I shall Grow

"She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future"

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1. Chapter One

 

The world didn't end with a whisper or a bang, but a wave of screams, one at a time. I was just a kid when it happened, the end of human society. It all came about when Howard James Taylor was elected president of the United States. He was a promising candidate but after he was elected he changed quicker than the seasons. He started insisting that Europe was a danger to the U.S and that anyone could be a secret spy for the other country. He claimed Europe was trying to steal their children for warriors in an upcoming battle. People believed every word and the same paranoia that spread during World War 2 began spreading again. Those who didn't believe it was more than likely arrested as spies and some given the death penalty. Psychologists were calling it a "mental epidemic" and to battle the large quantities of patients, mandatory shows giving therapy to those who watched in the hope of ridding them of their paranoia. Mass therapy for mass paranoia. 

In Europe, a similar pattern followed but we were scared of Asia. Soon the whole globe was scared of each other. America's psychotic president had doomed us before anyone realized what was happening. He wanted to hurt people in large quantities, how better to do that than become president of one of the largest countries of the globe and make people believe the war being rallied is justified.  My mother and father experienced a lot more racism than they ever had before. Dad more than mum. She likes to call herself "The Mocha Mumma", her mum was white, she wasn't as dark as my dad. He lived in Jamaica with his grandparents until he was 6, he then moved to the US with them. 

I have met others, some kind and caring others dangerous and vile. In Europe they were attacked by Nuclear bombs, the radiation caused awful mutations that learned to swim or cross the oceans and soon they began arriving in the U.S. All the people that were here before, gone. America is basically empty and everyone's just trying to survive. 11 years have passed since then. I would love to say the situation that had happened in 2030 has resolved itself, but that would be a lie, people kill each other over the silliest things. 

I live with just my mother now, my father and Twin sister, Chrissy went missing after the bombs drop. Or more, I did. Mum tells me the story of how we became two families instead of one a lot. See, Chrissy and I shared a room but that night I was thirsty, like every 6-year-old, I went down to the kitchen when the loud plane engines filled the air causing me to pause, they were so loud I could feel the sound like it was originating from my chest. The filled my body with pure fear, I remember hiding under the sink, it felt safe like hiding under the blankets. Then the bombs followed.

Dad saved Chrissy and mum. I was left there.

When I emerged from my hiding place, fear was the only emotion I had. I had cuts and bruises from where the wood had broken and blown inwards on impact. My house was in pieces and the stairs were no longer standing. I walked about the ground floor looking for comfort, I found Chrissy's doll. It had always been one of the ugliest dolls I'd ever seen. Its hair was ratty and felt like straw, and one of its eyes were always shut, but she loved it greatly it. 

Carrying the doll with me, I walked out the house. It was awful. There was a pain in my chest from the sheer grieve I felt. At the time, I didn't have a word for it but now I know I felt lost and alone. I remember finding our neighbor's small dog house, it was still standing, magically, and I climbed inside and sobbed.

Mums' voice saved me from becoming nothing but a memory. She refused to leave without me, dad was so desperate to protect the family he had left he didn't want to stay out in the open. Mum told him to wait where he was and came back to the house for me. My Guardian Angel.

I became Mia Ann Touch, the girl missing her other half.

After I was found, dad and Chrissy had moved on from where mum had left them. She believes something happened to make them leave, that they didn't abandon her.

We found an old radio shop that was safe to live in. It consists of the main shop floor which is a small size, we use it as our living room and kitchen and the storage room which we use as our bedroom. The shop had few supplies, things like a loaf of bread and running water but other than that, there was nothing. Mum managed to fit in a filtration system to the water but it still has bits of dust in. Finding supplies is hard and almost impossible due to lack of production and people. 

Most things were destroyed in the bombing and the things that weren't aren't always useful. I scavenge what I can find in the ruins, I took over from mum after she was attacked by a mutate. The monster damaged her leg so badly that we had to remove it.It wasn't easy either, it was horrific; she almost died but luckily we found the old town library which still has a few decent books on things like medicine and engineering (which I borrowed to never return). I learned how to cleanse her wounds and how to build a prosthetic one. Her replacement leg is made of old bits of metal we found in the shop. 

"Mia, can you run to town and see if they have any food?" Mum drags herself into the room from the storage room, pulling out a chair for her to sit on, I move to the other side to sit down. "I can look but I doubt I'll find anything in town anymore. I'll have to travel past the boundary soon". I know what will happen when we are out of food, Mum will insist on moving to another area and starting again and we both know she can't make a trip like with just us two. It'd be easier for me to walk further past the town boundary. 

