Water

Her past is their future

The world ended and Louise survived. All she wants is a nice quiet apocalypse, but she makes the terrible mistake of running out of water. She finds a farm where she will be able to get what she needs, but the men who control it don’t want to help. Not only that, but they are holding a group of women prisoners. Louise tries to put the struggle of the women to one side and focus on her own problems, but when one of the women asks for her help, she is forced to confront her own past. If she can’t save the women then she knows exactly what will happen to them, and she doesn’t want to happen to anyone else.

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Chapter One

Louise pushed aside another branch and stepped through the gap. She saw an overturned car resting between two trees and adjusted her route to avoid it.

It was early, but the sun was already fierce. The forest provided good cover but her skin was still tender from where it had burned before. She shifted her pack, adjusted her scarf and pulled down the sleeves of her t-shirt. Next time she saw a shop, she would look for aloe and sun screen. Maybe she would get lucky and find somewhere that hadn’t already been looted so she could pick up some new boots as well; hers were coming apart at the seems.

When she reached the road she stopped and leaned against the hillside to catch her breath. She opened her pack and took out a plastic tub and spoon. She ate cold beans then took out her water bottle. There was less than half left. She drank sparingly then repacked her bag. No sense in hanging around if she needed water. She started walking again.

Louise couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent more than a few days in the same place. It was probably before everything had changed, back when Trevor had been aound to tell her what to do and where to go. Since everyone she knew had died, she hadn’t wanted to stop anywhere for longer than it took to refill her canteen and restock her food supplies.

How long had it been since everything had changed? Sometimes it only seemed like weeks, other times it seeed like decades. She guessed it was somewhere between, but the days all blended into one another now. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d spoken aloud, to herself or anyone else.

The day wore on and she still couldn’t see the bottom of the hill. What little sky she could see through the overhanging trees was red and menacing. She kept moving, despite how weary she felt. She reasoned that the risk of tripping and falling to her death was balanced by the risk of sitting down and not being able to get up and dying of thirst. At least a fall would be quick.

In a matter of minutes the sun was gone and the light of the moon was not enough to see by. She stumbled clumsily through the fallen leaves, waving her arms around like a crazy lady in an effort to avoid walking into a tree.

This is stupid, she thought. She should find somewhere to rest for the night, she might walk straight past water and never know it. What made her think she could find anything in the dark?

It was impossible to stop now, of course. There would be no way of knowing if she was somewhere safe, or if she was at even greater risk. Better to keep moving and hope for a miracle, although everything in her life so far had taught her that there was no such thing.

She kept moving anyway, assuming she survived until morning, she would at least be nearer the bottom of the hill, and that was her best hope of finding water.

Chapter Two

By the time the sun began to rise, she was barely moving. The muscles in her legs had seized up and her back ached abominably. She was as close to exhausted as she could remember being, and, worse than that, was the knowledge that even when she reached the bottom, she wouldn’t be able to stop for long.

It surprised her how quickly things had turned bad. It didn’t seem possible that she could need water so suddenly. Then she thought about how she had been sipping to conserve water for the last few days and tried to remember when she’d last been able to drink her fill.

Her throat itched, her mouth was dry. It was fucking ridiculous. She wasn’t going to just lay down and die. She forced herself to keep moving and as the sun rose she saw her first miracle of the day.

The building was larger than any house she’d lived in; there were windows and a chimney with smoke coming out of it. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would light a fire in this weather, but the sight of it comforted her.

She slowed down so that she could get a better look. Leaning against a tree to catch her breath she saw a fence that extended as far as she could see from left to right. The land beyond it was grass which had recently been cut. She could hear sheep baaing in the distance.

Was it possible that she had found people again? How long had it been since she’d seen so much as a wanderer, let alone a settlement? She didn’t like to think it, but in the last few years there had been fewer people around as more of them died from disease, injury or… lack of water.

She lowered herself to the ground in a position that allowed her to see the cottage easily. Already, she was beginning to think of it as a farm and her mind filled with all the things that could mean; fresh meat, vegetables, water, safety. It was too much to hope for, but the thought was there now and she couldn’t put it away.

