Salinikoniyes.

Busy couple weeks.
Short bit of a thing, nothing amazing or special. Might do a part two later.


It is said that there are some who are born with spears in their hands. Those born to dance with blades, birthing bright crimson into the world.

Leri was a strateomaky for Kossos-y-Oskos, a professional soldier and adequate with spear, sword and shield. She towered over the locals, a woman born of great stature who grew to fit her place in the world.

The locals watched her with bated breath as she sparred with another soldier, a shorter and far thicker woman whose name had been on the tip of the local tongue until Leri had appeared.

The local champion, Pyta, was born an artist with the spear. Moving so softly that the dew was barely broken by their steps. A worthy opponent, one whose spear brushed her several times until she lifted her hammer.

Tall as her shoulder and with the weight of the earth, Leri’s hammer was the fascination of the town. How she moved it so gracefully, striking with it so softly that beetles wouldn’t be crushed. She held it with two hands, parrying the speartip with the shaft of her hammer.

Leri was well known, if not entirely infamous, amongst those who fought for sport and glory. They called her the Breaker Queen for a reason.

Pyta thrust at her, spear bouncing off her guard. They moved to whip around their spear. She slipped forward and slammed her hammer in against their chest. The thick metal rang, her short punch sent them falling back.

Leri was known as the Breaker Queen for good reason. In Kossos there was a military unit known as the Breakers, women so strong they could tear down walls with their siege hammers.

Leri stepped over Pyta, grabbing them by the collar and lifted them like a ragdoll.

Even among those known for abominable strength, Leri was a monster.

“Are you okay?”

She placed Pyta upon their feet, “Sorry friend, I don’t know my own strength sometimes.”

Pyta breathed deep, shook off and brushed the sweat away, “Good hit, well done.”

Leri hoisted her hammer over her shoulder and slapped a hand against Pyta’s, “Let me buy you a drink.”

Pyta looked around, it was midday, the crowd was dispersing, “Oh? I’ve heard stories about your drinking.”

“Afraid you can’t keep up?”

“In drink or afterwards?”

Leri grinned, “I don’t judge either way, if you’ll have me that is.”

Pyta gestured away from the square, down the street towards the markets and taverns, towards the dock where Leri had arrived, “I’ll have your drink but no more. Then you can head on your way.”

“I just arrived!”

“I know your type,” Pyta finally shrugged away from her, “and it is not the type I have any interest in.”

“Ah,” Leri said, “Well perhaps you know of a good place I can celebrate? After the drink of course.”

Pyta scoffed, but began down the street. The tavern was full, and Leri had to bring their wine out to the street. They enjoyed it together in the courtyard of a nearby and unfortunately placed house. Living so close to the tavern must be torture. How could they sleep knowing there was wine just next door?

Salinikoniyes was just a tiny town on the edge of a great salt pan and a greater salt lake. From the courtyard they could watch the sun beat down upon the workers. Wading in the waist deep pink water to pass buckets of the vibrant lake up the chain must have been refreshing on such a hot day.

“I considered being a sailor once,” Leri informed Pyta, “but I found out it had less to do with swimming and more to do with avoiding it.”

“Do you Kossani even know how to swim?”

“We’re taught it young, brave the waters and you can cross into the inner camps. Fail and you are swept away to be food for sharks.”

“I thought that was the Arvi, do you poach all their ideas now?”

Leri chuckled, lifting her jug to her lips in the hopes the wine spirits would refresh her, “You won’t bait me into such easy traps, friend. At least tell me if the waters are suited for swimming.”

“The lake? No, as much as I would like to admire you bejeweled by pink. If you want to swim you’ll have to brave the sharks again.”

“Wine and sharks sounds like fun, care to join me?”

“Perhaps next time you visit,” they handed her their empty cup, “until then, enjoy the island, Leri.”

“Goodbye, Pyta.”

Leri turned her attention back down to the vibrant pink lake and the people working away on its shore. The island shone like a jewel in the sun, waves of light rising up off the drying salt flats. Through the white marble town, where red banners hung from the walls and emerald vines snaked up from tiny little communal gardens that lined the streets. In the markets where black wooden coins were traded for fruits, meats and spices from across the Republics.

It was past the markets that Leri found herself, sitting down upon the wooden wharf watching the workers pull ships up to the docks. Somewhere out in the harbour there was something waiting for her, she could feel her bones being pulled towards it.

Perhaps it was the sea itself, a spirit in the water that wished to drag her down. On hot days like today, she often thought about letting it. It must be calmer down there trapped beneath the sea.Leri rose to her feet and threw the empty jug into the sea.
Then she hoisted her hammer over her shoulder and set off to do what she had come to the island for.

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nanowrimo dump week #4.2

By the time Sam had finished her tour of the base, she had crafted in her mind an understanding of what was happening. When she had originally decided to head to Holsworthy it had been because it was a military base. Sitting on the edge of a national park, pre-Collapse the base was mostly functioning as a supply depot and a small military airport. Or that had been her understanding. She hadn’t realised it was the base for the engineer corps, or that it had housed special forces. She also hadn’t realised it was the location of a military prison, and part of that now formed the Holsworthy Outpost.

The old base was largely ruins, some places had apparently been fixed up and converted but otherwise the outpost’s settlement was tiny. A tightly packed cluster of buildings that used a portion of the old prison surrounded by walls. It seemed like the engineer corps had survived at least, everything was well made and they were apparently still trying to repair old parts of the prison complex. Shipping containers made up most of everything, there was an abundance of them, and when she followed a group out to the nearby creek it was a spectacular sight to see the forest reclaiming the land and weaving into stacks of shipping containers.

It seemed like the creek was recreational – only a small group went down and they were followed by an on-duty soldier. They lazed about in the sun, swimming and socializing. Some of them spoke about being deployed to other colonies, and others spoke about heading out into the ruins for more salvage.

Back within the confines of the walls, Sam had figured it out. From her memory of the map from yesterday, Holsworthy was the western-most shield against the Commonwealth and aside from the few farmers and builders who maintained the greenhouses or repaired the walls, it was a military base. Nearly everyone here was a soldier. That was the realisation that brought her before the Commander.

She found Tara in the map room, it seemed they never left it.

“I get it now,” she confronted them.

Tara stood over the map, looking up slowly, lost in thought, “Sam.”

“Are you the only one that knows, or was it a conscious decision?”

They stood up straight, regarding her coldly, “What are you doing in here?”

“I slipped past your receptionist, she was busy with paperwork.”

“Fair enough, what exactly are you on about?”

Sam stepped up to the map, opposite them, “This base, it’s a sacrificial lamb.”

Their expression slipped, from polite to unnerving, “I knew you weren’t letting on to something.”

“Do they know?”

“The people here?”

“The other colonies.”

“No, why should they?”

Her eyes held theirs, both trying to read each other’s blank expressions.

“They have no idea of strategy, that is why they gave that task to me.”

“You’re playing with people’s lives.”

They planted a hand on the map, drawing her eyes down, “Who do you think has more to lose? Us, or them?”

They were pointing to the other colonies, to the red pins surrounded by a sea of red pins.

“They’re not fighting for us, if it saved them they’d sell every last one of us. They’d applaud seeing us at the end of a rope.”

“You don’t trust them.”

“I trust us.”

“You think by sacrificing us, you can save them?”

“I don’t plan on losing. I want them to bleed for every inch of ground they tread, and the only way I can do that is by putting us in the fire.”

She was fixated on the map, on the white pins encircling Sydney and the lone red dot standing in their way as they approached from the south.

“The fate we face is worse than death,” they said taking a step around the table towards her, “doesn’t that make you fearless? Don’t you want to see them destroyed?”

“Okay, I’m in,” she looked up, meeting their gaze again, “just, look me in the eye and tell me you’re going to stop them.”

“I’ll die before I let them win, and seeing Canberra burn is on my bucket list.”

“Then take some advice, I’ve seen the way the Commonwealth fights the living, the way it fought me. They use the dead as shields, they lure them in and fight you only when you’re exhausted.”

“You,” they made it around the table to point a finger at her chest, “you fought them?”

“I did. I liberated an entire camp, and I sent the people they had captured here.”

“You…” they smiled, “you’re the one they talked about?”

“They talk about me?”

“Hundreds of survivors from a camp to the south, they arrived one day. Most moved on, a few stayed. You should talk to Eshe, our quartermaster. She had me build you a garden after you saved her sister.”

They looked ready to hug her before thinking better of it, “I figured you were a myth, they told me you were eight foot tall and could crush skulls with your bare hands.”

“I’m glad they made it.”

“If you truly fought the Cross and won, by yourself that is, I want your help. So tell me how true that was.”

“I had help, I had my girlfriend Jess with me. She was the only one who got me through it.”

“She was the silent one with you yesterday, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Tomorrow I want you both in here, we’ll go over things. And once I have proof you’re not lying to me, we’ll work out how best to bring down the Cross.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Sam left the commander to their work, heading back across the base. The crowds had gathered around a bulletin board at the intersection between the offices and the apartments. There, stapled up on the wood was a list of names and a woman was reading them out. Jess was there watching, and she slipped in next to them, both standing on the other side of the street to see what was happening.

“How are you feeling?”

Jess smiled, there were people around, they placed a hand over their heart.

“Good. It’s good to see you out, around people.”

They glanced at her, smile widening, then something in the crowd distracted them. Sam turned to look as well. The women who had their names called out were all gathered to complain.

“Any idea what’s happening?”

Jess nodded, leaning in to whisper to her, “Bonfire tomorrow, they’re on duty for it.”

“Oh, so they have a bonfire night?”

Jess nodded again.

“I guess, as like, a morale booster.”

They shrugged.

“I still remember our first camping trip.”

Jess turned red.

“You’ve gotten better at it at least.”

Jess went to open her mouth to complain, and froze, there were people, they were watching.

“It’s okay, babe. I thought it was cute.”

She patted Jess’ back, “Especially the part when you fell out of that tree.”

Jess shoved her, grinning a half-laugh before realising. They turned away, heading back to the apartment. Sam followed, racing to catch up but not touching them until they were both alone in the hot mess that was their apartment. It was a sweat box, the sun heated it up to an almost unbearable degree. Jess threw themselves down on the mattress and stared up at the roof.

“You alright?”

“Sure…”

Sam sat down next to her, “I know. I’m going to stay here, I think they need us.”

She sat up, “You’re staying?”

“I am. They need our help or, we’re all kind of screwed. Ash was right.”

They wrapped an arm around her, “I saw the Commander, she wants our help. Apparently the people we saved told her about us.”

“They did?”

“You know that garden, apparently they built that because of us.”

“Cool,” she laid back down.

“I mean, I’m going to stay, but not if you won’t. If you think we should keep going, maybe we can get to Fiji.”

She smiled, “I can’t remember the last time I saw you in a bikini.”

“Dream on,” they laid down beside her.

“I get it, you don’t need to convince me. They need to die.”

“Good,” Sam turned to look at her, “besides, there is a creek nearby that people swim at. So, maybe we don’t need to go that far.”

“As long as you don’t expect me to swim.”

“I don’t think I could make you.”

She turned to face Sam, their noses almost touching, she went cross-eyed trying to look Sam in the eye, “I get a good feeling about this place.”

“Yeah,” Sam kissed her, and stroked a tear away from her cheek, “me too.”

 

Early morning light peeked in through a poorly curtained window. The way it broke upon Eshe’s sleeping body left Ash empty. There was nothing to hold her here except her fear, and even that fear felt hollow. Not wanting to hurt people was the same dullness in her chest as hurting people was. It was just harder to reconcile.

She laid next to Eshe, unable to move until it felt like an hour passed and she forced herself up. She dressed, and took her time sitting on the lounge drinking the rest of the juice from the can.

“Thought you left,” Eshe was awake, half-naked and standing in the kitchenette doorway, “Figured you were busy.”

“I’m not really the kind of person to lie in bed all day.”

“Don’t blame you, neither am I.”

She got up, joining them in the kitchenette, “I should get going, my friends are probably wondering where I went.”

“Okay, but don’t be a stranger.”

“We’re going to be working together.”

They smiled, blushing, “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” she contemplated kissing them goodbye, but decided against it, “And uh, I won’t be… a stranger, I mean.”

“Good.”

She nodded, agreeing, as she left. Out on the street the early morning was busy, people going to and from work – the night shift heading back to get some rest as the day shift rose from their slumber to deal with another long day of hard work. Life around the apartment blocks was particularly buzzing, and in Sam and Jess’ apartment the two were sitting and eating their breakfast. An unopened box sat on the lounge while they sat on the mattress. She recognised the box immediately, and Sam nodded to her as she entered.

“Busy night?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Got you packing shelves or something?”

“Y-eah, something like that. The Quartermaster is nice, she uh, needed some morale boosting.”

Sam laughed, Jess grinned, and she kicked herself because she thought she was being subtle.

“I, um-”

Sam raised a hand to stop her, “We don’t need details.”

“Speak for yourself,” Jess grinned wider.

Sam frowned at them, but addressed her, “Unless you’re too tired from shelf-packing, the Commander has asked to speak with Jess and me. I think you should come too.”

“Uh, why?”

“It’s a long story, but we’ve decided to stay. The Commander wants our help dealing with the fundies.”

“Okay, I’m in.”

Jess offered her a protein bar, “Have some breakfast.”

She accepted it and sat down on the lounge across from them, “So, uh, how are you feeling?”

Sam shrugged, “Had worse, but I’m not dying.”

“Right,” she scratched her neck, “good to hear, I guess.”

“We’ll go once you’re done eating.”

“Sure,” she took a bite of her food and mulled over things in her mind. She swallowed, then told them, “There is a bonfire night happening tonight, if you guys are interested.”

“Yeah, we heard,” Jess stood, “You should come with us.”

She nodded, fading back into her thoughts.

“What’s eating you?” Sam asked, hopping up to help Jess with their belongings.

“Nothing,” she finished her food, “let’s go.”

Jess stretched their arms, and gestured to the door, “Ladies first.”

Jess spent the walk to the Commander’s officer – the room with the map – preparing for a long day of inquisitions and very little of actual interest. The way Sam had described it to her, the Commander had been planning on working out their loyalties, but as soon as the three of them walked in the Commander welcomed them like old friends.

“Good you’re all here, is it too early for you three to start drinking.”

Sam led them to the table, and she spent a good five minutes examining it while Sam and the Commander spoke.

“What’s the occasion?”

Tara, the Commander, grinned like a proud mother, “You all checked out, and this morning is a particularly good morning.”

“Oh, I guess you asked around then,” Sam watched them pour a glass of whiskey but declined, “Why is it a good morning then?”

“It is a long story, but I convinced some friends to look into the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights.”

“I take it you’re planning on converting it to provide power?”

“We had concerns of a leak or a melt-down but the whole place is intact. Whoever locked the place up before the Collapse was smart enough to take the fuel with them for storage.”

“And you were worried maybe the Cross would get their hands on it.”

“It crossed my mind,” Tara sighed, “I had a similar idea, a radiation bomb would be a good tool to salt the earth so to speak.”

“I’d use it to cut the head off the snake.”

“Let’s focus on the task at hand. You three are the most recent arrivals, you’ve all fought the Cross and won. The last engagement I fought was at the Airport, so tell me. How have their tactics since then?”

