chapter 1

James scopes out an old warehouse that serves as the base for the most predominant clan that's risen from these trying times. He watches as a group of men and women approach the rear of the building, all wearing bits of airsoft and paintball armor they must have scavenged from sports good stores not long after the fallout. James noted the clan's symbol, whether it was stitched onto an armband or bandana, or spraypainted boldly on the back of a few jackets, each member of this group wore it somewhere on their garb. The tell-tale mark was always in red and resembled a figure eight with an enlarged bottom section.
He wasn't left pondering the meaning of this symbol long before his attention was taken by one of the four bay doors opening in preperation for the approaching group. The men who slid open the door, and now stood waiting on either side, wore similar armor to the scavenging groups, if heavier. The group entered the large opening two at a time. Removing their backpacks, which James noticed had looked empty when they left and were now overflowing, and handing them to people waiting just inside.
James had seen similar groups of people around this and other nearby cities for years now, all sporting the clan's mark. There was one other distinguishable charactoristic to every member of this group. They all looked *healthy*. It wasn't just that they didn't look near death, almost every one he'd seen appeared fit and strong. A few were even a bit chubby. He compared his own gaunt frame from years of malnurishment and finally decided he would follow one of the groups next he encountered them. Now he'd been quietly watching from the nearby woods for almost a week, trying to determine the next best course of action. In that time he'd learned their routines. Every day four groups of 8-10 people left with nearly empty bags, by nightfall they all returned with overflowing sachels, and occasionally crates or boxes.
As the last few members of the group entered the warehouse and the guards slid the heavy door shut James wondered if they would allow him use of any resources without joining their group. He'd been alone his whole life, even before the world fell to shit, and didn't quite fancy joining any sort of group. Was joining even an option, though? There were dozens of them and everything seemed to be running smoothly. James hadn't seen any non-members approach in the days he'd been watching. Perhaps everyone else knew something he didn't, was anyone without the mark shot on sight? Or worse, captured for any number of unimaginable reasons.
With these worries whirring around his mind, James settled into the ditch he'd been occupying and watched the sun slowly set. Eventually falling into a restless and fettered sleep.

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"-should wake him up." A female voice jolted James awake, he quickly tensed his muscles to resist his flight response.

"Why should I wake him up? I don't wanna touch him!" Replied a young man's voice.

James struggled to keep his breathing regular. 'This is it,' he thought, 'This is how I fucking die.'

"Why would you touch him just to wake him up?" shot back the female voice, "just get in front of me and wake him up!"

"Ohhhhh, so you want me to be a meat shield in case this guys a psycho? Absolutely not!"

The thought to get up and run crossed his mind and he quickly shot it down. There could be more than the two he's heard speak, and if there isn't he doesn't know what kind of weapons these two have. A single tear escaped James' eye and trickled down his cheek. 'I'm going to be murdered by idiots after everything I've endured.' He breaths in deeply and slowly exhales it, resigning himself to his fate.

"I hate you both." A gruff male voice interjects James' slightly over dramatic thoughts. The sound of heavy boots approaches James' side, a warm hand is placed firmly on his back. His breath catches in his throat. "Hey, buddy, you awake?"

James hesitates, then opens his eyes to see he's face to face with a middle aged man. His weathered face and salt and pepper beard was just what James had imagined from the voice, except for his green eyes that bore a look of concern. "I-I'm awake."

The man stood from his crouching position and held out a hand to James, who took the offer wordlessly, standing and taking in his surroundings. The owners of the two younger voices were a man and woman that looked to be in their early 20's. The woman had a dark complexion, and long raven hair that was gathered in a neat ponytail atop her head. She couldn't have been more than five feet tall with a thick midsection and legs that lent to the appearance of strength despite her short stature. The young man was pale with a crop of dirty blonde hair that had the look of a man who'd just gotten out of bed. He was nearly James' height, a staunch 5'9. He had a lean frame, though most of his body was covered in the trademark scavenger armor, his muscular forearms crossed over his broad chest giving the clear impression he was all muscle. Even the older man left James feeling vulnerable from his own weak build.

"What are you doing out here?" The woman asked aggressively.

"I-I'm.." James stuttered, not sure how to answer. He settled on a lie. "I'm just passing through. This seemed like a safe place to rest before moving on in the morning."

The three strangers exchanged distrusting glances.

"Son, it's best not to lie." The older man finally spoke up.

James' breath caught in his throat. "Lying? I'm not-" A disbelieving huff from the woman stifled him. He decided to let them do the talking first.

"We've been watching you watching us for the past week." The young man states after a few moments of silence. "What are you planning? Are you waiting for reinforcements to raid us?"

"No! No, nothing like that. I'm totally alone." James immediately regrets offering that bit of information, but the damage is done. He gives the full truth. "I've noticed you -people with that mark-" he gestures his head at the figure 8 on the band on the older mans upper arm. "You all seem so healthy, like you have plenty of resources. I'm barely surviving out here on my own."

"So, what? You want to join?" The woman interjects.

"Well, not exactly.."

"'Not exactly'" She mocks. "You thought you could just have what's ours, then?"

"Joslynn." The older man steps in firmly before James has to answer her allegations. "He's one scrawny boy, I doubt he intended to steal from us. We should give him a chance to explain."

All eyes went to James for his response. He tried not to take offense to being called a 'scrawny boy' considering he's 29, but couldn't argue the scrawny descriptor.

"I didn't have a plan." James answered honestly, Joslynn gave a sharp and short laugh to note her distrust. "Really, I just watched for a few days to see if you were hostile. How you would handle outsiders approaching your camp. But none ever did."

"There aren't many outsiders left." The young man added with a sad tone.

"I know." James responded, subconsciously turning his eyes to the ground respectfully before returning to his explanation. "I thought maybe I could go with one of your groups to get supplies. Or you could show me where you get so much of everything."

They all stood in silence for a few moments. The older man kept his eyes on James, carefully considering him. "Alright." He finally broke the silence. "You come inside with us, eat and wash up. Then we can discuss what's to be done next."

James hesitated, but after considering his options, nodded his agreement.
7 chapters, created StoryListingCard.php 4 years , updated 4 years
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Bruinsean 4 years
This is one the better stories posted in a long time.