Who lives there? Are they people I can trust? There were so many questions to answer and she had only herself to confer with. Of course, her options were limited, even if she didn’t like the look of them she had to do something.

The morning wore on and she was soon sweating, even as she crouched motionless beside the tree. It was, she estimated, almost mid-day by the time the first person walked towards the cottage.

He was a big man, his shoulders were hunched and his dark hair hung limply across his back. From a distance he gave the impression that he was young. Although he had done nothing to make her distrust him, he was still a man, and Trevor had taught her a long time ago that they could not be trusted.

How much easier it would have been, she thought, to have seen a woman first? Better yet, seeing as she was daydreaming, evidence that it was only women living there. A part of her knew that even that wouldn’t gurantee safety, but it would be easier to make herself do what she must.

The muscles in her legs were tight and uncomfortable as she stood up, leaning against the tree for support. She still had the option to walk away without revealing herself, but of course she wouldn’t do so. The only reason to delay now was fear, and that was unlikely to abate of its own accord. She took a deep breath, tried to make herself feel courageous, and walked the last few hundred metres to the fence.

As she approached the cottage another man appeared from over the hill. He was so similar in appearance to the first that, for a moment, she wondered if it could be the same person. If he was startled by her appearance, he didn’t show it. He raised a hand and waved to her.

Louise waved back and came to a stop on the other side of the fence. Now that she was closer, she could see that the man was in his mid-twenties, and muscled from hard labour.

‘Hello there,’ the man said. The smile that crossed his face looked forced, but she tried to tell herself that this situation was as strange for him as it was for her. It couldn’t have been common for strange women to walk out of the forest towards his farm.

‘Hi,’ she said.

The man rubbed the back of his neck. Searching for words to say, she thought.

‘I was wondering if you have some water to spare?’ she said.

The man frowned. She should have said something else, something light hearted and friendly. He was the first person she’d spoken to in months.

‘My name’s Louise,’ she said.

‘Shawn,’ he said.

‘It’s nice to meet you Shawn,’ she said. But was it? She was uncomfortably aware that she was a woman and that so far she had ony seen Shawn and another man in the farm. No one would come to help her if she got into trouble here.

‘Where are my manners?’ Shawn said, shaking his head. ‘Come in, gate’s along here.’

He started walking along the fence and Louise matched him step for step. Regardless of her nagging intuition, it seemed, her body was willing to do this to get the water it needed to stay alive.

Shawn unocked the gate for her and held it open. She stepped through, thinking that the lock was pointless considering the fence was only a few feet high. Anyone with the slightest interest in doing so could have climbed over easily. She smiled and thanked him.

‘Shawn?’ called another voice from the direction of the hill. Another man came towards them. He was a little older, but bore the same long dark hair and heavy build of the other men she had seen.

‘What do you want Bradley?’ Shawn said. There was animosity in his tone, Louise wondered if there had been a recent argument, or if this was how they always spoke to one another. Neither would have surprised her.

Bradley ignored Shawn and held his hand out to Louise. ‘And you are?’

‘Louise,’ she said. She didn’t want to shake his hand, but recognised that she was in a dangerous position. Three men, all of them bigger than her, they could do anything and she wouldn’t be able to stop them. She reached out and took his hand, if he noticed her reluctance, he didn’t seem to care.

‘Well, Louise, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Are you alone?’

Tell him no, she thought, but her traitor body was already nodding. Bradley licked his lips and she forced herself not to look away.

‘And what brings you to our little farm?’

How many more of them were inside the cottage? Could she outrun them? Even if she’d been well rested and not dying of thirst, she doubted it. She shook her head and tried to get a grip on herself. Neither of them had done or said anything to justify her worry. She was jumping to conclusions. ‘I need some water,’ she said.

Bradley nodded and turned to Shawn. ‘Go and get Marlon,’ he said.

Shawn turned and walked away without a backwards glance. As ridiculous as it seemed, Louise found herself wishing that he hadn’t gone. She didn’t want to be alone with Bradley.

‘Walk with me,’ Bradley said.

Louise hessitated. ‘Do you have water?’

