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After (MrAdam and Chanti)

Chanti

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Apr 1, 2015
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Sophie no longer needed an alarm. That need had vanished two months after the last person she knew to exist in the world died. It seemed that with the vanishing of former social norms, her body grew more attuned to the sun. She rose with it and went to sleep not long after it.



It was a beautiful Tuesday morning when she awoke. The sun barely peeking over the horizon. Orange and red and fiery – a precursor of bad weather. She would need to get her work done early today.



First was her yoga routine – something she never failed to do now. Crawling out of bed she stripped off the tshirt she slept in, finding a sports bra and pulling it on. In that and panties she began her first routine of the day. It was fast paced, and by the time she was done fifteen minutes later she was sweating in the cool bedroom. Child’s Pose….deep breath. Cat-cow….she looked at the rising sun through her always open glass doors that led out to her bedroom balcony, soaking in it’s warmth. Table with lifted knees…..and on and on. Sucking in deep breaths, losing herself in her small body flexing and twisting.



Once she was done she stood for a few moments. Eyes closed. Breathing deeply. Visualizing roots growing out of the bottom of her feet. Down through the five floors of the hotel. Sinking deep into the cold earth. She needed all the grounding she could get these days.



Then she dressed hurriedly – jeans, tank top, flannel shirt because it was starting to get cool, thick socks, heavy tough boots, sunglasses. A shoulder holster, and a loaded .10mm Glock G29 shoved carefully into it. Carefully because it was a gun – and these days any accident could be deadly.



Before she left her bedroom she marked the day off the calendar with a marker. It was early November. Eight months and three days since Andrea died, the last person she had known to be alive. Eight months and two weeks since the last time she had seen a living person.



Only then did she turn to one of her major daily rituals – breakfast. This morning it would be oats, because she was in a hurry. Despite the urgency to get her daily chores finished, every move was deliberate. Breakfast was important. The most important meal of the day, she thought – then listened in alarm when a hysterical giggle bubbled out of her lips. She pressed her lips thinly together, focusing on her breakfast ritual.



A pot, carefully wiped out. She had a lot of mouse traps around, but mice and rats were particularly abundant since the die-off, and she had no interest in eating rat shit. Out to her fifth floor balcony where she fired up the Coleman gas stove. It had been one of her first “purchases” after the die-off, seized from an outdoors store on the other end of town. She emptied a bottle of water into the pot, carefully salted it, then took a precisely measured spoonful of brown sugar and put it into the water. Then she dribbled honey into the water, counting to four under her breath before she closed the honey container and set it to the side.



While the water boiled she wiped out her bowl and set it nearby. Got the oats from her pantry – a metal five shelf storage unit on wheels. She measured out one cup of the oats and poured them into a small mixing bowl, then set the container back onto her pantry. She checked to make sure no little mice teeth had gotten into her food. She checked every day, even though everything was sealed in some sort of plastic or glass container. Next, two teaspoons of dry milk powder. One half of an entire shelf of her pantry was full of spices, and from these she selected cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, sprinkling a bit of each into her oats.



She stood looking out over the city, the bright morning sun now warming her face as she stirred her oats, dry milk, and spices together. Then she poured it into the almost-but-not-quite-boiling water, stirring as it thickened.



She ate it with another bottle of water on the dainty metal patio bistro table she had fallen in love with at a local furniture boutique, reading a book she had “checked out” from the library last yesterday, a delicious novel entitled “Where the Crawdads Sing.”



After she had eaten every bite of the creamy concoction, she cleaned up using riverwater hauled twice a week using a bicycle and a sturdy gardening wagon.



Only then did she grab a flashlight and the Mossberg 12 gauge pump action shotgun by the door, shoving a handful of shells into her pockets before heading out the door. Her grocery cart was waiting outside the stairwell and she lay her shotgun across the child-basket.



She hummed to herself as she walked to the store. Five blocks south, four blocks east. She walked casually, but kept a careful eye out for animals. She had seen more and more wild animals taking to the streets recently. It wasn’t just deer either. In the last month she had been hearing the howling of wolves. And just last week she had been somewhat alarmed to see a fat brown bear padding his way through town. Yesterday she had looked up bears in the library. She didn’t think she would have long to worry about them this year, they usually went into hibernation later this month.



Still, it was worrisome enough she no longer contented herself with the handgun, she now carried a shotgun as well whenever she left her home.



It never occurred to her to watch for people as well. As far as she knew – there was no one left alive anymore except herself.



She had barricaded all the major food stores months ago to stop bigger animals from getting in. Wild dogs and cats had been everywhere for months before gradually fading off to a few glimpses of life here and there. But the barricades hadn’t stopped the mice. She had spent almost a solid month going from store to store, taking the boxed and bagged goods and storing them in thick plastic bins. That effort had saved her a lot of heartburn over food loss.



An hour later and she was done shopping by flashlight. She left with a buggy half full of canned beans and vegetables, a bag of rice and two boxes of pasta, spices and broths, canned meat, a box of tea, a box of hot cocoa mix, a bag of pita chips, a box of gingerbread cookies, some dried fruit, some granola, and a bag of peppermints. It was overcast, a definite wet chill to the wind signifying rain was coming – and quickly. She hurried back to the hotel, almost trotting. Rain was starting to sprinkle when she dashed up to the overhand, parking her cart underneath it and grabbing the boxes and bags – the most vulnerable to rain.



A half hour later and she was unpacked, setting the gun down by the door and locking the door. She didn’t know why she still locked the door. She just did.



The rest of the day was spent studying and reading as rain poured down over the silent, empty city. The light was so dim she lit a kerosene lamp for her to be able to read by. A food storage cookbook and an old book on nursing, “Notes on Nursing” by Florence Nightingale. A vintage gardening book she had found in a used bookstore down the road. And, of course, her novel. She made careful notes on everything except her novel.



Dinner was soup – a can of black beans, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of pinto beans, taco seasoning. Served over rice.



She went to bed early. The sun had just gone down. Her little home was spotless. Her notebook and head were filled with notes and plans. She was restless. But she had the cure for that.

Moonlight pooled on her bed from the open sliding glass doors as her hand slid under the blankets, slipping under her panties. The dark, silent room soon filled with her breathy soft whimpers that stole out onto the balcony.



Wednesday was always an unpleasant day, but especially after a heavy rain. Dragging the wagon of dirty clothes and linens and laundry detergent to the swollen river was a hated chore – but one that needed to be done. It took most of the day, with frequent breaks to read.



Thursday was normally a day spent for training, but it was a miserably wet and cold day and she spent it holed up in her big pantry room – a hotel room on the fourth floor she had cleared out and set up with a shelving system. Rat traps were everywhere in here, and the room kept tightly sealed against vermin. She had never once caught a rodent in here. But it had been three weeks since she had organized it, and the day was happily spent puttering around organizing and drinking hot cocoa with a peppermint in it.



