Number 44 – Two Roads
Her fingers drummed on the table top as she stared at the radio on the kitchen counter. The room was empty, the guys were out gathering or hunting, just trying to find them something decent to eat. At least the worry didn't gnaw at her as it once had every time they went out. At least the streets were relatively safe.
She didn't have to sit there freaking out that he wouldn't come back.
The static drifted away, replaced by voices.
"Cardiff checking in here…"
She sat up straight, her fingers stretching out and her hand now resting on the table as she stared at the radio.
"Good morning, people of the UK," the voice said, and she thought she might have recognised the voice. She tried to pull a face from the back of her mind, a face she could link to the voice, but it just wouldn't come.
They could have been anyone. The place wasn't exactly small.
"Just saying that we're still here, still fighting. Just. The streets are getting a little cleaner each day."
Someone chuckled in the background.
"We're…the worst of the infected are disappearing, slowly. The rest, well, we're trying to help them."
Hope, just a glimmer of it, in his voice. She closed her eyes, biting down on her bottom lip as she wondered where they were camping out. Personally, she thought the museum would be a good choice, or the castle, maybe. If either of those places were still standing.
"We're still fighting. And there's more of us. We're growing, slowly. Seems like we're hearing the same from the rest of you. We're gathering together, and the market…you should see the market." Another chuckle in the background, and she felt tears in the bottom of her eyes as she pictured the market as it had been, once.
She had never liked going in from the Hayes side; she had hated the smell – and look – of the fish. But she had loved the rest of the place. The record stall, the book stall where all the books were old and dusty. The fortune teller upstairs she had never quite had the guts to talk to. Fruit and veg, meat, sweets, chips…you could pick up almost anything there. Fabric, comic books, Beanie Babies…
It hadn't changed, her mother told her, since she had been a kid. Through everything the people of the market had struggled, offering the people of Cardiff the small things you couldn't get in the bigger malls.
Her hand was shaking.
"We're building it up. There's people sleeping there, and we have medics upstairs for anyone who's hurt. So if you're listening to this and you're nearby, if you need help, we have room. We've got people selling food downstairs, and weapons and camping equipment."
"You turning this into an ad now?" Another voice chipped in, and she knew it was the person who had chuckled.
She thought that maybe she knew his voice, too.
But, if she was honest with herself, she knew she was just craving the familiarity that came from home. Hearing the soft lilt of a Valleys accent, or the rougher Cardiff tones, just wasn't enough.
Her fingers folded into her palm, her nails digging just slightly into her skin.
She wanted home. She wanted to see her mother and father were all right, were surviving. She wanted to know her brothers were doing okay. She knew it was highly unrealistic, that they were most likely dead. But still, she would never know unless she went back.
"So, keep updating us, yeah?" The voice continued, almost straining now. "Because knowing there's other bases out there, it's keeping us going. And we'll be back to let you know any developments."
The voices stopped and the static returned, and she hung her head forward, unable to stop the tears pouring out.
She wanted to go home.
But it had been difficult enough before everything had happened. Six hours on a train or just over four in a car, even longer if she'd gone the cheap route of the bus.
Her head jerked up as she heard the door open. The static continued as she leapt to her feet, whirled around and grabbed the pot of water on the stove. She took it into the bathroom, shutting and locking the door as their voices echoed down the corridor.
"Kath?" the voice called, as she dipped her hand into the pot and felt the temperature. Hot, but not too much so. It was cooling down from being boiled, and she quickly splashed some onto her face. "Kitty, you here?"
"Yeah, one minute," she called, running a towel over her face and grabbing the pot, taking it back into the kitchen. It wasn't that they didn't have water, but it didn't always run warm. So they had taken to keeping some on the stove, boiling it when they needed to, letting it cool down for when they needed something slightly hot rather than scolding. She flashed the boys a wide smile.
Chase crossed the room, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her close into him, kissing the top of her head. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she replied, deciding not to mention the Cardiff broadcast. Different areas of the country had been sending out their own messages, some just encouraging others to keep going, others filling everyone in on how that part of the country were doing. The Cardiff one had been the first from Wales.
"Anything on the radio?" Carl asked, leaning against one of the counters with his arms crossed.
She shook her head. "Nothing."
