CHAPTER THREEEE IS HERE! I'm very excited :) It's been a bit tough writing, and also finding the time to, but I'm working on it. There might be a few weeks where I don't post up a chapter because it's not finished yet.
Anywho! I'm sorry about the formatting. This blog has very limited ways of me formatting and editing it, so there are no paragraph sections, so that's why it looks so blocky and un-civilised. I apologise.
Enjoy Chapter 3 :)
“Benjie, double tap. Go” she states in one swift breath, as if any second a whole other swarm will wreak havoc, like a tidal wave coming in to drown us all. She holds me steady for a few seconds as I topple slightly from shock. Benjie punctures another head by the time I notice him and he watches me out the corner of his eye. He returns talking to a woman standing like a sentinel at the door. Violet is checking my arms, chest, and face. Her eyes frequently flick up to mine, and then back down at her hands rolling over my skin. When she gets to my stomach, I flinch away from her frantically.
“I’m sorry, but I have to check you. You don’t know if you scratched or bitten while you were frolicking about,” she states, hesitating as her stare firmly holds mine. When I don’t repel back, she continues quickly. I’m an animal, a dangerous hazard that needs precautions and protocol. If they do find a bite, or a scratch, would they simply shoot me in the head right here and now? I hear a small voice in the back of my mind ask. In the mess of all the blood and ripped clothing, I wasn’t sure if even I was able to tell if it was mine, or Theirs. Violet continues to inspect every bare bit of my skin, making me more so uncomfortable as observing eyes peer at me from the doorway. Their faces are stern with concentration as they expect, perhaps even hope, to see a bite or scratch. Nobody kills three of Them with a joke of a weapon, locked in a room, without getting a life ending scratch. Intense heat flows to my face and down my arms. I’m just a ticking time bomb to these people, a train wreck that nobody can look away from. Speaking of train wrecks, I’m sure my appearance resembles one; tears streaming down my face, blood caked all over my neck and face, and three corpses around me. Violet’s eyes say it all in a second glance as she finishes inspecting me, taking her hands away and slapping them on her thighs. “She’s clean. Let’s haul out before all this noise brings in the Lurkers,” she commands.
Benjie leaves first, gun ready at attention. The woman watches Violet and I before turning and heading out the door after him. Violet gestures to me with her head towards the door, and I buckle. I know it seems like she is giving me a choice, but right now I feel like a science rat that thinks it has a choice but all the roads lead to the same end. A game of reading one another bounces back and forth between us. A blonde eyebrow raises, and I take that as her last straw. Walking without looking back, we step outside into the rain that has fallen into a gentle patter now. The curbs are flooded with rainwater that runs into the drains. Some of it is blood.
I used to love the smell of rain, but now that gentle familiar smell is one filled with rot and a sewer-like decay that makes you wish you could block your nose permanently, or lose all sense of smell.
My leather jacket does nothing to defend the chilly wind that has set in, forcing me to wrap my arms around myself. These cold months were easy to handle before everything went downhill; a quick flick of the heater’s on switch, and you were left toasty warm. Now, it’s a life-or-death decision to light a fire that might draw anything in the vicinity to you. The people that Violet is clearly in a group with are all wearing jackets, some even scarves and gloves they must have scavenged.
After a bit of loud discussion, the group packs all that they have onto their backs, gesture for me to follow without uttering a word, and walking off. They don’t tell me where we are going, but I assume it’s back to their Camp.
The whole walk blurs by in flashes. I can’t tell if it’s from the exhaustion and dehydration, or if I choose to blank it out of my memory.
Nobody talks to me for the first few hours, though it doesn’t take me too long to guess why. They were only expecting a quick in-and-out task, like I was. Not using limited ammo, to be attacked by a dormant swarm, and being forced to deal with a stubborn lone survivor who runs off to coddle Flesh-Eaters.
Violet swoops in and takes the task upon herself to try and ease the tension, but the only people to have talked the entire trip is her and Carter. Her hands animatedly fly around as she speaks, acting out her antics in a joke, and even trying to bring others into it. She begins reciting well-told story of hilarious moments when two people, looking back at her over their shoulders, remark sarcastically on her stories. The rest walk with eyes ahead, avoiding any talking or interaction. The guns are tight in hand and eyes scanning routinely, squinting into the dark cover of trees.
