“Lets see here. There is still a few cans here in the cupboard” I examined what was still in the kitchen.
“What's in there anyway?” hollered Jaq from the back bedroom.
“We've got dog food, corned beef, the usual stuff that's been left behind, Wait we have two cans of pineapple and a can of chocolate syrup. It may have been 25 years or more that this has been here but the cans are still sealed.”
“Pack them up carefully they will not be that valuable if they get damaged.”
I walked across the kitchen and threw open the other cupboards looking for something to wrap the cans in. I found towels that were deteriorating in the second drawer down and a mess of rotten rags in the bottom drawer. I decided to go with the towels. “Jaq have you seen any signs of rodents? I haven't seen any mice or anything else.”
“Nothing, no I haven't seen even a little turd pellet. Weird.”
I took catalogue of what was of value in the kitchen: canned food, wood broken from the table and chairs which I stacked by the door, some chemicals which were miraculously still intact, a couple spools of string, one good knife and a few that were not so good but worth scavenging, a scissors, some stale spices and.......
“Nate, Jaq you need to get down here and see this now.” a voice thundered from below Harris was obviously agitated.
Jaq ran into the kitchen. She was already in condition red. “we need to find out what that was.”
I nodded and opened the door to head down the stairs. I found Harris, Amanda, and Mike in a back room.
“In there” Mike pointed at a door that was ajar.
I opened the door cautiously and let Jaq look in first. The other side of the door had obviously been black once. The room seemed larger than the space it should have consumed. The walls were deteriorating and bare except for the far wall facing the door. on it was a darkened antique mirror and a cerimonial sword hanging directly above it horizontally. The floor had four human shaped mounds on it. Mounds of dead rats un-decomposed strangely sustained.
Jaq said it was weird and I had to agree. I felt disquieted by the room and returned the door to where it had been. “So what is the plan?”
Harris took charge and started in “we have been discussing this and I feel that we have two options. The first option is to just pack up and get out of here. This just creeps me out and I don't want to deal with this sort of thing”
Mike piped in “that sword is worth more than anything else we might find here. I think it is worth the risk. We really need to put it to a vote. This still creeps me out.”
“Fine let's vote. I'm with Mike.” I placed my vote on the table.
“I remember stories of this sort of thing from before the world went to hell. My mother read to me from this book there was a lady in there named Frau Tottenkinder she ate children. This make me feel like we are in one of those stories.” Amanda was in favor of fleeing.
“I feel we should combine the two options. I say we pack everything we have up and then come back for the sword.” Jaq offered. She looked at each of us as all but Amanda and Harris nodded as if to back her plan.
“Ok but we need to burn this place down and not come back when we are done.” Harris was ready to compromise. “If anybody asks we will say the safe was rigged.”
“Fine let's pack it up quick and then reunite in the kitchen.” I set up the next order of action.
We loaded our meager scavenges onto the back of our cargo bikes and returned to the kitchen.
“Is there anything flammable?” I looked at Mike who was supposed to check the garages.
Mike shrugged “I never got that far......” 'at least he was honest.'
Mike and I went to the near garage and the other three went to the far one. We found a axe with a broken handle, several broken shovels and one good one, and a watering can.
“I don't see a gas can or anything” Mike looked at me with disappointment.
“What's on the shelves” I looked at him interrogatively
“Oil, brake fluid, house-paint, Oh Saw-blades!” though his eyes gimmered a bit he wasn't finding anything. We loaded what we could use on the bikes and went to find the others.
The other garage was more provisioned there was a motorcycle, car tires, lawn furniture, power-tools, and several of what were once taxidermied animal heads. All three of the others were looking down into a plywood box. I came over and looked in. the box contained camping gear. Amanda had a gas can by her foot.
“Do we have fuel to start the fire?” I asked Amanda.
“No the can is empty, I was hopeful when I saw it but there is nothing ” she replied unhappily.
“It's alright. Well then, load what is most useful on the bikes. We cannot take this all in one trip.” I poked around while they were loading and found a box of pool chemicals in the corner. I pulled out a jar of chlorine crystals and smiled.
