‘Finch’

Light shredded the darkness as Charlie opened her eyes. The room smelled like her cats litter tray had been left out in the sun. Her head throbbed, her wrists and ankles burned under her uniform. Above Charlie, a spider dangled from a solitary thread. She tried to sit but jolted back to the carpet, which barely concealed the concrete underneath. Charlie thrashed her feet, shaving her skin. Blood tickled her ankle before her sock dampened. She hauled both arms against her restraints but the cuffs stripped her flesh like a knife thinning bark.

The spider had slipped further from a sagging ceiling tile. She wrenched her neck to the left as its legs fidgeted furiously. Charlie heard voices behind the metal door. She fought frantically with her restraints. Two men armed with guns entered. She twisted her body, the smaller one remained by the door. She ground her limbs against the restraints as the bearded one approached.

“Please, sit still.” He said.

Charlie fastened her lips as she battled.

“Please. I cannot undo these restraints if you do not sit still.”

She rested her arms and legs but she kept her neck craned. Sweat stung her wrists and stained her white vest, exposed by her unbuttoned uniform.

“Why?” She asked.

“To show you how we treat our guests.”

“I didn’t ask to be your guest.”

“And I didn’t ask for you to occupy my country.”

He placed his pistol in its holster. Charlie let her head rest.

“Boy, go and collect our guest’s food.”

The smaller one left the room, leaving the door ajar.

“What’s on the menu?” Charlie asked.

“It’s a surprise.” He smiled.

He unlocked the restraints around her ankles.

“Why don’t you just kill me?”

“If you stole a hundred dollars would you just rip it up?”

“I wouldn’t steal a hundred dollars.”

“No, you people would conquer the fucking bank.”

He unlocked the remaining cuffs and stretched his arm out. Charlie recoiled, caressing her wrists with her hands. She unwound slowly, then leapt to her feet. She sprang towards him reaching for his pistol. He ducked her assault. She charged towards him again, thrusting a fist at his face, but he snatched her wrist. He kicked the back of her leg and pushed her towards the wall, slamming the side of her face next to a post-box window slot. She noticed two finger nails lodged into tears in the wallpaper.

He held her there, breathing on her neck.

“You had to try. I understand.” He said.

He forced her twisted arm further up her back.

“You’ll stop trying in time. You’ll appreciate how good you have it.”

Charlie let a whimper escape.

“Sir.” The other returned.

“What took you so long Tariq? Set it down over there.”

He loosened his grip and Charlie slumped with her back to the wall. Tears breaking out.

“My name is Finch.” He said.

“The reason you’re here…” He broke off as a jet ripped through the sky above the building. She followed his eyes to the roof. The spider hovered above him. There was a pop, then an explosion wrestled with the room. The spider fell from the ceiling, bouncing on Finch’s face before landing on the floor. He drew his pistol and fired five shots at it, taking chunks out of the floor.

“Fucking spiders!” He said, firing once more at the wall. Charlie retreated into the opposite side of the room near the bowl and Tariq.

“That!” He said, gesturing to the sky “is the reason you’re here.”

“There are two guards outside. It’s up to you whether we do this the easy way or the hard way. Come on, boy.” He said, marching out of the room.

Tariq handed Charlie a wooden dish of cold soup, its contents were cloudy. She placed her finger in and swirled around. He pulled a piece of bread from his pocket and gave her it.

“Thank you.” She said as a tear crept down her face.

He nodded.

“Wait. Wait!” She hissed.

She pointed to her sock which was smothered in blood. He left the room.

Charlie peeled a couple of strips from the bread at first before inhaling the rest of it. She carried her bowl over to the window and emptied the contents between three rusty rods which punctuated the view. A rustic red smeared down the inside wall.

She looked at the burning brown which strangled the road out of the compound, suffocating the land until it was interrupted by huts in the distance. In the courtyard below a truck growled as it prepared to leave. There were a couple of smaller buildings to each side of her window. She noticed Finch and Tariq arguing at an iron gate which blocked the exit. Surrounding the compound was a barbed wire fence; littered with tiny shoes.

Charlie approached a mattress which was decorated by vain-like yellow stains. She flipped the mattress and discovered a ripe red stain which peeled from the carpet. She resisted her body’s retching and wiped the tears which drowned her eyes. She approached the mattress and flipped it back over and then retreated to the opposite side of the room.

