Over lunch today, I chatted with my husband about the work I’ve done so far on this story and where I see it going. He’s got the ability to be encouraging while pointing out potential problems, a delicate balance. Since this novella does fit in the post-apocalyptic genre and that happens to be one of his favorites he had some very keen observations, especially about resources. It’s been over 8 years since the endless night began, where does any of the canned food that Clara is sometimes paid with come from? Likewise the lantern oil, candles, and other consumable goods. I think I know how to solve it, but you’ll have to let me know if I’ve answered those questions effectively as we go along. And here we go into tonight’s installment…
Joe pushed them hard but they made the last underground Metro stop in good time with no incidents. The tunnel was more crowded than Clara was used to. Despite her feeling that people rarely ventured from the relative safety of the city, there seemed to be a lot of people getting ready to risk their lives out in the open. People hunkered down in tight little knots and sent envoys to each other, after which some of the groups merged finding skills or numbers they needed to make the trip out at least marginally safer.
Every eye in the tunnel turned to Clara’s group as they emerged up off the tracks. They whispered among themselves and almost every group sent out an envoy, eager to make friends with the people who had automatic weapons and looked like they knew how to handle Nightkind. Joe turned every one of them away with a polite smile. They had no interest in adding more people who may or may not slow them on the trudge north to Baltimore.
They found a spot up against a wall to lay down their packs and rest, and strategize about their exit from the tunnel. Sophie stood nearly paralyzed and stared around the tunnel as the more experienced members of the group settled on the floor and sorted through the packs parsing out the ration of food and water for this stop. Clara reached out to pull her daughter to sit next to her, but Joe’s second in command beat her to it and squatted down in front of Sophie.
“It’s a lot to take in, isn’t it, Sophie?” she said in a soft, fluid voice like velvet.
“I’ve never seen so many people in one place,” Sophie whispered, wide-eyed.
“Does it scare you?”
Sophie thought for a minute. “Not really. Nightkind are scary, this is just… weird.”
“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.” The woman stifled a laugh and held out her hand to Sophie. Sophie took it and shook it. “Everybody calls me Bat.”
“Why do they call you Bat? That’s a funny name.”
“Well, my skin is real dark like a bat,” she ran her fingertips down her cheek. “And I have really good hearing, which saved our tails more than once.” Bat smiled.
Sophie nodded. “That makes sense.”
“Want to know a secret,” Bat whispered conspiratorially as she leaned closer to Sophie. Sophie nodded furiously. “My real name is Caroline.”
“I like Caroline a lot better than Bat. It’s prettier,” said Sophie.
“I do too,” said Bat. “You can call me Caroline anytime you want.”
Behind them one of the men started to belt out the chorus to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline”. Bat whipped around and shook her finger in mock fury. “You still call me Bat.” He held up his palms for peace and the group chuckled and went back to their rations.
“C’mon Sophie,” Bat said, guiding her with a hand on the small of her back. “Let’s get some food into you, sweetie. We’ve got a long way to go.”
After eating, Joe pulled a piece of chalk out of his pocket and started to sketch on the wall. He drew an arc for the tunnel mouth and everything he knew about the tracks out into the open, the sharp bank down on the left, the groves of trees to the right, all long dead now, and how far they would have to run to reach buildings. Some of the other tunnel denizens started inching closer and craning their necks to see his plan to get his people out safely.
Clara looked around and muttered to Joe, “Are we supposed to be keeping our plans from them?”
“Nope,” Joe said with a barely perceptible shake of his head as he kept drawing. “If they’re slow, they’ll be a distraction that helps us get away and if they’re fast, them knowing what I know about cover will help them survive.”
“That’s a little cold,” Stacey murmured, looking at her husband with surprise. He paused and looked at his wife.
“It’s a cold world.”
Once Joe completed his drawing, his team started throwing out ideas about how to get out and to cover before the inevitable Nightkind fell on them. The local Nightkind knew this was a common place for humans to emerge on their way to elsewhere, and treated it like an intermittent buffet. There was always some sort of Nightkind waiting at the mouth of the tunnel, it was only a question of what kind and how many, what would fight each other to kill you and what would work together to bring you down and share the carcass.
“What we need to make any of this work is a good distraction,” Bat sighed.
Sophie lost interest in the discussion and was looking around the tunnel, examining each face and wondering about the person behind it, when she saw the one old woman sitting by herself on the last bench near the tracks where they began their ascent to the surface. She had no bags or packs, and just sat on the bench staring at the mouth of the tunnel. Sophie looked at the adults around her and saw they were all completely absorbed in the map and plans, even her mother. She got up and walked over to the woman.
The woman didn’t look up when Sophie stopped in front of her. Sophie waited for a minute, shifting her weight from foot to foot.
“Hi,” she said. “My name is Sophie.”
“I ain’t got anything you want little girl. I ain’t got food or nothing.” She never took her eyes off the dark, yawning mouth of the tunnel.
“I didn’t want anything from you,” said Sophie. “I was just wondering what you were looking at.”
The woman squinched her eyes shut and pressed her lips together. “What does it look like I’m looking at? I’m looking at the tracks. Now, go away.”
Sophie didn’t go away but craned her neck and looked up the tracks. “There’s not much to see,” she said.
The old woman blew out her breath hard. “Don’t you have someone else to bother, child?”
Sophie shrugged. “Not really. Mommy and the rest are trying to come up with a plan to get out of here and head north, but we need a distraction.”
The woman looked Sophie up and down with hard eyes, then shook her head and went back to staring at the tunnel.
Sophie waited for the woman to say something else. The silence stretched on.
“What’s up the tracks that’s so interesting to you?” Sophie asked finally.
The woman threw hands up and cried out in exasperation. “My death!” she spat. “My death is what’s up those tracks and what I find so interesting. Now will you just leave me alone?”
“But why do you want to die?” Sophie whispered.
The old woman closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose as she sighed. “I don’t want to die. I need to die.”
“Because I’m old, and sick,” the woman said as she dropped her hands into her lap and looked Sophie full in the face for the first time. “I’m a burden on my family. I can’t do anything for them except take up resources someone else could use. So, I’m going up the tracks to throw myself in front of the Nightkind so I can die quicker than I would starving.”
Sophie cocked her head to the side. “Would you like to be a distraction?”
I made 1,260 words for today, not my all around best but pretty close to the top.