The hunger tears at the pits of my stomach, taking over every desire, every thought, and every sense that I have. I try to control myself, but just the sight of it makes my mouth salivate and itch. I hold it in my hands, taking in the smell as much as my lungs can possibly hold, and then exhaling in one swift motion. I don’t know how long it has been since, but my bones tell me that it’s been too long. My teeth sink straight into it. The consistency is tough, but it tears straight from the bone.
“It’s been a while since you’ve eaten, hasn’t it?” Violet asks, a piece of meat dangling between her hands. She leans her elbows on her knees, casual and yet intimidating enough that suggests she could slap me and break my arm within seconds of trying to touch her or her food. Not bothering to answer, I affirm with a single nod and continue devouring the juicy meal.
It had been a tiring process. The past couple of hours were spent trying to keep a cool, calm, and collected presence when all I wanted to do was cry, plead thankfulness towards the sky for escaping death once more, and to eat a horse-sized meal for once in the past couple of days. When Violet had returned with me in tow to Camp - my hair matted by blood and drool, my clothes torn and drenched in blood - many had questions of what happened. Some were beyond cross about my escape and loud noise that attracted Them; they eagerly stepped forward to show me who was Boss. Violet had noticed my discomfort around their group, and told them all a warning that if they were to bombard me with questions or threats, she’d be bombarding them with pain. I study her now, between moments of my ungracious devouring of food.
This was already my third piece of meat, and I sensed they were low on supplies enough as it was without adding a new person to their journey by the way everyone nibbled at their meat delicately. When she handed me my first piece, a part of me wanted to crumple into myself from the joy.
“Do you know how to hunt? Or was that why you were mimicking the scavenging raccoons in the store by yourself?” she asks jokingly, but with a hint of genuine interest. Violet had been making slight small talk with me when feeling comfortable, but after noticing my resistance to verbally answer, she instead switched to talking about herself by asking a question she’d inevitably answer.
I shake my head. It’s a neutral gesture in response to her, but doesn’t reveal my attitude towards the group and the situation yet. Every motion, every gesture counts at this very moment. Violet nods casually as she bites off a large chunk.
“It’s definitely handy, I’ll tell you that. After a while, it starts tasting like mushy dirt with slight steely after-taste to it. Canned goods only get you so far,” she takes another bite, turning her attention to those who are eating in the Dining room.
I fix my gaze on the scraps of meat left. Why does Violet go out of her way to ask me questions? Why go through the trouble to be friendly to someone you smashed over the head and knocked unconscious, then chased through the rain, just to save them from being eaten?
Why indeed…the little voice in the back of my mind echoes.
I’ve been thinking about it since we arrived to the Safehouse. A little cottage in the forest, bordering on the edge of a lake, was what they were calling “safe” for the time being. When the high chimney loomed into view, opened windows and multiple paths leading to it, I could do nothing but stare aghast. The only thing missing was a large illuminated sign saying, ‘Here we are! Come, loot everything we have and kill everyone inside!’ I didn’t say anything though as we dragged ourselves in, one by one, but Violet catches my expression as I stepped in before her.
Violet sat me down in the lounge while everyone took of their packs and stored them away. I watched out of my peripheral. No one noticed that I had been watched and observed every single person the entire time since the Shopfront. The conversations, the whisperings, and uncomfortable eye contact. There was a heavy tension in the air, like some would describe as the ‘Elephant-in-the-room’ type of tension. To put it kindly – I was the elephant in the room.
No one wanted to be the first one to say it. To break the silence that had hours to set and solidify itself into everyone’s mind.
What do we do with the girl? Does she have ‘it’?
The last piece of meat finally sinks into my stomach, filling me a full feeling that can only come from long awaited sustenance. I crank my neck from side to side as I drop my scraps into a designated disposal. I don’t ask questions of where it goes; I just follow directions for now.