‘We have a well. It’s fresh, clean and cold.’ He started walking and, after a moment, Louise followed him. He led her slowly towards the cottage.

‘Is it just the three of you living here?’ she said, failing to sound as casual as she would have liked.

‘And the girls,’ Bradley said.

‘The girls?’

‘Mmm-hmm, our sister Sandra and a few of her friends.’

His sister! Louise sighed with relief. It was no guarantee, of course, but she thought that if their sister was here then they couldn’t be as bad as she feared.

‘Would you like to meet her?’ he said.

‘Oh, I don’t know. I don’t want to impose. Just the water will be fine.’

They rounded the side of the building and she saw that it was much bigger than she’d previously thought. Shawn and the other man, Marlon were standing there waiting. Suddenly she knew that there was no sister, it was all a lie.

Chapter Three

She walked towards the two men as if in a dream. It didn’t occur to her that she could stop, or better yet, turn and run away.

‘Hello my dear,’ said the man who she had seen first, Marlon. He was clearly the youngest of the three. ‘I’m so glad you could join us.’

‘I don’t want any trouble,’ Louise said. The effort of speaking seemed to release something inside her and she suddenly found it easier to think. They were all bigger than her, better fed and hydrated. She couldn’t fight them, and she couldn’t run. Which left her with what exactly? Not a lot as far as she could see. Her only option seemed to be to wait and hope that an opportunity presented itself.

Behind Bradley and Shawn the door opened. For a moment all she could think was he had been lied to her about that as well, that there were more than three of them. Three against one was bad, but four men was worse. But it wasn’t another man who came out, it was a small framed woman with the same dark hair as the brothers.

‘What’s going on?’ the girl said. She sounded drowsy.

‘Get back inside Sandra, this doesn’t concern you,’ Marlon said, without turning to look at her.

‘I just wanted some water,’ Louise said, directing herself at the girl, in the vein hope that she might have some sway over her brothers. ‘I don’t want any trouble.’

The girl looked at her brothers and in that moment Louise knew that she didn’t have a hope. The men didn’t say anything. After a moment the girl looked at her again. ‘I’m afraid we can’t help you,’ she said.

Louise nodded.

The men said nothing.

‘It’s probably best if you go,’ she said.

Louise nodded again and wondered if it could really be that easy.

‘We should invite her inside,’ Marlon said.

‘Heather’s sleeping,’ Sandra said to him, but to Louise she widened her eyes and tried to counicate something else.

‘Even so,’ Marlon continued. ‘She’ll be quiet, won’t you?’

Louise took a step to the side, if she was going to do anything then she needed to do it now. ‘It’s fine,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to be any trouble. I’ll go.’

‘Stay,’ Marlon said. ‘It’s no trouble, really.’

But Louise was already moving, she side stepped to avoid Bradley, then backed away so she didn’t have to turn her back on them. They watched her go, but none of them moved to stop her.

Chapter Four

Louise could no longer see the farmhouse but she felt as if the men were still watching her. She didn’t dare stop moving. The idea of what she had discovered hovered around in the back of her mind but it was easier not to think about it. If she did, then she would forced to confront the possibility that there was soeone who needed her help.

She kept moving until her knees buckled and she fell down. She lay on the hard forest floor for a moment and realised that she was crying. Was it because of her narrow escape? Or was it because she had escaped whatever that was, only so she could die of dehydration? Or was it something else? She was uncommfortably aware that it was probably the latter.

The forest was quiet. She easily heard the footsteps coming towards her, but she didn’t have the strength to move. Whoever it was – it was bound to be one of the men – would find her on the ground, unable to defend herself. They would be able to do whatever they wanted to her.

She didn’t have the strength or the will to fight. Louise closed her eyes and waited for whatever it was to happen.

Someone crouched down beside her.

‘Here,’ Sandra said.

Louise managed to open her eyes and saw the girl next to her. She helped her to sit and lifted a bottle of water to her mouth. Louise drank gratefully. The girl didn’t say anything.

When the water was gone, she felt a little better. She looked at Sandra. ‘What are you doing here?’

The girl shook her head. ‘The question is, what are you doing here? I think you’ve been sent to save us.’