“I wasn’t there, how-”

“Tell me what they do now, is what I mean.”

“Right,” Sam looked at Ash, “well, the first thing you need to prepare for is the dead. They have a way of luring them, usually sound but sometimes light, whatever it is they get the dead to attack you until you’re weak. Usually they’ll also have some marksmen trying to pick you off in the middle of it, create gaps in your defenses.”

“So,” Tara repeated, “Snipers and undead.”

“I found molotovs useful. The dead are smart enough not to walk through fire, you can control entire hordes with enough of it.”

Tara looked at Jess, who nodded in agreement, “The Northern Colonies reported similar things.”

“Their soldiers are mostly conscripts being led by a few veterans. Their marksmen aren’t a problem if you plan for them, at least the ones I ran into. They use carbines, assault rifles and I think one of them had an actual marksman rifle, but they tended to just try and suppress me so I couldn’t fight the dead.”

“Should I ask how you worked all this out?”

“I killed them.”

“That’s no then.”

“It was easy to tell, veteran soldiers don’t panic when you shoot back. I’d be careful with my analysis though, the scouts we ran into in Campbelltown weren’t new. Their leader was battle hardened, they didn’t even flinch when I threatened to set them on fire.”

Tara turned their eyes back down onto the map, “Any other advice?”

Sam looked at Ash, who perked up and answered, “Uh, yeah, further west they still have vehicles – mostly uh, converted cars… what are they called again?”

“Technicals,” Sam answered.

“Right, they still seemed to have plenty of petrol and they’d move around zombies in box trucks and panel vans. They’d transport them to the perimeters of their compounds to keep people in or out depending on the situation.”

Ash then pointed to the map, “But the northern roads were completely trashed and they way they moved around seemed to rely on getting around quick. They had a moving base when I first joined them, and I stuck with them until they put me on guard duty at a compound. When I was planning the break out I had to account for it, they moved units of soldiers along the motorways to keep the refugee camps in check. Sometimes they’d visit the reform camps as well.”

“The scouts had a patrol vehicle,” Sam included, “military stuff as well, not improvised. Special forces if anything.”

“So I heard,” Tara said, “I was worried about that. Rumours were that the crusaders made it back before the Collapse. Those sick fucks made Blackwater look like model citizens.”

“Literal modern day crusaders,” Sam informed Jess and Ash, “mercenaries from private militaries like Blackwater and Unity, Sharp Edge or whatever the fuck, Sandline, all the big ones. They all started sending soldiers to the outbreak zones to murder people thinking they were bringing about rapture. They literally thought they had a divine right to invade the Middle East and slaughter Muslims.”

“There was one group in particular that made headlines. An Australian group formed out of Hillsong, those crazy fundamentalist pricks with too much power in government. They weren’t so bad until the shit hit the fan and they turned rabid.”

Ash interrupted, “Uh, so, why are we worried?”

“They’re bad news,” Tara clarified, “battle hardened ultra-fanatical and a lot of them were former special forces. They were well funded and supported by other fundamentalists, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say maybe they helped the right-wing coup that took power.”

“It’d explain the policy shifts,” Sam agreed, “but the scouts were all women, no way they’d let women fight for them – I was surprised to find out the Cross does actually.”

Tara nodded, then abruptly told them, “I’ve got enough to think about now, thank you all. I’ll need to adjust my plans, but I expect to see you all tonight at the bonfire.”

Then they made a motion to shoo them out the door, “Go, go enjoy your day. Have a swim, or get some extra sleep.”

None of them argued, following Sam out the door. It was a beautiful day outside after all.

“Well, I better go see if Eshe needs my help.”

Sam considered following them, but chances were she’d see the Quartermaster and their sister at the bonfire. Besides, Jess’ mind was probably already decided on seeing the stream and relaxing in the sun.

“Try not to have too much fun.”

Ash scoffed, trying to shake the embarrassment before slinking away.

 

They only made it halfway down the street before a siren blared and the entire base turned into a chaotic tide of humanity. Soldiers rushed from buildings, weapons in hand, helmets on. Others ran in the opposite direction pushing through in nearly orderly fashion to get inside buildings. The Commander erupted from their office, pistol in hand and their receptionist flanking them with a radio set. The siren ended shortly after it began and the three of them chased after the Commander as they calmly relayed orders over the radio.

Tara walked quickly, arriving at the gate of the outpost before turning to Sam and Jess. Sam had picked up maybe half of the conversation over the radio on the short walk. There was an attack.

Tara pointed directly at her, “You three,” Ash caught up, barely winded from the sprint, “come with me.”

“What’s happening?”

“Cross, three of them. Snuck into the greenhouses, burned down two, injured a guard.”

Sam managed to put two and two together, and so did Jess it seemed, they grabbed her by the wrist to get her attention, but she kept her focus on Tara, “You think they’re the scouts we ran into?”

“We’ll find out won’t we. They’ve already been subdued, if there are more then at least we’ll be ready. You three are going to help me transport the Cross to the black room.”

Ash was already looking out the open gate, soldiers were streaming across the old base to the greenhouses, which had been surrounded by walls – smoke rose from them. She watched, looking at the reason they’d keep the greenhouses separated from the main settlement, it was an inferno, “Are you sure Eshe doesn’t need my help?”

Tara looked at Sam, “Do you need her help identifying them?”

“I’m the only one who saw their faces.”

Tara waved Ash away, “Go help the Quartermaster, tell Eshe to double water rations for any volunteers and soldiers.”

“Okay, and uh, yeah,” Ash ran off back towards the Quartermaster’s office.

Tara stepped out, followed by their receptionist radio-officer. Sam followed them, and Jess took one last look at the base before stepping outside the walls and towards the pillars of smoke.

End of Part Two.

nanowrimo dump week #4.1

Ash stood, slipped her knife into its sheath and headed to the door, “I need to go talk with the quartermaster.”

Sam wiped the sweat off her brow, it was getting warm in their tin-can apartment, “What for?”

Ash shrugged, “Commander told me to report to them, apparently I’ll be working with them. Sounds like they’re desperate for some good mood around this place.”

“Fair enough.”

“You two should go take a look around the base,” Ash advised before stepping out and leaving them to themselves.

Sam laid back against the mattress. The noise from the outside world barely made it inside and the heat was enough to make her sweat but not enough to leave her cooking. She just wanted to shut her eyes and go back to sleep.

Jess laid down beside her, their hand still entwined with her own. Their breathing, their warmth, the smell of their perfume – like memories of lilac and vanilla lip-gloss. Sam breathed in, felt their sweat on her skin and in her lungs. And when she kissed them, they pulled her close and didn’t let go. It had felt like years since she was so vulnerable, so willing to let go and feel them pressed down upon her. Even in their hide-away back home, there had been the fear of the chance that something would find them. Parents, undead, fundamentalists. Something felt different here.

 

Ash stepped into the depot, a warehouse of a room obviously carved out of the centre of an old office block. The lines where the walls had been still stood but now the floor was taken up by hundreds or maybe thousands of boxes that sat behind a long table made out to be like a counter. Along each of the still standing walls were gun lockers, and around them were more pedestrian affair such as clothing, food, bottles of drink and tools.

The woman standing behind the would be counter was exceptionally tall, even compared to the man working beside her counting the contents of a box. She approached a few steps, they were busy writing and she was unsure if she should interrupt as the woman and the man both rattled off strange sounding words and numbers. It took her a long time to even realise they were speaking a foreign language and only once they looked up from the papers did the woman notice her.

“Can I help you?”

Ash brushed back her hair, blushing slightly as the woman stared intensely at her, she lost her nerves to their unnerving examination, “I’m Ashley, uh, I, uh, the commander told me to see you.”

“Regarding?”

“Uh, she said that I, um, said I, she recommended me as a morale officer.”

“Right,” they said putting down their clipboard, and they extended their hand for her to shake, “she told me about you; social worker with a psychology degree, correct?”

Ash shook their hand, “That’s right.”

“Good. All you need to do is stand in here and listen to people complain all day so I don’t have to.”

“Oh,” she looked at the man, who had started to pack away the cans they had just taken out of the box to count, “I don’t need to organise anything?”

The woman picked up the clipboard again, “If you can do that without wasting any supplies, then feel free.”

“Okay, I guess… I’ll do what I can.”

Ash sat down on one of the stacks of boxes of cans, away from where they were working and took in the room. It was a pretty big room, the boxes seemed to be replacements for a lack of shelves, stacked in sets of four by four with just enough room between to move.

“So, uh, what are your names?” Ash asked, smoothing out the box underneath her.

“I am Eshe,” the woman said then gestured to the man helping her, “this is my sister, Layla.”

Ash bit her tongue, blushed. In her defense the room was quite dark.

“I like you,” Eshe said, leaning in on their table, “Tell me do you like chocolate?”

“Uh, yeah, I do.”

They grinned, then crossed the room to find a stack of boxes and after some rummaging they returned with a bar of chocolate and tossed it to her. She only barely caught it.

“Wait,” she read the wrapper and could almost taste it through the plastic, “You guys have mars bars?”

“It might be a bit hard,” they warned, then turned to speak to Layla in their foreign language – it sounded a bit like Arabic, but she wasn’t sure.

“Hey, I’m not complaining,” she said before tucking it into her pocket, “Thanks.”

“Consider it a welcome, and hopefully you’ll be useful around here.”

“I’m definitely gonna try.”

They leaned in on the table again, “So, tell me then why that is? I am curious what would make an outsider step in here and want to make everyone happy. Most of them just get along until they move.”

“People don’t stay?”

“They do, just only certain people.”

“I noticed that actually,” Ash said, standing up and starting to walk around the room to examine everything, “is there a reason there is so many women?”

“People like to be where they are accepted, not all the colonies are accepting.”

“Right, I get that. Tolerated but not accepted is my home town’s motto, but there are no men,” she made a point not to look at Layla as she said that, “I think I’ve seen like two on the whole base and I think they might have been traders.”

Eshe shrugged, “I don’t know why it is, but there is demand for men in the eastern colonies where they salvage ships and break down buildings for scrap.”

She nodded, “Right, physically intense sorts of work I guess.”

“It pays well, but women are discouraged from enlisting. Most couldn’t do it anyway, just like almost no men join the tunnel rats.”

“Tunnel rats?”

Eshe turned to face her, leaning on the table, “Lots of tunnels throughout Sydney, lots of scrap down there. Tight spaces and countless dead clawing at you, plus the fact men get told not to sign up. Not many men are left, lots of deaths in the collapse. Militias were meat-grinders and women were only allowed to join too late to do much. Most men who are still around were smart enough to avoid conscription.”

“I’m not from Sydney… so, is there like subways?”

“Not really,” Eshe folded their arms, “Brief parts are underground, mostly nearer to the city circle. Most of the tunnels are motorways. They connect parts of the city, cross the harbour, lead to the airport. I’ve never been down there, but I hear there is lots of flooded areas and tight squeezes. Kinds of places men don’t fit.”

“That makes sense I guess.”

“So, if you’re not from Sydney, where are you from?”

She wasn’t sure how to answer that, so she went with as close to the truth as she could – something about Eshe was endearing in an intimidating sort of way, “Me? I’m originally from Alice Springs.”

“Long walk.”

“No, I mean, my parents and I moved to Broken Hill when I was young.”

“Still a long walk.”

“I guess. What about you guys? You two locals?”

“Bankstown, just north of here.”

“Nice place to grow up?”

They both laughed, Eshe answered, “Shit hole.”

Ash ran her hand over a box of canned juice concentrate, “Yeah, I know how that feels.”

Eshe came to join her, planting a hand on the box next to her hand, “Just some friendly advice, avoid touching the supplies. We take theft very seriously here.”

Ash took her hand away, “Sorry.”

She blushed, nerves rearing up again, “What kind of juice is it?”

“Pineapple and normal apple.”

“Been ages since I’ve had juice,” she said stepping away from the juice boxes.

“It’s reserved for special rations.”

“Oh,” Ash started back towards the counter, “that’s a shame. Maybe if you guys get some orange juice, I’d kill for some orange in my life.”

Eshe was right behind her, following her to the counter, “I have some, actually.”

“Really?”

They smiled, “Come by my apartment after work, and we’ll see what you can offer.”

Her heart burned and her mind raced, Ash almost laughed as she caught her breath, “O-okay, sure. But, uh, when do you get off work, b’cause I only have my juice with breakfast.”

“That can be arranged,” they grinned.

“A-are you serious?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t-” she looked at Layla, who seemed completely uninterested in their banter and was instead working, “Is this appropriate?”

“Probably not, but the offer stands.”

She was really craving juice, it had been so long, “I mean, you don’t seem too busy today.”

Eshe turned to their sister, “Hold down the fort, sis.”

And they led Ash upstairs, through a door she hadn’t even seen until they opened it.

 

It was just another floor of an office building, but this time with shelves instead of boxes – and each shelf was neatly packed with supplies. Beyond the supply room was a makeshift apartment accessed through a kitchenette and set up in an old conference room. It was divided into three by cubicle walls, two sections were bedrooms and the middle was a living room complete with an old lounge. Eshe offered her to sit on the lounge, she stood, not entirely sure what to make of what she got herself into.

“So, do you do this often?”

“No,” Eshe rummaged through the kitchette, “but I make exceptions.”

“Right… I guess me too.”

“Juice is your exception?”

Ash stood in the doorway of the kitchenette watching them, “That was more like… an excuse I guess.”

“Not judging,” Eshe pulled an unopened can from the fridge, “Not like it’s a bad thing. People are getting over that idea, always gonna be idiots though.”

“Yeah,” Ash watched them open the can with a screwdriver, “guess I have a lot of experience in that.”

Eshe looked up at her, screwdriver stuck in the metal can, “What with?”

She realised what she had said, turning away from them to examine the apartment, “Oh, I mean. I come from a long line of bad ideas.” Then realising that wouldn’t stop the questions.

“Knew I’d like you.”

“Uh,” she examined the bedrooms, mattresses and desks with boxes of clothes and some coathangers.

“There’s a story there, I can tell.  I was going to be a detective, or you know whatever I could get all things considered.”

She looked them over, and yeah, whatever they’d give her was a good assumption, “I was a social worker. I knew a detective, she was cool. Fucked up though.”

“Yeah, sounds right. Tell you what,” they offered her a mug, “tell me your story, I’ll get you added to the juice list.”

“There’s a juice list?” she took the mug.

They shrug, “Everything has a list. Important personnel get extra rations or they get put on a special rationed item list. Juice, chocolate, toiletries, depends how scarce it is and how hard it is to make more. Just don’t ask for coffee, we trade that for medical supplies.”

“I’m not,” she looked into her mug, and at the emptiness, as she thought, “I’m not really going to question the whole currency situation around here.”

“It’s not that complex, and you should probably learn.”

Eshe led her into the living room and sat her down on the lounge, “If you have them from scavenging, medical supplies are probably the most valuable. Holding onto them is illegal though, they’re community goods. You get caught hoarding them, you usually get hard labour but I’ve seen people get hanged for it.”

Eshe sat on the coffee table, poured some juice into their mugs and watered it down so it was drinkable, “Other than that, maybe the second most valuable thing is coffee, chocolate, sugar.”

“Stuff to make shit taste better.”

“Exactly. Everyone wants that stuff, regardless of the colony.”

