(5) Telemarketer of the Apocalypse

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I bound down the rest of the stairs to find the other two clustered around Calico J in the living room. He's furiously texting someone. I elbow my way between Ditzy and Patrick to get a look at the phone. "Let me see. J? Who replied?"

He's grinning like an idiot. Ditzy has her distant, polite smile on still, and Patrick looks nervous, which is nothing new. Calico J tilts the phone for me to see.

Are you legit? reads the first text on the screen. Because I've been getting scam calls for the last six weeks, and if this is one more telemarketer in the middle of the apocalypse, I swear to god I will hunt you down and feed you to the devil myself.

"Good thing only my dad believes in the devil," says Calico J cheerfully.

I read the text again with a feeling somewhere between skepticism and revulsion. "There are still telemarketers out and about?"

"Probably just bots," says Calico J. He finishes his text and sends it off with a flourish. "I told them we're legit."

"They sound..."

"Aggressive?" volunteers Patrick when I can't find a way to phrase it diplomatically.

"That's one way of putting it." I reach around Calico J's shoulder and scroll back up to the original texts to read them again. "Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed, jeez. I mean, I get being angry if you've been getting scam-called when everyone's desperate to hear from friends and family, but still. Feeding us to the devil is a little extreme."

"On the flipside, they've survived this long." Calico J stares at the screen for a long moment, but there's no indication yet that the other person is replying. "Their area code is local, too. Just the next region over."

"You know this how?"

He points to Patrick. That makes marginally more sense. Calico J and I met on the university campus in the second week after Red Thursday, and I know we're both from out of town. Patrick and Ditzy are locals. Well, Ditzy is. There are a lot of things we still don't know about Patrick.

"Do they know we're here, too?" I say. "Your area code is still from Haliware, isn't it?"

Calico J scrolls down and shows me what he wrote back. He told them already. One step ahead of me, as per usual.

The phone bings as a new text pops up. Wow. For real? We haven't found any new ones in weeks. Where are you guys?

Calico J replies again. Chesnet. Just south of Cape Morgan. You?

Plyster-Anport county

"Just north of the Cape," says Ditzy when Calico J looks to Patrick helplessly.

He nods and goes back to the phone. How many of you are there?

About sixteen now. Are you alone?

I catch Calico J before he texts back. "Do we want to trust them?" I whisper, as though the person on the other end can hear.

"They're survivors, Meg. People."

"Exactly. That's the problem." I clench my jaw as I try to put words to my feelings without sounding like an asshole. "And there are a lot more of them than us. Are we comfortable meeting them? I mean, I get that more survivors equals more information at this point, but how do we weigh that against the risks?" I glance around at each of us. "Like, I know we've gotten lucky for the most part, but Ditzy at least has had bad experiences. And I don't know about you guys, but I really don't want to get tangled up in whatever post-apocalyptic dystopian nonsense people spiral into when society falls apart. Personal opinion."

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