Little pops crack in my ears, a flood of relief course through my sore neck and head. All this stress feels like a physical burden on me, a weight placed despite my choice. It’s always there; ready to push me into the depths of despair and hopelessness. Death leers at every corner, over my shoulder and greedily looking for opportunities to take me away. Right now, Death was appearing in the form of an ill-tensed group. Pulled at the seams, who knows who was going to tear first?
“Ava, I want to apologise for what happened earlier…” Violet abruptly turns to me, her scraps thrown into the disposal too. She wipes her hands on her pants, partly to clean them but from nervousness too. The abrupt comment startles me and shakes my melancholy thoughts away into the darkness. Violet jumps too, startled by my sudden movement, but relaxes quickly when she sees me attentively waiting. I wait, giving her the silence to finish her sentence, whether it is an apology or explanation of what they are going to do to me.
Sensing I’m not going to speak, she firmly places both hands on each of her thighs, determination etches into her face as she presses to speak.
“The situation got out of hand,” she throws her hands up in the air, still staring at the ground uncomfortably, “I can only guess what you might be feeling, or thinking of us right now. I would tell you that you’re safe, but you have no reason to believe me. And why should you believe me? You didn’t come here on your own free will.”
I don’t respond, letting the silence fall between us again. She can’t be possibly be older than twenty, but no less than seventeen. Her hairstyle makes her appear older, accompanied by her height which exaggerates it, but her smile is youthful. Her eyes search my face, looking for signs of what I might be thinking or feeling. She won’t get too far; my face is entirely expressionless.
“It was a really crappy thing to do. You were just minding your own business in the Shop, and we surprised you. I’d have been threatened too if I were in your position. I just…we didn’t go about it the right way, ya know?” she finally lifts her gaze up to mine, her eyes are almost pleading with me. She now waits for me to comment, to speak, to say anything in response. Her sincerity displaces me for a moment. I hesitate. Is it real?
“Yes, you were definitely surprising.” My voice comes out almost like a squeak from the lack of use, and the control I am forcing over it. This is a game of chess, and I won’t budge with little expressions of weakness. Keeping my face still, my voice toneless, I border somewhere between untrusting and bored. Violet stares, confused for a moment, then smiles lightly.
“Good. You do have a voice. I was starting to believe we had broken something necessary. Carter insisted it was your brain, but he is an old kook who should go searching for his,” she chuckles half-heartedly. Nervous laughter and jokes to elevate tense situations seem to be her forte. Inside me, a warm cosiness nuzzles up against my innards. I ignore it, but it resides against my will.
“Anyway, I’m positive you have a list of questions and concerns that you’re dying to share with us. It’s written all over your face,” something in my eye twitches from her commenting on it, and she smiles. Damn it.
“I promise you that you’ll get answers. The most important one though, and I’ll share it with you now to be less dramatic, is that you’re safe. We didn’t bring you here to kill you or anything like you’ve probably imagined up in your head.” A voice calls out for her from the other room. A hint of annoyance dashes across her face, but she pulls herself up to her feet with a tired grunt. She turns her face aside to me before leaving.
“We’re just a group of Survivors looking for others like us.” Waiting a moment for the words to sink in, she gives a brief nod and slips out of the room without another word.
I’m alone now. The chair is uncomfortable underneath me, but it isn’t from the cushioning or fabric. I don’t know where I am, or why, and with the lack of answers that provide reasonable explanation, I’m racing through potential ideas of escape within seconds of Violet’s departure. My weapon is still missing, but I believe Carter opted to hold it for me. My gut feeling tells me that I either have to risk asking him for it and looking like an imbecile, or sneaking anything I can get my hands on around the room.
The fireplace sits against the middle wall, separating the Kitchen and Living Room. They were smart enough not to use it exactly the way it was designed for, but still made a tiny fire. It has pitiful levels of heat coming off it, so I assume they are using it for the smallest bit of light without alarming nearby groups nearby. If they have Flashlights, they must be saving them for emergencies or specific circumstances. On a few surfaces, I see candles that have withered down a few inches, hardened wax dropped around the base. So they found candles to use, but have used them sparingly. By the look of the house and the shape it’s in, it belongs to either a small family or a lone individual. A hunter or hermit, perhaps.
