Day Zero – Chapter 5 – 02

            Davon swallowed hard, looking perhaps a little unsettled.  “How many do we think are dead?”
            “Probably better to ask how many are still alive.”  Marin’s voice was quiet.  She didn’t look up from Thom, who was still dozing—almost sleeping, now, it seemed, given that he hadn’t joined the conversation yet.  “Probably not that many.  Probably enough.  But not that many.  And not all of them will come here.  Some will come here.  Not everyone, though.”  She licked her lips, repeating quietly, “Not nearly everyone.”
            Matt frowned to himself.  I’m not even sure I want to know what she saw.  If she saw.  Did she see anything?  He bit his tongue.  It wasn’t worth asking, really.  Wasn’t worth freaking out over it—very little was, apparently.  Marin’s crap had never really been worth panicking over, though now he was starting to wonder if that hadn’t been a false assumption on his part.  If that thing she’d talked about years ago had actually been referring to this…
            I’m as crazy as she is, he shook his head at himself, taking another slow sip of coffee, savoring it.  There might not be more soon enough.
            They were all quiet for a moment, some staring at Marin and some absolutely refusing to make eye contact with her.  She didn’t seem to care; she was focused on Thom.  Matt struggled not to shake his head.
            Don’t you dare hurt her, Thomas.  Don’t you dare.
            The rain came down harder, lightning struck near enough that the accompanying thunderclap sent shudders through the tent poles, through those clustered around the fire – even the flames trembled.
            “Food, shelter.  What if she’s right and people come, but not friendly-like?”  Tala flicked brown hair out of her face, brow furrowed, expression almost pinched.  “We’ll need to defend ourselves.”
            She’s right about that.  And whatever ammunition we can round up for any guns we can round up aren’t going to last us forever, either.  Matt blew a breath out slowly through his teeth.  “We’ll need weapons.”  But what kind?  Sabers?  Yeah right.  Guns to start.  Hunting bows and arrows.  “Something to defend ourselves with.  After shelter, we’ll need…well.  Walls.  Something.”
            “We’re not going to become sort of uncivilized rabble.”  Kellin’s voice was quiet, but very firm.  “That’s not why we’ve survived this, not at all.”
            Then do tell us why, Kellin.  Why have we survived?  Why didn’t we die with almost everyone else?  Matt bit his tongue, hard, saying nothing—not yet.  Marin gave him a sharp look and frowned, shaking her head slightly at him before shifting her position slightly, wincing.  He looked away, exhaling a sigh, staring into the fire.
            “Food, shelter, and defenses are a priority, though,” Kellin continued quietly.  “There’s no question of that.  We’re no good to anyone dead.”  She leaned forward, warming her hands near the licking flames.  “We’ll have to find a way to make sure we have a steady supply of clean water, too.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only trust the water in the Grand so far.”
            Smart girl.  Matt found himself nodding in agreement.  “Maybe we can find a way to get some of the water from the ravine, from the creeks, before they hit the river.  That stuff’s usually pretty clean.”  Clean as rainwater gets these days, anyway.  He rubbed at his eyes.
            Drew got up, picked up some smaller bits of wood and fed them into the fire.  “We’ll need more wood tomorrow.”
            “We’ll have to dry it out,” Matt grimaced.  “We’ll find a way.  Carolyn and I’ll go out in the morning to see what we can find.  Figure it out one way or another.”  Maybe we’ll get lucky and find some deadwood that’s not soaked through.  Not sure I really think we’re that lucky, though.  He glanced out toward the wind and rain, wind that seemed to be picking up, now.  That’s also assuming that this storm lets up anytime soon.  The sound of the rain changed, harder.  Hail?  Maybe.
            “Temperature must be dropping fast,” Drew said softly, following Matt’s gaze.  “Sounds like hail.”
            “Looks like, it, too.”  J.T. pushed himself to his feet, wandering quietly toward the edge of the tent.  He extended his hand, standing for a few minutes, then withdrew it, staring at his palm.  A pea-sized ball of ice slowly melted there.  He dropped it and wiped his hand on his jeans.  “Yeah.  It’s hail.”
