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Why am I still here? It is a genuinely good question. Why have I elected to chuck my life into the fire? There’s only one answer. Elektra. A girl, reborn in blood and grief. When I first saw her, my heart leapt into my mouth. She may have been covered in blood, with two black eyes and chipmunk cheeks, but there was something uniquely beautiful about her. I have never wanted to disrespect her, and I understand that she has commitments back home, but it does not make things any easier for me. There is only so long that I can be patient.

“Where are they?”

“They will be on their way. She always goes to the same location and David knows that. It takes more than ten seconds to travel from there to here, Linda. Stop worrying.” She is beginning to annoy me. Every few minutes, all that comes out of her mouth is either a complaint or an insult. She’s not the only one who lost Marcus. For Christ’s sake, his own daughter watched her father being ravaged by Risers. A daughter lost her father. I lost my mother the exact same way. A son losing his mother. Both are against nature. My mother was only 27 when she died. She had me young but, do not get me wrong, she was the best mother out there. She was a child, raising a child and I turned out alright on all accounts. We were on our own, reliant on each other. When one of the risers began to rip at her jugular, it was the end of my world. She only survived for a few days after that and Marcus’ group was good for taking me in but was the most difficult thing for me to witness. No child should have to watch their parents die, gasping for breath. Grabbing at life. I understand exactly what Elektra is going through. She will be fine; she just needs time to adjust and one day, it will get easier. When that day comes, I will let the world know.

She does not speak much anymore. Just small responses or short outbursts. She seemed so...feisty and opinionated when we first met and now, she seems lifeless. All of her fire appears to have fizzled out. As I said, she will find peace one day, I hope for her sake. What is taking so long? She may be being difficult but her retrieval never usually takes more than fifteen minutes. The fury on David’s face when I asked him to go after her...that was priceless.

“Why can’t you go looking for your own bloody bitch?” he yelled, the stench of whiskey being expelled into the air with each droplet of breath. “Just go, please. She will be more receptive to you; she may be less difficult if it is you due to the fact she knows you least. Also, don’t call her a bitch. She does not deserve to be called that. Just go Dave, please.”

“Fuck you and fuck her. Where is she?”

David is a good man. He is a good man but he could drink for England and Europe. I hate his swearing. My mother always told me that swearing shows a sign of a poor vocabulary but then again, could she really talk? A woman who had her legs open from the age of thirteen and had a child at the age of fourteen? Yet she was the best mother, better than most older parents out there. Anyway, this isn’t about my mother. The back door opens. I can hear one of the people almost struggling against the other. What is going on? Both Linda and I briskly walk into the back room. David has a hold of Elektra’s hair and is forcing her forwards; she is placing her weight against him but Dave seems to overpower her. She has a small trickle of blood coming from her lip. What did he think he was playing at?

I pull my gun out from my waistband.

“Dave, let her go! What are you playing at, let her go!” He throws her to the floor. Why is he doing this? She winces at the impact but then she just sits there, staring at me. I hate to see her so vulnerable, What is happening to her?

“Little bitch wouldn’t come with me so I made her. You going to keep complaining because if you are, you might want to grow a vagina mate. What the ’ell you yelling at me for anyway?”

“You’re drunk, Dave. Go and lie down before you cause any more hassle; I won’t ask you twice,” Linda says with a tone that is the epitome of spite. I do not think she would ever admit it but Linda does care about the children, Elektra and I. David skulks off to the back room and slams the door on his way. He is such a nasty drunk but he has never been violent to Elektra before, that is new. I cannot believe she did not fight back. “Lexi, are you alright?” I bend down and look at her, directly in the eyes. Her eyes just look dead. Everything about her is lifeless, the cut on her lip being the only sign of life. She doesn’t blink. She breathes lightly. I reach out to wipe the blood dribble from her chin. She rebuffs me, turning her face away and moving slightly backwards. I mirror her movement, moving towards her. I look down at her leg. It’s lying at an odd angle; I reach out to touch her leg and she lets me. As soon as I make contact with her knee, she lets out a quiet wince but still does not face me.

“Elektra, answer Jason’s question. He will be insufferable otherwise. Answer yes or no,” Linda states, pronouncing every syllable.

It takes her a moment.