"I can head out now, we still have a couple hours of daylight left" I smile at the woman sat in front of me. Stress and worry aged her far too fast. Her forehead covered in deep creases, crows feet on the corners of her weary eyes, and her full lips that barely seem to smile anymore. Despite all this, she's beautiful. She sits quietly in front of me, her fingers instinctively twisting her wedding ring around her ring finger. "Whatcha' thinking?"

"We aren't gonna be safe much longer, are we?"

"I think we'll be fine Ma', we are strong people. We made it this far!" Her face softens and her worries seeming removed. She smiles softly, "Holster's under the counter next to the guns" My arms move to push out the chair, causing an awful squeak. I hide a smile as mum throws me a look of pure annoyance.

I make my way over to the counter, which we assume was once the register counter. On the shelf just under the main top, we keep most our weapons like our Glock 17 and other small guns. We have a few gun holster, one or two homemade ones all made to fit me. I grab two gun holsters and tighten one around each of my thighs, finding the 9mm pistol to sit in them. Moving across the room to the umbrella stand by the door, I pull out the shotgun which we attached a guitar strap too for easier movement. The final addition to add to my arsenal of weapons is a small pocket knife in my sock and a small wood axe to attached to my hip. 

"I'll see you later, Ma. Usual drill, I'll be back before the chime of the clock"

"Just be safe, I won't lose you too!" She moves slightly, I can see the want in her eyes. I move back towards her to embrace her, her body warm against my own. "I'll be back, when am I not?" I wink before leaving quickly, shutting the door quietly and securely behind me. The remaining buildings of the shopping district of my childhood are 20 minutes to the east on foot. Usually, the town is crawling with Mutates, ugly things that are all one of kind. They won't bother you unless they think you have something, which is usually all the time. They are brutal and savage, all except for Francis. He is a mutate but he still has his own mind. He isn't feral like the others, he helps me look in areas to radiated for me to go in. 

The weather is warm, a gentle breeze paired with it and it's the perfect weather for the apocalypse if you can have perfect in this world. 

As I approach the town I can hear the usual noises. Other living people moving away, mutates and the occasional gunshot. People rarely come near towns if they know what's there but sometimes new people to the area make the mistake of coming without a weapon in hand or even in reach. Which is stupid as nowhere is safe. You always need a weapon.

The town once was a settlement but the people all move once the mutants started finding a way through the barriers. They couldn't fight them off, so many people died that they made the decision to leave.  A little further east is another town. Its origin has something to do with a single child living out of the entire townspeople. I want to travel over there one day. When I travel further, it'll be my first stop. 

I approach the first building to my left, the shutters pulled across like a cage and no lights inside. To anyone else, it's empty, nothing worth risking your neck for, to me, it's a dusty haven hidden behind curtains and large posters on the window. The crusty shithole is the home of my favourite mutant Francis. Francis is always the best at hiding his home. If breathers found him, they would beat the shit out of him and take all his stuff.

I press the button on the intercom outside, it lets out a wheezy buzz. It barely works but it works enough for Francis to let me in. "Hurry up meat bag!" 

"Hello to you too!" Sarcasm drips out my hushed voice. The shutter rattled, the lock releases and I quietly move it to the side, creating a big enough gap to squeeze through before closing it, waiting for it to lock and making my way to the door. "Hurry!" Francis sounds like he'd been smoking for 30 years. His voice is rough as if he'd eaten gravel. I often wonder if it hurts for him to talk. "Afternoon!" I wink at the grouchy man in front of me.

"Mia, this is the second time this week! The town is empty and a death wish to go into! Go home!" He moves across the room back to his musty armchair, lowering himself down.

"Francis, we need the food! I can't just go home. Unlike you, our stomachs require filling." Even I'm aware of the desperate tone in my voice. A quiet sigh escapes Francis, his left hand rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"My only suggestion is asking at the other town. It'll take a long walk, but they'll have some, probably a bit to spare. They grow it themselves, I've seen it. Rather impressive" 

Francis didn't start this way, the man losing his skin, hair and any normal human function. He was in one of the states that got nuked. He was sick but didn't think anything of it. He thought the extra dust in the air was causing the cough and the skin rash. He had moved into the town before he realized what he was becoming.They have like a lord protector or something who started up a group called the "Scouts". The protect the town and keep it stocked of all of their nick nacks. He left before they could discover what he was becoming.