Eshe raised their mug to her and they both took a sip, it was sweet, tangy, almost too orangey. She loved it, it reminded her of home.

“Then you’ve got the regional stuff,” Eshe continued, having emptied their mug, “things that different colonies can get, but others can’t. So like alcohol, salt, soap. Just depends on what they can produce or salvage.”

“I’d kill for soap.”

Eshe poured themselves another cup, “Luxury mostly, standard rations have soap but they’re like bricks. Taronga makes the nice stuff, if you get in with a trader they’ll usually help you out.”

Ash finished her juice, and Eshe refilled her cup for her.

“But enough stalling, what’s your story?”

She had forgotten about that actually, and as she lifted her mug to her lips she had to mull it over. There was a lot of minefields to avoid, “I don’t know if I have much of a story. I grew up in a shit family, my parents disowned me and I spent a few months of my life living on the streets.”

“Were you on the streets when the outbreak started?”

“No, I was living with my partners. We had a house in Adelaide we were renting.”

“Partners? Like, more than one?”

“Yeah, so?”

Eshe raised their hands, surrendering, “I didn’t say anything.”

“Yeah well, I had two partners, okay. It wasn’t a big deal, get over it.”

Eshe smiled, “Fuck the haters, right?”

“I put up with it my entire fucking life.”

“Be who you are.”

Ash put down her mug, she had lost the stomach for it, “I’m not… cool with this.”

“Talking?”

“Talking.”

“Okay,” Eshe patted her leg, “but like, don’t let it get to you. World’s already over, no point getting hung up on the little things.”

She wished she couldn’t get hung up, her fingers ran over her neck, “I try not to.”

Eshe frowned, put down their mug, “Okay.”

“I just… when everyone constantly screams at you for not being… them.”

Eshe shuffled over onto the lounge next to her, “It gets to you, yeah. Makes you want to quit, not be who you are and be like them. I’m guessing you’re not the kind who doesn’t fight though.”

They put their feet up on the table and leaned back into the chair, “When people get angry because you’re breaking their worldview, best thing you can do to spite them is ignore them and keep on going.”

“I know… I was raised by-” she cut herself off, “My parents were monsters, I had to claw my way out from their bullshit, and I was happy. I was happy until it ended. Everything ended and I was alone again.”

Eshe wrapped an arm around her shoulder, “Tell you what, there is a bonfire on tomorrow night. We have one every month as a bit of a community thing. Come with me, we’ll have some fun. Everyone gets drunk and eats whatever meat we can get for the occasion.”

“Sounds alright, I guess.”

“Trust me, it’s more fun when you’re there.”

She nodded, looking down at the can of juice resting on the table, “Okay, thanks.”

“Have they given you an apartment yet?” Eshe sat forward to grab the juice.

“Yeah.”

“Okay, good, here,” they offered the can to her, “you keep it. A welcome gift.”

“Thanks,” she took it, stared at it, “I, uh, I appreciate it… and your advice.”

“Cool, it’s cool. Just don’t feel like you’ve gotta be alone.”

Ash placed the can back down on the table, and took their advice. She straddled them, pushed them hard against the lounge, “I don’t plan on it,” and pressed her lips deep against their throat.

nanowrimo dump week #3.2

She laid awake in the stain-glass blue midnight, eyeing her phone, unable to sleep. Sam kind of wished to herself that her phone was new enough to play games. It was getting old now and all it could really do was play music. The sound is turned up and a slow song plays trying to keep her awake – old songs from a band she liked about love and loss and all kinds of angst she should have grown out of years ago. The cold glow of the screen left the room full of the trepidation about tomorrow.

The darkness left the air thick around her, the glow of her phone screen barely cutting into it. She was alone, she was an isolated insomniac staring up at a pixel cluster of blue and dreaming of an understanding as to why her world was so dark. The answer was always in her hands.

But that defeated the purpose of metaphors.

She faded into a halcyon dream of cyan blue stained with copper red, diffusing to fill the dreamscape. Colour with no form, ethereal and existing as if it had always been there. It was music, it was sound, it was beating and pulsing. Mixing without mingling, red and blue, seamless blurs that never lost themselves.

She always woke before they catalysed into something recognisable or understandable. Instead she got up, showered and dressed before joining where reality began, each and every day.

The kitchen was a faded margarine, it always felt brighter. The curtains were drawn for some reason, light came in from the garden and Mum sat at the table reading the news on her tablet. It was all she ever read. Sam turned on the kettle, then went about making breakfast for the two of them.

“Good morning.”

Mum was starting to look old. The wear of sleepless nights spent on the lounge watching old TV shows, the fact Sam’s aunt had been out of town on a vacation for a month, the fact they were constantly worried about Sam’s uni expenses. New problems on the horizon.

“I was thinking you could take me down to the shops tonight.”

There was something ominous about their request, “You want to leave the house?”

“I-I think I need to get a few important things.”

“Uh, okay, I guess. Are you sure?”

They nod, putting down their tablet so they could eat the toast she had made for their breakfast, “I’ve been reading some things and I’d like to be prepared.”

“Things? This isn’t about that virus in Mexico again is it?”

“I-I would just, I need to buy a few things, please Sam.”

“Okay,” she smiled, placing a hand on her mother’s, “It’s okay, we’ll go get what you need, but I want you to promise you’re not going to stress about this. It’s like the zika virus or ebola all over again.”

She looked into her mug at the nearly finished coffee, “Or SARS or bird flu or swine flu…”

She was met with silence, Mum picked up their tablet again and started reading through something new.

“I’ll take you after uni, just try to get some sleep.”

They gave her a weak smile, and Sam knew they wanted to argue but just let it drop. She ate her breakfast quickly, just in case they changed their mind. The drive into the university was particularly dull that morning, she had forgotten the cord she needed to plug her phone into the radio and was forced to listen to talk radio the entire way. The bulldoggish male voice was irritated by rationality, so instead spouted bible verse as through god ever said anything enlightened and resorted to screaming at the tired female voice. Ahead of her on the motorway the traffic jam was thick with impatience and she struggled not to think of the implications as to why they had all ground to a halt. The cars slowly crawled forward, and as she exited onto the busy industrial streets near to the campus the radio told her of another mass shooting in the United States.

The universe always found a way to make things worse.

She arrived at university late, but unsurprisingly she was also one of the few who actually bothered to come to class that week. When class ended, she was in no real rush to get to the library – Jess’ car wasn’t in the car park when she arrived, so they probably ditched like everyone else did before mid-semester break. The on-campus shop, a reasonably sized petrol-station style supermarket, was the place to go for books mostly but it also had food and drink for the quick. Standing at the fridges she was paralysed by choice – she didn’t particularly feel like anything but she also wanted something. When her phone buzzed it shocked her from her stupor. She spent the next minute responding to Mum, having forgotten to tell them she arrived safely.

A loud knock on glass somewhere, Sam looked up and around, it took her a moment to even see them frowning at her through the window of the shop. Jess, they waved so she waved back an awkward little wiggle of her fingers. Then they disappeared to come around the wall and into the shop.

“Sam!”

“H-hey,” she looked back down at her phone, checking the bank balance to work out if she could even pay for anything – the answer was no.

“Come on, let’s go get lunch.”

Sam eyed the fridge, “I was.”

“There is a kebab shop down the road, it’s way better.”

“I’m kind of light on money at the moment,” she pocketed her phone.

“Okay, well, I’ll pay if you keep me company on the walk.”

“Alright, I guess,” she said, with no intention of spending their money.

They led her down the street away from campus towards a collection of small shops that were just next to the campus grounds themselves. She spent the entire walk listening to their tales about the details of their day. Telling her about classes and dramas with friends. She was only really half able to listen, the insanely distracting amount of noise on the road that day dragged her from their words and into a weird spiral of conflicting thoughts.

They finally reached the kebab shop, but instead of stopping they kept going and gestured for her to follow them into a small grocer on the opposite side of the shops. It was a quiet little shop, much warmer inside and cloaked in shadows from the high, well stocked shelves. A series of fluorescent tube lights brightened up the aisles just enough that nothing was impossible to read – except that a lot of the words were in foreign languages, mimicked by the voices crackling over a radio sitting on the counter. Jess left her in amongst the aisles to examine the fridges, and eventually she slowly made her way around to find them. They were examining the drinks through frosted over glass.

“My sister always makes fun of me for not liking diet coke,” they opened the fridge to grab several cans of coke, “apparently it’s not lady like to drink the full-strength stuff.”

“She makes fun of you over it?”

“Not seriously, I had this argument with my mother one day about how ‘ladies’ don’t drink coke.”

“Seriously?”

They shrug, “She was pretty religious as a kid, her parents were some kind of crazy denomination,” then offered her a chance to rummage through the fridge.

She declined, “She’s alright now though?”

“Mostly,” they head into the aisles again, “she still tells me I should dress more lady-like.”

“I guess I never had that problem, Mum is super chill about everything.”

“Cool, must be nice.”

They grabbed themselves a bag of chips before heading up to the counter. She glanced over the assortment of products on the shelves before just following them to the counter. There Jess paid and led the way back outside and back onto the pathway. Instead of going to the kebab shop, they took her to the nearby park on the corner of the campus grounds. There, secluded by a chain-link fence, a few students came to play sports in their down-time. Jess led her in through a gap in the fence where a fence was clearly meant to be.

The grass was soft underfoot, and they completely passed up the path in favour of cutting across the grass before finally finding a table near to the edge of the path under the shade of a few trees. The old style wooden picnic table was filthy but Jess doesn’t care half as much as she does. They sat down on the tabletop with their feet on the seat so they could look out over the park and the people in it. Sam joined her, though she was careful not to sit in the bird shit.

“I used to spend a lot of time here the last few semesters.”

“Yeah?”

“There was a girl I used to hang out with, we were in most of the same classes together so we used to have lunch together.”

“Used to?”

Jess sighed deeply, “I wonder what life would be like if everyone was more honest about things. Y’know?”

“Missed opportunities sting the worst,” she offered, trying her best to avoid all the pieces of the puzzle sliding into place.

“You study philosophy, right?”

“I did.”

“You have a philosophical feel to you.”

“I have a feel?”

“If feels like everything you say is deliberate and genuine, but everything you say has some kind of double meaning to it.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Is that what it’s like talking to other philosophy students?”

“Not really.”

Jess smiled sadly, they were both silent for an unbearably long time, then they finally spoke up again with that same sad smile, “Rain’s coming.”

“I like the rain.”

“I know,” they looked at her, then up at the sky, “I like it too.”

Pillars of storm clouds, heavy and ominously dark, “What else do you think we have in common?”

She started to smile, radiant and serene like the stars had aligned and they had glimpsed the gods, “Probably a lot.”

Jess’ hand brushed against Sam’s.

“I wanted to ask you something, but I don’t know how.”

She looked at them, “Ask me anything, I promise it’ll be okay.”

“There is this really cool uh, restaurant and I’ve really want to go but I feel weird going by myself,” they turned scarlet, “wanna go with me?”

They had friends, they had been talking about them just ten minutes ago, “Sure. Let me give you my number, so you can call me whenever,” she looked down at the grass, “you know, so we can go to dinner.”

It started to rain.

“Let’s go inside first,” they said holding a hand out to feel the rainfall, “I said I’d buy you lunch.”

“Right,” she smiled, hopping down off the table.

 

The outpost smelled of dew and woodfire of a morning, the same kind of smell that brought back memories of camping trips and secluded moments. Jess spent much of the early hours observing the people come and go from the wall of the apartment. Sitting in front of the curtain, her hands kept busy stitching together Sam’s jacket. There was purpose to the people here, they rose early and marched out with a skip in their step. The ones left behind were returning from night patrols or had breakfast in the common ground between the apartment blocks. Only one stood out in the crowd, a woman in a dirty white jacket with a large satchel bag bouncing off their hip. They approached, walking briskly and disappeared up the ramps. Jess turned back to look at Sam still asleep on the mattress and Ash polishing their knives. Despite their eagerness to stay with the outpost, Ash had done little to prove that resolve in the light of day.

A knock rattled the chain-link, and when she went to answer it she saw the white-jacketed woman standing at the front door.

“Hello,” the woman smiled when they saw her peeking through the curtains, “I’m Doctor Grimm, I’m looking for Sam.”

She ducked back behind the curtains to grab Ash.

“Hey, sorry about that,” Ash pulled the curtain back and opened the door for them, “I guess she was meant to report back to the medics last night.”

“It’s okay,” the doctor stepped inside, examining the room intently before laying eyes on Ash and on Sam who had been roused from their sleep and now sat on the mattress, “Good morning.”

Jess gave a slight wave, while Sam just sat there with her head in her hands.

“We had a busy schedule last night, so we appreciated you forgetting,” they had a mad hatter’s smirk to them and stepped deeper into the apartment.

“Busy?” Sam rose to her feet, “Sounds bad.”

“Nasty business, a patrol lost contact a week ago and the team sent to find them ran into some truly nasty creatures on the way.”

“I’m sorry to hear,” Sam knelt as the Doctor instructed, they had Jess hold their torch as they removed the bandages and combed through her hair to inspect her wound.

“It is the way of the world now, I have grown accustomed to the broken bodies that wash up on my operating table. It is almost a joy to see you, given your injuries are so superficial.”

“They sure don’t feel it,” Sam rolled her eyes.

“Come complain to me when your arm is pulled out of its socket, or your lung gets punctured by two of your broken ribs.”

“You’ve got a wonderful bedside manner.”

They pulled a bottle of antiseptic from their bag, and before Jess could warn her, applied it. It burned like fire across her scalp.

“That’s why I became a surgeon.”

They pulled the bandages tight back around her head before taking back their flashlight from Jess, “Hop up, let me examine you for brain damage again.”

Doctor Grimm really did have no bedside manner. Examining her for signs of damage, making her recite the alphabet, count from one hundred backwards and forwards, while standing on one foot. It seemed all pretty stupid, up until the point they made her stop and examined her eyes for a good five minutes.

“Pupils are fine. No loss of coordination. No apparent confusion. How are your hands any numbness or tingling?”

“No,” Sam flexed her fingers.

“Headaches? Nausea?”

“No, neither.”

The Doctor turned off their torch, “No slurring of the speech or agitation. You’ll be fine. If you experience any mood swings, memory loss or confusion come see me. Or, I guess headaches, nausea or numbness in the hands or feet.”

“Okay, thank you doctor.”

“I’m curious though,” they tucked away their torch, “the report says an undead did this to you, but it also goes into some detail that it wasn’t exactly normal.”

She looked at Jess, then Ash. Ash answered, “It wasn’t.”

“I call them hunters,” she raised the knife she had been fixing the handle of for the past half hour, “because that’s what they do. They hunt you down, they are smart enough to track you down – to climb up stuff and open doors, it’s…”

“Worrisome,” the Doctor gestured as though to ask if they could sit on the lounge next to her, she nodded and they continued after they were comfortable, “You three have come from Commonwealth lands, but you’re not refugees are you?”

“I’m not,” Ash answered for herself, “I helped a group of refugees escape.”

The Doctor was looking at Sam and Jess, who were standing together, “There has been a few from Commonwealth land that have reported similar things. Undead that can talk, undead that can use weapons, undead that stalked them like wild animals through the ruins of old cities. Stress does strange things to the mind.”

“You don’t believe them?”