She turned her head, burying it in Chase's chest. Closing her eyes, she filled her senses with him, letting the smell envelop her and listening as he told her what they had caught.
"Deer?" she muttered, pulling back slightly. "You actually saw a deer?"
Carl nodded eagerly. "Yeah. Too fast for us to actually catch her, but it looks like they're starting to spread out a bit more."
"I've never seen a deer," she said, pulling away from Chase fully and moving to the counter, where Carl had placed the plastic bags. "Any agents out there?"
It didn't feel right to call them anything else. They sure as hell weren't police, and they weren't soldiers, though they seemed more like soldiers than anything else. No, she corrected herself, she had known soldiers, before all of this had happened, had known people in the military, and they were nowhere near as downright cruel as the Amaris Agents.
Both of the boys shook their heads.
The agents. Those people who came and took you away if they even suspected you were infected, no matter how the infection revealed itself.
There were still some of the worst of the infected out there, but they were easy enough to get rid of, or just plain avoid if you didn't feel like shooting. But the agents were another matter. If they spotted you, they would sure as hell try to find out exactly what you were doing in the area.
They crawled over the place like flies on a corpse.
But what scared her more than the agents themselves was the lack of information from home.
Turning the dial, fiddling around with the radio would eventually bring you to the Amaris Broadcast. Like the other, it was filled with static most of the time, but every so often the static would break off to be replaced by a voice, usually overly cheery and friendly.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen of the UK," it would start, inviting you to crawl closer to the radio. "We hope you're doing well. And please remember, if you or any family members are experiencing anything strange in yourselves; report it to your nearest Amaris Centre. We care, and we can cure this disease spreading over our land."
Every time she heard it she shuddered, and even now, as the two boys bustled around the kitchen chatting happily, even the memory was enough to send a chill up her spine.
Because they were all sure the infected weren't being taken to be cured.
The presenter, or DJ, or whatever they could be called now, would continue on with updates from across England, letting those listening know how the 'regeneration' was going. They were slowly rebuilding, but rebuilding with Amaris in charge. Electricity was coming back, in dribs and drabs, in some of the major cities. They would name the places where they now had facilities up and running, and sometimes even talk to people from those places.
Or so they claimed.
In her mind, the 'average Joe or Jane' they brought on would be dressed head to toe in the Amaris Agent uniform, making up some bullshit about how good things were beginning to get.
And then, there were the interviews, 'chats' with people who had told the Agents about family members exhibiting strange signs. Moving too fast, emitting light, the odd ability to produce fire, among the most common.
"Oh, my poor Bobby, there was this constant light from him. It was just so strange. I took him down the centre and it broke my heart. He cried and cried but I knew it was for the best. It really was."
And that kind, soothing voice. "How did you feel?"
"Terrible. Part of me wanted to grab him and take him home, you know? And promise I would never leave him again."
"And what then?"
"Well, we left. We had to. And barely a week later there was a knock on my door, and one of those lovely young agents with Bobby."
"And the light?"
"Gone! Just like that. He was fine!"
More often than not, Chase sat glaring at the radio. She would hear Carl muttering under his breath, "Bullshit. Utter bullshit."
She had to give them credit; they were good actors.
But they never mentioned home.
They never mentioned Cardiff or Swansea, Newport or Wrexham or Bangor. They skirted over anywhere west of the border. More than that, they had heard nothing from Amaris about Glasgow or Edinburgh. Scotland, Ireland and Wales were ignored, never mentioned, as if the places surrounding England could just be swept under the rug and forgotten.
Like they didn't matter.
And she wondered, really, who was left in England who might just think differently.
X X X
The day slipped into night, and Chase was up late with some of the guys, playing poker for bottle caps. Each cap represented a favour, the most precious currency they had now. Last time they had played, Chase had ended up cooking for Mike, Gary had done his round around the small village they were currently in. She didn't know what the few others had done, but she expected they were mostly chores.
Chase kept promising her that the moment he won, they would clear the garden of the rubble that sat there from the house next door. It was odd, really, the way some houses had been completely destroyed while others, like this one, sat fine. She had her own theories on next door; she could just imagine someone waking up, like she had, and finding their body was burning hotter than it had even in the height of summer.
Panicking, they could have done anything. Maybe they had exploded, bringing the house down with them.
