Jamie held his slingshot in his lap and stared out across the dark field. His sister was asleep in their tent, her gentle breathing comforted him. It had taken her over an hour to fall asleep and before that she was worried about leaving her brother alone to keep watch. If the bad men came in the dark would he be able to see them? Could he use his slingshot at night-time? Wouldn’t they be safer if they just stayed in the cottage by the river? Someone would come and rescue them soon, wouldn’t they Jamie? Where had they taken their Dad? How would he know where to find them if they left the cottage?
Jamie tried to answer as best he could but his sister wouldn’t understand that their Dad wasn’t coming back, no one was coming to rescue them because no one knew they were in trouble. He changed the subject until she yawned and crawled into her sleeping bag. She asked if he was going to stand watch all night long. He said not to worry, he would protect them both.
The cottage at Larford Lakes was a ruined shell when they emerged from their hiding place earlier that morning. Suzy said it looked like a family of tigers had ripped everything apart. Jamie smiled and suggested maybe that was what happened, rather than scare her with the truth. Suzy looked frightened at the prospect of a wild tiger pouncing on them but Jamie was quick to point out they had probably moved on to have fun elsewhere.
The field around the cottage was empty. Rubbish was strewn all over the grass and some of the cottages had burned down. Jamie told Suzy to pack warm clothes in a rucksack and find her walking boots. He gathered food, a basic survival kit and filled empty bottles with as a much water as he could carry. They crossed the river in their little rowing by boat and moored it on the other side just in case someone else needed it. At the top of the overgrown bank they took a last look at the compound. Jamie found east on his compass and they set out across the fields. At the end of the first field Suzy complained.
“Why don’t we go on the road?” she said with a frown. “It’s got to be way better walking on a nice flat road, right Jamie?”
“That’s where the bad men are, Suze,” Jamie told his sister. “And we don’t want to bump into them again do we?”
Suzy shook her head and trudged along beside her brother.
Jamie kept a careful watch on the pedometer clipped to his belt. They had a long way to go and needed to pace themselves. He had a small medical kit but didn’t want to waste all their plasters on foot blisters. He estimated they could travel about 15 miles in a day if they walked for 5 hours, though that distance would likely be reduced based on Suzy’s strength and their speed through the uneven ground of the fields. They made camp after only 4 miles.
He longed to be back at the cottage by the peaceful river. After the chaos in their neighbourhood the compound had been safe away from the panic and angry crowds. In the evening sun Jamie had studied the survival guidebook his Dad had given him when they arrived at Larford Lakes. He had tried to gather the right equipment before they left but worried something important had been left behind. When dusk came they ate a meal of cheese spread on slightly stale rolls, a tin of Spam and an apple each. Suzy was her usual chatty self, asking Jamie about the birds in the sky, why the clouds were red and when they would reach the ocean. She wanted to make a sandcastle and sulked when Jamie said it would be quite a while before they got there.
Jamie felt alone and vulnerable with his sister asleep. He didn’t know how to answer her endless questions but in the silence he missed her voice. It distracted him from his despair. Jamie kept his worries to himself, and showed a confident, calm attitude. Suzy didn’t need to know every detail of the dangers all around them. So long as she understood the basics he was determined to shield her from the ugly stuff.
“There are rules for taking a trip through the countryside,” he told Suzy as they ate their dinner. “We call it the Country Code.”
“Country Code,” repeated Suzy. She chewed her sandwich and watched the birds in the sky above. “Codes are like secrets, aren’t they?”
“Yes, Suze. And if we always remember the Country Code we won’t get into trouble.”
“Bad trouble?” Suzy asked with a worried expression.
“Very bad,” agreed Jamie. “Shall I tell you the Country Code?”
“Okay,” said Suzy.
Jamie read through a list of rules he had jotted down in the back of his survival guidebook.
“First the most important rule,” he said and handed her an apple. “We must never lose sight of each other. That means you can’t wander off to pick flowers or chase a squirrel. If you can’t see me then I can’t see you and that’s bad.”
“Bad,” Suzy agreed with a mouth full of apple
“Second rule is we never shout or make loud noises,” said Jamie. He whispered for effect. “Not unless it’s in an emergency.”
“What emergency?” asked Suzy.
“Like if you fall into a river.”
“I can swim, silly,” stated Suzy. “I got a red badge for doing a whole width of the swimming pool.”
“Okay, if you fall down a mountain then.”
“I don’t see any mountains.”
Jamie sighed. “If you forget rule one then that’s an emergency.”
“I won’t forget.”
“And if you see a stranger never shout or wave or do anything to let them know where you are,” he said. “Some people are nice but some aren’t and if we can’t tell the difference we might get into trouble.”
“More bad trouble?”
“The worst.” Jamie chewed his apple and examined his list. “Third rule is no lights after the sun has gone to bed. People can see fires and torches from miles away, even bad people. And in the dark it’s even harder to know if they are good or bad.”
“What about my wind up torch?”
