Cassie Chapter 3
Her sister was next to die, but Cassie wasn’t there to see it. It was eight months and twenty days in, when her Mom told her to go fetch some water. Cassie had gone out to the river quite quickly, not wanting to be far from her Mom for long, but got distracted by a couple of frogs. And that’s when she heard it, three shots, in quick succession. When the sound erupted through the forest Cassie stood there, like a deer in headlights, unsure of what to do. She took a slow step forward, and then another back. Her mother always said to run from gunshots, but she never explained what to do if the shots were aimed at her. The little girl continued to stand there, unsure of herself, for a good minute, and then she ran into the forest, back to her Mom.
Tree branches cut her face, and roots grabbed at her feet, but Cassie continued to run straight through the forest. There hadn’t been any gunshots since she left the river, that was a good sign, but as she neared her camp she slowed down. What if Mom was dead, and her sister? Did she want to know? Cassie began to breathe quickly and look around, what if the gunman knew she was there? A hand grabbed Cassie’s mouth and she began to scream, but her cries were muffled.
“Shhhh, it’s me!” Her mother whispered and Cassie quickly fell out of her shock. Her mother looked a hundred years older than before everything started; she looked stressed enough to explode and her face was lined of wrinkles. In her mom’s arms was her sister, bundled up in a blanket. “Let’s go, before they find us.” And Cassie’s mother took off. They ran quickly and quietly through the forest, trying to make the least amount of sound, “Raiders, about five of them,” Cassie’s mother explained as they ran, “They managed to chase me off before I could grab all our stuff, so I only managed to get our two backpacks.” She gestured to the objects on her back. They continued to run until they reached a little park ranger’s cabin. It was small and had only three parts: a hall, a bedroom, and a living room, but it was concealed enough that the raiders wouldn’t find them, they hoped. Inside, Cassie’s Mom lay her sister down on a couch and sat next to her; Cassie, meanwhile, lay down on the floor and continued gasping for breath. She turned to her left and looked into her baby sister’s face, every time things went wrong, every time Cassie felt like the world was truly over, her sister’s smiling face would always cheer her up. But she wasn’t smiling; she stared blankly through her, as if Cassie wasn’t even there. Cassie went closer,
“Mom, I don’t think she’s ok.”
“She’s fine!” Her mother snapped. Cassie pulled back the little baby’s blanket and discovered a puncture, from a bullet, right in her heart.
“Mom,” Cassie said, suddenly frightened, “She’s… She’s not”
“She’s fine, Cassie.” Her mother said as she picked up the child and tenderly replaced the blanket, “She’s going to be ok, just let her rest.”
Jon paced back and forth, for three days he’d been planning their escape and hadn’t slept a wink. Nobody knew what he was thinking, but, whenever they could, they’d take a quick glance at his notebook. It had pages full of scribbles and messy writing nobody could make out. Cassie worried about Jon, he seemed stressed, as the one planning the escape all of their lives were in his hands and that seemed to be weighing on him.
“Everybody,” Jon said in his low voice and the room fell silent, “I think I finally have a plan.” An excited murmur rippled through the audience, they were all anxious to escape the horrible place. The guards had killed two people since they’d started planning their escape; everyone was so anxious to leave they had began to work less, so the guards had to administer more punishments. “There aren’t that many of us left,” Jon continued his speech, “so we can’t take them head-on, our only option is to try to sneak out.” Jon shifted from foot to foot nervously, “I have a plan, but it’s dangerous, and some people might get hurt. To survive out there we’re going to need food, and they keep all the canned food locked up in a supply closet. But the keys are on one of the guards belts.” Jon looked at Cassie sadly, “Cassie, you’re the only one light enough on your feet to get them and sneaky enough to grab some food. I’m sorry to even ask this, but can you get them?” Cassie was awestruck, she didn’t want to say yes, but she felt she had to. She tried to say yes in a heroic fashion with a voice that would make everyone swoon, but instead she let out a wet glob of words that sounded enough like yes to make Jon smile.
“Alright, thank you so much Cassie, we owe you our lives. Onto the next step, if any of us tries to escape through the front they’ll spot us with those huge spotlights they have, so we’ll cut the power and make a run for it. Are we in agreement?” Everyone quietly cheered.
