Prompt: "seed" (source)
Notes: just for fun entry written for week 2 of brigits_flame. Kind of depressing.
"They say it's coming soon," Mama said. She was lying in bed, a small porcelain doll with two big specks of red on her cheeks.
It took me a moment to reply; I was untangling a knot. I was making a lot of knots those days. "They've said it before," I said. "And look what's happened."
Mama smiled. "Always the pessimist." She reached out an arm and gently brushed my hand. She couldn't reach my face.
I forced a smile and returned to my knot. I'd hardly been at it for more than a minute when I was interrupted.
"It's coming!" Georgie burst in through the door. Surprised at her sudden appearance, I stuck myself with the needle. "It's coming, it's coming!"
"Really?" I dropped my sewing to my lap in shock. "It's here?"
"What's here?" Mama asked. She had been drifting in and out of consciousness all day.
Georgie held her arms out and twirled around the room. "The food!"
A smile bloomed on Mama's face. It was a look I hadn't seen for a while, and it made everything better. "I'm coming," she said, trying in vain to get out of bed.
"You can't, Mama," I said. I'd put away my sewing and was getting out my best dress. It didn't fit, but what dress did fit these days? It didn't have stains or tears, and that was just going to have to do.
Georgie glared at me. She was next to the bed, helping Mama to her feet. In the time it'd taken me to get ready, she was already in her cleanest dress and real shoes. She looked like an insect dressed in finery, slim limbs and all. "She wants to come."
"But she can't!"
"I will," Mama said. Georgie, one arm wrapped around Mama's waist, stuck out her tongue at me. Knowing I was beat, I hurried over and helped Mama to her feet. Even with as small as Mama was, the two of us still had trouble getting her out of bed. Getting her dressed was even worse, but cleaning her up was the worst.
We were just finishing up Mama's face paint, just a swipe of red on her lips and some more red on her cheeks to even out her color, when she said it. "Is Tam going to come?"
I narrowly avoided rubbing red all over her face.
"No, Mama," Georgie said gently, from behind her head. "He isn't."
I looked pointedly at Georgie, but she refused to meet my gaze.
We were almost out the door, Mama with both arms wrapped around our shoulders, when she tripped and broke loose from our grips. "I don't think I can go," she said from her position on the floor.
"But Mama--" Georgie started.
I cut her off. "It's okay, Mama. We'll bring back enough for you."
Georgie's face looked crestfallen. I didn't know for certain, but I was pretty sure mine did too.
When we finally left, Mama was back in bed. She'd refused to let us change her clothes or clean her up. "I'm already clean," she said, a little breathlessly. The makeup had a crude effect, the red standing out garishly against her white skin. Outside, the road was full of bodies.
Ignoring the one outside our own gate, we waved down Mr. Findley and Bron. "Girls," he said. He looked exhausted. Everyone looked exhausted.
"Are you going to town?" Georgie said, somehow finding the strength to bounce slightly.
"Yes we are," Mr. Findley said. "They say the food has finally come."
Georgie nodded. "It has. I saw it with my own two eyes."
"Three years late," Bron said under his breath. Keeping my eyes directed straight ahead, deliberately not looking at the road or the Berkshaws laying outside their gate, I nodded silently in agreement.
"How's Torin and Vetta and all the rest?" Georgie asked.
Subtext hidden behind every word, Mr. Findley replied, "They can't make it." Bron clenched his lips together, making them as white as his skin.
"Oh," Georgie said, in a small voice. She shrunk a little and didn't speak again.
By the time we made it to town, our small group had grown significantly. Elderly Mrs. Adson and her grandsons Jolian and Covin, both Mr. and Mrs. Marion from the farm closest to town, Levena the school teacher. Even more striking was the number of people who didn't come. Like Mama. Or Tam.
The transport was stalled outside town hall, in the middle of the square. It wasn't as big as I'd been expecting - but after a while I'd stopped expecting much of anything. There was a big crowd milling around the square. Our group stopped, surprised by the sight of so many people. It was the most people I'd seen at one time since--well, before everything.
