Again, apologies for skipping last week. I’ve been struggling with writing really at all due to a hectic schedule and writer’s block….
If you’re new, catch up and read:
Without making you wait any longer, I give you:
Part 4 :
“Excuse me?” I stare at Daren. “You gotta be kidding me.”
Turning away from him, I stare at the crumbling building in front of me and at the gaping doorway, the only passage through the rubble.
“It’s this way, or no way.”
“Listen, I didn’t come all the way out here to be crushed by a rock. It looks like it’s about for fall over, for heaven’s sake!”
Daren shrugs and walks forward, leaving me behind as I watch his back disappear into the shadow of the dilapidated building.
“Um, hello? Daren?” To my embarrassment, my voice comes out shrill, escalating to a frightened squeak. I swallow, and cough a bit, eyeing my surroundings.
Daren had said that our destination was just beyond the wall of rubble blocking our path. And the only way to get to the camp was to go through the building… I gulp just thinking about it.
Towering over me with support beams and wires sticking out at rakish angles, the building looks on the verge of collapse. One false step could probably send the whole thing crashing down, I think to myself.
Grimacing, I shake my head and turn away, determined to head back to my cat and resume my life of drudgery.
“You comin’ or not?” Daren’s voice echoes from within the building.
Rolling my eyes, I groan and turn back, hoisting my backpack higher onto my shoulders.
“Fine!” I shout back, not bothering to hide the frustration in my voice.
Walking forward, I take a breath before plunging into the dim light, wincing as I step on each unsteady piece of cement. The dim light filters through the many cracks and openings, illuminating the way and showing me the large, unstable pieces of concrete jutting out of the floor. Daren in standing on a flat pile, several slabs away.
“Careful now. If you slip, you’ll fall into some hole, and I don’t have time to try and find you.”
I try to convince myself that he’s joking as I carefully walk onto the concrete, angling my feet to stop myself from slipping. Bending at the waist, I grab the rough edges with my fingertips, and slowly inch my way to Daren, sweating with each near slip.
Finally reaching his slab, I hop onto it and stretch, grimacing. He watches me, a quizzical half-smile glimmering on his features.
“You ready to get outta here?”
“You think I’d wanna stay?”
“Alright then, let’s go.”
With Daren in the lead, we slip and slide across the several slabs, ducking under hanging beams until we’ve made our way out of the building and into the bright sun.
I finally feel like I can breathe easy, sucking in the beautiful, unobstructed air.
My breath escapes in a woosh and I jump back, crouching defensively at the sudden noise. A short, stocky man jumps out from behind a large boulder and launches himself at Daren. I wince, expecting to see him collapse. Instead, Daren somehow absorbs the force of the stranger’s attack and jabs an elbow in the side of his head, wrapping his other arm around his neck in a death grip.
“Ye-ei-ld.” The other man gasps.
I stare in puzzlement as Daren releases his grip, looking stern. The stranger stands up and glares at Daren. Suddenly, he throws his head back and guffaws up into the sky. My guide’s face cracks into a huge smile and the two men throw their arms around each other, pounding one another on the back.
“Um, you guys know each other?” I ask. The sound of my voice causes the strange man to jump back and glare suspiciously at me.
“A Peer. I’m taking her to camp.”
I fold my arms, rolling my eyes at the way they’re talking like I’m not even here.
“Hm.” The man stares at me some more, then abruptly steps closer, his sudden movement making me jump. “Name’s Mequan, but everyone calls me Meq.”
“Uh, hi.” I look him up and down, taking in the bushy hair, barely contained energy, and overall boisterous appearance. “So are you a Peer too?”
“What? You ask that when you first meet a person?” Meq glares at me, looking genuinely offended.
Confused, I stutter a bit before he throws his head back and laughs loudly again, making me jump even more.
“Wow, you’re kinda skittish… Say, Daren, Sniffleborg was wondering what was taking you so long.”
“Sniffleborg?” My voice is loud in astonishment.
“Yeah, I knew he would. I was avoiding the Crawlers, and then trying to find out where the Torn Arena will be. Then I ran into her and I was-“
“What on earth are you talking about?!” I ask, my brain not understanding half the words Daren is using. “Who is Sniffleborg, what are Clawers, and what’s the Torn Arena?”
Daren and Meq turn and stare at me, their eyebrows shooting up and their eyes narrowing so similarly that it makes me want to laugh.
“Does she always interrupt like this?” Meq asks Daren.
“I dunno. Haven’t known her long enough.”
I press my lips together, ignoring the sudden impulse to pound some sense into their miserable heads. But, inconveniently, the whereabouts and information about the Peer camp is inside their heads, so smashing them wouldn’t be exactly practical.
“Well, are we going to stand around talking all day, or are you gonna come with us to the Peer camp?” Meq asks, interrupting my cost/benefit analysis.
“But I wasn’t even-“
“Okay! Let’s go!” He interrupts me and turns away, bouncing over the ground that descends down a slight incline. Daren does the same, not even deigning to see if I’m following.
I grit my teeth in annoyance and shaking my head, walk after them.
It only takes a few more minutes to reach the camp, and I stare in disbelief at the sight of neatly rowed houses, tents, stores, gardens, and children running around.
“How did you manage to keep this place a secret?” I ask, staring around at all the people, many of them displaying a piece of machinery: an ear, a foot, sometimes a whole limb.
“No one comes here anymore, no one flies over this place, no one gets the slightest curious about something behind a pile of rubble.” Meq replies. “People never see things they think don’t exist.”
I follow my two escorts through the dirty street, staring at the people I see, some disreputable-looking, others obviously making an effort to appear presentable.
We stop in front of a low, dark building, the windows covered in cloth, and smoke rising from the back. Raucous sounds come clearly through the walls, and I watch in alarm as Meq goes to the door, sticks his head in and shouts at the top of his lungs,
“Hey, Sniffleborg! Got someone for you to meet!”
I swallow and listen as the heavy footfalls of someone walking over an extremely creaky floor reaches my ears. A large shadow stretches across the porch, and my eyes pop open when I see how big it is.
“Um… maybe I don’t want to meet Sniffleborg…” I say, hesitantly backing away. Before I can bolt, however, Daren grabs my arm and pulls me forward, pushing me to the bottom of the porch step.
Doubts fly through my mind as an irrational fear of whoever owns the shadow wells up inside of me. It doesn’t help when I hear a string of profanity echo through the building.
And that’s it.
I’ll be back Tuesday!!