Authors: Theresa Shaver
Tags: #Post-Apocalyptic | Dystopian
Rain and Ruin
An Endless Winter Novel
By Theresa Shaver
Rain and Ruin
Copyright 2015 Theresa Shaver
Epub First Edition
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
“Sync complete, full diagnostic scans indicate AIRIA West is green across all boards. AIRIA West detects one hundred thirty eight lifeforms within protective structure. One authorized level green user, Skylar Ross. Four authorized level yellow users. One hundred thirty three level red users. Do you wish to override command now?”
“No, continue monitoring for now. We’ll wait for the rain to clear before we start the evacuation to the west. Until we know the exact dynamics of the group, it’s better if they don’t know we’re coming.”
The door slides closed silently behind me but it echoes in my heart like a gong of finality. I can’t believe she kicked us out. I won’t believe that she really meant what she said. She’s broken, hurt and scared after what happened with Ted. Once she has a little time to recover and see that Ben’s safe, she’ll change her mind. I won’t believe she doesn’t feel the same way I do.
Matty and Sasha stand quietly in front of me waiting for me to lead them away but I’m just not ready yet. I turn around and place a hand against the rock façade that separates me from her and see the broken cover of the keypad hanging by one hinge. She did that for me and Matty. She risked her life and the secret of her home to save us and we brought death and danger inside with us. I take a closer look and see that the metal pin that held the hinge is bent so I take the time to bend it back into place and reattach the cover properly. It’s the least I can do.
Sasha tugs at my arm but I shove her hand away. I can’t talk to her yet. I don’t even know who she is anymore. The girl I thought of as a sister betrayed me and put Matty in danger as well as Sky and her brother. I’ll need some time to figure all that out before I can deal with her.
Once I’m satisfied the cover will stay in place, I turn and take Matty’s hand and start walking. They’re not far; I can hear them before we see them. The sound of axes against wood rings clear through the forest. We walk through a small patch of dead trees and there they are, all the people from the hotel. Sasha lets out a cry of relief and bolts ahead to where I see Belle and Ethan working together to set up a tent. Next to them are Lance and Marsh. They’re stringing up a tarp between trees. I’m glad to see my family is safe and all together but it’s dampened by the loss of Sky.
Matty runs to Belle, the only mother he’s ever really known but I walk past with just a nod. She frowns in confusion but a quick glance at Sasha’s shame filled face has her looking back at me with compassion. She doesn’t know the whole story but she knows what loss looks like and my face must be filled with it.
I drop the pack Skylar gave me and the med kit before I grab a corner of tarp with my good arm to help Lance and Marsh get it secured. It won’t be enough of a shelter for long but it’s all we have right now against the elements.
“Rex, man, what happened? Where’s that wag, Ted?” Marsh asks once the tarp’s up.
I shake my head wearily and scrub at my face causing me to wince at the pressure it puts on my shoulder wound.
“Sky killed him but not before he did some damage in there.”
“DUDE, you’re bleeding! What happened?”
Lance’s head shoots up at the concern in his son’s voice and waves Ethan over to us. They help me get my jacket off and Ethan slowly peels the towel away from my shoulder. It blazes with pain as some of the blood that had dried to it rips away. Belle rushes over and has the med kit open and is ripping packages of gauze apart to hand to Ethan. I just stand there and let them hover around me as I look back towards the entrance to Sky’s home. I ignore all their questions until I hear Sasha spit out, “She threw us out!” in a nasty tone.
That has me almost snarling at her.
“And why is that, Sasha? Why did she throw us out, huh? Why did we just lose any chance of living safely and comfortably in her home? Is it because YOU betrayed us ALL?” I’m practically screaming at her and Lance has to pull me back and away before I say anything else. Her face is paper white and tears fill her eyes but I just don’t care so I throw off Lance and stomp away.
Lance and Marsh follow me until I come up against a stand of trees. I’m so mad and sad and I just want to roar so I do and then I follow it up with the dumbest thing ever. I punch the tree in front of me with all I’ve got. The pain is so intense I drop to my knees and it takes everything inside of me not to puke. When the tears clear enough so I can see again, I look up and see Lance has a half smirk on his face.
“What?” I practically snarl at him.
He rubs a hand over his mouth like he’s trying to wipe away a bigger smile from forming.
“Well Rex, you just learned a very valuable lesson that almost every boy learns on his way to being a man.” At my blank look he chuckles, “Don’t punch inanimate objects - it really hurts!”
I let my head drop, he’s right, that was stupid and now my knuckles throb in time with my shoulder wound on the other arm. It’s no relief at all from the pain in my heart.
Lance and Marsh settle down on the ground beside me and Lance puts a hand on my good shoulder.
“Tell us what happened. Marsh filled me in on what happened while I was gone on the scout and Sasha leading Ted up to this bunker but what happened after he got in?”
I let out a deep breath before I fill them both in on what happened inside with Ted and Skylar. Marsh’s face is filled with anger when I explain what Sasha had done and said but Lance just listens patiently. I’m reminded again how lucky Matty and I are to have these people in our lives. Lance has been more of a father to me than my own ever was. He always listens and he’s taught me so much over the years, not just how to survive but how to be a good man while doing it.