“Do you believe every story you hear?”

Ash put down her knife, “Not every story has evidence to back it up.”

“I would need more evidence to say, but it is worrisome so many people say the same thing.”

“I’ve never met a zed that could talk, if that makes anything better.”

It didn’t seem to, “Tell me, how much do you three know about the undead?”

Ash shrugged, Sam was silent and Jess folded their arms over their chest. Only Ash answered, “I don’t know. That’s kind of a loaded question right, there is always more to know isn’t there?”

“Of course, what I meant was, do you understand what they are?”

“Dead people,” Sam spoke up, “reanimated by some kind of virus.”

The Doctor gestured to Sam, as though to point out she was correct, “A particularly deadly one. Between eighty and ninety-percent of the population died outright, the rest of us had some form of naturally resistance.”

They stood, “We don’t know what it is, but anti-virals and for some reason influenza vaccines seemed to improve immune response enough to save lives. Everyone else, the people that didn’t survive, became the undead.”

They gestured to the outside, “Everyone out there, survived the deadliest pandemic humanity will ever see. More lethal than than the black death and more virulent than the spanish flu. And yet, somehow, when we die we’ll become one of those things.”

Ash stood, “I’ve been bitten, I was sick for a week but… if we don’t die, we can fix things.”

“I’m not here to tell you what we could do, I’m here to fix your friend.”

“I know,” Sam said, “but I’m looking for a reason to stay. It’s not hopeless, right?”

“Does it even really matter? Only the dead can be neutral any more.”

The Doctor gestured to her head, “Remember to come see me if you’re having any of the problems I listed. Do you remember them?”

“Headaches, nausea, numbness, uh, mood swings, memory loss and confusion.”

“Good,” the Doctor walked to the front door and gave them one final piece of advice, “Get some rest, stress is bad for your health,” before leaving their apartment.

Ash sat back down, and grabbed her knife to continue her work, “I like her.”

“I don’t,” Sam sat back down on the mattress, “Doctor’s never give you a full fucking answer.”

Jess sat down beside Sam, held her hand, “She’s right. Where can we go if we leave?”

“Let’s swim to Fiji,” Ash offered sarcastically.

There was a long silence while Sam considered it.

nanowrimo dump week #3.1

ACT TWO.

A familiar ocean-grey lingered over the campus grounds, choking out the world beyond the pane of glass in front of her face. Sam sat in her car, listening to the last few minutes of her song in peace, and just tried to forget what was ahead of her. It was raining again that day. The short walk from her car to the main building left her soaked, cold cutting deep, but at least inside was heated. The main building was where all of her lessons were being held, and it was teeming with life. Other students littering the space just to avoid the rain and enjoy their books, company and coffee. None of them even raised an eye to examine the ocean-grey soaked girl standing shivering in the entrance. Her first class is held in a dark room with a dozen other students each pretending to know about philosophy. The teacher is an elderly man who enjoys reminding them of their humanity and begins each lecture with a reminder about the importance of bowel health. Then the lecture turned into a discussion of the impacts of dialectics – the existential clashes of ideologies that churned out nearly every major war in human history.

Sam had never been a fan of those discussions, they had a one-sidedness to them. Plus she knew everything the lecturer told the class. When the lecture inevitably ended and everyone moved into a classroom for the tutorial, cliques formed and he took a vote and everyone was divided down party lines. One side defending capitalism and the other defending communism.

Neither side would ever win, doubly so when half of the class failed to understand the core tenants of what they were arguing. That was the point, it was about questioning your own understanding. It took a lot of help and by the time anyone seemed to get it, it was over and time for the next class.

Sam made her way out into the cold pathways still misty from the rain, winding her way through the shelters of the university campus and into the library. The glass double doors to the library slid open and the dry, musty air of the library washed away the cold. People filled the library, filled the aisles and the study desks and the study rooms. Save for one room.

It was them again. The strange blue-eyed girl who sat alone every thursday. Never joined by anyone and always with their nose buried in a book. Every now and then they looked up to catch her staring. Trapping her in the gentle cyan blue of their eyes. It was that day they smiled and waved, an offer.

She shuffled towards the door, unsure of what to do as she opened it, and the warm air flooded her, and the scent of their perfume washed away her mind. She trembled at their voice, it was better than she had dreamt it.

“Hey,” their voice, a songbird’s graceful note bristling against her coarse ears, “Do you want to join me?”

She choked, throat feeling tight, lungs so heavy she was drowning. Sam managed a nod, they smiled warmly.

“Still raining outside?”

“Y-yeah.”

“I’m Jessica,” they brushed their long black hair back out of their eyes, “I’ve seen you around.”

“Sam,” she tried not to stare, but their eyes were as intoxicating as oxygen – considering she was a drowning woman.

“What do you study?”

She caught herself looking at the table, looking at the books… design, construction, architecture, “Engineering.”

Their smile widened, “Really? You too? What kind?”

“Uh, chemical engineering.”

“Cool,” they nodded thoughtful, “that sounds cool. I’m doing architecture.”

“I can tell,” she tried a smile, then internally cringed at herself, “Uh, I really like architecture.”

They laughed, and her heart skipped a beat. They closed their textbook and looked at her for a moment, “I was about to go get a coffee, if you’d like to join me.”

“Yes,” she blushed, “Uh, I really like coffee… as well.”

They grinned, packed their bags and together they crossed the campus to get coffee. They went to the ‘best’ coffee shop on campus. The coffee was bitter, but the way it blended with the milk was seamless, smooth. She could only imagine why the aroma was so enticing to the throng of people crowding the tiny stall despite the heavy rain. She could barely smell anything over the dewy mist surrounding the small pavilion.

Jess kindly let her borrow their umbrella, maybe they pitied her for choosing to stand close to the edge of the pavilion. Truth told, she liked the rain – when it washed over her skin she felt something. She was never sure what, but it was the same kind of feeling she got with her hands wrapped around a poorly insulated cardboard cup of full coffee.

A hint of texture.

“You should get one of those reusable plastic cups they sell.”

They noticed the way she shifted her hands against the hot cup. She shrugged, “I hate the environment.”

“You hate the environment?”

“Trees mostly,” she gestured to the nearby growth of green amongst the industrial wasteland surrounding the university.

“You… hate trees?”

“Sure, I mean if they ever become sentient, we’ve have no chance of stopping them.”

They smiled, “Trees. But what about robots?”

“They wouldn’t stand a chance either.”

They laughed, and her heart stopped arresting.

“Most people don’t like my jokes.”

“Come on, I’m sure plenty of people like them.”

She shrugged, “I think they’re too corny sometimes.”

“Well, I think they’re a-maize-ing.”

She laughed, they laughed, and all of a sudden they were leading her across the campus, through the sheltered walkways and to the car park. They grabbed their books for the next class and stood together in the rain under their umbrella.

“I bet you like the rain as well.”

She nodded slowly, “Yeah.”

The rain dripped from a hole in their umbrella, falling in their coffee, “You don’t strike me as an engineering student.”

“Sorry, I panicked…”

“It’s cool, what do you actually study?”

“I… it’s dumb.”

“Tell me,” they looked into her eyes.

There was nothing she couldn’t tell them, “Philosophy.”

“Awesome,” they smiled, dumbly wide and nearly dropped their coffee trying to brush their long black hair away from their face, “I’ve got plenty of time before my next class.”

She looked down at her watch, “Me too,” her next class had started.

“Mind if I asked you something then?”

“No.”

“Can I have your number?”

They grinned at her dumbstruck face, but she mumbled out, “W-why?”

“I would like to talk to you about philosophy, but you’re going to be late for class.”

Sam looked for her courage, for her mind lost somewhere in her shoes, and they just smiled wider and took a page out of their book and scribbled a number on it before shoving it into Sam’s pocket.

“Come on Sam, let’s get you to class.”

 

“Come on Sam, let’s get you to-”

When Sam opened her eyes, the dream was gone and her headache was splitting the world open. Already sitting, a cold, clinical bench pressing against her naked thighs, a surgical gown around her. Surgery light overhead, bright and sterile.

Static, angry like her wounds. Lifting her hands, seeing them healed over in angry red skin stopped the trembling slightly. The whole room was spinning, being torn off kilter from the back of her head.

She grabbed at her clothes, and felt the dirty black t-shirt she had been wearing at the train station. Blinking out of sync, blurry eyed, an immense wave of nausea washed over her. She slipped off the bed, standing up in the centre of a prison cell, the concrete walls illuminated by an electric lantern hanging overhead.

“Sam.”

She clutched her chest, and turned to see Jess sitting in a chair by the bed. They had been sleeping there, arms still curled up and eyes half-open.

“You’re awake.”

“Jess.”

They smiled, forcing themselves up to actually sit, “You had me worried.”

“What happened?” her head was splitting, breaking open at the seams of her skull, “Where are we?”

“Holsworthy.”

“We’re in a cell.”

They got to their feet, “We’re not locked in.”

“Are there people?”

They nodded, then hugged her. She hugged them back, resting her head against their shoulder. A moment of quiet until the pain made her move.

Sam grimaced, kissed Jess, then held their shoulders she she could see them. Their blue eyes had soul to them, stormy waters. She smiled, pain not meaning much after all, “I don’t remember what happened.”

“You hit your head, and the medics looked at you. They said there was no signs of brain damage but you might still have some memory loss.”

Sam ran her hand over the back of her head, it was swollen up and tender to the touch, “Medics?”

Jess grinned, “They were nice. This whole place is nice, they called it a safe zone and they are definitely not cool with the fundies.”

“Like, they’re against them?”

Jess nodded, taking her by the hand, “Are you okay to go for a walk? I want to show you something.”

“I’ll be fine, show me.”

Jess led her by the hand out the metal door and into a hallway lined with similar metal doors. The short hallway ended with a medic sitting at a desk and what appeared to be an old police station.

“How are you feeling this morning?” the medic, an older woman with a friendly smile, asked politely.

“I’m fine, uh, can I go outside?”

“Be careful of your head. I’ll need to see you again tonight to check, but you’ll be okay.”

She stood staring at them for a moment, unsure before Jess squeezed her hand, “Thanks.”

Jess led her through the glass front door and out into a courtyard. Around them a garden bloomed, flowers in a rainbow of colours and shapes in pots and on lattices pressed into a corner made by two buildings. All around them were buildings, only a handful were made of brick and mortar while most were assembled out of wood and metal. They piled up on top of each other, except over the building they had just left. The two paths into the courtyard disappeared into more buildings, it was dense like a city and even sounded like one. Two young girls tended to the flowers, they hummed in tune together, maybe no older than twelve. They didn’t notice as Jess and Sam approached the back wall of the courtyard, instead going about their work. Jess stopped her in front of a large wooden sign, it was carved with a message that took her a moment to read as her eyes adjusted through her headache.

In dedication to those who lost their lives at Ellel, those who have lost their lives to the Commonwealth and to the people brave enough to stop them.

“They made it,” she smiled, “I’m so glad they made it.”

She looked to Jess, who nodded and squeezed her hand. Jess gestured to her to follow, and given they were still holding onto her hand, she did. Out from the courtyard back to the left, beyond the medic’s office was what looked like a main street. It was thrumming with people, all the new buildings to the left that filled the gaps between the old buildings faced onto it, and they were all open walled. Inside people were busy, most of them cooking, sewing, doing an assortment of other necessary jobs. What she could only describe as soldiers walked in groups, talking, off duty but still in a collection of uniforms. Among them was plain clothed people, some were trying to negotiate with the soldiers. The only thing that truly struck her was that all of them were women.

Jess continued to lead her along, taking her through the crowds and dragged her into a building half-way down the street. It was an old building, a staircase in the back and a reception desk at the front and centre. Several people were already inside, most of them eating and drinking. There was no formality despite the fact a soldier was standing beside the desk with a gun over their shoulder and a helmet painted with a large red dot. It reminded Sam immediately of the Japanese flag. Jess took her past the soldier and to the reception desk, where another woman in uniform sorted papers. Jess caught her attention, and signed to her to tell them she is here to see the commander.

“I’m uh, here to see the Commander.”

The receptionist looked up from their papers, “Name?”

“Uh, Sam.”

They rolled their eyes, “Third door on the left.”

Jess pushed her down the hallway to the left, and sure enough there was a woman in the third room standing behind a large desk. Standing across from them was Ash, pointing at something pinned to the table. As they got closer and the woman turned to look at them, Sam could tell it was a map of the entire Sydney region.

“Sam!” Ash noticed her, “You’re up.”

“Yeah.”

“So you’re Sam then,” the woman said straight-faced, unflinching, frankly scary in the way they dissected her with their eyes, “Ash told me about you, described in great detail how you saved her.”

Ash blushed and turned back to the table. The woman stepped closer and offered a hand to be shaken, “I’m Tara Indra, Commander of the Holsworthy Outpost.”

She shook their hand and Jess left her side to go whisper something to Ash.

“Welcome.”

“Thanks,” Sam let go before they did, but the Commander parted ways first to return to the map.

“Ash informed me of a few things while you were recovering, and I wanted to talk to you. It sounds like you ran into some trouble.”

“Trouble?”

“From the Cross, I believe Ash called them fundies.”

“Short for fundamentalists.”

“Yes, I’m aware. Three acolytes in a hardware store in Campbelltown, correct?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

They gestured to the map, and she looked where they were pointed but it was everything else that shocked her. It was covered in pins, red, blue, white, black, green… it was so littered with them that parts of the map were unreadable. The map itself was a copy made out of white sheets of paper stuck down to the corkboard on the table. It took her a scan of the room to see an original hanging on the wall to her left. Then her eyes were drawn to where the Commander was pointing.

“That’s right.”

“Good,” they stuck a white pin into the map. It chilled her when she realised the white were the Commonwealth.

To the south, to the west and to the south west of the map were thick clusters of white pins and the new pin followed a pattern of them getting closer to the collection of red pins dotted across the city of Sydney.

“You’re the red?”

The Commander corrected, “We are the red, Sam. You don’t get to pick a side in this.”

“I don’t even know who you are.”

“Call me Tara.”

“You know what I meant.”

Tara pointed to Sydney and the collection of red, “The Sydney Colonial Resistance. During the chaos of the Collapse, groups of refugees and deserting soldiers found themselves holded up across Sydney, unable to really do much by themselves other than struggle to survive.”

Tara pointed to Holsworthy, “After I led a mutiny against the commanders in charge of Holsworthy, I established the Outpost and started opening up the different groups in Sydney to each other. They called themselves colonies, and because most of them had fled from Commonwealth violence, we became the resistance to them.”

Then they turned directly to face her, they were quite tall, almost a head taller than she was, “The Commonwealth had abandoned the city long before the Collapse. We’re working to restore it.”

“Wait, so, you created a resistance movement?”

“Helped, yes. I lead the militia, there is a democratic civil government I’m not part of. We have working factories and farms, we provide shelter and food. We even provide medical treatment free of charge.”

“So, you’re at war with the Commonwealth?”

Tara pointed to the map, “Soon we won’t have a choice.”

“How can I help?”

“You can start by telling us everything you know about the Campbelltown area.”

“I can do one better, I have maps,” and as she turned to look at Jess her head spun.

It must have been noticeable, because Tara told her, “Rest for tonight, it can wait until the morning when you’re feeling better.”

“Alright.”