Friday she woke worried about the weather, but it was fortunately dry. Delighted, she went through her yoga routine and breakfast routine swiftly. Dressed in yoga pants, sneakers, a skin tight gray tank top, and a hoodie over her blond hair. Then slung a backpack from the closet over her shoulder. She considered the handgun and shotgun, but left only with the shotgun. Her step light and happy as she headed down the street to the south. Past the Walgreens she had raided and emptied that first month. The contents were now in the fourth floor hotel room she dubbed “The Hospital”. Past the McDonalds, the Dollar General, the Payday Loan company. Past the bus in the middle of the street with the three decayed bodies. Past the radio station, past the Home Depot. Then a left on Sherry Street. Three blocks down, into the small open air theater on the right.



It was what had drawn her to this small north California town. It was here she had danced so many months ago with her friends in the dance competition they would have won….if they had lived.



She hopped onto the edge of the stage, sitting and opening her backpack. Turning on her phone that she kept charged with a solar charger. She spent a few minutes silently going through pictures. Of her family back in South Carolina. Her smiling mother and two happy little sisters. All of them probably dead. Of her boyfriend, Eric. Also probably dead. Of her dance team, her friends Suzanne and Heidi.



She missed them all.



She pulled out her headphones, plugging them into the phone. Pulled out an armband cell phone holder, fastening it around her slender bare arm. She found the playlist she wanted, then tucked the phone into her phone holder. Kicked off her shoes despite the cold.



And then she danced. Sometimes it was slow and measured – very ballet like. Sometimes it was jazz, with smooth quick movements of her feet and whirling, dazzling leaps. And sometimes it was hiphop. The breeze the only audible music as she ground her hips, losing herself in the rhythm of her body.

She had been dancing for three hours with a few short breaks for water and energy bars from her backpack before they came.



Two men, armed with shotguns. Strolling into the amphitheater – probably hearing her dancing steps from the road. Standing there leering at her as she obliviously danced, her slender body curving and writhing for them, her eyes closed.



“Well, I’ll be damned. Would you look at that fine piece of ass there….” One of the men spit brown chewing tobacco spit off to the side as his eyes ran up and down the lithe girlish figure on the stage.



“We can use her up some and sell her to the Mexicans down south. Fetch a good price for her.”


They started moving up towards the stage, spreading out slightly to make it more difficult for her to run. They were almost on her before her eyes opened, dazed from the sheer pleasure of dancing. Until they fell on the men approaching her, the look of the predator all over them.



She froze, her pretty gray blue eyes flaring wide, her lips parting in a gasp.



They were the first living human beings she had seen in months, and the shock of seeing them gave them opportunity to leap forward, one of them grasping her small bicep in his hand.



“No!” She instinctively tried to jerk away, to run. But it was too late, and the man holding her chuckled.



“Oh yes, sweetie. Yes and yes. All night long….” He reached up, cupping her breast, squeezing.
 

MrAdam

Moon
Joined
Dec 14, 2018


Miller had first seen the girl about a week ago... precisely a week ago, he realised... and he had been following her, on and off, ever since. Stalking. You've been stalking her, on and off, ever since. The voice of the ghost of his old police department training sergeant, Perez, told him.

Miller had only meant to drop in to resupply and be gone before anyone noticed. If there had been anyone still alive, he would have considered trading if it felt safer - and that was far from always the case. He'd been exploring a branch of Walgreens and found that it empty. It struck him that however had done this had done it neatly and systematically... if looting could ever be described as tidy, this was it. He'd heard footsteps behind him, from the street. He'd ducked behind a shelving unit so that he could not be seen through the window, though he was pretty sure he was safe, as whoever it was would have been unlikely to visit a shop they knew had been cleared out.

Nevertheless, he gave it a few minutes to be on the safe side, before slipping out to follow. A young woman... attractive, judging from the rear view. Carrying a shotgun. Miller thought about attracting her attention, but the shotgun put him off. Survivors were always jumpy, of course they were, but a young woman, alone, and him a much larger man, also armed... not worth the risk. Not until he knew more, anyway. There had been signs of organisation, of life... he'd had to break a barricade or two to get into a shops, and had found some of the food in protective plastic bins. He'd repaired or replaced the barricade as best he could. Chances are that the girl wasn't alone, and others might take one look at him and shoot first and ask questions later.

So he followed her to see where she was going. It turned out to be an ampitheatre, which was odd. Miller's first guess was that perhaps there was a public meeting about to happen - this would be a reasonable enough place to hold a gathering - central, in the open air, good sight lines. If anything, too good. Miller took a long way round, circling and approaching the ampitheatre from the back, rather than heading directly for the stage as girl had. His brief time in the military made a lot this tactical analysis of his surroundings second nature.

The ampitheatre had a stage at the bottom of a natural slope, which had been curved and contoured into a half-bowel in the style of the ancients. The lower slopes had been neatly cut grass - now growing wild - for blankets and picnics. Further up the slope were bands of terraced stone slabs for people to sit on, connected by wide stairs which could be pressed into service as seating for more popular events. The uppermost circle was grander, which seats carved into the stone and a low stone backrest. Miller had crouched behind this uppermost circle before risking peering round into one of the two aisles.

The girl was on the stage, alone, dancing energetically to music only she could hear. What the actual fuck, asked Perez's ghost, what the actual holy mother of fuck is that chick doing?

Miller found himself repressing a chuckle. The girl looked lost to the music, so after a quick check behind him, he rolled onto his stomach and grabbed his binoculars. With the elevation, he could see her from up here, but he would be very hard to spot, especially lying on his belly and peering just over the top of aisle stairs. He'd intended to watch for a few moments because it was weird and funny... he was still watching her, hours later, because it was beautiful and compelling.

Oh, you liked watcing me dance? asked the ghost of Mandy, in response to his clumsy compliment. Her tone was light, her head titled to one side, placing her hand on her right hip and swaying to the right. Her tone was innocent, but the broad smile on her face and the sparkle in her eyes made it clear that she knew precisely the effect she was having on the cute new kid. You should ask me out, she mouthed, before turning on her heel and rushing to catch her friends and share the news about her new admirer.

An eternity ago, one of Miller's high school girlfriends, Mandy, a cute little redhead, had been in the dance squad. Being the supportive boyfriend that he was, he'd always watch the dance team perform if he possibly could. He loved watching her dance, and truth be told, his hungry adolescent gaze had drifted from her to some of her hot friends from time to time. All dead now, of course. The whole troop and everyone who watched them. They went to as far as third base together, but Mandy always kept her panties on. A rule as much for her as for him, she'd said - it wasn't that he didn't trust him, more that she didn't trust herself. He'd heard that line from more than one girlfriend - must be from a book somewhere. But he'd never pushed it with Mandy - even with panties on, she was still fucking amazing. And then dad got moved to another posting - goodbye Mandy, and the thong panties she'd worn for their farewell fumble. Fuck dad and fuck the fucking army.

