play,” George scoffed again and shook his head.
“If there’s nothing else,” Josh said, looking George in the eyes. “I have a personal question for you. Do you know where the previous Mayor of Bromley is?”
“He decided to leave,” George said sharply. “He took a few horses and people and said he was going to ‘look for his family’ or some nonsense. He’s been gone for over two months now and they elected me. I’ve implemented many changes, and our little town seems to be working much better than it was when he was running things.”
“I see,” said Josh, standing to his full height. “Well, I’ll leave you to relax in here. I’ll call the council to meeting.”
“I’d like to be at the meeting,” George said, leaning forward in his chair. “Bring them back to me.”
“We’ll see, it’s up to them if they let you sit in,” Josh smiled and turned. He took a deep breath and headed out a door opposite of where Deidre headed. When he made it out of sight from the room, he turned and walked down to where he suspected Deidre and Marcus would be. When he walked into the training room, Marcus was trying something new and Deidre was helping him perfect it. They both smiled tersely as he entered the room.
“Hey now,” Josh said, holding his hands up and then waving the notebook. “Let me just say this ‘don’t shoot the messenger.”
“That bad,” Deidre asked, walking over and holding her hand out for the notebook. After it was placed in her hands, her eyes scanned the lines and she sighed. “Yeah, it’s that bad.”
“What are we going to do with him,” Josh asked. “He’s taken over Bromley after my grandfather apparently left looking for his family.”
Deidre looked at Josh for a long time, then hugged him lightly. Stepping back she looked up at him again. “Run and find as many of the council members you can find and send them here. Get Ben and the others and find our peacekeepers and let them know to be on high alert. Get the mid-teens to find and watch the children in our safe bunker, and send the older folks there too. Then do me the best favour in the world and go back and watch that slimy bastard.”
“Will do,” Josh said, running out the door.
“Ben,” Josh called. Ben looked up from his book and placed it open on his lap. “Ben, put that up for now and help me.”
“Yeah,” Ben asked, standing. He put his book down and then jogged over to where Josh was standing. “What’s wrong? What’cha need?”
“Lots of things to do, need you to start,” Josh panted. “Grab the council and send them to the training room, but keep it secret. Also grab the older people and some of the women and send them to the safe bunker, tell them to be sneaky about it.”
“Shite Josh, what’s goin’ on,” Ben asked, his eyes wide. “Shite… Shite!”
“Ben, comon now,” Josh sighed. “Just do it quick and quiet, I’ll be doing it too. Avoid the main hall though, I’ll cover that. Okay?”
“Yeah Yeah, “ Ben said, trotting out of the room.
When Josh entered the main hall, he saw more of the mounted party sitting at tables, and one of the mid-teen girls serving the men drinks. A few of the council members were playing cards at a far table, and some of the other mid-teens were bustling about their chores. He ran up to the table of those who came with George and smiled.
“Gentlemen, the council is being gathered as we speak, but I need to borrow the nice girl who has been attending to you, apparently she left something undone. Excuse us,” Josh grabbed her by her arm, put the chipped pitcher on the table and pulled her roughly away from the table. When he was sure they were out of earshot, he leaned over, still holding her arm he began to talk to her while wagging his finger admonishingly. “Gemma, get the other mid-teens and find the children. Once you have them get to the safe bunker, but do it in secret. Don’t let them see you go there. When you leave me run out crying. When the others follow you out, pass on my message but be as secretive as possible about it.”
Gemma nodded and began to cry. Josh half pushed her away and as she ran, he shouted after her, “Get to it!” The other youth looked up to see Gemma running away from Josh crying and quickly followed after her to see what happened. Josh suppressed a smile and walked to the card playing council members.
“Hey,” he said as he approached the table. “You’re needed in the training room.”
“Why,” grunted one of the men.
“Urgent meeting,” Josh mumbled. “Make sure you’re not followed. Trouble might be brewing.”
One of the men looked up and into Josh’s eyes. He grunted again and put his cards down. “Get up, we need to go,” he grunted at his partner.
The other man looked up at Josh and put his cards down. After a moment, the cards were cleaned up, tucked safely away in pockets and the men were sauntering out the door that the kids ran out.
Josh looked around the room one more time, and when he saw that everyone who needed to leave had left, he walked back to the table. He smiled one more time, his stomach jolting uncomfortably as he looked at all the faces staring back at him.
“Can I get you gentlemen anything before I finish my duties around here,” Josh asked, doing his best to look calm.
“We’re fine,” George said reassuringly. “We have things to entertain and occupy ourselves. Good handling of that girl by the way. You seem like you would fit well in our little town. You could come back with us, or if we don’t find someone else more qualified, you could run this little… mess.”