Jess and Ash came around the table, and Tara addressed them all one last time before they left, “This is a sanctuary, a safe town. If you run into anyone harassing anyone, or if you get harassed, report it to me immediately. There is a list of rules in the foyer.”

Sam mused that over, but neither Jess nor Ash seemed confused by this. Outside in the main street, she asked.

“Sanctuary? Safe town?”

Ash hummed, “Safe for our kind, no more running from the fundies!”

Jess took hold of her hand, and leaned into her as they walked.

“I guess, considering they’re all refugees from fundistan, or the Cross or whatever… they rightfully realised that we should have freedom to be ourselves.”

Sam had to ask, “Right, I get that but, ourselves? Are you?”

“I don’t adhere to labels very well,” Ash was very jovial, “so don’t use me as glue.”

Jess giggled and spoke softly, “I think she likes people.”

“I think that’s a safe bet,” Sam said before trying to change the subject so she could get some answers, “but this resistance stuff… how real do you think it is?”

“You mean,” Ash turned to face her as they walked, “like, intention or as like a contender?”

“Both.”

“We all know what those fascist goat-fuckers do,” Ash stopped them in their tracks, voice simmering, “if your only choice was that, or death. You’d go out fighting, wouldn’t you?”

“Yeah, okay, uh, but we both also know what we’re up against.”

“Yeah, we do, but does that matter? I’m going to stay, Tara already offered me a job. She wants me to help with morale. Even if it is hopeless, we should fight until the last drop of blood in an attempt to stop them.”

“Morale officer?”

“I told her I was a social worker, then I had to explain it.”

“I think that sounds perfect for you.”

“Thanks… uh,” Ash smiled, “we’re sharing a room, just so you know.”

 

She nodded, “I think we’re fine with that. I’m just surprised we have a room.”

Ash took the lead again, “I asked around, it sounds like they divide everything up between the military and the civilians – civilians get a room per family or group or whatever and the military shares a barracks but they get extra rations.”

“Extra rations, so do we get rations?”

“Yeah,” Ash gestured to a doorway marked off with a large red paint sign – Quartermaster – and then to the open buildings on the opposite side, “Everyone gets supplies, equipment, whatever they need if they do their job.”

“Seems like things are pretty well organised at least.”

Ash finally came to stop at the end of the street. They were on the intersection of another street, heading left and right and into more buildings. It seemed like the roads went around small blocks and at the middle of them all was the quartermaster, the infirmary and the commander’s quarters. To the left was a courtyard and there were soldiers drilling in hand to hand combat, to the right were more buildings and several streets down was another large courtyard.

Ash led the way again, down the right-hand path, and into the courtyard. It was surrounded by black painted walls and cutting diagonally between the two outermost buildings was a massive platform with ramps leading up and over it. It was a gate and it was patrolled by four soldiers all with weapons, and at this moment it looked as though a truck had been parked up on the platform.

“The gate, and down this street,” Ash was pointing behind her, “are the apartments.”

The apartments were really just shipping containers, and now that she saw them she realised what the other buildings she had seen were as well. The wood had thrown her, but here it was more or less left only as decking to get between the two storeys that the ‘buildings’ comprised. All along the street was scaffolding and shipping containers. Most of the doors to the apartments were chain-link and the chain-link metal was welded over the front of the containers. Inside people went about their lives, most however had their curtains covering them from prying eyes. It was seemingly at a random spot on the street that Ash stopped heading down and turned to head up the scaffold ramps and directly to an apartment. They unlocked the door and led Sam and Jess inside. Pulling away the curtains, they found a mattress, a lounge, a table, and a collection of containers to put their belongings in. Most of everything seemed to have been used before, and Sam found an old hat as she sat down on the lounge.

Ash lit the lamp on the table, making it a little easier to see everything.

“It’s an interesting set up.”

Ash sat down on the lounge, Jess stayed standing. On the table was three tin boxes, each one labelled with their names on masking tape and black marker.

“Right,” Ash said grabbing the one with her name, “They sent me to speak with the quartermaster and I got some supplies for us. Turns out they’re kind of happy to just give stuff away, so, I figured I’d take it for you two as well.”

“We’ve spent nearly a year scraping together supplies, and they just have them to give away? It makes me uneasy.”

Ash nodded, but not in agreement, “I get it, when I showed up at the missionary they took me in and told me about the grace of God. I was happy to have food, water, somewhere to stay. Then they convinced me to stay, make me feel like I owed them.”

“It was the same with us,” Jess finally sat down on the mattress.

“I think this is legit,” but they conceded, “but let’s just keep an eye out and promise that if it turns out they’re as bad as the fundies, we escape together.”

Jess agreed, but Sam was too busy thinking to notice. Her head was killing her and so she laid down for a while and ended up drifting off to sleep.

nanowrimo dump week #2.3

author’s note: I have been a bit sick over the past week, but almost still reached my goal. So instead of throwing this onto the next part, here is the end of the first act of my nanowrimo story. I’ve been doing it this way to mostly try and avoid like 8k word dumps, maybe make them slightly more read-worthy. Feel free to tell me if I’m wrong or whatever.


Jess smiled, wistful, eyes on the packs of abandoned belongings strewn around the platform.

“I already miss home,” they looked at her, “Waking up, the sun coming in through the ceiling, your head against my heart. Coffee downstairs, watching cartoons on your laptop while you helped Addie with her homework.”

“Those are some romantic memories,” Sam nudged a backpack with her foot.

“They reminded me of my sister. Just a little.”

“Ash?”

Jess nodded, “I don’t know, just something about them.”

Sam approached a bench, the sunlight heavy on the metal and the faded packs and bags on them tearing as she moved them, “Let’s take a break.”

She sat down, and Jess joined her. Warmth on their backs, Jess’ head cuddled into her shoulder, the quiet. The only sound was Jess, breathing softly. It was unspoken why they were waiting. Or what Sam hoped to see as she kept an eye on the station’s approaches with gun in hand. It was Ash’s, the one with the black tape around the stock, a visible crack running through it. M4, commando level equipment, or maybe just some of the surplus dropped in during the outbreaks.

Jess had her eyes shut, savouring the moment. So rarely was it so serene and she tried to hear the music in her head playing.

“The only thing I miss more than Addie, is our song.”

Sam wrapped an arm around her, “Which one?”

Jess sighed shortly, fondly, “All of them.”

“I remember all the names, but forgot even the tunes.”

“I remember the tunes but not the names.”

Sam pulled her in closer, hugging her tightly, “I’m sorry about leaving it all behind, again.”

“I understand, we needed to leave. Going back would be hours out of the way, and it’s silly… it’s just a bunch of CDs. Lives mean more.”

They kissed her on the top of the head, and they both went back to soaking in the silence. Only each other’s breathing to listen to.

A kicked can, she roused from the moment and slowly looked around. A can rolled off the edge of the platform on the other side of the office. It was moving too quickly, it sounded unopened. Jess was frozen to her side until she pressed her elbow against their ribs. Together they moved, taking slow and deliberate actions, standing and raising their rifles towards the end of the platform. She gestured to Jess, telling them to stay close and cover her as she started with short steps towards the office. She made sure her safety was off, and as she approached the office a deep growl echoed out of the murky inside. She knew exactly what it was, the way it crouched on the desk inside and stared at her with bared teeth like an animal. Barely human any more, a face torn apart by pests and war. What had been a woman, the stench of bleach overpowering, death staring her down.

She aimed her rifle at its chest, and it exploded from the darkness. Gunfire flashed, and three rounds struck the monster’s chest but did nothing to stop it. She tumbled onto the train tracks with it. Her skull bounced off the metal track, the world cacophonous, ringing and dark. Impossible to focus, body too weak to lift off the ground. The taste of blood flooded her mouth.

Jess jumped down, landing on her feet. Rifle raised, a flash of gunfire and three rounds pierced clean through the dead’s chest. It shrieked, black blood gargling up from punctured lungs. It turned its attention on her, stepping away from Sam.

She took a step forward, squeezing the trigger again, another burst of three rounds aimed at the monster’s hip. The bullets punched straight though, only stumbling it for a moment as it charged. The third time she aimed for its head. Two bullets scratched the surface but the third drove into its skull, and it crumbled.

“Sam!”

Jess nearly dropped her rifle racing to Sam, they weren’t moving, eyes barely open. She fell to her knees, hands trembling, “Sam, can you hear me?”

She stooped over them, their head was against the rail, and she was too nervous to touch them, “Please Sam, say something.”

“Sorry,” they slurred, eyes turning vaguely towards her face.

“Don’t be,” Jess swallowed, throat sore, eyes watering, “you’ll be fine, babe.”

She cupped their face with one hand, leaning in to listen to their breathing. Weak, steady, the opposite of her own as she removed her backpack and pulled out the contents to get to the first aid kit.

“Can you move your fingers for me?”

Sam’s fingers wiggled, slowly. Jess lifted them gently, hands still shaking, chest getting tighter. At least Sam could sit up under their own power.

“I feel,” Sam laboured, breathing hard, “sick.”

“I know, but just stay still for a minute.”

There was a cut, bleeding profusely, where Sam’s head had struck the rail. She managed to bandage that up before packing her backpack. Then from behind them, footsteps. She turned, rifle too far away to grab, the black streak of a long coat whistled before her and down onto the train tracks. It tumbled into something and a sickening crunch echoed through the station. It collapsed, and by then she had picked up her gun.

Two bodies were on the tracks, the dead she had killed now with… its head had been crushed against the rail, and beside it was Ash struggling to catch their breath.

“Ash?”

They raised a hand as if to wave, so she turned back to Sam who was still sitting hunched over.

“Are you going to be alright, Ash?”

“S-sure,” she huffed, “Be-”

Sat up, finally getting some fresh air into her lungs, “Been a while since… I had to run… that far.”

She climbed to her feet, stretched out her shoulders, tried to breath deep. Then she noticed Sam, and that Jess was hovering over them. She had planned on commenting about always double-tapping zombies to make sure they were dead but… Sam was paler than she was.

“What happened?”

“Her head, that thing tackled her and she fell onto the rail.”

Her body was burning, muscles cramping up, but she forced herself over to them, “She’s sitting up?”

“I… I had to bandage her head, there’s blood.”

“It’s alright, I guess she didn’t break her neck at least,” Ash crouched down, took Sam by the chin and looked at her eyes, “Dreamy, huh?” she grinned, and Sam tried to glare.

“You’ll be fine, Sam, just try not to sleep, okay?”

She struggled to her feet, and took Jess to the side, “We should get her to Holsworthy. If there is anyone there at all that can help, she might need it.”

“Okay,” Jess rubbed her eyes with her left hand, “Let’s go.”

Ash grabbed their bags, and the rifles, so that Jess could carry Sam. Only Ash turned to make sure the zombie had remained dead.

END OF ACT ONE.

nanowrimo dump week #2.2

Jess’ smile disappeared, they stood lost in thought until Sam passed by. Ash peered down the aisles, their flashlight casting shadows that moved like dead across her vision.

“Here, this aisle,” Jess peered down the aisle.

The shelves on either side were still full with boxes, half-way along the shelves were replaced by racks where tools hung ready for purchase. Crowbars, shovels, sledgehammers, an assortment of tools conveniently in one aisle.

“That was easy,” Ash pulled a short-handled shovel from the rack.

“Not everything needs to be hard,” Sam pulled a sledgehammer down and tested its weight before putting it aside and grabbing another crowbar.

Jess was still searching through the aisle, carefully making her way down to peer around the corners at the end. Large bins were placed evenly between where one row of aisles ended and the second row began, bargain bins with not much in them.

“Did you see the wood at the check-out? This place got abandoned pretty early,” Ash pointed out, “as in, maybe four or five months before the collapse.”

“The shopping centre up the road was converted into a refugee centre. I don’t know what it was like out west but, around here the military took over shopping centres to make them into refugee centres. Large spaces, easy to patrol, easy to manage everyone and plenty of ways to isolate people for quarantine.”

Sam tucked her new crowbar into her pack before continuing, “There was three large ones in the city, all close to train-stations, and the plan was to transport the healthy into the country and uh, get rid of the sick.”

Ash sighed, “Yep, pretty much how it was out west.”

“I understand why they did it. There is only so many soldiers to protect so many people… but there had to be a better way.”

Ash shrugged, “With everything happening, all the anger and hatred and fear, I don’t think it matters. They ended up doing what they could and it wasn’t enough, so when it all collapsed in on itself we all suffered.”

Jess flashed her light over them to get their attention, they looked over to her and she gestured down the middle path through the aisles, “Chemicals, aisle seventeen.”

Sam grabbed her well-worn crowbar and started down the aisle to join Jess. Ash hoisted her shovel over her shoulder like a rifle and followed.

 

“Chemicals? They just labelled it like that?”

Then she saw the sign; Paint Brushes, Paint, Paint Thinners and Removers.

“What are you going to do with paint-thinner?”

Sam took the lead, scanning down the right-hand aisles they passed, while Jess checked their left, “You know what paint-thinner is right?”

“Uh,” Ash shifted her shovel, the echoes of their own footsteps drawing her focus, “they dilute paint.”

“Right, but I mean…” Sam paused at the end of the paint aisle, looking down the length for signs of movement, “so, they’re solvents meaning they break down bonding agents like glues and oils. More important for us though is they’re all ridiculously flammable.”

Ash lowered her shovel, making herself more comfortable as Jess finished checking the surrounding aisles, “What kind of engineer were you?”

“Not a chemical one,” Sam started down the aisle.

“So, like uh, structural or something?”

“No,” Sam stopped, reading the labels on the bottles as they passed by.

“I was a social worker,” Ash looked at the bottles they were looking at.

“Cool, I guess,” Sam grabbed a large bottle of acetone, “probably doesn’t seem like a great career choice now, does it?”

“I don’t think it’s like that, I mean, survival isn’t all about being able to build stuff or bash dead back to death, you know?”

Sam stuffed the acetone into her pack, then grabbed a few more to stash away, “At the moment it is.”

Ash scoffed, “Really? So, I’m useless then… is that why you’re escorting me to Holsworthy?”

Sam raised their hand. Ash’s blood boiled, but right as she opened her mouth the silence was broken by footsteps, close by them. She turned to look for Jess, but they were stopped perfectly still – feet glued to the ground.

They waved at Sam, catching their attention and together they began to… signal. Ash looked between them, struggling to piece together the sign language they were using. It was part real and part made up. Then Sam looked at her, and raised a finger to their lips before pointing to the end of the aisle.

Jess turned off their flashlight, then Sam, and she followed suit. The whole aisle was submerged into darkness. She could only just make out the shadows of Jess and Sam silently moving, crouching down to peer between the shelves or step by step moving to the end of the aisle. Ash took a step, making sure she didn’t give them away.

A bitter, sharp stench stinged at her nostrils and a wet splashing made her freeze. She could only just glance over at Sam’s shadow as they poured something out on the ground – it smelled like nail polish. It was the acetone. Then all was still, all was silent.

Her eyes started to water, she had to cover her nose and mouth to avoid breathing it in. Someone else didn’t think about that, a short cough to clear the throat and all three of them knew it wasn’t a zombie stalking them down.

Sam threw the empty bottle down the aisle behind them, and immediately footsteps began towards them. Flashlights clicked on and beams pierced the darkness, scanning over the ends of the aisle. Sam gestured to her, and towards the back of the aisle. She took a step but her boot squeaked, Sam continued telling her to get back so she took the hit and began running down the aisle.

