As I’ve said several times, I’ve written most of the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015 (N-Day), but I missed out a chunk which meant that not all of it could be uploaded. The next bit is ready!
The house was silent for several more days. Even after they had the funeral people remained subdued. Some drifted away straight after the funeral, refusing to see Reilly as their new leader. He didn’t argue with them, nor did his followers. They stood and watched as the leavers took their share of the resources and walked away.
Eventually sound returned to the house and organisation followed. The stockpiles were gradually refilled, and a few new people arrived. If and when they asked about the graves, they were told the truth. Reilly was keen to ensure that he was seen as an honest leader.
Just over a month after the funeral, when the rain was making the ground soft once more, a scout returned to the house and went straight to Reilly. He claimed that he had found the corpses of one of the groups that had left the camp.
He said that he couldn’t bring any proof because there was barely anything left of them. He said that everything they had been carrying, even their clothes, had been taken. He said that that bodies had been burnt. He only recognised one of them.
Somebody, the scout said his name was Larry, had appeared to crawl away from the fire; that he couldn’t have been dead when he was set on fire. His body was warped, the skin all pinched and twisted. But his face was vaguely recognisable. The scout described the bruises and that it had begun to decompose, and that he recognised Larry’s ginger hair and his crooked teeth.
Reilly drove to the corpses, following the scout’s directions. It was the first time that Reilly had left the camp for several months, having been too busy orchestrating the movements of everyone else.
To him, the world seemed to have become more grey. The ground looked beyond sick, like it was resigned to its fate. It was hard to distinguish where the horizon truly was: the grey ground gave way to grey sky. Reilly wondered how far the hunting parties were having to travel and what he was making them go through when they left the camp. He thought to ask the scout but decided against it for the time being. The matter at hand was more pressing.
Most of the corpses were crushed together, pushed into a pile of ash with the odd bone sticking out. When Reilly knelt and gently touched one, it collapsed into dust. He spent a while just looking at the remains of the pyre before moving to the corpse that the scout had recognised.
It was far worse than he had described.
The skin was twisted and had shrunk like melted plastic. There were tears in the skin that had begun to grow mould and little white maggots wriggled through them. For a second he wondered where the maggots had come from, then he felt the vomit rise in his throat and he turned away.
Wiping his mouth, Reilly apologised to the scout.
“Rain’s washed mine away.” The scout shrugged.
“Looks like there were seven of them.” Reilly said.
“It must be one of the last groups, I remember that Larry left quite late. He seemed to think that you’d do something amazing straight away.” He shrugged again. “Takes time.”
“Mhm.” Reilly grumbled and knelt down next to Larry’s corpse. He held his sleeve against his mouth, breathing through the thin fabric; he tried as best he could to ignore the smell. Gently he rolled the corpse over.
A cave went deep into the front of Larry’s chest. Reilly pulled the corpse over and glanced at Larry’s back. There was a small exit wound. The hole at the front exposed rotten organs.
He stood up quick. “He was shot.”
“Not good.” Scout said, although it didn’t really need to be said.
Reilly looked around at the ground, trying to make out any tracks. It had rained on their way out, and the ground had turned to a grey mush.
“They went that way.” The scout said, gesturing towards the north.
Reilly nodded and walked back to the truck. The scout followed and they sat down inside, watching the clouds in silence.
After a while, the cloud that they had been watching had faded into the sky, Reilly started the truck and drove them back to the house.
“Not good” He said. “Get all the scouts who aren’t out to meet me in the dining room.” He said, pulling the truck up outside the front of the house. Someone would collect it from there and take it back to the garage.
He sat in his room while the scouts assembled in the dining room. The gunshot wasn’t good. Part of him had hoped that the scout had been wrong about the burning too, that some animal had attacked the group. But a gunshot meant that there were scavengers around, unless one of the other groups of leavers had turned on them. As long as they didn’t come back and attack the camp.
The scout had managed to contain the news of the death well, and the only people who turned up the dining room were the other scouts. Reilly nodded his thanks at the scout who had brought them all in, then stood at the front of the room. A hush fell as he walked to the front.
“I don’t know how much he has told you but-“ Reilly realised that he didn’t know the scout’s name, and mentally cursed himself. “I’m going to pass over to him so that you can hear exactly what he saw.”
The scout stepped to the front of the room and recited what he had seen, skimming over the description of the wounds on the corpse. A few of the scouts raised their hands, and Reilly pointed at one.
“What Mark says is bad. How do we know the people didn’t follow you back?”
Reilly felt a weight, albeit small, lift itself from his shoulders. The scout’s name was Mark.
“I went out with Mark earlier and we looked for tracks. They appear to have gone in the opposite direction. I think that the killers may have been another group that left here.”
“How can you prove that though?”
“I can’t. It wasn’t animals that killed them, but no-one has reported any sightings of scavengers in the area. That’s why I asked you guys here. I want to deploy you all.”
A disgruntled look appeared on the scouts’ faces.
“I know, you deserve rest, but I need you out there, we all need you out there. Conduct your normal routes and be vigilant for any signs of scavengers.”
“If we see them?”
“Come back and we shall prepare just in case. As soon as you have finished your routes, return. If you see any other scouts out there, call them back for the moment.”
The room became noisy again as people left.
That evening, at dinner, word had got out about what had happened and Reilly made sure that he placated the nerves that had become jumpy. A few had demanded access to the weapons cupboard so that they could be prepared, while others said that those that left deserved it. In response Reilly doubled the night’s guards and promised that, as ever, he would do his best to protect the camp and its residents.
Kiera met with him after dinner, the two of them walking round the residents’ attempts at a farm. Furrows of grey dirt were dug and anything that was hoped to be a seed was planted beneath. A few sprouts of pale green stuck out of the dirt, but more often than not, the ditches lay empty.
“You really think that it was people who left the group?” Kiera asked.
“I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure which would be worse. If it is scavengers then that means they might find us. If it was people who left us, then they too might turn on us. Perhaps there are both out there and they will fight each other.”
“Perhaps. Perhaps it’s time for us to move on.”
Reilly stopped walking and let go of Kiera’s hand.
“We can’t just leave.”
“We give people the choice: they can come with us and try and travel further south, perhaps go across to France, or they can stay here.”
“Maybe.” Reilly said.
They had reached the back of the camp, past the graves of Mason and Maureen.
It had taken several months but they had managed to construct a ramshackle wall around the back of the house, high enough that it would make it difficult for people to attack – they had dug a ditch the other side, but low enough that it would not obscure the lookout’s vision at the top of the house.
They followed the wall for a few steps, before curving away from it and round the back of one of the sheds.
Kiera stopped walking. “You would tell me?”
“If Marauders were coming? Of course.”
She shook her head. “If you thought we should leave.”
His eyes shifted. “I wouldn’t leave you behind. It’d be our choice.”
She seemed placated and continued to walk. “I kinda meant that you wouldn’t just decide to do it and then tell me as we did it.” She wondered if that made sense.
“I’d let you know before.” Reilly said. “We wouldn’t be alone anyway.” He nodded towards the house. “I couldn’t just leave them behind. I’d ask them if they wanted to come with us.”
They walked back into the house and joined the rest of the residents to eat dinner. The meals had become uniformly coloured – either grey or brown – and uniformly tastless.
The scouts began to return the next morning, the droning of their engines growing louder as they grouped together on their return. A row of motorbikes, their paintwork chipped and covered in mud, got longer as more and more of the scouts returned. Most moved straight through to report back to Reilly; a couple, who had nothing to report, washed and ate before seeking out Reilly.
Those that did report news, reported bad news.