Serial Novella Part 4
by KATHLEEN WOLAK
CHAPTER 9 - THE WOODS
t ain’t much further," Heston said to the group. He was about three feet ahead of the others. Abbey assessed the situation around her. Just yesterday she was trapped in her home, fearing she would be killed for what she was about to do. She thought about what her grandmother would say, knowing she escaped with her life. She mused about what her grandmother would think of the fact that she was with now traveling with the men that she and her husband fought so hard to protect.
“We’re here," Heston held out his arm to stop everyone from walking. “SHHH!”
There was a noise coming from the woods in front of them, a soft rustling. Abbey instinctively put her hand in her tattered robe’s pocket, feeling her knife. Any fear she would have felt had been completely replaced by adrenaline.
The men were all frozen in their spots. Heston had planted his feet firmly on the ground and was in a very odd stance, as though he was ready to lunge at anything that came near them. The rustling continued, until a little brown creature popped out of the woods.
“Oy! It’s a little bunny rabbit. Lower the guard, men," Zeke chuckled.
Abbey had never seen anything like this before. The little rabbit stood on its hind legs and twitched its whiskers at the group before hopping away.
“I nearly had a damn heart attack!” Zeke said. “That’d be the case. We can escape the Regulators, but it would be a rabbit that killed me. Ever see one of those Abbey?”
“Figures. It’s a good sign - if there’s wildlife round here that probably means there ain’t no Regulators. They usually kill any sign of life they run into. Learned that when we was in training.”
“Yeah, they’re all bloodthirsty lunatics," Freddy said. “So what’s the plan, Hes? You expect us to climb these trees?”
Heston looked up, and put his chin in his hand. “Hmm. No, that’d be damn near impossible, at least right now. What we need is somewhere to just sleep through the night with no threat.”
Heston walked further into the thicket. “I think…I think we can probably sleep up against these trees.” He bent down and started to rip grass up from the ground.
“What the hell, mate?”
“We gotta go further into the woods to make sure we’re gonna be safe. I ain’t sleepin’ in the dirt.”
“It’s amazing what you’re picky over. I saw you eat cow manure once," Freddy said.
“Desperate times my friend. Cows eat grass, therefore I basically ate grass," Heston rationalized.
“You gonna help me make a bed or reminisce about when I ate some cow shit?” Heston asked.
Freddy smiled. “I don’t know - both seem like such good choices.”
“We need to camouflage ourselves just in case, so y’all better get A LOT of grass. We gonna have to put dirt on top of ourselves too - a big pile of grass in the middle of the woods might look suspicious. Tomorrow we gonna have to work on how we’re gonna travel from now on. I like Abbey’s idea - just - I don’t know, gettin’ in them trees is gonna be a right pain in the ass.”
“Agreed,” Zeke said, “All right, ye heard the expert, Freddy, let’s you and me start collectin’, Abbey, you stay here with Heston. Ye’ve done enough for us to last a lifetime.”
“I want to help," Abbey said, defiantly.
“Well darlin’, you can help me make the bed," Heston said. “But we are serious, we really don’t want you to strain yourself. You got a nasty gash there on your neck - and blood is kinda precious to livin’.”
“Okay," Abbey relented. She knew these men were looking out for her, not ordering her around, a distinction she learned from the different ways she was talked to by her parents and her grandmother.
Heston led Abbey further into the woods. They had walked about four yards in when Heston laid down his grass. “I think this is good.”
He searched around the ground and, smiling, picked up some sticks.
“My granddaddy used to take me campin’ all the time when I was little. He used to make us make our own beds ‘just in case.’ He had no idea how right he was.”
Heston laid the sticks down in a row next to the grass pile, about four inches apart from each other. He dropped down to a squat and put the other sticks on top of them, forming a very crude bed base. He started to rip fabric off his robe and tie the sticks together. He worked quickly and efficiently. He was done with the makeshift base in twenty minutes. He spread out his pile of grass on top of it. All in all, the bed looked pretty comfortable to Abbey, who could have fallen asleep on her feet if necessary.
“Whew! It’s gonna be a shame to destroy this in the mornin’," Heston plopped down next to the bed and wiped his brow.
“Why do we have to destroy it?” Abbey asked.
“Just in case there’s still Regulators lookin’ round for any of us. The less tracks we leave, the better.”
“Oh," Abbey sank down next to Heston. “I get it.”
“I was just thinkin’ - you’re probably the first person to escape alive from Field G - at least in a real long while, huh?”
