Ruins Part II
Using only their hands they were somehow able to cross the raging river. Once on the other side, they each collapsed in the mud. He felt like he wanted to lay there for a week, but Phillip was able to rouse himself enough to empty the raft of their few remaining possessions, which had not been washed away. Once this was done, he lunched the raft back off into the stream, for he figured that any type of misdirection had to be a good thing.
Returning to Ann, he helped her to her feet. Her stunning oval face looked up at him, filled with hope, as if she thought that it would be impossible for him to let her down.
“People usually like to live near rivers,” he said through chattering teeth. “We need to find a house.”
Ann only nodded and fell in step behind him, as though she was working through an unknown penance. Marshy fields thick with tall knifelike olive grass quickly gave way to barren dead farmlands. The fields were more exposed, but the ease in which they could be passed made up to this. The dust was once again alive, clinging to their wet bodies, until he felt encased in mud.
Again it was Ann’s sharper eyes that spied a house first. It loomed up in the darkness, across the field from the river. She pointed, he nodded, and they hurried towards the structure.
Most of their weapons had just been lost. He was down to just his Desert Eagle and cutlass. After their dunking, he figured that cold steel would be more reliable and he drew his oldest weapon as they neared the lonely farmhouse.
Dust continued to rail against them while they approached the two-story house. It appeared as dead as the rest of the world. No lights burned and he doubted the chimney had seen fire since before the last war. Dark windows stared at them in reproach, as if blaming them for being alive when everything else had died.
Reaching the back door, he found it locked. He smashed through the window above the doorknob. It was a simple matter to reach in and unlock the door, and they were soon inside, finally away from the driving endless dust.
The place was mercilessly dark, but he was able to see that he stood before a dust-ridden table locked in the center of a cold dining room. To their left was a kitchen, covered with an uneven mound. Unable to identify it at first, it was only after moving closer that he was able to determine that it was several piles of dirty dishes, enough dishes for twenty households.
He thught this strange. As did Ann, for she said, “do people still live here?”
A shotgun cocked in the darkness.
“Damn right we do.” the voice was older, sounding like sandpaper being dragged over a rock. There was an angry threatening edge to it, when he demanded, “Now after you drop yer sword, I want each of you to step into the living room real slow.”
Phillip did not move at first, and the voice hurried to say. “Do it now punk or I will shot the girl first.”
The sword clattered to the floor loudly, but he felt as if he had learned useful information, for what type of man would threaten to shot an unarmed woman?
Making sure he stood in front of Ann, he began to move towards the unseen voice. Reaching a doorway, he could now see some sort of dim illumination coming through it from a far room, but there was no sign of the gunman. He moved slowly, as he entered a room with an oversized wood stove.
Pain thundered in the back of his head, as an unexpected blow forced him to his knees. Had his hat not slightly deflected the blow, he could have lost consciousness. Feigning a greater injury, Phillip allowed himself to fall onto his hands and knees. It was not hard to fake a moan, for his head was ringing and white dots dancing over his vision. “That is for my window.”
“Oh my Goddess, Phillip,” Ann cried out.
Hoping that this had distracted the man, Phillip reached into his jacket and shot his hand up. It was filled with a hypodermic needle, containing enough morphine to put a room of weightlifters into the realm of happy-joy. As soon as the needle found flesh, he emptied the thing into him. The man mumbled something and the gun when off, but Phillip had already been moving and the edge of his hand had hit the barrel. The blow was just enough to tip the barrel over his body and the blast tore a huge hole in an old sofa instead of either himself or Ann.
Seconds later the man had collapsed to the floor in an intoxicated stupor. Phillip stood up rubbing the back of his sore head and Ann rushed into his arms. She remained silent, but pressed her little face against his chest. All the while hugging him fiercely.
Hugging her back, he caressed her hair gently. “Its okay honey, I filled this guy’s body with enough happy juice to drop half a football team.”
Before them, another dark doorway outlined a faint illumination.
“Ter, be ladies and mphhathin,” the man beneath them suddenly sang, which caused them each to jump in the stillness. Moving gingerly, Phillip retrieved the shotgun and passed it over to Ann.
Looking around the room, he found it to be a cluttered mess. He wanted rope, but settled on a few old flannel shirts, which he began to tear into strips as silently as he could.
“Olden,” a female’s voice called out. “Is everything alright out there?”
Phillip kicked the drunken man and he started singing again. “Last of the ladies, was into ruwah.”
Letting Ann cover him, he removed two large knives from the man’s belt, and then tied him up with the strips of cloth. It would not hold a determined man long, but should be enough for now. He was about to retrieve his cutlass, when the sounds of someone moving reached his ears. “Olden?”
Taking up one of the daggers Phillip moved towards the doorway. He reached it only a moment before the woman poked her head into the room, illuminating it with a taper. She saw Ann first and gasped. Phillip grabbed her by the front of her tattered dress and dragged her into the room, pressing the blade of his knife to her throat. “Now, I usually don’t like to threaten women and we are actually try to help the friendlier people out there, but so far you folks have not been too friendly.”