The spider crept towards freedom, climbing towards the slot in the wall. She looked at the bullet holes in the floor and noticed the chunks of concrete that had been chipped out of the floor. Charlie collected the pieces and sharpened them against the bars in the slot. She blew the dust away from the slot as the spider reached the summit.

“I’ll be right behind you buddy.” She said.

Charlie slipped into sleep soon after hiding the shards under the mattress.

Charlie awoke to shouting outsider her door. Water snuck through the sagging tile. She got to her feet and went to the slot in the wall. She looked beyond the spider which had remained and constructed a web, patrolling between the bars. The truck had returned. The door opened and Tariq entered the room, without a weapon. He closed the door and pulled a cloth from inside the front of his trousers. He emptied some of his flask onto the cloth.

“Thank you.” She said, sitting down and easing her shoe off.

Tariq knelt and she peeled the sock down from her ankle which left strands of fabric sewn into the scab of her wound. He caressed her ankles with the cloth, allowing her to clean her wrists.

“I’ve got to get out of here before he kills me. Will you help me?”

He shook his head.

“You don’t know what he’ll do to me.”

“Don’t be afraid of him. I have a plan. Just get him to come here. Tell him I’ve got information on an operation.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.

“I just need to get his gun.”

He nodded and left the room.

She checked outside to make sure the truck was still there. The spider had snared its first victim and was busy weaving web around a fly. The door swung open, nearly springing back on Tariq as he followed.

“I hear you have some information for me?”

“Yes, but first I want guarantees; that you’re not going to kill me.”

“I’m the only person here who wants you alive. Tariq here would rather see you killed after what your people did to his family and to his village.” He said, gesturing at Tariq.

Tariq shook his head after Finch turned his back.

“What have you got to tell me?”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“Do not waste my t-“

Charlie tossed the mattress at Finch. He swatted it to the ground but Charlie was on him with the two stones. She crushed one against the side of his head embedded in her hand and drove the other into his eye, forcing him to the ground, driving the stone deeper. There was banging on the door as he screamed. Tariq pushed against the door. Charlie grabbed Finch’s pistol. She checked the safety. He continued to yell. She pulled the trigger. He was silent.

“Open it!” She shouted.

Tariq released the door, falling back as one guard stumbled through with the other behind him. She fired two bullets at each, one in the chest and one in the head.

Charlie hung the pistol at her waist and picked up one of their rifles. She lifted Tariq up and gave him the rifle.

“Thank you.” He said.

“Let’s go.” She said, leaving the room.

“I can’t let you do that.” He replied.

Charlie awoke facedown. She was back in her restraints. She spotted her uniform in a bundle to the side, she was in her underwear and vest. The door groaned as it opened. Footsteps crept towards her. Tariq lifted her head to his by her hair.

“It’s just us now.” He said.

The spider watched on having devoured its prey.

‘The Journey’

Olivia noticed a few undesirables further up the bus and placed her bag on the seat next to her.

“First step to avoiding people,” she thought.

The stale cocktail of body odour and fuel stung her nostrils as she pressed back against her seat and scrolled through her Facebook feed.

“The only thing more uneventful than this bus journey,” she thought, looking out the window now at the sun’s dying light playing hide and seek in between buildings that were getting smaller the further the bus went.

The driver’s eyes snared hers through the mirror but she was freed by the ringing of her mobile phone.

“Hey Mum, how are you?”

“Hi love, I’m good thanks. Are you on your way?”

“Yeah I’m on the bus just now, we’ve just stopped at Upperton to let a few people off.”

“Sorry I’m so late. I’ll be home soon, it’s my stop next,” Olivia said.

Her eyes were lured back to the driver’s mirror, his own gaze now distracted.

“Oh good! You know how I worry.”

“It’s okay, the rough one’s just got off the bus,” she said, looking around behind her.

Olivia noticed she was alone now.

“How was your day mum? Tell me about your day. Did you do much? How was work?”

“It wasn’t bad. I did have a minor disagreement with that bastard at work. I’ll save that for when you get home.”

“How was-“

“There’s the dinner ready love, I need to go, see you soon.”

“Mum!”

