After a short break to eat and rest, I pick myself up off the ground and head toward the compound on the other side of the docks. I walk along the fences that are lined with Have You Seen This Person fliers and hand made letters of children looking for their parents. There is a chiming sound and I find that it is a gold heart locket tapping up against the last post of the chain link. I pause to open it. One one side is a picture of a beautiful woman and the other is an engraving S.H.M.I.L.Y. I am not sure what that means but the locket is old so it must mean a lot to the woman in the locket.
It takes me about fifteen minutes to walk from the docks to the massive compound headquarters. It would of been about a seven minute walk but due to all of the vehicles and just trash debris in the road it takes longer. The front double doors are still locked up tight with a sign that says “No One Home” written in yellow paint, screwed into the metal frame and here I thought it would be that easy. Normally I would just shoot the lock out but my luck they would of placed the metal beam down for extra safety. I am going to have to look for another way in. There is a door a little ways down that is marked “Employees Only” and has a rectangular window. I try the knob but of course its locked, so I do the next best thing and break the glass. I hesitate to make sure nothing heard the shatter, nothing. Reaching in through the window I was able to unlock the dead bolt. Pulling out my 9mm again, I swing open the door to find an empty room. I cautiously make my way to the door across the room and look through the window. There is a lot of office supplies and other items scattered on the floor. This door however was unlocked so I make my way out.
This place is massive and I am hoping to find the armory. Turning corner after corner, a maze of hallways, and staircases, I come across the infirmary. I hesitate in front of the door, wondering if there are any dead in there. Are they chained to the beds or wrapped up in sheets in the corner? Taking a deep breath I turn the handle.
To my surprise there are no bodies in the room, just empty beds. I start my sweep, the room is clear. Looking in the metal cabinets lining the walls, I am hoping for some more medical items, I find nothing. Moving the flashlight around the room I notice a large tarp that is hanging on the opposite wall. I go to the tarp and pull it down.
Behind it there is a door marked “ Keep Out” and it had a huge chain and lock on it.
I kneel down and open my bag to find the bolt cutters, that I found on an abandoned fire truck a month ago, I cut the chain. As it fell to the floor with a loud clank, I wheel around with my flashlight to make sure nothing is coming up behind me.
The door slowly creaks open and there is a horrible smell coming from the room beyond. It smells like a septic tank that exploded. I pull out my bandana and tie it around my face in hopes that it blocks some of the stench out.
There is buckets on the floor filled with urine and feces, rotten food and milk containers on the floor, and a makeshift bed in the far corner. I pan my light over to the bed, there is a lump under the heap of blankets. Pulling down my bandana and placing my flashlight in my mouth, so I can have a free hand, I step just close enough to bend down and grab the corner of the blanket. I have my gun up, ready to shoot whatever is under the blanket, I rip the blanket away in one fluid motion. What I see makes me gasp, dropping the flashlight to the floor. My hands are shaking as I bend down to pick it back up and shine it on the bed.
There is a little girl wrapped up in old newspapers and trash. She looks fast asleep or at least I think she’s asleep. Bending down to check for a pulse, she opens her eyes. Before I know it, I was on my back with a makeshift knife at my throat.
“How could this child no more than nine years old move that fast and be that strong?” I wondered, daring not to move for my own safety. She is staring at me with such intensity that it felt like she is looking into my soul
“I am not going to hurt you, what is your name?” I was able to choke out.
Her hair is all in knots and it hung in her face like the vines in a thick jungle. I could not see anything but the searing glare in her eyes. She smells awful and seems to be malnourished, how did she stay alive this long? I know that if I make a sudden move she would certainly slit my throat and by the looks of her I wouldn’t doubt she would eat me for dinner.
“My name is Celeste and I am a soldier. How long have you been in this room? Did the other soldiers put you in here?” Still no response and I need to act fast.
In one quick movement and against my better judgement, I grab her wrist and twist her arm away from my face. She let out a shriek no louder than a kitten’s meow and I push her off of me. In a blink of an eye she was back on her ratty blanket then covering her whole body in it. I catch my breath and crawl over to her to try to get her to talk to me.
“Well if you don’t want to talk to me, would you like a little bit of food?” I ask her.
The blanket drops off of her head and she meets my eyes again but this time I could see her face. It is covered in a thick layer of dirt and her lips are extremely cracked to the point that blood is dripping from them. I reach over and grab my bag, taking out the canteen I have, I open it and take a drink, her eyes light up with excitement. I can see that she knew what it was, so I hand it to her.
Just like a frightened squirrel she grabbed it and huddles back into her corner. She gulps down the water in seconds and then throws the canteen back at me and tries to crack a smile, causing her lips to crack more. I can see that it hurt her to even do that but she was trying to clear her throat and that looks excruciating. With tears in her eyes she looks at me with a new expression, gratitude.
“Your welcome. Can you try and tell me your name now?” She motions me to come closer and with all the strength she had, she whispers one word, “Nell.”
“Its nice to meet you Nell” I said now with tears in my own eyes. She passes out and I decide to get some sleep as well.
“ Who is this girl?” was the last thought I have before I drifted off.