“Do you think I’m pregnant?” I asked Rosalie as I ran my hand over my slightly sunken stomach. Rosalie looked back at me in confusion and shook her head.
“Why?” she asked, “Do you think you are?”
I shrugged and removed my hand from my abdomen, choosing not to tell Rosalie about what Alexa had said to me during the night of the Destruction. “I’m really hungry,” I said, trying to change the subject.
“We all are,” Violet replied, looking out the window solemnly. I looked over at Edwin, who was sitting on a couch, staring down at a picture he’d found in an office upstairs.
“Edwin,” I went behind the couch he was sitting on and looked over his shoulder at the picture, “Edwin, it’s probably nothing.”
“What?” Edwin asked, still staring down at the picture. There was nothing weird about it- it was just a man on a beach with two small girls. Finally hearing what I’d said, Edwin shook his head and replied, “But it <is> something,” he said, “I just don’t know what.”
My stomach growled and I came up with an idea, “Come on,” I tapped his shoulder and he looked up, “Let’s go see if we can find something to eat.”
“You’re not going to find anything,” Violet commented, still not turning around. I found myself getting a little irritated- a few days ago Violet had been anything but helpful and optimistic, and her behavior since then hadn’t changed. That, plus the gnawing hunger really didn’t allow me to be in a forgiving mode. “It’s Friday,” she continued, “Svetlana won’t let you in the store.” Why don’t you just turn around and say that to my face! I wanted to yell out, but I knew this wasn’t a good time to start a fight.
“I’ve heard of a couple of people setting up a make-shift market on the other side of town,” Rosalie spoke up. “Maybe we could check there.” I smiled and nodded, feeling a small sense of triumph over Violet’s gloomy predictions.
“Rosalie, Edwin, let’s go,” Edwin got off the couch and quickly jogged over to meet me and Rosalie by the door. I noticed in slight dismay that Edwin was a little out of breath once he reached us, even though he’d ran less than twenty feet- It just showed how exhausted and malnourished we all were. Before following the two out the door, I glanced back at Violet. She was still staring out the window, not showing any interest in coming with us.
Once the three of us got outside we found ourselves hurriedly running toward our car. The smoke had gotten thicker over the past few days and it was getting increasingly hard to breathe in some areas. I slid into the passenger’s seat next to Edwin, while Rosalie settled herself in the back. “Do you know where this place is?” I asked as the car’s engine roared to life.
“It better not be too far,” Edwin said before Rosalie could reply. “We’re almost out of gas. Last time I checked, the only gas to be found is what’s in the remaining cars.”
“I think it’s near the old hospital,” Rosalie replied, “It should be pretty easy to spot, considering the original building was huge before it collapsed. I heard there’s supposed to be, like, a mile of wreckage out there. I’m surprised no one’s tried to uncover any medicine yet.” Edwin hit the gas pedal and we sped off toward the other side of town. I thought it clever that this rogue market had been set up as far away from Saper’s as possible. The last thing people wanted to see when they were in line to get food was a dead body taped to a wall with a sign that said “STARVATION IS YOUR ONLY OPTION”.
Pretty soon I spotted the vast chasm of the wrecked hospital. Most of its contents was spilling out onto the street and yet there were also mountains of plaster and brick that were high enough to block a person’s view of the foggy sky. “Are you sure it’s here?” I asked after driving around for a while.
“I think so,” Rosalie replied, craning her neck at the window, trying to make out anything that might resemble a small market.
“What about that?” Edwin asked, gesturing toward a glimmer of rusty yellow behind a white tower of rubble. After driving around the corner of debris, we could clearly make out a yellow bus with a sign nailed beside the door that said “Free Food”.
“I think this is it,” I replied, smiling. Edwin stopped the car and the three of us got out. At the sound of our car doors slamming shut, the bus doors folded open to reveal a young girl with a bandaged nose, followed by a taller man. Both were relatively gaunt looking, but still a little better off than we were.
“Is it still there?” Edwin asked the two strangers, pointing at the sign.
The man who’d been on the bus smiled and nodded, “And it’s still free.” He motioned for us to climb aboard. Once we’d gotten into metal vehicle, my hopes were instantly lowered. Sitting on the seats were a few sad looking apples, a head of lettuce, a gallon of milk with a few warm ice packs taped to it, and a half eaten box of cereal. “I’m sorry we don’t have much to offer,” the man said as he turned around to face us. “My name’s Vic,” he reached out his hand and Edwin shook it. “That’s Yuki,” we all turned around to face the small girl that had come up behind us. She greeted us with a weak smile and waved.
“I’m Edwin,” Edwin replied, “This is Candy and Rosalie,” I nodded my head at the sound of my name. I folded my arms and looked down at the floor, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable. Or maybe I was just hungry- I couldn’t tell.
