Vacant

The New Arrival

Tris

I woke up to Will shaking my shoulder. The van had stopped, so I guessed we had arrived back at camp. I had fallen asleep on the ride, though. The adrenaline rush must have worn me out.

I looked over to Will. He was speaking, and it took a second for my ears to register what he was saying. “We’re back, Tris,” he tells me, grabbing the keys from the ignition and opening the door. He got out and slammed the door shut. The window was still open, so he leaned on it with his arms crossed. “Hey, that girl back there needs to be taken care of. You got it? I can send one of the girls over if you need help,” he offers. It’s kind of him, and I appreciate it, but I shake my head.

“Thanks, but I can handle it,” I decline his offer. He nods anyway.

After he leaves, I get out of the van. I looked up into the canopy of the trees in the forest. It really was beautiful, despite the situation of the world. It made you think back to what life might have been like before humans were even here to ruin it. You couldn’t here the people or the see the artificial lights. The sun was the only thing in the entire world that brought light and warmth to the planet. There were no bridges or buildings or highways with cars. No noise and destruction in nature. No man-made disease that wiped out most of the population. And the sun shined through the leaves and reflected off the running water, bringing life to the forest. It must have been beautiful before we came and destroyed it all. I took a large breath and closed my eyes. Serenity.

When I opened my eyes and exhaled, it brought me back to the current situation. I slammed the door shut and stretch out a bit. Before the outbreak, I hadn’t been very flexible. I had been in gymnastics when I was younger, and it certainly influenced my adeptness at survival today, but I was young when I had quit. I had wanted to do something else with my life. Lead a life of science. Not that any of it mattered today.

I remembered Christina in the back of the van. I walked over and turned to the back doors. They were open and my brother’s weapon was missing; Caleb must have already gone back to the campsite. I noticed the small girl sitting curled in the corner of the trunk. Her feet were dirty and there were tiny shards of glass in her heels. I made a mental note to get those out later.

She wasn’t asleep, but she wasn’t completely awake either. She was staring off into space. As much as I wanted to give her space and leave her to herself, I knew we had to get back to the campsite before it became dark. It would get cold and the trees would be difficult to navigate through. Not to mention the Creepers that would come out then. It would be almost impossible to live long enough to survive the night. So I started talking to her. Scaring her with threats of the night certainly wouldn’t convince her to come out.

“Christina,” I said softly, pausing to see if I had her attention. I didn’t. “Christina, we have to get going. They’re expecting us back at the camp.” I reached out and pulled the chain that turned the light off. I can’t believe Caleb kept it on this whole time. We were low on lightbulbs and needed to restock. I thought he knew that. “We just have to get someone to look at your foot. Something’s probably wrong with it.” She’s still not looking at me. “I know it’s all happening really fast, it’s hard to lose your parents-“

“Don’t,” she says. I look up at her to see she’s staring at me with wet eyes. Her voice wavered. “Don’t talk about them. I don’t want to talk about them.” I swallowed and looked down. I nodded. I shouldn’t have said that. It hadn’t even been two hours. I should have known better. I remember when my parents had died. I didn’t speak to anyone for days. “I’m sorry,” I insisted. “But we gotta go. Right now.” I looked back to her hesitantly. I held a hand out to her. She didn’t take it. Instead, she handed me her duffelbag. She got out of the van. She tried not to wince when she hit the ground on her bare feet. I grabbed my favorite pistol from a rack on the wall of the van. I checked its bullets and slipped it into my holster on my right side.

She looked down at me and I pointed in the northern direction. She started walking, but I had to throw the camouflage cover over the van. It only took a second. I don’t know why Caleb insisted we do that. It wasn’t like a Creeper would come and steal it in the night. But it helped him sleep at night, so I did it.

I had to jog a bit to catch up with Christina. She had longer legs than I, so I had to walk quickly to match her stride. That was when I realized she wasn’t as tiny as she made herself seem when she was curled up in the van. She was thin, no doubt, but she was tall. If we put some food in her and got her into a normal eating schedule, she would be classified as limber. She would be of use to the group, especially when we taught her to fight.

We walked a while, probably about two miles. Christina wasn’t even out of breath, but I knew her feet must have been hurting. It didn’t surprise me when she missed the turn to camp and continued walking straight. It was only marked by an unsuspicious log of wood. There was a peculiar mold growing on it, though, which Will and I knew to be familiar. I whistled. She turned to me.

“Over here,” I said and nodded my head to the right. She turned and followed in that direction. The sun was disappearing fast now, and the trees blocked the light very efficiently. I knew we were close, though. After three or four more minutes of walking, we came to the base of a large rock. The rock was actually part of a larger mountain. Now we just had to follow the rock until we got to the entrance.

I started getting after I hadn’t seen it for a while. We must have walked a half-mile and we still hadn’t found it. I was considering turning around, but if I was wrong, I didn’t want to worry Christina for no reason. But, when I was about to stop, she spoke. I cleared my face of worry before turning to face her.

“Isn’t that one of your guys?” she asked me. She pointed over my shoulder. I turned and followed her finger. Sure enough, there was Will, leaning against the rock with his arms crossed. He hadn’t seen us yet.

