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08/08/2007 2:21 AM
They were standing on the fourth flour of the apartment building. This was the safest place they could find; there was only one way up the stairs. That entrance was kept guarded at all hours of both day and night.
Families lay on cheap military-esque cots in every room. It was a saddening experience just to catch a glimpse of their existence.
"Okay," said a particularly thin man. "We're running out of food. We need to send out some sort of hunting group."
"But Aldous," replied a gaunt woman, her children hidden behind her. "We're all too weak and fearful to be able to search for food. Besides anything, there are raving madmen on the streets!"
[i]Madmen are not just on the streets[/i], thought Aldous. [i]In fact, just across the road there is a butcher's shop. In that shop a man named Roland resides. He carries a case filled with knives around, and leaves the carcasses of humans hanging in his window. For all Aldous knew he could be a Gagarinian too. [/i]
Aldous could sense the fear rising in the room. It was rising in his mind too.
"Eh..," he started, but could not finish.
Luckily, a reformed mobster the survivors knew as Sal was able to help the Gagarinian a hand. "I saw a truck the other day, on the main street, near the town hall. It looked..." He coughed up some dust. "Excuse me. Anyway the truck looked pretty undisturbed. It was clearly delivering food when the driver decided to get out of here."
"What were you doing all the way out there Sal?" asked the woman.
"I was searching for ... an old friend," replied the mobster.
"Okay, okay. So, who wants to go and check the truck out?" asked Aldous.
"You brought it up Aldous, so you should go," said the woman.
"But...," Aldous started, but he bit his tongue. It knew that the wise path was not to cause him to be ousted by the group. It would be better to help than destroy. "Fine, I'll go. Who's to come with me then?"
"I'll go with you, Aldous".
Dorothy spoke from where she stood near the window, her arms folded tightly around her chest. Most of the glass was covered so that none of the scant light they had escaped to reveal their location, but a small gap had let her look down on the street below.
She looked wan and tired, as much a shade as everyone else in their small complex of rooms but still standing straight and determined: clothes worn but tidy, hair pushed back behind her ears, one strand slipping free to irritate her every few minutes.
There was nothing she wanted to do less than leave the sanctuary they had established here, timorous though it was, all of them huddled here like frightened prey. For most of this waking nightmare she had kept quiet and out of the way, wanting only to survive until it was over in the hope that she could get home to Glinda. It had gotten to the point where she would wake in a start from each restless sleep convinced she felt the child near, that she could smell the ghost of her scent on the air.
But she had come to realise- and too slowly, really- that this wasn't going to be over any time soon, that it wasn't going to be 'fixed' by some half imagined saviours. This was their reality for the moment, horrible though it was, and the best they could do was survive and try to help one another.
Most of the people in the building were too old, or too sick, or too weak to be able to survive leaving, or had children or someone weaker or sicker than themselves needing their care.
She was as hungry as the rest of them, the constant clawing ache in her stomach an ever present reminder of their privation: but she was younger than many here, and had no one relying on her, and was tired of feeling like a mouse hiding away, fleeing at the tiniest shadow.
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