Journey. Short Story.

And here we are at our new time! Good Afternoon/Morning!

I hope everyone’s weekend went well.

I made the journey into town, which took far longer than it should have, missed the first bus, which was annoying as the buses very rarely leave early, then the second bus was out of service. I was looking for a few things, none of which I was able to get. A couple of posters (the ones I had wanted were sold out) a book, (never found) and chalk (forgotten about until I was on the bus back home.). It was slightly infuriating, but oh well, stuff like that happens. I also made carrot cake that day.

It’s actually astoundingly easy to make, literally, the hardest part is grating the carrots (which I will admit, is a complete and utter pain), then it’s a simple case of mix everything and just bung it into the oven! Boom, an hour or so later and you have fresh carrot cake. Delicious! (Unless of course, you’re one of those people who don’t like carrot cake.) I also attempted a brownie in a mug, which turned out a helluva lot better than I expected. I was craving something baked, but it was late enough so that by the time anything was cooked, I’d be going to bed, so really it was just the thing. Took about 5 minutes. I tried it before, but the recipe called for eggs and the end result had an egg like consistency, which wasn’t nice. The one I made was without eggs, but it was more cake like than brownie-esque. Still, it worked!

On with the show!

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She bit into the meat, its hot juices running down her chin. It was so tender, so moist, she chewed, swallowed, then ripped another chunk away from the meat. Once the initial hunger wore off, her face reddened, embarrassed by her behaviour, she looked up to find her companions were eating with equal vigour, but their hosts just smiled at them. They did not seem put off by what they saw and they continued to eat, cutting off tiny pieces, spearing them with their forks and daintily eating them. She dropped the large chunk of meat and used the provided cloth napkin to wipe her hands and face, once that was done, she took a deep breath to calm herself, then she went back to eating, doing as their hosts did. It was hard not to shovel the vegetables into her mouth as she had done with some of the meat, but she restrained herself. Most of her companions did the same, after coming to the same realisation that she had. These were the first civilised, properly, truly civilised people that they had come across during their travels and it wouldn’t do to appear as though they were savages themselves. They gorged themselves on fresh vegetables and freshly cooked meat and when they had eaten their fill, people came and took away their plates, returning a moment later with ones laden with fruit. “We don’t have much in the way of sweet things, but we hope this will suffice.” “It’s more than enough, you’ve been generous hosts.” “Thank you, it’s been so long since we’ve had people travel through, I think a few of us were worried we’d forget how to properly conduct ourselves.“ Angela smiled, at the hosts, then picked up an apple, as she bit into its crunchy, juice flesh, she listened to her companions questions, allowing them to take the lead.
When they had first seen the city, though they had been here a few hours she still did not know its name, they had thought the it was just same as everywhere else. Another dangerous place which they would have to traverse. Of course they could detour, but supplies were dwindling, they needed food, fresh if they could get it, tinned if they could not. Sure the cities sometimes contained freaks and cults, but those freaks and cults were always open to a little trading. A few might eke out a living, growing their own food for their limited number. That was never a concern though. Usually whomever they bartered with figured out how to deal with the shortage. She had seen all manner of ways. Points systems, so that the one with the least points, and therefore the most useless, were killed, a lottery system, whom the leader didn’t like that day. Sometimes no one died, but that was rare. She herself did not care for those that did. She didn’t pull the trigger, she didn’t choose them. They aligned themselves with rabid dogs and were surprised when they were bitten. The city appeared old and dirty, there were great sky scrapers, but most of those were missing windows, or tilting drunkenly to the side. The place was dirty, grey. As they approached they lined up in formation, getting ready should they have to fight. They had good firepower, which itself was usually enough to get them through by appearance alone. They had only had to fight three times, no one in their party was injured. No, they succumbed to other things. The hacking sickness, blood rot, the wasting. They had set out with twenty people and now they were down to five. Some had died, some had splintered off, a few even settled with a few of the more benevolent cults, the ones that hadn’t killed people so they wouldn’t go slightly hungry. Angela had no doubt that those that left the group were either killed, or someone else was to make room. She was glad they were gone, they were weak. Dead weight. Sure it made them a better target for travelling bandits, more tempting to attack when passing through cities, but with such condensed firepower, few people tried.
They had taken the most direct route into the city, figuring it would be the safest, they didn’t see anyone, but that rarely meant anything. They entered the city and found it as they expected, dirty, in need of heavy repairs, but the deeper they went, the better the condition of the city until they reached the heart of it. Buildings with gleaming, shining bases and rotting tops. There were people, and many of them, going about their days. A few looked at them oddly, but none tried to stop them, one in fact  gave them directions as to who they should speak to. Then they met with the council, five leaders, ones who were elected by the people. They didn’t take their positions through power or force. It was mind boggling.

