Problems are piling up and there is no way to be rid of them. There are no solutions. Definitely none that would make everyone happy.

After writing my journal entry, my mom took Abby and me to get our showers. Turns out, there’s a schedule for that and it’s a once a week thing. I know. Believe me, I know.  And it’s not the worst part.

The worst part is the shower is basically a bucket brigade. We form a line from the showers to the pool, dip a bucket in and hand it forward down the chain. Then the buckets get dumped on you. By the time the water reaches you down the line, it’s cooled down until it’s just barely warm. You have to wash your hair and your body pretty fast, mostly because the door is open and it’s freezing. Several more buckets are poured over you until the shampoo is rinsed from your hair. You dry off as fast as humanly possible and throw on the clothes set out for you. Once dressed, you go to the back of the line to help while everyone else showered.

Having thick hair that reached mid-back was something I had once been proud of. But it didn’t afford me the extra towel I needed to dry it. I won’t even go into the fact that the towels were a joke to begin with. So, by the time I rejoined the line my hair was still soaked and I was starting to freeze.

On top of the cruelty of the shower, someone apparently thought I wasn’t cold enough. They set out a billowy floor length skirt and a huge knit sweater for me. The sweater was so big that my shoulders could slip through the neck. I ended up having to pull the sweater into place every few seconds for most of the morning. With my still dripping hair, the clothes offered even less comfort than they would have.

I went to breakfast fighting with the stupid sweater. My mood was dropping pretty fast and Abby was crying from the shock of the so-called shower. I grabbed a tray for Abby, snagging one of the bread muffins for myself, and carried it to our table.

Abby was too upset to eat. Finally, River showed up and gave her the sweater he was wearing. Once she started to warm up, her sobs lessened to sniffs. I gave him a grateful look as I sagged back into my chair. I was hungry, but as I stared at the muffin in front of me, I realized I would die for eggs, or pancakes, or hash browns. Or something that tasted a little better than bread.

When the tray slid in next to me, I thought it would be my mom at best and at worst, Gabriel. I was wrong. And it was even worse than Gabriel.

Mel settled into the chair next to me. He looked me over and smiled. “I chose them myself.”

I had a strong suspicion that he meant the clothes. I didn’t even want to wonder why he would be picking out clothes for me, or how he got them into the bathroom. I concentrated on not chewing him out for the absurdity of a skirt in winter. Not to mention the fact that I hated skirts of all kinds. Dresses were a push, but skirts were an absolute no-no. I didn’t have either in my closet at home.

I tried for a more diplomatic tone. “Actually, I prefer jeans.”

He stared at me for a moment. “Well, you look good.” He turned and started eating.

I looked over Abby’s head at River, who met my gaze and raised his eyebrows.

Then Mel cleared his throat. “Hey, uh, about yesterday.” I turned cool eyes on him and he winced. “I’m sorry. It didn’t come out right.”

I honestly couldn’t say if there was a way it would have come out right. When I didn’t say anything his forehead wrinkled. Realizing he was intending an apology, I shrugged.

I didn’t want to say anything. As soon as Abby finished eating, I helped her from her chair and grabbed her tray. My muffin still sat on the table, but I ignored it as I led Abby toward the bins.

River was quick to join us, but before we were even halfway across the dining hall to the bins, Mel caught up to us.

“If you have time, I would like to show you something.” He grunted.

How in the world was I supposed to avoid someone who seemed determined to have me rip him apart? River tilted his head at me and took the tray from my hands.

The look was obviously meant as a warning. I could almost hear River’s voice in my head saying, “don’t cause trouble.” I sighed.

I am not an actor. I was never in the school plays. It was a fight to even smile with Mel standing in the same building as me. But somehow I managed. I smiled and said, “ok.”

He dropped his tray in the tubs then led the way out of the building. I followed him down past the rings where the men were gathered for combat lessons. Grudgingly, I admitted that he had a good idea to set up areas for training, even if it was sexist.

Past the rings, he slowed down. I tried to stay behind him, but finally, he stopped and I had no choice but to catch up with him. He grabbed my hand and slid it through his arm like he had on his tour.

“I think that you will enjoy this.” He huffed, sounding winded. “I asked your mom about what you were interested in and when she mentioned this, I couldn’t resist.”

I frowned trying to run through the things I liked in my mind. It didn’t take much. We were headed for the stable. The sounds of the horses’ cries were clear and somehow stirred a level of both excitement and calm in me. I tried to fight the growing interest as we went through the main doors.