“Sounds tempting,” Josh nodded. “I’ll be back shortly to check up on you, some other kids need handling. Like that one right there.” Josh nodded toward a younger teen boy and then walked in his direction. He forced his walk to be menacing and he stalked to where a few of the mid-teen boys were standing and talking. “Guys, find the rest of you, the children, and then head to safe bunker. Be sneaky about it though, and watch to make sure you’re not followed.” Josh stood up straight as the kids left the room quickly and sighed ‘Lousy punks’ loudly before walking out himself.
In one of the side corridors he found a few of the peacekeepers chatting. Josh walked up and waited until they looked his way. The oldest one was in his mid-40’s but he didn’t look it. He was a tall man with long blonde hair. He was almost as tall as Josh himself with a lean build. He smiled at Josh and beckoned him closer.
“Hey, Deidre and Marcus ask that you watch the newcomers. Be sneaky about it though, we don’t want them to know we’re on alert. I suspect Marcus will fill you all in later. We’re sending the youngest and frail to the safe bunker.”
“They expect that much trouble,” the blonde said while raising his eyebrow.
“Yeah, it doesn’t look good.”
“Okay then,” the blonde nodded. “You two, get everyone else, post them, tell them it’s a ‘relaxed high alert’ and let them know the newcomers are the reason. Mum’s the word, off you go.”
As the other two ran off, the blonde strode down the hall and into the main hall. Josh watched them, then ran back to the training room, half looking for Ben. Just around the corner from the training room, Josh saw Ben, cornered by one of the strangers. Ben looked terrified. He was huddled against the wall leaning away from the stranger who was waving a knife in his face. Josh walked up and stood behind the thuggish man, and his presence gave Ben a bit of courage.
“Can I help you,” Josh asked, masking his terror behind a gruff voice and scowl. He hoped that the other man wouldn’t see through it.
“I was askin’ dis guy where da loo was,” the thug drawled.
“Back the way you came, second turn on your left. Better get on your way before I call a peacekeeper to take that toothpick.”
The man grunted and stalked down the hallway. He looked back a few times before turning, and once Josh was sure he was gone, he turned to Ben who looked completely rattled.
“I’m going to tell Deidre and Marcus about this, you find a peacekeeper and let them know some of them are wandering around where they shouldn’t be, then come back into the training room.”
Ben nodded and ran off while Josh turned the corner and walked the short way before turning into the training room. It was packed, and none of the faces looked happy about what they were hearing. A few who had greeted the strangers were now scowling deeper than ever, and more than a few of the women looked like they could rip some heads off. The council talked long, hard, and loud about what should be done, but in the end, they decided that it would be better if they played along and sent a few people with them to gather some intelligence. The decision of who would go then became hotly contested. Josh told them about what George said about him staying and taking charge and they agreed it would be best to play along for now. Deidre offered herself to go, but that was shot down instantly, and before she could say anything, one of the women from the kitchen ran in.
“Deidre, we need you in the kitchen,” she panted. Her face was pale and she looked as if she was about to sickup.
“What’s wrong,” Deidre asked as she walked across the room.
“A few of the men came in and knocked the peacekeeper out. Then they started going through our cans. One even drug Martha into the back room. That’s when I ran.”
“I think any chance we had of being able to deal with these monsters is now over,” Deidre stated. “Time to kick ass, take names and send those jerks back to where they came from… On foot.”
The other members of the council nodded in agreement, and Marcus dashed out the room to gather the fighters. Josh looked around and noticed that Ben hadn’t come back, so as the others went to spread the news, Josh began his search for his best friend.
The small compound was on a strange almost lockdown, and there was a large fight in the dining and sleeping quarters. Josh walked around, looking in every room, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ben’s stained red jacket and torn up boots. The longer he searched the more nervous he got so he began to run from room to room, careful to be quiet as he did so. In one room Josh saw the sleeve of a red jacket with a hand sticking out of it and he rushed to check, but it was one of the younger teens. Her head was bloody and she wasn’t moving or responding. He leaned in closer, and saw her take a shaky deep breath and then her breathing evened out. After making sure to cover her up with and hide her body from a quick check, he put a mark on the door so he’d remember where she was so he could send someone to check on her when this was done.
