Nobody came to see us after Rachel left. Or maybe they did, but they didn’t come close.
Annie slept and I think even Jay did for a while, but I was wide awake. These people had me on edge and I sat on a sleeping bag, my leg jigging wildly as I chewed ravenously on the little stubs of fingernails I had left.
Several times throughout the night, and even as the morning slowly broke, Harvey had entered the building and just stood, still and quiet, in the doorway. I could tell it was him from his massive frame, even though the dim light creeping through the windows covered him mostly in sleepy shadows.
I couldn’t see well enough, but my skin prickled, like I was being observed.
I pulled Annie’s sleeping bag up until it covered all but her face and hair. I knew he couldn’t see us properly, surely – not from all the way over there – but I felt like covering us all, especially her.
I sat staring at the door while the sun bloomed through the windows around us. He was gone again, but it seemed unlikely he wouldn’t reappear. Each time he came back I felt a tug of dread. We weren’t welcome here, and he would have to ‘deal with us’ today.
After what they’d said about Rachel’s brother, Danny, I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out what that meant.
“Charlie?” Jay had sat up and was looking around groggily. “Have you slept?”
I felt bug-eyed, my stare wide and glued to the door. I probably looked like I hadn’t slept for a year. A paranoid, crazy person.
“No.” I answered, shaking my head in an effort to pull my gaze from the door. “He keeps coming back.”
“What? Who?” Jay had slinked out of the sleeping bag now and sat on top of it, leaning over to check on Annie, who murmured in her sleep but didn’t wake.
I guess he’d slept longer than I had thought. “Harvey. He just comes and stands in the doorway. I think he’s been watching us.”
“He what?” Jay’s voice was more alert now. We were already speaking quietly, but he dropped his voice to a barely audible whisper. “I think we made a mistake coming here.”
Annie woke then, so I just nodded.
“Can we have some more chicken?” She asked immediately. We’d only eaten one can last night, stashing the second can in Jay’s backpack.
“We’re going to save it, kiddo,” Jay whispered. “Just in case.”
She looked at me sadly, but I agreed with him. There was no feeling of safety or security here with these people. Rachel had been afraid to even take the two cans of chicken. We had no idea what else they might let us have, if anything.
Harvey was back at the door again, but he didn’t linger this time. He marched purposefully toward us, his stride surprisingly brisk for a man of his size. Judging by his clothes, he’d shed some weight recently, but was still an impressively large man.
“Good morning, folks.” He had that same patronising, jarring tone that he’d used last night. “I trust you found our sleeping quarters adequate?”
I found myself glowering at him and looked away.
“Yes, thank-you.” Jay answered quickly. “Thank-you for letting us stay.”
Harvey smirked. “Yes, well. That’s what we need to discuss today.”
“What – ?” I started to ask, but he immediately held up a hand to silence me.
“I’d like to show you the grounds, what I – we’ve – done here.” That hideous smirk again. “We have some provisions in place, even some livestock. I’ve worked very hard to make this place a suitable environment for everybody.”
He was smug and intimidating, speaking in his quiet, formal tone. Annie stood beside us silently, her hand clinging onto Jay’s and looking up at Harvey almost fearfully.
I almost felt like doing the same. Every time he smirked at us, or indicated how unwelcome we were, I felt sicker and smaller.
We grabbed our packs and followed him out of the plant building in a silent single line, like school children being escorted to detention. He walked quickly, causing Annie to drop Jay’s hand as she tried to keep up with her little legs.
I hated him for many reasons, but frightening Annie was the worst.
We were out in the morning sunshine now, and its brilliance made me squint. We hadn’t been out in full sun for weeks now. Harvey was unaffected by it and kept up his pace, even when Annie almost tripped, he didn’t even pause.
I tried to quiet my rage at him, scooping Annie up and hurrying along behind Jay. She curled in tight against me, and I could feel the little quivers as her whole body trembled.
He had taken us out toward the back of the grounds. We passed a few people, who looked at us curiously, but didn’t approach. Harvey ignored them all – if anything, he quickened his pace. We turned the corner of one of the back buildings and were met with a wilted looking patch of lawn, complete with a small chicken wire fence and the livestock he had mentioned.
It was only a few chickens, but even that was impressive. They had a makeshift coop to house them, and some kind of feed placed.
“I had plans for more,” He told us briskly. “But everything happened too quickly. Still, the chickens provide us with the benefit of fresh eggs.”