“I think so. Once, when my grandmother and I were walking, we saw the body of a man who tried to escape. I never heard of anybody escaping alive after that.”
“Not likely they would tell y’all if anybody did. Huh - them Regulators are probably fumin’ about that, gettin’ outwitted by a little girl.”
Heston looked at Abbey and quickly said, “Oh, I didn’t mean nothin’ by that - ”
“I understand," Abbey said. She looked around the forest, there was rustling here and there but Heston wasn’t flinching or even paying any attention, so she ignored the sounds too.
Heston continued. “It just ain’t everyday a death army gets bested by a pretty little thing who they think they is controlling. I guess you really showed them darlin’.”
Abbey laughed. “Yeah I guess."
“You seem a little distracted miss - you feelin’ all right?”
“I - I was just wondering what the noises were," Abbey said. As she spoke, a branch above her shook.
“Oh! Oh honey don’t you worry, it’s just birds. I saw a few of them fly outta here a few minutes ago. I hope you weren’t scared," Heston said as he tightened the bit of robe around two sticks.
“Yeah, they’re animals, like the rabbit we saw before, ‘cept they can fly.”
Heston paused and looked at Abbey.
“You’re scared aren’t you darlin’?”
“Yes," Abbey admitted. “Aren’t you?”
“I am. The three of us though, we’ve been through hell and high water avoiding the Regulators. We’ve been in training with them. We know how their minds work, and what they is capable of. I guess you can say I’m scared - but at least I know what we’re up against.”
Abbey was beginning to feel very cold, and started to shiver. Heston noticed, and ripped off a large piece of fabric from the bottom of his robe, draping it around her shoulders.
“No problem little lady. What else is on your mind?”
Abbey though for a moment. “Why do we have to go to Area 1? What are we going to do there?”
Heston sat back from working on the bed and looked at Abbey.
“Well darlin’, basically, Area 1 is the control center of everything right now. It’s where Regulators are trained, and it’s where all the rules and laws for each sector are created and handed down. I honestly don’t have a plan for what we are gonna do when we get there - but I know that I don’t want you in danger. We’re gonna have to figure that out when we get closer.”
“No…I’m staying with you,” Abbey said indignantly. “You can’t leave me.”
“Oh honey - I know, don’t worry about that. We ain’t gonna abandon you or nothin’ like that. I just - we can’t let you be in danger if we do something reckless and stupid.”
Abbey put her head down.
“And besides - you’ve already risked your life savin’ our sorry asses once - can’t keep havin’ that happenin’.”
A question suddenly popped into Abbey’s head.
“DD - 126 is in Area 1? The thing that makes the laws and rules?”
“But, well - it’s a machine - who controls it?”
“Nobody knows - well at least we don’t. I mean, when we were there, we were being trained, we never saw nothin’ but the Regulators all day. How did you know about DD - 126?”
“It was always part of my Lesson.”
“Did they teach you anythin’ else about it?”
“No. I know all the laws, but nothing else about where they come from, or what DD - 126 is. I just know it’s a machine.”
“It sure is - but what we was always tryin’ to figure out is where the power comes from - really - and what it is. It can’t be possible that a machine is ruining life like this.”
Abbey nodded. She had wondered the same thing herself for years. As she was about to respond, she heard footsteps.
“Oy! Mate - we’re back and we got enough grass for a whole ruddy house.”
Abbey was relieved to see the voice coming from Zeke, whose arms were full of so much grass, it concealed his face. Right behind him was Freddy, who was grumbling behind his pile.
“Don’t mind ‘im, mate - little woman ‘ere found a tick on ‘imself. Been whinin’ bout it since I plucked the wee thing off ‘im.”
Heston laughed and slapped Freddy on the back, who glared at him from behind his grass.
“Well, if y’all are gonna be jumpy ‘bout ticks, I don’t know if a night in the woods is for you.”
“I wasn’t complaining. I was just trying to get it off me," Freddy said indignantly.
“Well, here - hand the grass over. I’ll set this up nice and cozy," Freddy dropped his pile next to the bed and Heston set to work piling the grass on top of the structure.
“That’s a right fine mattress mate. Amazing what you can do with some sticks.”
“Well thanks. Let’s hope it holds.”
After about five minutes, the whole structure was covered in the lush grass. Looking at it, one would never guess there were sticks underneath. Abbey thought it looked much more comfortable than her bed in her chambers.
“Pile in y’all," Heston said, satisfied with his work.
“Ain’t you sleepin’ in it too?” Asked Zeke.