“I’m sorry, Rex. It sounds like you found more in there than just a shelter for us. This Skylar, she must be pretty special. Do you think she might change her mind?”
I shake my head wearily. “I don’t know. She was pretty shaken up by what went down. Her Dad drilled her a lot about not trusting anyone outside so it was a huge step for her to make the offer in the first place. After what Sasha did and finding out that Ted was the one who killed her Dad, I just don’t know if she would take another chance.”
Lance glanced over towards the new camp before nodding to me. “Alright, we should be able to stay here for at least three days. We need to send out some scouts to start looking for a new shelter. Belle told us that Ted had a hunting lodge he and Mickey were headed to so we’ll start looking for it or anything else we might be able to use. If Skylar hasn’t changed her mind by then we’ll have to move on. With the radioactive cloud just passing we should be ok out here for a while. It’ll be cold and miserable but as long as we have plenty of fires we should make it until we find shelter.”
I looked back in the direction of Sky’s door again before letting my shoulders slump and nodded. “What about going back to town?”
Lance’s expression turned grim. “Not an option. The animals from the resort were planning on moving in. We need to be very, very careful with them. They aren’t men anymore. They’re monsters.”
Marsh and Lance helped me to my feet and I let out a groan. My knee had stiffened up while sitting on the cold ground. I now had three of four limbs in pain. I felt next to useless as we went back to the camp and started to put up more tarps and the few tents they had managed to bring with them.
The little bit of food and water people had brought with them as well as what Lance had recovered from Ted and Mickey’s trailer wouldn’t last very long. Lance was right, if Skylar didn’t change her mind we would have to move, and soon.
Looking around at the people in the clearing was depressing. Some were working on setting up shelters and some were chopping wood but the majority were just sitting around with defeated expressions on their faces. Most of these people had been living in the hotel since the very beginning but now they were faced with the bare bones of survival. I just don’t know if they will be able to adjust.
Ethan startles me out of my dark thoughts when he walks up and hands me two pills and a steaming mug of soup.
“I want you to take these, drink the soup and then go lie down. Your body’s done, Rex. There’s nothing you can do tonight but we’ll need all hands on deck tomorrow. Get some rest.”
That sounds good to me. I’m so tired and I just want to let everything go right now. I toss back the pills and sip at the soup until its gone then hobble to one of the tents and crawl under a pile of blankets. I try and blank my mind but Skylar’s heartbroken face stays front and center. I just want to fix it, fix her, but I’m so afraid she’ll never give me the chance. It isn’t until Matty crawls into the tent and snuggles up to my side that I finally relax enough to slide into sleep.
Benny is a heavy weight against my side and his even breathing tells me he’s finally asleep. I wish he would talk to me, tell me what he’s thinking, and tell me he’s ok. I don’t know how to fix this, fix him. He went from never seeing another human but me and Dad so long ago to having a best friend and then a gun jammed into his neck. He saw the worst and the best of the world in three short days. So did I, but that doesn’t matter. I shove aside the pain and sorrow for the moment and focus on Ben; he’s all that matters now. He doesn’t wake up when I lift him and carry him into his room and settle him under the covers so I back out quietly and return to the living room.
I take a good look around and see some of the damage Ted had wrought. There’s broken glass on the floor and drops of blood on the carpet. My lips start to quiver when I realize that this doesn’t feel like home anymore. Silent tears are running down my face as I start to pick up the glass pieces from the floor. This is me, this is how I feel, like shattered glass. I’m so sad, so alone. For a brief moment, I had thought there was a chance there would be more for my life than this cave and taking care of Benny. I thought I would have something for me, something more. A soft sob escapes as I start scrubbing the carpet where drops of Rex’s blood stain it.
For the first time in a long time, I feel like a kid and all I want is my Mom and Dad. I wipe my nose with my sleeve and look up. My voice is a broken whisper when I say, “AIRIA, comfort mode on please.”
Kneeling on the floor, I let my head drop and close my eyes, waiting for it. When the sound of my mom’s voice floods the room, my shoulders start to shake.
“Skylar, honey? Are you OK? It’s ok, honey. Everything will be fine.”
“Oh, Mom, I miss you. I miss you so much! I don’t know what to do! Ben, Benny’s hurt and I don’t know how to fix him!” My whole body is shaking with the sobs I can’t hold back anymore.
“So proud of you, Sky. I love my babies so much.”
I know that the words are just recordings of the things she said before she died but they’re like a warm hug wrapping around me. This is only the second time I have ever let AIRIA play back her words and voice. It’s just too hard hearing her again but right now I need my mom.
“I killed someone. I shot and killed a bad man who was hurting Benny. His body’s still in the cavern.”
This time it’s my dad’s voice that replies. AIRIA has a much bigger library of recordings for him.
“Skylar, you did what you had to do. Protect Ben, keep him safe, that’s all that matters.”
