She was shaken awake. Her first instinct was to flail out but she was still wrapped in her makeshift blankets and, instead, resulted mostly in just tangling herself up in them. Through bleary eyes and the darkness, it was hard to make out who was there. Cait could see a shape in the darkness that suggested that whoever was there was far smaller than her.
“Cait? Are you awake?”
It was Susan. “Susan! Kay. Uhm. What are you doing here?”
“Visiting. We’re neighbours now.”
Cait had thought that she was rebellious sneaking off at her age. Here someone who was practically a toddler had showed her up.
“Susan. How did you find me?”
“Oh, we saw your light earlier in the evening after someone followed you into this building.”
Cait’s head was still trying to grasp the full implications of Susan being there. It was like trying to fumble for some unfamiliar shape in the dark.”
“Do you know how to feed a fire Susan? Can you get my stove going again?”
“Yep! One second.” With that, Cait was suddenly blinded by the shining glow of a flashlight being turned on right into her eyes. Susan kept it pointed down, avoiding it shining out of the window and kept it directly on the task at hand. Despite her age she was well versed in the task and quickly had the little fire going. After a moment she quickly began bustling with a large piece of fabric.
“What’s that?” Cait said.
“Its to block the window so your light can’t be seen.”
That was a good idea. “Did you bring that with you?”
“Uh-huh. Dad said that you might need it. I know he was mean before but he’s just trying to protect us.”
“Protect you? From what?”
“You know. Stuff.”
“Does he know you’re here?” Cait was suddenly concerned. The last thing she needed was a group of people thinking that she had kidnapped Susan.
“Yeah, of course. I wouldn’t just sneak off. That’s irresponsible.”
“They just let you wander at night?” Cait wasn’t positive that Susan was telling the truth, but didn’t really know what to do about it. She wasn’t familiar with the city
“I didn’t wander. I came right over here. I sneak real well.”
Cait could attest to that. “Wait, I barricaded the door. How’d you get in?”
“Oh, that. You barricaded one door. There were three to get into this office.”
“Office? What’s an office?”
“Its like. Its where people used to work in jobs.”
“Oh. People didn’t live here?”
“No!” Susan giggled at the thought. Apparently there was something very funny about Cait’s lack of knowledge.
With the fire going, Cait dug her way out of her pile of clothing and glanced, jealously, at the thick coat that Susan wore. It was shiny and looked like it was made out of the same material as the sleeping bag she used to own. She pulled a cigarette out of her pocket and lit up. She glanced at Susan and offered her one from the pack. Susan looked timid for a moment then, after steeling herself, grabbed one. From her handling of it, Cait could tell that it was Susan’s first time handling one.
“You don’t have to be afraid of it. Flip it around and then you pull on it like you’re breathing in while you light it.”
Susan followed the instructions, carefully, and lit it off of a long campfire lighter that she had. This was almost immediately followed by a loud cough, redness rushing up her face and matching the watering eyes. Cait was careful to keep herself schooled and not to laugh or make fun.
“Its like that for everyone the first time. Don’t worry; it does get better.”
Susan had a brave face on as she held the cigarette as far as she could from her face while still attempting to appear casual about it.
“If you just inhale it into your mouth you can taste the smoke of it with less coughing,” Cait said.
Susan adopted this new method of smoking and, only occasionally looking over to Cait for approval, they sat in silent for some time. The fabric covering rthe window really was a good idea, Cait had to admit. It would prove to be much more advantageous for hiding her position if there were truly the number of dangerous that Susan seemed to think her father thought there were. If they knew where she was, and had noticed that Susan were gone, which presumably any group with a decent guard would be able to figure out, then they would have easily gotten here by now.
They sat there in the dark, finishing their first cigarettes and, despite the sleep in her eyes and the loss of the sting that there had been previously by the smoky embrace of the cigarette. Susan produced a flask of water from her jacket and they shared it. It didn’t take long before Cait’s bladder was full and she had to figure out a way to relieve herself again. She began to squirm and decided to brave the chill to piss into another plastic container. She’d let it sit over night and then dump it after Susan had left. Or, more likely, on the morrow. If Susan were able to get here herself here, she would be able to get herself out.
She roused herself and, carefully, extricated herself from makeshift bed. It was put aside with care to ensure that she could easily get herself back into it when she got back. She moved carefully in the dark out of her now warm room and continued nearby. Squatting over another container, she addressed her concerns again. Looking up, however, she saw that there was a flickering light across the street. Parallel to her own, it flickered in another steel and glass tower several floors above her own. It moved across the floor, from window to window. Had her bowels not already been emptying, she felt it was very likely that they would have started. She didn’t fully know why but the thought of someone else having undertaken the same plan as her was inherently terrifying. The specific light, moving quietly, this was someone who had made a mistake. Suddenly it all crashed down on her; she was in a labyrinth of concrete and steel and glass that could be empty or it could be full of people. She was far away from the rest of her people. She had no idea where they were. There were new people; when was the last time she had seen new people? It almost always seemed to end in conflict.
She remembered last time they “saw” people. She hadn’t seen them alive, but Maria had cooed to her, telling her that it had to happen, they were bad people. Steve had a faraway look in his eyes and just sort of stared while others went through the belongings and packed it and they’d take it away.”The dead have no use for it,” Mark would say.
The entire city could be filled by bad people like that. Could she even trust Susan? Maybe she was just there to get information from her, to spy on her. That would make sense. Figure out if she’s alone. Did she have to prevent Susan from leaving? Maybe lie to her. That would probably be best. Decided, and finished the business she had left to deal with, she went back to the little warm area.
“Hey,” Susan said.
“How’s that cig going?”
“S’alright.” It was obvious that Susan hadn’t taken a puff while Cait was gone.
“Look, so. I’ve got to get to sleep. I appreciate the visit, really I do, but I have to go let my people know that this place seems okay. They’ll be checking on me.”
Susan glanced at her unfinished cigarette. “You sure?”
“Yeah. I mean, you can hang out, if you want. I just got to get back to sleep.”
“Uhm. I should get going then. You can sleep. I’m sorry for waking you up.”
“No, no. No need to be sorry. I appreciate the visit. We’ll see each other soon.”
“Yeah. I mean, we’re friends now. When you share a cig with someone that means your friends.”
“Oh.” Susan looked like she was thinking on this logic; testing it like one would test an unfamiliar piece of food in their mouth. “That makes sense then. I’ll see you soon!”
“Goodbye Susan. Sneak safe.”
Susan gave a big toothy grin as she departed from the room, the edge of the light highlighting her smile and her blond hair. “Bye Cait! Sleep well!”
Cait didn’t even hear Susan walking off. She certainly moved more silently. Curling back into her hollow, Cait was suddenly terrified. Maybe Susan was just reporting to her people right now. Maybe they were coming back for her. Cait got up, again, and went to close the door. She then proceeded to move some leftover books and the chair in front of it, taking care to wedge everything. That should at least slow them down. Then Cait could do something. She grabbed a slightly longer chunk of wood that had been left behind and clutched it to her chest. It would serve as a club. If they wanted her dead, there wasn’t much else she could do. Maybe she would take one or two down with her. She ended up staying up for hours in the dark. Staring and listening as hard as she could. Eventually, her body betrayed her and sleep enveloped her mind.