There are no family photos hung up, or framed on shelving. If the group had taken them away for respect to the dead, there shows no signs. Dust would be scattered, or smeared, but there isn’t any noticeable marks. So a lone hunter who isn’t sentimental. Perhaps they have realised whoever it was would have supplies somewhere in this house, if they haven’t checked already. The fabrics of the couches are old and remind me of something I’d see in my Grandma’s house. An ache spikes through my chest and into my heart, serving as a painful reminder of past days. The room is simplistic, with only necessary furniture like Couches and a desk near the window that has no computer or electronics on it. The only thing that stands out to me is a bookshelf, looming up against the wall across from me. It’s packed to the brim. Books are stuffed in every corner and crevice imaginable, with some even shoved underneath the bookcase.
Leaning forward to go and browse them, Carter walks in. We make eye contact, but while he looks back to where he is walking to, my gaze follows him. I stop leaning and sit firmly back down. He heads straight for the recliner to my right. As he sits, he lets out a loud exhale of air as he plunks into the seat, looking heavily exhausted and on the verge of sleep.
“Ava,” he acknowledges, his voice crackly and full of husk.
“Yes?” I answer immediately, not breaking eye contact with him. He leans back a bit, frowns as me, and then stares down at the ground. Whatever it on the ground that is so interesting, I’d love to it one day and marvel like every one else.
“How’s life?” He casually smiles over at me.
“Fantastic” my face deadpans.
“Good to hear it. Did Violet talk to you much?”
I hesitate for a moment. Sensing someone is watching me, other than Carter, I quickly turn to find Benjie watching from the Dining room. Carter’s eyes follow mine, confused at first by the interruption, but after he sees Benjie he smiles with a hint of annoyance, and beckons him over. Benjie continues staring back, his eyes bouncing between us, and then walks over to sit next to Carter.
They whisper to each other, hushed breaths and occasional glances over at me, then glancing over towards the Dining room. Irritation rises with each passing second that they whisper; loud enough to know it’s about something important, but quiet enough I can’t make out anything. I clear my throat and glare. Carter pauses mid-sentence, and looks over at me like I’ve materialized right in front of him. When he doesn’t turn back to face Benjie, Benjie crosses his arms and puffs out his chest slightly.
“No, she didn’t. If you’re so keen to do it your own way, Carter, why don’t you?” Benjie says, raising his voice in irritation. They look at each other for a few passing seconds, neither one of them speaks or gives any hint of looking away. The talking and noise in the Dining Room has flat lined, and I feel uncomfortable sitting next to them. Like an accidental stumbling on to a stage with performing actors, I want to slink away from the center of attention and hope no one saw me. Violet sweeps into the room, her long legs take her less than four steps to reach them. It takes one sharp “Hey!” from Violet to break them out of their staring competition and look at her. Carter turns to face me as if resuming an intriguing conversation. Benjie frowns at his back, and heads to a door in the back of the room, lead to perhaps a bedroom or spare room, with a stomp in his step.
“Having a little lover’s tiff, are we?” Violet jokes, cracking the words like snapping of fingers. Carter doesn’t seem to appreciate that sense of humour. With his age and what society was like back then, there’d be no surprise if he would lose it over a joke about him having to snuggle another man for warmth.
“Wouldn’t want to impede on what you’ve got going on there, Vi. He’s all yours.” Carter responds, brushing past her and into the Dining Room. Violet stays still standing there, her tongue licking at her teeth in her mouth. The tension stays in the air like a dense fog. Sitting there, my body feels uncomfortable and out of place here. I want to tear off and run out of this room, out of this Cottage and away to wherever these people aren’t. They are ticking time bombs, and I’m just the lit match setting them off, one by one.
Violet sits down in the chair next to me, a fake look of posed hilarity and friendliness on her face. “Once again, I apologise for what happened.” She rolls her eyes and shakes her head. For strange reasons, I feel pity for Violet. Their group dynamics are strained, and being held together by this one woman alone.