Olivia continued to hold the phone to her ear. Her eyes coaxed back to the mirror and the leer of the driver.

He smiled.

The bus bounced with the grace of a rhino at a jenga convention. The road crackled below as though they were driving over an ocean bubble wrap. She switched her attentions to the window, greeted by a foreign darkness that smothered seas of what she could only guess were crops.

“D-driver?”

“Driver, is… this the right way?”

“I think so.” He replied.

“I-I don’t recognise it.” She said.

“Well, I’m the one in charge. You’ll have to trust me.”

Olivia abandoned her bag and ran for the back of the bus, crunching her wrists down upon the step, her progress halted by the bus’ breaks, screaming as she pressed to lever herself to her feet. The driver caught hold of her foot and dragged her to the floor once more, she kicked for his chest, she kicked for his balls, she kicked for his face, she kicked for her life.

He roared as his nose spurted blood, Olivia clambered to her feet again and kicked open the emergency door, dropping out of the bus and fleeing into the fields, running at awkward angles until she dropped to her knees.

The crops hissed as the wind harassed them. She bit down on her trembling lip, her forearms numb, fluid dripped from her fingers. Blood or sweat? She couldn’t tell. She heard the driver curse then cover it with laughter but he was far away now and the bus engine had started again. She dare not leave the crops. She was alone.

Olivia slumped over and let her eyes close, joining the darkness around her.

‘Stripped’

“Olivia?”

“Brad… how is the group doing?” Olivia said, her back still facing Brad.

“They’ve taken it pretty hard. Nic’ was a popular girl. To lose her… well, everyone’s shocked. They’re hurting, they still can’t believe it.”

“I see.”

“I just wanted to check in, see how you were doing? It must have been horrible for you, being there when it happened.”

“Me? I’m fine.”

“You don’t seem fine; you’ve hardly said a word. They’re worried about you, Olivia. The group’s lost someone they looked up to so naturally they’re asking questions.”

“What kind of questions?”

“Questions that need answering, they want to know what happened out there. You’ve still got Nic’s gun, how did that happen?”

“We… we got overrun by a herd of zombies, we got careless Brad. Now I’m here and Nicole’s gone. She’s gone because of me. What is this about, Brad?”

“I’ve wanted to bring their concerns to you. You’ve already said you got overrun but how, where? They want to know.”

Olivia thrusts an arm out as she faces Brad.

“They want to know?! Why didn’t they want to know when Ted died? Why didn’t they want to know when Paul died? What’s so special about Nicole?”

Brad shrugged his shoulders, his mouth ajar with no words to fill the void.

“The group wants a leader until she makes a tough decision they don’t like. I’ve told them everything without going into the gory details. What’s this really about?”

“It’s about Nic-“

“You’re supposed to be with me, Brad! You’re supposed to be on my side!”

“I’ve always been on your side-”

“Don’t lie to me. Do you want to know what happened to Nicole, Brad?”

Brad took a couple of steps back, his body turning slightly.

“She got cornered by a group of them.”

Olivia walked closer.

“She’d gone for more supplies and left her gun with me while I was on watch.”

She walked closer, looking past Brad.

“I got distracted, just for a second and before I knew it her flesh was being stripped like bacon from a roast. She begged for me to shoot her, she begged until the blood filled her throat and she could beg no more.”

“But there were so many…”

Brad’s turned completely, his back now facing Olivia.

“I ran. I grabbed what supplies I had in my pack and I ran.”

‘Alone, Together’

Bingo! A match!

Aaron examined his match’s profile. Absorbing Becky’s likes and dislikes, any kind of mistake could prove costly.

“So… this is awkward. I’ve never done this before.” Aaron wrote, making the first move.

“Me either.” Becky replied.

“Maybe we should ask three questions to test this match?”

“Okay that sounds good.” She replied.

“You go first, since you’re the lady.”

“Such a gentleman! Okay, what’s your favourite food?”

“Mac’ and cheese.”

“Favourite TV show?”

“Friends.”

“Good so far. Favourite movie?”

“Harry Potter.”

“Which one?”

Aaron smirked as he wrote: “That’s more than three questions!”

“Oh come on, Harry Potter is not an answer!”

“I suppose I’ll let you off the hook. It’s the second one. Chamber of Secrets.”

“No way? That’s the worst one.” Becky wrote.