Inside, it took a few moments for my eyes to adjust. Then I saw them. Horses.

Four women were working in various areas. The moment they saw us they stopped. “Go on about your business.” Mel said in a dismissive tone. I shot him a dark look that he didn’t notice and started muttering sorry to each of the girls as I passed them.

He guided me from one end of the stables to the other. There were fourteen horses total. Only a few stuck their necks out over the stall doors so I could stroke the warm muzzles.

“Abby would love this.” I whispered to one horse as I stroked the white blaze between its eyes. The look it gave me reminded me so much of the brown-haired little girl that my heart squeezed in my chest.

“I’m sure she would.” Mel laughed. “Do you like them?”

I had forgotten he was there. The horse sensed my emotions and threw its head with a loud snort before retreating into its stall. I thought about it for a moment before deciding that the truth wouldn’t hurt. “They are beautiful.”

He moved to stand beside me, clicking his tongue. The horse returned, bumping the top of my head with its nose. A surprised laugh escaped my lips as I stepped back.

Mel reached up and scratched the horse between the ears before looking at me. “Which one do you like best?”

I looked around the stable and sighed. “All of them.”

He laughed again. “Now, I’m serious.”

“So am I.”

He thought about that for a minute. “Have you ever been riding?”

“Yeah, a very long time ago.”

“Well, choose a horse and we can go for a ride.”

My heart was suddenly in my throat, stammering an excited drum roll. I tried to fight it, but it was like trying to stop a snowball from rolling down a mountain side.

I did manage to step back. “I can’t.”

Mel actually looked shocked. “Why not?”

“I have chores to do.”

His forehead wrinkled in confusion. “You shouldn’t have gotten your work schedule yet. Your mom said it would be about six weeks before your ribs healed.”

I kept my eyes on the horse. “I can do small stuff. Dishes. And stuff.”

“If this is about yester-.”

“No.” I snapped it out, then remembered the warnings the night before. “I just want to help where I can. I can’t just sit around all day.”

“Going for a ride is not just sitting around.”

“Thank you for your offer. But I must get going.” It was as diplomatic as I could get. I turned and ran from the stable.

I was almost to the dining hall when I ran headlong into someone. Warm hands clamped around my arms to stop me from falling.

“Whoa. What’s the hurry?” Gabriel asked after righting me. “Is the stable on fire?” He was looking over the top of my head.

“No.” I struggled to catch my breath around the throbbing ache in my side. Realizing his hands were still on my arms, I stepped back. “Sorry about that.”

“Are you sure you’re ok?” He asked, peering into my face. “You look like death warmed over.”

“That’s really flattering.” I snapped, stepping around him.

“Hey, hey.” He caught up to me and matched my stride. “What’s going on?”

I threw my hands up in frustration. “Stop asking me that. Everyone needs to stop asking me that.” The frustration in my voice turned it almost into a whine. I stopped and turned to face him. “I don’t get half of what’s going on and everyone seems to think I do.”

He held his hands up in submission. “Ok. You don’t know what’s going on.” He said softly. “But something is bothering you.”

I let out a deep breath and looked back toward the stables. “How am I supposed to stay away from someone who won’t leave me alone?”

“You mean… Melburn?” Gabriel asked.

“Can you think of someone else I would like to kick?”

He gave a startled laugh. “I didn’t know you wanted to kick him. What happened?”

“My mom told him I liked horses.”

Gabriel frowned. “Why would he need to know that?”

“I think maybe he was trying for a peace offering or something.” I shivered and rubbed my arms through the sweater.

“You do realize it’s nearly zero degrees here, right?”

I sighed. “He also chose these clothes for me.”

Gabriel’s eyebrows shot up. “What?” I gave him a dark look and started walking toward the dining hall again. “Hold up.” He caught my arm to stop me. “I-.” He let go of me when I glared at him and raked his hand through his hair. Suddenly, his face brightened. “Want some jeans?”

I stopped glaring at him. “Well, yeah.”

“Come on, then.” He grabbed my hand and dragged me after him at a jog. In the gift shop, there were stacks of items, including clothing. Someone thought ahead enough to separate the stacks into men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing.

Gabriel went to the door and looked outside. “You’re going to want to hurry.” He hissed. “We’re not supposed to be in here.”