He left the room, trembling slightly and realized that he wasn’t looking for the red jacket anymore, because Ben gave it to the girl. Josh stood in the hallway, wondering if he should go back and recheck the previous rooms when he heard a loud crash from that direction, and the sound of a gun. After he found his wits, he took off in the opposite direction of the sound, glancing in the rooms, trying to see if anyone was Ben-shaped. As Josh neared the kitchen he saw Marcus walking to the doorway. He was smiling a grim smile, his usually nice ponytail was disheveled, a few tears in his shirt, and a red splotch on his cheek that seemed to be quickly turning black and blue. Marcus looked at Josh and shook his head no just before stepping in the doorway. That’s when Josh noticed the sounds coming from the room. One of the kitchen girls was crying and another was mumbling quietly with a panicked edge to her voice. Josh walked toward the door to peek in, but after a loud crash and a louder wet crunch he decided better and turned so he could reach the other side of the compound.
The stairs were rickety, but there were only a few more places he could look before he’d have to get everyone to search for Ben, leaving no stone unturned. As he was pushing open the door he heard an odd bubbling or gurgling noise. Josh shifted and pushed the door a little bit, peeking in, then pushing it a little farther and looking in. On one of the chairs was Ben. One of his legs was twisted oddly and his head was lying back on the back of the chair. Josh rushed forward to look at his friend when a dazzling white light blinded him. Just before he slipped into unconsciousness, he saw a pair of feet move between him and Ben, and he heard a gravelly laugh.
Josh woke to find one of the people from Kent standing over him. The man leaned down and his rancid breath washed over Josh’s face, making him gag. The man laughed in his face and grabbed his jaw so that Josh couldn’t move his head.
“I gots you,” he said shaking Josh’s head for emphasis. “I gots you and I’m gonna keep you unless they stop fightin’ us. Yous is stupid for listenin’ to a girl, our man George’ll set yous to rights.”
“Listen,” Josh mumbled, the way his jaw was held made it hard to speak. “Marcus isn’t going to stop because you have me. Besides that how does anyone know you have hostages up here?”
The man stared at him for a moment, then walked to a window and looked out of it toward the street. He stared at them for a long moment before trying to open the window. After what seemed like an age he used what looked like a blackjack to smash a hole in the window. Then, leaning his head out the he began to shout.
“You lot tell your people to stop fightin’ us… or I’ll,” he paused, looking in at Josh and Ben. “I’ll hurt… I gots hostages!” Then the man walked back to where Josh and Ben sat, smiling smugly. “See! Now they know.”
Josh lifted his hand to his face, covering it and shaking his head. That’s when he realized he wasn’t tied to the chair. He wiped his face and looked at the would-be hostage taker and shook his head again while staring at the man.
“You’re forgetting something,” Josh said.
“You didn’t tie me down,” Josh said, standing.
The man stared at Josh with wide eyes and ran back to the window and stuck his head out again.
“Hurry up, I’s startin’ to hurt ’em,” he shouted again, placing his hand on the glass to support himself. He began to pull himself back into the window when his hand pushed too hard, and the glass made a crunching sound, then a strange grating sound and a pane of it fell from the above the hole. The large pane sliced into the back of his neck, knocking him down to the other jagged edge below, effectively beheading himself. Josh stared at the man in shock, and then emptied his stomach on the spot.
At the sound of Josh throwing up, Ben began to stir and he lifted his head to look at Josh, then he looked around the room and saw the bloody smear on the wall and glass and began screaming for help between throwing up as well. After a few moments a few people came up and helped Josh and Ben out of the room and back down to the pallets.
Josh lay on his small bed curled up and Ben was stretched out on his when Deidre and Marcus came up.
“You boys did well,” Deidre murmured, brushing some hair from Josh’s face and sitting on the pallet beside him. “You were brave and followed instructions well, and I am so sorry for what you had to go through. We’re taking care of Ben’s leg, the doctor doesn’t think it’s a bad break, but they’re going back to the hospital to find the stuff for making casts. I can’t do anything for you, but to tell you I’ll listen if you need to talk, and Marcus will too if you’re more comfortable with that.”
Josh shrugged and Deidre nodded her head and stood back up, making her way to the others who had been injured, speaking to every one of them, her face streaked with tears. Marcus followed her, his face an emotionless mask.
It was a few weeks before people stopped jumping at the sounds in the night and longer still before they stopped jumping at shadows on the walls. But Deidre didn’t let this slow down the group of us too much. Depending on injury, jobs were assigned, and people were there to help. Ben was healing and moving around on crutches. Josh had to admit that things were going better than he expected them to be. That didn’t stop the nightmares, nor did it stop the worry, but they were making it.
As Josh walked up behind one of his friends who was on night guard duty, he saw the man staring at the horizon.
“What do you see,” Josh asked, looking at the man’s face.
“The future,” the man replied, looking at Josh.