It took just under a week for the group to clean up the block they had selected, passing the other blocks off as camouflage and barriers to the rest of the world. Everyone was beginning to become accustomed to their new daily routine. The watch-shifts went off without a hitch, other than Kiersten complaining about the bumping and thumping around on her roof, and meals were going well so far, excepting the incident where Erica had unknowingly spilled a bottle of tobasco sauce into a batch of bread. Nightgames were scheduled every night on a unanimous vote. Devon had found a few emergency generators and rigged them into a crude sort of electric company in the alleyway, joking that everyone had better pay their bills on time or else! The electricity to the neighborhood had been cut long ago… it was a miracle the water was still working, else it was drawn from its own private reservoir which no one had used in over 12 years. Devon used her tech-know-how (and a little laptop Internet searching) to scrounge up a cable grabber, and managed to hook up cable in every house. This kept Libbi and Erica (whose parents couldn’t afford cable TV) inside for most of the day, excluding their watch shifts.
Most everybody tired of daytime programming eventually, though, and soon Kiersten and the Arispes began a joint effort at backyard cleanup. The lawns were overrun with weeds, some of the fencing was on its way out, and the deck in back of Kiersten’s place was almost past repair. The group tore out portions of the fence to make gates connecting their backyards. At Kiersten’s request, they also tilled out a moderate plot of ground for a garden, due to her love of home-grown veggies.
"My dad used to have a green thumb," she said, breaking up the earth with her shovel and turning it. "He could grow the most delicious things…." It showed on her face just how much she missed her parents. Coping wouldn’t be the easiest thing for her, but she’d get along.
Devon, meanwhile, was tinkering with various pieces of equipment she’d scavenged. Given a little bit of wire and solder, she could make anything run, or at least, she was convinced. After all, she’d only watched her dad repair electronics for most of her life; she should’ve learned something in all that time! The blender she was poking at suddenly roared to life on the highest setting and immediately sparked out. Devon jumped away from it, startled out of her wits, and toppled off her stool, finding herself on the sawdust coated floor of the garage.
Lisa took to a life of leisure like a cat takes to tuna pate’. Even on her watch, she’d be up on the roof in her bathing suit, catching rays.
When he wasn’t wrapped up in his soap operas, Ben was busying himself scrounging wood for the watch-fort, which the group determined would be placed at the east end of the block. Only the girls’ constant complaining about the heat-of-the-day watches would pry him outside before 3:00. Anything to shut them up, he thought.
To say that they adapted to the dinner system would be a definite understatement. The group of them would go out to eat in town once weekly, even though Kiersten balked at the idea at first, saying that it would be too risky for them to be seen. Ben eventually talked her into it, pointing out that they would have to go in town at least once a week for groceries anyhow, and how would they keep from being seen then? Okay, she admitted, they would have to be seen sometime if they were to have any fun at all. No one had a grudge about cooking once a week for everybody else, and found that they often had help and hands to spare if they needed them. The only limitation they faced was keeping the menu in good nutrition… a necessary evil that met with grumbles but had to remain intact. Salad became very popular, being one of the few things everyone would eat without complaint. Kiersten hated green peppers, Libbi wouldn’t touch mushrooms or spinach, Lisa and Devon shared a hatred of onions.
It took nearly three weeks, but Ben had finally finished constructing the watch tower in the big willow tree at the end of the block. The design was simple enough… a big half-box with a roof overhead. Of course, they’d had to equip the little stand with plenty of things… several various viewing pieces, the largest being Kiersten’s telescope (which she daringly returned to the apartment for), a radio/cassette player, numerous benches, chairs and pillows, books, comics, and puzzles, a small refrigerator and microwave, a space heater for the winter, and (thanks to Devon’s ingenuity) a small spare generator to run it all. Still, the watch of two hours was agreed to be extremely boring.