Back in the kitchen we had made a pile of dry brush and set the components needed to start the fire out. We headed down the stairs towards the door. Something was different when we came to the room. The door was wide open. I inquired and nobody admitted to reopening the door. We went back to the base of the stairs and played rock-paper-scissors to decide who would be sent in to retrieve the sword. Harris acquired the duty despite the fact that he had voted against retrieving it in the first place. He was still hesitant until I pointed out that the sword belonged to whoever retrieved it.
Cautiously Harris stepped into the room with a camp axe from the box in his hand. He was careful to step between the mysterious mounds of rats. He lifted up the sword and began to turn around when a face appeared in the mirror.
“HAVE YOU AWAKEN ME?” a voice thundered from the wall. “ARISE MY CHILDREN.” at that moment Harris decided he had had enough and turned and threw the axe which bounced off the mirror. The rats started moving and Harris decided to run for the door.
We ran up the stairs and through the kitchen being careful to kick the cups of brake fluid over onto piles of chlorine crystals. And left the house to ride away leaving it to burn down behind us. We were all jittery from the experience but we made it back to the compound safely.
That night I had a dream of 13 walking golems of rats chasing me. One caught me and enveloped me and I woke up. I looked down the rows of hammocks hanging in the lecture hall turned dormitory and calmed down relived that the dream was not real.
I got dressed and headed to the cafeteria. Harris and Amanda were already there. Harris has a bundle with him I could only assume it was the sword.
“Did ja sleep well last night?” I inquired.
Harris shook his head and Amanda gave me a tense look.
“What ever that was, it was not good.” Amanda was shaken up “Faces in mirrors and bodies made out of rats this is not normal. That place just felt dark. We do need to go back and finish cleaning up the lot but I don't really want to.”
“We can hold off on that for a bit anyway” I said taking a sip of the bitter chicory brew that somehow became the official morning beverage in our compound. I often wonder how the coffee that this was supposed to substitute for actually tasted. By now any coffee that we found had decomposed beyond use for food. “Tomorrow we have to take over for one of the teams at the old high-school.” We had maintained the various smaller communities across town as a way of spreading out protection over usable land. “Today we need to go and see what what we can get for what we have recovered so far.”
“THIRTYFIVE! I won't take less than seventy. that is a good coat. It's wool and not a moth eaten spot on it anywhere.” Jaq was trying to sell her finds.
“It's got a hole right here.” The merchant was trying to wear her down to a lower price.
“You just made that hole.” There was no backing down for her.
“Fine fifty, will you take fifty I've got a profit to make!”
“Sixty will be fine thank you very much.”
“You are a nuisance fifty-five then.” he was weakening.
“Fine. We have a deal.” Jaq extended her hand “Two hundred for the rest of the bundle?”
He dug around the heap and bargained her down to a hundred and seventy. “You are trouble to deal with”
“Yet you always pay well.”
We regrouped after our individual trips to the market. Harris was wearing his sword in a new scabbard, and everyone else was obviously perked. I really could not bear to tell him he should have sold that thing and he was as likely to hurt himself as anybody else “It seems our band has two new members joining us.” I was reading the orders sheet for tomorrow. “Looks like a Rosalind and Deidre will be joining us when we relieve WB 14 tomorrow.”
“Trainees are like dead weight” Mike said obviously frustrated.
“Maybe we should make them wear a red shirt until they learn how a war band is supposed to operate.” Jaq threw out.
“Let's just get them trained quickly while we are watching over the outpost.” I was trying to think logically.
That night The story teller read us a story from one of the books that was in the library. She read to us from G.K. Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse. The words shook me like a storm I felt that I was riding with Alfred against the Danes.
Ride through the silent earthquake lands,
Wide as a waste is wild,
Across these days like deserts, when
Pride and a little scratching pen
Have dried and split the hearts of men,
Heart of the heroes, ride.
Night came and went and in the morning we assembled ready to go and waited for our new team members.
I heard footsteps approaching from behind “Umm hi.......... I'm Rosalind we are here Sir.” I heard her talking as I turned around.
“Pardon me I only see one of you.” I was only honest.
“Do not mean to offend but she's right here.” she set her hand on an invisible shoulder.
Jaq whispered to me to just leave it be so I didn't worry about it. “Alright single file we will try to make this a quick walk to the high school. It's only five miles.” I did not mention the last mile or three going through thick forest. My team already knew If the newbie(s) did'nt know about the way the forest behaved they would learn quick. The trees never killed anyone who left them be.