I didn’t wait to be told twice. But finding clothes that fit was an issue. I kept one eye on Gabriel as I lifted my skirt and started trying pants. “Don’t look.” I whispered back. “But why aren’t we allowed to have these in the cabins?”

“I think it’s partially because of control. But maybe they want to make sure that as more people come here, there will be enough for everyone.”

“Why not get more clothes?”

“We aren’t supposed to leave the main streets. That way we can get in and out in a hurry. And there aren’t very many clothing shops on the main streets.”

I let that sink in as I buttoned up a pair that actually fit me. They were a little high on the ankle, but I wasn’t about to complain. I jerked the skirt off and threw it into a garbage can behind the counter.

“Have you been on any supply runs?” I asked as I started weeding through the clothing for a shirt.

“Yeah.”

“With River?”

He hesitated. “Yeah.”

I found a shirt that was more my style. Long sleeves, high neck, and a light aqua color. “Why don’t you two get along?” I couldn’t help asking as I fought to get the sweater off. The sweater joined the skirt in the garbage. I found a sweater pretty quick compared to locating a shirt and pants. The downside is that it was black.

I slid the shoes back on and went over to him. “Well?”

He looked at my face before looking me over. “Looks good.” Heat flared in my face.

“That’s not what I meant.”

He smiled. “Let’s go.”

Then we were back outside and walking around the building. I took a deep breath and winced as my muscles jumped in protest. “You’re not going to answer me, are you?”

“If you need me to answer that, then you must not be very smart.” The words stung. I stopped walking with him, turned and went back to my cabin.

I dropped in on the children later that day to find another woman in Maggie’s place. She too expressed her thanks for what I did. It was uncomfortable to know that everyone knew what happened between me and Cruella. My life was once so much more bearable. Now, I felt like I was a miniature celebrity.

Abby was in the corner, playing with a doll again. I watched her for a while and what I saw started to really bother me. She didn’t do anything with the doll other than, every once in a while, move an arm or leg, or play with its hair. Then it would sit in her lap and she would just stare at it.

And none of the other children went near her. At one point, a girl a little older than Abby approached, but it was only to grab another toy and go back to the main group.

“That’s Abby?” The woman asked, stepping up next to me. I think her name was Anne.

“Yeah.”

“Maggie told me she was the same way yesterday.”

The woman looked worried. Her eyes were mostly focused on Abby, but every once in a while, she would look at the other kids. “What about the other kids?”

“They seem fine. But they leave her alone. I think they get the feeling she wants to be alone.”

I nodded, looking at the other children. They would throw glances toward Abby, but nothing more than that. “Has there been any thought to continuing their school work?”

Anne shook her head. “Not that I know of. I don’t think anyone’s thought about it, really. But most of them are in different classes anyway, so it would be pretty hard.”

“Maybe.” I admitted. I knew that if a run could be made to the schools, we could get supplies to continue their education. Even if the apocalypse lasted forever, they needed to learn. Especially about what life had once been like. “Do you know if there are any teachers here?”

“One of the men used to teach third grade.”

My heart sank. If the teacher was a man, he was expected to continue training and go on supply runs. “The way things are won’t continue to work for much longer.” I muttered.

“Tell me about it.” Anne sighed.

We stood together for a few minutes longer. Then two of the kids started arguing and Anne went to find out what was wrong. I considered Abby for a moment longer before making my way to her.

“Hi, Abby.” I sat down against the wall in front of her. She put the doll down and moved to climb into my lap but I stopped her. “Why aren’t you playing with the other kids?”

She glanced at the other kids and shrugged.

“Is it because they have parents?” I asked, brushing her hair back with my fingers. Her eyes widened and ever so slowly she nodded.

“We may not be your parents, Abby. But we are here for you.” I told her. “River, Meredith, and me. Even Gabriel. You can come to us with anything.” I hoped I wasn’t promising too much when I added Gabriel to the list, but I felt like it was the right thing to do.

To my utter surprise, she burst into tears. I scrambled to pull her into my lap and tried soothing her. The other children started throwing fearful looks in my direction, as if I would make them cry too.

It was awkward but I was able to claim my feet and carried Abby out of the room. Outside, I sat us down on the steps and tried to calm her down, but it was like trying to build a dam with two sticks. Finally, I settled in and waited for her to cry herself out.

It was almost dinner time when her tears finally stopped. I continued to hold her even after the dinner bell rang. The children erupted from the motel and ran to join their families in the parking lot before going into the dining hall.