Ben was scheduled in for the current slot, which, he mourned, was between noon and two, when "All My Children" was on. Not that he couldn’t live without seeing it just for one day… he didn’t want the girls to think that he would break down or anything without it. Ben was THE guy in the group. Come to think of it, that wasn’t such a bad thing…
He tried to keep his thoughts clean as he peered through the telescope at the edge of the neighborhood. The day was hot, but not overly so. Summer was approaching fast, though. He didn’t like the thought of that… only the morning and evening shifts would be cool enough to keep from passing out. He would have to mention putting in an electric fan, maybe a car AC system. Devon could handle it if she could do the rest of this, surely. Ben had to admit, she was an electronic genius.
He scanned the east half of the neighborhood, pausing to take a sip of Kool-Aid. He had almost passed over the middle sector when a metallic flash caught his eye. Focussing in on it, he saw that it was a metal backpack clip, reflecting the sunlight in his direction. Yup, people. Several of ‘em. Didn’t look like a search party… in fact, the leading girl looked about Kiersten’s age, maybe a little older. A boy of about the same age was right behind her, and a handful of girls followed them, probably closer to Libbi and Erica’s ages. One of the older ones had a brown-haired boy of about five years piggybacked.
Ben scrabbled down the rough rope ladder, almost missing the rungs a few times on his way down. Lisa’s house was the closest, and he bolted for it first. She was out in the front yard, tanning, as was her habit this time of day. "Company’s coming!" he yelled to her and streaked off to warn the others. She ran inside to change into something a little more practical than her swimsuit.
"Yeah, looks like a bunch of kids. Good job, Ben. Get some weapons and meet us. We’ll try to head ‘em off at the second block. Unless they move, we’ll be able to intercept their path. Dev and I will have a look… see what they want," Kiersten said as she gazed through the eyepiece. "They look friendly enough." Kiersten and Devon started across the empty streets to meet their guests. Ben took off in the other direction for the weaponry.
"You think they’ll wanna move in with us, Kiersten?" Devon asked.
"Well, maybe. If not, there’s plenty of room in this ol’ neighborhood. They can just find their own block and clean it out! Ha!"
"Look, here come the others. Oh, more BB guns… that’s mature…"
"Better than nothing," called Ben, jogging up to her and handing her one. "I don’t see you complaining about being saved by one the other night…"
She daintily accepted the present and slung it over her shoulder. "Yeah, well…" The group of newcomers was just strolling up to them.
"Jenn, I thought you said it was deserted!" the boy said.
The leading girl gawked. "Well, it was two weeks ago…"
"It was," said Kiersten, striding up to Jenn, who towered over her. "But then we moved in. Kiersten Radosevich. That’s Devon, Ben, Libbi and Erica, and Lisa."
"I’m Jenn… Jenn Ross. This here’s Stephen. The sisters here are Tia and Amanda, and the other sisters there are Paige and Krystal, and their cousin Will. And then there’s Lauren." Lauren grumbled something about being last all the time. Jenn ignored her and glared apprehensively at the guns. Devon followed her gaze.
"Oh! No, don’t worry about that. Just in case y’all weren’t agreeable," she said, extending a hand to Jenn, who took it eagerly.
"You look tired. Come on, you can crash at our places until we get some houses cleaned out for ye. Get ye something to eat, if you’re hungry," Kiersten offered, leading the way.
"Got any marshmallows?" chorused Krystal and Lauren in unison.
Kiersten laughed out loud. "We’re gonna get along just fine," she said assuredly.
"So, why’re you guys here?" Lisa pointed a questioning fork at Jenn.