Dad’s matter of fact tone helps me get control of my tears. I nod my head, that’s my job, protect Benny. I wipe my face clear of tears and push myself to my feet with a shuddering breath. Ted’s body needs to be removed. I can’t let Benny see it again so I straighten my shoulders and palm open the cavern door. There’s more work to be done.
“AIRIA, comfort mode off.”
It takes me hours to drag Ted’s stiff body to the incinerator that we use to burn our trash and get the blood cleaned up and to unpack the truck of the supplies we had loaded into it. My whole body and mind is numb of feelings by the time I crawl into bed beside Benny. I need to be near him before I can sleep.
My sleep is filled with the horror of scene after scene of what had happened that day. From Ben’s blank face as Ted jammed the gun against his throat to the sound of the flames catching onto Ted’s clothes before I slammed the metal hatch closed on the incinerator. Rex’s pleading face floats between the memories as he begs me to let him stay. I wake up feeling more tired than when I had gone to sleep and covered in a clammy cold sweat. I roll over to try and go back to sleep but seeing Ben’s side of the bed is empty has me bolting up and out of the bed and room. My pulse is speeding like a freight train until my eyes land on my brother. He’s sitting on the couch crashing his car against a guardrail on the TV in the video game he’s playing. He glances my way and gives me a brief smile before his eyes go back to the screen.
“Morning Sky, what’s for breakfast?”
I just stand staring at him for a few seconds. He seems totally fine. All traces of the blank detached kid from last night are gone. I chew on my lip in concern. Is he that resilient or has he blocked out what happened? Either way, I’m happy to have him back so I just answer him.
“How about some pancakes and fruit?”
He makes a vague yum sound so I shove my hair back and twist it into a messy bun and head to the kitchen to make breakfast. I can’t keep from looking over at him every few minutes. Should I bring up what happened? Should we talk about it or should I just leave it alone? I have no idea what the best way to deal with it should be. So many times in Ben’s short life, I’ve struggled with how to be a parent to him when so many times I’ve needed a parent for myself.
When the pancakes are ready, I cut and arrange strawberries in a happy face on top of them and place the plate on the kitchen island breakfast bar.
“Benny, breakfast is ready!”
I wait for a minute but he just keeps at his video game.
He jumps slightly and shoots me a guilty smile before shutting his game down and bouncing over. I wash the dishes in the sink as he plows through the meal. When he finally comes up for air, he mumbles through a mouthful of pancake, “Where’s Matty and Rex?”
My hands freeze in the hot soapy water and I slowly look up into his eyes.
“They’re gone, Ben.”
His eyebrows shoot up in surprise like he doesn’t remember what had happened the day before. He swallows what’s in his mouth and takes a sip of his orange juice before asking, “Did they go to get the rest of their friends? How long until they’re back? Can Matty have another sleep over?”
My mouth drops open in disbelief but I quickly snap it closed. He really has blocked out what happened. Am I going to have to explain it all to him or should I just evade and try to gloss over it? I let out a sigh and shake my head. I can’t lie to him. Better he knows what happened than it surfacing later on.
“Listen Ben, I know how much you like Matty but some really bad stuff happened because we let them in here. I can’t take the risk of you getting hurt again. I’m sorry but they won’t be coming back.”
His little face scrunches up in confusion as he cocks his head to the side. It almost looks like he’s sad for me.
“Sky, everything’s ok. I’m fine and you shot that bad guy dead so you don’t have to worry about him. Everything’s fine now. Rex and Matty and their friends can come and live in the barracks just like you said!”
My eyes widen in shock. He remembers everything and he’s ok with it? I, wow, just wow. The kid’s handling things better than I am but that doesn’t change anything. I won’t take another chance on his safety.
“Benny, you don’t understand. We can’t be sure that someone else from their group won’t try and take what we have or try and hurt us. I’m sorry but I’m just not willing to take that chance. No one else will be coming back inside!”
His face changes to an expression I have never seen before. It’s a mix of anger and stubbornness.
“That’s not fair! It was just one bad guy. You can’t blame them all for him! Skylar, they need our help. I heard what Rex and you were talking about and Matty told me about how they live. We have so much stuff here and room for them all to come and live and be safe and warm and have food! It’s not fair for us not to share it with them.
"Sky, Matty’s my friend. I didn’t even know what that really meant until we let them in. You were laughing with Rex! You were happy!”
I just stand there with the dishes forgotten and the water cooling around my hands. How can I make a boy, this seven year old, understand the dangers we might face if we do what he wants? I can’t, so I won’t.
“No Ben, they won’t be coming back in. I won’t go through that again!”
Ben has always been a sweet, well behaved child in the past but he clearly has strong feelings about this issue. Even so, it’s a huge shock to me when he shoves his plate off the counter and it splashes into the sink soaking me with dish water. This time, my mouth stays open in shock when he hops down from the stool and almost screams at me.
“You are the meanest person ever! And you’re really selfish!”
He spins around and charges into his room but not before he slams his door as hard as he can.
All I can do is mop up the spilled water as the tears flowing down my face add to the puddles.