It was one hundred and three years since the world had gone to shit. But the world in its current state, with near-invincible zombies and bastards doing bastard things because that’s all a bastard is ever going to do, was all RaRa had ever known. She’d heard stories, of course, of the pre-outbreak world, just as everyone of her generation and the generation prior had, but to her and everyone living that’s all they were; stories. In fact, they might as well have been nothing but works of fiction written by authors like those housed in the Sanctuary’s modest library.
“We’ve got riders approaching from the south, RaRa.”
She glanced up from the papers she was studying, a rough plan to secure the final section of what used to be a railway track thus giving the Sanctuary and the community it served access to the Humber and from there, the North Sea.
“Wheels, or hooves?” she asked, not that it really made any difference at all. A man or woman on horseback was just as likely to be a threat as one riding a motorcycle, and vice versa. The Sanctuary was open to all, and as such there were occasions when events went very quickly south.
RaRa recalled one of the stories her mother had told her, one that took place within the first couple of years of her setting up the Sanctuary. Her mother had taken in a young family who for one reason or other had taken it upon themselves to slaughter half of the community’s population overnight, the father doing so with his eight-month old daughter asleep in a rucksack upon his back, and it was that child, though she was no longer a child of course, standing in the doorway waiting for RaRa to join her and head to the south gate.
“Wheels,” Orva replied, as the slightest of smiles spread across her face. Motorised vehicles of all kinds were a rarity, though motorcycles less so than cars and the like. Orva was a petrolhead, an unfortunate thing to be when fuel was so scarce it was rarely used to power anything other than generators. “Three of them. Hania spotted them about ten miles out coming along the old road.”
“We’re sure they’re coming here?” RaRa knew it was a bit of a silly question even before she asked it. Of course they were coming here. The Sanctuary was better equipped with medical supplies, food, and drinking water, than anywhere north of the Trent and south of the Wall. It was also the only place safety could be guaranteed, as far as such a thing could be guaranteed, anyway, for hundreds of miles in any direction. People knew that, too. Even those who did not reside at the Sanctuary, either because they preferred the near-total freedom of life elsewhere or because they only made use of the location when travelling between one point and another, were always able to find relative safety with RaRa and her people.
Orva nodded in reply, as unnecessary a gesture as it might have been, and together the two women exited the old farmhouse.
Some two hundred yards away, the ruins of Wressle Castle stood proudly in the mid-morning sunshine. The shutters, fitted some years prior to protect what remained of the interior, along with the corrugated roof, were closed. That would not be the case the next day, when all members of the community who were on site were due to gather for the weekly Community Meeting. But that was all the remains were used for now.
They unhitched the pair of mares from the post a few feet from the door, and set off at a trot towards the South Gate, situated where the train tracks crossed what was once the junction between Breighton Road and Station Road. Soon their animals were carrying them along the former, though in truth it was no longer at all road-like other than the fact it was used to travel along. As most places, certainly those either RaRa or Orva had every had occasion to visit, nature had well and truly taken over and the ‘road’ was really nothing more than a bridleway through a young, established woodland.
As they approached the South Gate that woodland opened up to a space, perhaps four hundred yards wide in any direction. At the far end of that space stood the gate, as tall as five men and of the strongest Oak, which actually made use of the old railway tracks to open and close.
“Open the gate, Jimmy,” RaRa shouted, and the man addressed as Jimmy standing atop the gate on a balcony of sorts did just that. He was not alone up there. Four of them, all told, two on either side.
“Hania, you’re with Orva and me,” she said to the much younger girl, who had been patiently awaiting RaRa’s arrival and Orva’s return, sitting in a sidesaddle fashion as she enjoyed a cigarette. “Close ’em up behind us, Jimmy. Keep your archers at the ready.”
The three women guided their horses beyond the gate and the tracks, and came to a halt as the rollers and runners closed the gate behind them.
“Should be any minute now,” said Hania, cheerfully. “They can only have been about fifteen minutes behind me.”
RaRa nodded. On any occasion people with whom she was unfamiliar approached the Sanctuary the adrenaline always pumped through her veins, that fight or flight instinct that showed up every time she was unsure how a meeting was going to go. With the archers at her back and a pistol tucked into the back of her belt, as well as the fact she was entirely aware she, Orva, and Hania, were plenty capable of handling themselves, meant she had nothing at all to worry about. But there was always that niggling sensation that events might go awry.
Within moments the roar of motorcycle engines could be heard as the riders made their way down the tunnel of trees towards them, and soon they were not only audible but visible.
They soon came to a halt and cut their engines, and two men and a woman approached.
“Welcome to the Sanctuary, folks,” said RaRa, giving the customary greeting. “Lovely day for it, eh?”
“Your day’s about to get a whole lot worse,” said the woman, her response alone enough to make the fine hairs at the back of RaRa’s neck stand on end. “We’re up from Swindon, near enough, and there are about a hundred or so of our people probably a couple of days behind us.”
“You’re all heading here?” Orva asked. “Why?”
“Well as your friend there said, this is the Sanctuary and our people are in desperate need of that. The rest of our community got taken out by a horde bigger than I’ve ever seen. Our best guess, the floods in the southwest a few months ago resulted in a whole lotta’ death for the more isolated communities. The resulting undead made more and more and how that horde is hundreds strong, probably thousands.”
“Times like this we could use our eyes in the sky,” said RaRa, half to herself, though she knew it was futile. No one she knew of had heard from the island community on Saint Helena in the South Atlantic and their satellites for years. The next time she spoke, she did so directly to the three newcomers.
“Come on in, and feed yourselves while we gather a party. Any weapons you’re carrying, put them in the crate just inside the gate. We’ll head out at noon, and get your people here safe.”