Chapter 5.6- Milk-Heavy Udders

4 Oct

Welcome back to another edition of Zombies and Yu. Okay so just a heads up guys, things might not be on a weekly basis anymore. I’ve hit a point in this story where it’s starting too feel more like work than like something fun to do, so I’m having a harder time getting into it. I think it’s mostly because I’m still figuring out how to write this upcoming stuff, so I’m just giving it time to stew in my brain for now. Point is, if posts aren’t weekly, don’t worry. I won’t leave forever, it’s just for a little bit. I still have big plans for the next three generations and rough ideas of the last two so I’m not just gonna quit now, am I?

Anyway, back to the story. If you don’t remember, Briony and Michael are currently visiting Michael’s sister Miranda, her husband, and their three kids. They live on a ranch and train horses to kill zombies, because fuck yeah they do.

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Briony’s favourite horse she’s met is little Arrow. Earlier that morning Miranda and Jonathan’s oldest daughter, Aspen, had taken Briony by the hand and led her out to the pen where Arrow and her mother were grazing. Arrow prances a playful circle around them and then stops for a quick nuzzle. Aspen explains how fearless little Arrow is already looking like she’ll be one of their best zombie killers one day.

Briony and Aspen spend the morning playing with Arrow while elsewhere, Michael and Jonathan introduce Roland to one of their best mares in hopes of getting them to mate.

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Later, everyone convenes in the grass to bask in the noon-time sun.

Miranda: Well that went well, and if everything works out we’re going to have a very well-bred foal running around in about a year.

Jonathan: And we’re going to need it with everything that’s been going on lately.

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Briony gives them a questioning look.

Briony: What’s been going on lately?

Miranda: The traps… there are hardly any zombies left in the wild these days, but we suspect it’s because someone’s rounding them up.

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Jonathan: Around the outskirts of town people have been finding them. You trip a wire, you lean on the wrong wall, and suddenly you’re in a heap of trouble. Mitch Haythorn’s son fell into a hidden pit and got eaten alive a few years back. These incidents are rare, but you sure remember them.

Briony quickly begins to explain her experience at the warehouses. Miranda and Jonathan listen intently, while Michael stares up into the sky with an unreadable expression on his face.

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She comes to the point of jumping off the cliff and pauses.

Miranda: See, that’s why we need well-trained horses that are bred to sense these things before we do. We’re trying to get one or two for everybody we know so that noone has to go through that again.

The conversation turns to other things, and eventually someone notices the sun is at its halfway point. They reluctantly pull themselves up off the grass and make the few necessary preparations for departure.

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Briony is surprised to find herself so disappointed to leave. She savors her hugs from all five members of the family, plus Arrow, and finally climbs up onto Roland’s back. They all take one last lingering look at the peaceful ranch behind them, and then Michael, holding Roland’s lead, guides them under a low-hanging tree and into the swamp lands.

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Briony spends the return journey listening to Michael tell her about all the families in their trading network. The trip is surprisingly short and before they know it they’re inside their own fence, where Janessa sits churning butter.

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Janessa leaps up and brushes past Michael to envelop Briony in a bony but warm hug.

Janessa: Finally you’ve got some colour in those pallid cheeks! Now I hope that boy didn’t make you walk through  the swamps, hey Michael?

Michael rushes to say that he didn’t, but true to her nature Janessa cuts him short.

Janessa: Go get that lead off poor Roland, look at him itching in the dirt!

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Michael rolls his eyes and complies. Once he’s out of earshot Janessa unleashes a barely intelligible stream of whispers into Briony’s ear.

Janessa: So? What happened? Tell me everything. Did that boy finally pluck up a shred of courage? Because if he hasn’t by now then I’m right about to disown him as his grandmother. No sense keeping it all balled up inside you for so long, I keep telling him it’s high time he cleared the air because every sentient being for miles can see it all over him. Well, go on then!

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Redness burns in Briony’s cheeks, and she suddenly sees why Michael was so quick to find something else to do.

Briony: I- no. I don’t know what you’re talking about, I mean-

Janessa: Oh, shame on him. Well, feel free to confront him about it if you get tired of waiting.

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Briony: I- I don’t-

But Janessa has already stalked off to her garden. Entirely oblivious, Michael jaunts over with a bored expression on his face.

Michael: Already putting you to work, is she? Sheesh, she’s a tough case. Don’t let her push you around too much.

Briony: I- she wasn’t-

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Michael bends down and plucks the three blue flowers growing at Briony’s feet, and then turns and runs into the house. Briony is grateful that he’s so preoccupied, because her cheeks choose that moment to again light up crimson.

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Things quickly go back to normal, with the only change being that Janessa seems much more tired this evening than before. She barks orders from a chair while Briony and Michael hastily try to prepare dinner to her exact specifications.

Michael: Maybe Gran, if you just slowed down a bit during the day you could-

Janessa: Nonsense, boy. It’s time you learned how to properly roast a rabbit anyways! It’s a dismal business, your cooking. No girl could ever live with a man who cooks like you.

She lets this hang heavily in the air, and seems to take delight in the awkward lack of eye contact and blushing cheeks it produces.

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It would be easy for Briony to despise Janessa for what she says, if it weren’t for it always being delivered with laughing eyes and a certain warmth hiding just below the surface. This in addition to her rapidly shrinking frame results in all her blunt comments and booming orders being met with eye rolls and doting smiles from both Briony and Michael.

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That night Briony lets out a long sigh as she shuts her bedroom door. Her feet ache from the journey and the work of the evening, and she closes her eyes as she wipes a sheen of sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. She opens them again, and a new addition to her nightstand catches her attention. Away from Janessa’s prying eyes, Briony lets out a small smile at the gift, before climbing under her sleeping furs and blowing out the candles.

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Briony’s morning begins early. Her wake up call comes in the form of the two cows mooing loudly for her to come relieve their milk-heavy udders. This is one of Briony’s favourite chores. It’s rhythmic, mindless work perfect for easing her into the day, and she presses her cheek into the cow’s warm flank and closes her eyes.

Something flutters against her forehead, and when she reaches up to brush it away she finds a yellow stalk of straw. Looking down, she finds a few more floating in her milk pail.