“Yes,” she whispers with no emotion to her voice. In all the time that I have known her, I have never seen her like this. She has her moments but this is devastating, she’s not weak. These days four months is a lifetime and it is all I need to know that I need to do something about this. This is a girl who can kill Risers like it is nothing but David gets a little heavy handed and she relents? She lets him hurt her like that? This only makes me want to protect her more.

“Jason, go with her and get her cleaned up. I need to speak to you both and I can’t stand her looking so pathetic. Go on then,” Linda gestures to the bathroom and I take a hold of Elektra’s arm. She pushes me away but as soon as she tries to get up, she falls with a sickening crack. She relents and allows me to put my arms around her back and her thighs. She is so light. I carry her through into the old public rest-room. I place her on top of the bin nearest to the door and begin to run the tap. This place has a private reservoir so it still provides running water which is a God send. I allow it to run for a few minutes, letting the dirt empty from the pipe. I pick up the cleanest hand towel I can find and wet it. Elektra just sits there, staring into the darkness, with no expression. I approach her and dab the open wound on her lip. She does not even react but she doesn’t rebuff me either which is a good sign, I suppose. It is not too deep but it still looks like it hurts.

I detest violence against women, in any context. I even hesitate to kill female Risers. How could David actually attack her? We do not need conflicts or altercations now. We need to be a solid unit but how can any of us trust a drunk with our lives? I take the TCP out of my satchel and place a few drops onto the hand towel. I dab at her lip which forces a wince from her. It is going to sting but at least the wound will not become infected now. Her leg is now the issue.

“Thank you,” she whispers as she adjusts her position. Her lack of expression worries me still; I cannot tell if she is using a stiff upper lip or if she can even feel pain anymore. All I know is that I can’t help wanting to protect her. She has that air about her, behind the blank exterior and the constant mood swings. I move a piece of hair, that has moved from her ponytail, behind her ear and just look at her. Her eyes have become glossed. I place my hand on her cheek and she places her hand on mine, after a few moments. Under the circumstances, this is a perfect moment. There is no falsity or pretence. Just her. I want to kiss her, like I did at the base. It’s all I have thought about every time I look at her. I would never disrespect her by making an advance without her say so. She still has Roman back wherever she came from and how can I compete? The way she spoke about him, you would think he was some form of Adonis.

“I need to deal with your leg now. Are you sure you will be alright for this part?”

“Yes,” she clears her throat and looks me straight in the eye, “I’ve come back from worse.” She smiles. I smile. We both burst into laughter. I don’t understand why we are laughing but, due to the dark ambience before, I am glad of it and so is she from what I can tell.

I take a hold of her leg while holding her hand with my free hand. This is going to be painful but at least it is not a compound fracture. I just have to set it. This is not going to be pleasant for anyone involved. I have visions of getting kicked in the face. Please do not let her hit me, I would like to keep all of my teeth if at all possible. Lexi begins to grit her teeth and I remove my hand from hers and pass her a wooden piece, that is on the corner of the floor. She will need something to bite down on and I would prefer she bit down on a piece of wood instead of breaking my hand or jaw. She has a powerful punch and kick. She puts it in her mouth and looks at the ceiling, mentally preparing herself for what is coming next.

“You ready?” She nods. I need to anticipate this moment perfectly. She is tensing her muscles which may make this more difficult. Actually feeling the leg, it doesn’t feel broken, just dislocated. I place all of my pressure onto her foot, forcing the knee back into its joint. Elektra lets out an agonising scream and spits out the wooden piece. It seems to be back in place so I just need to find a splint to keep the bone in place for the moment. I crawl over to the wooden piece. She has bitten half way through it; I dread to think of what happened to the last person she bit, not that she goes around biting people. To my knowledge.

“I just need to get something to support your leg. You are doing really well, Lexi,” I say while smiling at her.

“Fuck, fuck. Just get on with it,” she grits her teeth.

I walk into the shop building and look for something, anything. Anything that can act as support. A splint or a knee brace would be preferable but we have to take what we can find.

“Linda, do we have a knee brace? I think that is all I can do for her.”

“Yes, in the cabinet beside the unicorn shit. Of course, we don’t Martell. We are not in a medical facility. Bandage it up and tell her to sit in the chair. Get to it Martell, we don’t have time for this,” she snaps at me. She didn’t have to be so facetious about it. I grab a roll of bandages from the table behind Linda.