"Our lives all kinda bit the dust. Ironic, really. Paige and Krystal’s mom and Will’s mom were in one car, and Tia and Mandy’s was in another. All of ‘em were single parents… Paige and Krystal’s divorced, and Will’s and Tia and Mandy’s dads both died, so their moms were widows. Anyway, it was just a weird, sick twist of fate that they both happened to be in the same place at the same time… Tia’s mom ran a stoplight because she wasn’t paying attention, and at the same time, Paige was late getting to her volleyball game and Gayle ran the yellow to make the light. Boom. Three fatalities, all at once. Paige was the only one that came out of that mess alive, and she had a concussion and whiplash for the longest time. Well, Paige and Krystal weren’t about to be handed over to their alcoholic son of a bitch dad, and Tia and Mandy didn’t have anyone else to turn to, so I kinda took them all under my wing for a while. I hate my parents… they’re jerks. I wanted to get away from them as soon as possible. Stephen joined up because his dad was trying to force him into a career as the country’s top lawyer at any cost. Lauren just tagged along with the rest of her friends, Krystal and Paige and Tia. And we knew this place was deserted, so we kinda packed up and left." She concluded by taking another serving of fresh green salad.
"Sounds way too familiar, huh, guys?" Devon said, glancing around.
"Yup. Bet you’re not all over the shock of it. I know Kiersten isn’t… no offense," corrected Ben quickly.
"None taken, Ben. Doubt I’ll ever be over it. I can’t believe I…"
"Kiersten, don’t you even finish that thought! For the last time, it wasn’t your fault!" Lisa scolded.
"Yeah…" She stared blankly down at her spaghetti. "I’m done. You guys coming out for nightgames? I think that’d be a suitable welcome."
"What’re night games?" Paige asked.
"You mean you’ve never had a nightgames?! Oh! You’ll love it! You play games like Sardines, and Capture the Flag, and…"
"…and hide and go sneak?" interrupted Will.
"Seek, Will," Krystal corrected him.
"Sneak!" Will replied. Krystal banged her forehead with one hand.
"AND we do other stuff. We roast marshmallows, and tell ghost stories… you’ll love Kiersten’s, she’s got a great voice for it… and tease bats.."
"Bats?" Stephen gulped nervously.
"Yeah… you phobic or sumthin’? You won’t be by the end of the week, I promise. Libbi was when Devon brought it up, just like I was about lizards before Kiersten dropped one DOWN MY SHIRT…" Erica glared emphatically at Kiersten.
"Well, hey! It’s not my fault you’re a wimp about reptiles!"
Stephen chuckled. "Sounds really fun, but I think I’ll keep away from the BATS…"
"Be glad there’s no chance of Kiers dropping one of those down yer shirt!" Ben joked.
Kiersten laughed. "Meet you all outside around sunset… that’s in about half an hour. You can unpack your gear and get a little time to yourselves now. See ya!" Kiersten let the screen door slam shut as she strolled back to her house.
"Lise?" Jenn looked to her new friend coolly.
"What was Ben talking about the other night, about Kiersten not getting over it and all that? What happened to you guys that you’re here?"
Lisa sat up off the lawn. As it turned out, she and Jenn struck it off right away and were spending hours a day just tanning and talking. She felt like she could trust the new girl even though they barely knew each other.
"Kiersten," she started out, "is now the last in her bloodline, and chances are she won’t survive past her thirties… there’s some odd thing in her genetics that the doctors have no cure for. Some weird virus… kinda like AIDS. Her mother passed away a couple weeks ago and left her an orphan. A very rich orphan, but an orphan. Instead of going to another family, she decided to leave, and Ben and his sisters didn’t want to move away, and Devon didn’t want to see her family separated, and I tagged along because life was boring."
"So she’s leading?"
"Well, I guess so. She’s very good about it and all.. she’s not the oldest, exactly, but she’s the smartest, and she’s got all the money."
"Do you like it here? With her in charge, I mean. She’s… kind of a dork."
"Well, it’s better than going to school. Kiersten insists on trying to be self-sufficient, even though we break that rule often enough to go get supplies and things. There’s wild animals near here that come down out of the hills right into my backyard, and that’s neat, but I’m beginning to miss civilization. Why do you ask?
"Just little worries to kill," Jenn smiled pleasantly.