As the wooden box slipped from her hands, Addy squeezed her eyes shut. It fell to the stairs, crunching onto a corner. Her dad, leaping from the stair behind her with the speed of a rattlesnake, stopped it from tumbling the rest of the way down. She exhaled.
He clapped her on the shoulder. “I’m glad I can help. Even if I wish you’d reconsider.”
Eyes still closed, Addy grinned with tight lips.
“I’ve got it, dad.” Grunting, she lifted the box back to hip height and lugged it down the six remaining stairs. The smell of sawdust still stuck in her nose. In preparation for her move, they’d been putting boxes together for what seemed like a week. Her hands were raw but not sore. Manual labor wasn’t exactly a stranger. Still, her sore fingers felt puffy and slow. A deep desire to ice them when they were done overwhelmed her as she descended, heels feeling the edge of the stair in front of her before stepping.
“Hey Ad, get a move on, will you?” Jane stood at the bottom of the steps, one foot on the bumper of her truck.
Addy’s dad spoke over her head. “You sure you don’t have anything else to get, Jane?”
She grinned, tossing her red hair over a shoulder and pulling her sunglasses down her nose.
“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mr. C.”
Addy could hear her dad chuckle behind her. She could almost see him grinning. She rolled her eyes and shoved the box toward Jane’s waiting arms.
Jane took it, all five feet nothing of her, and tossed it into the bed of the truck like it was empty. Pushing her sunglasses back up her nose, she freed her keys from a belt loop and tossed them at Addy.
Addy caught them in mid air, fumbled, and dropped them.
“Shut it.” Addy scooped the keys from the dirt, turning to her dad. “I know it seems like Jane lives here with us already, so we’ll really be living together now. Just, somewhere else.”
He nodded and swung both arms around her shoulders, hugging her so tight she thought she wouldn’t be able to breathe.
“You be careful out there, Adelaide.”
“Careful as I ever am, dad.”
He released her and stepped back. She watched as he raised a hand to his face, swiping under his eye.
Could have been dust getting in it. It was dry out this time of year. Instead of the ribbing he deserved, she gave him the benefit of the doubt. Shaking out the keys, she started around the truck.
Jane leaned out the window. “Hey Mr. C.,” she said. He looked up, squinting against the sun.
“You’re a grown up now, Jane. You can call me Jack.”
“OK. Say hey to Mike for me if you see him first,” she said, voice flat but somehow full of mirth. She turned to Addy, who’d made her way to the driver’s seat and was stabbing the keys toward the ignition. On the third try she found it.
“Onward, dear lady.”
Jack watched the girls pull away, dust rooster tailing behind the truck. He frowned.
Maybe he could convince his grown daughter to move back in before she finished moving out. It may have been worth a shot, but she was just as stubborn as he was. It’d never work. He decided to give it a go.
Scuffing the dirt with a boot, he turned and trudged up the stairs, chaining the gates at the bottom and top. After chaining the gate at the top, he swiveled a handle on the wall next to him. It squeaked. He grimaced and finished its rotation. Trip wires popped up along every other step.
Proud as he was of the system, he hadn’t been able to install any sort of protection in Addy and Jane’s new apartment yet. Hadn’t even been inside the new apartment yet. Hell, he hadn’t even been to it. But he knew where it was. He’d get to it.
He walked into the house, snagging the WD-40 from above the fridge. Shaking the bottle as he walked back toward the front door, the refrigerator’s compressor kicked on.
He leapt eighteen inches from the floor if it was a day. Even three years into having electricity again, he wasn’t used to the sound. Without realizing he’d raised his hand, he lowered it from his hip, reseating his revolver in its holster.
“Damn jumpy ass.” Not quite a whisper, not really out loud. It was only talking to yourself if other people heard you.
Walking onto the landing, he oiled the handle and spun it a few times, watching the trip wires raise and lower in silence as it spun. One corner of his mouth turned up. Nodding, he turned to walk back in.
The crunch of gravel under a foot.