“And once again, it was definitely surprising.” I respond, out of pity and a sense of warmth that takes over my actions from nowhere. A smile finds a way to my face, and it seems to surprise Violet. She smiles back, the kind of smile that reaches your eyes and beyond.
“You know guys; inside they have these ugly egos that are only proportionate to how much trouble they can stir up. I say, not my monkeys, not my circus!” She laughs as she runs her hand through her hair. “They are always like that though. You get used to it pretty quickly. Most of the time it’s just little bonding bickers over things like how big of a fire is too big, or different ways of holding a gun, but sometimes it can escalate when tensions are high,” she explains. She speaks fondly of them, like a family member speaking about another one unflatteringly but with a sense of love that runs deep. This group has been together for a while then.
“Ava – listen,” she turns serious, “The group – my group – want to know that they are safe, but also that you’re safe. Tensions are high right now because, well…” she’s hesitant to speak. Her eyes are trying to convey the deeper message, as if she knows that’s all it’ll take for me to understand. It is.
“It’s me. I get it.” I say matter-of-factly. “Yes and no. Yes, because it is you. I’m not going to lie. Right now, you are either an enormous threat to the safety and survival of this group, or hopefully potential to be good, something we’ve needed for a little while now.” she exhales deeply at her last word, I’m not sure how to take the part of being called ‘Potential for Good’.
“And no, because they want to talk to you tonight. I suggested that it was too late and everyone is tired, not thinking straight sort of thing…but they all voted and they’re coming in right no-“ Violet is interrupted by the sounds of scratching chairs on the wooden floorboards and a herd of heavy boots traveling into the Lounge. I feel like a cornered animal with all these towering people forming a circle in the room. Violet looks at them, one by one, then looks back at me like she’s apologising for being too slow to explain everything to me.
Instinctively, I stand up and cross my arms. Puff out, take up space! You have to at least look intimidating. The voice prompts me and I stand with my legs spread out a little further apart. My chest rises higher with each breath. Even my eyebrows rise in a subtle act of intimidation. There are eight people in total, standing slightly cramped against each other. Each eye in the room is watching me closely while some glance over at Violet but jump back to me quickly, as if expecting me to pounce any second and rip someone’s throat out.
Carter coughs, standing closest to the Dining room doorway, and steps towards Violet.
“Violet, you let her know of what’s going on?” he asks, nudging towards me with his forehead. Violet nods, but shrugs at the same time. My focus is at an all time high right now, causing me to feel like every word said is stabbing me. It goes silent for a moment, and I think they want me to acknowledge or say something.
“It’s better we do this now, instead of waiting until morning and none of us getting a wink of sleep.” Someone calls out from the group. I look around for the source of the voice, which leads to me to a woman standing next to the bookshelf. She’s older, with grey strands of hair contrasting with the dark brown. She stands next to two men who appear like giants near the petite woman. She folds her arm, trying to make her words have impact but her fearful eyes betray her. All eyes turn back onto me, and I slightly puff my chest out and stand taller. If there was a time when you least wanted to back down, it was right this very second. Carter shiftily eyes Violet out of the corner of his eye, and she clicks her tongue as she steps forward too.
“Right! Well, Ava, we aren’t going to hurt you, use you for bait, or whatever messed up kind of thing you might be thinking right now” she looks around the room, as if challenging anyone who might be thinking it to come forward. After she scans the whole room, her attention fixes back on me.
“Secondly, we only took your weapons off of you because we weren’t sure of how you were going to react. But, not much to my surprise, you didn’t need a weapon to take out Benjie,” she smiles tauntingly towards Benjie, who stands near the door he exited. He squints at her and shakes his head, but a smile on his face lets me know that they are closer than first assumed.
She looks back at me. “And thirdly, we are a group of Survivors. Not merchants, or thieves, or any likes of them. We don’t sell people. We’re simply survivors, okay?” she explains, her voice gentler than before and serious. The scowl on my face furthers as I give a gruff nod.