Before the news came through, he had plucked up the courage to ask her to dance for him in just her underwear. The first time she got the giggles, which was cute as all holy hell, but not what he had in mind. The second time she felt too self-conscious for either of them to enjoy - she said she'd felt like a stripper. He wouldn't have minded that - he kept that thought to himself - but not at the cost of her discomfort. He adored her body, but as much as he loved tits'n'ass.... the loved the look of lust in her eyes and the flush of desire in her cheeks, and the way she'd catch her breath, or sigh or moan in response to his attentions were... even better. He knew she appreciated his respect for her panties-on rule - her last boyfriend hadn't and wouldn't stop pushing till she dumped him - and for not pressuring her in general. But it was easy to be a good boyfriend when your desires lined up the right way and what got you off was making your girlfriend as hot and horny as possible. The third time - her in less revealing sports bra and undershorts - he was too horny too quickly and pounced on her too soon, unable to resist. He didn't regret it at the time, but it wasn't long before he wished he had more memories to revisit in private. Early erotic experiences leave a mark, or so they say.

Mandy had been a good dancer - easily good enough to make the high school team - but this girl was in a different league. Hours she danced for... hours... lost in the music that only she could hear. She was lithe, agile, graceful.... she was beautiful.... she'd be beautiful standing still, but dancing... in motion. Utterly captivating. Literally dancing like no one was watching. But Miller was, and what a fucking treat. What a fucking treat to watch such a spectacle in a world gone to hell. What a fucking treat to know that beauty still existed. Oh, there were still hot girls in the world, but as far as he knew they were all either being ruthlessly exploited by armed bastards, seduced and manipulated by mad cultist bastards, fighting a daily fight not to be exploited, fighting to be exploited only on their own terms, or just trying to stay alive.

Perhaps Canada was different... most likely just another lie, or wishful thinking... but if you hear a rumour often enough, it starts to feel true. Who's the greater fool, asked the ghost of Perez, the fool who is deceived by what is too-good-to-be-true, or the fool whose cynicism means they don't even try. Miller had heard a theory from a trucker heading north a few weeks back - he said it as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Doesn't matter if it's real... it will become real if everyone believes it, and acts upon that belief. Miller was pretty sure that had been a trucker, rather than a dream or a voice in his head, but it was increasingly hard to tell.

After Dancer had finished, Miller tried to ignore the boner in his pants and followed her. The rational part of his brain concluded that she must be part of a group here, and he wanted to find them, or at least know where they were so he could avoid them. Or, if they looked peaceful, find a safe way to communicate to discuss possible bartering and exchange news. He noticed that - shotgun notwithstanding - she moved freely. She didn't keep to cover or check that she was being followed. She seemed to move with a confidence born of safety, which perhaps was unsurprising - you'd have to feel pretty safe to go and dance like that, let your guard down so thoroughly.

He tailed her back to a hotel. Made sense... if you've a group of any size to hole up together, it's the natural place. Plenty of storage, possible backup generators, good catering facilities, if they can be powered. Lots of linens, booze, and probably some food. Only a handful of entrances or exits to defend... and why not have a comfortable bed? Miller settled in to a room in an apartment block opposite to watch the door for comings and goings.

No-one. No-one in or out. No movement of the rest of the day. Or on Saturday... although he had to nip away for an hour or so to scavenge, and make sure his vehicle was still safe where he left it - bottom floor of the mall multi-story car park, made to look abandoned. Sunday he moved position to watch back entrance. Nothing. He started moving around more, looking for better angle to look inside the building, looking for shadows or movement inside the building. Nothing.

He should have moved on. Maybe there was a community inside, maybe there wasn't. But the town was quiet... he should just take what he needed and moved on, continued on his journey north. But the mystery was inside his head... what was going on here? Where was everyone else? And... more compellingly... Dancer. He wanted to see her dance again... he wanted to see if he could record it? He had several phones fully charged using the solar charger... he wasn't sure it could record through binoculars, but surely a recording on the highest zoom setting with the best camera phone he had could... or he could try to scavenge a proper video camera that he could charge? Problem was, all this stuff was heavy, and he had no idea if or when the girl would dance again.

But he wanted a recording. Something to remind him that there was still beauty in the world... to remind him of Mandy... to watch when he as alone, frustrated, and well, horny. High minded artistic ideals coincided with base physical desire. So Miller scavenged what he could, experimented, and hid his gear in a plastic box and under a tarp by the top of the ampitheatre, where he'd hidden last time. And he gave up - far too soon, really - on watching the hotel and instead focused on following Dancer, so he wouldn't miss his opportunity. He would make his recording of Dancer doing what Dancer did best for posterity - though he had no intention of sharing it - and then be off north.


* * * * * * * *

Fuck. Oh fuck. Fucking Hell. You fucking idiot.

Miller was only aware of the presence of the thugs when they started talking. He dropped the camera and sprung back up from his belly into a crouch, looking behind him and expecting to find a gun pointing at his head and a gang of armed bastards laughing at him. He felt a lurching feeling in the pit of his stomach... he'd been stupid, careless, and now he was likely going to die. He'd been utterly captivated by her, and now he was going to die.

But there was no-one there. Miller scrambled for his weapons - pistol and hunting rifle - and ducked back behind the rear row of seating, peering down the aisle. He scanned the area for further signs of life but saw only the two who had been speaking, who were now on the stage. Dancer had turned to run, but one of them had grabbed her and started groping her, his intentions plain.

Miller's body pumped with adrenaline, and the initial white cold fear that he'd been surrounded and was about to die now switched to a cold rage that took him by surprise. It wasn't the cold rage of the righteous man facing down slavers who intended to kidnap an innocent young girl... it was the cold rage of a man whose rights had been infringed. Dancer was his... he'd found her. These bastards had no right. Dancer was not to be groped or molested... certainly not by these bastards. Dancer was his property. His!

Miller knew he had gradually become more and more obsessed by Dancer over the last few days. The ghost of Perez had told him so, many times. The ghost of Perez was right, as he usually was, and as he had been in life during Miller's brief nine months as a cop, and as he had been when he told Miller to quit... that he wouldn't find what he was looking for as a cop. Miller knew he was getting obsessed, but he found himself caring less and less. What did anything really matter any more? He'd rather feel something than feel nothing. And he felt something for Dancer.

As Miller considered his next move, he realized that he didn't mind if he died, as long as Dancer got away. It would be something worth dying for. And so many people had died for no reason, he should probably be grateful for the opportunity. It wasn't that he wanted to die... more a sense of resignation. Que sera, sera, motherfuckers.

