The sudden silence is louder than the cacophony that rattled the place just a few moments ago. The ground feels like it is shaking as I try to still my ferociously pounding heart and calm my nerves. The other nine people with me aren’t doing much better than I, but we are alive. We are all here. We just survived a Scrounger attack, and its monstrous head remains apart from the rest of its fear instilling body in the middle of our living room, as we all surround it, looking on in trepidation.
In the fifteen-minute onslaught, it managed to wear down every defense structure that we had put up. And though that mainly consisted of old furniture, they had served their purpose well before. But the Scrounger was bigger than any other of the mutated animals that we had to fight on the day all hell broke loose, and it showed its caliber and tenacity by going at all the barricades until it found the weakest one, a small window at the bottom of the staircase. Despite all the rounds fired, it was only stopped when one of my dad’s workers we are with, Pieter, surprised it with an ax in the neck while it was distracted. All his years out on the fields have given him some pretty built arms and hands wrought for battle, so he made relatively easy work of it. We are all alright, but now there is a lot more moonlight shining into our once safe fortress than there’s supposed to be.
“We can’t stay here any longer,” my dad says. “The damage done has left us exposed; we need to find somewhere else to take refuge until we figure out a way forward.”
“My place has a basement; I think we will be safe there in the meantime.” That’s Roxanne, our next door neighbor.
“And remain sitting ducks? I don’t think so, princess,” my Uncle Otto says with a degree of brusqueness one would describe as disparaging. Because of his antagonistic nature, he always feels the need to second guess opinion, even when he knows that he’s clearly wrong. And what makes it even worse is that he’s never been with the idea of Roxanne and her little brother Franklin joining our party, so that only makes him more opposed to any suggestion she’s about to give. I don’t know how he can be so insensitive; their family didn’t survive when the first wave of mutant animals overran our small town of Ladismith, but somehow, they managed to escape, and they got to our house before we sealed ourselves in. How could anyone with a heart turn them away? I bet you my uncle would have an answer to that question.
“Otto,” my dad interjects, “Take want you can and move out. Everyone else, do the same.” Now when my dad takes a commanding tone like that one, no one can talk back to him. Not even Uncle Otto. His time in the army left an air of authority about him, and to top it off, being in the fields after his retirement made him every bit as rugged as Pieter. Basically, what he says, goes.
My dad goes outside to quickly check if the coast is clear, and once he’s sure, he signals to the rest of us to move out. We are to cross the yard in a single file with the women and children in the middle and my mother helping my Gran move along.
Once we are in Roxanne’s basement, my dad and uncle use anything they can to barricade the door and the tiny window. Everyone is exhausted, and though we should be putting our heads together and making a plan, there isn’t that much willingness to speak, or to do anything for that matter, from anyone. My dad just has to concede that rest is needed now, and everything else will be sorted out tomorrow.
Roxanne sits across the dimly lit basement, preparing Franklin for bed. She seems to be glowing even in the dull light, but maybe that’s just how her gracefulness is perceived by my eyes. With everything she’s gone through, it would be hard to radiate anything but melancholy. My heart breaks for her and her brother; it must be a very painful experience being here again. She has barely said a word to anyone since joining us, and even though time has gone by, the wounds must still feel fresh. I have been doing all I can to make her feel at least a little at home; bringing her hot beverages, cracking jokes, being as convivial as I can, and at times her hazel eyes do light up for the cornier jokes, but I can tell that there’s a lot missing in the smile that she gives. There is a sadness that her silver highlighted hair can’t hide. There isn’t much comfort to be found anywhere, and a new day tomorrow doesn’t bring much promise, but I should at least find a way to cheer the two of them up. They of all people deserve a break.
Sounds of the early morning start ringing in my ears like an alarm, but what wakes me is the chilly September air that has filled the basement. My older sisters are cuddled up against me for warmth, and everyone else apart from my dad is still sleeping. He’s inspecting all the barricades, already preparing for the worst. I manage to get up gently without disturbing my sisters and go to join him.
“How long do you think we can stay here?” I ask.
“We’ve already stayed too long.” He looks back at our depleting food supply, and I concur. The food doesn’t look like it will last more than three days. I just wish there was a way to stay because if we leave, I must admit that I’m scared of what we’ll find out there.
