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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hallucinated corpses have definitely disappeared, so Briony stumbles for her little pool. A splash of water would bring her back to her senses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Silhouetted against the sea and sky, Briony’s nightmare steps into her waking life.
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!”
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.
Briony: What the fuck is that thing for?!
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.
Briony: Oh, maybe my dad was onto something.
Briony: Nothing. What do you want?
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.
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…
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.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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.
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??