“Thanks for the help,” I mutter under my breath. “No problem,” she replies. I hate it when she does that. The woman has the hearing of a bat. I cannot get away with anything. I waltz back into the bathroom, taking my time. I look behind me, trying to identify if she is in hearing range. She’s not. “I have bandages, you have a realigned patella. Let us begin,” I vocalise while tearing the plastic packaging of the bandages.

“Shut up, you prick,” she murmurs under a pained breath.

“Because I like you, I will let that one go but remember. Remember I have your leg.” She sighs and that’s when I notice. There is something on her neck. I say something on her neck but it is more like something is...missing. There is a cut, small and slight but still noticeable. What has she done to herself? She notices me looking at her wound and moves her hair to cover it. I stand up and move the lifeless strands that cover the scab that has formed. She grasps my hand. If looks could kill, I would be a dead man.

“Leave it. You don’t want to know, I don’t want to tell. Touch my neck again and I will kill you,” she spits the words out as if they are venom from her serpent’s tongue. Only when I have seen her cut down Risers without thinking am I scared of her but she is scaring me now. The blood lust in her eyes is unnerving, to say the least. I back away.

“Alright, alright. Calm down. If you do not want me to ask, I won’t but if you want to self-harm, that is another matter entirely. What have we discussed about this? You talk to us, you do not cut yourself to deal with things. Elektra, what is going on with you? One moment you are leaning your head on my neck, giving me all of these signals and then you threaten my life. What is your problem, Lexi? Tell me that. That is all I ask of you.”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it!” I throw the bandages to the floor, enraged by her every word.

“Fine, patch yourself up! I am fed up of this! Why am I always the fall out guy for your messed up tempers?” I storm off. The nerve of her! I do not care if she does not if she does not want to talk about it. It is not just about her. If she is suicidal, that impacts all of us. All that we have sacrificed for her to find peace or salvation, what little there is in this world. You know what? Damn her! Damn all of this! I am through with this. I am not her punch bag. Someone to attack with her physical and psychological violence. “Fine by me, dickhead!” I would never raise my hand to a woman, I know better, but never have I considered it so much. Calm down Jason, it is not worth it. She needs your support and if ignoring her does that, that is fine. You are not a bad person.

I walk back onto the shop floor again. Linda is standing there, pretending she did not just here that vile exchange. She just stares at her feet, humming to herself.

“Do not pretend you didn’t just hear that. What do you want, Linda?”

“Are you sure you aren’t going to throw another tantrum?” she says with a smirky grin.

“I will endeavour not to but let’s see where this conservation takes us,” I snap back in response to her comment. She has never cared, I know that. All of this for a group meeting that seems destined never to happen. Max walks in, stone-faced as usual. Stoned faced and most probably stoned to boot. How he gets the marijuana, none of us will ever know. The pungent, sickly odour clings to the air and to his clothing. The scent is too sickly, too prominent. It seems to pervade the air like some form of pathogen. In a way, it is sickening like a bacteria but I imagine I will get used to it at some point, I hope.

“Yo, what’s going on Linda?” Max sits on the counter next to me. The counter that seems to be going mouldy. How that happens, I do not quite understand. The smell. The herbal, sickening scent makes me feel nauseous. My argument with Elektra made me feel ill but that smell...I have no words.

“Nice to see you up Max. What have we discussed about your ’little habit″? You need a smoke, you go outside or you stay in your room and open a window. Look at little, wickle Jason, getting paler by the minute,” Linda states with a straight face, no sign of emotion or the intonation of a joke. At my expense. I am glad I live to amuse them but she is not joking. I feel the blood draining from my face like water drains through a sieve. I am not going to vomit. I am not going to vomit. Damn, now I’m thinking about vomiting which makes me feel even sicker.