“Yeah, that’s Will,” I confirmed. “Nice eye.” I nodded my head in approval. We kept moving and I waved my free hand up to get his attention. The other one was holding Christina’s bag.

We seemed to startle Will. When he saw us, he jumped and his hand immediately shot to his belt where his holster was. I didn’t flinch; he had quick reflexes, but he would realize it was I before he shot. He visibly relaxed when he recognized the two of us. He took his hand away and began chastising me.

“What the hell took you so long, Tris?” he started walking towards me. He threw his arms up to show his exasperation. “It’s almost dark. You know we’d have to lock up without you two if you were late.”

I nodded somberly. “I know,” I said. I knew he was right. The group had decided that when we first found the place. A small part of me hoped that they wouldn’t have locked up without me, but that was the selfish part. The bigger part hoped they would. “It won’t happen again. This was a one-time thing. You know it was.” Will looked like he was about to say something else, but he stopped himself and took a deep breath instead. He stepped aside and we continued on. When we stood where he had stood waiting for us, we stopped. Christina looked skeptical, as she rightly should have. It seemed like we had stopped for no reason. She looked like she was about to say something about it when Will stepped forward and lifted a few branches. I helped with the last few and swept away a few extra leaves. I stepped away and there was the entrance to the camp. It was a cave, a cavern, actually. Completely concealed underneath the mountain. The entrance was short and all three of us had to bend down to fit. I went first and Christina followed hesitantly, as if she thought we were bringing her down to kill her. Yeah, right. After I just saved her life.

Will stayed behind to cover the entrance back up with branches and leaves. He caught back up with us quickly. Well, he caught up with Christina, not me. I heard them talking for about a minute, but the conversation ended quickly. The silence afterwards was deafening. We walked cautiously through the cavern for a few minutes. It wasn’t lit, since we didn’t want to waste any unnecessary power. By now, everyone in the group had gotten used to the way the cavern twisted and turned. We knew all the bumps and jutting rocks of the place. At the end of the stone hallway, the artificial light of kerosene lamps was just visible. And we could here the distant chatter of the people in the group. Finally, we turned the last corner that opened up to the massive pit of nothingness.

Caleb and Will had found it by accident. They had been hunting and had consequently chased a wild dog into the dark cavern. They had been hesitant to explore it, the fear of Creepers strong. But the group was desperate to rest safe for a single night, so they mustered up enough courage to scope it out hours later. There had indeed been a few Creepers in there, and the dog was gone, but they cleared it up in a few hours. By then, it was nighttime and we passed out as soon as we got in. The next morning, the women had checked out the perimeter of the cavern, looking around for anything useful. The Will and Caleb had left to scope out the places nearby, finding the gated community. Back here, we found broken-down wooden shafts and miners’ hats. Coal cars were nearby, too, so we figured it had once been a coal mine at one point in time. Unfortunately, the coal was gone, with the exception of some dust, but even that helped us get fires started. We found the kerosene lamps here, too. And we took the wood away from the shafts and built small tables and three single-room buildings in the cavern. They served as female and male quarters and a dining hall area. All of that was about a month ago. We had been living like this since then. It was the closest thing to home since the outbreak had forced us the live this way. In hiding. I was proud of how far we had come. And I’d be sad when we had to leave. But, at the same time, I knew we had to move on. It wasn’t safe to stay in one place for too long. We would get too comfortable and, consequently, our guard would fall. I had made that mistake before, and we had lost people. I wasn’t going to let it happen again. I think the group knew it, too.

But this was new to Christina, so the awe on her face we she saw our establishment was well worth the work. Her face was dirty with sweat and dirt, but it lit up with wonder when she was the fairy lights and kerosene lamps arranged around the camp. There was one every few yards, so there wasn’t a single place in the camp that wasn’t lit. That was thanks to our group’s medic, Marlene, who had had a fear of the dark since she was little. Now, we were all afraid of a lack of light.

Everyone was eating in the dining hall shelter. There wasn’t a door for that one, so part of the group that was facing the entrance saw us coming. One of them was Marlene. She stood, and the others quieted. The rest turned to look at the newcomer.

“You go ahead, Will,” I told him. “You should eat something. I’ll get Marlene to look at Christina.” Will nodded to me and made his way over to the food on the table. I couldn’t see what it was, but it smelled savory. I wondered what Shauna had made. She usually cooked our food, on the one condition that we sat down at the table to eat it. She was, by far, the best cook in the place. I made eye contact with Caleb, but then switched my gaze to Marlene. I nodded my head in a come here gesture. She took a last swig of water and set her cup down. She excused herself quickly and wiped her hands on a napkin. While she was walking towards us, I readjusted the bag on my shoulder and spoke to Christina. “That’s Marlene,” I explained. “She’s our medic. Or the best we could get.” I turned to face her and noticed the worrisome look on her face. “Don’t panic; she knows what she’s doing.”

When Marlene arrived, she shook hands with Christina and introduced herself. “We should take this to the female quarters, where I can work. Then we can check it out.


