CHAPTER 4

By midday I can see where the city ends. Beyond it is another dead forest.

I laugh, "We actually made it." I put my hands behind my head in a relaxed position.

I glance over at Vince who says, "Well, you never know. They could be waiting just behind those last buildings." He points.

I slump over, "You know, you're a real downer. Can't you be at least a little optimistic?"

He doesn't say anything. We both walk a little more cautiously. Seems like I was right, though. They gave up and went back to protecting what is left of their precious supplies. We make the cover of the trees and I ask awkwardly, wanting to start some kind of conversation, "Did you have any siblings?"

Vince stares at the ground for a while and we walk a few paces in silence. Twigs snap under our feet as we walk. "Yes." He finally says. He looks at me sadly, "A little sister."

I look at the ground. I probably shouldn't talk anymore. Family is a hard topic to even think about when you've lost it, but I can't stop myself before I ask, "What was she like?"

He laughs, "I heard all the time that we looked nothing alike." He pauses, "She had beautiful, short blonde hair, the cutest face. I loved no one in the world more than my little sister." He sighs and I think I see a tear streak down his face. He wipes it away before I can be sure, "She was only ten when she died during the war." He looks at me, "What about you? Did you have any siblings?"

"Yeah. A little sister the same age as yours and a new baby brother only two months old." I take a deep breath, "I loved my brother and sister." I laugh and my eyes start getting blurry as tears pour down my face and I see their faces in my mind, "My sister and I would fight all the time. She annoyed the fuck out of me." I wipe my eyes. I shove my hands in my pockets, "It's amazing how much you miss the fights and how much you want to be woken up in the morning because of her obnoxious screaming." Vince and I both laugh.

"Yeah," he says, "you don't realize what you have until it's gone. You don't realize just how lucky you are to have them."

I sigh and try to wipe the tears away but every time I do a new river of them swarms down my face, "I'm sorry, jeez, they just won't stop." Vince pulls me into a hug which I'm sure we both need, but I hate him for it, because I start crying even more. It's nice to have someone here, though. After such a long time of dealing with things by myself. Covering up my emotions for survival. It's nice not being alone. Not being the only one anymore.

Vince releases me clearing his throat and we continue walking. After a while my tears and sobs have subsided. It's getting dark again and I say, "We should stop and just camp her for the night." I feel exhausted. I know he does to, but Vince shakes his head and glances behind us, "I can still see the city, let's go just a little further."

I shrug and keep walking beside him in silence. It doesn't take long before I get bored and start humming my favorite song to myself. Before the war I would always listen to music. I loved it. And still do love it. I start humming "Hotel California" by The Eagles.

"That's a good song." I look up at Vince who's smiling down at me.

I smile back, "I love it. It's my favorite."

He laughs and starts humming it to.

Finally, it's gotten so dark I can't see four feet in front of me. So, it makes sense that I ran face first into a big hard object.

"Ouch!" I exclaim putting my hands up against the object. It feels like a wall. I hear a loud thump next to me and a grunt of pain and know that Vince just ran into it to. "Dumb ass." I say flatly, "I just ran into it and you couldn't even bother to hold out your hands to feel for it or something?"

"Shut up" I hear him say.

I roll my eyes and start digging through my pockets looking for my box of matches. I light the last one and, sure enough, I ran into a wall. The wall of a creepy looking shack. We walk around looking for the door. Which is fairly difficult with only a little match for light.

Eventually we find the door. I walk around the room and find a bunch of candles on a dresser. I light them and look around the place. Vince stands in front of a boarded up window. The only window. To his left is the door we came in through and to my left is another door. I'm too tired to figure out what it is. There's a dusty old couch and a rocking chair sitting in the corner of the room. I turn back around facing the dresser and almost scream. Then I realize it's a mirror nailed up against the wall. Cracked and dusty. Showing a dirty, muddy, cut face and matted, short black hair.

"I-is that me?" I ask horrified.

Vince comes over to me and looks in the mirror, "Yup."

"I look awful."

"You don't always look like that?"

I punch his arm and hold out my hand, "Let me borrow your brown rag."

He fishes it out of his pocket and hands it to me. I get a water bottle out of my bag and open it. I pour a little water on the rag and wipe my forehead. My skin is surprisingly white compared to it with dirt and grime. I wipe the rest of my face clean, "There, much better."

