“We go in, we look around, take only what we need and go.”
Rui looked at the group of three boys as they nodded in acknowledgement to what he had asked of them. Rui was 16 years old, he wasn't the eldest among them, or the tallest, or even the strongest, but he was often seen as the most in control and level headed in a stressful situation. The peer approved leader. His unmanaged dark hair was kept out of his face from the beanie he always wore, the soft acrylic was now nothing more than words on the label buried inside. This item, to which had become a faded dark brown from it's original thick black had become just another part of his character to those who knew him.
They were no longer sure if they'd even recognise him with out it. Or how long his hair had even become hidden beneath it. The only other discerning features to Rui was the cut on his right cheek, it looked to be in the form of an X. It's unclear as to if even he remembers how he got it, or who gave it to him.
Caeden was the youngest, roughly around 10 years old. He had shoulder length white hair, a genetic trait the he and his older brother Aryan shared. Since the death of their Mother, he'd been forced into helping his older sibling in the dangerous activities they needed to do day by day just to survive life on the streets. And not to fall captive to those who would abuse his innocence and his brothers labour, just for them to get a meal.
His clothes never fit him quite right, as trying to find the perfect size for a growing boy wasn't always the easiest and most cost effective task in this current world. His cargo pants were bunched up and held by his socks as to not trip him over as he walked.
And his jacket, although warm and protective from the harsh winds, absolutely swam on him.
His older brother Aryan, would never talk about many things personal to him, his past, his emotions, his Mother. Potentially a coping mechanism as not get too close to those around him. The group wasn't even to sure on his age he looked like he maybe in his late teens. But he's never confirmed it.
Then there's Wystan, he was the muscle, the tough guy. The man who put no thought into the consequences of his actions. At 25 years old he had only ever learned to get this far with the brawn of others leading the way.
It was close to midnight when they snuck out of the containment zone, an area of the city walled off from the outside world. Policed with rules and laws. Anyone to fall out of order was lucky to banished, the rest were treated to corporal punishment by enforcers referred to as peace keepers.
The walls were erected around parts of the city that were deemed to be safe from outside influence, wandering animals, raiders and other gangs and clans. It attracted many to live within it's bounds, free to roam the busy streets within a community. It was what many of the older generations living inside described to be the closest thing to the normality they had grown up in. It allowed for people to grow a business, to settle down into a life, to work and trade. If you were lucky enough, even raise a family. But even for those less fortunate, the scraps dropped by others was still a far better life than living in constant fear on the outside.
But the gang knew that the best trade able goods, were on the outside of the containment zone. And it was all abandoned and free for the picking.
Rui turned the handle slowly as he peered inside the abandoned house. There was a sad atmosphere that fell over the place, a low mist hovered above the floor. The boys walked in closing the door carefully behind and pulling all the curtains closed as to not have their torches seen from those that may pass by. As there was always the chance of scavengers or predators spotting the light.
“I'll check the pantries, Wystan, you want to check the bedrooms?”
Aryan suggested. Wystan acknowledged and walked out of sight. Caeden pulled a chair out from underneath the kitchen table, dragging it up against the kitchen bench and begun opening up the upper cupboards. “Hey Aryan.” He said “Yeah mate?” “What should I be looking for the most?” Caeden asked, picking up a half rotted rat by the tail, his face puckered and sour as he dropped it to the ground.
“AH Jesus Caeden, are you trying to be an arse?” Aryan exclaimed. “Like Seriously? You couldn't have dropped it anywhere else, or moved it out of the way? But no, you had to drop right where I'm about to be walking.” “Guys...” The brothers shielded their eyes as Rui's torch was shone directly onto them. “Can you bicker when we get back?” “Sorry Rui.” They both replied.
Rui began to move back into sight of the hallway when something caught his eye. His torch raised quickly towards the end of the unlit hall. Could have been Wystan just slipping around the corner out of sight he thought. He had no reason panic, it was more than plausible as an explanation. But he just had a that feeling that something wasn't right with how he had seen it move. Slow, as if it was trying to be unnoticed by him. He reached down and pulled a shiv out from his pocket, he had made it earlier that day. The boys didn't often carry implements with the intent of harm. To be caught with a weapon in the containment zone was a punishable offence. This had caused the boys to rely on stealth as their self defence if ever they found themselves in a life threatening situation. But here Rui was. In one of those potential situations an encounter was imminent. The risk for altercation was high, and therefore he clutched it tight just as a precaution and began to walk down the hallway.