“Again, I’m sorry for the lack of food,” Vic said again, turning his attention back to his offerings, “It’s not that we eat it all for ourselves, or that lots of other people got here before you, it’s just that…” he trailed off, looking for words, “Svetlana and her employee’s aren’t really as friendly as they try to pretend to be.”
“No surprise there,” Rosalie muttered under her breath.
“We got what we could,” Vic continued, “Thankfully, not many people really know about this operation. Some have stopped by and taken what they want, but everyone else is too suspicious about us to take a chance.”
“Do they have reason to?” I asked, suddenly feeling a little testy. Vic seemed slightly taken aback at my accusatory tone, but shook it off.
“No,” he replied, shrugging and shaking his head. “But can you really blame them?”
“So are you sure we can take whatever we want?” Edwin asked.
Vic hesitated, “Yes,” he replied, “But we’d prefer that you only take what you need.”
“So you’re no better than Saper’s?” Rosalie challenged, clenching her fists. I knew she was hot headed and I should’ve anticipated that the effects of hunger would’ve affected her before anyone else.
“Rosalie, calm down,” Edwin muttered under his breath, not wanting to break the peace. Turning back to Vic, he said, “We’ll just take a few apples, if you don’t mind.”
Vic smiled a little, probably relieved that Edwin wasn’t about to turn hostile too. “Help yourselves,” he said, gesturing toward the fruit. Edwin reached over and grabbed three red delicious apples, leaving two remaining on the seat. He handed one to me and one to Rosalie and the three of us left the bus. The doors closed once we had begun to walk back to our car. Despite the few bruises, I found myself staring down at my apple hungrily.
“Wait,” I said, a thought suddenly occurring to me, “We didn’t get one for Violet.”
“I’ll share mine with her,” Edwin replied with a sad smile, rubbing his pointer finger along the red skin of the fruit. “Trust me, this is a lot more than most people are getting now.”
We hadn’t been driving for long when my heart nearly leapt out of my chest at the sight of another car about to crash into ours. Edwin slammed his foot down on the break and we skidded to a halt, right as the other car slid sideways right in front of us. We all sighed with relief when the commotion stopped, but I could still hear my heart beating loudly in my chest. I watched as Edwin through back his seat belt and got out of the car, placing his hands firmly on his hips once he was out. The other car’s door opened to reveal a brunette woman in bright red military jacket who, surprisingly, looked relatively well fed. Edwin said something to her and she responded by yelling at him and pointing at our car.
A little dumbstruck, Edwin turned back to face us and motioned for us to get out of the car. Cautiously, Rosalie and I opened our doors and walked over to stand beside Edwin. “Are you crazy?” Rosalie yelled at the woman, “You could’ve gotten us all killed!”
“Don’t yell at me!” She retorted, narrowing her eyes at the younger girl, “Besides, I never would’ve let my car get beaten up.” I rolled my eyes at this last statement.
“What do you want, anyway?” I asked. I recognized her as Esma- former Morcucorp vice president and current council member.
“You,” Esma replied, looking at Rosalie, “Your name’s Rosalie, correct?”
“Yeah,” Rosalie replied, narrowing her eyes slightly.
“Come with me,” Esma gestured for her to come over to her car.
“No!” Rosalie crossed her arms, “Why?”
“Justice requires your presence,” she responded, a small smirk forming across her face as she realized that Rosalie wouldn’t be able to turn down orders from her former war general.
“Fine,” Rosalie’s body visible relaxed, although her expression hadn’t changed much. “You guys can go back without me, I guess,” she said to us as she opened the passenger door to Esma’s car.
“You’ll be coming back, right?” I asked, not trusting Esma.
“Yes, yes, she’ll be back,” Esma replied. Edwin and I watched as the other car’s doors closed and the two women drove off to where we guess was City Hall.
“Are you sure we should’ve let Rosalie go?” Edwin asked. I shrugged in response. Truthfully, the reason I’d been so compliant in letting Rosalie go with Esma was because it meant one less mouth to feed. Sure, it might be an ambush, but Rosalie could take care of herself.
Edwin and I drove back to our building in silence. Glancing back, I noticed Rosalie’s half-eaten apple was still lying on the back seat. The sight of the apple jarred a recent memory. “Hey, did you notice that…” I trailed off as a sudden blast of pain shot through my head. The hunger must’ve been taking its toll on my body even more than before. I was starting to get a massive head ache and my hands started shaking.
“Did I notice what?” Edwin asked, not taking his eyes off the road. The thoughts of how Esma had looked relatively healthy compared to the rest of us were driven out of my brain as all my remaining energy began to focus on keeping my mind alive and awake.