The hackles on Jack’s neck rose, painful pricks along his spine. The base of his skull tingled. Hand hovering over the grip of his gun, he waited for the owner of the foot to round the corner and come into his line of sight. The feet took regular, measured steps, and Jack relaxed a millimeter. Only the living walked with a purpose.
As a portly, balding man stepped into view, Jack sighed and pulled his gun anyway.
“Whoa, hey Jack, good evening,” the newcomer said, stopping at the bottom of the stairs and peeking through the gate. Jack shook his head.
“You can call me Mr. Cooke, Wade.”
“OK, Mr. Cooke. Can I come up?”
Jack shook his head and turned, holstering his gun once again. An audible sigh from the bottom of the stairs followed him into the house. As the door snicked closed, Jack exhaled, shoulders falling. The man might be a worm, but he was Mayor Worm. He frowned and turned, opening the door again. Poking his head out the door, he glared at his visitor. Hiding the trip wires again and opening the gate at the top of the stairs, he trudged back down. Dust assaulted his nose as he reached the bottom and he all but sneezed in Wade’s face as he opened the bottom gate.
Wade threw up a hand, spittle covering his palm as he did. “Whoa, hey Mr. Cooke, are you OK? Getting a cold?” His pleasant expression had been replaced with something predatory, reptilian.
All at once Jack noticed the bulge beneath Wade’s armpit. The pommel of a knife peeking from his belt. Boots wider at the top than they ought to be. His slitted eyes took in the man again, reassessing.
“No, Wade. Just dust. Always happens, this time of year.”
The little man nodded, one hand coming out from behind his back. Empty.
Jack shook his head, blue eyes flashing toward the horizon. He scratched at his salt and pepper beard.
“Come on up.”
Letting the smaller man pass in front of him, he closed both gates and set the trip wires. Once inside, he locked and barred the door.
“Never too many precautions, huh Mr. Cooke?” Wade bounced on the balls of his feet, hands clasped in front of him. Jack turned, cool eyes staring through him.
Wade bounced. Jack stared. After several ticks of the hall clock, Wade shuffled a foot.
“Do you think I could get some water or something, please?” he asked. Jack shook his head but led him into the kitchen, motioning to the table in the center of the room. Wade took a seat, wood creaking under his considerable ass. Jack sat a glass in front of him, filled with miraculous ice from the freezer and cold water. The glass began to sweat. Wade took a swig, clapping a hand to his forehead as he sat the glass back on the table.
“Brain freeze,” he said with a chuckle.
Jack’s mouth twitched, but he wasn’t sure if it was a smile or a frown. He opted for neither and pressed his lips together as he sat. Leaning on the table, he sucked in a labored breath through his nose. Exhaled.
“What can I do for you, Wade?”
Wade nodded, taking another sip from his glass.
“Well Jack, um mister, Mister Cooke, I, that is the I who is mayor, was wondering if you wanted to be on the security committee.”
Chuckling, Jack leaned back in his chair.
Wade shook his head.
“Oh no, Mr. Cooke. About town matters I don’t joke.”
Jack’s brow creased, and he exhaled a laugh. He watched as Wade’s fingers slipped over the condensation on the glass, almost dropping it to the ground as he lifted it to take a nervous sip. Jack stuck his hand out in time to stop it falling and sat it back on the table, no more than two or three droplets escaping it. Wade tittered.
“See there? That’s one of the things I, that we, want you on the committee for. You’re so quick,” Wade said. Jack wasn’t sure when it had happened, but Wade had begun sweating. His upper lip was beaded with dirty, salty little drops. Also, the longer he sat in Jack’s quiet kitchen, the more it smelled a bit like stale bacon.
Jack’s inner upper lip curled. He could not fathom how this doughy, pasty man had survived the past twenty years. Not when it had taken all of Jack’s strength, skill, and smarts to survive in such a harsh, apocalyptic place. That was over now. Still.
He cocked his head and crossed his arms.
The little man sighed, knocking back the rest of the water like it was a shot of vodka. The ice cubes crunched and squeaked between his teeth, setting Jack’s own on edge.