When work was over everyone started to shuffle inside; they were once again working on the outer defences, and when the guard signalled the day was over the sun had long since receded. But as the tired and dirty people shuffled down the dim hallway Cassie peeled off from the crowd and hid behind an old trash can. The workers were in on Cassie’s plan and did their best to draw a guard’s attention away from the little girl behind the trash can. One of the twins pretended to slip and when the large man turned to yell at him Cassie sprang into action; she tiptoed from behind her hiding spot and advanced on the man, praying, with all her heart, that he would not turn around. If he looked and saw a little girl with his keys in her hand – Cassie shuddered, she didn’t want to even think about it. She slowly put her arm forward, and was surprised by its steadiness. Quickly, she wrapped her hand around the key and tugged it from the man’s belt, and, faster then she had ever done before, ran away.
Cassie looked down the abandoned hallway, in about twenty minutes they would be doing a roll call, and if she wasn’t there then she would be in big trouble. Quickly, yet quietly, Cassie ran down the hallway in a half-crouched position. Every sound made her jump and gasp a little and each step sounded like thunder. When Cassie finally reached the supply closet, the one with the chain wrapped around the knob, she was ready to vomit from stress. She quickly unlocked the chain then threw the door open. The closet was stocked full of supplies. There were rows of cans, and a whole shelf of knifes and weapons. Cassie squinted through the darkness at her arm where she could scarcely read the list of supplies, written onto her skin with coal. The little girl quickly began grabbing food from the shelves and throwing them into a plastic bag, and then she turned to the weapons; there were so many, and they were so heavy, so Cassie picked what she could then went on her way. When she was just a couple of feet away from the worker’s room she heard footsteps, loud ones walking towards her; all the guards wore large steel-toed shoes which were good for encouraging labour, but also warned people of their presence. Cassie began the rap on the door and prayed for a quick reply. Within seconds the door flew open and Cassie leapt in.
“One of them is coming, Hide this!” Cassie hissed as she shoved the bag into someone’s arms. The sound of steps came closer and the mood in the room escaladed to a panic, as the bag was tossed from hand to hand until it came to Jon who shoved it under his mattress. Immediately everyone scrambled back to their bedspreads and faked slumber, so when the guard opened the door nothing but dark silence greeted him. He began walking around quietly, steadily stepping around each mattresses. Cassie scratched her leg nervously; what if he knew it was her? There were only two other children in the whole school, so if he knew it was a child she would be found in an instant. Cassie scratched her leg harder, hoping to scratch away the stress, but ended up clawing at her skin quite loudly and the guard quickly turned around. Cassie heard a footstep coming in her direction, and then another, and a third. She held her breathe, counted by threes, then fives, then sixes, sixes were the hardest, and by the time she was done the guard had lost interest and searched on elsewhere. After a couple minutes of poking around the guard finally turned around and left the room, which forced a sigh of relief out of Cassie.
The escape wasn’t mentioned again until four days later. Cassie’s rash had grown worse and caused increasing pain when she walked, so she was having difficulty with her work, but the other workers had grown nicer and for once helped her out. Maybe it was the looming escape, or the fact that she’d risked her life for weapons and supplies, but in the last couple of days everyone had quickly grown to like her. The missing supplies, however, also caused the school’s leaders to tighten their grip on everyone, beatings increased and the workers were almost never out of the guard’s sight. There were no guards in the worker room this evening though. Cassie had found a pencil and was whiling away the evening playing tic-tac-toe with herself, it was Cassie 1 Vs Cassie A. She didn’t like to do Cassie 2 because it made 1 sound better. Cassie A was Xs and Cassie 1 was Os, it seemed odd, even the little girl knew that, but when she was out in the forest by herself she didn’t have anyone else to play with so had made up games to play, and the habit never seemed to die. Cassie A was about to put an X in the top right corner when Jon’s quiet whistle pulled her out of her game.
“We’re leaving tomorrow.” Jon addressed the workers in a rousing voice. To be honest, Cassie had grown kind of bored of his inspiring speeches; she guessed it motivated adults, but to her it was the same old nonsense over and over. In the last couple of days he’d been commanding people about, convincing them to get stuff, and Cassie had memorised his pattern of dialogue. She checked out mid speech and returned to her game, only returning her focus once Jon’s voice dropped. Whenever he was done spitting his inspiring words, he would return to this normal voice to get down to brass tacks. Cassie’s eyebrows furrowed involuntarily, where had the statement “Brass Tacks” come from? She quickly pulled herself from her wandering imagination and returned to Jon’s intelligent words.