I can't let mum go hungry for another day, my options are limited. "If I am not back by the first chime of the clock, can you tell mum where I went?" The town clock chimes once a day, usually around 7ish. Francis can see the path I'll take from the office roof, he lives in the old bus office. It's where all the paperwork for the bus' came through.

"If anyone discovers me, you better avenge my ass!" He's such a cheery man. I smile, hugging him before he can stand up. He pets my arm and I feel him chuckle. Even though he can get hurt, he looks out for us. Mum adores him, he is so sweet towards her and he even helped build her leg. 

He follows me towards the door and starts the process of opening up the door and shutters to let me out. His voice follows me out. "Ready your gun, Mia. And please, come back alive". I remove my shotgun off my back and try to find my bearings. 

I always wanted to move to this town when I was younger, other children around sounded like fun but mum was worried about if dad would come back and she'd miss him. Home is a fair way from the town, she didn't want to admit that she wouldn't see him even if he had returned. I mourned the loss of Dad and Chrissy a long time ago, they could be alive but what are the chances of them ever finding us.

A long walk shouldn't take too long, it's only about 45 minutes away, it's roughly a mile. I walk really fast due to the paranoia of Looters and Contractors. Neither sound scary but Looters stalk you, see if you have what they want then they attack in large groups so there's no chance for you alone. After the attack, they loot the dead body for everything on it. They have even been known to mutilate bodies to scare off others from certain areas. 

Contractors are worst. They are a large gang, members come from all over the waste of the worlds. If someone wrongs a single member, it becomes a game, that someone becomes the game piece and whoever can catch them first wins and decides their fate. Once someone is caught they are kept. Some are tortured for entertainment, women are kept for sexual reasons as are some men. If they really don't like you, you are forced to fight others to the death. The winner is meant to go free but they drug them and force them to fight again.

I once met a former member of the Contractors. You can never really leave but you don't have to live with the gang, you can live anywhere, so many take this as their escape but if they come for you, you have to return. The one I meet had left because they don't respect or care about the women who joined them, they killed her sister because she rejected the man that like her. She had shamed him, so she was beheaded. Xanthe was her name. She once tried to live in an old post office in my old town but she couldn't be alone. She left one night, I never saw her again.

The road becomes rockier and more open. Every noise is a potential danger and I'm about ready for anything. Mum taught me how to fight and shoot so I would always be prepared. Old cars and vehicles are scattered about the dirt road, blocking my view of parts the area. Slowly moving, I can hear breathing. I move to hid behind an old truck. Shotgun raised, I scan around me. 

"Miss?" I swing round ready to hurt whoever is near me, and I see her. A tiny little girl. Her face covered in dried blood and cuts. I move the shotgun away from her and back onto my back. "Are you okay?" My arms instinctively move to her shoulders moving her gently to check out her injuries.

"I found a hole, it was meant to be fun, I fell. I want to go home!" Her face crumples together as she begins to sobs. "Which town?" She raises her hand and points to the town in the distances, "That one, are you sure?" 

"Marcey said if you lose home, find the flag." Her hand waves above her head as she imitates a flag. "See, it's yellow and blue" I offer her my hand which she takes it, together we walk towards the town. 

"Well, I'll get you home. but you need to whisper. There may be bad people around!" Her little head nods swiftly, her body presses closer to mine. Quickly moving, my right-hand stays hovering over my pistol, left-hand holding hers tightly. 

The flags slowly come into view. That's a dumb idea, really. It's like a signal, "Oh look at me! I have good stuff, come and take it!". How stupid does one need to be for this to be a good idea? 

Looking down at the girl, her head swiftly turns forwards. "How are you holding up? We'll be back in 10 minutes". Her small round face looks up at me, her head tilted to the side, a confused expression on her face.

"You look like someone I know" A grin spreads on my face. I've never really spoken to a child before, it's a surreal thing, she doesn't even know me yet she feels comfortable enough to trust me.

"And who's that?" My eyes darting around above her head. 

"Chrissy!" I feel my whole body freeze, this strange sensation fills my stomach and for the first time I know what hope is.  I waited 11 years to hear someone say that name. "Chrissy?" I repeat. She nods, her face confused as to why I stopped. "Want to run?" Her face grew a huge smile, consuming her cheeks.