“Jackson. Jack. We need your help. You’re a great benefit to this community and we need you to take part in its safety,” he said. He reached to his face in what Jack assumed was a nervous tic. When Wade spotted his own hand next to his face, he chuckled.
“Heh. I forgot I got contacts again. It’s been so long since I had them, I can’t remember what it’s like to not wear glasses.”
Wade stood, sliding the chair back under the table with a prissiness reserved for actors. No one else could be that over-the-top with it. He walked to the front door, Jack following behind. The boards of the floor creaked under their feet, almost in sync with the hall clock. Wade stopped at the door and turned to Jack, muddy brown eyes looking up into Jack’s clear blues.
“Listen. We’re working really hard here on rebuilding this community. The state. Hell, the planet. We need everyone’s help. You have a skill,” he said, motioning to the bar on the door. “We need your skill. It’s been a long time since we were able to have stability. But it’s here now, and you can help us maintain it.”
Jack frowned down at him, nose itching. Holding his breath to suppress the sneeze, he reached past the mayor, unbarred the door, and set the bar down. He opened the door and motioned for Wade to take his leave. They repeated the process of Wade’s entry, without all the flying spit. The shorter man stared through the security gate as Jack slammed it home and locked the chain.
“The next meeting is in two days. It’s at city hall, noon.”
Jack grunted, pulling on the sun warmed lock to be sure it was secure. He glanced up, meeting Wade’s eyes again.
“I’ll think about it.”
“Here, no Addy, back in here,” Jane said. She pointed to her right, and Addy could see something like a makeshift loading dock. Their new home was an old barracks, converted into office space, then converted again into about a billion apartments. Well, maybe it seemed that way just because there were so many people. It was hard to tell.
Moving to put the truck in reverse before they stopped rolling, she ground the gears, forcing the stick back. Jane inhaled across her teeth but stayed silent. Addy swung the truck around, sticking her head out the window to look behind her as she neared the dock. A stray, long brown hair fell into her eye. She shook her head to get rid of it, which did precisely zero good.
“I’ll get mirrors on this thing one of these days,” she said, guiding the truck backwards toward the building. As they rolled to a stop, Jane jumped out and into the bed. She’d tied her thick hair in a knot at the back of her head, long sticks holding it in place. They looked a bit like chopsticks.
Addy grinned and jumped into the bed with her, helping her unload onto the dock. As they tossed the last bag up onto the concrete, she looked around the parking lot.
The entirety of the building, along with the other two barracks next to it, was surrounded in chain link with barbed wire atop that. They’d come through two security fences on the way in, manned twenty-four seven. This place was a nervous parent’s dream.
“Ain’t no dead heads gettin in here,” Jane said from her elbow.
Adrenaline flooded Addy’s arms, fists rounding in an involuntary clench. Jane’s fake Scottish accent was pretty good. Not that Addy had heard many more Scottish accent’s than Mr. Scott’s. But whatever, good enough. She relaxed, arched an eyebrow, and looked down at her friend.
“You think it’ll make my dad feel better if we tell him we’re ‘givin it all we’ve got’?” She threw down her best Scotty impression, but Jane didn’t flinch. She went right into Obi-Wan.
“What we told him was true, from a certain point of view.”
The metal door behind them cranked up with a rickety bang. Two young men walked out onto the dock. The closest one, a freckled boy who couldn’t have been more than a buck twenty, stuck his hand out to Addy. She scoffed, jumping over the tailgate with one graceful leap. Jane laughed and did the same. The other, curly brown hair falling to his shoulders, bowed.
“My ladies,” he said. Jane curtsied. Addy crossed her arms, shifting from foot to foot.
“Tim, sweetie,” Jane said, once again putting on a Scottish accent. Addy grinned. “Do you think you bays could help up with oor bags?” Exaggerating every vowel, Jane lowered her sunglasses again and leaned toward Tim, breasts just grazing his forearm.
Addy could all but see the hair on his arm stand up. She was willing to bet that wasn’t all. With a smile that was more like a frown, she followed Jane into the cool darkness of the building.
“How long do you think it’ll take dad to realize this place is co-ed?”