It was a while longer before I noticed River walking with a group of other men. When he saw us, he broke away from them and sat down next to us.

“What happened?”

“I…” I shrugged. “She won’t play with the other kids.”

“Didn’t she do the same thing yesterday?”

“Yeah, but it’s not really…” I looked down at the head in my arms and sighed. “I guess she could stay with me until she wants to be with the other kids.”

She shifted and looked up at me. I wasn’t surprised to see the silent pleading in her eyes, but it bothered me.

River ruffled her hair. “That might be a good idea.” He considered me for a moment. “You changed clothes.”

Abby shifted again so that she could see what I was wearing. “Yeah, Gabriel helped me.”

River’s mouth tightened into a thin line. After a second, he said, “here, I’ll take her,” and offered his arms to her. She gazed at him intently before scrambling from my lap and into his. “Maybe she just needs to-.” Suddenly, he was up and twirling her around in the air.

She squealed but it was quickly broken by yaps of laughter. I found myself laughing, too, as I watched them.

“Please be careful, River.”

“What’s going on?” Gabriel asked, strolling toward us from the dining hall.

“Abby won’t play with the other kids.”

“Why?” He asked stopping to stand next to me.

I shrugged. “I think it’s because she won’t talk.”

“We don’t know what happened to her, it might take a while before she can, if she ever does.”

“Try telling that to the other kids.” I studied him for a moment, remembering what I told Abby in the play room. “I told her that she could come to us with anything.” He frowned at me. “I mean…” I hesitated. “Abby was sitting away from the kids, playing by herself. Same as yesterday. And I told her that she could come to River, my mom, myself or you with anything.”

His eyes widened for a second. “She did this yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

He nodded. “Can you find out why?”

I shrugged thinking. “I’m trying. But since she won’t actually tell me, it’s pretty hard.” I thought about it for a moment as River changed from twirling to throwing her into the air. “I asked if she didn’t like the other kids because they had parents and she nodded.”

Gabriel eyes narrowed. He turned to me with a hard expression. “First of all, you have as much tact as an elephant in a window store.” I jerked back feeling like I had been struck. “Don’t take me wrong, but you tend to say whatever comes into your mind. Think about it. You asked a child who you, yourself, said may have watched her parents die, whether she didn’t like the other kids because they had parents.” My gut twisted as he spoke.

“No offense, but you have just about as much tact.” I snapped. I started to run toward the cabin, not willing to disturb River and Abby.

“Oh, no you don’t.” He grabbed my arm and jerked me back to face him. “Why is it when someone around here pisses you off, you stand up for yourself and yet, when I say something that gets you upset you turn and run?”

I shoved against his chest. “Knock it off.”

“Answer me, or listen to me. But don’t run away just because you don’t like what you hear.”

“Let me go.” I squirmed, trying to break his grip.

“Ok. So you’ll listen then. You need to learn some tact. Didn’t you hear what Mr. Jackson said last night? Keep your head down. You won’t stay out of trouble as long as you keep popping off at the mouth.”

I slapped him. I didn’t mean to do it. The look on his face told me he was just as surprised as I was. Before I could apologize, the back of my sweatshirt was gripped and I was jerked off my feet to stumble several feet back.

Then River was standing between me and Gabriel. “You heard her.”

“Stay out of it, River.” Gabriel snapped, saying River almost like it was a curse.

“Stay away from her, Gabrielle.” I flinched at the intentional mispronunciation of Gabriel’s name.

“Guys, come on.” I started, stepping forward.

I don’t know who threw the first punch. It was very likely that they both struck out at the same moment. Either way, they were both on the ground and struggling. After a few seconds, it was obvious that Gabriel was the better fighter, but it was just as obvious that River didn’t know when to quit.

Someone was screaming. The burning in my throat told me who was doing it. But I couldn’t stop.

At some point, blood began to flow. I couldn’t tell who the bleeder was any more than I had been able to tell who started fighting.

Then people were flowing around us. Mr. Jackson and Andrew waded right into the middle of it. Before they were able to separate the fighters, Andrew ended up with a bloody nose and the beginnings of a black eye.

I started to back away from the gathered crowd, but stumbled over something clutching to my legs. Abby. The realization sucked the breath out of me. She had seen the whole thing.

Then my mom and Juanita were there. Juanita pulled Abby into her arms as my mom turned me away from the glaring combatants.

