It's time for another foray into the end of the world! For those of you who need to catch up with earlier installments, you can go to this PAGE to read everything in one place.
Memoirs From the End of the World
At dusk, the boys still hadn’t returned from their scavenging trip. Peter had woken, but he’d pulled the covers over his head, refusing to leave. Sheera went in to try to coax him out.
Meanwhile, RC went to each window and peered cautiously through the curtains. She moved about the house, gripping an old rag to make it appear as though she was dusting. This poor attempt at disguising her nervous pacing left a bizarre pattern of clean and dirty areas, making it all too obvious that she actually wasn’t focused on cleaning.
As RC absent-mindedly wiped the dirt off her grandmother’s abandoned toaster, which transformed from a dingy gray to a sparkling white (though in the fading light, it wasn’t actually doing any sparkling), a sound at the back door made her jump. She immediately froze after that, listening intently to what followed. Under most circumstances, she would hide or prepare to run in case it was a patrol coming to search the house, but this time, she couldn’t do anything but wait, her muscles tensed in anticipation.
Much to her relief, Alyx and Ollie appeared in the doorway.
“Good, you’re here. Now we can eat.” RC did the best she could to mask her relief.
Alyx dumped an armload of food on the counter before emptying the backpack while Ollie, whose arms were loaded with scavenged clothes, dumped his haul on the kitchen table. The size of their bounty was more than welcome. With the coldest months of the year fast approaching, and the increase in the group’s number, they’d need to store up all they could. It would make it harder to move if they were discovered, but they’d have to worry about that if and when the problem arose.
“We have food, at least, but I can’t promise a lot of variety,” Alyx replied apologetically as he rubbed his hands together. The cool air must have worked its way to the bone in the time he was out.
“No gourmet meal?” RC asked jokingly. “That’s a shame.”
Even though the last rays of sunlight streaming through the window were dimming fast, Alyx noticed the work she’d already done. “I guess it was nice of you to clean the toaster, but without electricity, I don’t think it’ll do us much good.” The attempt at humor was weighed down by something else, though RC didn’t know what.
“I just got bored,” she replied nonchalantly, though even she knew it sounded unconvincing. “Next time, I’m going with you. I don’t do well waiting around all the time.” That much was true at least.
“Ollie might fight you on that, but you’d probably make better company.”
“Better company than me?” Ollie demanded. “Impossible. I can carry more too.”
In spite of the teasing sound to his voice, RC also detected a hint of something else in his words. Was it protectiveness? Posturing? She’d certainly heard a similar tone from the men in her life before, but she certainly didn’t want to hear it from Ollie. Yet, even that didn’t seem to tell the whole story.
Alyx must have sensed it too. “Since we have kids in house now, we should probably feed them before we rip each other’s heads off.”
RC turned to the food and started to organize it on the counter, carefully selecting the things she thought could feed all of them. As she worked, she asked, “Did the kids tell you about where they came from?”
“Yes, they did,” Alyx said heavily.
“I think we should consider trying to get out of town,” Ollie jumped in. “If it really is better out there, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.”
“I agree, but we should wait until after winter,” RC said. “If we went out there now, we’d have nothing. At least here, we can find food for now.” Then she paused. “Do you think we should try to find the other kids they escaped with? I know it’s dangerous to have too large of a group, but they might have valuable information.”
“We already thought about that,” Alyx replied. A sorrowful note definitely hung from his words now.
RC’s insides went cold. Before she could ask him to elaborate, though, two sets of footsteps were moving to intercept them. “Are we going to eat soon?” A little boy’s voice.
Within an hour, they were all assembled over a dinner of beans, canned carrots, and biscuits fashioned from a box of pancake mix around a covert fire in the backyard. Everyone huddled around the flames while wrapped in the newly acquired clothes and thick blankets. The plates weren’t exactly overflowing with food, and the food itself wasn’t exactly fit for a king (or even for a simple meal pre-invasion), but to empty stomachs, it hit the spot. The flames offered just enough light for them to dine by.
Very little conversation passed between them while they ate. The kids were probably shy given their introduction to new people, but Alyx and Ollie’s silence said a lot more. That which remained unspoken hovered over them all, and she suspected whatever it was couldn’t be uttered in front of younger ears.
Once her plate was empty, RC turned to Ollie. “Can you keep an eye on the kids for a minute? I want to talk to Alyx alone.”
He hesitated for a moment before begrudgingly answering. “All right.”
Alyx and RC found some privacy inside the chilly, and now pitch-black, kitchen. They stood next to the window, the firelight from the yard barley illuminating their faces.
“Ollie and I went to check out the place where Sheera said they were hiding before being captured,” Alyx confessed. “It only seemed right to at least tell them their friends were okay, and to see if we could help them out with anything.”
RC’s stomach turned. “What did you find?”
“No one was there, but the basement they’d been using for shelter was covered with blood.”