When concrete was left to nature it only took a few years for nature to take back its space. The road they travelled on foot was crumbling, shoved away to make room for weeds and grasses and tree roots. This road would be impassable for people in vehicles, so for once Oakley broke from her paranoia and let Hunter lead their group this way.
Greenwater Gates had been a suburb. They were nearing another ring of similar “community” around the larger city, this one a bit older and more established than Greenwater had been. This place gave Oakley the creeps as soon as they saw it.
Half of the houses they passed were burnt to the ground. The half that weren’t were nearly done for, blackened and long since abandoned. Something terrible had happened here, and the fact that it was so silent now made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She couldn’t even hear any birds.
Jess drew nearer to Oakley’s right side, hands tightly clenching her baseball bat with both hands. Jess could barely remember anything about life before Greenwater, so being outside of her comfort zone on such a monumental scale was terrifying her. She even slept clutching that bat. “All the people who lived here are dead, aren’t they?” Jess asked softly, eyes big as she bit her lip and looked as though she hoped Oakley would lie to her.
Oakley shrugged and tried to smile reassuringly. “I don’t know, honey,” was her lame answer.
After three more blocks of rubble and ash they came upon a large clearing of more concrete where decorative shrubs and plants had laid waste to man-made curbs and borders. Within three years it would almost be a field. But at the centre of all this space was a huge, brick building with large glass windows, still mostly intact. Oakley stopped, and Hunter took her left hand to pull her forward.
“No,” she was muttering, unable to fight him but making it difficult for him to pull her along. “Hunter, no. Not a mall.”
“Come on,” he teased. “You can do a little shopping.”
“Hunter!” she snapped, and on that he let her halt their progression, turning to her with hands on hips.
“Oakley!” he snapped back, but he was smiling like she was amusing.
“Not a mall. It’s too big. Too many places to hide. Too hard to defend. There aren’t enough of us.” She took a breath. “And it’s out in the open like this. In a bigger town. I don’t like larger cities, too many survivors.”
Hunter moved in close enough so his shirt brushed against hers. “Oakley, we need strong walls and shelter. As you know, in a month it’ll be to cold to properly fortify anything else we might find. We start here, now, we might be ready before it snows. And did you see what I saw when he first stepped onto this parking lot?”
She crossed her arms. “What?”
“Droppings. Deer pass by here, Oakley. Which means food. Which means there’s likely fresh water somewhere close, too.” He lowered his head, talking softer. “It isn’t ideal. We both know this. But the inner walls will be strong, so will the roof. And we’ll see anyone coming for miles. I’ll put Tag on booby trap detail and we’ll be set for winter at the very least. We can’t keep walking hoping to find another Greenwater, protected and fenced and empty, waiting for us.”
He was right. She hated to admit it, but he was.
“Let’s at least walk through. Clean house a bit if the creepers are inside. And there might be useful shit in there still. Winter jackets, boots. You never know.”
Oakley looked around at the faces now listening to them, surrounding them in a semi-circle. Oakley knew she could survive winter living rough. So could Hunter, his men, and likely Sawyer. But her girls could not, and she had to think of them now too.
And it dawned on her then that’s who Hunter was keeping in mind as well.
She had to smile. “You’re right,” she admitted. He smiled and kissed her cheek. “Let’s check it out. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
POLL CLOSED – NEW CHAPTER SATURDAY!