Louise laughed, but a moment later, she realised the girl wasn’t joking. ‘Nobody sent me here,’ she said. ‘I’m just looking for water.’

‘The Lord works in mysterious ways,’ Sandra said. Her face was still calm, she looked as if she knew everything.

Louise pushed herself up. She didn’t feel ready to stand yet, but she wondered whether the girl was as dangerous as her brothers.

‘My brothers are keeping us prisoner,’ Sandra said.

Louise looked at her. ‘If they’re keeping you prisoner, how are you out here?’ Then a nasty thought occurred to her. ‘Did they send you to bring me back?’

The girl shook her head. ‘I’m their sister. They trust me. For now. I get more freedom than the other girls.’

She sensed a dangerous path and hoped that she had enough strength to support herself. She leaned against a tree and managed to stand. ‘I don’t want to know,’ she said.

Sandra stood up beside her. ‘They’re holding them prisoner. They beat them, drug them and rape them.’

Louise didn’t want to know any of this. Whatever was going on in the cottage there was nothing she could do about it. She wanted to make the girl go away, but she found that she didn’t even have the strength to speak.

‘One of the girls, Katie, she’s pregnant.’

Suddenly her mouth was as dry as if she’d never had the water. She was no longer standing in the forest, she was at home in her flat with Trevor.

Chapter Five

Trevor stood by the door to their bedroom. He filled the whole frame. Louise was cowering on the other side of the room, she didn’t know what she’d done to upset him this time, but she was smart enough to know she should look repentant. If she convinced him that she was sorry then he might let her go with a few angry words.

‘You think I don’t know?’ he said. He was calm and somehow that was worse. When he was calm he was scarier.

She had to be careful what she said, he was already close to losing it, and he was capable of doing anything when she made him angry. ‘Know what?’ she said.

‘Dont play dumb with me Louise. Do I look like an idiot to you?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘No of course not.’

‘I know about you and him.’

‘What!’ She was so surprised that the word came out before she had a chance to consider whether it would make him more or less furious.

He came towards her. When she remembered it later the ground would shake with each step, but he had always been surprisingly light on his feet.

‘Have you slept with him?’ he said.

Louise shook her head. She could feel the sting on hot tears on her cheeks. ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about.’

‘Liar!’ he said.

She didn’t even see him move. One moment he was standing in front of her with his hands by his side, the next the back of his hand was turning her head. She cried out. She stagggered to the side, would have fallen down if he hadn’t been there to catch her, to hold her up so he could hit her again.

‘What’s his name?’ Trevor said.

When she tried to speak her words came out slurred as if she’d been drinking. Had he broken her jaw? ‘I don’t know,’ she said.

He hit her again. Not in the face this time but in the chest. She doubled over her swollen belly protectively.

‘Is that even mine?’ he said.

‘Yes!’ she said, breathless now, she could feel blood as well as tears on her face. ‘Yes!’

He hit her again. And again. At some point he stopped asking questions. She didn’t try to make him stop, that would only make it worse. At some point she began to think that he was right, she deserved it.

When she woke he was gone. A pool of blood between her legs told her everything she needed to know.

There wasn’t time to mourn her loss, although that would come later, oh how it would come. He would be back soon, full of apologies and promises. Right now he was probably out buying flowers. She heaved herself up and her head spun. She felt weak, but she couldn’t take the time to rest, she had to go now.

She staggered towards the door. Every part of her hurt and there was so much blood. She wondered if she would die as well. Later she would often wish she had.

She found the door and fumbled with the handle, wondering if he’d locked her in. Eventually she got it to work and then she was out. Still not safe, but on her way.

The corridor was empty. She could hear people moving about behind the closed doors and she flinched at every raised voice.

She moved towards the lift, limping and leaving a trail of blood behind her. When she turned back it looked as if she’d been dragging a dead body.

It seemed to take forever for the lift to arrive. The doors began to open and for a moment she was sure that she would find him there waiting for her. If she did, then she wouldn’t be able to run. It was as much as she could do to keep moving at a limp. If he was there, then he would be angry and this time he would kill her.