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The cow shakes its head, annoyed at the straw now flying into its nose and eyes. A rustling sound nearby reveals the culprit.

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Briony: Hey! Get out of here and quit making trouble!

Michael: I’m not making trouble, just doing my chores.

Briony: Go find something else to do or I will personally ensure that there is hay in your milk, cheese, and butter for the next week!

He bounds away, snickering mischievously.

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Today Janessa seems much more exhausted, and the biggest effort she makes involves lugging her rocking chair out onto the grass amid Michael’s protests. She waves him away and settles down to holler orders across the yard.

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With Janessa out of commission, Briony recruits Michael to help her in the garden. He knows surprisingly little about how to grow anything other than apples, and sticks to digging potatoes while she tackles the more complicated stuff.

Michael: This was always Gran’s thing, she always shooed me away and found other stuff for me to do. Might have had something to do with the fact that I only ever liked to lay here and eat…

Briony: Yeah, I can see her having a problem with that.

Michael: You know, she’s tough on me, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I don’t have that.

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Briony: You rely on her a lot.

Michael: Yeah… my parents got killed by a bandit group when I was ten. Miranda was already living with Jonathan by then, so Gran moved in and made sure things kept running. I’ve never had to take care of things for myself. I feel like there’s so much I don’t know how to do still.

Briony: I think that might just be the scared little kid inside you telling you that. Sometimes the scared little cave girl in me tells me things I know aren’t true too.

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Michael: We should stop listening to them, shouldn’t we?

Briony: I think we should try. Because the Michael I know can take care of just about anything, and can figure out the rest pretty quickly.

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Michael: Wow… you know, the Briony I know is a way better gardener than me, and maybe she could help me figure that out.

Briony: I think I could do that, yeah.

She struggles and fails to hold in a smile, and leads him over to the peppers.

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Despite their perfectly grown and cooked peppers, Janessa snoozes through supper that night. Michael and Briony go in to check on her a few times, and she sleepily mumbles for water. They bring her water and some dinner which she nibbles at before falling back asleep.

This becomes the regular pattern their evenings follow, and they often sit late into the night with her before finally going to bed themselves.

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On her more restless nights they sit outside her door so that they can talk without waking her, while still listening to make sure that the increasingly raspy breathing hasn’t stopped. The first few nights they talk about the animals, the garden, and all the little jobs that need to be done. After that they talk about the people Briony’s met and the people she has yet to meet. Eventually they start to talk about themselves, where they’ve been, and how they got where they are. Every night they talk about Janessa’s health.

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Some days are better for Janessa than others. They will sometimes wake up to her busy cooking breakfast, while other days she’ll sleep late and then spend the rest of the day furiously scrubbing out all the cooking pots. Today she joins them in the afternoon to help pick apples. Briony notes the disapproval on Michael’s face at Janessa exerting herself, but they both know it would be futile to protest.

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Not surprisingly, she retires back into the house after only a few hours outside. Her walk is slow and shaky, and Briony hears Michael’s deep, sad sigh as they watch her totter away.

The door closes, and Michael and Briony silently resume their work.

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It’s near sunset when they finish with the trees. Michael is lingering in the orchard, and Briony suddenly feels awkward and unsure of what to do, so she fiddles with a leaf and tries to look occupied. Finally he breaks the silence.

Michael: Listen… thank you. For being here. I know you didn’t want to be, at least at the start. But it means a lot that it won’t just be me when Gran goes. At least, I hope it won’t.

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Briony: Michael, I’ll be here. I mean, as long as Miranda and Jonathan won’t adopt me as one of their children I’ll be here. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

He lets a small smile escape, and then walks towards her. His expression is intense and serious, and Briony feels her heart start to race.

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He reaches out and gently runs his callused hand down her arm. Immediately her mind explodes into a blank jumble of panic and elation and maybe she should just walk calmly into the house now and maybe she could pretend she forgot to pick an apple over there and oh his hands are so warm and then her feet are stepping forward entirely of their own volition.

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Her mind is so frenzied she’s getting light-headed, and then he interrupts it and everything goes silent.

Michael: Briony.

He tilts her chin up and she meets his blue eyes. Her panic disappears, and she feels as if every cell in her body is aching, pulling itself off her frame in an effort to move towards him. Her eyes close and she melts into him, breathes him in, feels his rough cheek on her forehead.

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Michael: Do you want me to stop?

His voice comes out in a breathy whisper. She tells the scared little cave girl to go away.

Briony: Please don’t.

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When they kiss it is as if one single harmonic thought led them to do so, and Briony is overcome with the feeling that everything is exactly as it should be. Everything in this singular moment feels so entirely right that when they eventually break away and walk back towards the house it’s with dazed, giddy expressions and almost a feeling of drunkenness.

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That all ends abruptly upon walking into the house, where they are met with scrutinizing eyes crinkling up at the corners in poorly-concealed glee.

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A moment passes where everything is revealed, and then simultaneously they pretend as if nothing had ever happened.

Michael: Well, goodnight!

Briony: Yep, I’m off to bed too! See you all tomorrow!

Two doors are hastily closed for the night, and Janessa rocks in her chair, smiling to herself.

She be like

Later!

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.

Chapter 5.4- A Smart Slap On The Rump

13 Sep

Hello everyone. Last we left off, Briony was going through a gate. Now, she’s through that gate. Let’s see what happens next, shall we.

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Briony takes immediate notice of the rows upon rows of apple trees with ripe fruit hanging heavily from the branches.

Janessa: Well, you can say goodbye to any other plans you had for today Michael. The trees demand your attention.

Michael: This’ll take the better part of tomorrow too, I’m thinking.

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Janessa: Well don’t think you’ll be getting any help from me, I’ve got the entire vegetable garden to worry about. And we’ve still got the animals to deal with as well.

Briony follows, hardly hearing their conversation. She looks up in a daze at all the delicious food hanging within her reach, and the sunny peaceful yard stretching before her.

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Lost in her thoughts, she nearly walks right into the huge wet nose now snuffling at her. She takes a step back and holds out a hand. She’s heard of these, but never seen one for herself. Her mother had once told her of all the animals that couldn’t survive in the open. Cows didn’t do well against zombies.

That’s about all she knows about cows. On second thought, she withdraws her hand. What if cows eat hands?