On the day of the Scrounger attack, we lost all contact with the rest of the country, but it’s not like the rest of the country was anything pretty before. It had already been overrun with the bedlam that has overwhelmed what is left of the rest of the world. All law and order was lost amidst the increasing mutant animal attacks that would claim thousands of lives at a time, and everyone who did not flee adopted an ‘anything goes’ attitude that saw the metropolitan areas gradually descend into anarchy. Then, everything went dark after the first wave of attacks here in Western Cape. That was a month ago. Up until last night, we hadn’t any more incidents, and I foolishly thought that everything had blown over. Was I mistaken.
The sun goes higher into the sky, but after a certain point, one can’t really tell the difference in the increasing light intensity. The only light that’s coming in is from a small space in the window left slightly open so that we could have some air circulation. Because of that, the rest can be forgiven for oversleeping, but before long, my dad wakes everyone up from their slumber, because time isn’t really a luxury we have right now. Ever since ever, my parents never made big decisions without involving everyone, and this time won’t be any different.
My mom gets the survival mode breakfast of canned baked beans and biltong ready while I’m fidgeting with my dad’s radio. I’ve done this every day since a week after the Scrounger invasion. My opinion is if there is someone else out who’s made it this long, then they’ve got to have resources and other useful things, and also, well simply put, there is strength in numbers. Contrary to Uncle Otto’s beliefs.
“I think we should head further inland. If this is what mere baboons have turned into, I don’t want to know what’s going to crawl out of the ocean,” my mom says, once we are all eating.
“No, Wendy, going inland will be no different,” Uncle Otto says. “There’s death waiting everywhere. Land, ocean; it doesn’t really make a difference. And besides, how are we all going to fit in the Wrangler? I say we stay, and reinforce the little fort we have here.” And this is coming from the person who was against us coming to Roxanne’s basement in the first place. That’s how twisted he is.
“For how long, Otto? Are we just gonna live in a basement for the rest of our lives?” My mom replies.
“I’ve seen a few of my friends do it, we’ll just-”
“Guys, wait!” I interrupt. I’ve just heard something over the radio. I put down my plate, rush to the radio and try to fine tune the signal.
“Shut it down; we don’t know who’s out there!” Uncle Otto whispers loudly.
“Shhhh! That’s why we need to listen!” I reply. “Hello, is anyone out there? Hello! This is Bradley Reynold, is there anyone listening?” There is nothing else but static. I continue fidgeting with the knob, just trying to find that frequency again.
“See,” Uncle Otto starts, “there’s no point even-”
“Hello? Hello? If anyone is listening, we are under attack! Please! Help us!”
“Oh my word! Carrie Lynne! I know that voice anywhere!” Roxanne basically grabs the radio microphone, takes over from me and turns up the volume. This is the most emotion I have seen from her since she joined us. “What’s going on out there?”
“It’s a Scrounger! It wants to break into our-”
The connection goes dead.
So there are other people out there, but they are in grave danger.
“What do we do?” My oldest sister Michelle asks. She wants to help, but I can see fear mixed in with the concern on her face.
“What do you mean, ‘what do we do?’ We have to go and help them! She’s like a sister to me!” Roxanne shouts back.
“Like, a sister,” Uncle Otto says, “But she isn’t. We really can’t afford to-”
“Fine then, I’ll go by myself!” She shouts, frustrated by everyone dragging their heels into action. She turns around, but just before she can take even a step, Uncle Otto points the rifle in his hands at her.
“Now hold it right there,” he says.
“Otto, what on earth do you think are you doing, man!?” My mom demands. If anyone can get through to her brother, it should be her.
“What should have been done long ago. She’s the reason for all our problems. The two extra mouths she brought are what made us run out, hence having to go out looking for food and consequently bringing back the Scrounger. Now she wants to go out again? Get more stomachs to fill? And bring back more trouble? I don’t think so.” My heart is pumping much faster now. The atmosphere got charged pretty quickly, and with the adrenalin that’s now coursing through my veins, I do something that I might not live to regret.
“If you want to get to her, you’re gonna have to go through me!” I stand between Roxanne and the shotgun, staring down its barrel, with no assurance that crazy Uncle Otto won’t pull the trigger.
He cocks the gun, and I gulp nervously.
If anyone ever wondered about what goes on in my mind, they are about to find out.