Chapter 5.5- Something Called Bread

20 Sep

Welcome back to Zombies and Yu, where we are taking a break from nasty zombies for a bit.

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So far that seems to be working out just fine for Briony, although she doesn’t really know it at the moment. After not being around other people for years she’s feeling extremely self-conscious and uncomfortable. Although she’s just awoken from one of her first completely safe sleeps in years she feels more on-edge that if she were alone and unarmed in open country.

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She lingers in her room as long as she can justify it to herself, but when she hears sounds of life in the main house she knows she’ll need to emerge eventually. It takes a good ten minutes of fidgeting, counting down, and delaying before she finally comes up with the courage to walk out of her room.

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Her eyes immediately fall on her two hosts sitting at the table and speaking in hushed tones. Michael seems to be kneading a spot on Janessa’s back.

Michael: It’s there, isn’t it? I can feel it.

Janessa: Mmhmm.

Michael: It’s grown, Gran.

Janessa: Ah, well. I was hoping… but no matter. Briony!

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Briony suddenly blushes, realizing that she had been standing here wide-eyed at this personal moment, but Janessa doesn’t miss a beat.

Janessa: It’s all right, dear. Come, pull up a stool. No, not that one. There, just push the cat off. There you go.

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Glad to be told what to do next, Briony nudges a disgruntled cat off a stool and pulls it over to where Janessa is sitting.

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Taking up a whole corner of the house is a strange wooden contraption. Janessa’s fingers move fluidly over the strands of fabric, twisting and transforming the individual threads into one large blanket of cloth.

Janessa: Watch me, dear. The loom isn’t all that tricky to use once you get the hang of it, and you’ll get the hang of it. Theo and Amanda, they have their metalwork. Other families trade their horses, cows, wood, vegetables. Here we have our apples and our wool.

Briony looks down at her dress, recognizing the same weave that is emerging on the loom. She stares at Janessa’s movements, mesmerized, until Janessa gets up and tells her to trade places.

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Briony’s first attempts are clumsy and unsure, and she’s guided by Janessa’s occasional barks of “The other way, dear” and “Unravel those lines, then start over“. Eventually Janessa’s coaching becomes less needed as Briony’s fingers figure out the pattern.

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Briony settles into the work, and breathes deeply as pleasant breakfasty smells begin to waft through the room.

Janessa watches Briony quietly for some time, before abruptly opening with the topic that Briony would never admit was already on her mind.

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Janessa: Now don’t worry too much about what you saw back there, girl. Just another reminder that I won’t be around forever. My mother died of it. It started with one spot that you could feel just under her shoulderblade. Same spot as me. There were more spots by the time she went. But she wasn’t even half the age I am now, so I suppose I’ve done pretty well.

Briony: Oh… I’m sorry about your mom.

Janessa: Yes, losing your mother when she’s too young and you’re too young is one of the worst thing this world does to us, isn’t it?

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Briony: I saw mine burn. Along with the zombies that got her. My dad carried me out of my burning house. I was about nine.

Janessa studies Briony silently. Briony feels her face reddening again, and is suddenly uncomfortable at having shared anything about herself. Janessa seems to sense this, and busies herself getting off the stool, securing the ends of the unfinished project on the loom, and shouting at Michael about how breakfast should have been ready a long time ago. She pauses to run a lock of Briony’s hair through her fingers, and then fusses her way over to the kitchen.

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Breakfast is something called porridge. Briony’s never had it, but is already loving it. Janessa discloses to the room in general that oats and grains come from Paula and Minnie, who are excellent agriculturalists and who still remember how to make something called bread, which is apparently very delicious.

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Midway through her meal it occurs to Briony that Michael probably heard everything, and again she flushes with regret for having said anything about herself. He seems to be even more quiet and avoidant of her than yesterday, and Briony wonders if the sudden feeling of unbearable awkwardness is all in her own overreacting head, or if he feels it too.

Briony finishes eating before everyone else, and spends the last few minutes twirling her spoon in her bowl, half-pretending to still be doing something. The charade lasts until Janessa scoops up everyone’s dishes and announces what a mess Michael has made of the kitchen.