She had just been lucky she had been outside when the heat struck, lucky Chase had been there to calm her down and soothe her. Like a bucket of ice cold water.
Better than that, because he had been there every time she had felt the same heat creeping up on her. She knew that without him, something terrible would have happened. But she was in control now. She knew how to handle it, and she knew, when she did get angry or upset to the point of burning up, she could calm herself down.
Kitty sat up in the bed, wrapping the duvet around herself so she could look in the mirror.
She wanted to stay. She really did. She wanted to be with Chase, in this little village they had made their home. At least until the agents swarmed in and forced them out. She wanted to go to sleep beside him every night with his arms wrapped around her, pulling her close.
She heard laughter from downstairs.
They were drinking beer found in the shop down the road. It was warm, and she couldn't stand it herself, but they seemed to have grown used to that.
Her dark hair was growing brown, the dye finally fading. At the roots, the light brown colour stood out starkly against the jet black of the rest of her hair. Eventually, it would all be the same colour. It fell around her shoulders, growing longer than she had let it in years. Her dark green eyes stared back at her, almost challenging her to stay and play happy families with Chase and the others, to move on and never even bother to find out if anyone from back home was still alive.
She really hadn't thought they would be. She thought home had been totalled, like many of the places in the UK. No one was sure if they could still go to some of the bigger cities, but every week Amaris were announcing more and more of them as safe.
It wasn't until she heard the Cardiff broadcast that she seriously thought it.
There are people there.
She lay back in bed, listening to the sounds from downstairs. She could hear them laughing, before the clatter that came with packing up. Soon, they were heading off, the door opening. Kitty listened to the clicks as he locked it up, closed her eyes and turned over as his footsteps came up.
He opened the door and she steadied her breathing.
"Babe? You awake?" His voice was barely even a whisper, so quiet that she had to strain to hear him. He moved around the room, and the rustle of his clothes filled her ears as he took them off.
When he climbed into bed, she resisted the urge to turn and put her arms around him, to squeeze close to his body.
She wanted to stay.
If she felt his heartbeat, she knew she would.
She lay still in the dark, listening as his breathing evened out. Finally, after what felt like an age, his soft snores that always came after a few beers filled the room.
With tears in her eyes, she rolled out of bed and grabbed the clothes she had put in the corner of the room. Dark clothes; black jeans, a black tank top, black hoodie. She crept out of the room, not even daring to look back and see the moonlight from the window streaming over him.
She dragged her mind back, summoning up the image of him as the guys had arrived for the poker game. She had been in the kitchen, as he got out the crate of beer. He had turned, stepped towards her and planted a kiss on her lips.
"I love you, Kitty."
She hadn't said anything, but wished now she had, as the seeds of the plan had already begun to sprout in her mind. She had just wrapped her arms around him, put her head against his chest and closed her eyes. For a few moments, they had just stood there. When he broke away, he had brushed her hair back, studying her face.
"Everything all right?"
"Fine," she replied. "Just tired."
Staring at his face, she had tried in those few moments to memorise his face, to commit every line and every crease to memory.
"Get an early night then, babe." Another kiss, this one on her forehead. "God knows you deserve it."
But now, standing in the dark, his face was already slipping away from her.
"I love you," she whispered over her shoulder, before slipping out fully and pulling the door close behind her. She left with nothing, aiming to get to the next village over before sunrise, where she could find a backpack, perhaps, and stuff it with any food she could find. The rest would be taken care of on the trip home.
She bowed her head against the wind, hands stuffed into her pockets as she walked down the street, shoulders shaking as she refused to look back at the house.
The tears streamed silently down her face as she turned the corner and broke into a run, quickly becoming a blur against the small dark walls and bushes that still stood in the village, Chase falling far behind as she ran, putting more and more distance between them with every second.
She had made her choice.
There was only one way to go, and that was south, back towards home, back towards her family, and away from Chase.
A/N: 100 Themes Challenge, #44. From I Found Away. Feel free to read it if you want to know what happens to Kitty next. It's the third in a trilogy, but you don't need to have read Into the Night and Back to Hell to get what's going on. (Though, feel free to if you want; as always, I'll return reviews on anything and everything you want to read) Feedback very much welcomed. And, if you have a moment, please have a quick look at the poll on my profile page; it'll help me decide what to write next.