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2. Making Friends

November 2006

I was woken with an ‘oi’ and a kick in the ribs. I’m not sure quite how I had expected to be woken, but a kick in the ribs was not one of the options I’d considered. The shock of a sudden boot in the side had me scrambling half-upright before I knew what was happening. I opened my eyes to see, standing over me, a young man—probably similar to my age—in a worn leather jacket, black denims, and big, black boots.

I brought an arm up to shield my side, rubbed my eyes clear of sleep with the other arm, scrambled myself into a half-sitting, half-leaning position against the wall, and struggled desperately to catch up with the situation.

My first fear of a draft-mob come to soften me up before conscripting me was quickly dismissed by the sight of the man’s hair. It was shaved at the sides, but spiked straight up in a huge ridge right down the centre. Whoever he was, the man definitely wasn’t a soldier.

‘Whatcha doing, old man?’ he said, casually placing a boot on my leg. I struggled under his weight, looking for a way out, took another look at his boots, and decided that maybe talking was my best option.

‘I— I just needed somewhere to stay the night. I thought this place was deserted.’

‘Deserted, huh? Well, you’re kinda right.’ His lip curled, and he cast a sardonic look towards the door, where, I now had time to notice, a second punk was leaning against the frame. This second—was that a girl?—was dressed much like the one currently menacing me, although with significantly more metal hanging off various parts of—her?—face, and eye-makeup so heavy she looked like some parody of a corpse.

‘Shall we let him stay, do you think?’ she said, in a surprisingly normal voice. She sounded a bit younger than myself or, I guessed, the man pinning me down. ‘What brings you out this way, pops?’

Sure, I didn’t look my best with that kind of awakening, but I felt ‘pops’ was a bit unfair. I did my best to regain some sort of balance.

‘Hey, back off. I’m just passing through, is all.’

‘Oo, pops has teeth’ the girl said. She grinned, showing a few too many teeth of her own, I felt.

‘Passing through, huh? Ain’t no place much to go from here, dad.’ said the man.

They were really beginning to get on my nerves. My irritation was burning more than the dull throbbing in my side, and was threatening to eclipse my awareness of the leg holding me down.

‘Okay, fine, I don’t feel like dying in a war just yet, and apparently that’s some sort of crime most places. I’m just trying to get away from it.’

It was the man’s turn to grin a feral grin. ‘See, that’s more like it.’ He took his boot off my leg and retreated to lean against the opposite wall. It was obviously some sort of cue for the girl, who pushed herself away from the door-frame and sprawled against the wall beside him.

‘Call me Jack’ the man said. ‘And this is Shannon. Sorry about the boot, I wasn’t expecting to see anyone today.’

‘No problem’ I said, somewhat mollified. I’m not the sort to stay angry anyway—always seemed more effort than it was worth, and I’m an easy-going sort. ‘I’m Guy.’

‘Guy.’ said Jack. ‘If it helps you stay away from that crap-shoot of a war, you’re welcome to stay on here a bit. We tend to mostly keep to ourselves but hey, it’s a big house.’

‘I’ll see how things go’ I said. Things like whether you turn out to be loonies or not, I thought.

‘Like whether or not we turn out to be loonies, right?’ said Shannon. She laughed, jumped to her feet, and left. Jack gave me a wink and followed her out. I could see their heads over the windowsill as they walked down the driveway, then out of sight.

I tidied away my things, put my shoes on, and set about finding some water for a wash. I checked the kitchen without much hope, and as expected found no running water. The other taps on the ground floor were equally dry, and I didn’t think upstairs was even worth trying.

I wandered around the side of the house, and pushed my way down a slope through a clump of rose-hip bushes to find myself by a small stream. It wasn’t much, but there was enough flow that it was clean, and enough depth that I was able to submerge my head. I straightened up, treasuring the chill of fresh water running down my back, and shook the water out of my hair. It wasn’t such a bad day after all.

I jumped across the stream and picked my way up between the branches of a shady grove of small trees, climbing the bank that rose rather more abruptly on this side than on the other. I climbed over the ruins of a fence to find myself in a field, grass up to my chest, the morning sun on my face. I packed down a small area and sat for a while, listening to the whispering of the grass around. After a time I stood up and, pushing my way through the grass across the field, spent the rest of the morning exploring the small wood I found on the other side.

As midday came and went I found my stomach a little empty, so I made my way back to the house and made a lunch of a small amount of the bread and cheese I’d brought with me. I spent the afternoon reading a book, rocking gently in the sun on an old wooden chair on the front porch of the house.

Evening found me still there, so I figured another night wouldn’t hurt. No point risking the known for the unknown, was my thinking. Jack and Shannon had returned late in the afternoon, Jack with a couple of bags of war-time fruit (small, spotty apples mostly) and Shannon with a half-dozen fatty sausages. Dinner was small, but better than any of my other meals in last few days. I was going to have to find some sort of long-term food source myself, I decided; freeloading wasn’t fair.

The food wasn’t much, but as we sat around a small open fire that sputtered in the fireplace of what was probably once a living-room, listening to the last drops of fat sizzle in the flames while we ate our apples, I felt like I might have found a little bit of home. I retired to my bed while my unlikely new friends were still sitting around the fireplace, and I dozed off to sleep listening to their quiet murmurs from the next room. My last thought was ‘I wonder what they meant by “kinda deserted?”’