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Janessa: It will take me half the day to sort this catastrophe out. No, Michael, I don’t want your help. You’ve certainly done enough. Briony, have you seen the rabbits yet?

Briony doesn’t manage any more than a nervous mumble before Janessa cuts her off again.

Janessa: Michael, show the girl where the rabbit hutch is. Girls love soft, helpless little things like that.

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Michael: Sure… come on, I’ll show you.

His voice, like the offer, seems forced, but Briony is grateful to escape the house. As she follows Michael out the door she immediately begins plotting how she will sneak away from him so that she can go hide out in the garden.

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Leaving the house Briony is again stunned at how peacefully life carries on inside the fence. The animals grazing in the small pasture seem to live entirely oblivious to the perilous world just on the other side of the trees. Ahead of her Michael is stretching out his arms and letting out a long sigh.

Michael: Jeeez. Can’t live without her, but she’s a lot to put up with.

It takes Briony a while to figure out who he’s talking about, and blurts out a stuttering “Oh… yeah” a few moments too late.

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They reach the rabbit hutch and crouch down to look in. Briony smiles stiffly to be polite. She sees a rabbit’s trembling nose sniffing and Michael’s fingers pressed up against the wire of the cage, and offers her own fingers to another rabbit. It’s delicate breath puffs against her skin, and she smiles for real this time.

Michael: They’re the one food you’ll never run out of if you keep them safe. And they’re pretty fun to have around too.

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Michael: So… I was wondering… Are you mad at me?

This question takes her off guard, and Briony looks up at him quizzically.

Michael: It’s just… you don’t want to be here, and it’s completely my fault you got hauled out of your cave by Gran. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but I just hated to see someone living like that. I mean, you can go back if you want to… we like having you, but I don’t want to make you miserable so-

Briony: I’m not… miserable. Or mad at you.

Michael seems to take this in, and then gets up and moves to the cage door. Gently he lifts out a black and white rabbit and cradles it close to his chest.

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Briony moves closer and already feels her heart melting over the rabbit’s tiny soft feet and shiny dark eyes.

Michael: You can pet her. She likes people.

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Running her fingers along the sleek fur so resembling the inside of her moccasins, Briony lets herself dwell further on what Michael’s assumption that she was mad at him.

Briony: No… it’s good I left the cave. I shouldn’t have been there so long. I spent every day there reliving the last thing that had happened to me before I got there. I just sort of obsessed over that one terrible day and waited to die. Maybe I needed to be hauled out.

Briony lets her hand drop, and Michael busies himself with getting the rabbit back in its cage.

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Michael: This is rude of me, but… what happened? You can ignore the question if you want.

Briony: No, it’s alright. My dad died. For me. He jumped into a horde of zombies so I could get away. He was all I had and I was only just realizing I had him.

Michael: A horde? There haven’t hardly been any hordes since Gran was young. Just not enough people dying anymore. All I ever see are like, five stragglers or less at a time.

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Briony: They were in some old metal buildings, contained somehow. We stepped on some kind of trigger that released them. It was really weird.

At this information Michael’s face goes dark.

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Michael: Booby trapped. You were on the outskirts of a city, weren’t you? I’ve been hearing about stuff like that. People falling in concealed ditches filled with zombies… everyone in our trading network avoids cities like the plague now. It’s scary because it’s so intentional. Someone’s doing this on purpose.

Briony shivers. She had never really considered how trap-like those storage lockers really were.

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Michael: We’re taking Roland to stud at my sister’s place in ten days. We’ll see what the news is then. Miranda always has the news about everything, even if she has to make it up herself.

Briony: We’re going on a trip?

Michael: Yep. You’ll like it there. Horses everywhere.

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The days preceding the trip fly by more quickly than Briony would have anticipated. Her life falls into a predictable pattern, with most of her time spent defending the garden from Roland. Michael finds this hilarious, and Briony half suspects him of egging the horse on. Since their conversation at the rabbit hutch things have been much more easy between Briony and Michael, and she no longer feels like she wants to evaporate on the spot just from being around him.