"Hey!!" Miller yelled, firing a shot deliberately high over the second thug's head to make sure he had their attention.
"I saw her first! Dancer's mine!" Miller shouted, but his tone was even, stating a fact. He did his best to keep emotion out of it - he bottled up his outrage for now.
"What the-?" The second thug spun round, looking for the shooter. It took him a moment or two to spot Miller. He took a heartbeat or two to appraise the situation... the man could have killed him, but didn't. The shooter was in decent cover with a rifle - by contrast, he was out in the open with a shotgun and his partner had put down his weapon.
"Tell your grabby little buddy not to touch what he can't afford, or I'll plug you both. You want a go on her, that's fine - but it'll cost you. No freebies here, boys!"

The first slaver made the last mistake of his life, and let her go, raising his hands with a chuckle. Dancer was far enough away for a clean shot. Miller took it.
"Okay, we've got some gas we could-"
The rifle cracked, and the slaver crumpled to the floor.
Headshot.

That's adequate Miller! Adequate! We'll make a soldier of you yet! barked the ghost of Master Sergeant Brammell. Eleven o'clock, eleven o'clock! Take him down, take him down!

The rifle cracked again, moments before the shotgun boomed... wild, into the air, as the slaver fell to the floor, clutching a thigh wound and screaming.

Miller's claim of ownership and offer to rent her charms to them might have put the raiders at their ease, but would have done nothing for Dancer's opinion of him and his intentions. One enemy dead, another out of action... but Dancer could still reach the fallen thug's gun, and had her own stashed nearby. Don't get killed by a girl, don't get killed by a girl, especially one you've just saved from being fucked in every hole by some murderous bastard slavers.

"Dancer!" he called, "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm here to help you. There will be others nearby, bad men, and they'd have heard those shots. We need to go now - come with me unless you want..." he broke off, unable to say the words. "... just come with me, okay Dancer? Trust me."
 
OP
Chanti

Chanti

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Joined
Apr 1, 2015
Sophie had not seen anyone for months, much less have hands on her. She let out an outraged little yelp when those thick hard fingers squeezed her soft breast cruelly, fingers digging into soft titflesh.



“Asshole!” She snapped, her lithe body twisting away. Sweat glistened skin slid in the man’s grasp and she almost got free. But he tightened his grip, his fingers iron bands on her arm.



“Bit….”



He never got a chance to finish. His head jerked up towards the new voice, and she felt his body flinch at the shot. She thought for one wild moment he had been shot. Terror numbed her muscles. Her mind screaming to fight, to try to escape. Her body refusing to move. Her lungs refusing to move. She heard them talking, but couldn’t grasp the words.



Not till the rifle barked again and he crumpled to the floor at her feet. Another shot, and the other one staggered and fell.



She could almost feel a bullet tearing through her flesh. Her skin prickling in anticipation as she lurched to the side, grabbing one of the shotguns that had fallen from the fingers of a dead man. With the reassuring weight in her hands she dove for the low stone wall that served as a backdrop on the stage, flinging herself behind it. Pressing her sweaty body to the reassuring solid stone, gasping for breath, waiting for the crack of another shot.



But there wasn’t one.



She shook her head at his reassurances, remembering what he had said. But he hadn’t done it, she reminded herself. It was hard to think. Adrenalin still roaring through her body. She tried though. Tried to think. Was it possible there were more of those bastards? Were they even now heading there as she cowered behind the stage wall? The stranger out there had enjoyed ample opportunity to shoot her, but he had not. Did he have rape on his mind as well?



Back pressed to the cool wall, she called out. Voice cracking with fear.



“Put down your w…weapon and come out then! I won’t shoot you!”



Maybe. If she felt he was a threat, she would. Had taught herself to shoot, and had pretty good aim. Of course she had done so thinking of shooting animals. The idea of shooting a person made her stomach turn. Laying flat on her belly, she wiggled towards the edge of the stone wall, hesitant to peek around it. She wanted to see the voice.
 

MrAdam

Moon
Joined
Dec 14, 2018
"She's an innocent civilian. She's just been assaulted, she's scared, and has no reason to trust you. You're not uniform. She's armed, but in self-defence. What do you do, cadet?" asked the ghost of Training Sergeant Perez.
"No-one's a civilian any more, Sarge" replied Miller, inwardly, "As for innocent... well, if anyone still is, it's probably her. And even if there were still cops, I'm not one... I mean, I wasn't when... you know. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you died before you knew what was happening."
"Take control, Miller. You're a cop, take control. Scared civilians crave certainty, clarity, calm, and authority. Shots already fired in an open, public place. Remember what I taught you - de-escalate, de-escalate, de-escalate, right? I doubt she could hit you with a shotgun from there... I doubt she could handle the recoil."
"Well, once, yeah, but now things are different. These days-"
"De-escalate, Miller! Take control!"

"Eyes on, Miller!"
barked the ghost of Master Sergeant Anders Brammer, "She's got a gun. Neutralise the threat. Take no chances with your lives, or your fellow soldiers' lives. No such thing as a civilian in asymmetric warfare if they pick up a weapon."
"She's trying to surrender, AB".
"Negative, she's asking you to surrender and trust she won't kill you. Fuck that."
"She's no threat!"
"Negative, Miller. Fire a warning shot. Lethal force authorized."
"No!"
"Stop thinking with your little brain, and use your big brain, Miller"
"She was dancing, AB - listening to music. No way she's an insurgent!"
"Okay, play it your way... it'll save the paperwork. Tell her to get on her knees, hands behind her head, five seconds to comply... otherwise, take her out."

"You liked watching her dance?"
asked the ghost of Mandy.
"Uh... yeah, but-"
"You should ask her out." Mandy twirled on the spot.
"But-"
"Awww.... I'm not jealous, Tommy-boy. We had fun, but shit happens and we both moved on..... you deserve someone nice."


Not all of Miller's ghosts were helpful.

"Okay... my name is Miller. I'm a c-.... I used to be a cop. I'm putting my rifle down now, and I'm going to stand up slowly, palms towards you. I'm not going to harm you, Dancer, but if there are other raiders we need to get you to safety, and warn the others, okay"

Miller left his hunting rifle on the floor and slowly pushed himself into a crouch. Taking a breath, he kept his hands high as he gradually rose, trying to get eye contact.
"See? You want to stand up too, I-"

The injured slaver was moaning loudly, in too much pain and too far from his weapon to be an immediate threat. Suddenly, his cries were drowned out by the sound of gunning motorbike engines, two at least, coming towards them, heading down the road outside the amphitheatre nearest the stage and stalls entrance.

"Up here, dancer! Get up here, quick!"
In spite of the danger, Miller stood where he was, unarmed, palms out.
"Run! Up here, now. Better cover, elevated position. Now! Double time!"
 