Llamas do, soooo.

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Briony turns to see Janessa calling her into the house, and steps slowly away from the cow. It watches her lazily and then returns to sniffing at the grass. The cow doesn’t seem to be a threat and Briony follows Janessa across the yard when an excited bark causes her to again jump back, startled.

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Janessa: Michael, if you let him do that with you he’ll think it’s alright to jump around like that with everyone!

Briony relaxes, realizing that the excited barks aren’t aimed at her. She sees Janessa disappear into the cottage and follows her in.

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The inside of the cottage proves homier than Briony had expected, with a pleasant coolness coming off the stone walls and floor of beaten earth.

Janessa: Now come here, dear. First thing is to get you cleaned up.

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Janessa: You’ll need to go down to the water and give yourself a good scrub. I’ll keep Michael busy up here so noone will bother you, but please don’t try any foolish running away nonsense. Here, this is my granddaughter’s dress. Or was. She won’t mind you keeping it, lord knows it doesn’t fit her after three kids.

Briony is handed a dress of soft blue fabric and ushered back out the front door. Feeling a bit more at ease, she tries to orient herself to her surroundings.

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To her right a spotted horse cranes its neck, trying to reach into a fenced vegetable garden. It looks up sheepishly as if expecting a scolding from Janessa, and then returns to its endeavors.

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To her left is the orchard through which she first came in, as well as the cows and some sheep she hadn’t noticed, all picking at the pasture and generally lounging in the afternoon sun.

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It’s strange to be seeing the water’s edge from this angle now. She can imagine what a wreck she looked like all those years ago, floating hopelessly along. Slowly the rags are peeled off her skin, protesting as though they had actually become a part of her. Feeling sun on parts of her body that haven’t seen sun in years, Briony slips into the water.

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She feels the tickle of the water plants against her legs, and swishes her arms around. She’s sure she’s imagining the cloud of dirt that seems to be radiating off her skin, but all the same it gets her motivated to really scrub herself. Soon she feels slippery and clean, although her hair seems to be a lost cause. She washes it out as best she can, but the tangles have a mind of their own.

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Briony surprises herself at her own delight in putting on the dress. The knitted wool ripples around her legs as she moves, and she spends some time walking around the small beach and just watching her own movements. She hasn’t worn something that feels so soft and unrestricting in years, and even does a few twirls before realizing how silly she looks.

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On the way up to the house she smiles to a passing cat, and lets out a small giggle at the horse who seems to have given up his quest for the forbidden vegetable garden.

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As she steps into the cottage Janessa puts down the potatoes she is peeling and looks Briony over. Suddenly shy, Briony looks down at her feet now clad in spotless cowhide moccasins.

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Janessa: Well that’s better, isn’t it! Now come sit, it’s time we tackled that trampled muskrat on your head.

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Obediently Briony sits, submitting to whatever Janessa deems necessary. An orange cat hops up onto the table beside her, and yawns at them.

Janessa: Well the wash loosened it up nicely. It’s much longer than it looks, just such a mess! But we’ll save it.

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The scissors come out and Briony lets her head be pulled right and left. At some point during the procedure Michael makes an appearance. Briony’s grateful he doesn’t say anything, as just then she has to squeeze her eyes shut against the pain of Janessa trying to run a comb through her hair. She breathes through it, and when she opens her eyes again Michael is gone.

Janessa: Well, I think we’ve done it. Most of it’s gone, but what’s left is healthy. It will do.

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Tentatively Briony reaches up and is shocked to feel her own hair, soft, clean, and silky. While it’s hardly chin-length, she’s able to run her fingers through all of it. Her shoulders start to shake and a tear falls into her lap. Janessa takes Briony’s hand and holds it tenderly.

Janessa: I can’t imagine how good that feels. There now, under all that dirt there was such a lovely girl all along.

For a moment Briony allows her head to lean against Janessa’s wiry old hand. The tears slow, and she lets her hand drop out of Janessa’s.

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Janessa: Now let’s see if we can get our garden looking as lovely as you. Four days we were away, and the vegetables have suffered for it.

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Outside Briony finds herself entirely in her element, and relaxes into the task of pulling weeds and plucking tomatoes to the chorus of Janessa’s occasional “Dreadful! What a shame!”. Briony guesses she’s found the patch the horse was able to sneak.

Briony: I saw your horse eating those.

Janessa: Oh he’s such a bad boy! Won’t do it while we’re here but since we’ve been gone he thinks he needs to test the limits again. If you see Roland doing that again you give him a smart slap on the rump and tell him to be off.

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A puff of warm air on Briony’s ankle startles her and she jumps up to her feet. The dog jumps back too, and then carefully resumes sniffing the hem of her dress.

Janessa: Tom smells Miranda’s dress, he can’t figure out why it’s not her in it. Dopey dog.

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Briony bends down and offers a hand like she did with the cow. Tom accepts it eagerly, and once he seems to have become acquainted with the new person in the old dress gives her hand a friendly lick. Briony decides she’s probably made a new friend.

Sidenote: If you have a dog, trade pants with another member of the family. I put on my mom’s sweatpants that she’d been wearing once and my dog was SO. CONFUSED. It was great.

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The day wanes and Briony is hugely satisfied with the improvements made to the cabbage and pumpkin vines. Her and Janessa agree that the peppers might need more help than can be provided in a day, and that they might be a lost cause.

Janessa: If you would dear, Michael needs help in the orchard. Dinner should be ready around sunset.

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Apprehensively Briony joins Michael in the orchard. It’s the first time she’s been alone with him since the cave, and she’s unsure how to address the total weirdness of the past few days. She’s suddenly very grateful for the presence of Tom, who has taken to following her around the yard.

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It turns out that her anxiety is entirely unnecessary, as the only thing Michael says to her during the entire time is, “Careful you don’t step in the dog poop there.”

Briony finds a nice rhythm of picking apples, and carries on the work until sunset when she is interrupted by Janessa calling them in for dinner.

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The light reflecting off the water catches Briony’s attention. Michael has long gone in search of food with Tom trailing behind him, and Briony listens to the golden orange waves in solitary peace.