The doors opened and there was no one there. He wasn’t downstairs in the lobby either. When she got to the street people turned to look at her but none of them offered to help. None of them wanted to get mixed up in whatever had happened.

She dragged herself along until she reached the bus stop. The horrified looks of the people sitting there caused her to rethink her plans. She kept walking.

At the hospital a woman asked her questions about what had happened. They wanted her to report Trevor to the police, but she knew better than that. If she tried to stand up to him, he would kill her, just as he had killed their child. No, she knew then that the best thing she could do was walk away.

Chapter Six

Louise looked at Sandra and wondered what the girl saw when she looked back at her. Surely not someone who could help, she could barely manage to look after herself.

‘How far along is she?’ Louise said. ‘Will she be able to run?’

‘I think so,’ she said. ‘She’s barely showing. I don’t think my brothers know yet.’

Louise nodded. ‘Do you have a plan?’

‘You’ll get the spare keys. They keep them in the tool shed. It’s not locked. Then you come and let us out.’

‘As simple as that?’

‘As simple as that.’

‘Where will you go?’

Sandra shrugged. ‘It doesn’t matter. Anywhere is better than here.’

Louise thought she was right about that. Being trapped in a relationship with a man who beat and raped you was bad enough, but to be trapped with three of them…

‘I won’t have to do anything else?’ she said.

‘Only get the key and unlock the door,’ Sandra said. ‘I can do everything else.’

Was she really agreeing to this? She found herself nodding and knew that she was.

Chapter Seven

Louise sat in the forest, alone, listening to the sound of distant footsteps, wondering whether she was doing the right thing. It all seemed so simple. She couldn’t believe that it would work as easily as the girl seemed to think. Something was bound to go wrong.

It wasn’t too late for her to back out. No one was there to force her to return to the farm. She could turn away, think of herself and be like all of those people who had ignored her as she bled onto the streets.

She shook her head, unsure whether she was proud or disapointed with herself. She stood up. Some of the weariness had gone, but she still felt a deep sense of exhaustion. It wasn’t too late to change her mind, but she started walking towards the farm anyway.

Dry branches swept across her arms and she shivered. It wasn’t cold, but she was chilled all the same.

It took almost twenty minutes to get back to the tree where she had sat that morning. She stopped and watched, unsure what she was hoping to see.

There were shadows moving across the curtained window of the cottage. She could hear the sound of girls talking to one another. Of the brothers, there was no sign. She sat by the tree and waited for there to be one, but wherever they were that evening, she couldn’t see them.

Last chance, she thought to herself. She could still turn her back on this madness. She tried to think of a good reason for doing so, an excuse that would justify it, but nothing came.

The short walk from tree to fence seemed to take a long time. Rather than go along to the gate, she climbed nimbly over the fence on the short side of the cottage. She could hear the girls more clearly from here. They didn’t seem upset, she might have been listening to a few friends gossiping over a glass of wine in the old world, but that didn’t mean that Sandra had been wrong.

Reluctantly, she walked away from the cottage and was soon swallowed by the darkness. She had to move slowly because the last thing she wanted was to make a noise and draw the brothers’ attention.

Sandra had told her that the tool shed would be unlit, but that she would find it by turning right at the cottage door. That still left a lot of room for error, but it was the best the girl had been able to do. Louise kept going and told herself that if she didn’t find the tool shed, it didn’t really matter; she could just keep walking until she was out of the farm again and then she could go with a clear conscience, knowing that she had done everything she could to try and help them.

Even if that wouldn’t be true.

After a few minutes she heard a door slam and a voice shout loudly, ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ The words were slurred.

Another voice responded, but it was too quiet for Louise to hear.

She froze on the spot. She couldn’t tell which direction the shouting had come from and had no idea where the shouter was now. For all she knew they could be coming towards her. They might reach her at any moment and what would they find? Just her standing there, not even attempting to hide.

For one moment she considered the possibility of fighting, but pushed that thought away quickly. That kind of thing that was liable to get her killed. Instead she started moving. The sooner she found (or didn’t find) the tool shed, the sooner she could put this all behind her.