Vince looks at me, "Wow, I'm surprised, you're actually pretty."

Is that a compliment? I can't quite tell. I give him his rag back and sit on the floor. He sits next to me and asks, "Shall we cook a chicken?"

"Yes!" As tired as I am I think I'm hungrier.

He brings in sticks from outside and we use one of the candles to start the fire. He helps me pluck the bird and I gut it. I toss the guts outside.

I wait as he cooks it. It doesn't take long and soon we're both full and tired. He lies down, "Good night."

He closes his eyes. I don't. I think I hear something. Footsteps? I turn around just as the door we came through swings open. I can't see who they are, but I can see that there are three of them.

"Well, Tim." He has a heavy country accent. "Looks like we've got dinner."

All three laugh as Vince and I jump up. One runs for Vince and hits him in the head with a baseball bat. Vince falls to the floor with a thud, then the man comes at me.

A pain erupts in the side of my head and everything goes dark.

My mouth is so dry. Why can't I move? I begin to panic. It's dark. I'm lying on something soft. My head hurts. I squirm and kick an object lying in front of me. It grunts. My hands and feet are tied and I'm gagged. I stretch out my arms and my hands meet a face. I think it's Vince. He mumbles something that sounds like, "Could you stop touching my face?" He must be gagged to.

A door creaks open behind me and light spreads throughout the room. Firelight. I can't see who came in, but I can now see that the soft thing I'm lying on is a bed. Vince has his hands and feet tied with a thin rope as well as me and...Is that a sock in his mouth? It's dirty. Really dirty. I better not have a sock in my mouth. I roll over onto my back to see who just came in. A boy stands over me, maybe my age. He has short curly red hair, green eyes, he's tall and looks pretty strong. He has an evil grin on his face.

He reaches down and squeezes my arm. I wince. "Kind of skinny aren't you." He also speaks with a country accent. He looks at Vince, "He's got more meat. Make some nice supper."

I squeak. Supper? Are they seriously going to eat us? What's wrong with this psycho!

Another boy comes in. He looks exactly like the first one. Twins. "They're awake." He reaches down and tugs on my wig. Luckily it doesn't come of, "You should wash your hair, boy."

A third walks in, this one older, maybe nineteen ? "Bring them out here. Time to cook 'em"

These guys are crazy! One of the twins grabs my arm and pulls me up. He puts me over his shoulder and carries me out of the room. I watch as the other twin grabs Vince by the ankle and drags him out of the room to. He grunts when his head hits the floor after being pulled off the bed. I try to scream, but it's silenced by whatever is in my mouth. I bangs my fists against the twins back.

They have a fire started in the middle of the room. The older man is standing next to it tossing more sticks in. The twins drops me on the floor. I land hard on my back and I feel my wig slip off my head. My hair spreads on the floor around me and the twin jumps back, "Holy shit! He's a chick!"

The other twin drops Vince next to me on his face. He grunts again. Poor Vince. "She's kinda cute." The twin that dropped Vince leans down and stares at me. Poor me. I sit up and back against the wall.

"Austin, Tim, cut it out and help me." The one next to the fire says.

"Oh, come on bro, you're doing fine by yourself."

They're all brothers?

The older one scoffs, "You don't need to be flirting now."

Tim, I think he's Tim, groans, "Oh, you never let us have any fun, Bruce."

Austin says, "I don't think it's really right to eat a girl." Is it right to eat anyone?

The older brother glares at him, "It's either that or starve to death!"

Vince rolls over and sits up next to me. I glance at him. I wonder if he's as terrified right now as I am. He spits the sock out of his mouth and yells, "Let us go you fuckin' psychos!"

I don't think that will really help us at all, but I admire his courage.

"Shut up." Tim says turning around to look at Vince. He crouches down and stares at him, "You'll be the first to go."

I look over at Austin who is looking at us with a look of...Is that pity? I can't really tell. The fire is casting odd shadows all over the room. It could just be a psychos hungry face. I turn back to Tim and Vince who are both glaring at each other. What are we going to do? I will not just let them eat us! Then I remember. My pocket knife. I put my hands in my lap and bend my knees to hide them. I reach in my pocket and flip the knife open. I begin sawing slowly at the rope tying my hands together. Okay, so what do I do if I do get free? I can't fight three guys who are way bigger then me barehanded. If I had some kind of weapon I might have about a two percent chance of survival here on my own. I get my hands free.