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It brings back a flood of memories of other sunsets in other places. The ones she would see perched in her mother’s tower with her mother sitting next to her, the ones in those quiet evenings with her dad, or the brilliant tangerine  one that swept her into the cave.

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Michael: Gran says come in now or go hungry!

Briony almost believes it, and turns towards the cottage. She feels the last heat of the day against the back of her neck now unburdened from the dense curtain of matted hair.

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Dinner turns out to be incredible. Fresh fish and vegetables all doused in a river of flavourful cream sauce, courtesy of the milk from the cows. Briony’s never had anything like it, and finds herself holding back tears for the first few bites.

It’s so delicious Briony forgets to be bothered by the fact that Michael is oddly quiet and sullen tonight. Janessa seems to notice this, and keeps peering suspiciously at him, but true to her nature seems to decide that she has absolutely no time to deal with sulking and carries on chattering as usual.

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After dinner, Michael hurries to get things cleaned up and Janessa waves Briony over into the little room at the side of the house.

Janessa: Come, dear! This one’s for you.

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Janessa: You’ll find more clothes in the chest there, you can have anything you find. Oh, and check for cats before you go to sleep. They leave such a mess if they get locked in overnight.

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Janessa leaves her, and Briony looks around her new bedroom. It’s sparsely furnished, but the furs on the floor and on the bed look soft and warm. Overall the effect is very inviting, as if to say the little room has been waiting for someone to fill it with life.

Finally alone, Briony lets out a long sigh and feels a huge sense of relief that this overwhelming day is finally over. She can’t even begin to process her new surroundings, her new clothes, her new hair. Part of her wants to vault out the window and disappear. Instead, she removes her shoes and lets her toes nestle into the fur rug.

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Before climbing into bed she follows Janessa’s advice. Once it realizes it’s been spotted the cat seems to know the game is up, and bolts for the door. Briony lets it out, and then falls into the impossible softness of her new bed.

Chapter 5.3- Undead Minotaur

6 Sep

Hi guys! Let’s see what our favourite little ray of sunshine is up to this week.

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It’s been six, no, seven days since Briony was so rudely intruded upon by the young gentlemen dressed as an undead minotaur. Not much happens in her life like ever, so this event could serve as brooding fodder for weeks.

She’s got that whole grumpy teen thing on lock. Plus she’s been ruminating on the sight of her dad being torn apart by zombies for years now, and that can’t be too good for the ol’ sanity.

Just a sidenote, I googled “Undead Minotaur” cause I thought the results might be cool, and YASSSSSS.

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So anyways, Briony’s nestled all snug in her bed while visions of undead minotaurs dance in her head. She’s at that lovely foggy part of sleep where you’re just starting to wake up and you know you’re dreaming and everything is cozy and trippy.

Two days!

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At the sound of the shrill voice Briony jerks awake, casting her un-adjusted eyes around for the source.

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Woman: I am seventy-one years old and it took me two whole days to get here! I had to climb my old bones over hills and boulders, I had to trek through three swamps! Two days it took me, so you’d better be done your sulking.

Although usually quick to react, this unexpected verbal assault leaves Briony stunned and blinking her eyes into focus.

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Michael: Hey…

Briony groans and sits up. The woman begins walking towards her.

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Woman: Come on, then! You’re not staying in this slimy hole anymore. Stand up, let’s go!

She’s surprisingly stronger than she looks as she grabs Briony’s arm and hoists her to her feet. Wordlessly Briony follows.

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They clamber up over the mouth of the cave and onto hard ground. Briony tries to catch Michael’s gaze to get a sense of what the fuck is going on, but every time he quickly averts his eyes downward.

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Once on flat ground he seems to find his voice.

Michael: I’m sorry, this so wasn’t my idea. I just told her I ran into someone living in a cave and she-

The old woman marching ahead cuts him off.

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Woman: Made him spill the beans! He said you wanted to be left alone but I wouldn’t hear a word of it. No sense leaving a young thing like you in that sorry state. What’s your name, child?

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Still not having said a word this whole time, Briony is quiet. The old woman immediately stops and turns to her, addressing her sternly.

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Woman: Now I won’t have any of that broody nonsense. It’s childish and silly.

Taken aback, Briony responds, “Briony.” The woman’s authoritative expression gives way to a warm smile.

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Woman: Good. I’m Janessa. Or Gran.

These little introductions completed to her satisfaction, Janessa or Gran forges on across the rocky ground.

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Although the old woman is most definitely in the lead, Michael walks ahead to scour the bushes for hidden threats. Briony trails behind, bewildered. As much as she’d like to run from these people, the thought of another round of shrill words from Janessa seems strangely more threatening at this point, so she lets her legs carry her blindly onwards.

As they walk, Janessa and Michael chatter intermittently. Briony follows in silence. While they do have to climb over a few hills and boulders, they don’t see a single one of the swamps that Janessa claimed she had to trudge through. By the late afternoon Briony’s underused legs are aching and there is a sharp pain in her lower back, but she says nothing of her exhaustion to the energetic two ahead of her.

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As they reach some concrete ruins, Janessa slows her lively pace.

Janessa: We’re here.

Briony: You live here?

Janessa: Didn’t you hear me, girl? I said it was a two day trip.

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Briony follows them up a set of stairs obscured by bushes, and Michael offers an explanation.

Michael: We have friends that live here. You’ll like them, they’re really nice.

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Briony’s quite sure she won’t really like them at all, but continues to follow deeper into the labyrinth of ruins. The walls are maze-like and confusing, and every so often there is a gaping hole in the floor that threatens to swallow Briony up if she makes a misstep.

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After turning enough corners to make her head spin, they descend a set of stairs and step into a small dark room. Briony sees Janessa stop to wait for her, and rushes to catch up.

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Janessa: Now do you have anything flammable on you?

Confused, Briony shakes her head.

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Janessa: Well alright then, come along dear.

She disappears down a set of stairs into darkness, and Michael hastens to explain.

Michael: Our friends do metalwork- lots of fires. Wouldn’t want the place to go up in flames.

Then he too begins the walk down the stairs, and Briony, suddenly nervous at being left alone, trails along behind.

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Walking so many steps through darkness quickly becomes disorienting, and Briony is sure that every next step will be the one she topples over into the chasm below. She concentrates on the sound of Michael’s footsteps to keep her pace and to calm her mind, and soon sees flickering firelight lapping against the lowermost steps.

