Reilly woke pretty early. His sleep had been poor and he’d woken often throughout the night. Through the house’s thin walls he thought he’d heard sobbing, not just from Kiera. He had contemplated going over to comfort her, but decided against it.
The air was heavy in the house that morning as the residents continued to clean and repair the building. The trucks were driven muhch closer to the house and an inventory taken of their contents. The house’s armaments were drastically increased, with several shotguns added, along with a crossbow. In the back of the trucks they found boxes of tinned food, which Reilly helped to carry into one of the barns. In the last truck to be searched, were a few boxes of bottled water. These were taken to one of the barns and locked away, to be rationed for use. The house had run out of bottled water a few weeks before the attack. People had been sent out to the local villages to find liquids, and had returned with a variety of different soft drinks and alcohol, but only limited water. They found that it was getting harder and harder to find food and water; all of the shops and homes in Whitby had been searched and the entire town was now completely devoid of food and water.
Once the trucks were empty, they were driven round the back of the house and parked in a row. The fuel was siphoned out into containers and stored inside the house.
Mason led the group that piled up the corpses out the back of the house. They created two piles, one for the attackers and one for their own. Mason called everyone and they gathered in front of the piles as he worked to light them, using only a small amount of wood. It took a long time for the wood to catch and set the bodies on fire. The bodies stank as they burnt, acrid smoke filling the air, seemingly refusing to move even when the wind blew. Many of the residents cried at their loss. Kiera hugged Reilly, turning her body away from the piles.
The group dispersed, leaving the bodies to pump out black smoke.
Blood was scrubbed from the carpets. Where they couldn’t scrub the stains away, they cut away chunks of the carpet, leaving the floorboards exposed. Someone found a pot of white paint, a thick skin formed over its surface, hidden in a cupboard and they set about painting marks on the walls. The paino was broken up. Kiera watched and cried as the person wrenched it apart, piece by piece, and parts were used to patch up the holes in the walls. The rest was taken and stored with the rest of the firewood; the piano strings were rolled up and stored as well. Someone suggested that they could be used to make snares and other traps; someone else began to say for what animals, but then stopped, deciding not to reduce morale further.
By the time it was time to eat dinner, the entire house was exhausted. The bodies had burnt down and had almost become small piles of ash. Mason made the decision to use some of the tinned food found in the trucks, as well as the group of dead rabbits that had been hanging in the back of one truck, to make a dinner that would improve the house’s morale.
“Friends.” He said, with everybody crowded into the room. As many chairs as possible had been pulled up around the table, and more people stood holding their plates.
“We lost some good people last night. People that gave their lives for us. We must remember them and never forget them. They protected us from a threat and saved us. We are here only because of them. We must live in their honour and live well. It will be hard – it can only get harder. But together we can survive.”
Reilly wasn’t sure whether Mason was expecitng a cheer after his speech, and there wasn’t one, but some of the people nodded. Others wiped their eyes.
Life at the house changed after the attack. People were more wary about travelling out, and there were fewer volunteers for the hunting and scavenging trips. Reilly offered several times, but each time his and Kiera’s requests were vetoed by Maureen and Mason, who said that as the youngest, they must stay. Once, Mason took Reilly aside and said that if he were willing to kill, he would let him go. Reilly refused to say that he was, and was therefore not allowed.
Mason had begun to post guards around the estate, arming them with shotguns and grey flags made from old bedsheets. One person was to be in the highest room in the house at all times, checking each post with the binoculars. If they grey flags were shown it would mean that more attackers had been sighted, and that the house should prepare. In the event of another attack, a plan had been prepared. Wooden beams and panels had been constructed; that in itself had caused a minor argument about whether it was worth it as the firewood regularly ran perilously low. The panels would be put across the windows, and the beams fitted across the doors, preventing attackers from easily entering the property. They drilled handing out the shotguns and dousing the fires, sometimes drilling during the night when everyone was asleep. They became quick at implementing the plan.
Over time people began to talk more freely about the attack, and what they had seen when out hunting. It allowed Reilly to build up a better picture of the world outside the house. From the reports he gathered that there were numerous groups roaming the country, attacking people and taking their resources. Once or twice hunters arrived back, hurt. Sometimes they were close to death. But none of the hunters ever died from their wounds. Someone would always rush to the house’s medical cabinet, withdraw whatever was needed from their ever dwindling stock and administer it. Every time that someone arrived back injured, morale would drop for a few days and people would be more reluctant to talk to one another.
It was several months after the attack that Maureen became ill. Kiera noticed it first. The insistent cough that wouldn’t leave, the cough that only became stronger. It was while Maureen was teaching her how to play the guitar, that she doubled up coughing and coughed up a dark, sticky lump; Maureen told her it was blood. Initially the pair of them kept quiet. Maureen had told Kiera that it wasn’t good and that she shouldn’t tell anyone.
Kiera told Reilly straight away. For days Reilly was torn between whether to tell Mason or not. In the end he didn’t need to. Mason came across Maureen, collapsed outside. He lifted her and helped her walk back to the house. Once inside she explained to him about how she was coughing up blood more and more frequently, and about how her hair was beginning to thin, how she was finding it harder and harder to move and how she was constantly tired. Mason listened and soon realised that she was seriously ill.
Maureen’s condition worsened quickly and she was soon bedridden with radiation sickness. Her skin turned pale and she only let Kiera and Mason see her. The rest of the residents weren’t allowed; her illness scared many of the residents, and some became paranoid, constantly checking their bodies for any signs of tumours.
As Maureen grew more ill, Mason began to become quieter, eventually refusing to talk to anybody. People tried to continue as normal, but organisational problems soon began to appear: dinner became later, hunting trips became more infrequent, firewood stocks dropped. Reilly began to take more command, and people began to listen to him, recognising that Mason trusted him and that they needed someone to tell them what to do.
In the days leading up to Maureen’s death, Reilly took on more and more responsibility, until he was, in effect, running the house. He would ensure that the fires were lit in the morning, that the person stationed in the high room was rotated and that someone would prepare dinner on time. He tried to keep life running as normally as possible.
The day that Maureeen died, Reilly was out in one of the barns, moving stock closer to the door. Over time they had worked through the barn until they reached the piles of stock that laid against the rear wall.
Kiera came running into the barn, tears streaming down her face. Her eyes were red and her lip was quivering. Reilly knew what had happened as soon as he saw her, and he left the barn immediately, charging through the house, up the stairs, into Maureen’s room.
Mason had closed her eyes, and her body lay in her bed. Mason sat next to it, clasping her hand and crying. Reilly hugged Kiera and then walked to Mason. He put his hand on Mason’s shoulder and rubbed it.
“She’s gone.” Mason said.
“I know.” Reilly said.
“We do what she would have wanted.”
“But how? I’ve lived with her forever.” Mason’s voice sounded tortured, like it was tearing through his throat, ripping it apart. Dark spots on his trousers marked where his tears fell.
“Together. How she would have wanted us to continue.” Mason continued to weep.
Reilly left him, his mind numb as he walked down the stairs with Kiera. He called the rest of the residents together, cramming them all into the living room. Standing on a chair he announced to them all that Maureen had passed away, and that Mason was upstairs grieving. Many of the people burst into tears and held each other.
Footsteps on the corridor outside told them that Mason had come down from Maureen’s room. He opened the door to the living room and walked in. He’d dried his face, but his eyes were sore and he looked distant.
“She’s gone.” He said.