Written By: Riley
April 14, 2015
The sky was grey. Meredith shielded her eyes from drizzle that was falling softly on dusty earth and searched the horizon for any sign of movement. The grass poking through the holes in her shoes was dry. Her arm was in a sling. It had been two hundred and twenty-eight days since the spread of The Infection and one hundred and three since she had seen another human being – one hundred and fifteen since she had seen another human being that hadn’t tried to kill her. Meredith was tired.
But survival waited for no tired teenager in a dystopian apocalyptic warzone, so she was stumbling through what had once been a river and was now a dusty crater in the earth, in search of sustenance. If she was lucky there’d be an animal carcass she could salvage some meat from. If she was unlucky she’d find it at the same time as someone else.
Suddenly, movement. A flash of red disappeared behind a boulder not far from Meredith’s position, and she tensed. It had been a shirt, she was sure. There were people close by. Instantly she dropped to the ground and started to retreat, shrinking back into the sparse foliage behind her, but then she stopped. She needed food. It was risky to approach a foreign campsite, yes, but who knew, maybe they – whoever they were, and however many of them were close by – would be willing to help.
With that thought, she adjusted her sling – nothing fancy, just a dirty strip of faded cloth – and set about moving forward. Muscles tense, steps slow and careful, she crept from bush to ditch and approached the metre-tall boulder. Then she edged around, taking care not to make too much noise as leaves crunched underfoot. She moved torturously slow as she stuck her head around the boulder.
One centimeter, two centimetres, three. Her legs were tensed to spring into retreat should she meet the tip of a rifle or a cannibal with no teeth. This was a bad idea.
And then – nothing. To her surprise, there was nobody there. Grass, dirt, twigs. Rain continued to fall. Meredith looked around, bewildered, when something caught her eye. Engraved in the side of the stone was a tiny image. She leaned closer, and her hand came up to brush across it. Was that – an owl?
Then a clicking sound, followed by all of the air dropping out of her lungs. It took her a second of stomach-churning bewilderment to realise that she was falling. But where? Where could she possibly have fallen? And just as suddenly as she started, she stopped.
Whoomph. Meredith had landed in a tangled heap on a dirt floor. Confusion crashed through her mind and pain through her limbs. What was going on?
“What is going on?” It wasn’t her voice. A girl had appeared in the darkness surrounding her, face masked in shadow but features discernable, twisted into a scowl. “Who are you?”
Meredith made some unintelligible noises and then fell silent. Her vocal cords were still in shock.
“I’m –” she cleared her throat, too confused to be scared. “I’m Meredith. Did I just die?”
The girl rolled her eyes. “No, you didn’t die. You trespassed on private property. Come on, I have to take you to the boss.”
Suddenly Meredith was being hurled to her feet by her good arm and pulled unceremoniously through a series of dark dirt passages. The whole situation was very confusing. She blinked hard, twice, but didn’t wake up. And then she and the still-nameless girl – who was wearing a red shirt, she now saw – emerged into light. Meredith blinked again. She was in a large cavern, lit by battery-operated torches hanging from planks of wood on the walls. More importantly, however, it was filled with desks – all different kinds, lined up across the room, shoved against each other, crammed in groups. And sitting at them…
Until today Meredith hadn’t seen another human being in one hundred and three days – now she was looking at one hundred and three of them. Well, not one hundred and three exactly, but probably around about… well, lots. There were lots of people in the room. Bucketloads. A veritable bunch. And they were all – every single one of them – writing.
The girl turned to Meredith in the rustle-y quiet. “You don’t have any weapons on you, right?”
Meredith weighed up her options. Could she trust these people? Could she afford not to? Better not chance it. They could all be crazy, and she was outnumbered one-to-maybe-one-hundred-and-three. Sheepishly, she pulled the pistol from her waistband and handed it over. The girl took it with a disapproving glare.
“The pen is mightier than the sword, you know,” she said.
Meredith raised her eyebrows. “We are living in a dystopian apocalyptic warzone, you know. Do you NOT have guns?”
“Lucky for you.” The girl paused. “Here she comes.”
An older woman emerged from one of the many tunnels opening out of the dirt walls they were standing in, flanked by two more young women. As she approached she brushed blonde hair out of her eyes and squinted in Meredith’s direction.
“Who is this?”
The girl beside her let go of Meredith’s arm. “Her name’s Meredith. She’s clueless.”
Meredith resented that, but refrained from commenting – if this was the boss the girl had referred to, she needed to make a good impression.
The woman squinted harder. “Pardon me, Meredith. I don’t know what you look like – you’d be surprised how hard it is to find glasses in a dystopian apocalyptic warzone. But is that a cast on your arm?”
Great first impression. Meredith shuffled self-consciously. “What I could make for one.”
The woman – the ‘boss’ – frowned. “That won’t do. Someone get her a scribe!”
“A – a scribe?” Meredith’s already abundant confusion doubled. “Hang on a second –”
But nobody was listening to her. The people littered throughout the cavern had erupted into activity, moving and whispering amongst themselves. The two girls that had flanked the boss started ripping up pieces of paper and placing them in several hats that had appeared suddenly. A draw? How… organised. And spontaneous. Spontaneously organised.
“I don’t understand,” Meredith said, trying to be heard over the increasing noise. Underground caverns, it turned out, echoed. “Why do I need a scribe? Where did those hats come from? What’s the significance of owls? Not to mention, how are you getting batteries in a dystopian apocalyptic warzone to fuel your environmentally unfriendly lighting system? I just wanted food! ”
Only the boss seemed to hear her. She raised an eyebrow over squinty eyes and smiled, not unwelcoming. “It’s very simple, Meredith – can I call you Meredith? Forget all about the apocalypse. My name’s Bentley, and this is Writer’s Club. We meet every Friday and also all the days in between because we all live underground together, obviously. We’ll start with a brain dump. Now, someone’s going to need to get you some paper, too… Oi! You lot! Stop faffing about and get the newbie some paper!”