It's time for another chapter in which our characters struggle for survival.
If you haven't read the prior installments, you can read from the beginning on this PAGE.
Memoirs From the End of the World
RC looked up at Isabel, hesitating as she remembered her wielding that hatchet. She’d only seen her cut the body down afterwards, but this still raised some doubts in her mind. Can I trust her?
Then a second thought came. Can I afford not to trust her?
Turning to look at Alyx, she saw that his hair was matted to his head. They’d both been sweating in their sleep. Great as the warmth of the otherwise horrific home felt, they were no longer accustomed to it. The cold of life on the outside had officially become their reality.
Apart from his messy appearance, Alyx’s eyes were alert and seemed to be forging ahead. He arrived at his conclusion before RC did. “That sounds good to me,” he whispered as he scrambled to his knees. He peered around the doorframe to get a view of the hallway. “Is anyone else awake?”
Isabel glanced anxiously at the staircase at the end of the hallway. “I don’t think so,” she replied after a few tense moments. “We need to move fast though. It’ll be dawn soon.”
When RC got to her feet, she noticed the blood in Isabel’s hair. “Are you all right?”
The girl didn’t meet her eye. “I’ll be all right when we get out of here.”
More questions asserted themselves as RC noted Isabel’s black eye and the blood embedded in her fingernails. Even so, they hardly had the time for such questions, and she didn’t need to hear the answers to know that Isabel had a bad night.
RC took her coat from Isabel and found her backpack still looped around one of the arms. “It’s here,” she whispered. It must have fallen off too while Spiked Club made his disgusting advances on her. A quick survey of contents made it clear that no one had even touched it.
Isabel nodded. “It was hidden under the coat. Even if they knew it was there, they would’ve searched through it while you watched. We don’t need the supplies, but they love making people watch while they take everything from them.”
“I gathered that,” Alyx said bitterly as he pulled on his extra layers of clothes, which he’d stripped off in the closet to avoid roasting entirely. “Do you have any idea what the weather is like now?”
Isabel shook her head. “No, but I can say it’s more dangerous in here than it is out there.”
No one could argue that point. With that in mind, the three of them tiptoed out the door, gently closed it behind them, and ventured into the dark. The cold bit back even more sharply than it had earlier. RC’s hair, which had also been dampened with sweat, soon froze as they made their way through drifts of snow.
Between the dark of night and the blowing snow, there was no hope of seeing where they were going. They had to stick together. Alyx gripped RC’s hand, though in the cold it was still hard to feel that connection. To preserve some warmth, RC slipped the sleeve of her coat over his, effectively shielding their bare skin from the wind. On the other side, Isabel linked her arm through Alyx’s.
As they pushed through the snow, the howling winds in their ears, RC struggled with more doubts. She couldn’t forget the tracking device she dug out of Ollie’s back when they first met. Would Isabel have something similar, or did the overlords trust their selected goon squad not to abandon their duties? If she was being tracked, was her breaking them out a rouse to get to their actual hiding place? Did Gas Can and the others suspect Alyx was purposely misleading them? Or even if Isabel was carrying a tracker, maybe she was genuine in her desire to escape. If that last one were true, RC didn’t know if she could turn her back on her.
No matter what she told Romero, RC realized she couldn’t be as cold as she told herself she needed to be. Alyx was living proof of that. And the kids. Also, though he could be a pain, she didn’t want anything bad to happen to Ollie either.
Yet, bringing Isabel home, right though it might ultimately be, could endanger them all.
If we can even make it back, RC added.
She had no idea which way they were actually going. Survival was primary. They couldn’t possibly make it to the house now. Finding shelter from the cold and disguising that shelter from anyone who might follow them had to be top priority.
At least the monstrous winds were disguising their tracks.
It seemed like they’d been walking forever when Alyx altered course. The faint light of dawn punched through the blizzard, turning pitch black to a world of whites and grays. In that faintly visible world, the structure of an old garage loomed. It was small, but it would shield them from the worst of the elements.
Soon they were slipping in through a wooden door that didn’t quite fit right in its rotting frame. A tiny window let in just enough light to reveal that a few discarded items were shoved against the back wall. They scavenged a tarp, which they secured over the door to help block out the cold air that leaked through. They also found an old, ratty sleeping bag. Alyx unzipped it and laid it so it covered all of them when they huddled into the warmest corner they could find.
RC felt somewhat comforted by the arm that Alyx laid across her shoulders. It reminded her of their time in that closet where she felt the tenderness of human companionship that she’d been missing. However, feeling it also reminded her of how much she now stood to lose. Some questions of trustworthiness needed to be addressed before they could move on.
“Isabel,” RC began, “I need to ask you something.”