Three strangers cling together, grubby, weak, and utterly terrified of the knives and guns and nail-ridden planks of wood that surround them.
“You’ll hand over everything you’ve got in exchange for safe passage through the valley.” Cain picks at his fingernails with the tip of his hunting knife. “Two of our own will escort you. They’ll leave you to continue your journey on the other side.”
One of the strangers shakes his head. “You can’t take everything. We need it to survive.”
Cain shrugs. “You’ll find more. We’ll provide you with food during the trek through the valley. After that you’re on your own. Or you could keep your food and go it alone. You’ll be up against the elements. And the wild packs of dogs. And the mobs who have made this area their home. Including us.”
The strangers huddle closer.
“There’s a reason they call it Blood Valley these days.” Cain grins as he holds his knife in front of his face, examining the vicious sharpness of the blade.
“Let us stay here then,” says the stranger. “Like we first asked. We’ll work. We’ll forage for supplies. We can learn to hunt. We’re all fit and healthy, or we will be after a good meal. There’s strength in numbers, isn’t there?”
“Oh definitely. You’re right there, mate. But we already have numbers and we’re not too fussed about adding any more. Everything is going really well for us right now. Outsiders might change that.”
“We’ll die out there,” says the stranger. “All those mobs; they’re fucking crazy! They want to kill us just for the sake of it. It’s like sport. There was ten of us when the power first went out. Ten. And now it’s just us. We’ve watched our friends die. Please. Winter’s setting in and we need shelter.”
Cain shrugs. “I hope you’ll it on the other side of the valley.”
“For God’s sake, Cain, let them stay.”
All eyes turn to Ray at the back of the crowd. She pushes her way through the onlookers to approach Cain and the desperate new arrivals.
“They’re only three. We’ve got more than enough food to feed them for a couple of days, and then they can start pulling their weight.”
Cain looks at her with contempt. “No.”
“Why the fuck not? What is the point in us even having this place if we don’t let people in? That was always the plan — to give refuge to anybody who came this way. When did it change?”
“When you let in two people who royally screwed us,” Cain snaps. “Remember that? They cut the throats of four of our own after we brought them in and fed them and told them we’d keep them safe.”
“Not everyone is like that.”
“Bullshit. Every new person who steps foot into our compound is a risk. They have no loyalty to us. We can’t trust them. We don’t know who’s an animal and who isn’t.”
“We’re the animals when we treat people like this. Take all their rations and leave them out there with nothing? It’s practically a death sentence itself.”
“We give them safe passage through the valley.”
“And what use is that? We know full well that the other side of the valley is as dangerous as everywhere else.”
For a brief moment Cain seems to consider it as he furrows his brows. But he shakes his head.
“You’ve changed,” Ray whispers. “I don’t think I like what you’ve turned into.”
Cain glares at her — the woman who founded their camp right along with him when they were a mere group of twelve. The same camp that is now home to more than fifty people. It’s a true community, just as they always hoped it would be.
“They’re not staying,” Cain barks. “And if you care so much for them you can fuck off with them.”
Ray looks at the strangers who are rabbits caught in headlights. She turns to Cain. “You know, if we rounded up all the people we sent away from here over the past couple of years, our community would be twice the size it is now. I want to be part of something bigger. If that means I have to start all over again, and start small, so be it. They’ll keep their stuff. They won’t need escorting through the valley. I’m going with them.”
Ray and the strangers come to halt at the top of the valley and take in their surroundings. There are rolling green hills for miles around, spattered with clumps of woodland, rocky outcrops and silvery threads of streams. They know they won’t see it again for days once they head into the valley to pick their way through the forest. They might never see it again if they succumb to the dangers that lurk amongst the trees.
Although she plasters confidence onto her face, Ray is scared. If she had just a couple more comrades — men and women who knew the turf and knew how to wield a weapon — she would have faith that they could make it.
She takes one last look at the compound, expecting to see the gates locked and barred. And they are. But a string of people is winding its way away from the gates and straight towards them. There must be twenty or more of them, all wrapped up in layers of clothes and with stuffed rucksacks on their backs.
“They’re coming for us,” says one of the strangers. “Why? We left without any trouble.”
“They’re not coming for us,” Ray replies with a smile. “Trust me. They’re joining us. They want to be part of something bigger.”
Stories inspired by a random songs from my Spotify library. This time it was “Avalanches” by Drenge.
(OhmygodiloveDrengesomuch. THEY’RE SO GOOD LIVE. If you’re ever feeling pissed off with the world, listen to their self-titled debut album (playlist below) and throw yourself about in a single-person mosh pit. I promise you’ll feel better.)Follow Ellie Scott on WordPress.com