Last night I found my sister Ozelia sleeping in her bed, weak but recovering. Whatever strain of scourge this is is nasty, but so far, not fatal. Thank God. My chest tightens as I think about what I would do if Ozelia had died. She’s my last remaining family member, well here at least. I tamp down thoughts of never seeing my father again. He’ll be back soon I keep saying. He’s been away for months at a time before, seeking specialty books. But it’s been six months now, and I’ve begun to worry.
Murdock was able to distribute the supplies from the first aid kits to those who needed them most and the food went to the clan mess hall. I kept nothing for myself—except for the tin of blueberries, but no one needs to know that. I’m a bit glad that Jayfon wasn’t there to greet me at the gate. He might be blind, but he can smell a lie from a mile away.
After making sure my sister Ozelia is comfortable, I head to the mess hall for breakfast—not expecting to find much because so many are ill, including most of the regular cooks.
As a clan we eat breakfast and lunch together. Then later, community members eat dinner with their immediate families back in their dorms.
I wave as I pass a few tired but smiling faces on my way to the huge vat of oatmeal that is our breakfast. I’m scooping up a bowl when I see Taft walk in with three—wait, what the? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s Pig-face and his chums! I storm over, my hands balled into fists, my eyes cold. How could Taft welcome them here? Before I’m ten feet away, Pig-face is pointing at me and shouting, “That’s her! The girl who attacked us!”
“What?! Really?!” I burst out. Then we both start yelling at once.
“They crept around me like sly dogs and surrounded me. Then they chased me halfway back to the bungalows!” I say, barely stopping for breath. As I’m saying this Pig-face is pointing to the welt on the side of his face and exclaiming about how I attacked him with my club.
“Enough of this!” shouts Taft, raising his hands in the air. His long, lined face droops with exhaustion. “Raven, did you hit Fian on the side of the head?” Taft demands.
“Yes,” I begin, “but you don’t understand. I was alone and they had surrounded me.”
“Why were you alone? You know that’s against the rules,” Taft says pointedly. Now I’m speechless. Why is Taft taking their side?
“You didn’t give us a chance to explain,” the tall one bursts in.
“Explain what? That you’re a bunch of garbage clowns who like to spy on girls?”
“Raven!” Taft barks, “They just wanted to ask you if we had medical supplies to trade. It seems the same illness that is sweeping through here came through the Philly Clan weeks ago and now they are low on fever reducers and pain killers, among other things.”
“Well how was I supposed to know that?” I retort. Then I remember. The gun. They fired a gun at me!
“Taft they fired a gun at me! They tried to kill me!”
“You mean this?” Taft pulls the gun from his pocket and opens the barrel. “It’s a flare gun.” Something is off, but before I can think about it too much I say, “Well I didn’t know that.”
“I didn’t fire it at you,” the tall one says, looking me in the eye. “I fired into the air, to get your attention.” The third boy, who has been curiously silent with eyes downcast, pipes up.
“Look, I’m sorry. It was stupid of us to surround you like that. Maybe we can put this behind us. I’m Philip.” He puts out his hand to shake mine. I haven’t really looked at him before. His face can only be described as forgettable. It’s pretty average in every way—brown hair, tan skin, brown eyes, but when I look at him, he looks right at me, boldly. My instant reaction is that I can trust him.
I’m still pretty worked up, but I put out my hand half-heartedly and shake his, averting his gaze. I remember Gramps telling me, “Remember who the real enemy is.” He was referring to the fact that humans need to stick together if we’re ever going to defeat the Foul. But I’m not ready to give anybody a high five yet.
“Alright then,” says Taft in a placating tone. “It was just a misunderstanding. Raven, you’ve always been too hot headed. We need cool heads if we are going to get along with our neighbors. It’s important for our clans to remain on good terms. Let’s just forget the whole thing ever happened….” He continues to drone on about the importance of keeping the peace, trade partners blah blah blah. But the whole time I’m glaring at Pig-face, Fian, and he’s staring back at me with his mean little piggy eyes. You can bet I’ll be watching my back while he’s around.
I need to blow off some steam so I take my bowl of oatmeal to go and leave to find Byron and Kelvie, my best friends who were also born the same year as me.
Byron is our resident tech wizard—not that there’s much that works these days, but if batteries are available, Byron can fix it. To hear him talking about the internet of the Golden Times you’d think he was talking about a long lost love, the one who got away. He even has plans to get the electricity back here at the bungalows, but I’m not holding my breath. Gramps told me the clan wasted a lot of time and effort in the early days when they were new to the bungalows, trying to get things back to how they were before. It took a few failed projects to make them realize that things had changed, permanently.