“Please, don’t stop on my account. I need some air but I am sure you can fill me in on any...progressions there are,” I stand up and walk towards the door. I am not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing me empty the contents of my stomach and I am not going back into the bathroom with Elektra. Outside it is. The moment I step outside, my gag reflex sets off. I can feel the alkaline concoction rising until it fills my throat. I run to the nearest tree and allow the bile to leave my mouth at high speed, bouncing up as it hit the ground because of the pressure. I feel awful. Absolutely awful. About everything, just everything. I lift my head up and straighten my posture but as soon as I do, another lot rises. Fantastic. I cannot deal with this now. I allow myself to empty the contents of my stomach and make my way back in. As soon as I enter the building again, everyone is staring at me. Linda appears to be scowling at me while Max has the same spaced expression he always has. Then there’s here. The red-faced creature on the floor. She must have dragged herself along like a disabled badger. She looks annoyed. Then again, she has a dislocated patella and she has just dragged herself across the floor. She may have earned the right to be displeased with me but I still have my right to be displeased with her. I cannot express how odd it looks; she is still trying to drag herself towards me, getting redder in the face as she approaches. The rest of them just stare at me. I am not being facetious but I do fear for my ankles. I have learnt from experience, she has sharp teeth...and she’s a biter.

“Okay, right. Feeling better, Martell?” I open my mouth to respond but she cuts me off,” Good. Now, down to the matter at hand. We need to consider our options. This shop has exhausted its use and now is the time to establish our next move. I suggest we move down to the coast and get a boat, travel to the continent. Any objections? Anyone? Speak now or forever hold your peace.” Linda walks over to Elektra and offers her a hand. I saunter over; I think I owe her a hand. Linda is right about trying a new bit of scenery. We have needed to establish a plan for months but there has always been something keeping us grounded whether it be supplies, or lack thereof, or migration of the herd. Now is the time. Elektra’s mobility is fairly limited but we either leave now, or we never will. Linda seems to be struggling with Elektra so I quicken my pace and put my hands around her waist. I lift her onto the counter and she gives me a sly kick in the ribs, just to prove her point. That actually really hurt, she has a powerful kick. Ow. She then smiles at me, followed by a scowl. She gets over things fast, I will admit that. I flick her hair and she tries to bite me. Linda just sighs and walks back over to her perch. Max clears his throat and puts his hand up. “Max, is there something you wish to share with the group? Please make it quick. The herbal tint to your breath might make kiddy number 2 puke again,” Linda says with a hint of bemusement in her voice. She’s using her ‘say anything and I will castrate you’. We all know that voice too well.

“Yeah, well... have you accepted the possibility that there may not be any...any sodding boats?” Max mutters. His voice is always so serene, so calming. I swear I could listen to him recounting the works of Shakespeare. I would probably be asleep but still subconsciously listening. The expression on Linda’s face changes into the warped expression that could strike the fear of God into any person. He’s in for it now. You never question Linda when she has an idea, never. You will end up headless or without an organ that would cause the greatest amount of discomfort without death.

“Well, I see. Valid point. Valid point,” she walks over to a magazine rail and begins to roll it up while muttering to herself. Oh Max, what have you done.

”When I ask any objections, you keep your junkie mouth shut!” she says as she begins to hit him with the magazine. It looks weird, bordering on comical. He doesn’t fight back but does this weird ducking and diving routine. Elektra and I just look at each other. Sometimes, they act more immature than us.

“Now, I’m going to ask you again. Any objections?”

“No babe. I am alright thinking about it,” he says, while trying to protect his head.

“Good. To answer your question, there will be boats. There has to be. Now Max, Dave and I will pack some supplies and look for a new destination on the map. Kids, you will go on a supply run to the department store in the next town over. Medicine, food, etc. You know the drill by now. Everybody happy. I don’t need a reply to that Max. Good, now sod off.”

“Where is the wheelchair, Linda? We need to transfer this one here,” I state as I lift Elektra up, holding onto her legs and she wraps her arms around my neck. She kicks me in the side again which I’m sure will leave a nasty bruise. I then softly bite her arm and she begins to giggle. Linda sighs and points to the cabinet underneath the sink. She begins to saunter over to the map rack. I retrieve the wheelchair and unfold it. It is a bit decrepit but it will do. There’s hardly anything of Elektra so it will carry her weight easily. There are a few blood stains but it doesn’t really matter. There are worse things to sit in. Worse things than dry blood, definitely. I place her into the chair and she winces.