The truck sat tucked away in its own little space. The bags, trunks, and handmade boxes stacked in a corner of the large front room. Addy and Jane sat in the floor, balls of their feet touching. Jane sat knitting and humming, needles flashing. Addy watched her with hypnotic fascination. The room smelt of soap. And something else. Potatoes? Maybe. Bananas? Oh who the hell knew.
“What kind of office was this before?” Addy asked. Jane shrugged without missing a stitch.
“An office where they did things. They don’t do the things anymore.”
Having not lived in the world where they did those things, Addy really couldn’t guess what they were. It probably wasn’t important. It was someone’s life once, though. Now it was hers. Corners of her mouth turned down, she nodded. With Jane turned toward her needles, it was a useless gesture.
“Yeah. Well, it’s pretty cool as apartments. Hey,” she said, pushing the ball of her foot into Jane’s and shaking her leg, “it’s ours now. We live here. Can you believe it?”
Jane grinned with one side of her mouth and peeked at her from the corner of her eye. Folding the needles together, she stuck them to the floor. Their deadly points pierced the floor with a woody thump.
“Dude, high five,” she said, raising a hand. Addy slapped it and they rose, pulling each other up in unison like a carefully balanced see-saw. Addy walked to the window while Jane sauntered into the kitchen. Pulling out a thin knife from who-knew-where, she slit open one the few cardboard boxes they’d been able to get their hands on.
Addy spoke to the window, breath creating a tiny cloud of spit fog. “What did your parents say? You never told me.” Glasses clinked behind her. From the second floor, she could see most of the parking lot and part of the village. The lot before her was still and silent, the two working arc-sodium lights casting everything they touched in orange muck.
Jane chuckled. “What do parents ever say? Be safe, come visit, make sure to write. We love you. The usual blah blah blah.”
Addy turned. “You know what my dad said? When I told him I was moving?”
“Ha. No. He said, ‘Adelaide,’ ” Jane chuckled again as Addy’s voice lowered to match her dad’s pitch, “ ‘you’re too young to go off on your own. And Jane already practically lives here so what’s the point?’ ”
“What’s the point,” Jane said, handing Addy a glass of illegal wine. “Cheers, bitch.”
The girls quaffed their wine and sat by the window, drinking the rest of the bottle with slow consideration and watching as the village went to sleep.
3am. Addy’s phone rang. Her skin did its best imitation of snake skin, trying to crawl away without her as she fell to the floor. Into the floor with her came all the detritus from her pockets where she’d piled it on the table, some of it bouncing off her skull. Finally she located the phone, buzzing weakly but ringing to wake the dead. She flipped it open.
“What the hell?” she answered.
“Hey, Ads, didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Damn, Mike. It’s three am. What did you think was going to happen?”
He sighed. The line crackled.
“I’m sorry baby sister. I needed to test the lines. This tower has been nothing but a thorn in my side.”
Addy’s bedroom door crashed open, jerking a cry from her and erasing the last of her sleep. Jane crouched in the doorway, a knife in each hand. Addy flapped a palm at her.
“It’s just Mike.”
Jane grunted, sheathing the knives in dark places Addy was sure she didn’t want to think about. The gesture was as familiar as brushing her hair.
“Tell Michael hello. Since your dad obviously didn’t.”
“Is that Jane?” The line crackled again. Addy nodded, realized what she was doing, and answered aloud.
“Yes. SHE SAYS HI.” Raising her voice, she shouted toward Jane’s retreating back.
“What’s she doing there tonight? Do her parents know she’s spending the night?”
“Jesus Christ, Michael. We’re twenty three years old. We are not having a sleepover.”
She flipped the phone closed.
Sleep destroyed for the evening, Addy waited until she heard Jane’s regular breathing through her door. It was a thick door, but Addy could recall her mother teaching her to sit and listen.
“Now, what do you hear?”
“I don’t know. My heartbeat,” you’d answered. Your mom shook her head.
“Stop it. Not that. The rest.”