The footsteps followed, and three beams of light cut down the aisle. Sam slipped down to avoid them seeing her but they checked their corners. They had rifles, wore uniforms and helmets emblazoned by white crosses. So she took her lighter in her hand and they paused. Three women, each staring at her intensely, grim faces like they knew what she had done. Then they realised, one by one, why it smelled like nail polish remover and why the ground under their boots was wet.

Instead of falling back they aimed for her, but she raised her lighter to head level and flicked open the lid. Fire, with the three of them standing in a puddle of acetone and a lighter ready to spark it.

She smiled, jovially pointed at them, “This is going to end poorly if you don’t lower your weapons.”

The leader, the woman in the centre with scarred lips, raised a hand to get the other two to lower their rifles, “Let’s talk.”

Sam nodded, then looked down the aisle to make sure the others had escaped, “Commonwealthers, right?”

The scarred woman stared her down, “Former.”

“Let me guess, you came looking for paint stripper to get rid of those crosses.”

They shifted their eyes down the aisle.

Sam waved her hand to draw back their attention, “I can spare some if you like.”

They grinned, scarred lips snarling wickedly, “How about we both walk away, forget this even happened. No point killing each other over spilt milk.”

“Put your guns on the ground, and I’ll put away the lighter, then we can both go our separate ways.” Then she noted, “And seeing as I have all the power right now, you go first.”

They sneered, but motioned for their men to put their rifles down. Then raised their hands in surrender.

“You shouldn’t deal with the devil,” she took a step back and threw the light down at their feet.

They managed to escape, only long enough to realise she had shut the lighter and gone for their guns. When she reached them first they chased after her, all three rifles grabbed by the straps and slung over her shoulder.

They were quicker than she was, but less confident as they followed. Trying to surround her, one to the aisle on either side and the last chasing her down. She was leading them deeper, away from the exits, into the darkness.

All around her the darkness was filled with kitchen models, sinks, cupboards, and just beyond was showers and baths. That was where she threw herself into a bathtub at full speed, nearly tipping it.

The footsteps passed by, so she stood and leapt free as they converged on one another. It hadn’t been planned but it had worked, and she was halfway down the aisles as they lagged behind.

By the time she reached the door and exploded out into the gardening section she had lost track of their footsteps, and she was presented by a shovel nearly to her face. Ash lowered their weapon, and shut the door behind them.

“Where’s Jess?”

Ash pointed to the carpark, “Stealing their car.”

“Car?”

Ash nodded, wedging a screwdriver into the door frame.

Sam races out to see it, a patrol car, heavily armoured on all sides and with cages around the top to stop the dead. Jess was inside trying to start it.

“Leave it, it’ll draw zeds.”

Jess ignored her, the engine roared to life. It was loud, and Jess climbed free, “Quick, give me your shovel,” she waved to Ash who was sprinting over to join them.

Ash gave it over, and Jess managed to ease it in and jam it into the gas pedal. It roared angrily, then Jess stood back and jabbed her crowbar inside. The patrol car shot forward, slamming through the entrance which collapsed around it. It stuck in there, hanging out and still revving angrily.

“Now we can leave.”

Ash stood, staring at the wreckage, it took her a moment to realise they had left her behind. It was the howls of the dead that snapped her out of the spectacle and sent her sprinting down the street after Sam and Jess.

“I think you just drew in half the city with that stunt,” Ash called out ahead, catching up as they paused to take a breather.

“That was the point,” Jess gave her a cold look, and Sam pushed a rifle into their hands.

Sam, “You were followed.”

Both sets of eyes were on her, both sets of hands had rifles filling them.

“Explain yourself.”

Ash took a step back, pointing to the still looming hardware store, “That was a patrol, a scouting party. Think it through, honestly. If they wanted me dead, they’d have killed me in the truck while I was stuck for a fucking week.”

Jess, “And if they wanted you to lead them to Holsworthy… they would have saved you and forced you to lead them there.”

Ash seemed to think that through, but only long enough for Sam to push a rifle into her hands.

“No more delays, we need to leave.”

Sam started down the road, down the hill towards the visible railway beyond the end of the street.

“We’re not going back? All our things-”

Sam stopped to take Jess’ hand, “I’m sorry, Jess… we’ll come back one day but it’s too dangerous now.”

“They’re trapped in there, can’t we just go back quickly?”

“It’s across town, they won’t be trapped for long. We need to go, every minute we waste is a minute that anyone at Holsworthy might need to save themselves.”

“We don’t even know what’s there!”

“I know,” she kissed Jess’ hand, “I promise, we’ll come back as soon as we can.”

Sam began leading Jess down the street by the hand. The two of them leaving behind the city, Ash following in tow. Only when they had crawled through a hole in the chain link fence cordoning off the railway tracks did they turn back to take one last look. Then together they started down the railway tracks away from the nearby station. Ash just followed, checking behind them as they walked.

 

The tracks had begun to fall apart with encroaching weeds and the heavy wear from the final months of the Collapse. The wild weather that had washed over the south-west, had made the ground unstable in parts and so the tracks had in places been freed from the rock and soil normally holding it up.

Far behind them now, the larger of the two train stations in the city centre, had been overrun by the dead which had in turn been blocked in by trains prepared for the trip further south. Evacuating the city had been priority back then, to get people out and into camps to the west of the Blue Mountains and around Canberra. Australia was a small nation with a small army and a lot of territory to cover. It had survived by retreating into itself and playing to the crowds gathering with pitchforks.

“I guess you guys are from around here.”

Sam sighed, letting go of Jess’ hand and pulling up their rifle, “Jess is.”

Jess added, clinging to the strap of their rifle, “She’s from Manly.”

It returned to silence between them.

After nearly a twenty minutes of walking they approached the second largest of the two train stations in the city centre. Even from a distance they could see it overrun by the dead. The station itself was served by two platforms with one open to the left facing the industrial area beyond the fence to their left. The other platform was adjoined by a car park that fed into a commercial district just down the road from the smaller of the two shopping centres in the city centre. Both sides looked zombie free, but looks were deceiving. The shopping centre was the site of a botched burn pit and the industrial area was not only full of former refugee camps but also near to the commercial district where they had laid low to avoid the horde yesterday.

“The left hand path is probably the only way,” Sam raised hand to cover her eyes from the sun, “There are dead on the platform that will see us, no matter what we do.”

Ash slung their rifle over their shoulder and started stretching, “I’ll go first then.”

“Why?” Sam watched them, “You said yourself I’m the better fighter, so I should distract them.”

Ash grinned, “You fight, I run. They won’t catch me, just give me a chance to get their attention.”

“Wait,” Jess, “How are you going to get away?”

Ash stretched their neck, “Out onto the street and back over the fence.”

Sam gestured to the right hand side of the platform, “There will be more over there than is worth it, just up the road is a failed burn pit.”

Ash shrugged, “I told you, I run. Nothing is going to catch me, and if it does then you two can deliver the message, right?”

Ash handed her rifle to Sam, “I mean, you said it yourself. I’m useless.”

They nodded, Sam said nothing. Jess reached out but she raised her hand to stop them.

Ash was already gone, working up into a jog while Sam pushed Jess down the right hand railway tracks. As they made their way around, the dead were gone and they could hear the growling, snarling and the heavy footsteps as they gave chase to Ash.

Jess was grim as she led the way around the station and beyond. Together, back on the tracks and heading away from the station at a run. Only once it was well away, five minutes maybe, did they pause to catch their breath.

Another five minutes passed. The roads to the right were abandoned. No movement, no signs of life or undeath. It was the same to the left.

“We should move on,” Sam adjusted the rifles over her shoulder.

Jess said nothing, just started walking again.

Further down the track tracks, much further, to where the city centre faded away and fast food and warehouses replaced their surroundings, another train station. Smaller, denser, abandoned as if by good luck. Sam climbed up the platform, helping Jess up after her. It was empty, backpacks, collapsed tents, sleeping bags and dropped belongings lined the platforms. Nothing stirred, not even rats or roaches.

The open layout of the station made it easy to see they were alone. The only parts of it hidden away were the walkways connecting the left and right platforms and a small security office with an open door and a broken window.

Jess whistled, piercing the quiet. No sounds responded, no snarling or gnashing of teeth.

“Looks like we’re alone,” Sam re-slung her rifle.

Jess smiled, wistful, eyes on the packs of abandoned belongings strewn around the platform.

“I already miss home,” they looked at her, “Waking up, the sun coming in through the ceiling, your head against my heart. Coffee downstairs, watching cartoons on your laptop while you helped Addie with her homework.”

“Those are some romantic memories,” Sam nudged a backpack with her foot.

nanowrimo dump week #2.1

With their help, Sam managed to get Jess back to the fallback point and the three of them sat and recovered while they could. As sounds from the road grew louder, the moans and groans of dead communication, they slipped inside the donut shop and laid low while they prowled past. The woman sat by the door, well away from them, trying not to look much. Sam wanted nothing more than to hug Jess close, to make them feel better, but with the woman watching…

“How are you feeling?”

Jess nodded, tapping her forehead with two fingers and showing her thumb.

“Good,” she looked over at the woman, casually crossing her arm across her chest and running her fingers from her should to her heart.

Jess copied her.

“What was your name again?”

The woman looked up, “Ash.”

Sam pointed to herself, “I’m Sam, this is my sister, Jess.”

Ash smiled weakly, “I’m sorry about earlier.”

They shifted so they could look at them while they spoke, “I was stuck in there for days, I couldn’t escape. I haven’t eaten in weeks, I ran out of water.”

Sam pulled her pack around and grabbed one of the bottles of water she had packed, “Here,” she pushed herself up and walked over to offer it to them.

Ash’s hands were shaking, like someone was handing over a brick of gold, “Are you sure?”

“Take it,” she placed it in their hands, “I owe you that much for saving Jess.”

Ash let themselves take the water, then unscrewed the cap and took small sips. Sam watched them carefully until they noticed, then she went back to her pack and took out three of the protein bars Jess had salvaged.

“So Ash, where are you from?”

Ash glared at her, then put the cap on the bottle, “Why?”

She raised the protein bars so Ash could see them, “Just curious. We don’t meet many people any more.”

“Out west, town called Silverton.”

“Past the Blue Mountains?”

“Near Broken Hill.”

Sam tossed one of the protein bars to them, “Why are you so far east then?”

“Needed a change of scenery.”

She crouched down so she could look them in the eye, “Looking for something in particular?”

“Distance, as far east as I can go.”

She offered them another bar, and when they took it she stood, “Who are you running from?”

They glanced at Jess, then back up at her, “Are you going to kill me?”

“It depends on your answer.”

“The Commonwealth.”

She crouched back down, raised the last protein bar to their face so they looked her in the eye, “Say that again.”

“The Commonwealth.”

She stood, dropped the protein bar onto the floor beside them, “Good, I won’t have to kill you.”

Sam crossed the room to sit back down next to Jess, while Ash picked up the bar and peeled its wrapper. They sat and watched Ash eat in silence, all was quiet outside. One bar, a quarter of a bottle of water and Ash put the rest away.

Sam broke the silence, “How long have you been out here alone?”

“Before all this began,” they looked at Jess while they spoke, “I was living on the street when everything started going to shit.”

“No family or friends or anything?”

They paused, thinking about their answer, “No, my parents disowned me. Does your sister not talk?”

“Not with strangers.”

Ash got to her feet, “Fair enough I guess, I wouldn’t want to talk to a vampire looking fucker like me either.”

Sam stood up as well, and helped Jess to their feet.

She double checked she had everything, then turned to them, “So… do you guys have a place to go tonight, if not I found a storm drain before I got trapped that is probably still safe.”

“No, we’re-”

Jess placed a hand on Sam’s shoulder and pulled them down to whisper something.

“We’ve got a place if you need somewhere to stay.”

“I’m not going to impose like that,” she gestured out the window, “I’m passing through town anyway.”

“Right.”

She reached into her pockets searching for the paper, “Actually, maybe you two can help me. I’m actually headed to Holsworthy, word is there is a settlement there.”

“Holsworthy?”

“It’s uh, it’s a long story. Apparently one of the Commonwealth camps got raided and a bunch of the prisoners got freed. I’ve been following them, hoping they’ll take me in.”

Sam’s fingers wrapped around the pistol tucked into their belt, “How do you know about Holsworthy?”

“It’s uh,” she took a step back, lifting her hands so they could see them, unfolding the paper, “their number one target.”

Ash unfolded a slip of paper, it was a poster. They offered it to Sam, they took it so they could read what it said.

Ash paraphrased, “Double rations for ten years, forgiveness for past crimes committed and a nice comfy bed at the capital for life.”

Sam raised their gun, surging forward, pressing the cold metal into her skull, “You’ve come to sell them out.”

“Wait,” she took a deep breath, “I’m not… My kinds of crimes don’t get forgiven.”

Sam pressed the pistol harder, “What crime?”

“They caught me helping people escape their fucked up camp,” she slowly raised her hands to pull her collar down, “They like to hang people for sedition.”

Her throat was still angry, bright pink from where the rope had nearly decapitated her. “Someone’ll find them eventually, even if you don’t trust me enough to tell me, go yourself and warn them.”

Sam lowered her gun, “How’d they find out about Holsworthy?”

“I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t matter though does it?”

“No, I guess not,” she tucked away her pistol, “How many did you help escape?”

“Twenty-three. Twenty-two prisoners and one guard who was helping me. That was everyone but me.”

“You got caught.”

“Technically, I let myself get caught.”

Sam looked away, out the window, it was getting close to midday, “Come back with us, we’ll get to Holsworthy together.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” she looked Jess in the eye, they offered her a terrified smile, “come on, it’ll be fine.”

 

The long journey back was done in near silence. Dead stalked them on every corner and talking would bring them out of the woodworks. It wasn’t until Sam had shown Ash the way into their sanctum that anyone spoke.

“Wow,” Ash’s eyes fluttered around the room.

It was a bedroom, a loft ceiling with a slant to it, just enough light came in through a skylight to let her see everything clearly. She had entered through a hole in the wall, emerging from a wardrobe. Opposite that was a mattress, and to either side of the room was tables – the small one to the left under the window was covered in a cloth and had clothes resting on it. The larger one to the right was made up of an old bed frame and had a map laid out on it.

Sam was already cleaning up, hiding the map and making sure nothing stood out to her as she came in.

“Nice.”

Sam gestured for her to sit on the floor, “Thanks, I guess.”

“No, I mean it. I had a bedroom like this as a kid.”

“Have a seat.”

Ash politely declined, “I’ve been stuck in a truck for days, I’d rather stretch my legs.”

Jess sat down on the mattress, Sam stayed standing watching Ash.

“So you know my story,” she removed her coat, “I’m guessing you two are running from the Commonwealth as well.”

“We are.”

“It’s nice to finally run into a fellow refugee,” she rolled her coat into a bundle and tucked it under her arm, “Everyone else I’ve seen has been a fundie prick.”

“You’ve run into them this far east?”

She nodded, “Scouts mostly, they send in parties of three to correct their maps, plot out potential outposts. Last outpost was Katoomba, and Penrith was a shit-hole I’d never want to wade through again.”

“Any idea about what’s happening in the south?”