He switched his torch off and peered around the corner to see a closed door. Wystan wouldn't have closed the door behind him, would he? There was the distinct sound of a tap dripping from inside the closed room. A bathroom or laundry perhaps? Maybe he was using the toilet?
“Wystan you in there?” He asked, clutching the shiv tighter.
“Huh?” Wystan's voice came from in the room behind. “I heard you the first time, what's up?” He said poking his head of a bedroom doorway. Rui's eyes grew wide as he gestures to the closed door, “I swear I saw someone go in there.” Wystan's face grew with confusion. “Nah man, nobody but you has passed down the hallway. It was closed when I came down.” It was at that moment that Wystan didn't even hesitate or think as he turned the handle and casually pushed open the closed door in question. Rui's torch reflected off the bathroom mirror and directly back into their eyes,
“I must have just seen my shadow or something then.” “All good man, but hey, I may have found an old vinyl. It could be worth something to someone?” Wystan led Rui back into the bedroom he had come from, picking up an old vinyl record from the floor.
“It says, A Day to Remember?” Wystan looked over at Rui awaiting a response of excitement, but instead he was met with a long pause. You could see the cogs in his head turning over as he tried to think of something to say that wouldn't hurt his feelings.
“Never heard of them before man.” Rui said softly, his words shattering Wystan's feeling of accomplishment.
“A Day To Remember is a classic, I heard the old timers talk about them before.” But Rui just shrugged his shoulders, “If you think there's enough people with vinyl players that know and want it, then just stuff it into your bag. They're flat enough anyway.”
Rui's eyes brushed over the room as he made his exit back towards the bathroom. The coloured décor and amount of items and games that today would be deemed useless and a waste of time and space were still sitting undisturbed to how they would have been so long ago. This was a bedroom for one person he thought. It was huge and surrounded in luxuries. He wondered if the person who lived in it took everything for granted or not? Then he wondered if he took the things he had for granted? Despite how bad he thought things currently were, things could always get worse. And that's why they do the things they do, to prevent them falling into the dark pit that those inside the walls all but ignored the existence of. But then his mind crossed to wondering... where is this person now? Are they still alive? Are they dead?
All the meanwhile, both Aryan and Caeden were finding nothing. Even most of the canned goods had expired by this point. “Just throw it in Caeden. I know it's expired but who knows, someone might look passed it and still enjoy -” Aryan turns Caeden's hand so he can see the picture on the label, “- horseradish... yeah nah, fuck it, put it back.” “I've never had horseradish before. Is it horse meat?” Aryan laughs, “No mate, it's a vegetable.” “Yuk, that's even worse.” Caeden spat in response.
Drip, drip, drip. The tap in the bathroom continued. The sound could now be heard all the way down the hall since the door had been left open. Rui had tried turning it off as hard as he could, but it wouldn't budge. “I wonder if the water out here tastes any better?” Rui gestured to Wystan, who was too focused going through all the clothes in the other room. “hmm,” Rui sighed as he looked through the empty medical cabinet. “Always the first to go,”
he exclaimed, closing the cabinet door to have realised the room was silent.
The dripping had stopped... He looked down at this hand in the poorly lit room. The shadows from the harsh lighting had created the illusion to what looked like wrinkles of a much older man across his own. He moved his hand side to side to see it disappear with the changing of light. Safe to say he was a little bit more than spooked.
He stood quietly, the tap had stopped dripping, why? It literally couldn't have. There is still water running to these homes. It was on the same pipe line that ran water into the containment zone were on. It wasn't the cleanest of water, but it was running water. A luxury that many would never get to experience in their lives. And as a result, all the buildings on this particular route had a low pressure flow for that very reason.
Which meant the tap shouldn't have just, stopped.
The panic begins to build up inside of him, he knew something wasn't right. Rui's torch turned to face the sink.
And there it was, in between the tap and basin. A single drop of water frozen in time, trapped in the middle of it's fall, unaffected by the laws of physics. Rui's stomach churned as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, “Guys!? GUYS!?” Suddenly Wystan's scream overpowered Rui's voice. Caeden and Aryan dropped the bag of food and sprinted down the hallway just as Rui rushed in front of them blocking their path. Caeden almost slipping over on the floor with the quick change in direction as Rui yelled to get to the front door, he didn't know why, he didn't ask why. He knew that their survival relied on trust, they didn't need to know all the answers to their questions. Just that they needed to act.
Rui's focus was turned over towards Wystan, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Wystan's shirt was covered in blood, it was pouring down his leg and onto the floor. His chest was covered in multiple stab wounds.