Word Count: 1,009
It was more than a little intimidating walking into a camp full of strangers. Ten pairs of eyes stared back at us as we walked into their small gathering. Guns were pointed at us until Harley calmed the situation enough to explain we had saved his life. There were a few cars lining the perimeter, a small fire in the middle and about four or five different tents pitched within the camp. Everyone was close together, and the weapons were easily accessible.
It seemed secure enough.
Harley insisted that we join them for tea, as a thank you for saving his life. He said we could stay the night as well, which in itself sounded like just what I needed. Instead of spending the night on a cold shop floor or in the living room of some dead family’s house I’d be with other survivors, in a relatively safe place.
Cancer went to sit down and I followed him.
I caught the glance of one of the teenagers and smiled, trying to appear friendly. I hoped the simple fact that we hadn’t let one of their comrades’ die was enough of a reason to not shoot us. Cancer was keeping to himself and looked a little out of place.
Not everyone was happy to have us there, that much was obvious. One of the women kept giving us a sideway glance and the old pensioner looked like she wanted to blow our brains out.
‘So Harley how long have you all been camping here?’ I said, to try and take our minds off the hostility.
‘About a week maybe, feels like forever though,’ he replied. He handed me a small plate of some sort of vegetable dish. I had never really liked vegetables before but I was starving and hey, it was the apocalypse, so I scooped up a big mouthful and chewed hungrily. Cancer took the dish almost reluctantly.
‘The woods are safer than the towns. Anyone that stays in a town is insane,’ the old woman chipped in.
‘We stayed in a town for a little bit,’ I shrugged, looking at Cancer. ‘We survived.’
‘Is that ‘cause he’s the trailer trash you always told me about, mom?’ One of the teenagers questioned. I froze.
I sensed Cancer looking up and his expression wasn’t happy.
The mother looked at her child a little awkwardly.
‘Damn straight,’ Cancer spoke through gritted teeth. ‘Wouldn’t have lasted as long as we have if I didn’t grow up where I did.’
‘Language!’ the old woman chided.
It took me several seconds to realize what she was talking about. I had forgotten how some old people were more sensitive about the basic swear words. Cancer turned his frustrated glare on her and opened his mouth to say something but wisely chose not to. Probably because he knew I’d kick up a fuss if we got thrown out the camp on the first night.
My eyes darted from Cancer to the old woman, back and forth. I was waiting, for one of them to say something that’d push the other too much. I gave a small laugh to try and ease the tension, which, right then you could cut with a knife.
‘It’s true. I know I’d be dead now.’ I looked back at the teenager, feeling just the tiniest bit defensive for the fact that he’d called Cancer trailer trash. ‘Things aren’t always black and white.’
What kind of parents brought their kids up like that? I wondered if the entire family was narrow-minded.
‘Well he’s white trash and I don’t want him being near my kids, okay?’
I frowned at the mother, feeling my skin prickle a little. I wondered how Cancer was reacting to this. I knew it wasn’t the first time he’d had to deal with these types of people and I got the feeling he had been faced with stuff like this all his life.
Cancer really looked like he wanted to punch her. I could see a muscle in his jaw jumping and by the light of the fire he looked even more intimidating. It was incredible how he was holding it together and not starting a riot.
I took an awkward, silent bite out of the food.
One of the teenagers, not the one who had called Cancer white trash, turned to face me. ‘Where you from then?’
I swallowed loudly before speaking: ‘England. I came to Reno in Nevada for a holiday though.’
‘That sucks. We lived in Michigan before this. I miss home.’
‘You and me both. How old are you?’
Jeez, younger than I was.
I nodded, trying to not act surprised. It might freak him out more. ‘You heard from any of your friends since all this started?’
He shook his head, looking miserable.
I resisted the urge to say “At least you have your family”. How much of a damper would that put on the evening? Not that it wasn’t already pretty shit anyway. The old woman kept shooting daggers at Cancer and she gave me some pretty funny looks too. The family, who I was beginning to sense may be a little racist looked at us both as if we were road kill. The parents did anyway, the teenagers weren’t so bad. Harley was the only one who was being entirely decent. He offered us seconds of the food and showed us where we could sleep for the night.
He apologized for our sleeping space beforehand and when I saw it, I understood why.
‘They don’t trust you not to kill them during the night,’ Harley looked guilty and gestured to the car. ‘We gotta lock you in there for the night. It’s alright; you’d probably be the safest out of any of us.’
‘Locked up? We’re not animals,’ Cancer said.
‘I know and if it was entirely up to me I’d let you sleep with the rest of us but..’ he trailed off, shrugging his shoulders.
‘It’s okay,’ I told him. ‘As long as we’re secure we’ll be fine.’