Tim gets up and stands by his twin brother. Both have their backs to me and Vince as they watch their brother at the fire. I reach down to my feet and start sawing at the rope a little more quickly now than the one that bound my hands. I glance at Vince whose watching me. I think he shakes his head. If he's trying to tell me not to do anything stupid...fat chance. All my plans are stupid. I look at the wall beside me and only a few feet away, propped up in the corner is the baseball bat that gave me such a headache. Perfect, now I just have to get to it without being seen. I get my feet free and slowly reach over to Vince. I drop the knife in his lap. He sighs quietly and shakes his head like he's disappointed. He knows I'm about to do something stupid.

I don't move the ropes off of my ankles so that, in case the brothers look back, they think I'm still tied. I scoot slowly closer to the baseball bat. I can almost reach it. Out of the corner of my eye I can see Vince cutting at his ropes. I don't take my eyes off the brothers. I reach out my hand and get a tight grip on the bats handle. I stand picking up the bat and take a step forward. I raise the bat and swing it. It crashes into Tim's head with a loud thwack! His head hits Austin in the head and they both fall to the floor. Neither of them move.

"Hey!" The older brother yells turning around. I run at him with the bat, but something catches my foot and I fall to the floor on my face. I turn onto my back and see Austin crawling out from underneath his unconscious twin. He has his fingers wrapped firmly around my ankle. I kick him in the face. His nose starts bleeding badly, but he doesn't let go. I see the older brother above me now. I raise the bat quickly and hit him in the gut. He grunts and then I see Vince ram into him dragging him to the floor. I look back down at Austin. I swing the bat but he catches it with his hand and yanks it out of mine. He gets on top of me and holds my arms down then yells, "You, bitch! That hurt!" He spits blood as he talks. I try to kick him, but it doesn't do anything.

I can hear Vince and Bruce fighting behind me. "Just let us go." I say. Tears start leaking down my cheeks.

"You, shut the hell up!" More blood spews out of his mouth as he talks and lands on my face. He wraps his fingers tightly around my throat. I reach for his face and frantically scratch him. I punch him and kick him, but he just tightens his grip. My vision begins getting blurry then suddenly his grip loosens. I see a foot swing above me and kick Austin in the face. As he falls he grabs the front of my shirt and I hear a loud rrriiiip! Great. Now I need another new shirt.

I sit up and look at Austin. He lies unconscious on the ground next to me. I look at Vince. "Thanks." I croak.

He nods and sits down next to me. His face is caked with blood and bruises. "You okay?" He asks. He doesn't look at me.

"I'm fine." I look down at my shirt. It has a long tear from the neck down. You can clearly see my bra. I wrap the shirt tightly around me to hide it. Vince sighs and takes off his shirt, "Here," he hands it to me, "We'll trade for now."

I take his shirt, turn my back to him and change into it. I give him the ripped one. He puts it on and sighs, "We'd better get going before any of them wakes up." He hands me my pocket knife back and smiles, "Thanks."

I nod taking it and stuff it in my pocket. Vince goes looking for the rest of our things and I pick my wig up and put it on. He comes out of the room we were tied up in with the rest of our chicken, my bag and our weapons.

"Looks like they didn't take anything out of here." Vince says handing me my bag.

"Thanks."

"Yeah." Vince glares at me, "I know you knew what I was saying when I shook my head." I don't look at him, "That was dangerous and you were almost killed."

"Well, I wasn't going to just sit there and let them eat us!" I yell.

"Neither was I! I was thinking of a plan." He glares at me, "You didn't even bother doing that. You just jumped up and ran at them."

I look him in the eye, "Well, we're both fine aren't we?"

"If you call that giant bruise on your neck fine."

I don't say anything. If it wasn't for Vince I'd be dead. I bow my head and stare at the ground again, "I-I'm sorry, Vince."

He doesn't say anything for a while. He walks out the door and I follow behind him slowly. He stops in front of me and finally says, "Whatever, it's fine. Just don't do that if anything like this ever happens again." I look up at him and he smiles, "At least, not if I warn you not to."

I nod.