I start to jog but she won't keep up, her legs are so small. Removing the strap from one side of my shotgun, I hoist her onto my back, "Hold tight!" I say reattaching the strap. More adrenaline is surging through my veins than I've even known. My legs move faster than they have before. I begin to run, then sprint. All caution thrown aside.

She is there! She is in that town! My sister, my other half! The gate is already open and I stop abruptly. As I walk into the town, I stop. The town is empty, not a person in sight. I do not like this "Why did you leave the town?" I ask the girl letting her slip down my body so she was again hiding behind my legs.

"Men came, they looked funny. The sounded old and smelt bad too. They took people with them when they left. I ran away from them through the hole!"  In my heart, I knew hoping that I could just walk in and find her was a delusion. Disappointed doesn't explain my emotions, I haven't a word for it, agony is the closest to it I can think of. 

Tiny little footsteps fill the air as the girl runs over the flagpole, next to it is a wooden box holding a small rusty bell with a small rope hanging down the side. Dirty little hands reach and grab the rope pulling downwards with all her force. An amazing noise fills the air as she pulls. I have never heard such a noise, such a beautiful sound. 

People start coming out of the buildings, out from under porches, behind rocks and one lady out of the well. A large woman darts across the open street and snatches up the girl. "ELENA!" Her voice shrill and full of relieve. "MEMO! MEMO! Look I'm okay!" She half wraps her arms around her mother's neck.

"Lena, they didn't hurt you?"

"No, the lady saved me!" Suddenly, I am aware of the gazes that have fallen on me. Faces all turn to me, lighting up when they saw me. "Chrissy!" A woman slender shouts before charging at me hugging me. Her hands sit in the middle of back pulling every inch of me towards her. "You're okay!" She squeezes so tight, gentle tears leave her eyes. I want to hug her back, but I couldn't give her that hope. She pulls away, searching my face for a problem. Her eyes notice something different, I can see the way her face changes. "What's wrong Chrissy?"

"She isn't Chrissy, Lou-Ann" A husky old voiced filled the air. People move away from me as if I have done something wrong or caused harm. I look around for the owner of the voice before finding him. "Nothing is wrong with her or different, she isn't Chrissy. She's Mia!" My eyes rest on the old gentlemen. Just as tall as I remember, the wrinkles around his eyes deeper than when I was a child but his eyes still as vibrant as ever. My body goes slack, my chest feels tight, my breathing quickens, I can't stand her anymore. 

"DADDY!" I run, my legs going as fast as I can and not stopping until I feel him against me. My eyes allow the tears to fall and I don't care! My tears soaking into his shoulder as he holds me close. "You're alive!" I look at his face again, he is every I remember him as. "What on earth happened to you?" His eyes filled with tears, I watch them trace the lines of my face as if he hasn't seen a copy of it every day.

I smile, a small giggle comes out "I was thirsty so I went for a drink. The loud noises scared me so I hid under the sink and then I went outside to find you" 

"Where's your mum?" He braces himself. I recognize the look he gives me. His eye wide in hope but his body has already given up. "She's alive. We never left the town west from here. She waited and waited never leaving when we have been so close all this time!" He chuckles, his head falling forward as he does.

"Daddy, where is Chrissy?" His arms stiffen, then go lax. He stands still, not moving for a moment.

"The town was attacked while most the Scouts were out. More mutants than I have ever seen. They took anyone they could. Chrissy was one of the people along with small children. We have people looking for them but we don't know why this happened or why they took them. They spoke, their leader Benji or something commanding them, something about finding Francis a man who once lived here. He hasn't lived here in years though! We don't know where he is!" I feel the panic, the pure fear and terror I experienced once before. Pulling myself away from dad, I turn to leave. All the faces on me looking just as scared and frightened as me. Turning back to him I shake my head. 

"I need to go! Francis is a mutant too. He left when he realized what was happening to him but he never became feral! We adopted him into our family, I know where he is!" A sudden chime fills the air."NO! Not yet, please! Dad, he's with mum!" Dad's face drops. "I have to go!" We don't get it easy in this family. So close to being whole again. 

"Andrea! Go with Mia, save my wife!" Out of nowhere, a tall lady appears out the crowd. Equipped with so many weapons her body is barely visible, her brown hair tied behind her head. "We better hurry, the town is defenseless without me!" 

"How do you feel about running?" 

"Just try to keep up" She smirks and then she is off. I chase after, my legs moving in time with hers.

My morning started so simply, a normal routine of searching for food. How the hell did it become this living hell while in hell? Damn Francis! What hasn't he told me? 

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