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Finally on flat ground, she steps out into the light

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Michael: Alfie! How’s my favourite little buddy?

Janessa: Oh no, Amanda, it wasn’t such a difficult trip at all. I’m as spry as ever, believe me.

This reunion of old friends makes Briony suddenly feel very out of place, and she takes a step back into the darkness.

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The man skilfully coaxing a fire to life glances up at her in acknowledgement.

Man: So you’re the cave girl. I’m Theo, come on in.

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Amanda: Oh yes, don’t stand in the doorway like that. You’re probably all so thirsty, and we have dinner ready now.

Everyone heads to the table and begins serving themselves food and pouring what looks like homemade beer. As they begin to sit together, Michael looks up at her and pats a chair next to him. Briony apprehensively creeps to the chair at the farthest end of the table and looks down at her hands. Janessa rolls her eyes and slides Briony a plate.

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The happy group chatter on about mutual friends, gardens, and how well little Alfie is walking these days. Briony sits alone and stares sullenly at the table. It’s a strange dwelling, with nothing flammable other than perhaps the residents themselves. All the furniture has been made of salvaged metal, and the massive biceps of both Theo and Amanda leave no mystery as to who the artisans are.

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At some point Amanda takes notice of Alfie’s drooping eyelids and nestles him into his crib. The group moves their conversation onto a set of metal benches where they stretch out and massage their satisfied stomachs.

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Briony stays quietly in her own chair. Occasionally Amanda or Theo will give her a warm, inviting glance, but Briony turns away and ignores the others, feeling suddenly very conscious of her tangled mess of hair and the scraps of dirty cloth draped over her waifish frame.

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Eventually the group comes to the consensus that it is time to sleep, and Michael begins vehemently arguing why he should sleep on the floor so that Briony and Janessa may have the two guest beds. Janessa simply replies that of course he’ll sleep on the floor, and after such a stressful day Briony is feeling too overwhelmed to argue.

She sits perched on the edge of the bed, pressing her fingers painfully into her temples to try to distract herself from crying. The remarkably soft bed suddenly seems too good for her, and she wishes she had had the backbone to argue for the floor. Something so wretched as her should surely be sleeping in the dirt.

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The next morning Briony wakes up curled on the end of the bed, without having ever pulled back the covers. The preparations to leave are quite quick as Janessa insists on hitting the road as early as possible so that they may “get that one cleaned up and clothed”. They’re provided with a light breakfast of dried fruits and meats, as well as some to hold them over later in the day.

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Then, it’s back through the labyrinth and then out into the open for the long walk to wherever.

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During the course of this leg of the journey Briony actually does see a swamp, although the way around turns out to be a relatively quick detour. Michael remarks that if you can find the way through the swamp you’d find the ranch his sister and her husband run.

Janessa: And a crazy one he is, too! Teaches his horses to sniff out and kill zombies, nobody knows how he does it.

Michael: It’s just selective breeding, and only a little less than half actually take to the training. Still, it’s cool.

Janessa: Cool indeed.

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Sooner than she expected, Briony starts to smell open water. As the trio climbs over the rise of a valley they see the vast blue emerge ahead of them, and Briony knows they’re close to their destination. Michael and Janessa increase their pace, and soon they come to a thick forest.

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The fence is almost completely obscured by vegetation, save for one obviously well-used path. Janessa leads them in through the cool foliage, and Briony hears the creak of a gate.

That’s it for this week. Join us next week to learn answers to questions like “Where are they going?”, “Are these people psychos?”, and “Will Briony ever bathe?”

Chapter 5.2- Human Gristle

30 Aug

Okay, so I’ve had some time to mourn Oscar and Rylo, and I’ve decided that maybe it’s okay to be happy about generation five. Maybe. Things are still looking pretty bleak, though.

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Over the years, Briony’s cave has become cluttered with the detritus of unfinished projects. A pallet she was going to use to make a bed, some warped metal she was going to use to make a ladder, an old fridge she was going to use for… something.

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Every few months she feels inexplicably compelled to break the boredom by doing something, anything. Once she’s dragged something down into her grotto, she immediately loses interest and returns to her usual activity of moping around.

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One summer day Briony runs into a few weak aspira bushes clinging to a patch of dirt in the cliff face. She hasn’t thought of aspira in years, but decides that since she’s found some she might as well use to it liven things up a bit.

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The aromatic smoke filling the cave brings back strong memories of years ago, from when she was with her mother. They had never used aspira in the daytime, only at night so they could sleep soundly with a sweet heaviness in their limbs and no worry of zombies. Most nights they had slept in a warm tangle of arms and legs in her mother’s bed together, waking up with the sun and giggling under the covers about the dreams they had had.

Her mother had been able to bring any dying plant back to life, and could make a poultice to heal any wound or illness. This had kept Briony believing her mother had had magical powers for years, a claim she had furiously defended to her dad on their first day together.

The syrupy sensation slowly fills Briony’s limbs, and a shimmering haze clouds her vision. Something shadowy dances in the corner of her eye, and she stands up to go investigate.

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She steps closer and squints her eyes, trying to make out the blurry form. Then the thing comes into focus, and Briony recoils in horror.

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A shake of her head and the vision is gone, and a new one has taken its place. An eerie figure looms against the outside sun, casting a dark shroud over the cave.

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Blood pours from gashes in its face, and it emits a shuddering gasp not quite like a zombie and not quite like anything living either. It reaches for her through the smoke, and Briony spins around and runs.

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As she makes for the farthest cave wall she catches a glimpse of something slumped over, something twitching weakly. She slams into a boulder and squeezes her eyes shut.

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She opens them again and the scene has changed. Blood-soaked, twisted bodies litter the cave floor. Briony screams, and feels her nails digging into the rock behind her.

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Again she squeezes her eyes shut, and upon opening them the terrible specters have disappeared. It’s reassuring, and she again presses her eyes with her hands, and comes away with her hands soaked in the cold sweat that drips down her forehead.

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The hallucinated corpses have definitely disappeared, so Briony stumbles for her little pool. A splash of water would bring her back to her senses.