I had put Christina’s bag on my bed, which really wasn’t a bed. It was just a sleeping bag with a few pillows from the gated community. We had scavenged a few of the good ones from the housing area. I was giving my area to Christina. I could manage the discomfort until we left this place altogether. We’d be leaving everything here if we couldn’t carry it.

Marlene was looking at Christina’s ankle at the moment. She had finished getting the pieces of glass out of her heels and I wasn’t sure how much longer Christina was going to handle it. We had only just run out of painkillers. I thought about bringing her some food and water, but decided it might make her nauseous after not eating anything for a while. Later, I thought. I dismissed this thought when there was a knock on the door. Will entered with a plate of food after Marlene gave the okay. I nodded to him as he walked over to check on Christina. I saw him set the plate down and heard him ask Marlene if she knew what was wrong. I left before I heard her answer. I knew, whatever it was, it was my fault. I told her to jump. I just hoped she understood.

I closed the door behind me and stopped. I looked around the cavern. Most of the group had finished eating, but I didn’t see them. But I could hear the sound of a guitar and their voices, so I assumed they were still in the dining building. They would sometimes come together and sing songs on Caleb’s guitar. It gave a sense of normality in this hell. I never joined. Instead, I turned to where there were a few coal cars on the perimeter of the cavern. I started walking over to the one filled with water. This wasn’t for drinking, of course. We had to get water from a running water source outside. This sitting water was really for washing, since we didn’t have a river or lake outside, only the stream. There were washrags on the edge of the car; all had dried. I cupped my hands in the water and splashed my face. The water was lukewarm, but I just needed to get the dirt off my face.

I heard something to my right, in the direction of the campsite. I spun on my heels and my hand shot straight to my holster. The pistol was up and aimed in an instant, the safety off. It took me a moment for the water to clear from my eyes. When it did, I saw Will was standing in my sights. His hands were up, but he was relaxed, knowing I wouldn’t shoot him. He had a stupid little smirk on his face.

“Didn’t know I could make you sweat like that, Trissy,” he teased. He laughed, and I returned my pistol to its holster.

“Oh, ha ha,” I mocked. “Very funny, you asshole.” I dried my face on a cloth and licked my chapped lips. “How is she?” I ask, now regretting not asking Christina myself.

“Oh, she’ll live,” he reassured me. “Especially with Marlene tending to her. Apparently, she sprained her ankle. It’ll heal. No medicine needed.” I knew he was trying to lessen my guilt. It worked. I was relieved to hear it wasn’t permanent. But then he had to ruin it by talking again. “How did she even sprain it in the first place?” he asked. “And why the hell did you come running out in the middle of a horde of Runners? The plan was-“ I cut him off.

“I know what to plan was,” I tell him. “But the plan changed when I found a man and woman and their daughter in one of the houses I was scavenging.” I pause, but rush on before he starts talking. “Apparently, they had been living in their basement since the outbreak. For some godforsaken reason, they left that temporary safety to come upstairs. Runners attacked. They got her parents, Will. She witnessed her parents getting murdered, slaughtered.”

Will rolled his eyes. “So did you. So did I,” he said. I couldn’t believe his ignorance.

“Those were both completely different circumstances,” I argued. “And years ago. We’re over it.” My parents were murdered by a pair of home invaders. I was ten. And his parents were killed in a car accident. He was seven.

“And I wasn’t gonna leave her, Will,” I said. “I took her to her bedroom, where she got a few things, but Runners managed to find us without any of the Sensors. They forced us to jump out of her window on the second floor. I guess she landed wrong.” I shrugged. “When I didn’t see you or Caleb, I sent Christina to the other house to wait until you came back.” I could see the confusion at the stupidity of my plan. Especially the part where I didn’t survive.

“So, what?” he guessed. “You ran out to kill yourself or something?” I rolled my eyes. The sass in his voice was real. “I know what you were doing, and it was stupid, Tris. Don’t let it happen again.” I looked away and rolled my eyes again.

“Trust me,” I said. “It won’t.”


Later that night, everyone was sleeping. Caleb and Will were in their male quarters, while the rest, Marlene, Shauna, Lauren, Molly, Christina and I were all here in the female quarters. I sat against the far wall, alone, mulling over my thoughts. I was the only one awake. Or at least I thought I was. But Christina’s sleeping bag ruffled and then it was silent. I couldn’t see, but someone sat down next to me, so I assumed it was her.

“Tris?” she asked quietly, hesitantly.

“Yeah,” I replied. I secretly hoped she wouldn’t start crying. I wouldn’t be able to handle that again. Maybe tomorrow.

“I was wondering,” she paused. “If you could explain something to me.”

“What would that thing be?” I asked.

I could almost hear her thinking about it. “The things,” she said, simply. “The things that were attacking us earlier today. The ones that…killed my parents.” Her voice wavered and I silently swore at myself for letting her ask me this. “What were those things?”

I gave her a look before realizing she couldn’t see me in the dark. “Christina,” I stalled. “I’m tired. Maybe I could answer that tomorrow,” I suggested. In reality, after just have witnessing her parents’ murder, I didn’t want to further fuel her nightmares. My nightmares lasted a good month or two after the initial outbreak.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Tomorrow, then. I’ll hold you to that.”
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