A whooshing in your ears wanted to take over everything in sight. You breathed deep and it was like coming up for air. Your ears popped and suddenly the whooshing was gone. You could hear ragged breathing. You looked in the direction of the jaggedy noise, eyes closed.
As you listened, your mom stood on silent feet, but for the scuffle of one stealthy heel. You could feel the corners of your mouth turn up, because you bet she didn’t think you’d hear that. But you’re learning already and –
BANG! The door rattles in its frame. The sound of mom’s knife unsheathing. You leap up. Your right foot is asleep from sitting criss-cross-applesauce all that time. You stumble on it, limping into the wall. Just in time for it to get rattled by the thing on the other side. Now you can do more than hear it. You can smell it. The stench of fetid meat and crusted blood. Gone past coppery and over into smelling like rust tastes.
You’re only eight but you’re pretty sure that’s how everyone’s going to end up eventually.
Blood pooled in the fingers until they’re blackened claws. Blood pooled in the feet until they swell and split. Shredded chunks of bone holding up the rotted flesh of the dead as it wanders around, turning everything else in the world into dead meat and bones.
But here’s mom, and she’s picked you up, taking you away from the smell and the blood and the banging. It can’t get you through the door and besides. Mom is made of steel. Everybody might end up that way in the end.
Everybody but her.
The front door to the apartments creaked as Addy eased her way through it. As a warning system it was good, but when she was trying to sneak out it was the loudest, most unnecessary creaking she’d ever been a witness to. Even still, with a light rattle of chain, she was through the door as it stood, less than half a foot open. Glancing around the yard she caught no movement. She eased the door closed and latched, then leapt off the side of the loading dock, silent feet landing in the desert dirt next to it. Encased in darkness on the west side of the building, she inched toward the fence. She caught the whisper of one stealthy heel over the scrubby grass, and the palm of her hand itched. Freeing her red handled machete from her belt loop, she gripped it and twisted her wrist. Sometimes it was long and clumsy, and it didn’t get through the holes in chain link very well, and there were times when she absolutely cut herself with it, but it was silent. She’d practiced with all sorts of weapons over time, ball and chain included, but in the end silence reigned.
Dropping these musings like pieces of old rotted clothing, she inched toward the fence. Even with the apartments being toward the edge of town, the village’s perimeter was protected by guards, fences, walls, and a mountain range. In a place this well armored, with the cure long since safely distributed and the hordes rounded up and smoked, embers and ashes blown to the four corners, there was no reason to think she could hear ragged breathing on the other side of the pitch black fence.
But there it was.
Slow, jaggedy, senseless. Because they never laid down, never went to rest, the blood had nowhere to go but down. Sometimes, when death was close behind them, something that had only just taken them and twisted them into this walking pile of murder, it would pool in the bottom of their lungs. It would bubble when they breathed. It sounded like a coffee pot, percolating over a fire.
She could hear the bubbling now, as she closed the distance to the fence with blind eyes. Even in the desert, when the moon had already set, the stars shone almost as bright. The Milky Way charged across the sky with the light of what her mom had said was billions and billions of stars.
Useless when the clouds were so thick overhead. On the dark side of this building, she couldn’t see the hand she lifted in front of her face.
Her toe hit the fence. Her nose could feel cold chain link.
It bubbled out there, shuffling closer to the fence. Its feet still had shoes. It was so fresh it had to be a villager. Someone who’d gone in their sleep.
Eyes closed, Addy heard it shuffle into the fence. The chain link rattled. If the clouds moved, she’d see she was nose to nose with it. She had to be.
Movement behind her.
She turned as a guard rounded the corner, red flashlight on the ground. She and the guard inhaled at the same time, sharp breaths drawn over their teeth in shock and surprise. As the guard lifted their flashlight – Addy couldn’t see who was holding it, boy or girl, age or weight, just a red beam – she followed the light as it splashed over her, onto the fence to her back, past it to the second fence, and out into the night.
Nothing but trees and rocks.
As the morning intruded on her thoughts, Addy thought it time to make some coffee.