OP
Chanti

Chanti

Supporter
Supporter
Joined
Apr 1, 2015
As she waited for him to respond, Sophie began to grasp just how vulnerable she was. That first few horrific months after everyone had died, she had prayed daily to see someone. Anyone. Had went out searching the town for any signs of life. Then for the next few months she had begun worrying about seeing someone. Had been extra careful whenever she moved about town. Remembering the stories and movies of crazed violent people after end of the world events. But then after months of not seeing any sign of life, she had stopped worrying. Stopped thinking about it at all. She had to. The thought of being the last one alive….



But she wasn’t anymore. And clearly her earlier concerns had been valid. Her breast still ached from the bastard’s cruel fingers. And now she was trying to figure out how to stick her head out far enough to see the shooter without getting her head shot right off. There had to be a way. But for the life of her she couldn’t think of it. She wasn’t worried about getting shot and dying. She was worried about getting shot and living. That was always in the back of her mind. Some terrible medical emergency that would leave her doomed in a world without state of the art medical care. Dying slowly in horrific agony.



Her eyes lifted up as he called out, as if he were in front of her rather than on the other side of the stone wall she was cowering behind.



A cop? She was immediately intrigued. She was a good girl, having been brought carefully up by a good family. Taught that law enforcement was her friend and protector, not her enemy.



Lying prone behind that solid stone wall she wriggled closer to the edge, peeking out cautiously. If he had wanted to, he could have blown her away. Though she tried to be careful, her move was clumsy and dangerous – it would have taken her far too long to wriggle behind the wall again if he had fired at her.



She had time enough to see him – unarmed, hands held up and away from his body. Reassuring her. She even started to smile, though that smile vanished and her eyes widened in horror when she heard the motorbikes. It was the first motor she had heard in months. This time she didn’t freeze. The urgency in his voice had her dashing for the relative safety of his side. Clutching her attacker’s rifle. Slowing down only long enough to snatch her own rifle and backpack, throwing it over her shoulder before racing up the stairs to him.



“If we can get out of here, I know a safe place.” She hissed as she reached his side. Her gray-blue eyes taking him in with one swift look. He was a mess. Unkept hair, sweaty and smelly, rough clothes, scruffy jaw as if he had perhaps shaved for awhile and then just gave up. But something about him still made her feel safe. Even with the engines of the enemy in her ears. She crouched at his side, glancing back at the stage. One man still screaming, one man seemingly dead. The view of the stage from here startled her, and she realized for the first time that this man had been up here. Watching her. It was definitely creepy. But she was startled to realize she also kind of liked it.
 

MrAdam

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Joined
Dec 14, 2018
There was a glorious moment between Dancer getting a good look at him, accepting his gestures of reassurance and good faith, and the intrusion of the angry roaring of the motorbike engines, roaring a war cry of violence, threat, aggression and danger. In that moment Dancer smiled, or started to smile. A smile primarily of relief, to be sure, a smile only half-formed, but it felt good to have someone be pleased to see him. And not just anyone... Dancer. She was going to trust him.

He watched Dancer grab her things and the now-spare weapon and run up the steps towards his position at the top of the amphitheatre. He should have been watching the perimeter, but instead he watched her run. It was no small thing to run up steps like that, at that pace, especially burdened. He remembered hill sprints and step sprints from basic training, both military and police... thighs burning, gasping for oxygen, feeling light-headed and dizzy. But Dancer was lithe, agile, and graceful - even after however many hours she had been dancing, he'd honestly lost track of time - she still had the energy to bound up the steps almost as if they were flat ground and the puff left to speak once she reached him.

She was even lovelier close up than she'd looked through his zoom lens.... tight vest-top, yoga pants, topped off with a slight sheen of post-workout glow. Best of all, a cute, pretty face and a lovely mane of dark blonde hair. He should probably stop staring at her now.

"Okay," he nodded, "but we're not to lead them to the others until we know what we're dealing with, okay? And I need to finish up here first."
He took aim at the wounded slaver, still lying, slowly bleeding out, on the stage and shot him dead. A mercy killing, really.
"He was a goner anyway. We can't have him telling the others where we went, or how many of us" he explained, feeling the need to justify himself.
"Now I need the gun you took from the other guy. Unload it, and put it flat here, up against the wall. With luck, they'll see the barrel and think there's a shooter still up here. Might buy us some time. This is your town, Dancer - you know the lay of the land better than I do. I've a vehicle in the mall basement car lot if we need it."

Miller scooped up his own possessions into his pack, hoping that she hadn't noticed the camera. He replaced the pistol in his belt and retrieved his rifle, and got ready to follow her direction.
 
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Chanti

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Others? Her brow furrowed, pretty eyes squinting as pink lips parted to respond, then snapped shut. Now was not the time. Her eyes followed the gleaming barrel of his rifle, flinching as the shot cracked through the air. Her stomach rolled threateningly as the screaming went silent. Two still bodies lay sprawled on the stage, blood pooling.



She knew she would never be able to dance here again.



Outside the motorcycles, paused, then turned their way. The killing shot had narrowed down their location. She was still panting, her legs trembling from the run up the ampitheatre. But her movements were practiced and efficient as she unloaded the gun, slipping the shells into her bag before leaning the rifle against the railing. And just as the engines died and voices were heard, she grabbed her rifle and backpack and headed towards the stairwell leading to the side entrance. The voices were coming from the main entrance, the side entrance was the one her team had used to enter the amphitheater after their dance routines. They had sat up close to where the cop had situated himself, watching the other teams dance.



“Jim! Ivan!” The male voice was cautious. No one showing any flesh yet.



She led her new friend down the stairwell. Out the side entrance. Making a quick dash across the parking lot to the cover of an Applebees. Through the abandoned restaurant and out the back to Gregory Street. As they moved further from the amphitheater and closer to her home, she started questioning whether she wanted to bring her new friend there or not. She knew nothing about him. Was he safe? What would he think about her stashes – where she had moved buggy loads and buggy loads of food, medical supplies, books, building supplies, and more. Stocking room after room of the hotel with…things.



Lord, she was the ultimate prepper. A hysterical giggle bubbled from her lips before she could silence it. Her cheeks flushed. He was going to think she was crazy. Hell, sometimes she thought she was too. But crazy or not – could she trust him? He had mentioned others. Did he think there were others with her? If he knew she was alone, would he act differently? More like those other men? She shivered.



Ten minutes later, she saw her hotel ahead. At five stories high, it was the tallest building in town. She slowed down, studying it with a critical eye. There was nothing to indicate it was occupied. She never had the candles or oil lamps on unless she was home – if her nest burned down she would be devastated. Even if entered, the fourth floor would have to be reached to find any hint that someone lived there. If someone had binoculars they would be able to see inside the top floor and know immediately someone lived there. But there was nothing to draw more than casual attention except the height of the building.