“Not unless I say can,” said Jamie. Suzy was thrilled when their Dad gave her the wind up torch back at the compound. She had spent all evening furiously winding it up and shining it around their bedroom. “Can you remember the Country Code so far?”
Suzy put down her half eaten apple and held up her hand to count on her fingers.
“Number one is never be out of sight. Number two means no shouting but only in emergencies.” She screwed up her eyes in concentration. “Three is never use torches or make fires after the sun has gone to bed…unless you say I can.”
Jamie smiled at her. “Very good!”
Suzy beamed at him and returned to her apple.
“Rule five is all about cuts and scrapes,” Jamie said. “If you get a cut or a scratch you must tell me straight away. We don’t know where the doctor is so we have to look after each other.”
“The doctors are all in the hospitals,” Suzy told him.
“Do you know where the hospital is?”
Suzy looked around at the field and shook her head.
“Me neither,” Jamie said. “I brought a medical kit with us in case we get hurt.”
“You won’t give me a ninjection will you?” Suzy asked. Her brow creased in a frown.
“No. I have lots of plasters for cuts and other things but no needles.”
Suzy breathed a sigh of relief.
“The final rule is very important too. If we get lost and you can’t find me don’t wander off. Stay still and stay quiet until I can find you.” Jamie considered his next words carefully. “You wait for two days and if I don’t come back you have to carry on walking.”
Suzy looked worried. “Why would you leave me on my own?”
Jamie winced. He didn’t want to alarm her but she needed to know what to do if the infected took him and he never came back. He fetched out a compass from his rucksack. It was clear plastic and had a green neck strap. He handed it to her. Suzy watched the needle rotate, fascinated at how it always pointed north.
“A compass is more valuable than all your toys back home put together,” he told her. Suzy gaped at him. He explained how to hold it and how to locate an easterly direction. “Your compass will guide you to the east if you use it the right way.”
“Point it to north and walk to east,” Suzy said.
“Very good,” Jamie said. “That’s where you must go if you don’t see me for two days. You must keep walking until you get to the sea-side. That’s where the good people are.”
“Two days is a long time,” Suzy said.
“Not really, today has gone quickly don’t you think?”
Suzy thought about it. “We walked in lots of fields,” she said. “That took ages.”
“We’ll get used to it,” Jamie replied.
“I don’t want to be on my own for two days,” Suzy said. She dropped the compass into her lap and stared up at him. “You won’t leave me for that long will you?”
“No, not even for a second,” Jamie replied. He hoped that wouldn’t happen. “Now for the final test. If you pass you get to keep the compass and be a proper member of the Country Code.”
“You didn’t say I had to do a test,” whined Suzy.
“It’s a real easy one.”
“Okay,” she said.
“List all six rules for me,” said Jamie.
Suzy took a deep breath and recited each rule carefully. She bit her lip when she had finished and waited patiently for Jamie to count on his fingers
“Congratulations!” he said. “You got six out of six!”
Suzy clapped her hands. Jamie slipped the strap of the compass over her head and gave her a hug. She grinned and gripped the compass in her small hand.
“Keep it very safe,” Jamie told her.
In the darkness Jamie could see the tiny luminescent letters on her compass as it rose and fell on her chest. He had always felt protective of his sister even before the war and the weight of responsibility frightened him. He desperately wanted to see his Dad walking through the field toward their camp.
He shut his eyes tight and strained to make his wish come true.
Jamie cried quietly when he opened his eyes and his Dad wasn’t there.
One day they might see him again. The horde of infected that turned their safe haven into a war zone left no bodies behind. Jamie figured it was possible their Dad could still be alive somewhere trying to find them. He knew it was wishful thinking but the hope of being reunited with their Dad was why Jamie had left a note next to the radio when they left the cottage.
I did like you asked and stayed in the hold for 3 days.
Me and Suzy took supplies and went across the river.
We are going east to the sea. Suzy is safe. I promise I will protect her.
If you come back please come and get us. We miss you.
Jamie & Suzy
This short story was inspired by Indigo Spider’s Sunday Picture Press – a challenge to write piece of fiction between 50 and 1500 words one of 3 photos as a prompt.
So who are Jamie and Suzy?
This is another excerpt from my second novel, The Survivors, the follow-up to The Range which I have just finished editing. Jamie and Suzy are survivors, as you can see, and are left with the task of travelling east to find sanctuary at The Range. Their Dad told them if anything bad happened that was what they had to do. They don’t feature in the The Range, however, but their part in The Survivors highlights the loneliness of struggling without a family to guide and protect them.
As with the previous chapter – Bunny – this one has yet to be edited so it’s still a pretty raw draft. The photo on Indigo’s SPP reminded me of Jamie sat in the darkness watching over his kid sister, worrying about the future and how he needed to protect his sister.
Excellent picture prompts from Indigo. If you want to join in and write a short piece of fiction clicky-click Indigo Spider’s link above and wrap your imagination around one of the pictures.