After she’d been shooed back inside by a rather testy female guard, she’d spent the rest of the dark hours staring out the window, balancing her machete with one finger at its center of gravity. Something like peace descended as she stood, the blade bobbing by millimeters, the tiniest seesaw in the world, breathing deep and slow through her nose. It was an odd feeling, but one she chased when she could.
When she found it, Captain Picard also descended.
“Adelaide, why are you fighting?”
“Because it’s what I have to do.”
“No, Adelaide. It’s what you think you must do.”
“What choice do I have?”
“There is always a choice. Choose peace. Choose words, not weapons.”
Too bad the wine was gone.
Sheathing the blade and laying it on the bed, she made her way to the kitchen. Some few of the boxes had been unpacked, and she tried to remember exactly how her dad had set up the coffee pot. It was so different from making it over a fire. What was the thing again? Flitter? No, that’s what butterflies did. Filer? No. Damn.
Filter. That was the word.
She got the coffee, filter, and water all in the places they were supposed to go. Ugh. Why had dad always gotten up so early to make the coffee? She could have used a few more lessons.
Okay, there was the plug. She’d grown accustomed to those over the last couple years. That, at least, she knew what to do with.
When Jane walked in, hair pulled back again, knitting needles holding it in place, she sniffed toward the kitchen without opening her eyes.
“Tell me there’s eggs to go with the coffee.”
Addy grinned and sipped from her cup. “Oh there’s eggs. Just they have to be cracked and placed in a pan over some fire or other heat source.”
Yawning, Jane lifted her hands toward a ceiling she probably couldn’t even reach with a ladder. She slapped herself in the leg as she dropped them.
“Maybe Tim knows how to fry an egg. Wanna find out?”
Addy grabbed the eggs and her coffee cup, while Jane snagged a loaf of bread and a pan.
They wandered out into the hall and took in their new home in the daylight.
The door creaked open on hinges screaming for oil. Jack winced.
“Ah, Jackson. Glad to see you could join us.”
The door creaked closed and latched with a tired rasp. Glancing to the front of the room, he saw Wade sitting at what could have once been a teacher’s desk. The chalkboard behind him displayed an organizational chart of some sort. There was one name under the “security” section. Jack’s own.
He frowned. Wade was some kind of special.
“Wade.” He walked to the front of the room, the eyes of the seven other people in the room glued to him, picked up the eraser, and with one swipe eliminated his name from the board. Setting the eraser back in the tray with a puff of chalk, he took a seat near the window, turning the desk to face the room instead of the front. Rather than squeeze into a desk clearly meant for middle schoolers, he perched on the side of the seat and looked up at Wade.
Who was sweating again. Of course.
“Well. Welcome anyway, Mr. Cooke.”
“Um. Yes,” Wade said, shuffling and stacking the papers in front of him, “we were just getting to the business I’d spoken to you about. We need to fill out the security committee.”
“You should ask before you put my name on that board, Wade.”
“I apologize, Jack. You were nominated for the committee by three sitting council members. The vote was unanimous. No further discussion was needed, so we added you to it.”
“What if I wanted to decline the nomination?”
“Is that why you’re here?”
Jack hesitated, brow furrowed. A power play was happening here, one he’d rather not be involved in. Still, it might be more dangerous to leave. People had a tendency to do unpredictable things. Probably best to keep his enemies closer, sort of thing.
“No, Wade. I’m here to sign up for it.”
The portly man grinned, made a note on a paper before him, and set it in the “out” tray on a corner of the desk. He stood, chair legs scraping across the laminate floor, and turned to the chalkboard. Frowning, he finished the job of erasing Jack’s name, rewrote it in decidedly girlish handwriting, and wiped his hands of the chalk on a kerchief he produced from his pocket. Shaking out and folding it, he slid it back in his pocket and sat at the desk again. He raised an eyebrow.
“So, Mr. Cooke, who would you like on your committee?”
“You want me to nominate more people for this bureaucratic nightmare?”
Wade reached for his face again, trying to remove glasses that weren’t there. When he noticed his own raised hand, he picked up his pencil, twirling it between his fingers. The other people in the room, all men and women Jack had seen around but never spoken to, eyed the two of them like they were combatants in a particularly interesting tennis match. Not that any of their children would know what tennis was.
