Afterwards: Chapter 10
Caitlin woke up as she had for most of the past half of a year, to the sun hitting her directly in the eyes. She had moved the room she slept in within the tower for the very purpose of ensuring that she got up early enough in the day. She lived with each day driven and organized by the sunlight.
Before going to do the chores she had set for herself, she looked out the window and gauged the activity on the street below. She had begun to trade with Sarah and her father; she never got to meet any other members of the group after that first encounter. She wasn’t sure how but they stayed well away from her and stayed hidden. They had told her that the migration was coming; it had happened before and would happen again. The wendigo apparently migrated through the city during the summer and could be difficult to avoid.
“Good thing they told me,” Cait said to no one in particular. She had adopted the habit of speaking to herself when she was alone. “If they hadn’t let me know I’d be screwed. Should have enough food to make it through.”
She stretched and grabbed some clothes to change into. She went to where she had water set aside and scrubbed herself with a rag she had. It wasn’t glamorous but it had to be done. Last time she had let herself go to long without washing, she had developed some sort of rash. She didn’t want a repeat of that. The water she saved to be used for her plants.
“They’re not so bad, I guess.” Cait said, looking down at the wendigo. From up here, they looked relatively peaceful. “They’re just predators trying to do their thing.”
She dressed slowly after drying herself off. She had managed to scavenge a lot of good supplies over the previous months that she had been there. There was plenty of time in the morning for her to get through her chores today. She had gotten through washing quickly, and she walked through the former offices to check on her plants. There were rows of them planted in a number of different containers. It had taken a lot of work but she had figured that the security of moving everything up here was better than leaving it outside. This place was reinforced and safe.
The rows of vegetables were mostly just directly on the floor. Planting them in rows seemed to be one of the truths of things. Reading had taught her that people had tried things before and failed and found truths. Putting plants in rows seemed to be one of them, though Cait didn’t really understand why. She had thought about bringing up containers for a lot of them but didn’t bother unless it was important for them. Her research, for example, had shown her that potatoes could be grown in old garbage cans and slowly filled up with soil. That meant that a smaller number of potatoes could become a larger harvest. The rows were things like beans and spinach and other vegetables that didn’t need as much in the way of root systems. She had built makeshift trellises out of leftover office chairs and string tied on to them for the beans and peas to climb up. Upstairs she had a bunch of planted pots for tomatoes to grow out of. They hadn’t started to grow yet and it was starting to worry her. The potatoes and peas were growing well though. She looked forward to starting to go through the cooking books she had grabbed.
She never understood why they had kept moving before instead of setting up a situation like this. Out of her fear she had been overly concerned with making sure she had enough food and had actually used some of the basic math that she remembered. By her count, even if there was a pretty catastrophic failure, it looked like she would be okay if she could keep scavenging while they finished up during the summer.
Her old green canvas jacket was hung on a nail that had been embedded into the door, it still served its uses for things like sneaking at night. Its replacement, however, was draped over the chair that served as her planning spot. She had diagrams and lists on paper scattered across a wooden desk that she had found there. It was across from her hammock. The hammock had replaced her nest as soon as she realized that finishing the day with stiff muscles wasn’t helped by sleeping on a pile of fabric that she had put together on the floor. She couldn’t find any mattresses or real beds in this place. It was an evolution, as a result, over the months. The nest under the desk became a couch became cushions organized together became a hammock that she had found and hung from the walls. She still sported the remains of a purple and yellow bruise on her butt from the first attempt.
“Water the plants, check the perimeter, plan.” There was a list of things to accomplish during the day and she set to them. The plants she watered with reclaimed water from washing herself and her clothes, mostly. Occasionally she would take a piss on the plants when she had to go really bad.
“How’s everyone doing?” Cait said, looking out over her crop in the first of the multiple offices she had worked to fill. “Looks like the peas are starting to establish themselves.” This wasn’t based upon any real knowledge of the subject, but was instead pieced together from what it seemed like was going on combined with some basic reading she had done. Green peas were being pushed up out of the soil by growing tendrils, and hopefully they would keep growing and give her food. “Looks like things are going good here. Still pretty humid in here. Maybe cause the plants have been in here longest eh? Oh well.” Condensation was starting to form on the windows, though Cait wasn’t entirely positive that it was because of this room being the first prepared and seeded.
Cait followed the path that she had established from previous days, weeks, “glad I don’t have to haul anything today,” watering the plants. There was the occasional noise of the wendigo squabbling below that echoed off of the buildings and up to her little home in the sky. There were a number of things that she still needed to prepare for the inevitably coming winter. She knew that this was going to be a long process, but thus far she had enjoyed it.
Recently she had to go and grab new clothing; hauling things up the multiple staircases, scavenging from around the downtown, and all the rest of the work she had been doing, she had started gaining muscle. It was harder than anything she had ever had to do before and there had been so many mornings that she had woken up in pain. That was behind her now though; she had to keep moving forward. She had to make sure she was going to survive.
Taking care of her small fortress in the sky, she saw them, far off on the distance. Storm clouds. They were blowing in from over the ocean that was still in the distance. Cait had experienced the storms back on the other side of the mountains, but had not experienced anything here yet. There had been lessons, half imported and lectured at her by distracted adults that tried to grapple with what was going to happen. Some had said that storms would be worse on the coast, others had said that nowhere was worse than the prairies. Even with the glass in place that should protect her from the rampaging storm, she was concerned.
