The dogs were unsettled. They were the people’s only security, so when a dog howled and gnashed its jaws at the thick black air you didn’t roll over and go back to sleep – you ran like hell, or got your gun and fixed the problem.
When the sound of feverish barking burst through the camp, a woman sat up quite suddenly in her sleeping bag. If she strained her eyes, she could just make out the anxious faces peeping through the openings of tents, some whispering, others demanding silence with glares that didn’t have to be seen.
Despite the cold atmosphere that smothered them in fear, the man beside the woman was sleeping so soundly that she presumed he had taken a blow to the head; a bottle lay centimetres from his open palm, its neck resting in a pool of something alcoholic. The woman stood from her sleeping bag and lifted the man’s rifle from his side, stepping lightly towards the exit. She slid between the fabric door and makeshift door-frame of her tent, with only a faint rustle of the opening to betray her position.
The woman’s only perceivable signs of fear were the way that her eyes and nostrils flared, as she brandished the rifle – she barely kept herself from herself from pulling the trigger, as her neighbour leapt backwards with a pitiful yelp. A collective shushing came from the tents around them.
He’d been killing slugs again. When the group had decided to go on the run, strict rules were set in place: one of which was that salt, a priceless provision for bathing wounds and making bland desert seeds a little more edible, could not be wasted. Despite this, Rex had insisted on bringing his prize petunias, the budding (and sole) pride of his life. “Those Western bastards might be after us,” he’d boldly declared at the meeting, to the tired groans of those around him, “but I’m not throwing my life away to escape them!” Some suggested that he’d been overtaken by a maddening and contagious fever – others saw the petunias as a mascot of how things might be again.
Maya nodded a solemn greeting, before continuing on her way. The moon ducked and dived between great clouds of inky blue, casting creeping shadows with the light that managed to slither through. The fences around their camp continued to stand tall, barbed wire snaking about their spires, though she quickly noticed a few rags of material floundering from their spikes like tattered flags. When she reached the entrance, the dogs were gone – only one remained, and lay whimpering on its side. The doctor had adorned her gloves and applied gentle pressure to its wounds, making quick work of them with a needle and thread. As Maya approached, the doctor looked hard into her eyes, and then cast her line of sight to the gate locked by two keys, one passcode, and at least seven wooden barriers.
It was open.