Chapter 1: One

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 70

With a grumbling stomach, she walked into a chip shop that had just opened, trying to ignore the smell of sizzling fried chicken fat and vinegar. “Any work positions yet?”, she asked.

 

“No. I don’t know why you keep asking, you’ll keep getting the same answer. And don’t give us any more CVs, we still have plenty of copies.”

 

Millie sighed, “Thought so. Well, see you next week”

 

“Please don’t” she heard muttered from behind as she walked back out.

 

The few stores that weren’t empty, were now closing for their 5:00pm curfews. Everything was made of dirty old bricks; from the floor she kicked a stone across to the apartments above the shops and pubs. She stopped at a public bin and sprinkled the tobacco from left over cigarette butts, into a crinkled rolling paper and licked it together.

 

She soon finished smoking and flicked the remains at a purple arrow drawn onto a lamp post. She walked a little further on up the street and approached an open window of a bungalow. A one-eyed Border Collie ran up from inside and rested it paws on the windowsill, its tail wagging. “Shhhh” she giggled, “who’s a hungry boy?” she whispered, and slowly unzipped the front pocket of her backpack, and opened a packet of dog treats. She let him munch out of one hand, while rubbing the warm fur behind his ear with the other. Then hearing the old man call “Sam!” for the dog, she wiped the saliva off her hand, kissed his head, and continued down the street.

 

She noticed another purple arrow on a telephone booth, and smirked. Another was placed on a curb. More and more appeared in places she must have walked past a thousand times. It wasn’t long before she came to an arrow on a public pathway that pointed towards a field with trees in the distance. She sighed, but was not as disappointed as she was curious.

 

“It’s a good job it’s summer,” she thought, “Otherwise it would be dark on the way back”. She saw that the trees separated wider and wider apart as she went on, yet no arrows were in sight. Eventually, she could go no further when she reached a river. She estimated it to be 6 ft across and 3 feet deep, but she wasn’t sure she’d make the jump. After all, who would want one wet, squishy sock and one dry? But then she noticed something out of the corner of her eye, another arrow.

 

It was painted on a big grey rock, underwater. She looked back at where she came from. It was a risky jump or go back; but to what? She flung her backpack over to the other side of the river. No going back now. She distanced herself so she would have a bit of a run-up to the leap. “Don’t hesitate”, she thought; so she ran and jumped as far as she could.

 

Her feet just about landed on the grass and she slipped. Her left foot touched the water, but she managed to throw herself forward just in time; a good recovery, and a near fall. She turned over her shoulder for another peek back, gave a heavy breath of relief, picked up her backpack and journeyed on. She crossed a field through more trees, avoiding stinging nettles, all to follow these silly purple arrows.

 

During her doubts over whether she should carry on, she heard something. It was a distant howl, like a fox. She stopped to listen but heard nothing. She decided on ten more minutes before heading back. It was only two minutes or so when she could hear something again. Only this time, it wasn’t a howl.

 

It was music; guitars, singing and laughter. She saw another purple arrow that was pointing to the right. The noise was coming from the left. Hoping she’d find her way back to the arrows, she sneaked towards the melodies. There were two men camping, so she stopped to observe for a while.

 

She was gazing around looking for their tents when she noticed that they were sitting outside of a well camouflaged hut made of sticks, like a huge version of a child’s den, a wigwam.

 

After they had finished singing, one of them put the guitar down to reach over for a beer. That’s when she was spotted. 

 

“Hello?” One of the two men called. She stepped forward to show herself. 

 

“Hi. Err... nice singing.”

 

“How did you stumble over here?” His red, veiny eyes pierced through his dirty messy blonde fringe. It seemed even the birds stopped chirping, awaiting her response.

 

“I followed purple arrows, all the way from town”.

 

“Fuck off!” blurted the younger man, sat opposite with his hood up. They both started laughing as he reached into his pocket to hand money to the blonde man.

 

After putting the money in his pocket with a smirk, he asked another question, “What’s your name, chick?” 

 

She cleared her throat, “Millie”

 

“Well,” he replied, “It’s nice to meet you, Millie. Jase, grab a chair for the lady. The dirt and grass stains on his cargos mis-matched his perfectly clean tank-top. He gave a head nod as he went into the hut and came out with a foldout chair.

 

As he set up the chair, he pointed to his empty seat, “eey’are, park yourself there, that one’s comfier”.