Fortunately, she had already taken some steps to ensure that if something like this happened. She started to move the planters from their locations near the windows further inside where it would be safer. The animals below had started to have a miniature stampede at they moved away from the coming storm. They were surprisingly organized as they cleared the streets into various places to hide, or heading further uphill.
Cait was a flurry of activity as she tried to remain calm and avoid the frantic demands of her brain. She told herself that the building had survived previous storms and would survive this one as well. Despite the mantra in her head that ‘it would be okay’ her body betrayed her as she became rushed and clumsy due to sweaty palms and a pounding heart. The faint rumbles of the storm could already be heard in the far off distance.
Her hands were slick and shaking. While moving an armful of three post work of young tomatoes they let from her arms and shattered to the floor. She felt tears welling up in her eyes; that was vitamin C and minerals that would have helped to get her through the winter. The dirt and young plants were scattered across the floor. It took the faint patter of the first raindrops connecting with the window to shake her from standing, staring, and fighting off tears. There wasn’t enough time. If any of the windows shattered the plants would be in danger. She started to run, to rush. Plants were moved away from the windows, around corners, and hidden behind the grey, felt half-walls. The hope was that they would be hidden behind the lee there. It should be safe there, the raging winds won’t be able to slither in and lift them up. Maybe if there was time she would pick up the seedlings on the floor.
The howl scared her the most; her hair stood on end and she cowered under a desk. The wind screeched through the narrow paths between buildings, echoing and creating terrible noises. The windows shook and buckled in their frames. But they held. Cait felt her nails biting deep into the meat of her hands and she tried to steel herself. If the glass shattered, it would create a maelstrom of glass. The wind could catch it and throw it around in the air. Her mind provided visions of glass slicing and eviscerating her. Meat exposed to the air. She needed to save her blankets and other supplies.
She pushed past the fear that was gripping her, had its icy grips around her adrenaline glands and coaxed them to secrete hormones into her system. Move, she told herself. Move.
Arms flailed about, trying to grab everything, things were thrown to relative safety with less concern for its safety than she was used to. Her eyes told her that the windows were buckling in, bending in the wind. The sky had turned a deep green, punctuated with far too much lighting. It was like white slashes cutting across the sky, screaming explosions into the day. It had gone dark, like night had fallen eight hours early. Blankets, books, tools all flew through the air to land on the other side of the felt wall she had chosen to hide behind. She had reinforced it slightly in the past; screwing the solid desk to the less solid walls. The glass shouldn’t be able to tear through it. Shouldn’t.
From somewhere she had managed to secure the presence of mind to throw the soft things first. Her ad hoc stove, an upgraded, larger version of the one she had carved on her first night. It was replaceable, but she would prefer for it to be available for however long this storm lasted. Back on the other side of the mountains, storms could last for days. She relied upon the scattered and inconsistent information that had been handed down to her from the older generations and tried to make a determination as to what it would be.
Her valuables secured in a messy pile behind the felt wall, she threw herself there as well. The carpet burned at her knee as she threw herself to the ground. She grabbed her knees and folded herself up as small as possible with her back secured against the wood of the desk.
“The doors, to the rest of the building.” She said, to no one.
She didn’t want to, but she had to. Storms could drive people and worse into buildings. The doors to the stairs that led up needed to be barricaded. Trapped. She still had not been able to find a gun; they appeared to have already all been looted. If she were to come under attack, she would only have knives to defend herself with. She had spent the occasional evening trying to practice with throwing knives, but she couldn’t figure out any trick to it. Far too often the handle would connect. If that were to happen when she actually was in a conflict, it would end poorly for her.
Tears streamed down her face now as the rain pounded the windows. She needed to move but she couldn’t. The glass of the windows sounded like it was going to give up at any moment. She didn’t know how the wind would act this high off of the ground, or bouncing off of each building. She forced herself to stand up, using her fists. It felt like her hands should be bleeding from being balled into such tight fists, but she can’t see any evidence of it without relaxing her hands. She couldn’t do that. She moved, each step a battle, from door to door, moving the barricades that she had prepared into place. The cacophony of the screams of the wind, the slamming of noise against the windows, and the steady hiss of the rain connecting with glass and concrete. Half way through the barricades being put into place, she lost the battle with herself and ran back to the safety of her things. That was when she had an idea. She untangled the headphones with shaking hands, seeing the crescent-like grooves in each hand that had been dug by her nails. No blood though.
She shoved them into her ears with a little too much force, and it hurt. She turned the music on, and put it as loud as it could go. Music blared into her ears and almost covered up the sounds from outside. It made it bearable for her to finish the barricades before she settled back into the felt walls. In her panic she felt like a mouse; she wanted to be surrounded and safe. She grabbed a tarp and tied it over the four walls she had, the bright blue tinted everything underneath it, slightly. She kept the headphones screwed into her ears and surrounded herself with her valuables, with blankets and warm things. She built herself an new nest, and screwed herself up as small as she could within it. The tears didn’t stop, wouldn’t stop. She was tense, a ball of iron. Her willpower was exhausted and she started to sink into the music despite her terror. Her sleep was full of terror and the occasional moment of waking and hearing that the storm continued. It tore through the city like a giant having a tantrum, and occasionally something would crash or slam or collapse loudly in the distance, tearing Cait from her dreams. She would shiver, and try to throw herself back into darkness. The building held.
Somewhere in the day; it was too dark for her to tell, the music stopped. Her device was unresponsive. The sounds of the storm filled that void, but she kept the headphones in. They muffled it, a little. But she couldn’t sleep anymore. Each noise and creak, she shuddered and thought the building would collapse.