“Now, I want us to sit down and talk to one another like Human beings. This is not an interrogation.” Violet gestures to all the chairs around us, and after a cough or two, people start slowly sitting down on surfaces. Benjie leans against the fireplace, and Violet sits on the armrest of one of the chairs. I sit back down in the seat I was in before. Violet smiles and claps her hands together as she faces me.
“Okay, this is better. A little less ‘We’ll-kill-you-if-you-make-one-sound’ and more ‘We-have a proposition-for-you’.” She’s clearly well liked and sustained as Leader or Peacemaker in her group by all the heads nodding or smiles that slowly turn up. I do neither and continue watching Violet instead. A voice that is not my own wells up in my throat, demanding to know what is going on and to be let go. The urge to scream it out at everyone is itching at my skin, but I don’t entertain the thought. That’s a sure fire why to kill myself.
“I’ll be honest with you, Ava,” Well that’s nice of you. “We did know that you were in that Shopfront. We had been watching you for a while now.” Ice seems to have filled my body at the sound of her words, and my gut feels sucker punched out of air. Being watched? For how long? Whole lists of questions and accusations erupt in my mind and it’s verging on overwhelming.
“What do you mean watching?” My voice drops low, barely coming out audible. My stomach is doubling over at the idea of being hunted like an animal, an unknowing prey walking about with the predator closing in.
“We saw you…a month ago, at your campsite,” Violent stammers. She looks nervously over at Carter, but he nods at her and lets her continue.
My mind doesn’t register what she says as nausea begins to grip me.
“How is that possible? I would have seen you…” I say softly in disbelief. The ground seems so much more interesting when eight people are staring at you and sharing a secret they are all a part of.
“At first, we just came across your tent, you were out hunting or scavenging. We agreed to give you a day or two, to see if you would pack up and leave the area. But then you came back, so we assigned Nicholas,” she points to a fairly attractive man sitting on one of the Sofas. He bows his head down slightly, acknowledging himself but keeping his silence. “To watch you and see who you were. As a potential danger to our group, we couldn’t take a risk in letting someone get too close to our group.”
It seems like Violet is uncomfortable to be sharing this information, like her secret stash that she had kept so well hidden is now being displayed out on the table for everyone to gawk and peck at. The wheels in my hard are spinning out of control, but I shake as I force them down. Fear of what they might know about me, what they’ve seen in that month, set off like fireworks in my skin and I grip my thoughts back to Violet, who is standing now.
“Once we saw who you were, and how you were scouting out the Grocer, we had hoped to meet you inside to speak with you. If we jumped you while you were scouting, it might have ended worse than it could have.” I hear a stifled laugh turn into an inconspicuous cough from a corner of the room. My eyes jump towards a young looking boy sitting there on the desk chair. He is flicking the tip of a knife against his thumb, his eyes locked on mine. His face is familiar, like a younger copy of someone I’ve come across. It takes me a second to look over at Benjie, and connect the dots. Brothers. That’s lucky chance for a family to be alive together. I bitterly think as the silence in the room becomes stuffy. Violet has had enough of talking. The serious, deep conversation is already enough for her. She folds her arms, crosses her legs, and looks over at Carter. Carter claps his hands together, pulls himself to his feet, and points at me with his stubby finger while looking around the room at everyone.
“Getting to the point, because some people opt for more theatrics than others. Ava,” he turns to me. I try to shoot him between the eyes with a glance. It doesn’t seem to make a dent. “We saw how you handled those Biters, and how you handled yourself. We aren’t going to kill you; we’re asking you to join our group.” He finishes, the entirety of his sentence takes less than ten seconds to verbalise, but it’s taking me much longer than that to comprehend it. Join them? Their group? They watched me, because they wanted me in their group. I roll these thoughts over in every different way they can be formed in a sentence. It’s still not making sense to me. Everyone watches me, anticipating my answer. Some look mad, some look apathetic to the whole situation, and some like Violet look like the suspense is going to be the thing that kills them.
“You watched me for a month, just so you could ask me to join you. Is that right?” I ask, uncomfortable glances bounce around the room. Carter stands up straighter, one hand on his belt. “That’s right.” He says. I’m a whirlwind of confusion; all the different emotions battling within me are yanking me back and forth trying to find a way to respond to what I’m hearing.