She slowed down even more. How did you tell an armed stranger at your back you weren’t sure you trusted him in your home? If he got angry….she swallowed hard, her knuckles going white as she clutched her rifle. Fear and indecision was giving her a headache. The adrenaline she had been running on was fading. Her muscles aching and exhausted. She stopped, turning, opening her mouth to tell him they parted ways here.



But then the motorcycles were heard again. Whoever they were, they had had time to investigate, and were likely now searching. The engines roared in the silence of the town,racing up towards them. It sounded like it was one main street over, in Kilmeade. But it was going to be a close call. Adrenaline surged as she broke into a run again. Her backpack heavy on her straining, thin shoulders as she raced for the north stairwell. Her transport grocery cart was empty but standing too near the stairwell. She grabbed it and gave it a good shove, knocking it off the sidewalk and into the street on its side. It was dirty and rusty and should draw no attention. She pulled open the stairwell door, darting inside. Fearful eyes turning to him as they entered the dark, musty stairwell.



“Close the door” she hissed in the sudden darkness. Without even taking her backpack off her shoulder she reached into the side pocket, pulling out a small flashlight. She flicked it on, the beam of light dancing across the dirty floor to the bare concrete stairs.



“Upstairs”, she hissed in the briefest of explanations.



She led the way, picking her way carefully with the light. Taking her time because her legs were shaking with exhaustion. His probably were as well, she had led a quick pace through town. At the top floor she switched the flashlight off before opening the stairwell door.



Unlike the bottom three floors where the carpet and walls were damp and moldy and covered in vermin, the fourth and fifth floors were kept scrupulously clean. The carpet had been torn up, replaced by wood vinyl that looked like hardwood floors but didn’t need the care that real hardwood needed. She led the way down the hallway past closed doors – all rooms containing her stashes. To the largest suite in the hotel. When she opened the door, the low late afternoon sunlight flooded her little home. A cozy rose patterned couch covered with cushions. A small bookshelf stuffed with books, and board games she never played on top. Little pots of flowers and herbs scattered everywhere. A cozy reading chair, with her “Notes on Nursing” lying across the ottoman. Art covered the room, from the walls to little carvings and statues on the surfaces. Every painting, sculpture, carving – all of it, people. Children playing on a sugar white beach, glistening oiled skin covered in sand, gleeful smiles and little hands patting together a drooping sandcastle. An elderly couple sitting on a porch. Holding hands, still in love. A sculpture of a mother holding a baby on the coffee table. A framed photograph of a crowded Indian marketplace, filled with smiling women wearing colorful sarongs.



She stood there, looking it over, then looking up at him. Before, this had been the perfect place for her. Neither too small nor too large. But now, with him here, it felt…small. A pitiful clutching of a time passed on by. Hot tears burned in her eyes, and she blinked them fiercely away. Her voice cracked, flat and emotionless.



“There is no one else.”



There was a wealth of loneliness in those words, and suddenly the worry about whether she should show him this place was gone, and in its place an almost frantic need to keep him here. He was someone alive, who had not tried to attack her. She was no longer the last living person in the world.
 

MrAdam

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Dec 14, 2018
Miller followed her through the empty streets. A quick dash across an exposed parking lot, ducking into a restaurant and leaving via the storeroom door. Crossing a street and into an alleyway. The girl moved quickly and gracefully, and although she'd been the one who'd spent most of the last hour dancing, he was the one beginning to feel the pace. Dancer knew the terrain all right - that was clear immediately. She knew precisely where she was going and the route to get there, but.... Miller felt they were moving too quickly. It was important to put distance between them and the amphitheatre, but they were not alone in this town.

Whether it was caution, a desire to catch his breath for a moment, a desire for physical contact, or a mixture of all three was unclear, even to Miller. But as Dancer moved to dash out across a road between the gap between two parked cars, his instincts flared. As she started to move, he caught her arm and held her back for a moment to give himself a few more seconds to scan the area, get his breath back, or just hold her arm. When he was satisfied, he nodded and released his grip and they ran on. He was running through a town he didn't know with a girl he didn't know, and who he was forced to rely upon. He ought to have a bad feeling about this, but he felt numb. When normally his instincts would jar and jangle at him... today they were muted, distant, distorted... ignorable.

As they reached the other side of the street and headed through a petrol station forecourt, she suddenly giggled to herself about something. Something manic, hysterical. Not uncommon in people who have experienced a traumatic event, or had a nasty shock, explained the ghost of police Sergeant Perez. True enough, but was it a sign of light-headed recklessness? Too late now.

Follow her, said Mandy's ghost, I thought you liked watching her dance!
"I did. I do."
She's a better Dancer than you. So let her lead.
"Can I check out her ass at the same time?"
Noooo! Watch for danger, you pig! Serve you right if you did get killed. You don't deserve me... or her! The ghost punched him in the arm, harder than any ghost had any right to.

Miller tried to disguise the fact that he knew where they were going, but Dancer was more concerned with moving quickly than with him... at least until they got close to the hotel where he knew she was staying. He watched her start to speak, and felt a terrible wrenching lurch inside at the prospect of being sent away.... which was what he knew she was about to do. But the motorbike engines roared once again, close, but not too close.

Dancer broke into a run, and Miller, cursing, followed as best he could. She shoved a shopping cart out of the way and wrenched open the stairwell door, flitting inside and calling after him.
Ten.. nine... eight... seven... pick it up Miller, pick it up! barked the ghost of Sgt Bramwell, In before the bleep soldier!

Miller covered the distance and ducked inside the door, pulling it closed behind him. He was relieved when Dancer took a moment to catch a breath before leading him onward into what he was sure was a trap. The others were here, waiting in ambush. He didn't mind. It would probably be fine - they wouldn't risk hitting Dancer with a stray bullet. And... he hadn't done anything wrong, unless his mere presence was provocation enough. Sure, they might wonder about his arrival corresponding with the gang's arrival, but he'd killed two of them when they'd tried to attack Dancer, to take her away and enslave her. She'd speak for him, and it would be fine. Perhaps it wouldn't be the worse thing to have some company again.

He followed Dancer up the stairs like a man expecting a surprise party and readying himself to act surprised. Even as she led him up through the mouldering lower floors, to the clean ones above, he was waiting for it. He was quietly impressed at their discipline when Dancer led him all the way through, past all the closed doors where they would be hiding. Let him all the way in... even up to the penthouse suite. He watched Dancer look over it all.... pots and plans and books and art and bits and pieces... looked like a cross between a yard sale and a hoarder's paradise.

Miller was tired of this, and slowly started to slide the rifle from his shoulder to the floor, hands raised, almost smirking.
"Look, I know-"
She wasn't listening.
“There is no one else.” she said, flatly.
"
Nah, fuck off... Come out. I know-" Miller stopped. He caught the look in her eye. There was no-one else.
"Shit, Dancer..." he looked around, with fresh eyes. This was hers... all of this was hers. Everything he'd seen that had been done. Her.
"Oh Christ... fuck, Dancer. Fucking hell." He shook his head in believing disbelief.
He just stared at her for a moment or two, dumbfounded. Answering tears started to prick at his own eyes. The loneliness. The fear. Just her. By herself. Just a kid, really. He couldn't imagine.

