Squire’s Isle Created by Geonn Cannon

Once I Rose Above the Noise and Confusion

 

It was amazing to Monica Parrish how quickly the world could change. One day she was a college student working toward her degree, the next she was learning how to fire a crossbow and aim for the head. They learned pretty early that the Groaners chose the path of least resistance because they couldn’t climb very easily. They preferred to go around or through things whenever possible. Fortunately Seattle’s steep streets effectively corralled the monstrosities into certain areas where they could be picked off rather easily. Pyres were set up in out of the way areas, the smoldering remains serving as further deterrent to the shuffling Groaners.

Barricades had been set up to corral the Groaners toward the harbor. Monica could see the boats set up along the shore, the gunners always ready to pick off any of the Groaners who made it that far. Monica was one of the watchers on the Space Needle, making the rounds with two others who kept their eyes on the streets below for signs of movement. She was carrying her crossbow, not that she expected to do any damage from this height, and a radio was hanging from her jacket so she could radio coordinates to one of the Groundskeepers.

Three months ago she hadn’t even visited the Space Needle since she was a little girl. Now it was her home. She and a dozen others recruited to keep an eye on the city bunked in one-time common areas. Zip lines connected the tower to its neighbors, and she watched as someone slid from the Space Needle to one of the abandoned buildings. Platforms had been built under the windows, and the man – she thought it was Charlie, but he and his brother Craig were hard to tell apart at a distance – pushed up the frame and slipped inside.

They’d destroyed the first and second floor stairs where possible, and sabotaged them elsewhere. Their people got around via zip lines, retractable ladders, ropes, and slides. Monica’s arms weren’t quite toned enough to go up and down the ropes, so she stayed above ground as much as possible. The Groaners might snatch at a dangling foot or circle underneath a destroyed stairwell with their heads tilted up, but they were never there long before a blade, bullet, or arrow took them out.

Someone came around the curve toward her and Monica tensed when she recognized Luke. A full head taller than her, with the arms and shoulders of a basketball player, he moved with a lupine grace on his rounds. His blonde hair was cut short, and his forehead descended to a sloped cliff that shadowed his eyes. He glanced at her as their routes overlapped, but he said nothing. She didn’t give him the satisfaction of holding her breath or acting nervous until he was well out of sight.

The problem with an apocalypse is that the militias and hate-groups were, as always, better prepared than the rest of the world. Canned goods, weapons, training, fortified bases… Groaners may not have been the shit they were expecting to go down, but prep was prep. Fortunately people like Luke and his family quickly discovered it couldn’t be as simple as black and white anymore. People were against whatever the Groaners were.

She couldn’t help but feel a twinge whenever she was alone with one of them, though. You could never tell when a lifetime of “Brown Is Bad” would pop up and cause a knee-jerk reaction. Six stories above the street was not where she wanted to be when that was tested. She swallowed her fear and continued walking, her eyes on the barren streets below. Their people used walkways and ladders to cross from building to building, so anyone on the street was immediately suspect.

A spyglass hung against her chest on a lanyard, and she lifted it to scan the roads to the south. Movers on the pavement, but too far away to see any details. Humans didn’t move like that, though. The group was too tight, the movement too uniform. They weren’t tired or eager but rather moving simply because ambulation was possible. She unclipped her walkie and sent out a burst of static.

“Groundskeepers.”

“Head in the Clouds. Got movement to the south. You got anyone watching?”

“We will. Where exactly?”

She gave him the specifics and he thanked her before clicking off. She hooked the radio on her belt and walked on. When she finished another circuit, she used the spyglass to look to the south again. The Groundskeepers were on sight, and seemed to be dealing with the Groaners as quietly as possible. Damn things couldn’t think worth a damn, but they could hear like falcons. She completed another round and saw it was nearly suppertime. She called her relief, switched places, and gave a quick report about the herd the Groundskeepers had taken out. She handed over her crossbow and went inside.

It was already hard to believe the Top Hat (as it was affectionately being called now) was a tourist attraction not too long ago. Boxes of supplies were stacked against the wall, mostly obscuring the windows and blocking light from penetrating too deeply. Tables had been removed from the restaurant, save for a few that had been retained for taking meals. Hovels had been set up with canvas walls, and everyone had personalized theirs as much as possible.

Monica’s home was framed by wood recovered from a broken crate, and the cloth walls were stretched taut around the skeleton. She had an entrance that zipped closed thanks to a salvaged windbreaker and an afternoon with a sewing kit. She climbed inside and sat down with her back to the wall, stretched her legs out in front of her, and closed her eyes as she let her body relax. Being on watch was a constant strain. Letting your guard down even for a second was risking the chance you’d miss something vital. One weak link could mean the end of everything.

She’d heard the reports from other cities before the TV and radio went away. The internet was around a little longer, if you could find a computer that worked. Humanity was being overrun by animals. It was an embarrassment. But how could they fight an enemy that didn’t tire, didn’t care if it was killed, didn’t need food or shelter? She knew that if the Groaners had even one iota of intelligence, humans would already be an extinct species.