“Nah - someone’s gotta keep watch - ”
“Ruddy nonsense - get in. If anyone’s gotta do that, I will. I’m not tired at all.”
“We all need sleep," Freddy countered. “Everyone in - I don’t think we’ll be in any danger. Doctor’s orders.”
“Well, if the doctor says so…after you, Abbey," Heston said pleasantly.
Abbey crawled gingerly onto the bed. She marveled at how comfortable she felt on the soft grass. Heston picked up a handful of dirt.
“What the hell?” Freddy asked.
“We gotta be camouflaged - ”
“I think we’ll be fine…I’m sorry, I just for once want to pretend we aren’t running, and sleep on the closest thing to a damn bed without being covered in dirt, is that ok?” Freddy asked. He looked weary, and Abbey noticed that the lines on his face were very deep - but he didn’t look old. These were lines from stress and exhaustion. The gash on his arm looked aged as well, but didn’t have any plans to heal. She wondered how he got it.
“It’s gonna be a long ruddy night," Zeke said. “You comfortable lass?”
“Very," Abbey said. It was true - even though she had to share what was essentially earth with three full - grown men, she had never felt more at ease.
“Right, well, sweet dreams everyone.”
Zeke lay down next to Abbey, followed by Freddy. Heston let his dirt fall to the ground and got in as well. Abbey closed her eyes, and she was immediately asleep.
CHAPTER 10 - ONWARD
Abbey shot up. She thought she heard something. Looking around, she saw Zeke next to her on one side, and Freddy on the other, both sound asleep. She looked ahead and saw Heston, sitting cross - legged on the ground. It was almost pitch black in the forest, but she could make him out in the moonlight. She quietly turned onto her stomach and planted her hands on the ground at the head of the bed. She gently slid out and rolled on the ground to her back before standing up. She crept over to Heston, and put her hand on his shoulder. He jumped at her touch and quickly spun around.
“Oh darlin’ DON’T DO THAT!” He whispered.
“I’m sorry - it’s just, why aren’t you sleeping?”
“I just can’t. No matter what the doc says, someone’s gotta be a lookout - health is his area, this is mine.”
“I’ll do it. I can’t sleep either.”
“No, honey - I can’t sleep knowin’ you’d be awake and sittin’ here.”
“Can I sit with you?”
“I guess that would be fine," Abbey looked into Heston’s eyes. They were tired and strained, but still had the light in them that put her at ease.
Abbey stared out into the woods. She couldn’t shake the thought that at any moment, Regulators would come marching through the dense trees and execute them all. Her fear made her shudder, and Heston put his arm around her. He didn’t move his head though, his eyes were fixed on what was in front of them. Occasionally he would swivel his head from side to side, and behind him. They sat in silence for a long time until Abbey spoke up.
“Are you keeping watch only because I’m here?”
Heston finally broke his gaze at the trees and looked into Abbey’s eyes.
“Well, I’m a lot more cautious with you here ‘cause I really don’t want anything to happen to you. Me ‘n the guys, we’ve been through it, we can take care of ourselves, I guess I just really want to make sure I can protect you. Now, I know you don’t really need protectin’ from us, in fact, it might be the other way ‘round, but still. I just want to be extra careful.”
He held Abbey tighter as he spoke. She could see the worry and concern in his eyes get stronger with each word, and instantly felt guilty. She was the reason he was going to be sleep deprived in the morning.
“Please don’t stay awake because of me," she pleaded.
“Now, darlin’ I won’t have you feelin’ guilty. You understand how I would feel if somethin’ happened to ya’ll in the spot that I picked to sleep in? No sir, this is my responsibility.”
Abbey’s stomach growled, and without breaking his gaze from the woods, Heston pulled out a berry from his pocket.
“Here, I didn’t finish mine.”
Abbey accepted it without argument. She knew he was going to make her eat it no matter what.
“Were my parents controlled by the food?” Abbey asked, recalling the conversation she had earlier with her companions.
“Probably - I mean, they way they was acting - robotic right? No feeling?”
“Yeah, the food is a big part of it - takes a while to work fully, which is why you seem fine. Lessons go on until you’re about twenty, twentyone. They really work on breakin’ people at that age.”
“Yeah, I mean, it’s kinda a new technique they been tamperin’ with - makin’ sure everybody is with somebody and the woman is pregnant at a certain age. It ain’t in the printed laws last I checked - but I think if you ain’t been paired up by twenty - two, there’s a penalty.”