I barely had a chance to show Annie the chickens before he’d turned and marched away, back the way we came, but this time veering toward the offices we’d met him in the night before. He stopped at the first office door, which was now locked, and gestured for us to follow him.
“These are the medical supplies we managed to gather. Most of this came from my own supply.” That strange, proud note had crept back into his tone.
The room was stocked with fairly basic medical supplies, but there were a lot of them, almost like a very small pharmacy section of bandages and painkillers. They were stacked on the shelf behind the desk, organised and seemingly untouched.
Harvey followed my gaze to the shelf, an almost amused expression moving across his face. “I haven’t given anyone permission to take any of these items yet. Minor injuries are not worth disrupting our stock for.”
“What…” My voice trailed off even as I started to speak.
“Yes – Charlie, was it? Did you have a question?”
I wanted to ask him what he considered only a ‘minor’ injury. I wanted to ask him what they had done to Rachel’s brother, remembering her fear the night before.
Or how he meant to deal with us.
Fearful myself, I shook my head. “Sorry. No question.”
“Very well.” He led us to the next office, beside the one we’d been in last night. He unlocked the door to a room full of food. Tinned food, dry goods, a supply of the fresh eggs he’d mentioned. Even cordial and powdered milk.
“Whoa.” It was Annie who broke our awed silence. “Can we have something?”
Harvey laughed. It was an odd sound – oddly delighted but without any real mirth. “Of course you can, Annie! What would you like?”
His generosity was so at odds with Rachel’s behaviour last night. Warily, I placed her on the ground and she quickly selected a tiny chocolate bar.
“Can I? Please?”
That strange laugh again. “Yes! All yours!” He bent over the desk and made a note on a thick writing pad. From what I could see, it seemed to be a running inventory of the food stock they had.
I shot a nervous look at Jay. He shook his head, giving a hopeless shrug.
“Now… Jay, Charlie. I’d like to speak with you about…” He paused. “Well, about your current situation.” He left the office and waited for us to follow, locking the door behind him with a very final click.
As he led us into the final office, he continued to speak in the same flat tone. “As you can see, we’ve got some supplies here, but it’s not nearly enough. There are eighteen of us here. I monitor our supplies carefully, but we’ll need a backup plan, and soon.”
He stopped talking while we sat in the same chairs as last night, Annie back on Jay’s lap, clutching her chocolate bar tightly. She seemed reluctant to open it, instead holding it and gazing at the wrapper every so often.
“Perhaps Annie should play outside while we talk.” He said suddenly. “Would you like that, Annie?”
A distant alarm bell started screaming in my mind. “I – ”
“No.” Jay said at the same time. “Annie will be staying here with us.”
“I really think – ”
“Forget it.” Jay’s voice was thick with determination. “Just forget it. She stays with us.”
“Very well.” Harvey took his own seat, resting his massive hands on the desk. “Our supplies are limited, and there are eighteen of us here. We are still negotiating a plan for restocking, for surviving.”
He leant back and sat silently for a long moment, as though waiting for a reply. He set me on edge and I had nothing to say to him, except a few questions I instinctively knew wouldn’t be welcomed.
“Being in charge here means I have to make the difficult decisions.” He continued finally. “The others might not agree or understand, but Colin and I make sure the rules are followed. We’ve spoken at length about your arrival.”
Colin. The man with the gun, who had wanted Rachel’s brother, Danny, to rot out there. For leaving the signs up.
For allowing us to find them here.
A whisper nagged at me. An unfinished thought that danced at the edge of my subconscious, flirting with the idea of surfacing. I tasted blood as I gnawed at my lower lip, my heart pounding in my chest, my ears.
“Eighteen people require a lot of food.”
The whispering thought danced closer to the surface.
“This is not a decision we made lightly, I want you to understand that.” He almost looked apologetic. Almost. “I understand this won’t be easy for you. But I think you’ll come to see it’s for the best.”
“What’s for the best?” Jay’s impatience had reared. I could hear the building frustration biting at his words – not spoken, almost spat.
“Of course. You want to know. I just want you to understand…” Harvey’s gaze rested on Annie as he spoke now, a strange expression crossing his face. “We just can’t allow the three of you to stay. We will barely survive for much longer as it is. I have to consider what is best for those of us that are already here.”
The whispering thought was rising to panic now. It broke the surface as he continued to speak.
“But I recognise we must consider the future, beyond our own survival.”
“What..?” I started, my voice barely a whisper.
“Colin and I both agree. The child can stay. We want you to leave her here.”