Chapter Six - Changes

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Annalise puffed down the cigarette quickly and immediately, despite the fact that they were in such short supply, she lit another with the still burning stub of the first.

She had almost smoked that second cigarette before the door beside her opened and Jack joined her out in the corridor, closing the door quietly behind him.

“How is he?” she asked.

“About as good as can be expected, I think,” he replied, shaking his head. “Seeing Jackie's head like that shook me up and I know it did you, too, so I reckon we can multiply that by a couple of million and maybe we're somewhere close to how Fawaz is doing.”

“I know, I know,” she replied as she lit yet another cigarette. “James is frantic, too, but I think he's coming to terms with the fact that considering what happened to Jackie, Fi's dead as well.”

“Pretty likely, I'd say.”

“I hate this. People are dying all around and there's not a damn thing we can do to stop it.” She paused and took a long, deep draw upon the cigarette. “If it's not the damn Zeds it's other bloody people. The Zeds I get, I mean I don't like it but I get it but people? Actual human people?”

“Not sure we can class them as human,” Jack replied with a weak smile. “Anyone who can do that is a damn monster in my book.”

“I'm not gonna' argue,” she replied, pushing her body away from the wall where up until that point, she'd been leaning. “Listen, I have to get some air... Gather everyone around the fire for me, I'll be back in a half hour or so.”

***

When Annalise entered the hotel via the front doors, making sure they were securely closed behind her, it was a worryingly small group of people that she saw gathered around the large brick fireplace situated directly in the centre of the building.

As she approached she completed a silent roll call of sorts.

James, Jack, Sarah, Joan... Fawaz and Richard weren't there but she knew they were safe.

That left five of them, really, who were capable of defending themselves and their home. She had no doubt that the younger boys would be able to play their part and in years to come – an awful thought, but she had no idea how long it was going to be before the world returned to anything that resembled normality – they would be strong men, hardened by the harshness of the world in which they lived. Until then, they were the responsibility of the rest of the group.

“Thanks, all of you, for stopping whatever it was you were doing, and coming to this meeting.”

“A little sparse, now,” Jack said, quietly.

“Fi will return soon enough,” said James, though Annalise could tell he was merely clinging on to a few remnants of hope, rather than having any real expectations that his wife was alive. She thought it best to simply smile, and move on.

“We have to make some changes. When Jackie and Fi went out they did so without weapons. That cannot happen again. If we're going out on a run of any kind, we do so armed. Now I know it was my fault they were out there in the first place and that's on me, I take full responsibility. That said, it doesn't alter the fact that they should have been armed.”

Sarah and Jack nodded, solemnly. Joan ran her grubby fingers through her dirty hair, and James simply stared off into space.

“Until – assuming that we do – we add to our group, we go out in a group of three leaving two to defend our home, along with the boys who'll help out where they can. We go to abandoned places only, wherever possible. If we get the slightest inkling that something isn't right, we get out as quickly as we can.”

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