The tool shed appeared from the darkness as a patch of solid black. Louise almost walked into it but stopped at the last moment, grazing her hands against the rough brickwork. She caught her breath then started to search for the door.

As she moved around the building she felt a growing sense on unease. This was taking too long, they were going to catch her. What would she do then? Could she run? Would the darkness work to her advantage, or against her. She tried to push the thoughts away but the more she did the more they crowded in on her and she began to feel as if she wouldn’t be able to continue.

A fine person they’d chosen to try and save them, she thought. She hadn’t even been able to save herself. Oh she’d lived alright, and that bastard was rotting somewhere along with everyone else that she’d ever known. But a part of him was still with her, a sneering voice in the back of her head telling her that she wasn’t good enough, that no matter how hard she tried she was going to fail. She couldn’t do anything else because she was useless.

Louise doubled over, somehow out of breath. Get a grip girl, she told herself. Then she counted down from five and the voices moved back, not gone, but far enough away that she could focus on the job at hand. She was here now, she might as well see if she could do it.

A few moments later the brick turned to wood and she realised that she’d found the door. She felt around for the handle and then turned it. Just as Sandra had said, it was unlocked. She pushed and went inside. Then stopped.

It had been difficult enough to find a whole tool shed in the darkness, it had never occurred to her how difficult it was going to be to find keys. It was even darker inside than out and she had no idea how big the place was, no clue where the keys might be kept.

Think, she told herself. She’d never had a shed in her life, the idea never would have occurred to her father, but you wouldn’t just throw a set of keys in, would you? No, if you always kept the key in the same building, chances were you kept them in the same place in the building, and that was unlikely to be far from the door. Maybe on a hook behind it.

She reached up and on her second attempt she found them. A tiny burst of excitement filled her and for a moment she could imagine that this might actually work. She might actually be able to help Sandra.

Louise closed the door behind her and then crept back through the darkness towards the cottage.

Chapter Eight

The farm was silent. Even the animals had stopped making noise. There were no more raised voices and no lights in any of the buildings. Above her the sky was a velvet blanket with diamonds strewn across it. If she hadn’t felt so desperately afraid, she might have been able to appreciate its beauty.

She reached the cottage and went to the door. There were only three keys on the chain. The first key was the wrong type and the second didn’t fit. The third went in easily and when she turned it she heard it unlock.

She let out a silent sigh of relief. She was almost there. She had almost done it.

Louise pushed the door forwards but it wouldn’t move. She tried to force it but couldn’t.

‘Is it you?’ Sandra said, her voice barely a whisper.

‘It’s me,’ Louise confirmed.

The door swung open. Louise couldn’t see the girls in the darkness, but she was aware of their bodies in the confined area.

‘Are you ready?’ Louise said.

‘Yes. Let’s go.’

Louise turned and, as she did, became aware of something else in the darkness with her. It had the size and shape of a bear and it was everything she could do to keep from screaming.

‘What’s going on here?’ Bradley said. Judging by the slur of his words he had been drinking.

Louise clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from crying out. He was so close, she could feel the warmth radiating from his giant body. If he reached out now he would be able to touch her.

‘Sandra? What have you done?’

The man moved forwards and she pressed herself against the wall. It would have been easy to stop him, to stick out her leg and trip him over and at least give the girls a chance of getting away. But she didn’t. She found that she couldn’t.

Sandra screamed as her brother grabbed her. Louise could imagine her kicking and struggling to get away. There was a lot of fight in the girl, certainly more than in her.

‘Get back inside, all of you!’ bellowed Bradley and it still wasn’t too late for Louise to do something, but it would be soon. His shouting was bound to draw the attention of his brothers and when they came it would be too late. But still, she couldn’t move.

The girls went inside and Sandra continued to struggle. ‘Put me down!’ she said.

Bradley laughed. ‘Not this time little sister. You’ve gone too far now.’

The door slammed. If Bradley considered it strange that the key was on the outside, he didn’t say anything. Perhaps, for once, a man being drunk had worked to her advantage. If he didn’t know that she was there then he wouldn’t come looking for her.

‘Where are you taking me?’ Sandra demanded.

‘Where you should have been all along,’ Bradley replied.

