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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3. The Bearer

It isn't long before I'm walking through the village with Daniel to meet my fate, whatever that might be. He couldn't tell me much, only that he'd overheard the strangers asking for my father and that they were taken to see the elder, Robert. Well good luck getting any sense out my father I think with a sigh, he'd have to be awake or sober first, and at this time of day, neither of those is a possibility.

I feel as though I am walking down foreign streets as everyone stops in their tracks and watches me silently as I pass. I have grown up in these dirty streets, around all of these people and now they look at me with a new wonder or fear in their eyes; I can't tell which. I am different now, and strangely I don't care. I feel suddenly as if I always knew this was my fate. Well, not precisely that two strangers on horse back with guns would come to The Waste to summon me, but always the sense that there was something more for me than the monotonous blackened swathes of our lives out here. 

Still, my stomach feels alive and churning and I instinctively reach out and take Daniel's hand for comfort, not caring now what anyone might think this means, and he gives it a reassuring squeeze. We're nearly there now, at Robert's home. He occupies one of the old cottages which used to stand here before the war in some country hamlet or other. It's the least battered one left and I suppose since he led everyone here and saved them he deserves some luxury, but this new utopia was supposed to be a society of equals. Robert's "elder" status as some sort of wise old sage, holed up in the best cottage on The Waste has never sat easily with me. But who am I to argue?

Just as we reach the battered old door of the stone cottage, it flies open and crashes off its hinges with a sickening thud into the earth beside us. My father, clearly our of his mind on his home brew, made from the one crop that grows out here, stumbles out shouting unrecognisable phrases and swinging a suspiciously empty bottle. He looks totally dishevelled, and believe me, that is saying something for The Waste. The clothes I restichted for him last week have already split at the seams and he has a worryingly red, unnatural complexion. He catches sight of Daniel and I and stumbles towards us. He grabs me roughly by the shoulders, knocking Daniel flying and looks me in the eyes. His awful breath is making me wince and I hate myself for wanting to recoil from my own father, but I do it anyway.

"I...won't...won't..le...le...le....let them...take you" he manages to slur into my face and I can't help the pangs of pity that rise up in me. How a great and noble, gentle man should become this; the world must truly be a destructive and cruel place. I suppose I should be grateful that even through the drunkenness he is still showing some kind of love but I just want to run away from him, keep running until he disappears and the old man I used to know, kind and gentle is back. I start to retreat, except he doesn't get the hint and clings desperately onto my arms for one second too long and falls flat on his face at my feet, letting out a pitiful groan. I hear someone let out a snigger and I spin fiercely towards the sound. Millie Sampson, an orphan from birth is giggling at the sight of my father, now writhing on the floor. I feel my cheeks flush and I give her a silencing glare before helping my father to his feet. Daniel heaves from the other side and we get him standing, except he seems to have forgotten all about me now and stumbles off towards our house and I hope, to bed, without bumping in to Belle. 

My father, always the village distraction I think with a sigh as I look through the open door ahead of me and see figures milling in the dusty room, and hear the gentle hum of voices. 

"You're coming with me right?" I say to Daniel, so glad he is here. He seems so tall all of a sudden as he moves in next to my side. I see that wisdom and maturity in his eyes I saw this morning as he smiles a melancholy smile and takes both my hands into his.

"Always" he replies, and I know it's the truth.

The cottage seems dark as we enter. There are a few dusty windows left, but the little winter light that makes it through isn't doing much to illuminate the damp and dingy space. A fire has been burning in the grate but has practically died to embers now and there is the smell of old leaves which means that Robert has been serving his special grass tea; my my, it must be a special occasion. 

The voices stop as I enter and I survey the room. Three people I recognise, Robert the elder and two of the originals, part of The Waste council. Sarah, a stern woman who has never had any time or pleasantries for me and George, practically ancient in Waste terms and ravaged by arthritis that returned strongly after the supply of medicines dried up after the war. And two people that I remember vaguely from our encounter on the plain this morning, although I get a better look at them now. They are a man and a woman, mid thirties I guess and both with a somewhat harsh, battle-weary edge to them as if life where they come from requires you to toughen up pretty fast. The woman I notice in particular as she is glaring fiercely at me. I can feel the ice in her eyes although she is beautiful, in a scarred, slightly broken sort of way. She has thick brown hair scraped tightly back and a thin face which reminds me of the women in this strange old magazine my mother used to drag around until it fell apart completely. The man is looking at me also but with something different than hate in his eyes. It isn't a look i'm familiar with but it doesn't put me at ease. It feels as though he is trying to bore into me.

"I didn't summon you Ama." Robert says sharply, a chipped cup of tea poised ridiculously in his hand.

"Just thought I would drop by" I say, paying back his venom with sarcasm.

"You will learn to have respect young lady" Sarah butts in, bristling at my tone.

"Oh and here is me thinking we were all supposed to be equal. Or have you  forgotten those vows already" Daniel interrupts her. I look over at him, shocked but impressed by his words. Daniel is never one to speak out of turn. Things really must be changing around here. 

"Silence all of you." The female stranger says rising to her feet. I'm surprised to see that the three councils do exactly as she says, although Sarah is throwing daggers with her eyes at this beautiful newcomer. "You argue like children whilst the future of humanity hangs in the balance. It's pathetic." Her voice is deep, lyrical somehow but commanding. It fills the small cottage and I am both immensely drawn to her yet deeply repelled. She turns to me and my heart skips a beat. "I am Callie. This is Storn. We met under unfortunate circumstances outside of the village earlier."

Despite the pleasantries, there is no warmth in her voice and I know instantly to fear this woman. She is already playing some sort of game with me and I can tell that every move will be crucial or the wrong one, even lethal.

"I heard you asked to see my father" I say, the statement loaded with a million questions. She pauses before she answers me, her gaze heating me from the inside out. I feel Daniel's hand brush mine and I am given new confidence to return that stare.  

"We have been searching The Waste for people, strong people, to help us rebuild society." She says, each word seems to have been chosen very carefully.

"And what does that have to do with my father?" I ask casually but my voice cracks on the last word and I have given Callie the upper hand in whatever psychological game we are playing out over this small space. I see Robert shift uncomfortably, his gaze going awkwardly between Callie, his tea cup and me. 

"That drunken fool is of no concern to me." She says, rather too quickly and I realise he must have been causing quite a scene in here before I arrived. Storn stands suddenly and places his hand on her shoulder and she sits down instinctively at his touch. 

"Please forgive us" he says, throwing me a warm smile. "We have travelled far and are weary and have lost some of our manners in this so called "Waste". Please Ama, sit and hear what we have to say." I look to Daniel who nods at me. "Your friend as well of course" Storn continues, motioning at Daniel and then at the rough wooden upturned boxes next to the fire that serve as seats. 

We sit down, the strangeness of the situation just starting to dawn on me as I look around the room. What did my father mean, 'I wont let them take you'? What do these people want with me? The power seems to be all with them so I know I will have to continuing playing the game for answers.

"Perhaps I should start at the beginning" Storn says, his arms folding across his lap. 

 

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