“Where is Olden? What have you done to him?” she cried out already starting to panic.
“Calm done lady,” Phillip said, holding her still. “He is fine, I just got him a little drunk is all.”
“Drunk so fast, but that is-“
“Mommy, mommy,” a younger girl was suddenly crying out. Moving like a wispy ghost in her white dress, a girl who could not have been older than ten, rushed into the hallway before them. “Who are you? Leave my mommy alone.”
It was getting to be too much for Phillip and he risked releasing the woman. The girl ran into her mother’s arms. She hugged her briefly, but quickly returned her attentions to Phillip. “Are you sure he is okay?”
“Oh no, have they hurt grandpa.”
“You just hush now,” she scolded, then looked back up at Phillip, holding her candle high above their faces. “Who are you people? Are there only two of you?”
Taking a deep breath Phillip took a step back. “Yes, there are just the two of us. How many are you?”
“Just what you see,” She said, mirroring him, back taking a step back, moving towards the room the two had just emerged from.
“Alright, I am sorry we got off on the wrong foot,” he said, extending his head. “I am Phillip and this is Ann, we were just seeking shelter from the storm. It isn’t too common to actually find a house, which still has its occupants these days. We should know too, we have been to enough of them.”
“Look I am sorry about your dad, but he did hit me first.”
“I thought you said he was drunk?” She was backing up another foot. The movement caused the candle to flicker, sending shadows jerking across the walls of the narrow corridor. He could see now that before him was the room, the females had arrived from, while his right held the front door and to his left was the plain staircase that lead to the second floor.
Ann was moving in to cover him, although he could tell she had relaxed her pose. “He is drunk and will be okay. Can we sit and talk? Ann and I are scouts from a safe place and are trying to help people.”
The woman laughed unexpectedly. It was a high-pitched cracked sound, which threatened to plunge into hysteria. “I think it is a little too late for much saving now.”
Sharing a troubled glance with Ann, he went on. “Well, maybe we can help anyway. Ann why don’t you go back into that room with then and I’ll going ahead and bring Olden in with us?” Ann looked as though she did not favor the idea of entering the strange room alone, but without lowering her gun, she motioned to the others to precede her.
The pale face of the young girl stared at him over her shoulder. Eyes, which were large and emotionless, gazed at him without blinking and he shivered despite himself.
Peeking into the room before leaving Ann alone, he saw that there seemed to be no surprise occupants. A moldering piano masked the far wall. The piles of papers and junk covering it were a silent testament to its lack of use. Sofas and other ratty furniture clung to the filthy floor. The wide windows had all been covered in black cloth. There was an old brick fireplace in this room, but was also stone dead.
The mother and daughter had taken a seat on the center sofa and were silently staring at Ann while she moved around the room, lighting more candles. He could tell that his lady was not having the best day of her life.
Moving back into the other room, he grasped Olden by his armpits and dragged him into the room occupied by the others. Giving a slight gasp, the woman hurried to her father’s side. “Oh lord, is he okay? Daddy, daddy. What did you do to him? Can’t we untie him? He can’t hurt anyone now?”
“Lady listen, why don’t we just take a deep breath and chill for a minute. You haven’t even told me your name and the giant lump I have on the back of my head tells me that your dad has no problem hurting people if he sets his mind to it.”
She looked like she was going to argue, but then changed her mind. Silently joining her daughter on the matted sofa, she turned to him saying, “If I tell you my name, will you untie him?”
“Listen,” Ann said, speaking up for the first time. “I know this is your house, but your father had a shotgun pointed at my man’s head, so maybe we will decided when he is untied…okay.”
Ignoring Ann, who from the looks of things she had chosen to dislike, the woman turned to Phillip and said, “I am Vera and this is my daughter Nancy. We have been hiding here since the Caradon attacked, surviving any way we can and besides that, there is not much to tell.”
“What happened to the others around here?”
“Some fled, others died. Most starved in their houses waiting for help, which never came.”
“Can we light a fire?” Ann asked.
“No fires,” she snapped, then calmer. “They attract the Caradon and besides we are long out of wood.”
After he had given the rest of the creepy house a quick once over, Phillip whispered, “I’ll take the first watch.” Then louder he added, “why don’t all of you get some sleep, I’ll stay up and keep an eye on things till sunup.”
Looking uncertain, Ann still took his advice and as soon as she had made a little cot of blankets, she found sleep despite of her unsettling surroundings.
Vera and Nancy made no move to join her.
Phillip kept busy, hanging a few things up to dry, then cleaning his pistol. Still Vera and Nancy made no move to bed down. Each time he looked their way, he would find them staring at him. Soon he stopped looking.
Not to long there after Nancy moved to lay her head on her mothers lap. Vera began to hum a quiet tune while gently caressing Nancy’s hair. The tune was strange and Philip sat down for a moment and listened. It had a moving rhythm, which made him think about his own mother. He remembered how she had often sung him to sleep. A heavy cozy feeling enveloped him, as he remembered those times. He felt safe and sleepy. Soon he felt nothing as like Ann, sleep had claimed him.