January 18th – The pebbles devoured the succulents, one tasty morsel at a time
It was early morning in what was once Stevenage, and post-apocalyptic Britain was already awake. We were always awake. Sleep was something you snatched where and when you could. When you felt less threatened. Because you never felt safe.
The sky was grey. Common enough before the meltdown, before the world changed, but this time it was always grey. Differentiated by shades: dark when the sun had set, lighter when the sun was up. But you never saw the sun, now. You just had to assume it was there, somewhere. It was cold now, all the time, and things were dying under the grey.
It wasn’t just the sky. The air was grey: you could feel it in your lungs, darkening. The ground was grey, everything under a layer of ash so thick that you left footprints. Footprints were not good. Footprints meant that they knew where you were going.
They had worked out quite early on that there was safety in numbers. That you had a better chance if you stuck together, if you wanted to survive. In the beginning there was still the police, the military, a threat holding law and order together, wrapped in the invisible thread of society. But as the thread unwound, the police and the military and any sign of authority faded, as the electricity and the gas did, and the gangs took to the streets. For their own safety, but not for the safety of anyone they came up against.
Here, in what was once Stevenage, there were three. Their names were as obscure as the faces behind the bandanas, or more recently strips of cloth, that marked them out. Green for the Succulents. Black for the Alternators. Military beige for the Pebbles. If anyone had been that way inclined, a fascinating study could have been made into the origins of these names, but that sort of thing had been lost long ago. You didn’t survive by writing papers.
What you could scavenge, you could eat. Rats, if you could catch them, were meat. What could be plundered, was plundered, but there was almost nothing left. Water sources were jealously guarded, but dropping teeth suggested that there wasn’t really any point.
As much as possible, they tried to keep out of each other’s way: a loose arrangement on areas and boundaries, with the occasional turf-war skirmish coming to nothing. But this Tuesday, a group of Succulents, scavenging, strayed into Pebble territory, lost in a dust cloud that glued your eyes dry-shut. The Pebbles heard them coming before they could see a thing.
The end was brutal, and short. No point wasting bullets when your rival stumbles into your lap. Machetes and knives did the trick, sharpened and ready, and the five Succulents were lost for the last time.
A nod, an unspoken agreement, a sharpening of knives. This was precious. Past-life trade skills were put to use, whether butcher or doctor: all that mattered was whether you could handle a knife.
Fires were kindled. Stakes re-pointed.
Nothing was wasted. For once, the Pebbles were replete, as they devoured the Succulents, one tasty morsel at a time.
Inspired by a prompt from here