            Great.  Matt took one last sip of coffee before settling his mug on the stones surrounding the fire.  “Better get some more of those walls rigged up, Davon, and staked down in case the wind starts shifting things sideways.”
            The other young man nodded in agreement, pushing to his feet.  “Right.  Where’d we leave the hammers?”
            “Over there.”  Matt gestured vaguely.  He knew where they were.  He glanced toward Marin and Thom.  “Do you want to lay down before we go get this done?”
            She shook her head slightly.  “No.  We’re all right.  Company’s better than quiet right now.  Go on.  We’ll still be here when you get back.”  She smiled up at him.
            Matt nodded slowly, turning and moving off to scoop up one of the hammers while Davon was wrestling with the tent walls, huge swaths of plasticized canvas with grommets at the bottom and clips at the top to secure them to the lines that ran along the edges of the tent roof.  J.T. joined them, getting the heavy stakes to secure the bottom edge of the walls.
            The three men picked their way carefully amongst the sleepers, starting to rig up the walls as quickly as they could.  More often than not, J.T. and Matt found themselves on the outside of the tent rather than the inside.
            Matt spat a curse the fourth time he caught a quarter-sized hailstone in the head.  “Got to be a better way to do this.”
            J.T., crouched on the ground and holding the stake in place for Matt to hammer down, snorted.  “Yeah.  Get the walls up before the storm starts.  Just get them up.  Sooner they’re up, sooner we’re back by the fire, getting warm and dry.”
            Matt mumbled a few choice words.  Yeah.  That would have been the smart way to go about this.  Shame we had other things to be worrying about.  Like fires and food.  He mopped his brow with a soaking wet sleeve.  “We need to add lanterns to our list of things to go loot,” he mumbled.  “Waterproof ones.  And candles, too, with matches.  Make life a little easier, at least for a little while.”
            J.T. was barely visible against the stormy sky, but he nodded in the dark and they resumed their work.  It took perhaps half an hour to get things together, and by the time they were finished both Matt and J.T. were soaked to the skin.  Matt’s teeth were chattering and he could barely feel his fingers as they made their way back to the fire, but at least the tent was enclosed as much as would be safe with the fires still going.
            “Go put on something dry, Matt,” Marin said quietly after looking him up and down slowly.  “You too, J.T.”
            J.T. waved her off and sat down by the fire, shrugging out of his shirt, moisture glistening on his bare flesh even with the shirt off.  “Let me get warm for a few minutes, Mar, then I’ll listen.”  He stretched his hands out toward the fire, red and raw from the frigid rain.
            My bruises have bruises from that hail, Matt thought sullenly to himself as he took a knee, easing close to the fire to warm his own hands.  “Next time, we get the walls up before the hail starts,” he mumbled.
            Davon watched them both for a moment before announcing quietly, “I’m going to go get you two some clothes and towels,” and disappeared into the dim.
            “He could have taken a turn out in the wet,” Matt grumbled, shaking his head.
            J.T. just rolled his eyes.  “Davon?  Not him, not so soon after some sort of major disaster.”
            “That’s just mean,” Marin chided.
            Sure it is.  It’s also true, and you know it.  Matt smiled wryly at the dirty look his sister threw in his direction after she tossed one at J.T.  He started working his shirt off, grimacing as the wet fabric caught and bound.  God, was it cold.
            Kellin studied the pair as they inched closer to the fire unconsciously, each trying to get warm again.  “It’s that bad out there?”
            “I lost count of how many times I got hit in the head by hail after five,” Matt mumbled in response.  “I’d say it’s pretty bad out there, Kel.”  This is insane.  We’re insane.  Completely and totally, irrevocably insane.  How the hell are we going to survive this?  How?
            Kellin was staring at him.  “Because we have to, Matt,” she said softly.  “We don’t have any other choice.”
            He stared at her for a long moment and finally sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face.  “Right,” he mumbled.  “No choices left.”
            She nodded.  “We make do with what’s left to us, my friend.”
            My friend.  First time any of them have said that to me.  Matt nodded slightly.  “Right.”
            Kellin smiled.  “Right.”


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