“..Jenna, and Tyreese for getting all those supplies, now we have everything we need. Oh, and don’t forget Cassie, who risked her life for all of us.” A small round of applause broke out, but quiet enough so the guards didn’t hear. “Now we have one thing left to do, cut the power and make a break for it, but make sure you head for the town hall, It just seems like the most obvious destination. Me, Sue, and Mark know our way around this city, so follow one of us once you get outside.” Jon picked up a bag and searched through it “We have a couple of weapons,” He handed it to someone and whispered in their ear, “Mark’s going to make sure to distribute them evenly amongst you.” A small crowd quickly formed around Mark, the man with the weapons, but Cassie held back. She knew she wouldn’t be allowed to have one, and wasn’t fond of being trampled by a bunch of blood-thirsty people. In the corner of her eye she saw Jon pull a lady to the side, and turned to investigate. It was Sue, the only person besides Jon who wasn’t afraid to speak out against the workers. Cassie approached quietly, if they saw her they were likely to take their conversation elsewhere. “Listen,” Jon said, just a little bit quietly, “We need someone to cut the power, and none of these people are brave enough to do it. But the thing is, the power circuit is all the way across the school, so we don’t know if you’re going to make it out in time. Are you willing to try?” Sue nodded, then the two spotted Cassie and stopped talking. Jon strolled away, but Sue remained standing, staring down at the little girl.
“Go away kid, this isn’t your business,” Sue said in her deep voice. Cassie was a little worried by what Jon said; she didn’t want anyone to die.
“Do you want me to come with you? It’ll be much safer, I’m really brave.”
“Yeah, we all know about your little ‘fiasco’ with the keys, now can you leave me alone? We’re leaving soon so I have to get ready.” Sue walked into the crowd and Cassie never saw her again.
Not many people were sleeping, Cassie could tell. When they slept people tended to mutter, or stir, but tonight there was dead silence. She was with fourteen people in the room, staring up at the roof, excited for their new life. In the short amount of time that Cassie had stayed at the school she’d hated it more than anything else, so she couldn’t even imagine what others felt. The little girl with the short black hair didn’t try any sleeping tricks tonight, she just felt like lying there with her eyes open. She was too excited to sleep so she didn’t, and was perfectly content to remain unmoving, until the door opened. It started with a thin line of yellow light slicing through the blackness, and then continued to grow and grow, assisted by the loud sound of the creaking door. After a long second the door stopped creaking and the light stopped growing. Nobody in the room dared move a muscle; everyone was afraid that they were there for one of them, that they had done something wrong, and everyone would be feasting on them the next day. Nobody liked to think about that, that they were eating human meat, but at the school if you missed a meal you would starve to death, so they had no choice. There was the soft sound of rubber soles on the ground and Cassie’s brow furrowed; all the guards wore large metal boots, who was this? The feet wandered through the room aimlessly until they stopped near Cassie. The little girl was too scared to move. She felt a gentle arm on her head and a kind voice speak out to her,
“Come on little darling, I just want to talk to you for a minute. It’s only me, Mary.”
Cassie lay in the corner of the freezer room, cold and alone. She scratched at her leg a little, and then stopped. That stupid rash was the whole reason she was in this stupid mess.
“You’re not working hard enough!” Mary had said. Cassie repeated the lady’s words aloud and added an annoying voice to it. She stood up, the little girl felt too angry to sit anymore, and paced the small freezer room, but limped slightly on her left leg. Cassie paced for what felt like an hour, then reached a new level of frustration and began kicking a nearby sack of what she hoped was meat. She kicked and kicked, and once she had exhausted herself she fell on the ground and shut her eyes. She felt it all, the little girl, felt everything hitting her all at once. Her sister, her Dad, and everyone, everyone who had died; the fact that she had been torn out of her nice routine and taken away from her forest home to be forced into labor in this stupid camp; the fact that after everything she had been through she would end up dead. Dead. After so many people had died to keep her safe, after everything she had done, she would be dead. Torn up into tiny pieces, thrown into a gross stew, and gobbled up by greedy cannibals; that would be the legend of Cassie. Cassie felt a tear roll down her cheek and wiped it away bitterly, she was tired, so she slept.