Miller did the only thing he could do. The only human thing. He hugged her tight, holding her close for as long as she wanted.
"Oh, dancer..." he murmured, into her ear, "I'm so sorry."
 
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Chanti

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It had been far too long since Sophie, raised in an huggy family, had been hugged. Left desolate by the plague that had killed the world, Sophie had built a protective barrier around her heart – routine by routine. Month by month.



One hug shattered that wall. As the stranger’s strong arms circled her, drawing her against his hard, smelly body, she stiffened. Not because she felt frightened. No, it was that one last secondary resistance of her wall before it cracked and imploded in hot tears. Her resistance melted and she leaned into the support he offered, sobbing as if he were her comforting mother. She cried for her supportive and loving mother she had never had the opportunity to properly mourn. Cried for the adoring father she would never see again. Cried for her two little sisters who were just entering high school when the plague killed the world, who had never really gotten a chance to live. And she cried for herself, left miserably alone all these months.



She cried so hard and so long that when she finally stepped back from him what felt like hours later but was really only a little over five minutes, she had cried herself into a headache. She may have cried longer, but one of the motorcycles was coming slowly down her street.



“I’m sorry.” Her voice was a whisper, as if the man – or men – on the motorcycle could hear down the five stories if she spoke aloud. She swiped at sore, swollen eyes. Looking worriedly out the window, unable to see the street and unwilling to get closer to the windows for fear she may be seen. Somewhere to the north she heard a shot and flinched. But evidently it was a signal, because the motorcycle in the street veered off and headed in the direction of the shot.



She looked back at her stranger. Offered a weak smile, taking a deep breath. “My name is Sophie Turner. It’s nice to you. I haven’t seen anyone in….” Her voice cracked. “Well….months, really.” A glance at the window. “I don’t think they will find us, but we will need to be careful. I am starving. I will get us some stuff to eat. I don’t wanna cook, cause I don’t want them to smell anything. But if you want you can wash up, then I will, then we can eat. I will show you where to wash. Usually I use the river but if the weather is bad I set up a place here.”



It was on the fourth floor where she led him. Formerly a hotel room, it had been stripped of furniture and the carpet pulled up, replaced by the same linoleum she had used on the rest of the top two floors. The late afternoon sun hang heavy in the sky as she showed him the large galvanized metal horse trough she had dragged up four flights of stairs, the 5 gallon water jugs lined neatly up along side the wall, the plastic tub of towels and washcloths – all pretty and bright and clean. The smaller plastic bin of herbal soaps, shampoos, conditioners and oils she had salvaged from a hippie store on the other side of town.



She left him there with the promise of dinner ready soon. Just because she didn’t want to risk cooking didn’t mean they couldn’t have a hot meal. First she gathered an assortment of things she set out on a serving tray, with plain water being the drink of choice since she didn’t want to go out on the balcony to boil tea, and she didn’t have any liquor in the house because she was under 21.



She raided her pantry, trying to make sure her guest had plenty he could eat. Dried apples, apricots, and raisins. Several flavors of beef jerky, Wasabie peas, and mixed nuts. Mini poptart bites, and a plastic container of her own homemade granola for a taste of sweetness. For dinner itself, she pulled out two containers of lasagna with meat sauce from her large stash of survival foods she had found in an outdoors store. Then she paused and pulled out another. He was a big guy and probably ate a lot. She poured the water in the heater packets, then slid the food packets into the heater packets to heat as she got two pretty pale green bowls from her kitchen.
 

MrAdam

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Dec 14, 2018
Miller just held her and let her weep for as long as she wanted. What else could he do? What words did he have for her? Nothing, and none. There was no making it better, there were no words of reassurance. Nothing he could say or do. This was the world now... this summed everything up... what better symbol of what humanity had become than a young woman sobbing uncontrollably.

It threw him, this sudden display of intense emotion. Never an emotionally demonstrative man even before the disaster, his response had been to keep on keeping on. Apart from the occasional wobble, during which one of his ghosts would usually appear to bawl him out until he pulled himself together. After all, he was alive, they were not. Life before the disaster wasn't that great for Miller anyway. There was always something better to do, more urgent, more important, than feeling sorry for himself. So he hid it away, tried not to think about it.

This, though... this there was no getting away from. This raw emotion, this suffering. He held Dancer close, but looked around the room. This had been her world for how long? And what had happened to the others... presumably this girl watched everyone she knew and loved die before her eyes. Fuck. It was bad enough for him, surrounded by strangers. Miller felt tears prick his own eyes and a sudden lurch in his stomach. He came closer than he ever had to just letting go and sobbing with her... but he pulled himself out of it, just in time. He blinked hard and fast... must be dusty in here, dusty in here, dusty in here.... that was it. What use was he to Dancer if he just started crying too? This would not do at all.

And there was hope... there was... just about. Canada... or the rumours of Canada... or the self-fulfilling prophecy of Canada. But what was Canada to this girl who'd lost everything and everyone?

The return of the raiders interrupted her, and Miller almost grabbed her again as she looked out of the window, worried she'd go for a closer look. He needn't have worried. They would be safe enough here, unless they came looking... and if they did, he would have the advantage of surprise, as well as higher ground and enclosed spaces. If they did come in, there was a good chance that the ruined appearance of the lower floors would dissuade them from further investigations. Staying still seemed like the best course of action.

The girl... Sophie Turner... seemed to recover from her outpouring of emotion faster than Miller did. He dumbly did as he was told as she pottered around, preparing some food. He was about to reach for some beef jerky, when some distant civilized instinct reminded him to wash his hands first. He was impressed... partly at the size and range of scavenged food, but also the little touches, the little reminders of how things used to be. Serving bowls and perspex food boxes and cutlery and crockery.

"Thank you.... Sophie" he said, simply, as she placed dinner in front of him. "That's very kind of you."

He was supposed to make conversation now. That's how these things worked. But he found words hard to find. He wanted to talk about something else, anything but the present, their current situation. But everything else was past and gone. There was only this now.

"So you've seen no-one else? Absolutely no-one? In months? No other survivors here, no-one passing through?"
 
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Chanti

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The longer she spent in the suite with him, the less awkward it felt. Somehow, he made her feel safe. Logically, it should be the opposite. She should be terrified. There were no police to call. No protective male family members to call upon. And while he had not made any kind of move on her yet – that may be because he was adjusting to the idea she had no one else to protect her. He had clearly thought otherwise when she brought him up here.



