(4) Safe as Houses

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My first rule for finding safe houses is that we go as far from the last ones as we can. The Redding found Calico J and I in our first one after only two days. When we picked up Ditzy, that put us into a completely new neighborhood, so we bunkered down... we lasted twice as long there, and four days still isn't that impressive in the grand scheme of things, but you can't really expect better in the middle of the apocalypse. Or so I thought. I decided to test the distance thing for the next safe house, and we were safe there for a whole week.

Dawn is just painting the sky coral-pink when we slip out of the house. The Redding in the basement had gathered to a sizable puddle by the time we left, but Ditzy was right: it had only found a small crack. Better than the last basement, which had an inch of the stuff on the floor by the time any of us found it. I don't know what the owners of that house would have done in the winter; I'm told the storms that beat up this coastline are flooders when they have a mind to be.

I'm tired. Calico J and Patrick aren't helping; J keeps yawning into his fist, and Patrick skulks along at the back of the group looking like death warmed over. He's a bit taller than I am, but he somehow always manages to make himself look small. It doesn't help that he's a skinny enough kid that Calico J keeps trying to feed him.

Ditzy alone isn't showing any trace of having woken up at three AM. She insists on walking beside the sidewalk—something-something our turn to occupy the road, something-something show of dominance; I don't think she even hates cars, she just likes being obstructive. Her head is up and her eyes sparkle as she surveys the empty scenery. There's really nothing around. We haven't seen another survivor in weeks, and even the birds are gone. There's no sign of Sleepers. Still, Ditzy twirls her baseball bat in one hand in a show of attack-readiness, or maybe just a very lethal fiddly toy. It's making Patrick nervous.

Calico J moves up beside me once we're out of the neighborhood. "Where are you thinking?"

"Uptown east side. It's far enough from the last two places, and the land there's a bit higher, too; if we're lucky, it should be at least a little harder for the Redding to reach us there. The one tricky thing is going to be food."

He huffs a laugh. "In uptown east side? Yeah, no kidding."

"I mean, there are restaurants. Very fancy restaurants. We could try cracking into a few of those to see what they have in their pantries."

"Sounds like an adventure," chips in Ditzy with a too-bright grin. I already know there won't be any lockpicking or subtle entry if she's involved, but right now I'm honestly too tired to care. If she wants to smash in a front window or two, we can deal with getting sued after humanity's found its way out of the apocalypse.

"Isn't there a good Indian restaurant up on Banokik street?" says Calico J. "Can we start there? I want to restock on spices."

"You're in charge of food, man. We can start wherever you want. I just find safe houses."

Okay, that's not entirely true. But if it was me in the kitchen, we'd be eating one-pot basics like chili or dal for days on end, and that idea got vetoed the moment Ditzy found out Calico J can cook. We still do a rotation, but I'm not the one finding a use for mace or amchur powder just because they sound fun.

Calico J pulls out his phone. I'm about to drop a reminder that the internet went out five weeks ago, but he's already two steps ahead of me, naturally; it's just his contact project again. He whoops as two bars of service flicker at the top of his screen. A local cell tower got in on the electricity redistribution last night, then, and managed to recharge its backup batteries.

I turn my eyes back to street names as we wend our way towards the poshest part of town. The only sounds for the next half-hour are our own feet, the rustle of an October breeze, tumbling leaves, and the near-inaudible tapping of Calico J's phone keyboard. I'm surprised he's still got battery. We've been sharing around my solar charger, but I'm pretty sure he last used it more than half a week ago.

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