There was enough room in the hovel for a bed (she had a cot) and a small bedside table. She lit her lantern, which gave the room an eerie red glow as she shed her jacket and boots and stretched out on top of her blankets. She’d never been the height of fashion, but she’d never seen herself in a military uniform. But here she was in the same sleeveless T shirt and cargo pants as everyone else in her group. She could only hope she looked as good in them as Teresa.

She closed her eyes and let a smile reach her lips. Teresa owned a landscaping business in Everett, and she’d been in Seattle on business when Everything Went Bad. She was ten or fifteen years older than Monica, with curly black hair that was streaked with brown so light it was almost red. Her smile was radiant enough that it made Monica believe things might still work out even after everything that had happened. Teresa cooked, since she was no good with weapons or spotting, and heights made her nauseated.

Usually Monica’s shifts made her miss the family dinner, but Teresa always had something hot and fresh for her. The sight of Monica, beads of sweat glistening on dark skin, clothes covered by a starched white apron, and her hair tied back in an explosion of curls, always made Monica smile no matter how tired she was.

Monica unfastened her belt and pushed her pants down just enough that she could cup her mound. Craig, the de facto leader of their little troupe, had given everyone a boilerplate speech about intimacy in this “brave new world.” Sex was fine and good. Having babies was great if they were willing to risk it. As he said, “Every time someone dies, whether of old age or from a bite, the enemy gets a new soldier. It’s time we started building our ranks, too.”

She wasn’t sure where that left the gay and lesbian soldiers who had survived the first wave of disease. Was non-procreative sex verboten? One of their scouts reported seeing people in pharmacies poking holes in condoms and destroying birth control. “It’s for the species,” they’d said, and left behind the rubbers when they took their other looted supplies.

It didn’t really matter anyway if Teresa was straight. Monica was too afraid to ask. She didn’t want to ruin her fantasy by finding out for sure she was out of bounds. But she had a feeling. The way Teresa would sit just a little closer than necessary in an empty mess hall, touching her hand when they parted for the night… Monica wet her lips and began to rub her fingers against the crotch of her underwear.

She wanted Teresa. In a world where it wasn’t safe to want anything, where even three hots and a cot were things to be grateful for, she wanted Teresa so badly she could almost taste it. The last time she had sex was seven months before the first report of Groaners came around, so she was starting to feel the deprivation. She curled her toes in her socks and rubbed her hand faster, bucking her hips slightly.

In her mind, she used the memories of that last time – a heated moment in her not-exactly-not-her-girlfriend Lisa’s dorm room – and transferred Teresa’s face to Lisa’s body. She brushed the fingers of her free hand over her mouth, letting her fingers linger on her bottom lip. She swept her tongue across the tips and lowered her hand to her breast, cupping it as she slipped the fingers of her other hand into her underwear.

She didn’t waste time on a fantasy. She focused on images and sensations. The taste of Teresa’s skin, wet with sweat and warm from the stove. Peeling off her T-shirt and taking a dark nipple into her mouth, sucking it as fingers strong and dry from her work in the kitchen kneaded her breast and plucked the nipples before moving lower. When Monica’s middle finger pushed into her sex, her mind associated it with Teresa’s slender fingers, and the weight against her mound was Teresa’s palm. She used a soft touch, arching her back as she pressed her ass into the cot, stretching the canvas. She wet her lips and gasped, stopping herself from saying a name since the walls were so paper-thin.

Someone knocked at the wooden frame that made up the front of her home. She gave a strangled groan and said, “Little busy…”

“Oh! I’ll-I’ll come back.”

Monica’s eyes opened. Teresa! “No, don’t go. Stay there. Just… a second, ‘Rees…” She moved her hand faster, her breath ragged as she thought about the fact the object of her affection was standing just a few meters away. Listening to her. A strangled groan caught in her throat, and she let it out with a meager cry of release as she dropped to the blankets and lifted her hips to meet her hand. She trembled when she came, two fingers inside of herself, and caught her breath as she hauled her pants back up and secured the belt. She stood up and unzipped the front of her hovel and peered out, sure that Teresa had gone.

She was standing across the corridor, between two stacks of crates, looking through the glass down at the harbor. She turned at the rasp of the zipper, and smiled sheepishly.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s all right.” Monica was very aware she was breathless and she swept her hair out of her face as nonchalantly as possible. “What’s up?”

“You didn’t come by after your shift. I was worried about you.”

Monica tried to stop the smile from growing across her face, but she failed. “Oh. Sorry. I had–”

“Other pressing concerns?”

Monica’s smile was full-blown at that. “Yeah, you could say that. But I’m hungry now, if you still have food waiting for me.”

“Of course.” She nodded toward the kitchen. “I’ll walk with you.”

“Okay.” Monica grabbed her jacket and zipped shut her home, shrugging into the jacket and zipping it up. Teresa waited for her, and Monica gestured for her to lead the way. She caught herself surreptitiously watching Teresa’s profile, memorizing the shape of her nose and the fullness of her lips for future reference. Then again, maybe she wouldn’t rely on fantasies anymore.

The world outside was ending, but they were still there. What good was surviving if they denied themselves even the simplest of pleasures? Monica risked putting an arm around Teresa’s waist. Teresa looked at her, but Monica didn’t say anything and didn’t return her glance. After a while, Teresa crossed her arm over Monica’s and clutched her opposite hip. Monica smiled and they walked together to the mess hall.

 

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