 

“As you may have guessed, we keep the top of the buildings maintained so they will not collapse, but we do not clean them, people viewing the city from a distance are usually fooled. They’ll either detour around for fear of who might be living here, or they’ll come in, but sneak through at night. We have a maze system set up. Should the people look dangerous, after careful monitoring, we place the barriers up and they simply go around, should we deem them as safe, they’re allowed through. Of course the only thing we ask is that you don’t tell others of our location once you leave.” “What about the gangs?” “They’ve mostly left us alone. They have tried to attack us, but we’ve been successful in repelling them. Most of them are too mad to form actual attack plans.” “Why don’t you put up static walls? Build proper defences?” “Oh they’re there, you just didn’t see them. We ran out of bullets a long time ago and since then, we’ve had to get creative.” “How long has this place existed?” “About a hundred years, give or take. When everything first began, our ancestors settled here, eked out a careful living. We have farms outside the city where we grow food. Again, hidden from sight. The hills around are desolate and appear to be struck with ground poisoning, few people cross it, those who do are usually already insane, they think the crops are hallucinations. We keep animals too, not many, but enough to keep us all comfortably fed.” “How?” “Some of the older buildings are used for storage. There was a nice city park we were able to use, large with natural springs. We originally grew most of the crops there but we’ve had to expand in recent years. Anyone passing though only ever hears the animal noises distorted through echoes and wind. It seems to scare most of them, they probably think that it’s ghosts or monsters.” “This place is wonderful.” “Thank you. Normally we would let you stay the night at the very least, but we must ask you what you’re looking for.” “Refuge.” “Well, we can certainly offer that for a time. If you like you can join us, if you don’t have any useful skills, they will be taught to you. If you want to pass through, we can trade and you can be on your way. We must also ask, is anyone or anything following you?” “No. There was a gang that was tracking us for a while, but they found easier prey.” One of the women nodded, “that’s good. We have had troubles in the past, we can deal with it, but we’d prefer some prior warning. Angela nodded, “Of course.” “So, if I may ask, why are you out on the roads? There are fewer and fewer travellers these days. Most have started to create their own, fledgling societies.” “We had a similar set up. Nothing so fancy, mostly huts, but a few proper buildings. We carved out a piece of land, set up walls, and eventually had a nice little community going. Others had seen what we did and they decided they wanted the same, but also decided it would be too much work. We had defended ourselves against attacks, but the last one before we left was the worse. We lost five buildings, all our animals and what little crops we had been able to grow. It was decided that those who wanted could stay, and those who wanted could leave. We decided we’d try and find somewhere else to start again. Find a place where we could safely build.” “and what of those who stayed?” “thirty people in all, I’m sure they’re gone by now. If they’re not dead, they’re either slaves or they saw reason and fled like we did.” Someone refilled her cup with water, Angela took a drink, it was fresh and cool. The room itself was large, and sparsely decorated, the floors were wood and the walls were bare, painted a clean, crisp white. Sandra felt tired now after the food and she could see others beginning to drowse, “may we stay the night?” “Of course, we’ll show you to your quarters now.” Angela smiled, her head dipping down slightly as sleep crept over her. The five council members seemed to flicker, join into one and spread out again. She frowned slightly, but it had been a long day and the seats were so comfortable. It felt so good to relax, finally after all this time. There was a loud crack from the fire, then it settled and continued to burn. There was no fire, yes, there was, the traveller had started it for the stew. Angela felt faint alarms going off in her head, but she was too tired to listen. Her head slumped down to her chest, her breathing slowed and evened.
He watched them from across the fire. All five were out cold. That was always the dangerous part, the hallucinogen could give them nightmares before they passed out completely. Luckily they’d be too weak to cause too much damage, but they could warn the others. Six people appeared from the dancing shadows, each carrying a heavy, blood stained rock. “Make it quick. I’m hungry.” The rocks came down with brutal force, each one making a sickly thud. The man at the fire smiled, they were always so easy to trick, a slight of hand and he’d slip the hallucinogen into the stew, after he had taken a bowl from himself and eaten some to show it was safe. The pot by the fire steamed gently. It was always the same, he’d talk to them, get their story, them too stoned to lie. They trusted him, after all it was one man and they were five. They even supplied ingredients for the stew. The people started to drag the bodies away, one looked hungrily at the stew, he smiled at him, a young man, and gestured towards it. The young man, startled to have been caught, looked at the ground and started moving faster. He wouldn’t have to wait long for dinner.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 26 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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