Sandra continued to kick and scream as they passed and Louise stood frozen. She was too frightened to try and help the girl who had saved her life. She stood there and let him take her.

Chapter Nine

She stood against the wall and shivered uncontrolably, while she listened to Bradley and Louise fighting. She told herself that it couldn’t be too bad, that he was her brother after all, but she didn’t know. She couldn’t know.

You have to find out, she thought and this time she didn’t try to reason herself out of it. Whatever happened to Sandra now was down to her and she owed it to the girl to know exactly what that was.

They were halfway across the farm already, but Sandra’s struggling was slowing them down and Louise was able to catch up to a safe distance.

Please don’t be bad, she thought. Please don’t let him hurt her.

She followed them to a small building and she heard the door slam behind them. In the distance the sheep were making agitated noises, but she ignored them and circled the building until she found a window.

Bradley had lit an electric lantern. The white glow of it wasn’t bright but it had been a long time since she’d seen one and she blinked at the strangeness of it. She couldn’t hear what they were saying to each other, but she could see easily enough.

She’s his sister! she thought with disgust. She wanted to look away. She wanted to break down the door and pull the poor girl out of there, but she couldn’t.

Sandra’s clothes were torn and she stood awkwardly trying to cover herself and push her brother away. He fumbled at her breasts with one hand while he held her against the wall with the other. He looked as if he was trying to kiss her but she managed to stop him getting close enough.

Louise felt the bile rise in her throat and thought she was going to be sick. He was a monster. If she had any way of actually doing so, she thought, she would kill him.

She stood at the window and watched the bastard force himself on his own sister and did nothing to try and stop him. When it was over she turned away and sank to the floor, her head in her hands and tears in her eyes.

It was her fault.

The thought was crisp and clear and big enough to prevent any other from getting through. Sandra had been raped by her own brother and it was her fault.

If she’d done something at the cottage when he’d found them, this wouldn’t have happened. If she’d had the guts to try and stop him then maybe they would all be in the forest by now, not safe, but away.

She was to blame. Her. She had been too afraid to stand up for herself so this had happened. She was everything Trevor had ever said she was; a stupid, weak, whore. If there was any justice in the world then she would be the one in there not Sandra.

Chapter Ten

The door opened and she didn’t move. If he found her there then so be it, she didn’t deserve to get away after what Sandra had been through. He didn’t see her though, and in a way, that made her feel worse. She still had her freedom, she could still walk away from the whole mess. Regardless of what happened next, Sandra would have to live with what he had done to her for the rest of her life.

Louise sat up. Maybe it was too late to prevent Sandra being raped, but she could stop it happening again. She could make it so the brothers didn’t hurt any of the other girls.

She could do it, she realised. In fact, she was the only one who could.

The door was locked, as she had expected. But that wasn’t enough to put her off. She got down on her hands and knees and felt on the ground for a rock. It didn’t take long to find one in the bushes.

Without considering the consequences, she went to the window, and put the rock through it.

Sandra screamed and pulled herself up from the floor, scooting on her backside so that she was against the wall. Still trying to protect herself. The bastard hadn’t even bothered to throw a blanket over her.

‘It’s me!’ Louise hissed.

‘Louise?’ Sandra said.

‘Can you stand?’

‘I don’t… what… why are you…’

There was no time to talk sense into her and who knew how long that would take anyway. She had been through a trauma, but if they didn’t move quickly then more would follow.

Louise looked around. There was no sign of anyone coming, but they would do soon. There wasn’t time to second guess herself. She pushed herself up on the window frame and then carefully climbed through the shards of broken glass into the room.

‘It’s okay,’ Louise said. ‘I’m not going to let them hurt you again.’

She found her clothes on the floor. They were torn but serviceable. She picked them up and then helped the girl to her feet. Together they made their way back over to the window and Louise helped her climb through.

They were on the ground, hidden by the darkness by the time she heard people coming towards them. She turned to Sandra but couldn’t see her clearly in the dark. She reached for her hand and led her away.

It took her a few attempts to find her way back to the cottage. All the while she was searching, she was aware of the men moving around. Eventually one of them found a light.

‘The windows broken!’ one of them said.

