The Cave. Short Story.

“Tom. Tom.”

Tom gritted his teeth, why was that bitch whispering? It’s not like it would make a goddamned difference.
“Hey, Tom?”
“What.”
“We’re…We’re almost out of food.”
“So go out and get more.”
“I can’t, I can’t leave Eddy and-”

“I went the last time.”
“I know but-”

“And the time before that and before that. Let me guess, you’ll go next time? Funny how next time never fucking comes, isn’t it?”
“Please Tom.”
He sighed, fucking bitch.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be.”
“I know it’s difficult, I’m sorry.”
Tom laughed, harsh and bitter, Mandy recoiled from him, “Fuck all good that does me.”

She lowered her head and scuttled towards the back of the cave, towards that useless hunk of meat she called a child. Tom glared at her receding form. She was useless, useless and lazy. She hadn’t even left this damn place since it all started, no not her, not precious Mandy. She and that brain-dead kid of hers would outlive them all before starving to death in a puddle of useless tears. Tom grabbed the backpack from where it was resting and put the straps on. He could just about hear Mandy talking quietly, the words obscured by a steady

Drip. Drip. Drip.

and the faint gurgle of the small stream. He turned away from them and started to walk.

He was stuck here, stuck with those two useless bastards, they had the only fresh water for what could be miles around. He hadn’t been the only one to think of that when all the shit started going down. Some people ran to supermarkets and malls, Tom ran to the cave. He had played in it as a child, pretending that they were stranded on a desert, or lost in the wilderness at first until it just became a place to hang out. There were ten of them, made up of the old gang and their families. Tom had been afraid in the beginning, afraid that others would come, that they’d be found and slaughtered, but no one came. It seemed they were the only ones who knew of the cave, or at least the only ones that remembered it. The entrance to the cave itself was hidden in a cleft between two rocks, if you weren’t looking for it you’d easily walk right on by. The cleft closed in on itself for a few feet, making it look impassable, but if you sucked in your gut, something that Tom no longer needed to do, and persevered for a few twists and turns you’d find yourself in a large cavern.

When it all started they had some food but that food ran out, it looked like a lot when it was piled on the floor lit by their lanterns, but ten people had gone through it too fast. When the food was gone they took in turns, going out to scavenge in what had become the wastelands. They needed food, batteries and fuel for fires. The smoke escaped through cracks in the ceiling, they’d discovered that as kids, when the smoke reached outside it wasn’t visible and the area was windy enough that the smell never lingered. The entrance of the cave had a few twists and turns, enough to hide the light, but with the addition of a thick blanket, it blocked it out entirely and helped keep the place warm. The stream provided all the water they could drink, straight from the ground itself, no danger of contamination.

Billy was the first one they lost, he disappeared while out scavenging, no one knew what happened to him, but most people accepted the theory that he had struck out on his own, Tom didn’t bother pointing out how retarded that would have been. They were safer in numbers, where they had back up. After that the buddy system was put in place, no one went out alone, and it worked, for a while. Andrea caught some illness and ended up shitting herself to death, thankfully before she could pass it on to anyone else. They’d moved her outside the cave when she got sick to avoid getting infected. Her husband Derek had eaten a bunch of painkillers. Tom understood the desire to end it, but he couldn’t forgive that selfish prick, there were plenty of ways to kill yourself these days without using all of their vital medical supplies. Two more suicides followed, at least they had the decency to hang themselves. Tom had seen Franklin get gunned down, shot in the back, he had been Mandy’s husband. Then there was Jacob. That poor bastard. Tripped over some roots while gathering food in the forest, broke his ankle severely, he might have recovered if he hadn’t screamed so much, all that noise attracted the wrong kind of attention and so they’d lost the only person who could safely gather fruits, herbs and vegetables from the woods. Sure Tom knew some of the things that were okay to eat, but the rest of them were still a gamble. Most of the area around them had been stripped clean of food, but water was the real issue, most of it would make you sick pretty quickly. Tom was stuck, stuck with that stupid bitch and her useless lump of a child. If anyone had been dead weight it had been Eddy, he just sat there all day, staring. Sure he’d eat if you fed him, but it didn’t seem to make a difference if you skipped a meal here or there. Kid didn’t know the difference. Mandy and Franklin both said there was nothing wrong with him, that it had been the shock of it all. They’d all be shocked and they’d all gotten over it, so why couldn’t the kid?