“No, sorry,” she placed her coat down on the floor and finally took a seat, “but the roads along the west are falling apart and like I said, Penrith is a mess. Lots of people must have tried to escape across the mountains that way and it just sort of fucked everything.”

“I figured as much. There was a camp just south of here we escaped from. It didn’t survive the escape, but there was a reason they could be there.”

Ash nodded again, “Yeah, probably. I mean, I’m not a military thinker so I don’t know how that’d go.”

“Hopefully them wanting information on Holsworthy means there are people there and they’re doing something to stop the Commonwealth.”

She sighed, “I hope so, or we’re fucked.”

 

Neither of them much wanted to break the awkward silence that left. It struck too close to home for Sam, but she was curious about one thing.

“How’d you escape? I mean, they tried to hang you, right?”

Ash instinctually scratched their throat, “Right. I don’t remember honestly, I just remember blacking out the moment the rope around my neck pulled tight, then I was outside with a sore neck.”

They pulled at their shirt, “I was naked though, bleeding from my throat, I figure they just threw me out for the zombies. You know, draw them in so it’s harder for people to escape the walls.”

She did, “They didn’t notice you were bleeding?”

“Probably just figured my neck was snapped. I don’t know if that’s a common thing, broken neck but not outright dead. Either way, I feel pretty lucky about it.”

“You were.”

They nodded, then it fell silent again. Jess laid back on the mattress, and pulled her shirt up over her face to block out the sun. This was stupid, this woman had saved her instead of running. They were on the run from the fundies, they had proof and they had reason. They weren’t going to hurt her or Sam, she could just tell.

Sam broke the silence again, “Holsworthy is a walk from here, but it’s a straight line if you follow the rail line. We’ll go investigate the station tomorrow, start preparing the trip.”

“Tomorrow? As in, during the day?”

“Yeah, why?”

Ash gestured to her face, “I’m not used to going out during the day is all.”

Sam sounded unconvinced, “I worked that out.”

Jess sat up, pulling her shirt down so she could see the two of them, “Why don’t you go out at night?”

Sam looked at her, genuine shock on their face.

Ash was sitting with their back to her, so didn’t turn, “Okay so, uh, this is going to sound weird.”

Ash shuffled around so she could turn to look at Jess, “Maybe a week after I escaped, I was heading through a town on the way to Katoomba. I stopped to take a break and I was attacked by this… I don’t know what it was. Looked like a zombie, but it was smarter.”

Sam offered a skeptical look, “Smarter?”

“It was following me. I ran before it could properly hurt me, fought it off and ran so I didn’t have to deal with it. Then it showed up again a few days later. I knew it was the same because it had these tattoos on its face, like whoever it was before it died was an islander or whatever.”

“It followed you?”

“I thought maybe, coincidence or something. I escaped again, then as I was getting near to Katoomba I saw it again but it didn’t do anything. I was too close to the outpost, it was like it knew not to attack. Then maybe a week after that I figured I had lost it, only for it to attack me again. This time it was out in the open, it ran on all fours like… I don’t know what. So I had to kill it and it was hard to kill.”

“How’d you kill it?”

“I stabbed it in the skull, like four or five times. It was rabid, angry. Scariest part about it was it was smart, it could open doors and climb buildings. Like normal dead, they get that sort of stuff on some level but they just don’t get the specifics. This thing though…”

They looked at Jess, “When you climbed up on the truck I thought it was back. It wasn’t until I saw you fall and the fire, I realised you weren’t that… thing.”

Sam crossed her arms, as much as she loathed the idea this was true she couldn’t think of why they’d make it up, “This thing is why you travel at night?”

They nodded, “I think it was tracking me through the day. The one time it attacked me at night was past Katoomba, but that was after I stopped moving through the day so I think it just took a while for it to find me.”

“So why was it following you? What was it?”

Ash shook their head, “I don’t know, only theory I have is, it was a zombie that wasn’t as brain dead. I don’t know how that happens, but it’s fucking scary.”

“No more splitting up,” Sam said to Jess, “But I’m not moving at night, too many ways for a group to stumble and draw attention from shit we can’t see.”

Ash’s face was grim. Jess was nonchalant about it, “This honestly changes nothing. We just need to be more careful, like always.”

 

“We might need to hit a hardware store tomorrow, find some more weapons,” Sam shut her eyes for a moment to picture the map in her head, “There are a few, but the largest one is nearest to the biggest shopping centre in the area.”

Jess straightened up, “As in, completely overrun by dead.”

“Yeah, that one. Being so close though, hopefully no-one has thought to loot it. Plus there is a bottle-o just up the road that might not be completely overrun.”

“How low are we now?”

Sam made her way over to the bed-table and lifted the covers to reveal their stash. She counted ten bottles of alcohol and a half a can of motor oil, “Enough to make about five more.”

Ash leaned up to look at what Sam was doing, “You guys have alcohol?”

“We use most of it for molotovs, they’re good for controlling crowds.”

“So you guys are like, pros?”

Sam turned to examine them, they were sincere, “What d’you mean?”

“Like, were you ex-military or something?”

“No, we were students.” She gestured to herself, “Engineering,” and then to Jess, “Architecture.”

“Is that how you two met?”

Sam raised an eyebrow, “I told you we were sisters.”

Ash nodded, “Sure, my mistake.”

Jess sighed, “We’re not sisters.”

Ash turned to look at Jess, then back up to keep an eye on Sam, “I get it. No need to explain. I’ve seen the camps, I know what they do. It’s why I helped them escape.”

“Good,” Sam pulled a bottle of whiskey from the stash, “then you can help me get ready for tomorrow.”

 

An afternoon of preparing gear, mixing molotov cocktails and drinking whiskey. Ash was a cheap drunk, and as they helped Jess prepare dinner, they couldn’t stop laughing at Jess’ lame jokes. Sam watched them, unable not to smile even with everything weighing on her mind.

Something about Ash stuck with her, made it easy to sleep that night.

Waking up, Sam surveyed the room. Ash was awake, sharpening their knife again.

“Sorry if I woke you,” they still sounded slightly drunk but their look was sober.

“It makes it hard to trust you when you’re doing that.”

“Oh,” they put down the steel and knife, “habit, sorry. Last time I had a dull blade I nearly lost an eye.”

She got up, and spent the first ten minutes of her day checking nothing was out of place. Ash said nothing about it, instead asking, “So you were an engineer, right?”

“I was still learning, second year at uni.”

“Right, so how did you learn to fight like that?”

Sam found nothing out of place, so focused on getting breakfast ready, “Like what?”

“Yesterday, you just… dismantled those zombies like nothing.”

“It was nothing,” Sam headed over to wake Jess up with a gentle shake of their shoulder.

“Exactly, I was just wondering how you did it.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, it just happened.”

“Right,” Ash picked up their knife again, sliding it into its sheath before standing up, “I was wondering if we could compare notes, or whatever.”

“Maybe later,” she made her way back to the stove.

Jess hopped up and from there on it was straight to business. Sam finished making breakfast, Jess made the last preparations for the molotovs and Ash arranged her screwdrivers.

After breakfast they began their trip across town.

The hardware store that Sam led them to was gigantic. Outside was several abandoned cars and a ute, just a handful in a flat asphalt field designed to fit hundreds of vehicles. It was divided into two sections, one filled with gardening supplies and the larger part filled with general hardware. Each section had their own entrance, but the garden section had more visibility – it was a greenhouse for the most part – and wide double glass doors for them to see into the murky interior of the main section of the hardware store.

 

Jess peered inside as Sam watched the carpark.

“It looks clear.”

Sam turned and headed for the door, jamming her crowbar between the two sides and with a pop it opened effortlessly. The double glass doors had been automatic, opening with a push enough for the three of them to slip inside.

It was dark, the sunlights in the room only partially illuminating the space. The aisles were murky, impossible to see details but if there was movement they would notice. Jess turned on her flashlight, scanned the aisles. A thick layer of dust over everything, cobwebs and stale air, nothing had been inside for a long time.

“We’re alone in here,” Jess turned to Sam, who nodded and went back to close the door.

Jess followed the signs stuck to the sides of the aisles, thick with dust she had to stop to clean them.

“We’re looking for crowbars, hammers, shovels, anything we can use as a weapon.”

Ash took the middle ground between the two of them as they walked along the checkout area. To their left was the labyrinthe of aisles, to the right was an abandoned check out still piled high with timber and other building supplies.

“I remember coming here with Dad every other weekend,” Jess smiled, brushing down another sign, “He used to buy paint here, Addie loved to collect the sample things. Colour swatches?”

“I know,” Sam brushed the dust off of a large box containing a power drill, “she covered her walls with them.”

Jess’ smile disappeared, they stood lost in thought until Sam passed by. Ash peered down the aisles, their flashlight casting shadows that moved like dead across her vision.

nanowrimo dump – week #1

It began with a cough. Jess cleared her throat, the air down here had become bitter. It tasted like burning flesh, gritty, ashen. It had the stench of barbeque, it made her hungry. Then came the headaches. Her flashlight barely lit the tunnels, she had to squint into the dark, the ink void ahead of her where the scratching of rats could be more. It all depended on how well they burned the bodies. Then the fever struck, left you delirious and hungry. Behind her, Sam’s soft footsteps petered out as though stifled by the thick air. They walked two paces behind, laying down shards of glass in irregular patterns where the extreme darkness would conceal them. After the fever, the sickness eased and you felt like a million. It didn’t take them long to realise though, not to trust that feeling. Jess was finally nearing the end of the entrance tunnel, ahead was a large room that expanded into the abyss on either side. A foyer, the most dangerous part of any building. Death was the end of it, and the two of them had entered a mausoleum. It was still warm, the ground covered in ash. Looking around her, light piercing thin strips of the darkness over the remains of charcoal, melted plastic, singed concrete and black skeletons.

Death was the end of it. After a week, or two, or three, they dropped. Aneurysms, heart attacks, no-one knew because there wasn’t much time until they stopped being dead. Snarling teeth, grasping claw-like fingers, the strength of demons. The dead, or more accurately the undead. Zombies.

A growl stirred up the air, Jess raised her flashlight and shadows scurried away. She followed it, the light chasing until it shone on the stooped figure of a woman, half-burnt and missing an arm from the fire.

A survivor. A good sign. Sam stepped past her and silenced the growling with a crowbar before gesturing into the darkness. She swung around her flashlight and it landed on a door, heavily damaged from the fire and swung open. Sam went first, bringing up their own flashlight. Fire damage continued along the new tunnel, and where it branched off into new rooms, it only took a few glances to tell where the bodies had been burnt. On the left-hand side was a room full of crispy bones – half of which had probably crumbled in the heat. On the right-hand side was another such room, this one with metal bed frames tangled in the bones.

Further down into the darkness there was a locked door and after a long struggle with her crowbar, Sam managed to pry it open by bending the metal bolt. It was a lock room and as brittle as it looked from the outside it was nearly pristine inside. The only thing wrong was the body of an older man, his blood sprayed against the back wall and a pistol still clutched in his fingers. Not even the rats had come for him.

“Officer?”

Sam shook her head, “Nah, higher up, look at the ribbons,” she crouched down to point out the coloured fabric strips on the man’s right shoulder.

Then she pried the pistol free and inspected the chamber and the magazine, “Probably in charge when shit went belly up.”

“Piece of shit.”

Sam stood, flashed her flashlight out down the corridor past Jess and then turned to look at what Jess had just seen.

“Fuck me…”

Jess grinned, resisted the joke and stepped over the body, “You were right.”

Rows and rows of shelves, untouched. Full of food, water and medical supplies.

“We should have brought a trolley.”

Jess turned to check the corridor, “Not what I meant, we can probably grab one though.”

“It’ll only weigh us down, let’s take what we can and find a way to block it up so we can come back later.”

“Work out where to stash it, come back to grab it later?” Jess stepped in to examine the shelves more closely, “We might need… wait, is that what I think it is?”

Sam checked the corridor one last time before stepping over to join Jess, it was what they thought it was, “A gun case.”

Jess opened it, it was empty, “Of fucking course.”

“No ammo?” she checked the door again.

“Nothing, looks like there was a rifle in it though, doubt we’ll find it here.”

“No like ammo boxes or anything around?” she made her way back to the dark corridor, it was as empty as before.

“Nope.”

“Well if we find any for a pistol, we’ll be gold.”

Jess sighed, then inspected the water bottles. Packed in thick plastic, individual litre bottles. It had been a long time since she had seen it like that. The food was vacuum packed flat and labelled with the contents. The thick plastic coating was probably good enough to keep it spoiling for a long time, but even starvation would probably never be enough to make her trust something labelled; soup, savoury.

She opted instead to fill her bags with medical supplies and water. Bandages, medical alcohol, tape, dressings, all the usual. Only then did she realise her pack was full, it had been light going into the tunnels, now it was stuffed. So she grabbed the gun case, tore out the foam lining and filled it with food. It all fit extremely well, a few dozen meals at least. Once she was done it was Sam’s turn, and they grabbed medical supplies and water as well. As soon as they were done, there was no point risking the rest of the place. Scratching in the hallways and the prospect of slaking their thirst was enough incentive to slip out quietly, right after Sam got the door shut again.

Emerging from the dark tunnels and into the brilliantly blinding light of midday sun, the two of them sat on the bunker stairs staying concealed until their eyes adjusted. Silent, listening for footsteps, crunching glass, anything that would warn them of ambush.

A few minutes later and they crept out, the coast clear in the shopping centre staff car park. No cars, just broken down fences used to cordone the living and the dead, and the abandoned military posts.

“One down, two to go,” Sam offered optimistically.

Jess began the walk, rounding the building and checking the angles of the deserted, carless main car park, “At least one of those was a failed site according to that map.”

“How do you fuck up a burn site anyway?”

Jess shrugged, “Forgot to bring a lighter.”

“I mean, it’s kind of the only way. Drag the sick fucks into the basement, set them on fire. It ain’t exactly brain surgery.”

With everything being clear, Jess took her time walking out into the car park. A nice gentle sun, open blue skies, “Depends how many you need to burn I guess, and if you’re going to waste bullets on them first.”

“Conserve your ammo, never know when you’ll need to put a fag outta their misery, am I right?”

Jess gave her a stern look.

“Sorry, I shouldn’t joke about it.”

“No, you shouldn’t.”

She offered them a hug, and they let her, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, I know you were… I know what you meant.”

“I shouldn’t say it, even to mock them,” Sam held them to her chest, head still up and eyes on the road, “I’m trying.”

“I know, babe,” Jess kissed her neck, patting her back to comfort her.

 

“Let’s go home, have something to eat.”

Jess let her go, smiling, “Been a while.”

And almost on cue, Jess’ stomach growled but they both let their eyes dart across the car park. Then laughed when they realised.

Home was a large three storey house in the middle of suburbia, surrounded on all sides by decrepit remains of battle damaged houses. All around it was death, snarling, hungering undead. Luckily they had a way of sneaking in unseen.

It worked out for the best most days, no-one wanted to fuck around inside an area overrun by zombies. They lived in a soundproofed room on the top floor. The door to it was barricaded but by entering through the wardrobe of the adjoined room, they could be completely hidden and inaccessible. No indication that they existed, not even the sound of them.

The only sign of the outside from their side was the window that looked out onto the street. Blacked out with paint, but with small scratches that let them peer out.