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She sinks to her knees and cups her hands to bring the grey water up to her face. It dribbles down her cheeks and onto her knees, and this definite physical sensation serves to steady her. She peers down into the water, watching the ripples of the drops sliding off the end of her nose. A white shimmer catches her eye, and she squints to bring it into focus.

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Another drop falls, and as the ripples clear a new scene of horror emerges. Bits of human gristle lie tangled in the weeds growing at the bottom of the pool, and the hollow eyes of a human skull stare blindly back.

“Briony, go!”

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She collapses in terror and spends the night curled up on the cave floor, pressing her ragged nails into her palms to fend off the visions that come to her even with her eyes closed.

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The next morning she kicks out every last cinder of her fire and throws the few remaining logs out into the bay. Briony has no notion to repeat last night’s adventure, and the rest of the aspira remains untouched.

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For months after the dreams follow her, leading her to resist sleep. Every fly that buzzes past startles her awake and induces visions of demons and death. She often only falls asleep when the sun just begins to rise again, slumped against the cave wall.

This morning the dream starts with the clatter of a pebble down the cliff face and the splash as it finds water. Then it’s approaching footsteps, and Briony thrashes herself awake.

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Silhouetted against the sea and sky, Briony’s nightmare steps into her waking life.

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Briony shrieks, and shrinks back against the rock. Her hands feel around for anything sharp to use as a weapon but tremble too violently to pick anything up.

“Whoa, whoa, sorry!”

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The thing drops its axe and throws off the hideous mask, and Briony makes out the face of a young man looking perhaps more frightened than herself.

Her panic turns to a boiling fury, and she pulls herself up the cave wall and onto her feet.

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Briony: What the fuck is that thing for?!

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Guy: The mask? Safety. People don’t try to mess with you, or eat you, when you look unhinged enough to wear something like that.

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Briony: Oh, maybe my dad was onto something.

Guy: Huh?

Briony: Nothing. What do you want?

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The man peers at her.

Guy: Wait, I know you!

Briony: No you don’t.

Guy: Yes I do. I saw you in the water years ago.

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Briony knows he’s right, and groans.

Briony: Sorry, wasn’t me.

Guy: Come on! You were drifting along inches from death. I tried to help you but…

Briony: Nope.

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Guy: Either way, you look like you’re living pretty rough. Is it just you?

Briony narrows her eyes and says nothing. Although never having seen it herself, she knows what men sometimes do to vulnerable girls. She decides to choose her words carefully and get this guy out of her cave as soon as possible.

Guy: Listen, I think you should come back with me. I’m Michael. My gran and I have a safe place with plenty of food. You look like you need food.

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Briony relaxes, deciding that anyone who says “Gran” has just got to be harmless. But he’s still an unwelcome annoyance, and Briony keeps her cool tone.

Briony: I don’t need anything. Now please take your axe and your psycho mask and go.

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Michael: Seriously?

Briony: Seriously.

Michael: Come on, it’s two day’s walk. You don’t have to stay long, just get fed and healed up a bit, some clean clothes…

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With this last offer his eyes drift down to her tattered rags draped over barely covered skin, before flicking guiltily back up to her eyes. He looks up at her almost apologetically as though he were a puppy caught chewing at a shoe.

Briony: No! Go away!

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She glares at him as though he could be willed away by the sheer force of her frustration, and to her relief he gets the idea.

Michael: Wow. Fine then. Enjoy your rocks.

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He picks up his axe and hoists the hideous skull mask back over his head, and then steps out into the chill morning air. He clambers nimbly out onto the rocks lining the cliff face, and is gone.

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Briony groans and slumps back down onto her makeshift bed. The rest of her morning is spent dwelling on her sense of indignation at having been disturbed.

Briony: Walks in on someone else’s home, and has the nerve  to offer help! Roaming around in a skull like that like a complete nutcase. Seriously.

Ain’t nothing wrong with talking to yourself, right??

Chapter 5.1- Slimy Green Algae

23 Aug

Hello and welcome to generation 5 of Zombies and Yu. If you’re feeling happy about it, go away and don’t come back.

Sorry… it’s been sad around here with all the deaths. And also I’ve been crazy busy becoming an adult and stuff. Finished uni, got a car, applied for jobs, got a real adult job. Once it starts in September my schedule will be back to normal and I will be able to write more… yay!

Anyways, we ended on a bit of a cliffhanger last time. Like, Briony literally jumped off a cliff. Let’s see how that went down.

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The sun climbs over the horizon. As the scarlet light of a new day takes hold, the waves relent and give way to the calm stillness of morning.

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The rays of sun bring warmth to the upper layers of the water, coaxing life back into the things that make their home there, as well as the things carried along by the current.

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By mid-day, anything that had been sleeping in the cool cradle of the waves has awoken to the rays that set the water’s surface ablaze with a piercing white light. Fish, insects, and other creatures drift along, following a course set by the earth and wind and waves.

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Amidst the usual fragments of life and death that dwell on the surfaces of seas floats a girl, hovering somewhere in between the two extremities.

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While undeniably awake, she lies perfectly still as she drifts along. She has already tried moving today, but the painful complaint of her limbs and ribcage keep her convinced that her best option is to relent to the will of the waves for now.

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In truth, there’s nowhere else for her to go anyways. Even if she were to make the effort of forcing her stiff limbs to swim, she knows there would be nothing on land to welcome her back.

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So, she carries on drifting, slipping in and out of consciousness. As she stares up at the blue abyss above her, she imagines the relief it will be when the blue abyss below her finally swallows her and she disappears.

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While out on the surface of the water it seems as though the world has stopped in favour of endless blue, elsewhere life carries on.

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“Any luck there?”

“No. The fish here don’t bite for worms, they’ve gotten so used to rabbit entrails.”

“Oh, well. Fish would be nice, but we have enough for tonight as it is.”

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A shout.

“Gran, look!”

“That’s not one of the dead ones.”

“I’m going to check it out. I’ll be careful.”

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Under the water, Briony can hear the stirrings from the shore.

“Hey, are you alright?”

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Her limbs scream against movement of any kind, but she forces them into motion.

“Stop, come to shore.”

But that’s the last thing she wants to do. She pushes forward, away from shore, back out into the blue where the sea can swallow her up in peace.

