Cassie Chapter 2
Ever since it started Mom had been counting the days. On the very first night, the one after their car had crashed, she had found it on the ground. It was a neat little calendar book, but Cassie and her sister weren’t allowed to touch it. Two months and seven days in was when Dad died. He had taken Cassie out to look for food when it happened. They had been walking down the street when three guys wearing hoods ran at them; one grabbed Cassie while the other two began to beat up Dad. Cassie screamed, she screamed as loud as she could and kicked the hooded man holding her, but by the time Mom came Dad couldn’t talk, he couldn’t even move. But that’s not what killed him, it wasn’t until later at night, when the creatures came that Dad die. He was too heavy; Mom couldn’t lift him, so they had to leave him. Cassie remembered seeing him there, for the last time, as the faceless creatures swarmed him.
Cassie looked out into the setting sun. She felt its beautiful orange rays glow on her skin and breathed in slowly. The air was fresh and crisp, and was the one thing that had improved since the whole thing had started. Before there had always been that taste of gas or something else man-made, but now all she smelled was clean air, and it made her happy. Up ahead of her was a tall man, about 20 years old, who wore an old cap on his head. Cassie pulled herself from the sunset to accompany him, but from a distance. In the two hours since he pulled her from that horrible market Cassie hadn’t said a word to him, but he’d revealed his name was Sam. Cassie didn’t trust strangers; every stranger she had met in the last two years had tried to hurt her, so she wouldn’t make the mistake of trusting another. But Sam seemed nice, and if he’d wanted to hurt her he probably would have done it by now. No. Remember what Mom said. Don’t trust strangers. Cassie was so caught up in her mind that she didn’t notice Sam had stopped walking and she had caught up to him. When he spoke Cassie jumped.
“You never told me your name.” he said softly, so as to not scare the nervous girl, and he was surprised to see a smile grow on her face. It was her chance to test out her new name, the official release of Cassie.
“Cassie,” she said softly. Sam smiled. This was the first word she’d said; he had begun to question whether she could even speak. They walked in silence a while longer, but Cassie allowed herself to walk a little closer to him. Now that she’d spoken to him he felt less dangerous, and the longer she walked close to him, the safer it felt. As the calming sun dropped further into darkness, Cassie felt the darkness presented more danger than Sam did, and began to walk right next to him. The last bit of light was just fading away when Cassie asked, “Where are we going?” The man smiled and looked at her,
“Somewhere safe.” This soothed her; she hadn’t felt safe in a while. The closest she’d gotten to feeling comfortable in the last two years was in the forest, but even there she felt imaginary eyes watching her. Cassie felt her stomach grumble,
“Can we stop to eat?” She asked Sam
“No,” he replied firmly, “When we get there we’ll have dinner – meat.” This statement surprised Cassie, as she hadn’t had meat since she caught a squirrel, but that was a very long time ago. Cassie shuddered at the memory of slitting the poor squirrel’s neck and focussed on her upcoming meal instead. She wondered what they would be having. She hoped it would be hamburgers, Cassie loved hamburgers. As the two continued to walk the sun finally slipped out of view and Cassie was forced to turn on her flashlight. Its powerful beam cut through the darkness. This lightened Cassie’s mood and she spent the next minute or so moving it back and forth, pretending it was a laser sword. When she looked up at Sam he was smiling at her, a hint of joy in his face. Cassie, slightly embarrassed, ceased playing with her flashlight and returned to walking.