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The day of the trip to Miranda’s house is soon upon them, and Janessa weasels her way out of the trip with claims of “beans that need to be blanched” and “cats that need to be shooed” and so on. Briony takes notice of the worried furrow that creases Michael’s brow, but it’s quickly replaced by heavy eye rolling when Janessa sends him off with a wink and a cheeky head nod in Briony’s direction.

They depart with Michael grumbling and Briony looking fixedly at a point in the distance.

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Briony finds it deeply embarrassing how Michael insists that she ride to Miranda’s, but feels too silly arguing with a skull mask and drops the topic. Most of the day is spent in uncomfortable silence.

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Over the crest of a hill Briony sees the outline of a ruined city. She shudders at the thought of what might be hiding in there, or even what might be creeping out in the bushes nearby. She’s suddenly glad that Michael is armed with his axe and his don’t-mess-with-me mask.

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The sun hits its hottest point of the day just as they descend into a cool, low-lying swamp. The water is shallow and mucky, and the air smells of over-ripe earth. Briony knows that if it were just her she would have no chance of finding her way through this labyrinth of sludgy pools and vegetation, but Michael and Roland both seem to have no problem picking their way through.

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Without warning they emerge through a thicket into an open grassy field chewed short by the numerous horses that appear to inhabit it. Two huge wooden barns stand in opposite corners, framing the sunny expanse.

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Beneath her, Roland seems immediately at ease and greets a shiny white-coated horse like an old friend.

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Jonathan: Heyo! Whoa, Cinnamon. How was the trip, Michael!

Michael: Totally smooth. We must have made it in record time.

Jonathan: And this must be your cave girl Theo told me about. Briony right?

Briony: Yes, that’s me.

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Miranda: Hey baby brother! Try not to track too much swamp mud through my fields, you hear?

Michael: Even better, I’ll track it through your house!

Briony is helped down from Roland’s back by Michael and led into the house. Already she finds that of all the people she’s met so far, these are the easiest to feel at home with.

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The house is narrow and cramped, and tacked onto the gigantic barn as if it was an afterthought. From the sounds of it, noone spends much time in it anyways. The older children, Ezra and Aspen, strongly prefer sleeping in the hay lofts, and as soon as she learns to climb a ladder little Sparrow will probably want to be up there too.

Miranda: And I totally agree with them, I would sleep out there too if I didn’t have to stay in with Sparrow.

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All in all Briony finds them to be an interesting family, clothed mainly in horse fur and leather, with the occasional garment that was clearly made by Janessa. All the children have wild hair blown back by the wind and laughter indistinguishable from the whinny of a colt.

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After a surprisingly cozy night spent eating horse steak and potatoes, Briony is shown to her hay loft. The children were all somewhat chagrined at being crammed into one tiny bedroom for the night, and Miranda assured Briony that that was because the hay loft was the best sleep you could get.

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She falls asleep to the soft sounds of deep, steady breathing as the warmth of all the horses in their stalls rises to envelop her.

Phew, that was a long one.

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4 Responses to “Chapter 5.5- Something Called Bread”

  1. AtlasSims September 21, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    Bunnies! I love bunnies.
    Hmm, I wonder who’s behind these zombie traps.
    Great chapter! Janessa’s my favorite, I’ll be so sad when she’s gone.

    Atlas

  2. notjustabook September 23, 2015 at 12:30 am #

    I’m all caught up – yay 😀
    Aaaw, this is all lovely and nice (for an apocalypse anyway)… but you won’t fool me so easily! xD I expect everything to become all bad at any moment. I shall not let down my guard 😛

  3. Kam October 4, 2015 at 3:04 am #

    Ah, gosh! I remember finding this blog back when you were only halfway through Gen3, but after that I couldn’t find the site for the longest time,, I’m so glad I found it again and could get caught up! Definitely looking forward to what happens next~ uvu

  4. Niura October 7, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    Oh, the feels… 😦 talking about dead mums before breakfast is just too sad.
    But I can see where Bryiony is coming from. It happens to me as well time to time, that i talk about myself to people then i just wonder why the hell did i do that… and it’s not even a zombie apocalyps over here…

    And Michael suggests there aren’t that many zombies left… which makes me wonder: can they get extinct eventually? I mean they can’t die, cuz they are dead, but something is surely going on…

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