“Yes, Jack, I would like for you to fill out your own committee. You have the instincts I’m, we’re, looking for when it comes to who is best to fill these rolls.”
Jack shook his head, looking at the floor.
“I’ll talk to them myself. I’m not going to sign them up for some committee or whatever without talking to them first,” he said.
Wade shook his head. “Jack, maybe you don’t understand the function of the security committee.”
Jack opened his mouth to interrupt, but Wade raised a hand in his direction. Jack shut his mouth, crossing his arms and ankles. Wade went on.
“The committee is being created to oversee all aspects of security. Our constabulary is robust, but there are other aspects of security that are lacking. The purpose of this committee is to ensure the fences are sound, the alarms are maintained, and that the DH Task Force remains ever vigilant. That last one is the most important. It is easy to become complacent in these peaceful times. The DH Task Force is our best line of defense against the dead. They are trained, unafraid, and experienced. I’d like the security committee to oversee their continued training, discipline, and weaponry. And whatever else you, the head of security, require of them.” He swallowed, swiping at his dripping brow with a shirt cuff. The ill-fitting jacket he’d pulled on over it that morning hung limp from the back of the chair.
“In short, your job is to oversee any and all aspects of security. Bring all aspects of security under one umbrella, as it were. Any violations of policy shall be reported back to me, the Mayor, immediately.”
Jack stood, put his back to the room, and stared out the window. This wing of the school, the only one left, faced the village square. The statue in the square shimmered back at them, a sparkling, modern, yet primitive piece of metalwork. Something people like Wade would consider a vision of the future.
Jack shook his head and turned back to the council. Seven frightened rabbits looked back at him, and the wolf at the head eyed him with careful calculation. The bumbling voice, the portly frame, the pasty face, they were all manufactured to engender trust and lower defenses. Jack narrowed his eyes and nodded to Wade.
“Let’s do this.”
“So hey Addy,” Tim said. Adelaide turned to him, taking the egg pan he held out. She cocked her head.
“What’s it, Tim?”
“Did you want to come around later? Maybe we could do some target practice or something?” he asked. He looked away, making eye contact about once every two seconds. Addy’s organs cringed. But he’d been nice enough to help them find this place and just now he’d made her and Jane breakfast, even though Jane continued to be completely rude to him. Addy opened her mouth to answer him and her stomach flip-flopped. Turning to open the door, she twisted the handle but nothing happened. She looked at the handle and tried it again. It twisted a quarter turn and stopped. She spun back to Tim, nervous smile playing across her lips.
“Heh. Um, yeah OK sounds great.” Trying to switch the pan to her other hand, she dropped it on the floor with a clang. Glancing up at Tim again she laughed, a nervous, stuttery affair. A moment later she was knocking heads with him as they both bent to pick it up. His hair tickled her nose. As he bent again to get the pan, she staggered against the door frame, rubbing her head. The door swung open behind her as the latch finally gave in. She laughed again, took the pan once more, and retreated to the apartment, door swinging shut behind her. She latched it and fell against it, pan clanging against the wood.
“What is the matter with you, lady?” Jane asked from the couch. She’d beat Addy back by dint of a supposed bathroom break. Leaving the tour of the new building, she hadn’t come back when she was done. A book lay open on her tented legs, pages feathering.
Addy glanced up at her, cheeks heating. At least there was one thing to be grateful for. Jane hadn’t watched her drop the damn pan sixteen times.
“Tim asked me to go target practicing with him.”
“Just when you think somebody likes you, he asks your best friend out instead.”
Addy dropped the pan again.
“No, what? Jane, do you like him?”
Jane laughed, twisting a strand of hair around a finger and returning to her book.
“No, Addy. Not like that. Go for it. And if you drop that pan one more time I’m going to hit you with it. I’m at the best part.”
Adelaide smiled, insides in a twist.
What you have just read is the working first chapter of my forthcoming novel, Reclamation, still in progress. Please feel free to leave your thoughts, critiques, and comments! Looking forward to discussing with you.