THE COMPOUND is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
2013, October. All rights reserved. The reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without the written permission of the publisher, Byzantium Sky Press, Milton, Delaware. THE COMPOUND is copyrighted and any use in any other works is strictly prohibited. Any violation will result in punishment to the fullest extent of the law.
The Compound – Present
Gretchen waited, watching Warren. The sounds of crackling leaves and the earthy smell in the soft breeze were all she could hear above the beating of her heart.
When Warren finally spoke his voice was a whisper, “Two at ten o’clock.”
“How do you want to approach?” Gretchen quietly slid her rifle over her shoulder. There were only two. Why waste ammo? Gretchen pulled her short blade from her belt. Despite her fingers being cold the knife still felt natural to her. Warren glanced up, his eyes showing approval.
“I’ll go left, you go right.”
Chef was behind them. “I’ll back you up.”
Gretchen knew he wanted more of a bigger role in the group and had volunteered for patrol a month ago. He was smart, cunning, and though he was a great help to them, taking out quite a few Dead, she wished he would stay in the kitchen. His meals, prepared on the barest essentials were always delicious. But they needed all the hands they could get to protect The Compound.
“Thanks,” Gretchen whispered, giving his shoulder a quick squeeze. As she slipped through the brush and trees, keeping an eye on Warren, who was moving in tandem twenty yards across from her on the north side, she wondered if he ever gave thought to the day he’d found her? Or had he forgotten that frightened, clinging-to-life woman?
Focus, Gretchen, she told herself. Worry about that when you’re back. Or not at all. That time seemed so false. Those memories she had, twisting around with all the new ones she’d made recently, seemed to feel like a dream. Like the past didn’t really exist.
She made eye contact with Warren as they each came forward, from the north and south. By the time the sound of their footsteps roused the Dead from their meal of fox, it was over. Their knives sheathed, relief spread through her. It was always like that, excitement and fear and prayer all rolling around inside you until the Dead had a knife or bullet in their head.
Warren was the silent type—no praise, no words of encouragement. He motioned for them to move along. A glance to the sky told her it was about time for their shift to be over. Though there was a night crew, it was different than the rest of the patrol. Not just different training, but different people. It took a different kind of man to go out here in the nighttime.
The trail they walked wound around The Compound in snakelike waves. Gretchen found relief when she walked through the walls. It was one thing to be brave, another entirely to be without fear in the outside. Some degree is needed to feel the need to live.
The Compound was a fenced-in space about the size of a football field. While it wasn’t exactly next to the ocean, they were within walking distance of salt-water and were able to distill it into a drinkable state—with the help of a science teacher from the local high school. There were a six trailers, the kind that hook to tractor trailer trucks, on the south side, all in a row, divided inside by boards or curtains into living compartments, sometimes pitched with tents for more privacy—she hadn’t asked anyone how they got them in here or where the truck part of it was. The perimeter fence was lined with corrugated metal or wood or whatever was useable, like car hoods—anything that was mostly flat and metal was preferred and they tied them to the fencing. The fence itself was reinforced to stand upright. They were still working on protecting the outside more. Some had suggested digging a moat, others suggested rows of chicken wire, the possibilities went on and on.
Her bunk was in the first trailer, along with four other patrolmen. Her room was small, but she didn’t have many possessions. In fact, when Warren had brought her in, she had little more than her clothes, her wedding ring, and a backpack with a few personal items—photos, a letter from her parents, and several granola bars she’d been rationing. Not a lot of space, but it was safety.
But Gretchen’s favorite part of The Compound was the garden. It was in the northern corner. She liked to walk through there when no one else was around. She loved the smell inside the greenhouse. Rich soil. She liked to lean over and bury her nose in the tomato plants and run her fingers over the chive, wishing the smell would stick to her skin. She wanted to sleep there, sometimes, so as to forget about everything outside The Compound walls. But she never did.
To forget is to repeat the past. She was never going to forget.