They took us to the cabin, where my mom sat me down on the edge of the bed. She rifled through the drawers until she found pills and a water bottle.

“I’m not hurt.” I managed to croak around my hoarse throat.

“You will be.” She waited until I swallowed the pills and sipped from the bottle before she sat down next to me. “What happened?”

I told her. As I spoke, I registered that I sounded dead. My voice was hollow. “I don’t understand. What is wrong with them?” The comment ended in something close to a wail. I felt something warm slide down my cheek and wiped at it. It was a tear.

For the second time in as many days, I didn’t eat dinner. I curled up on my side and stayed that way.

Why did this bother me and zombies didn’t? Easy. Because this was my fault.

Go Back to Day 10 – or – Go to Day 12

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Comments
  1. cb says:

    Stay away from her, Gabrielle.”

    Typo or insult ?

  2. cb says:

    Critique:

    1) this is definitely getting creepy in a socially creepy way especially Mel who obviously has an eye for Cleo

    2) there are many dysfunctional aspects of the society which are probably intentional and based on Mel and perhaps some other male desires to exercise control. For example those are hot pools right? naturally heated. The water flows into them from hot underground springs? Why not assign alternating days where the women get to bathe in the pools on odd days and then men get the bathing on even days?

    3) it used to be a spa and Mel used to run it correct? Why using now running more like an internment camp?

    • cb says:

      The perils of iPhone dictation…

      It used to be a spa why is Mel now running get like an internment camp?

    • cb says:

      Critique is the wrong word,Comments is more apropos.

      • Cat Reyes says:

        🙂 Either way, much appreciated. A couple of your comments have helped me to focus on some of the issues I hadn’t considered. So please keep it up!

        BTW, there is another blog that may interest you. It’s not a fiction blog, but the writer has some seriously interesting thoughts and tips. If you would like, check it out: http://rmactsc.wordpress.com/

    • Cat Reyes says:

      It gets better CB. Just wait for it. 🙂

      What is really sad is that this happens now. Well, not exactly what is happening to Cleo. But I remember my brother going to try and get lawn mowing jobs. He would have me hang around a lot, especially if the guy was older and lost his wife, or was divorced. At least until I realized what was happening. I wouldn’t help my brother after I realized what he was doing. And, it was an obvious marketing ploy that worked. After I stopped going with him to mow lawns, he lost about a quarter of his customers. And I can tell you that it was pretty sad, I am not even close to the best looking girl on campus. LOL But I have also had a number of much older men hit on me since then. So, its logical to assume that knowing there are no laws in place to prohibit certain… behaviors, people would be more likely to act on them. Especially, if they thought they could get away with it.

      Not a spa. I am not sure what the word is that describes it. But its almost like a resort. Only without 90% of the resort stuff. And Mel owns the place.

      In real life the place is spectacular. Plus it really would be an ideal place to set up because it really is on a kind of land shelf. Only two sides of it have obvious access points, where the water comes to just below the road. So logically, in this area, people would most likely head there if a crisis of this sort came up. Well, maybe not most likely, but definitely logically. I am pretty much describing the place exactly (with some revision).

      🙂 You are starting to get the idea. I can’t really go into it without messing up future posts, but you’re on the right track.

      Um… internment camp? Actually, the hot water thing also comes into play later, so I can’t talk about it either. But we are getting closer to answering your questions. 🙂

      • cb says:

        Maybe not internment camp, not sure of the right term. Work camp? It’s not like there is a lot of free will in terms of societal contribution, at least not for the women.

        But that’s the point you’re trying to make, isn’t it?

      • Cat Reyes says:

        🙂 Hmmm. Maybe. It could easily be that I think women are supposed to do 99% of the work. 😉 I think you are going to like what is going to happen. Give it another week. By then we should start seeing something… well I’ll let you find out. 😀

      • Cat Reyes says:

        I’m just kidding, you know… about the women working comment. I have been around way too many men recently who were sexist. It bothers me when men feel that not only do women have to hold down full time jobs and do extra work on the side to get more money, but have to take care of every aspect of the housework and the children while the men either focus solely on the job then come home and sit on their butts, or do no work at all and just watch TV all day. And I am not exaggerating.

  3. cb says:

    https://survivingthezombieapocolypse.wordpress.com/

    Even if you can’t change the URL name (I suspect you can even do that), I know that there is a place where you can change the title heading and spell apocalypse correctly.

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