A dark room, but a safe one. Jess had first brought her here. She had recovered from injuries here, and together they had made it comfortable. Boarded up the door, made the secret entrance, lured in the dead. It had been safer then.

“Beef curry, chicken satay, salmon mornay, tomato soup, there are actually a few to choose from.”

Sam sat on the mattress on the left of the room, away from the wardrobe. She had her shirt off, bare-chested and cleaning the last of her wounds to linger. The skin on her left wrist had been slow to heal, which probably had something to do with the fact she had nearly sawed through her wrist to cause it.

Two weeks ago had been her twenty-first birthday, a kind of irrelevant fact by this point.

Jess, meanwhile, knelt across from her at the stash of boxes and milk-crates holding up packets of food. The most beautiful woman in the world, one year younger and two dozen years her wiser.

 

“Been a while since I had soup.”

Jess pushed aside the other packs and ran a knife through the top of the packet. What she poured out into the pot was a horrifying red goop which clearly needed some extra water to thin it out.

“Gross,” Jess sniffed it suspiciously.

Sam rose up from the mattress and crawled over to sit by them, “Looks like something that came outta me.”

“Oh, okay, fuck. Well, I’m not hungry anymore.”

Sam slid the pot over, and lifted it onto the small camp stove they used to cook, “Pass some water, lets at least thin it out.”

Jess passed over the open bottle of water, and Sam poured some in, took a swig herself, it was good to be hydrated again.

“Looks a bit better, still not hungry?”

“I might just have a protein bar or something.”

“Have the rest of this then,” she offered the water, “the soup should do it for me.”

They took the bottle, had a long drink, then went back to rummage through the food chest.

“I was thinking maybe we could go check out that aid truck tomorrow.”

Jess examined a handful of the protein bars, most of which were brand-name they had managed to find left behind in stores, “Hopefully some batteries, we’re running low.”

“Already?” Sam sat back, letting the soup rise slowly to the heat, “I wonder if I remember how to make batteries, I know it wasn’t that hard.”

“Magic.”

“Magic?”

Jess nodded, “You still have to fix my car, it’s been out on the front lawn for nearly a year now.”

“Probably a lot more wrong with it now. Shame I didn’t pull the battery when I could.”

Jess screwed up her nose, “I think this is off,” she took another bite.

“Don’t eat it then.”

Jess sniffed it one last time before putting it aside, “Definitely off. Must be getting to the end of life for that stuff.”

“Remember milk?”

Jess laughed, “No, of course not. How could I remember milk?”

“You laugh, but I’ve already forgot about… you know, that stuff you put on things.”

“Sauce?”

“No, the stuff, you know the stuff,” Sam pantomimed an inexplicable spreading of something onto bread, and squeezing it from a bottle, only to end up licking the air as if any of that made sense.

“Oh, right, the stuff. I loved that stuff,” Jess reached for another protein bar to inspect.

Sam stirred the soup, licked the spoon, sighed, “Coffee.”

“You don’t put coffee on things, babe,” holding the bar up to her nose, she concluded it was also rancid and probably time to bin them.

“I know,” Sam stuck the spoon into the soup again to stir it idly, “waking up, getting out of bed to make coffee so we could sit at the window and watch the sun rise. I miss that shit.”

Jess smiled, and after a long moment just smiling at her they gestured to the soup, “Guess I’m having that for dinner too.”

It didn’t take long, and the soup was kind of bland despite being nothing but tomato by the look of it. It didn’t really matter that much, a full belly was more than enough to satisfy them both.

“How many double-As do we have left?”

“Six,” Sam counted them out, “I’m pretty tired though anyway, maybe tomorrow.”

“Alright, I’m gonna take another look at the map.”

Sam nodded, crawling over to the mattress to lay down. Jess picked up their map, and gently unfolded it to cover the floor. Then she picked up her journal, a small notebook not really much to look at, and opened it to a fresh page. Each night before bed she drew down a section of the map – then if they had been there she wrote down notes from her memory. Some included changes to the map, others were codes about stashes. Then, just bed she wrote in the very back another piece of her note to Sam.

It had been two years, and Sam was terrible with dates. Tomorrow was the second anniversary of their first date, when they had gone to a tiny coffee shop on campus and talked about the rain.

Around the same time, there was news about strange things. Illnesses, diseases needing to be quarantined, but no-one really paid much attention when it wasn’t in their own interest. Africa was disintegrating, Asia was about to collapse, the countries with the money to actually fight it started to get worried. About a year in, the whole map had changed and life had stopped working as they were used to it.

Jess had spent the first anniversary with her first girlfriend in her house with her family and Sam’s mother planning to leave for a cabin owned by her father’s coworker. Almost romantic, getting away from everything to live off the land. It was the same day they started the burn pits, the same day they started rounding up the uninfected. If Sam hadn’t of gone back inside to look for her, maybe they wouldn’t be together for their second anniversary.

Virtually nothing had changed on the map though, a few sinkholes made by rain and battle. The skeletons of tanks pulled out of storage, a few armoured vehicles sunk into the earth under their own weight. Most of it was battle damage, and the landscape had only just started to look overgrown. It all swam through her head as she laid down and wrapped her arms around Sam. Drifted off to sleep.

She wasn’t asleep for long, Sam woke her with a blood curdling scream and another. She covered their mouth until they stopped, just muffling the sound. So used to it that she could fall asleep and dream of nothing.

 

Sam woke into a melting world. Jess’ arm across her chest, face nestled into her neck. Even sticky drenched in sweat, she just laid there basking in the feel of it. Hot enough it felt like they were melted together, and adolescent fantasies she had as a girl just so stupidly hanging in her head. Nothing was better than this, it made it worth it. Even as Jess snorted in their sleep, snoring like a broken chainsaw.

If only there was coffee, it would have been perfect.

It would have also been perfect if she didn’t have to get up.

Moving woke up Jess, who dealt with it well. One day, a comfortable bed, when they can get back in and sleep all the exhaustion away. Still tired, they both went about the morning ritual. Pulling on clothes, packing their bags, making sure they had everything they needed and then they slipped out the hidden passage into the house. Down from there, through the cellar and out into the world through the backyard fence.

It was the perfect day to inspect the truck, heat made them sluggish.

On the motorway exit coming into town, a humanitarian truck stood stalled. Jess figured it had run out of petrol, and all they’d need to do is find a way to get time to fuel it so they could drive it away. It was surrounded by zombies though, sitting around waiting for someone stupid enough to come for the truck.

Typical motivation for them, to be honest, they liked to sit around waiting for food to stumble into them – kind of like spiders – but unlike spiders they were too brain-damaged to work out how to ambush things.

Lucky for them, any smart animal would have worked out that if you just stood behind doorways you’d probably catch something eventually. Lucky for them, they were also predictable. Anything that could be a person attracted them, but they had little interest in other animals that were unrelated to people. Deers, birds, rabbits, anything usually wild was typically ignored. It also didn’t take much until they worked simple things out, like if you threw a rock behind them it usually only worked once.

That made this plan particularly stupid, but very necessary. The truck was a semi-trailer with shipping containers on the back, but it wasn’t alone. It was surrounded by vans, the lead of the abandoned convoy was an armoured car pinned against two cars that had crashed into it.

All around the truck were the dead, most lying down, some shambling about. Jess counted two dozen, Sam counted fourteen. Those two others were important, they were lingering around the cab.

“Alright,” Sam kissed her on the cheek, “Wait until the third whistle, and if they don’t budge try to kill them quietly.”

Sam finished pulling off the tape stoppering her molotov, “Get to the cab, see what the situation is, then make a run for it. I’ll meet you back here.”

Jess nodded, though she kind of wished they hadn’t agreed the fallback point would be a donut shop. Abandoned fast food joints were inherently creepy. They both checked their packs, they were leaving them here, hidden in the bushes so as not to slow themselves down.

“Good luck,” Jess strained out a smile, “promise you’ll meet me back here.”

“Only if you do.”

Sam kissed her again, this time on the forehead, before standing up, “Let’s go.”

 

They emerged from the car park of the donut shop, the bushes that lined the drive through had overgrown and made for perfect cover for them as they advanced. Jess stuck to the side and slipped behind cars, using them to stay hidden as she approached the truck. Sam stepped out into the open, approaching the truck from the road. It was a decent walk, a few hundred metres, so it took Jess a while to get into position. Sam took their time, placing three molotovs in a line and testing their lighter.

Jess had just made it to the car directly opposite the truck cab when a shrill whistle broke the quiet. She was in the thick of it, fourteen zombies raised their heads and all at once saw Sam approaching with a molotov in hand.

Another shrill whistle, she turned her attention to the truck, gripping the crowbar tightly. As soon as the zombies broke into a sprint, so did she. Their own footsteps cloaking her own, and Sam’s whistles turned to the smashing of glass. She turned to look as she reached the wheel of the truck, fire spread in a great patch to the left of the zombies and they began to shy away from it as they rushed forward. Another patch of flame erupted to the right and the dead tunneled forward until they were rushing straight for Sam.

Jess turned back to the truck, grabbing hold of the railing to hoist herself up and towards the door. The handle of the door was almost above her head from ground level, and only after dragging herself up two steps could she look in the window.

Looking inside the cab, a flash of white and a sudden ear-splitting shriek and she lost grip, slipped off the step and fell. The sky rushed past her and she struck ground back first.

Struggling to breath, unable to move. Whole body aching, lungs burning. Pain radiated through her, if it hadn’t been for her instincts forcing her to watch she would have blacked out. Instead she was stuck watching in horror as the cab door opened and a figure in black jumped down next to her.

A swirl of black fabric blocked her sight and the faint scratching of boots shifting on tarmac made it past her ringing ears. A woman’s voice, spoken underwater and groggy, “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck-”

A grunt of extreme exertion, like they were forcing something through something else, then the pop of a dislocating bone.

“You need to get up!”

She couldn’t move, didn’t want to speak.

“Shit,” a pale white face came bearing down on her, fingers poking at her face until she winced, “You’re alive thank fuck, just uh, fuck.”

They disappeared again.

It wasn’t like she needed to save the woman or anything, it was just… she had to save the woman, it didn’t make any sense but like no-one deserved that. Surrounded by the dead, a probably murderer injured right next to her boots and a screwdriver.

The only hope was the fire in the distance, maybe it the woman’s friends.

“I really hope you don’t end up killing me.”

Snarling, snapping, the dead closed the circle. They had just seen her kill three of them before losing her knife in a skull. Thick black blood flowing from their busted up mouths, the stench of death completely overwhelming her senses.

They lunged for her, and she forced one back with her hand, another with her screwdriver. It planted firmly in an eye socket and the zombie fell away. The black ichor spewing out from its skull made it hard to hold onto. Then teeth found the thick fabric of her collar and the last zombie pushed her against the truck.

She screamed as fingers pressed into her flesh, clawing at her throat trying to strangle her. It lifted her off her feet, and shrugged off her elbows snapping against its skull. Sadistic grin on the bestial features, an opening mouth and a rasping growl of victory.

She felt it crumble, and immediately she grabbed for her throat and breathed heavily. Turning her eyes up she saw a woman, dragging a zombie by the arm and throwing it like a doll into a swarm of dead set alight.

Sam looked down at the woman briefly, then turned to dispatch the dead chasing behind her before drawing her pistol on the woman now crouching over Jess.

“Touch her and I’ll rip you in two.”

The woman raised their hands and rose slowly to their feet, “I didn’t mean it, she slipped.”

“Step back.”

The woman took several paces backwards, and Sam rushed to Jess’ side. Jess smiled, and she took their hand. Their grip was strong, she leaned in to listen to their breath and Jess whispered softly, “I’m okay.”

There was a rasp, so she leaned back and told them, “Move your feet for me.”

Jess’ feet wiggled slowly.

“I think she winded herself-”

Sam raised her pistol at the woman, rising slowly to her feet.

“I-I didn’t do it.”

“And?” she took a step forward.

“I saved her!”

Pale skinned, not even a hint of tan. Dressed in a thick black coat, military boots, a scarf around their hair.

“What’s your name?” she lowered her pistol.

“Ash,” the woman took a step forward, “At least let me help you get her to safety, then I’ll leave. You’ll never see me again.”

“I can handle it.”

Ash pointed down the motorway beyond the exit, “There is a whole swarm of them, they’ll have heard my scream. Just let me help you.”

Sam followed their gesture, looked at the woman again, “Alright. Get on her left side, and if you hurt her I’ll feed you to the dead.”

“Yeah, right, got it.”

 

With Ash’s help, Sam managed to get Jess to safety and inside the donut shop where they could take refuge while a horde of undead prowled outside looking for them.

2018-10-08

Beginning with a blood red star, the final thousand years drew close. The rivers turned to salt, cities turned to ash.

This cycle had required we remain in the shadows. Competing tribes grew into nations, then empires. Religions had swollen, thousands of gods – each one a fragmented memory of a past not lived in this timeline. Fanatics that purged any and all deemed heretics, including those who merely presented the truth about the cycles and the coming calamities awaiting this world.

We stayed in the shadows to evade the lunacy of man and prepared our divinations. Though each cycle is unique, the prophecies follow a predictable path. A pattern not unlike a puzzle made up of five pieces.

The hero, their companion, their patron god made of seven other gods, the artifact of power they shall use to save the world and the calamity that they must stop. It follows a pattern so predictable that the next cycle’s puzzle is already deciphered, the only challenge remains in what form it shall take.

For this cycle, the knight was to be the hero who stopped the fallen god from destroying the world. Their companion, the witch. Their artifact, the sword. Their patron god, the god of the honeymoon.

When the blood red star first rose, the empires began the descent into greater carnage. Bloodier, more destructive wars. Each empire’s blood god slaking their thirst upon the sacrifices made in their names. Until the gods themselves devoured each other. Six empires fell, one remained and upon her heavenly throne she rose the moon.

Through her high priestess she spoke, and called upon a great warrior through which she had rose to power. Such blood had been shed by the warrior that the moon goddess had grown strong enough to devour the other gods.

To this warrior the goddess gave a task, to find a weapon strong enough to kill those gods still left beyond her hungering reach.

For five hundred years the goddess reigned, peace slowly settling over the lands as the empire consumed all the continents and the goddess grew ever more powerful. Yet in the reaches of the godly realm they feared the other gods whom devoured one another, fueled by cults that killed in the darkness – and others deemed enemies such as those who watch the clocks tick down to zero.

For five hundred years the high priestess gathered sacrifices, the millions needed for the final ritual. To draw the goddess to this world and seal off the celestial realm from the earthly one. The darkness grew, the cults became ever stronger. Civil war shattered the peace and for the final hundred years there was nothing but conflict and chaos. It was time, and the warrior had not yet returned.

In a bloody storm, the goddess was pulled into the earthly realm and the celestial realm was sealed off. Safe from the fallen gods attempting to seize her power, the moon goddess was free to devour all life on this forsaken world. Fooled by her honeyed words, or so it seemed. The warrior had not returned, for they and the high priestess had been waiting.

The only weapon capable of killing a god was not enough, but it was a valiant effort at the very least.

And so we reset the clock and began a new cycle. This one of the architect, the trader, the laughing god, the seal to lock away the darkness and the storm that consumes the world. Thus begins the next ten thousand years.

First draft.

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