‘Was someone in here?’

So the other two didn’t know what Bradley had done, that was interesting, but it offered no assurance of safety. There was no gurantee that, if they did find out, they would be as disgusted as they ought to be. They were all monsters capable of holding women prisoner, that was all she needed to remember.

When they reached the cottage she turned to Sandra. ‘Stay here and get dressed. I’ll be back in a minute.’

‘Where are you going?’

‘To get the others. Just stay here.’

She left without waiting for a response, hoping that she would find her way back to the girl before her brothers did. Then she went to the cottage window and broke it quickly.

‘Get your things,’ she called to the girls inside. ‘We’re leaving.’

To their credit the girls acted quickly. They grabbed the bags they had packed for the earlier escape. Louise climbed through and one of the girls directed her to Sandra’s pack. She picked up her rock and then led the girls back through the broken window.

Sandra was waiting where she had left her. The light from the brothers’ lantern was still over by the other building. Their raised voices carried on the warm air and Louise dared hope that the argument would keep them occupied long enough to make an escape.

‘Come on,’ she said, grabbing Sandra’s hand. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

She led them towards the fence and almost tripped over it in the darkness. The girls kept close to her and there was something reassuring about that. They were together now, they would look after each other. Although she didn’t know their names, she felt as if they were friends already.

Chapter Eleven

They kept low and quiet as they climbed the fence and entered the forest. Louise tried to keep Sandra from falling but almost failed until one of the other girls slowed to help her.

‘Thanks,’ she said.

The girl didn’t reply, which was probably sensible. They were far from safe. At any moment one of the men might catch up with them and then…

She shook her head and tried not to think about it. She didn’t know what she would do if they got caught and worrying about it just made her want to give up.

After a few steps she turned back towards the farm and couldn’t see the lantern. She didn’t know whether that was good or bad. She supposed it didn’t matter, there wasn’t anything they could do except keep moving now.

She couldn’t tell whether they had escaped from the farm minutes or hours ago. All she could focus on was keeping Sandra moving, one step at a time.

‘Hello ladies.’ His voice was demonic. Louise couldn’t see him, but she knew he was in front of them and the farm behind. She looked around, which way should she go?

‘Thinking of leaving were you?’ Another voice, a different direction.

‘Wouldn’t be a good idea if you ask me.’

They were surrounded.

‘Let me help you,’ one of them said and then Louise felt Sandra’s weight being lifted away. How was it possible? Could they see in the dark?

She stood frozen to the spot, her mind racing. She could try to run, but how far did she expect to get? And if she did that, what would happen to Sandra and to the other girls?

But if she didn’t run, what would happen to her?

Running wasn’t an option and allowing the men to do what they wanted, would only end up with her dead or getting raped. She couldn’t stay and she couldn’t go.

Her hand tightened on the rock she had carried from the farm.

She saw Trevor standing before her in the darkness and, even though she knew it wasn’t really him, she also knew this was for him. A symbolic act, finally fighting back against the people who had hurt her.

Her hand didn’t tremble. Suddenly everything seemed clear. Louise allowed the man to take Sandra away from her and then she stepped forwards.

She raised the rock above her head and called him. ‘Hey asshole!’

‘What did you call me?’ he said.

When he turned around she struck him. A single blow to the side of his head and the life went out of him. He fell to the ground like a sack of rocks and Sandra fell with him. For one terrible moment Louise thought that she had hit the girl as well, but then heard her cry out as her brother landed beside her.

‘What the hell?’ one of the other brothers started.

Louise turned and saw them coming towards her. She lifted her blood soaked hand again, ready to stand up for herself now, even if it meant dying. She was never going to stand by and let people hurt her again.

The men never reached her. Two of the other girls jumped on them, brandishing rocks of their own. They struck out and hurt the men but they didn’t go down as easily. Louise ran towards them, her arm in the air. Between the three of them they put a stop to the men.

When it was over they stood in silence looking at three dead bodies and Louise wondered what they would do now. Would any of them be able to live with what had been done to them, with what they had done in return? Eventually she turned away from the men and started walking back towards the farm. At some point the others followed her.

 

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