"We're going to the front," Mr. Findley said. He nodded curtly at the rest of us and set off into the milling crowd. Bron squared his shoulders and followed after his father. Both were out of sight within seconds, devoured by the crowd.
This sparked the rest of our group into spreading out. Some headed into the crowd as well; others toward people they knew. Finally only Georgie and I were left, on the outskirts of the square.
I turned to Georgie and asked, "What do you want to do?"
"Let's go to the front."
We followed Mr. Findley and Bron's path through the crowd as best we could. It was hard, though, harder than I would've thought. Everyone wanted to be up at the front, to be the first to receive the provisions. The crowd itself was an ever-moving creature, with thousands of angry limbs. Submerged in so many undulating bodies, I felt as if I were drowning. Sweat rolled down my skin. Someone's elbow clipped my cheek; someone else's got my shoulder. I felt nauseated.
Even when we couldn't see one another, Georgie clung to my hand.
Somehow we made it to the front, the transport was the only thing in front of us. Mr. Findley and Bron stood off to the side, both big men, big and spindly. Just as spindly as Georgie in her white and lace dress. Just as spindly as me and Mama and Tam in the end.
We weren't there for long before a man in camouflage climbed to the top of the transport, a bullhorn in hand. He organized the crowd, making it one long, slim line. Mr. Findley and Bron were ahead of us. Georgie and I stood together.
Two more men, both in camouflage with guns strapped to their shoulders, walked around to the bed of the transport. One unlocked it.
I could hear Georgie chanting beside me, her voice almost entirely drowned out by the crowd. I leaned in to hear, "Cake and tarts and cookies and biscuits--"
The back of the transport raised to the sky. The crowd pressed up against our backs, nearly swallowing us whole.
The scent of rot billowed out.
Mr. Findley and Bron both rushed up to the transport. They were given one loaf of bread each, and something else wrapped in a small, dirt-gray cloth, neatly tied shut with a bright yellow ribbon.
Georgie and I followed them. My loaf of bread was as hard as a rock. Georgie's had a small patch of green on one end. "It's bread," Georgie said, a little sad.
"It's rotten," I said. I turned to one of the men in camouflage. "Can we have another?" I asked. "My mother--she couldn't make it--"
He shook his head.
"But--" I stopped speaking when he reached for his gun.
We made our way out of the square, passing by the line of people, each with a loaf in hand. I was carrying a package, the same as the one given to Mr. Findley and Bron.
"What's in the bag?" some of the people from the crowd called out. I shook my head. Georgie was devouring her bread, ignoring the green.
The road home was full of bodies. Mr. Findley and Bron were ahead of us. I thought about chasing after them, to talk or complain or something, but I just couldn't find the energy. I couldn't find the energy to do much of anything anymore.
"Will you open it when we get home?" Georgie asked.
I didn't respond.
At home, I dropped the loaf to the table and slid off my nice, stiff leather shoes. I placed them neatly next to the door. I then climbed into bed, careful not to wake Mama. I left my dress on, lace and all. I wrapped an arm around Mama's slim shoulders. She was cool and stiff.
"I'm opening the package, okay?" Georgie asked. She didn't wait for a response, and I soon heard her carefully undoing that cheerful yellow ribbon. "I wonder what it is," she said curiously. "Maybe it's tokens for more food, or a list of dates they'll be coming back!"
I didn't say a word. I just closed my eyes and pulled Mama close to my chest.
"It's seeds," Georgie said, surprised. I heard a thump from the table. "A bunch of little seeds. Collie, get up, get up! It's a new beginning! They're seeds for a new beginning! We can go plant them--"
She hadn't finished speaking before a familiar deep, earthy scent swept through the house.
"Oh, no, Collie, oh no," Georgie said in despair. "They're rotten. All the seeds are rotten!"