Tom searched through houses, moving slowly and carefully, pausing to listen every few steps. He found a few cans of food in someone’s basement, along with a cache of batteries and a few blankets, but there was nothing else to be found. When it started getting dark he began to head back to the cave. He’d be better off by himself, without the two dead weights hanging onto him, but he needed the water. Hell, this food which would be enough for the three of them for one or two meals would last him at least at least day or two if he was alone. Really, what did Mandy even do? Threw him a pity fuck every now and then, something he knew she needed just as badly as he did. Besides, she wasn’t even that good, squealing and grunting like a pig as he fucked her. She was always the instigator, it was after the third time that he realised that she never even bothered to turn Eddy around. Once or twice he’d seen the kid staring at them, not even blinking. She never left the cave anymore, it seemed she believed the fucking was a trade off. He’d get his rocks off and she’d get to stay inside. She’d have to start going out for food soon, otherwise there’d be nothing for any of them.

Tom moved the blanket out of his way, shivering as the warmth enveloped him, they needed to get a proper door for the cave, something that was reinforced and defendable. “It’s me.”
“Tom?”
Tom sighed, what had he just said?
“Yeah, it’s Tom.”
“Did…did you find anything?”
“Yeah, not much, I got some more batteries, a few blankets, there were a few cans of food. Peaches, beans. That kind of thing.” She was still at the back of the cave, she had sat here in the dark until he’d returned, she hadn’t even bothered to get the fire going properly, it was just barely glowing embers. “Were you going to let that go out.”
“There’s no more wood.”
“You could have gone and gotten some.”
“I didn’t want to leave Eddy behind by himself, he could get hurt.”
“all he does is sit there! He doesn’t even fucking move if you don’t do it for him.”
“Don’t say that! Don’t say that about him! He just had a shock, that’s all, he’s going to get better and I need to be with him when he does!”

Tom shrugged off the backpack, it was easier to just let it go, her voice was doing that screechy thing she was so fond of doing when she was called out. He had slipped a can of food into his pocket earlier, he put the bag down and took out the other cans, then he went to his bedroll, there he grabbed a jacket and slipped the can under his pillow.

“I’m going to get wood.”

Tom gathered up what he could, it wasn’t much, but it would do them for now. He would need to spend the day getting wood tomorrow, they’d run out otherwise. He did everything himself these days. He went out twice, coming back with his arms full each time. Winter was coming soon, they’d need to prepare for it. He dumped the wood on one side of the cave and started putting small twigs onto the fire to get it going again. Once it was crackling away he turned around, “Where’s the food, I’ll heat it by the fire”
“We were hungry, we couldn’t wait any longer.”

Tom froze, “Where’s the food for me?”
“We were too hungry, we didn’t realise until it was gone, I thought there was more Tom, I thought there was more.”
He turned to her, his fist balled up, this bitch, this stupid fucking bitch had eaten all the food, all the food he risked his life for when she just sat around on her ass all day, his breathing quickened, he couldn’t move, the rage was all consuming. He tried to push it down, get it away from himself. This wasn’t him, he was a nice guy, a good guy, this wasn’t him.
“Tom? Tom I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to Tom, really, we didn’t.” Her voice was high, reedy and begging, she moved towards him, not standing up, crawling on her hands and knees like a fucking dog. No, she was less than a dog, at least a dog was good for something. “Tom, please, we’re sorry, so, so sorry.” Her hands scrabbled at his, trying to grab them, her eyes were large and pleading, he ripped his hand away from hers. He was breathing heavily, almost panting, she reached out again with trembling hands, fumbling against his zipper, he roared at her, the sound tearing itself free from his throat, all his anger and frustration, he hit her, there was a solid, meaty thud, he hit her again and again, feeling the bones in her face crack, listening to her gurgle until she stopped that too. Still he kept hitting her, again and again until he had no strength left. Tom collapsed, rolling onto his side, he started to laugh, unable to stop himself it bubbled from his lips and filled the cave.

The smell of cooking meat filled the air, he threw scraps to Eddy who scrambled after them. Tom took another bit of meat, feeling the juice and grease run down his chin, at least the bitch was good for something. He eyed Eddy, the little bastard was chubby, he was chubby while the rest of them starved. Mandy must have been giving the little piggy extra portions and of course it was hard to burn calories when you just sat around all day. Tom smiled as he watched Eddy tear at the meat, the kid knew how to look after himself well enough now. Tom was sad to see the meat go, but he needed to keep the little piggy in good enough condition. Doing him in now would mean the meat would start rotting. He’d already started making jerky out of Mandy, soon Eddy would follow. Tom sat back and sighed in contentment, he was warm and full of hearty food. It had been a long time since he had felt this full, this strong. His back hit against something hard, he dug around for a minute before he realised it was the can he had stashed before, he looked at the label, it was a can of peaches. Tom smiled and tucked it aside for later, it would be the perfect dessert.

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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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