But despite all the logical reasons why she should produce a gun, order him off, and move all her things to a new hidden spot, she did not. Instead, she fed the man and herself. Sitting at the metalwork coffee table she had picked up in a store somewhere. Amused at how tiny it seemed with him sitting across from her. Pleased that she could provide hospitality in this world gone horribly wrong.



What was his name again? Oh yes, Miller.



“No. Not till today. But I don’t spend a lot of time on the streets. Especially recently. There are a lot of wild animals out there, even during the day. And the dog packs that used to be pets have become dangerous. If I had thought of it, I might have looked for others. But after everyone…well….for the first few months I saw people sometimes. But after that, I just figured everyone else was dead.”



She stopped eating. The food suddenly had no taste as she thought of the dangerous depression she had slipped into. Her routines had kept her alive through that – but just barely. But in his very living presence the depression had faded. For the first time in a very long time, she felt truly alive. But the orange glow filling the room from the setting sun reminded her she was short on time. She needed to get everything done before nightfall, because they did not dare use lights tonight. Not with those…people still possibly out there. They had not heard anything recently, but that didn’t mean they weren’t being hunted for still. She needed to bathe – usually she bathed at the river but she had her bathing room here she would use tonight. And she would need to clean up the kitchen before going to bed….



Oh Lord. Bed. Where was he going to sleep? Her cheeks flushed as she remembered there was only one bed in this suite. Actually, on this entire floor. Would he expect to sleep in her bed? Would he expect….it wasn’t an AWFUL idea. Embarrassed, she all but jumped to her feet, bustling around with an almost frantic energy, picking things up and putting them away.



“I am going to go take a bath. Do whatever you please, but don’t light any of the candles or kerosene lamps. I won’t be long.”



Dashing into her bedroom she grabbed pajamas and went to her bathing room. The water was cool, but that didn’t bother her anymore. As the sun began slipping over the horizon she finished, dressing quickly and going back to her suite. Smelling of soft roses and lavender, her blond hair hanging sleek and shiny around her thin shoulders. She wore a soft white lacy camisole and a pair of long pajama pants with a rose vine print. Bare feet padded into the suite, with baby pink painted toenails. She shifted nervously, looking around uncertainly, then settling onto the sofa. Her back to the armrest, folding her legs underneath her.



“I…um…well normally I read, but we can’t really have any light I guess. Can we just talk? Where are you from? Where are you going? Are there still a lot of people left alive?” The questions piled out one after the other.
 

MrAdam

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Dec 14, 2018
"A bath?" repeated Miller, puzzled, "No lighting anything....."
His voice trailed off, but she was already gone. "Uh.... sure thing" he said, to the empty air.

He looked around the room. It was.... odd. Clean, neat, orderly. Tidy. Life's essentials, scavenged, arranged, organized. But more than that... there was shit that didn't matter a damn any more. Facecloths and washcloths and conditioners and forks. Serving bowls. Hell, his place was never this neat and tidy and well stocked even before the plague and before everything went to hell. Energy and effort had gone into all this. Just her. Alone. Dancer had done all this... found all this... assembled all this. Alone. By herself.

Miller wasn't sure whether to be impressed or appalled. Impressed because... well, when had he last had a bath? People kept up appearances because there were people to keep up appearances for. At times in life when he'd had his own place - no girl living with him, no roommate, he tended to go a bit feral. Why put pants on if there's no-one to complain? Why pick up your dirty clothes if no-one will yell at you? Why pick up the pizza boxes and beer bottles now when you can do it later? And that we before all this shit went down.

This chick, though. Neat freak. Had she been like this before, or.... was all this her way of keeping it together. Of imposing some kind of order.

"D'ya think she'll come back all damp and naked?" giggled the ghost of Mandy, head tilted to one side.
"No, I don't" answered Miller.
"Nah, suppose not" sniffed Mandy, "this place just screams 'good girl' to me. Flannel PJs, a massive dressing gown, and a teddy bear."
"You wouldn't have either."
"No, true. Vest top, black lace panties.... and.... nothing else." The ghost grinned her wolfish grin at him and rematerialized dressed like that, before vanishing with an ethereal giggle.


Miller sighed. He finished eating, and then surprised himself by starting to clear up... or at least stacking plates and bowls. Dancer had already done most of this with a burst of nervous energy, but he felt compelled to contribute. He'd just dropped his kitbag and weapons, and he took the opportunity to place them in some sort of order. It seemed to be catching. Perhaps he should bathe too...

Before long, the Dancer returned.
"Half right" said Mandy's ghost, rematerialising just as she re-entered the room and looking at her critically. "Nice cami, though."
Mandy's ghost vanished again.

Miller watched her return and settle on the sofa. She was pretty and graceful, and he couldn't help but watch her. Bet she smells amazing... he thought, or the ghost of Mandy thought... it was hard to tell. You stink of stale sweat and gasoline.

"Talk... yeah.... sure. Um..." He wasn't used to talking about before. "I'm from all over, really. Army brat. Everywhere's home and nowhere's home. I was in Fresno when it all happened... trying to figure out what was next, and it turns out, it's this. There are.... there are others still alive, but it's chaos. There's people and communities like you, holed up and hoping for the best. Scavengers going from to town... gangs, mainly. Cultists who think God will spare them. Some good folks too, trying to bring some order. But it's all broken down... government, society, police, army... all gone as far as I can see."

"Some places got hit worse than others - everyone or near everyone died. Like here, maybe. Others it's better. But the structure's gone... no consequences any more. Some folks reckon they're as good as dead, so what the hell.... there's clearly no God, so no rules. Take what you want, do what you want. Some people are just assholes, and when there's no law around to stomp 'em, they do what they like. Some people start off okay... then gradually they lose it. There's stories... bulllshit probably.. about communities.... places unaffected. But it's always rumours... I've tried chasing 'em down, and, like, same rumours, but different places. They say Canada, but maybe that was just a joke about the free healthcare. Europe? Africa? Asia? New fucking Zealand? Who the hell knows, really? But I've started looking."
 
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Chanti

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She listened curiously, but even as he talked there was an acute awareness of his physical presence in the suite that had, over the months, become her own. It had always felt like it was too big for her – but now it felt too small. His presence seemed to fill every nook and cranny of it with strength and comfort, and she knew when he left it would never be just hers again. He had already made his mark on it.



“All broken down.”


It definitely sounded like it. As terrifying as it was to be alone, the idea of being in the world with crazy, evil people not under the restraint of law was even more terrifying. She remembered the rough voices and hands of the men earlier and shuddered. But he offered hope. Not just in his presence, but in the rumors he had heard of some safe place where there was law and order and civilization.



And she wanted to go there. She eyed him a moment speculatively. The sun slipped down over the horizon, and early evening settled across the city. Bright moonlight spilled into the suite, making it easy to see. She had no chance finding this place of civilization alone. But with him…..



“Can I go with you?” She blurted it out without thought. Long months alone had resulted in her losing any social graces like subtlety.
 
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