“Oh. I figured something like that," Abbey said. She knew her parents couldn’t have been together for any other reason.
“Your grandma and granddaddy though - that was the real deal darlin’. I know you ain’t never met him, but the way he took care of your grandma - you could tell it was true love there.”
“That’s what I heard from my grandma," Abbey said. She remembered the way her grandmother would look when she spoke of her grandfather.
“Don’t worry darlin’ - what we’re doing, well, it will make it all worth it," Heston sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than Abbey, which she noticed.
“You don’t have to worry yourself about it," she said.
He nodded, understanding, but apprehensive.
Abbey, exhaustion fully hitting her now, leaned her head on Heston’s strong shoulder. She shut her eyes for a moment, until daylight flooded into her eyelids. She had slept through the night.…
“Wakey, wakey little miss.”
Heston gently rocked the shoulder Abbey was leaning on. She slowly rose her head and squinted into the sun.
“Sure is. C’mon - help me wake up the lazy bones.”
Heston and Abbey walked over to the others, still fast asleep in the bed. Abbey was bending down to gently shake Zeke when Heston unceremoniously jumped on the wide space in between the two men, cracking the bed in half, and causing the sleeping men to roll inward, onto the forest floor.
“OY!! WHAT THE BLOODY HELL???!!”
Heston playfully put his index finger to his lips. “Shh.”
“Yeah, I’ll shush you ya dirty little bambot!”
Freddy rolled over onto his back. “Ah, morning.”
“We’ve gotta move now y’all," Heston said, motioning for them all to pick up the pace.
“Where to? North?” Freddy asked, stretching his arms behind his back until he heard a crack. “Ah - that’s better,"
Heston surveyed the terrain in front of them. “Can I see the map, Fred?” He held out his hand and Freddy dug in his robe until he located it. Yawning, he handed it over to Heston.
Heston unfurled it, looking at it with a furrowed brow. When it appeared he had made a decision he looked up at the group.
“We have to head northeast. If my memory, and this map are right - we should be approaching Area 1 within the next two days. We might have to camp out again, if we can find a way. I’m still working on how we could get up into the trees.”
“Sounds good to me mate - build us a treehouse and ye’ve got a deal.”
“Glad we came to a solution," Heston winked at Zeke. “Once we get outta these woods though, I don’t know if we can pull it off.”
“Well, we can’t stand here all day talking about it - let’s go," Freddy said, motioning for everyone to move.
Abbey and Heston walked side by side, a foot in front of Zeke and Freddy, Zeke singing the whole way;
“Oh, I met a young lass, she hailed from Fife!
She had quite a large ass, and an even bigger knife!
She cut me in two for looking on through
her skirt to the spot where she give life!”
“There’s a lady present,” Freddy reminded Zeke.
“I liked it," Abbey whispered back to them.
“Aw thank ye lass - ye know I’m full of ‘em.”
“That’s not what you’re full of,” Freddy said.
They walked, tripped and stumbled their way through the thick forest until they reached what looked to be the end. The thickness of the trees subsided to give way to a small hill.
“Finally,” Heston said, wiping his brow.
In front of the small hill was what looked to Abbey like an abandoned version of Field G. There were identical buildings, and large alarm poles, but no sign of humans.
“Ah - memories," Zeke sighed.
“This is one of the outside training grounds," Zeke explained. “After we were trained at Area 1, some of the Regulators would come here to, uh, practice what we learned.”
Heston looked down cautiously. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s been here in years.”
They crept down the small hill and stopped. Heston tilted his head toward the buildings.
“Nothing. I don’t see any footprints either. I think we can go through.”
He led the other three quietly into the Field. They were right next to a building that reminded Abbey of her own house when a dreadful, droning voice rang out.
“State your names.”
AREA 1 concludes in the Winter 2015/16 issue of HelloHorror.
Kathleen Wolak is a writer living in Hamden, CT. She is the author of The Tasteless, a young adult novel, and co-founder of the entertainment blog Tasteless Entertainment. When she isn't writing or blogging, she is hosting her weekly advice show on HerTube.TV, or marathoning The Simpsons on DVD. Part 1 of Kathleen's serialized novella Area 1 appears in the Winter 2015 issue of HelloHorror. Part 2 appears in the Spring 2015 issue. And Part 3 appears in the Summer 2015 issue.
The authors published at HelloHorror retain all rights to their work. For permission to quote from a particular piece, or to reprint, contact the editors who will forward the request. All content on the web site is protected under copyright law.