“It’s Dobby’s debut, though.”

“Snakes and secrets, though. Two good answers out of three is above average.”

“I’ll settle for a rare adventure above average, usually I’m average all over.” Aaron replied.

“Oh I doubt that.”

“How would you like to find out over drinks?”

“I dunno, you’ve sold it really well…”

“C’mon I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Sure… Sure. Why not.” Becky wrote.

“Let’s meet at Delling Station at 8.”

Aaron clicked his phone onto standby.

“The newbies are always the most desperate.” Aaron thought.

“Give them a half-wrong answer out of three and they don’t realise you’re reciting the likes from their own profile.”

He looked in the mirror, yawning and running his fingers through his hair. She straightened every strand. He cupped his hands over his face, testing his breath. She brushed her teeth relentlessly. He grabbed yesterday’s t-shirt from the floor, he always travelled light. She took three outfits from her closet. He pulled on jeans with yesterday’s creases. She unwrapped the newest of her outfits, assessing from every angle as she dressed.

 

Before leaving his room Aaron took a screenshot of the map around Delling station, then checked the train times from the centre for later.

“I’m checking out. Room fourteen.” He said.

“No problem sir, would you like to fill out this survey for a chance to win ten percent off your next stay here?” The receptionist asked.

“No thanks, I won’t be staying here again.” He answered.

 

Glass littered the pavements Becky walked along as the station struggled against darkness, only a few flickering lights resisted.

Aaron crept up.

“You look great.” He said.

“Oh! Thanks.” She said.

“But aren’t you cold?” He asked.

“Maybe a little…”

Her eyes were fixated on the flower.

“For you.” He said.

“Thank you!” She said.

“C’mon the pub’s beyond the industrial estate. I know a shortcut.”

“Oh. Okay.” She said, lingering slightly.

“So you never asked me three questions, why don’t you ask me them on our way?” She asked.

“Do you like your flower?” He asked.

“Yeah… sure it’s nice.”

“Don’t worry, that’s not one of your questions.”

The hustle of civilisation seemed to slip further way, smothered by the quiet.

“I saw the episode of Friends where everyone finds out, I think it might actually be my favourite. What’s your favourite episode?” She asked.

“That one as well. It’s great.” He answered.

Becky’s pace slowed.

“What’s part’s your favourite?”

Aaron started down an alleyway and Becky stopped.

“Come on, the shortcut finishes up behind that bit where the fence is pulled up.”

“What’s your favourite part Aaron?”

“My name’s not Aaron.”

“What?”

“Come here.”

Aaron grabbed her wrist and thrust her against a fence.

“Nobody is going to hear you.”

“Let go of me! Help!”

She wriggled to a moment of freedom before arms locked around her waist and he thrust her into a garbage bin, knocking both to the ground.

Her screams accompanied by tears.

He was on top of her now.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!”

“Your outfit says the opposite.”

He pinned her arms as she writhed and wrangled.

“Don’t act like you don’t want it.”

She sobbed, looking at the flower stricken amongst the garbage in which they lay.

“Stop crying. You asked for this.”

He ripped her top. She kicked hard. He wrestled her again, she broke free of his grasp.

She grabbed a bottle and smashed it across the side of his face.

He rolled off her allowing her to her feet. He grabbed her heel but she dare not lose her balance again and kicked off his grip. Freed from his clutches she pointed the bottle at him.

“Get away from me!”

He hesitated.

“Don’t you dare get up!”

The tears relented.

“I’m calling the police!”

“Call them. You think they’ll believe you? Dressed like that, the desperate teenager met a stranger on a dating app. You don’t even know my name, you don’t know where I’m from and my profile ain’t real.”

Becky opened her mouth but could only scream, waving the broken bottle in his direction.

“Hello?! Is everything alright?!” Voices from the end of the alleyway grabbed Becky’s attention.

Aaron fled.

 

Aaron boarded a train, destination London. He sat across from an older woman who also sat alone. He held her gaze for a moment, looking her up and down before the pulsating heat on his cheek diverted his attention.

“Suppose I better book the next hostel.” He thought.

His phone vibrated.

Bingo! A match!

He checked over the profile. Tina’s likes and dislikes.

“So, this is awkward. I’ve never done this before.” Aaron wrote.