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The boy’s calls grow more distant, and Briony presses on. She rounds a curve of the land, and then he’s out of sight.

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She groans and rolls over to face the sky. Something resembling sleep comes over her, and the water takes her.

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Tangerine-hued light permeates her eyelids, bringing her back to consciousness. She becomes aware of the sensation of the pebbly sea floor brushing against her feet and fingertips. A wave swells, and then her shoulder is pressed up against a rock. The sensitive side of her ribcage protests, so she rights herself in the water and looks around.

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The mouth of a grotto looms before her, illuminated in orange light. With the setting sun comes the cooling of the water, and Briony’s not sure she can last another night drifting out here.

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The slick rocks offer little handhold, and she repeatedly scrapes her knees and wrists as she laboriously drags herself out of the water. The pain and exhaustion of her body keeps her moving at a snail’s pace over surfaces she could have stepped over any other day.

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The sun is long set by the time she reaches flat ground. Her whole being screams for sleep, and she barely notices the twinge of her ragged knees and palms as they bleed against the rock surface.

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And then her body simply collapses, and she sleeps draped over the damp boulders of the cave.

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Morning light filtering through the rocks reveals the struggles of the night.

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Looking over, Briony only remembers flashes by moonlight of bashing in heads with a rock she found on the ground. It seems to have done the trick, but for all she knows she could have been bitten. Every inch of her hurts, and she doesn’t have the strength or motivation to check herself over for bites.

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If she turns, she turns. But in the meantime, she needs water. There’s no way she could safely get herself down to the bay and then back out again right now, but a stagnant little cave pool proves her saviour.

She crawls to the edge of the pool, finding that the water rests in a depression and is nearly too far for her to reach. She extends her arms to try to bring some water up to her mouth but it too weak to support herself. She tumbles down the rocky bank and lands in the shallow pool, earning herself some new cuts and bruises.

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As she moves herself back into an upright position she can feel the squelch of algae and slime against her skin. Strange cave creatures swim away to hide from her, but as she again loses consciousness they accept her as part of their new landscape and carry on their lives around her.

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Some time later she awakens and remembers to be horrified by the slimy little creatures making a home out of her. She’s beginning to feel some strength coming back into her body, and is able to pull herself out of the pool without too much pain.

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For the first time in two days she’s feeling fully awake, a fact she hugely resents. With consciousness comes memories of storage lockers creaking open, a rusty car on a precipice, the words, “Briony, go!”

There’s also the smell. Two zombies wasting away in the sun fill a cave with rancid air quickly, and Briony knows she’ll need to do something about it soon.

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She stands, and her head reels. Having not been upright for days, the blood rushes out of her head and there are a few moments of unsteady blackness before the world comes back into view. While she’s glad to be able to stand, the ordeal has left her with a pounding headache.

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The most she can do now is drag the corpses to the edge of the water and tip them in. They drift around below the surface with vacant eyes staring up at her, and she hopes the waves will take them away.

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Her throbbing head falls into her hands, and a crying spell shakes her. It only ends when she becomes distracted by the debris and knots built up in her hair. She absently tries to comb out a thick mat with her fingers, and then gives up and heads back into the cave.

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The next days pass in much the same way. At first she cries, but later she just waits for sleep. Weeks go by, and her cuts heal and her hair grows into a wild tangle. After a few months her clothes become tattered and thin from constantly being scraped against the rocky cave walls.

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She learns to choke down whatever she can pull out of the stale pool. Snails, minnows, sometimes just slimy green algae. She becomes one of them, just another part of the food chain in the mucky little ecosystem.

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Years might have gone by, but still it feels like the car and the storage units was yesterday, and everything since has been one long grey today.

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In the time Briony has been in her cave of depression Carys has grown into an adult and married some guy called Saul.

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Graham, the weird looking one, is now a teen. He’s a good kid I guess.

Join us next week to see what kind of cheery stuff our cave-dwelling, raw fish-eating heir does next time =/

Chapter 4.17- Horrific Crimes Against Fashion

10 Aug

Hi, welcome back! Sorry about missing the post yesterday, I was at a music festival, and it was rad.

Last we left Rylo and Briony, they were actually having a good time. Wut.

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Rylo is getting used to his days being filled with much more chatter than usual, and is finding that it really isn’t so terrible. Briony’s mind seems to be full of new ideas and adventures yet to be had, and can be mildly amusing to listen to her stream of chatter.

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There’s also more light-hearted goofing off than Rylo has ever seen in his life, but he’s realized that not every moment needs to be solely focused on survival. It can actually be kind of nice to spend an afternoon watching Briony tumble around as she tries to learn how to do a handstand.

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Her swimming skills really start to come along, but she still sometimes pretends she’s scared or cold or tired so Rylo will have to come hold her in the water as she builds up her confidence. Rylo half-heartedly keeps up the gruff, annoyed act with her as she clings to him, but they both seem to know he doesn’t mind at all.

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With zombie training, they start small. Whenever they run into something that’s her size, Rylo hands Briony a knife and lets her try it out. He always stands just a few meters away with his crossbow aimed directly at the zombie’s head in case anything should go wrong, but only has to actually use this precaution twice.

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After just a few tries Briony seems to figure out how to lure a zombie one way and then attack from the other. After each of her kills Rylo spends some time giving her advice and encouragement, and she infallibly begs to try out his crossbow next. He infallibly replies that she can try it out when her arms become strong enough to actually hold it steady.

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As she grows, she moves onto the bigger stuff. She becomes quite skilled at facing one large zombie or two smaller zombies on her own, but Rylo still watches her with his crossbow raised, just in case.

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Rylo soon runs out of advice to give her, but it becomes sort of a regular thing for them to spend some time just talking about whatever over top a freshly dead zombie corpse. Family bonding, yo.

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After they had met the family living in the car shelter, Briony had made a point of calling Rylo “Dad”. The first few times he had felt his throat close up and his eyes start to water, and had almost thought he was dying. But he hadn’t quite been able to tell her not to, so it had stuck. It took a long time to get used to it, and it wasn’t until their third year together that he stopped blushing deeply every time he heard the D word. Now, after five years together, it doesn’t faze him at all.

So yeah, time jump. Let’s check out the extended fam.