Then there’s Kelvie, who’s been acting odd around me lately. It seems like he’s avoiding me more often than not. But maybe I’m just imagining it. We used to do pretty much everything together, whether it was morning chores or practicing our hand to hand combat, but he’s been pretty slippery the last few weeks—hard to pin down.
Kelvie is into all things animal, so I’m not surprised to find him feeding the clan’s goats and chickens. We didn’t always have livestock. After the great scourge, most of the domestic animals were left out to wander and starve. Fortunately, a few managed to survive. There are still wild pigs in the woods that the hunters manage to kill from time to time. Gramps found the chickens on one of his scavenging trips and the flock has slowly grown ever since.
Kelvie doesn’t hear me enter so I grab an egg from one of the hen boxes and throw it across the shed at him. “Think fast,” I say. He manages to catch it right in the nick of time. “Glad you’re feeling better,” I add, closing the distance between us. His brooding mood seems to have temporarily abated because he breaks into a smile.
“Glad you didn’t become Foul food,” he laughs. The laugh turns into a cough.
“Ew,” I say, “Get that scourge away from me.”
“You never get sick,” he mutters.
“Jealous?” I taunt, flexing my arm.
“Yeah I am actually. Bet you got a double dose of that magic DNA.”
“Aww, I’m nothing special,” I digress because I don’t know what to do when someone compliments me. “Hey, did you see those three garbage clowns from the Philly Clan here this morning?”
“Not yet, why?”
I proceed to explain my run-in with them and as I do, Kelvie gets redder and redder. He starts to pace across the shed.
“Hey, where are you going?” I demand.
“I’m going to shove their smug faces up their…”
“Wait,” I interrupt, grabbing his arm. “They’ll be gone soon enough and Taft is all lovey-dovey with them because he thinks they have something to trade…I’m not sure what that is though.”
“Those dog shites,” growls Kelvie, “Showing up here after what they did to you…”
“To be fair,” I interject, grinning, “they got more than they bargained for.” Then I hop around making a sour face and whining. “She kicked me in my special place,” I say, imitating Pig-face. Kelvie smiles and starts to laugh, his menacing glare melting away.
“Ha ha ha yeah you did,” he says slapping my shoulder. “I taught you to go for the soft spot.”
“Actually, Gramps taught me that. You taught me this,” I say as I wedge my foot behind his knee, disturbing his balance. Unfortunately he grabs my elbow on the way down and we both land in the chicken shit.
“Damn. You two get a room!” It’s Byron standing in the open doorway, a grin on his square, handsome face. Kelvie frowns and looks away. Back to awkward again.
“Stop being a dip,” I say to Byron. “You know we’re like brother and sister.” And it’s true. Growing up side by side, doing the same chores, following the same routine, I can’t think of Kelvie as anything besides a brother. Granted, he is good looking with his wavy dark brown hair, green eyes, and strong chin. I can’t think of us holding hands and kissing though---it’s just too odd.
Kelvie brushes himself off and leaves the barn—a parking garage we converted for the purpose. He looks back and waves, but I can’t read his expression. As soon as he’s out of earshot, Byron walks up to me with narrowed eyes and a grim expression.
“Way to let him down easy,” he says.
“What are you talking about?” I retort.
“Are you dense or something Raven? Kelvie has a huge crush on you. Duh. I guess you need a special announcement before you get it. Well I’m telling you because I’m tired of the awkwardness. He likes you. A lot.”
“But…” I stumble. I can’t think of anything to say. “Yeah, I guess now I understand why he’s been acting so…weird.”
“I’m going to go now. Hopefully you two can figure things out. Just don’t keep torturing the guy with that brother and sister stuff. If it’s never gonna happen, let him know. Don’t keep him hangin’. Just think about it.”
Then he leaves me with my jumbled thoughts.
Within a week, most of the clan is up and moving again. We were lucky this time—we had enough food, and it wasn’t the middle of winter. It’s harder for folk to get well on an empty belly. This year the farmers had a plentiful harvest with extra for trade. So we had fresh vegetables and meat to add to our stockpiled food—much of which isn’t too tasty anymore, if I’m being honest. Some things just don’t keep as long as others.
But we lost two. A three month old baby and an older woman named Deandra. We will have a ceremony for them tonight in the Spirit Hall, to honor them. A photo of Deandra will be placed in the spot that belongs just to the clan. No photo of the baby exists, but maybe we can find a picture of a baby that looks similar to put up.
About five years ago our clan’s healer died. She had been trained as a nurse back in the Golden Times. A few of us remember some of her skills, but it’s not the same. Sure, we have medical text books—plenty of them. But reading a book and learning the skill are two different things. Doctors and nurses don’t just grow on trees though, especially since the scourge took them in greater numbers.
What I love about writing is being able to create new worlds. A story can start as an image, a flash of insight about a character, or an interesting setting. I rarely now how a story will end when I begin; it shows me where it wants to go.