Short Story: Steady As She Goes

Delilah

 

Delilah Benjamin awoke with the sun not thanks to the crow of the rooster or the crack of beams through open windows but to the sound of her mother returning from the night shift at Dust Town’s health clinic. It was her cue to rise and shine for another day top-side but all she wanted was to curl up on the cot in the corner of the living room and sleep just a little bit longer. 

“G’morn’ luv. E’rythin’ alrigh’?” Delilah could hear her father greet her mother with a smack of lips to a cheek and a gentle embrace. Jane Benjamin sighed into her husband’s broad chest, exhaustion weighing her down as she took just a few moments to rest against him before letting him go in order to pack lunches for the day. Delilah really needed to get up at this point. Five more minutes, it’s all she wanted. Aodhan Benjamin followed after his wife to help her even if she wouldn’t accept the assistance. The smell of watered down coffee met Delilah’s nostrils and she pulled the covers further up over her head. 

“Some teenage boy got caught defacing an effigy of the Lord in a public venue and the RDL executed him on the spot. Spent the night consoling his mother.” Jane whispered quietly, precise and practiced motions quickly making the best of their daily rations and packing them neatly into lunchboxes. One, two, done. It was meager but it would have to do until they made it to the surface. Aodhan grunted his disapproval at what Jane had told him, shaking his head. 

“Del, darlin’, time t’get yer rear in gear. The convoy’ll be here an’ min.” Her father’s voice boomed in the small cottage and prompted a groan from the young woman. Five more minutes, couldn’t she just have five more minutes. Slowly she pushed the quilt to the foot of the cot and rose, stretching willowy arms up toward the low roof. 

“Yes Da, be ready in just a moment.” Delilah shuffled to the bathroom to ready herself for another long day. Strawberry blonde hair was scooped up into a loose ponytail and she made a face at herself in the mirror, her toothbrush dangling from the corner of her mouth. She was quick to finish up though because the consequences of being late were nothing less than brutal. Such was life in Dust Town; every aspect of survival in “Fort Hope” was dire and full of despair. She had just scooped up the packed lunch in time for a heavy fist to beat against the front door. 

“Dat’d be our ride.” Aodhan cracked a crooked smile for his daughter, looping an arm around her shoulders as he ushered her out the front door with a quick smooch to his wife’s cheek. The father-daughter team slipped out to join the procession of farmhands for the three mile underground trek outside of the city’s limits and up to the handful of farms that had managed to stay prosperous in these trying times. Delilah kept close to her father’s side even as he bantered with the others, quieting only at checkpoints so as not to agitate any of the RDL guards. Laughter was always slow to come with any of the denizens of Dust Town but if anyone could rouse it, Aodhan Benjamin was the man to do so. 

After the final checkpoint, the small group fell silent and moved into a single file line much like they did every weekday. Body armor was strapped on, weaponry was handed out, protective cover was assigned. 

“Jones and Simon, you’re on Avery. Zelarith and Kell, with Benjamin. Samuels and Brighton, Petrov.” The respective mercenaries fell in with their assigned detail just in time for the hatch to the surface was opened. One by one they climbed until the first rays of the day met their arrival. Weapons were drawn the moment the first soldiers made it topside but luckily today each group made it to their posts without incident. There were times that Delilah’s father spoke of days when armed guards weren’t needed just for farm work but this was how it had always been for her. They worked quietly under the watchful eye of the six mercenaries that patrolled the walls of the three farms and every once in awhile a gunshot would ring out when one of the undead got a little too close for comfort. In the heavy body armor, fieldwork was backbreaking and exhausting and the only reprieve came when the sun reached its apex in the hazy sky. Delilah climbed the ladder up one of the walls to sit on the edge and wait. Calloused fingers popped open the tin lunchbox and she set out the two sandwich halves, her pocket knife used to slice up an apple into wedges. She would savor this one, apples were hard to come by these days. 

Davarin Kell had waited with the mercs assigned to protect the farmers as they went top side, already in his own body armor and checking his own guns. Not that he really trusted anyone else to do it for him. It was just the way he had been for the longest time, getting him to shake his head at the thought, thinking back to how he got to where he was now, and how he came to be here. A simple country boy growing up in this hell, only to end up hunting down zombies when ever it was asked of him. 

Today he had been asked to help out by the mercs to protect the farmers, which he agreed to do so. Looking up when the group arrived, he chuckled when he heard his name called in association with Del and her father and the others assigned to the Benjamin farmstead. Escorting them there wasn’t so much a problem, and firing off a shot here and there when a zombie got to close. Or for Dav’s sake? When they were within his crosshairs. Once lunch time came, he moved to climb up where Del was having lunch at. “Holding up out here?” Flashing her a smile as he shifted to sit down beside her, while continuing to scan the area. 

“It’s lunch time. Sit, take a load off for a few.” She patted the spot beside her, offering out one of the sandwich halves. “Mum thought we might see you up here.” Delilah smiled softly and dug through the lunchbox and offered out a trio of honey straws with a secretive grin at the sweet surprise she held in her hand. There weren’t many benefits to coming to the surface for work other than the hazard pay, but this was one of them; the ability to sneak treats from the farm. Sure it could get her hands broken if she was caught but it was well worth the risk most of the time. 

“That is is.” Chuckling as he shifted to take the spot beside her, before nodding lightly. “Yeah. Yer mum said something to me about that you and yer dad would be coming up here in passing.” Looking between her and the offered sandwich half, before slowly taking it from her. “Thanks.” Smiling back to her as he went back to looking around, with him catching sight of the honey straws out of the corner of his eye. “Best not let anyone catch you with those.” Murmured low as he finally started to slowly eat his half of the sandwich. 

“Which is why she wanted me to pass these to you.” She said quietly, sliding the honey straws over, sure to keep them out of view of others. The sandwich was scarfed down but the apple, that she took her time with. The pleased groan that rumbled in her throat, though, couldn’t compare to the steady moaning of the dead that congregated just beyond the farm’s walls. Day in and day out they amassed, clawing at stone like some day they might make it through rather than grinding their fingers down to stumps. If it weren’t for the fact that this was “normal” it might have been unsettling. Instead, it became white noise in the background, something she took no notice of unless she was forced to do so. “But um, I gotta get back t’work. Lots to do before sunset.” 

He quirked a brow at her as she slid the honey straws over to him, while noting she was keeping them out of view. Slowly taking them in the same manner, he slipped them into a pouch and out of sight. Looking down as the undead gathered at the farm’s walls, with a shake of his head at the sight. “Least they aren’t bright.” Muttered more to himself than to Del, before looking to her and nodding. “Same here.” Moving to his feet and waited for her to do the same, as well as head down first. 

“Thanks for lookin’ out, Dav. I ‘preciate it.” She gave him a shy smile and went back on her way, returning to the exhausting work of another day on the farm. Day in, day out, it was always the same, toiling away for the greater good of the people down below. A crimson tinged sun beat down over head, reddening the backs of her gently pointed ears and as the burn settled into ruddy skin, she wondered what she would have to trade to come by a commodity like sunscreen. Delilah cringed at the thought and finished up her tasks for the day, tucking her lunchbox–somehow *not* empty– under an arm as the crew hurried their way back to the entrance to Dust Town. Nightfall was coming soon and with it curfew. When they made it back safely, she exhaled a sigh of relief just in time to watch the day’s dying light disappear on the horizon. 

Another day, another safe return home. 

“Praise Drakhar.”

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