06 – Waiting (Blur)
Becca sniffed her clothing as she sat up, using the wall to help stand up from her ‘bed’—really just a thin camping mat with a sleeping bad that was losing its stuffing.
She sighed. Surely she should be used to that smell by now, but somehow it still snuck up on her again every morning. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been able to shower—before all this shit started, at any rate. Why waste water on chattel? The closest any of them got were the lice treatments.
Same for clothing. They threw them new outfits and took away the old ones every so often—she hadn’t worked out a pattern. Maybe just when she stink got too much. The clothes were probably then burned as hazardous material.
But at least the smell faded. The grime and the sweat and the greasiness didn’t. Almost every part of her—and everyone else—was covered in the thick remainders of sweat and dirt.
Someone had persuaded the things to give them the means to deal with the lice problem—standing watch while the hair of each prisoner was shorn and covered in whatever gross-smelling stuff had been found, then washed off. At least that meant her head was sometimes clean—and her face, if she managed to quickly wipe the soapy water over it before she was dragged away, roughly wiped with a threadbare towel, and thrust back into the general population.
Not that having her head shaved was great. Especially with the one creature who seemed obsessed with human hair—always asking people if it could have a piece.
The sickness, though. The creatures couldn’t do a thing about that. They refused to offer anything in the way of medication—not so much as a menthol sweet. So the place was a factory of germs. Respiratory sickness took as many people as managed to survive it. Dysentery, stomach bugs food poisoning (those things were not good cooks), you name it. If it was communicable (or could be caused by the godawful food), then it just swept through them in waves.
Some gave up. They passed their food to others, so the weaker ones who still had that spark that told them to survive had a chance, and they let themselves die. She could hardly blame them for that, but her spark burned brightly. No matter how tired, or dirty, or sick she got. Dylan was out there somewhere, and she refused to die without her.
She lined up as the shouted order came, waiting to see if she would be one of the chosen few.
Every day a handful were taken away to do various bits of work around their sector. Most came back. Some injured. Sometimes the injured were left behind either because the brutes refused to allow them back, or the people returning barely had the strength to carry themselves, never mind anyone else.
The work always sucked. Picking through rubble, transporting heavy cargo, just hard labour for the crime of being human.
On the other hand, it allowed them to get outside. Not to see the sun, that had long been covered up. Nor to feel the breeze, the closed environment barely had one anymore. But it was a chance to breathe air not also being breathed by two thousand other sweaty, grimy, smelly bodies. It was almost worth it.
But today was not Becca’s day.
She slumped back onto her bed, picking up the book she was reading. At least the things saw no problems with bringing them something to entertain themselves with. It kept them busy, stopped them rioting. So Becca read. Until lights out, she read. Disappearing into a place better than this—or at least different.
But she had a secret. The last time she’d been selected to go outside, a strange-looking creature—something that looked part moth, part hamster—had slipped her a small square of paper, murmured for her to read and return it, then concealed the action by standing over her, berating her for being slow, while she did so.
It was Dylan. Only a few words, but it was her. There was a rebellion brewing, hang tight, she loved her. And at the end, the small doodle of a flowery heart Dyl always added at the end of any missive to her.
And so, she waited. Not patiently, but she waited. That had been weeks ago, and she’d heard nothing new. The moth-hamster had been around, but she knew better than to try and approach. Becca was forced to wait, and to trust that Dyl and the rebellion was working towards something, and that when the time was right, she’d be able to help, and they’d be reunited.
And so she sat. And read. And waited.