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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2. Siren's Call

As you can imagine, growing up in The Waste hadn't always been easy. Food and water were scarce and we lived with the constant fear of discovery, that this perverse paradise of ours would be invaded and the fight to survive would start again. But there had been good times also. Before the death of my mother I had truly felt a sense of family and community. Back then, a stream had flowed from the hill above and fish could still be caught and the chickens and goats bred in the village seemed to do well, avoiding the worst of the mutations I had heard about back towards the cities, where animals would be born inside out, or joined three together.

But mother, just like so many others in the village had brought the sickness with her. One by one, the vomiting would come, the weakness, the lumps that eventually burst through the skin and killed their victims with merciless pain. The effects of war lingered on in The Waste, claiming its victims. My mother was one of the last to die. Watching her falter, seeing that untouchable smile fade from her face which itself grew pale like the sun gives way moonlight, was unbearable. I would hold her so tight as she too clutched Belle to her withered frame that I thought she might break. But she never pushed me away, even until the end when she could no longer speak and tears rolled from her almost still blue eyes, she clutched my hand in hers, my father holding the tiny Belle to her.

She died in winter. The morning was cold and I had gone to fetch some snaps of wood for the burner in the room in the one barn left with a rood where those with the sickness were laid to see out their final moments. As I lifted one of the frozen logs from the pile outside a little mutated rabbit with three ears caught my eye. It looked so oddly helpless and sorry I couldn't help but follow it as it hopped along the side of the village. I don't remember how much time past but I suddenly felt a sharp chill of wind and I knew it had happened. I dropped the little wood I had in fright and ran as fast as I could towards the barn but it was too late. She had died and I had not said goodbye. It was my eighth birthday.

As I grew, the scars of the war infected more deeply into The Waste; our home. The stream ran a murky yellow before drying up altogether, leaving us reliant on collecting rain water to stay alive. Our animals were born with more and more mutations and the children too of this part of The Waste began to be born disfigured or still, never to breath the poison air of this dark new world. People grew frightened for the future, and we, the children could feel it grow like the cancers of the sickness through The Waste. Order was becoming chaos. The council meetings ever more erratic and heated as people argued about whether to leave The Waste.

So my bitterness grew too. My hatred of this life, that my mother, a perfect angel, a doctor before the war should die so senselessly. She had worked her whole life to save others. What even was the war about? No one would talk about it. No one answered the questions I had or listened to my words. I only stayed here, only stayed alive for Belle, and for my father, and for Daniel, because when the time came I would die to defend them. 

* * * * * * *

My head is pounding. Even the tiny light from the fire in the middle of the room hurt my eyes. Groaning, I check all of my limbs, they seem to be moving which is definitely good news, although they hurt like hell, which is probably good news too. I jump as I feel a cold towel pressed to my forehead.

"Oh Ama! I didn't realise you were awake." It is Daniel, my best friend in the village since we were tiny. His voice brings me comfort and the towel feels good so I press it harder to my forehead where the pain is greatest.

"Woah, hold on there! You took a nasty bump to your head" He laughs, gently relieving some of the pressure I am applying. I'm glad he is here, he has been away a lot recently, learning from a healer two villages over. He says he wants to be a doctor when civilisation returns. I'm always telling him to be a vet instead as Skylar sure could use one, and that would make Belle happy. Belle! I sit bolt upright, the pain shooting all around my head. 

"Belle? what happened?" I try desperately to stand to my feet but Adam firmly plants me back on the hard reed bed. 

"Ama, she's fine." His words calm me again, though I can feel my heart still pounding, my breathing fast. I lie back into the bed with a sigh, the memories of this morning flooding back. "You've been in and out for about an hour. Had us pretty worried" Daniel continues. He seems so grown up all of a sudden, wise somehow, older than his years. 

"What happened?" I ask. "After I knocked myself out I mean. Those people, who were they?"

"That remains to be seen." Daniel answers sitting down on the edge of the bed.

"They had guns. Are we safe?" I ask, nervously swallowing at the thought of these fierce strangers in our home. 

"I'm not sure. But they helped Belle bring you back safely so they can't be all bad." Daniel smiles rubbing my foot. But i've known him too long and I can see the tiny falter in that smile. He knows, or thinks something that he's not letting on, but because of our friendship I know that he won't tell me until he's ready .

"Where are they now?" I ask, testing my head by sitting up slowly, inch by inch.

"With your father and the elders" Daniel answers casually, but the nervous movements in his hands are telling a different story.

I sit up now and grab hold of his hands bringing them close to me. I can't wait any longer. "What is it Daniel? What do they want?"

He shifts awkwardly on the bed but I won't let go of his hands or break eye contact. "It's you Ama, I think they want you."

 

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