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We’ve got teenage Reuben, who is rebellious and brave.

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We’ve got child Mariella, who is messy and full of adventure.

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We’ve got Ben, who likes to cook and be handsome.

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We’ve got Siri, who turned out handy and brave and cool enough that I wish she was actually part of this legacy (cause ginger = wonderful).

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We’ve got Jeyna, who… exists.

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We’ve got Carys, who is generally just a nice person.

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And we’ve got horrific crimes against fashion courtesy of the sims game’s batshit randomization process that left poor Carys looking like this. Just no.

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And here is Oscar, who has lived happily into his eighties. His two next door neighbours are Sam and Joey’s families, so there’s never a day he’s without the company of his sons and grandchildren.

But listen guys, we knew this was coming. Oscar died. As soon as my game told me he was about to die I started stalking him at his house and just watched him do life so I wouldn’t miss him dying and everything. And then one night I wasn’t paying very much attention and he walked outside into the night and fucking died. It was weird and devastating and I missed it.

So I’m horribly sorry about missing his death, but he was old and happy and that’s probably how he would have wanted to go, without a whole bunch of fuss.

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Rylo and Briony are kind of just enjoying their post-apocalyptic lives these days. They like to follow lakes and rivers, and every night at sunset they gaze silently out at the colour show reflecting on the waves.

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Rainy days are the hardest. Rylo doesn’t like seeing Briony shivering and cold, and has become more bold in seeking out shelter when the weather is rough. Sometimes they go as far as creeping into the outskirts of a town.

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Briony loves exploring new places, and is always chiding Rylo to loosen up and explore urban areas more. While he is still extremely cautious, he’s become more inclined to give in to her requests when he sees the fire of adventure light up her eyes. Today they’ve found some old storage lockers set alongside a bay where the remains of a pier crumble into the water.

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Rylo is wary of setting up camp in such an exposed spot so far away from the forest he’s familiar with. But looking out onto the horizon he can see that the storm is nowhere close to abating.

Briony: It’s okay dad, we can go find somewhere safer. I’m not that cold.

Rylo: Briony, you’re frozen. We’ll wait the storm out here where we can get you dry and warm.

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Rylo approaches the nearest storage unit and pulls the door. It seems to be locked, but he knows that most locks have lost their strength to rust and decay long ago and can be easily coaxed open.

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Briony kneads her feet rhythmically into the earth in a sort of dance to keep her body moving and ward off the cold. She braces herself through a particularly violent bout of shivers when she hears a click, and feels something give way under her foot. Instinctively she jumps back.

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She briefly registers the strange metallic object that had been under her foot before there is a rush of air and creaking metal and the door to a storage locker swings open.

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Rylo stumbles back from the unit, shielding himself from the undead horde now pushing their way out of the metal box.

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In a moment he’s up and running with Briony at his side. Under one of his feet he feels a click, and hears another door swing open.

Rylo: Bri, don’t step on those!

Briony: Yeah, got that, thanks!

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Rylo searches wildly for an escape. To their right looms a wall of storage units, probably all filled with zombies. On their left they’re flanked by a sheer drop into the raging waters of the bay, while up ahead is a mountain of rubble and a caved-in basement.

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Zombies continue to spill out of the open storage units, pressing Rylo and Briony further back against the rubble.

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Backed against a wall, Rylo loads his crossbow while Briony clutches her knife in her frozen fingers. Rylo aims his bolts and takes down some of the nearest threats, while Briony readies herself for the coming skirmish.

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The throng advances, and Briony somewhat regains her sense of confidence from all those days spent practicing for this. While Rylo shoots at the closest and fastest threats, Briony lures them, ducks, and makes one rapid thrust of her knife into the decaying skulls. The rain and the cold are gone from her mind, and the world moves in a blur devoid of thought and ruled by speed and dexterity.

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And then there is a scraping of claws against her sleeve, and Briony wrestles herself away from the cold dead fingers now grasping for a handful of her hair. Through the din of snarls she hears her name being called, and follows it blindly.

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Ahead, Rylo is climbing onto a car perched at the edge of the sunken basement. Briony reaches the car and feels the bumper give way as she tries to clamber up. Her fall is interrupted by Rylo, who grabs one of her arms and effortlessly hoists her up like a rag doll.

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In no time the zombies have enveloped the car. Briony takes a tentative step away from the reaching arms and feels the chasm of empty air behind her. Thunder cracks overhead, and she steps firmly forward and draws her knife.

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Briony brandishes her knife, aiming desperately for a head, but is unable to get past the sea of arms reaching up to her and threatening to force her down into their depths. Rylo has run out of bolts and has begun kicking furiously into the hungry mob, only managing to hold back the few ambitious  zombies trying to climb up the hood of the car. Beneath them, the rusty roof sinks and forewarns collapse, while the force of the pushing crowd starts the car rocking dangerously toward the precipice. Again, an arm pulls Briony to her feet.

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Rylo: Briony, go!

Briony: What??

Rylo: Go!

Through her panic Briony finds his eyes, and immediately understands what he means.

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Briony: No, dad, no!

Rylo: Briony-

Briony: No!

He grabs her wrists and pulls her close as she continues to shriek hysterically and wrestle against him.

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Tenderly Rylo kisses Briony’s forehead, and then he releases her hands and steps backward.

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A forest of arms reaches up to receive him and the crowd compresses, obscuring him beneath an undulating mass of bodies.

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Briony’s steps ring against the hood of the car, and then she’s slamming into the mud and struggling back onto her feet amidst the corpses of zombies whose heads have been pierced by crossbow bolts.

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In desperation she looks behind her and is transfixed by the grisly scene searing itself into her mind. Zombies grapple with each other over handfuls of glistening entrails, and scraps of striped shirt flutter away in the wind.

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Briony is roused by the realization that one of the mob has broken away and is advancing towards her. She feels inside her pocket for her knife and comes away with nothing. She’s entirely out of time, and the words, “Briony, go!” resonate in her mind. She obeys.

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A mix of tears and raindrops blind her, and the roaring wind howls against her ears as she plummets off the edge of the cliff. The roiling waters of the bay rush up to meet her.

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Rain and waves and current clash against each other, and the storm rages on.