“Up ahead, do you see?” Sam whispered. Cassie perked up and peered forward. Up ahead was a school building with a sliver of yellow light pouring from the window “They’re preparing dinner right now. Come on.” Sam began to jog forward and Cassie bounded after him. As the two neared the school Cassie felt her stomach complain more and more, as if the realization that she was about to eat had woken up her stomach from a long slumber. The building was two stories tall and Cassie could see overgrown plants snaking their way around the infrastructure, trying to break their way inside. A tall man opened the front door and greeted Sam, but when his eyes fell upon Cassie a grin broke across his face,
“Fresh meat, huh?” and he and Sam began chuckling. Cassie joined in, partly due to her feeling awkward. The tall man was oddly dressed; he wore a long brown coat and dirty clothes, but everything seemed too small. His pants only reached part way down to his ankles leaving his hairy legs exposed. The tall man also held a grumpy expression on his face, one that reminded Cassie of some sort of cartoon character. “Why don’t you get some food in her and then show her around?” Sam nodded and strode happily into the schoolhouse, with Cassie following close behind. The halls were poorly lit, and large shadows surrounded Cassie. No one else walked the halls; there was no noise, no open doors, nothing. All of a sudden the little girl didn’t feel at all safe here and wished she hadn’t come.
“Where is everyone?” Cassie asked, hoping there were other children here.
“They’re in their rooms, waiting for dinner, but I’m sure Mary will let us eat early. You’ll like Mary, and I know she’ll love you.” With that Sam pushed open a door and revealed a large room, warmly lit by bright candles. Dozens of chairs and tables were arranged in a circle and in the middle was a large grill emitting a delicious smell. Above the cooking pit stood a chubby woman toying with a couple of chunks of meat, throwing them back and forth through their juices. She looked up when she heard the door open and smiled sweetly at Cassie.
“Well ‘hullo darling!” She chirped. Cassie liked her instantly, “Did Sam bring you in off the street?”
“My name’s Cassie, Miss.” Cassie was pleased she had said her name without missing a beat. Sam nudged her forward as Mary began serving her and Sam warmed plates of the food. The skinny girl dug into the meat like a starving animal, tearing away at it ferociously. When she finished she felt Mary ruffle her hair and pull the empty plate away from her. Then the kind lady did the same for Sam and took the dirty dishes away. Cassie sunk a little deeper into her chair and felt the weight of the meal pull her down towards slumber.
“Time to get down to business,” Sam said. He stared deep into nothing and his tone was threatening, “we aren’t here for fun and games, but nothing’s been fun and games since this started,” Cassie nodded in agreement, suddenly afraid of this man and eager to stay on his good side, “So you’re going to have to work around here. We have a good twenty people here, and that’s a lot of mouths to feed, so anybody who doesn’t pull their weight…” Sam trailed off and turned his head to Cassie, “We’ll cross that bridge when it comes.” Sam turned his gaze to the meat cooking on the grill and licked his lips. “Let’s get you to your room.” He said quietly and stood up.
Cassie lay on her bed and stared into the air above her. The room was black but she could just make out the classroom’s industrial ceiling. Her legs were sore and the dirty mattress had given her a rash. She scratched at it frequently, but that only made it worse. Cassie looked around. The small classroom she was cramped in held 16 other mattresses, each one dirtier than the last. After only eight days at the school, Cassie’s hopes had been crushed. The first night she thought it could be a nice place, somewhere they would take care of her, but they didn’t. They forced her to work, to clean, and to build defences. She wished she was back in the forest, where she wouldn’t be bossed around, and where she could eat if she as hungry. Here the people in charge ate like pigs and left the scraps for the workers. There were two other kids at the school – twins, Riley and Peter, who would sometimes goof off, but then one of the big guys would hit them. The rest of the people stuffed into the classroom were adults, but none of them were nice. They all looked sad, and often cried; never once was any of them nice to Cassie. They would shove her out of the way and often unload their work on her.
Cassie liked one of the adults, his name was Jon, and he reminded her of her Dad. He was nice and often intervened when other adults were mean to Cassie. Jon was sort of the unofficial leader of the workers; he kept everyone’s spirits as high as he could and was the only one with enough bravery to stand up to the guards. The people in charge were known as ‘guards’ since they kept everyone inside the classrooms, like guards at the prison. As she lay in bed, Cassie touched her eye. It had grown black and swollen from one of the big guy’s fist. She had only wandered away from the group for a second when he pounced on her. The big guys seemed to enjoy hitting people. There were four people in charge, as far as Cassie could tell: Sam, Mary, the tall guy from the door, and one other large man, but their size didn’t matter since it was the large guns they carried that made everyone cower. Nobody dared cross them; if you did they would beat you into submission. Sue said that if you were really bad they would shoot you, so Cassie tried to be as good as she could. As she rubbed her sore eye, a conversation caused Cassie to turn her head to hear better. Jon and some other man were talking, debating. Jon was good at handling people, calming them down, and he never got angry. He was a good leader and Cassie always felt safe with him. Jon and the man stopped conversing and went to sleep, Cassie decided to do the same.