“Why should I trust you? Any of you, for that matter? You came at me with a group! I was alone – just me scavenging. Why should I take your word that I’m safe? and that you want me for you group? What’s in it for you?” My voice rises higher and higher with every question. Violet perks up when she notices Carter about to answer.
“That was my idea, actually.” She says, one arm still folded and the other held up in the air. “Everyone else was a tad worried that you’d shoot first, ask questions later. I was the only one willing to step forward…” she trails off. She wraps her arms tighter around herself and watches the ground. I’m given a moment of silence to think things over. They all stand around, fidgeting in different ways. Some watch the ground. Others find it necessary to continue watching me closely try to make a decision that could easily be the wrong decision.
I’m low on supplies. Low on ammo. Low on a safe and secure shelter. The shelter I did have is now either destroyed from the rainstorm, or has been stumbled upon by other survivors. I’ve only just scraped by becoming severely dehydration and starvation, and I was saved by Violet when she could have easily just shot me. The wheels in my mind scrape together what bit of energy I have.
Them or alone. Yes or no. Life or Death. I don’t trust any single one of them, but in the distorted picture of surviving, they aren’t the worst possible choice. At least they are kind enough to give the illusion of choice. It’s the only choice.
One of the men jumps to his feet, looking annoyed. “Look, why are we waiting for this girl to make a decision? She doesn’t want to join, big shocker!” he points at me with his palm facing up. An attempt to be less threatening instead of a straight up jabbing poke in my direction. He stands tall, taller than the rest of the others in the group, except for one other who sits uncomfortably on the edge of one of the sofas.
“I say, if she doesn’t want to just us, we shouldn’t waste any more time. We either let her back into the wild with the other animals and be back on our way, or make the decision for her.” There’s a sinister tone lurking behind his words. I remember him. His name is Nicholas, the one that Violet pointed to before. The one she said was scouting me out long before the rest of their group joined in.
“And what are you implying by that, Nich?” Benjie calls out, the first time he has spoken since this group discussion began. His stare is solely on him, his hand on his gun now. “Yeah, Nich? How would you suppose we make the decision for her? Roll some dice and see what it lands on?” Violet asks, her eyes locked with Nicholas’s. The air is heavy and thick, the electricity of the tension bursting back and forth.
“Hey!” I jump to my feet. Violet and Nicholas look back down at me. “No one is going to force anyone’s decision here,” I shoot a dangerous glare at Nicholas. I don’t know what type of way he was thinking of helping me make my decision move along faster, but I don’t see myself eagerly trying to find out.
“Don’t expect me to trust you, or be willing to throw myself in front of a bullet to save anyone,” I say, “But seeing as there are worse choices to make, I don’t see why I shouldn’t go with the choice that has food, clean water, guns,” I gesture towards the guns they hold in holsters, belts, and their arms with my eyes. “Let’s just say that you’ve got a lot more supplies than I do.” I say as I fold my arms.
Violet gives a knowing smile. Carter claps his hands together and pulls himself to his feet using the armrests. “Okay. That’s good enough for me. She’s with us.” He gives me a look to double-check my allegiance. I force a smile and give an affirmative nod. “Good. I’m not on first watch tonight. I’ll see you all in the morning,” He turns towards Violet. “You show Ava where to sleep tonight.” He gives a bow of his head and begins walking off towards the back room. Everyone is getting up slowly now. Some charge off without another word.
Violet grabs my arm gently, her voice quiet and purposely low. “Those who are on watch stay in here,” She looks over my shoulder and I follow her gaze. There are two men, one of them is Nicholas, begin lying down on the couch with guns at the ready in their grips. “Tonight, that’s Olsen and Nicholas. We’re gonna sleep in one of the back rooms.” She escorts me slowly, led by a light hand on my back. I don’t know whether I should stand with shoulders back and neck high, asserting my place as friend or foe, or with my head down and curling into myself to make them feel pity for me. What impression am I trying to give them? Weak or capable?
I’m asking the wrong question. The one that needs answers at this very moment - what have they seen and know about me already?