Cassie was awake before the freezer door opened, but only half awake. She was functioning enough to hear the heavy bolt being pulled from its latch, but could not process it. She just worked it into her mind, liked being locked in a freezer was normal. Only when she felt a pair of hands hoist her up did she actually awake, and she woke up screaming. The little girl kicked ferociously and bit at whatever she could find, and when the hands let her go she began to sprint forward into a random direction, anywhere to escape. But as she took her first step forward her foot landed on a liquid and she tripped forward, landing with a ‘Thunk’. Everything was blurry when Cassie opened her eyes, but she fought hard to stand up; however the uncomfortable night of sleeping against a sack of cold meat had left her weak and Cassie fell limply to the floor. Cassie stared at the liquid that she had slipped in and was shocked to find it was a dark red, like a rose; Suddenly uninterested in her chaser, Cassie turned around to see the source of the blood, Mary, the woman she had met on the first night and every dinner since, lay on the ground, her eyes dead and lifeless. The little girl gasped and backed away, but when she spotted Jon smiling at her Cassie’s fear faded instantly.
“I was trying to help you, but you went and bit me.” Jon said happily as he shook his injured hand, “Sorry you have to see this,” Jon said, gesturing towards the deceased body of Mary, “But we had to get you out of here, before they ate you!” Cassie nodded, but kept a safe distance away from both Jon and the dead body. After the two years she’d spent in this messed up world she still had not grown used to death, and Jon’s recent murder, and nonchalant view of it, did not calm her whatsoever. “Come on,” Jon said as he started towards the door, “The sun is going to rise soon, and we can’t stay here any longer, we’re leaving now; Sue’s about to cut the power so we need to get into position.”
Thirteen people, that was all there was. Sue was off somewhere, and the rest had died, so only thirteen people would be trying to escape that night. They all waited in front of the school’s main entrance, there was a guard on the roof, the other one was off somewhere else, and Sam had left on a supply run. This was it. They all waited in silence, staring through the cracked window into the heavily lit parking lot. It was large, maybe sixty meters long, and with minimal cars for cover. Up above them, on the roof, was a sniper, his gun at the ready to shoot the first worker he saw. There was a bang, which made everyone jump, and then another. Cassie turned to Jon, who looked around nervously, if this didn’t work the workers would kill them all, so that’s why it had to work. One by one the lights in the parking lot went out, and by the time the last one had died the group of survivors had already begun their mad dash for safety. They barged through the door and into the parking lot. Cassie trailed near the rear, but was jostled left and right by the fleeing people. She couldn’t see anything, just the gray of people’s jackets and the light of the moon. Occasionally there would be a bright flash and a gunshot, then someone would fall over, but no one stopped. Cassie continued to run, but felt the warm splash of blood on her face as the man running beside her toppled onto her. She fell down helplessly and couldn’t move under his weight. The little girl panicked and screamed, she clawed at the dead man’s flesh hoping to break free, but he was too heavy and she exhausted herself. Another shot rang clear, but the bullet landed far away from Cassie. She pulled herself completely under the body and decided to wait until later to escape, if she moved now the sniper would easily pick her off. Cassie waited for what seemed like hours, but nothing happened; she did her best to play dead, but she didn’t know what to do, she tried keeping her eyes open, tried closing them, but nothing felt right. Eventually she gave up and focussed on holding back her tears.
“What the hell happened? I was just getting back from scavenging when I heard the gunshots? What did you do?!”
“Nothing Sam, the lights went off and the prisoners made a dash for it, but I managed to pick a couple off.”
“You idiot! There’s no way we’ll find them now! Check if any of them are alive.” Cassie opened her eyes just an inch to see what was going on, Sam stood a couple of feet away from her, looking frustrated, while the two large guards searched through the bodies. From a quick search around Cassie spotted four bodies, so about seven people made it out, a thought which made Cassie smile a bit.
“This one’s alive!”
“Give him here, oh, it’s Jon.” Cassie’s eyes flew open and she quickly turned her head over, Jon sat at his knees with a bullet wound in his shoulder and a grimace on his face. Against her will Cassie let out a gasp and the second guard was on her in a second, he grabbed the little girl and threw her in front of Sam, next to Jon. “Why hello there, Cassie, right? Well are you two ready to die? Because everyone else has run off, so I’m really in the mood to kill someone.” Sam glared down at Cassie, “I think,” he said slowly as he pulled out a gun and placed it on her head, “I think I’ll start with you.”