“We will back within the hour. Laters people,” I strain to say as I push the chair. It needs to be oiled or something. It takes us about twenty minutes to get to the town centre. A mile and a half in twenty minutes. Personal best, with the chair. It looks like there has been a catastrophic fire here recently. It is pathetic. People think if they can’t have something, no one can. The rest of us should suffer along with them. The idiots. It does so infuriate me. The destruction of this place still gets to me but not as much as it gets to the older ones. They have a well of memories to draw on from before. They have memories of a world that had not been conquered by disease or brutality in its entirety. That is why they send us out more often. It upsets them. Once we enter the department store, it begins apparent why we need torches. It is so dark and the smell of smoke clings to the walls. It will be fine once my eyes adjust but it is just so dark. This run needs to be worth it; unless this is just a distraction, to occupy us for a while. What food is there likely to be? It does into appear to be one of those places that you would find a great deal of canned food. The burnt out sign on the front has become illegible. It used to be some form of big brand according to Linda but I doubt you would find medicine and clothes in the same place as food.

“Well, this is a sorry excuse for a shop. There was a store back in Blackheath were there was still a little lighting and there was so much canned food. We survived on supplies from that place for four years. Canned food. Couldn’t beat it. What is this place’s excuse?” She says while taking control of her chair. Lex does feel like she has to tell me stories of what things were like for her, up north. It is intriguing, and I do feel like I know her better because of it, but it does get tedious after a time. There’s only so many times I can here about the ‘perfect little shop in a place named after a burial site for victims of the Black Death’. Is it bad that I get bored? Maybe.

“Yes, I can’t imagine why it looks so sorry for its self. Could it have anything to do with the fact that it is not being powered by electricity as was intended and it hasn’t been for the past 20 odd years?” I say, while pushing the wheelchair ever so slightly. She lets out a forced laugh and spins around to face me.

“So, what’s the plan? Because I don’t think I’m fitting through most of the aisles with this monstrosity?”

“I know but don’t call yourself a monstrosity,” I articulate and she forces a false laugh yet again, “Okay, so I will go and see what meds I can find and you look for food or clothes, whatever. That okay with you?”

“Yeah, fine. I shall zoom like the Flash. I’ll see you back here in ten minutes. If anything happens, just scream. I’ll come...wheeling. Don’t look at me like that. You know that you have such a high pitch scream and that I always end up saving your arse. Anyway, laters,” she shouts as she flies down the baby supplies aisle. I have thought about children. I mean it would be difficult but I have always imagined being a father. My mother was the best mother and human being I have ever known. She taught me how to protect myself and how to be human. She taught me how to keep my emotions in check and how to keep others alive. It was a shame she couldn’t keep herself alive by the same philosophy. I always imagine finding the ‘one’ and settling down. Having a family within the confines of the bunker. But that is the end of my delusions; the only girl I desire would never indulge me in that way. I would never disrespect her by trying to pursue the issue further.

Anyway, that’s not important. I walk down the aisle until I see the medicine counter. The air feels damp. Heavy almost. I take out my torch in one hand and my gun in the other. The torch does not provide a great deal of light but it is better than nothing. The batteries are dying but there is not a decent supply of that type of thing. The cabinet provides nothing but disappointment. There are a few fabric bandages; three packets of Anadin and six bottles of Viagra. Seriously, of all the medication to remain, it’s the one that deals with impotence. Might as well take a bottle or two for the elders. I don’t even want to think about why they would need it but I don’t judge.

Abruptly, a scream cuts through the air. The sound of a chair being tipped over. Oh my god, what the hell? Elektra? It has to be. I walk quickly which then escalates into a run. Can we not just have one uneventful run? Last time, we got cornered by a herd and this time. Damn it. She must be in the clothes section but the acoustics in here are abysmal. My torch finally gives up, leaving me in near total darkness. When I reach a corner, I slide on something. I land straight on my stomach. I move my hand around and raise it towards the light. It’s blood. That is most definitely blood.

Warm blood. Recent. Oh damn. I jump to my feet and launch myself forward. There’s someone there. They have a hold of her leg. She is trying to crawl away, kicking her leg out hoping to hit her mark. They then kneel down, kneeing her in the ribcage. I run forward, pushing him off of her. I punch him in the face, repeatedly. They kick me in the groin and pushes me off. I crawl over to Elektra. She’s breathing but she has knocked herself out. She must have hit her head when he let go. I have to get her out of here. They then grab my neck and try to throttle me. I struggle against them and try to get my finger on the trigger. They knock the gun out of my hand and kick me in the chest, winding me. I punch him in the neck and get back onto my feet. They take a few minutes and, in that time, I gather Elektra into my arms and begin walking. That’s when he fires the gun at my head.

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