Beyond The Wasteland

Ama is fifteen and one of the many born after the war ended in the land known as The Waste, a great swathe of the old England that still bears the hideous scars of the violence. But the children do not remember the horror, only see the charred landscape, the mutated animals and hear the tales from the elders.

The Waste has been a haven for almost one hundred seasons, but a drought has come and water and food is running out. The people grow restless and many yearn to return to the cities, once so ravaged by chemicals and violence, believing now a new society may have begun.

As the people of The Waste begin to argue over the future, the arrival of two strangers, the first in over twenty seasons, will change the course of their lives forever.

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1. Visitors

We are the first generation to be born after the war. I have always been aware how our parents and the adults watched us with suspicious eyes as we grew, looking for signs of defects or mutations caused by the weapons used on the cities and towns of England during those years of horror. At least, we are told of the horror. I did not live it; I only see the scarred earth and listen with awe at the stories from the older ones of the old world of both order and beauty.

This morning, after climbing the top of the hill which holds our village, I watch the sunrise over The Waste. It is cold, late autumn, and the chill of the wind already whispers of the coming winter and the dangers it brings. The charred earth, blackened and torn extends far to the horizon and from my vantage point I can see all of the little villages that make our community. There are only a few hundred people living out here where the mutilated ground grows only the hardiest of crops. I used to ask my father why we suffered out here, and he would tell me about the cities, where the radiation and chemical levels still raged, and danger lay around every corner with people murdered and robbed for the little possessions they had and I would shiver with both wonder and fear at his words.

At fifteen I am used to it now. The Waste is all I have known but the cities, even with their danger hold me in a powerful grip. I wrap my mother’s blanket tight around my shoulders now as I shiver with a bitter breeze that rolls over the hill. The thick, tightly sewn patches of faded colours and patterns are all I have of her and I let it wrap around me as I imagine she did when I was a baby, even though she was fading already then with the sickness. I remember her, although it is mostly only a feeling now, a memory of her smell, her warmth. Her face has become fuzzy in my mind though and I don’t even have a picture of her to keep it strong. I imagine her here on the hillside as I watch the village sleep below me. I see her tall and beautiful in the gentle golden hue of an autumn morning. The light which gives a calming glow to the scattered, broken wooden houses and the dotted shacks would light the perfect smile on her gentle face as I lay in her arms.

She is gone though. Buried in the poisoned ground with so many others and I will never feel her again. And just as she has left, I have begun to feel distant from this place. The Waste stretches out beyond my eye reach but my body yearns for something more than this blackness and scattered crops. The adults and my father are always saying that things are worse outside of The Waste, but how do they know that? We haven’t had any outside visitors for over twenty seasons. Perhaps a new society has grown, one of compassion and co-operation? Or perhaps everyone outside of The Waste is dead like some of the elders have begun to whisper in the council meetings.

I come back to the world as I notice my younger sister Belle leaving the edge of the village and winding her way up the hill towards me. She is like a nymph, skipping and dancing happily up the charred hillside and over rocks as if it were luscious green with streams flowing with crystal blue water. Always as well, that stupid loping dog Skylar hops along after her. It suffered pretty badly with the mutations, you could barely say it had even three working legs, but someone how it manages to trot along clumsily after Belle, the two of them practically shining like a rainbow against the grey horizon.

She smiles at me and waves enthusiastically as she gets closer. Skylar lopes ahead, tripping over practically every rock and comes to sniff at my feet. I give him a tentative stroke, seeing and smelling that he desperately needs a bath. Water out here is precious though, especially since the drought started and poor little Skylar is far down the pecking order.

"Hi Ama" Belle says tentatively, her soft small voice so in contrast to the battered landscape. She is worried about me I can tell so I open up my arms and the blanket and a warm smile crosses her face as she comes in and nestles against me. Her body is cold  but I hold her tightly anyway and stroke her long hair as Skylar nestles in beside her.

"You know it's the council meeting today" Belle says. Her face is turned away from me but I can hear the trepidation in her voice. Things have been getting pretty bad out here recently with the drought and the mutations in the animals getting worse. People are getting angry and the peace we have always known seems to be cracking. I know if I am noticing it, it must be bad and Belle is far more perceptive than me. She feels the essences of people, their feelings and motives. Some of the older kids say it’s a mutation but I think it is just her. She has always moved with the currents of the world, connected where I have disconnected.

“It will be ok” I hear myself say, knowing that Belle will hear the lie I have told for both our benefit. But she doesn’t say anything, only nestles in closer and I know that my words cannot change things; I just have to be here with her when things get rough. Well, rougher.

We lie there for some time huddled together, hearing the animals of the village stirring below when Suddenly Skylar snaps up to attention and we both jump. We follow his restless gaze and I feel my grip on Belle tighten as I realise what we are seeing. Two figures are moving across The Waste, directly towards our village, the morning sun at their back casting huge shadows across the plain. I know instantly they are not from here as they are riding what I recognise from an old battered book in the village as horses, huge and black, and an icy chill runs through my body as I recognise the long cylinders in their hands; rifles. They must have seen us I think, though hope we are shielded by the low sunlight. I jump up, grabbing Belle’s hand.

“Come on we have to get back” I say, my eyes never leaving the strangers. Just as we start to move, Skylar barks at the peculiarity of the tall animals he has never encountered before and all of sudden tears off at full speed towards the oncoming threat. I know what is about to happen but I am not quick enough. Belle frees herself from my hand and runs full speed after Skylar, desperately calling his name as they both hurtle down the hillside. There is no chance that we haven’t been seen now and sure enough, the strangers have stopped and are watching the crazy approach of the clumsy barking dog and wild young girl. One of the strangers, I think female, though it is hard to make out, raises her rifle and icy fear fills my heart as it points directly at Belle. I am crazy now too as I set off at full speed screaming for them to stop, no idea of what I might do when I reach the scene.

Belle is so close to them now, but she is still alive, still standing. My lungs are tearing with the icy air of the morning but I am nearly there. The horses are getting spooked by Skylar’s yapping and I call out to Belle as she dives in and out of their legs trying to grab the manic mutt. In my terror and rush down the hill I’ve way overshot the mark and have no chance of stopping as I blast towards the chaos. Just as Belle manages to grab Skylar by the neck and yank him away, I come careering through and knock all three of us to the ground again in a painful mess of limbs and tails. I lay dazed on the ground. I can see the horses circling us but the world is spinning too quickly to focus and there seems to be something hot and sticky oozing into my left eye. Blood, I think hazily as I touch my hand to my forehead and see red as I pull it away. I reach out for Belle but find only dirt before the world goes dark as one of the figures leans over me, a huge hand reaching down towards my face.

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