It was morning and Cassie sat outside. She and eight other people had been put on wall duty, which meant reinforcing the school’s walls and barricades. Cassie and the twins worked at the edge of the school building, the two boys poorly hammering some wooden planks to a window. They would work for a couple of minutes and then soon begin to goof off, only returning to work once one of the guards came within hearing distance. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the two wrestling with each other and giggling; the presence of others still felt weird to her, as she was so used to being on her own. She missed the quiet of the forest, being alone with nothing but her thoughts; Cassie decided that once she escaped this horrible place she would head back there, and never talk to any stranger again. The twins stopped wresting and Cassie turned around. There was the sound of someone yelling. One of the guards emerged from around the corner, holding a scared man by the shirt. The man was scared, tears formed in his eyes, and he begged for mercy. The guard held his gun up to the man’s head and Cassie held back a gasp.
“This idiot thinks he can steal food and get away with it!” The guard yelled to the captive audience of workers. The man with the gun to his head murmured pleas of innocence that the guard chose to ignore, “Well he won’t, nobody does!” the guard continued to yell; he pushed his gun further into the man’s skull, “But there’s one good thing to come from this,” the man paused for dramatic effect, “We eat meat tonight!” And with that he pulled the trigger. The man with the gun to his head twitched a little and then fell to the ground. Cassie screamed: she was scared, angry, and confused all at once; she wished that all the guards were gone and she could go, go far away. The guard barked an order and two workers unwillingly pulled the deceased man away. The twins had run off, probably to find their mother, but Cassie leaned against the wall and curled up into a ball. She counted by threes, then fives, then sixes. Then she thought about life before it all started: hot chocolate and vacations, she wished she could go into her memories and live there forever, and never come back to this horrible place. Out of habit Cassie began to scratch her leg, it was bright red and had some alarming bumps on it, and she wished she could stop scratching them. The sound of nearing footsteps caused her to pull herself tighter into a ball and hope it wasn’t a guard, but when a friendly face rounded the corner she let out a sigh of relief.
“Hullo Jon.” She said quietly and the man sat next to her.
“They shot Nick,” Jon replied in a shaky voice. This surprised Cassie; in the few days she’d known Jon he was brave and fearless, and Cassie had begun to suspect he was unflappable. But now he seemed tired and scared.
“We can’t stay here,” Jon continued and shook his head, “but what else can we do?” he looked over at Cassie and laughed sadly, “Great, now I’m asking a twelve year old for advice.”
“We can leave.” Cassie suggested. Jon glanced at her for a long while, thinking.
“But they’ve always got someone up on that roof,” Jon made a tired gesture to a man on top of the school building holding a rifle, “it’s impossible.” He drifted into silent thought, and the two of them, Cassie and Jon, sat there in stillness, not saying anything.
The classroom was dark, lit only by a couple of stolen candles. All of the workers sat on their mattresses, looking to the front of the class where Jon stood. He was scratching his beard, as Cassie found he often did, while preparing a speech in his mind. He raised his hand and everyone silenced,
“We can’t stay here any longer,” Jon said, loud enough to be commanding, but quiet enough so the guards could not hear, “they work us to death, and when we die, they eat us.” Jon looked down, then back up, “I have a plan, we’re going to escape this awful place and never come back!” With this the workers gave a quiet cheer and Jon smiled, pleased with this reaction. “Some people may die, and some may be injured, but its god damn better than starving here. Who’s with me?” Everyone stood up and once more cheered quietly, and Cassie couldn’t help but smile; she was going to escape.