 

“Oh, thank you.”

 

“This is Jason,” pointing an open palm to the younger man who grabbed the foldout chair, “And I’m Graham.” He continued, "We have tea, coffee, milk, beer, cream soda or water".

 

"Oh, I'm fine thank you"

 

"No need to be modest, I insist"

 

"Um, a cream soda then please, if that's OK"

 

"You must have been bored to follow arrows all the way here?" Jason asked, handing over the cold can.

 

"Not much else to do at the moment. I've been searching for work all day. I need a copy of my birth certificate in order to get a job, and need a job in order to get a birth certificate, let alone have a fixed address. It would be nice to be able to rent somewhere and have some stability. It won’t be summer forever. " She looked to the floor. "Or at least buy some tobacco."

 

Jason pulled out a deck of cigarettes and handed her one. "People rarely stumble our way. There are too many thorn bushes on almost all sides. Sometimes Vince walks his dog down here, but that’s about it. I figured only kids and seriously bored people would follow the arrows, and kids usually wouldn't come this far. I’m curious, did you see the arrow on the rock in the water?”

 

"Yeah, eventually. How did it get there?”

 

Jason laughed, “Just sprayed it on the rock, then dropped it into the water.”

 

‘Oh. That makes sense. Well, l think I’ll get going now. I didn’t mean to intrude."

 

"No, no, we just don't want trouble makers here, that's all. I mean, we have to protect our home"

 

Oh, so you like, live here?

 

Graham paused for a moment. “Yes" Graham explained, " it's not bricks with electricity, but good enough is good enough.”

 

“It looks very well built, better than I could ever have done. What were you singing by the way? It sounded good"

 

"OPM. Heaven is a half-pipe.” Graham picked his guitar up and began playing it again. Millie smiled embarrassingly as he sang another two lines of the top of his lungs. Jason gave him a clap.

 

“You’re too kind, sir” he laughed. Then he turned to Millie, “you hungry?”

 

“Err, not really.” She hadn’t eaten anything more than two packets of crisps and a chocolate bar that day. “Well, peckish”.

 

"Do you prefer tuna mayo or ham n’ cheese?"

 

"Ham, I guess"

 

Jason opened a cooler and passed her some squashed sandwiches strangled in cling film.

 

“So, you’re looking to rent a house. Where do you live with at the moment?”

 

“I don’t really have a home at the moment.”

 

“So where have you been sleeping?”

 

“Behind the council, behind supermarkets, anywhere with a generator or fan that extracts heat, mostly.”

 

Jason and Graham shot each other a look, and Millie suddenly felt she shouldn’t be telling strangers where she is vulnerable.

 

Graham smiled, “Well you’re more than welcome to stay here for the night.”

 

“Oh, Thank you, that’s a very kind offer.”

 

“Just don’t tell anyone that we are here. We’ve already had some suited nitwit in boots from the council this morning, telling us this land belongs to the council, and that they intend to sell it. The last thing we want is people thinking it’s a free campsight. We build this with our bare hands and spent a long time slowly developing it. You understand?”

 

“Yes, of course. I’ve no-one to tell anyway.”

 

He stared at her for a moment. “Well ok then”

 

“Thanks. Again. Um, I’ll be back in a moment, I have to attend to some lady business” she said with red cheeks, picking up her backpack.

 

Jason stood up, “follow me, I’ll show you where the commode is.”

 

“The what, sorry?”

 

“Commode. Our version of a public toilet.”

 

“oh. Wait, you built a toilet?”

 

Graham laughed, “If you can call it that.”

 

“The Bambooth” Jason smirked, over his shoulder. “Come on.” After doing so, she noticed that about twenty-five metres away, one of the taller bushes was in fact a tall box covered in branches and leaves. “We have a DIY shower too, but most of the time we just use a Gym membership. Plus you get a sauna out of it, and an insured locker. Jason opened the door ajar. “There y’are”.

 

There, in the booth made of bamboo covered in twigs and leaves tied to it, was a fold out chair with a hole in the middle of the seat, and a bag hanging from it.

 

“When you’re done, tie the bag up, tightly! Then place it over there with the others” he explained, pointing to two bags nearby. “We’ll take them into town tomorrow. Be sure to replace the bag properly encase, you know, someone’s running to it in an emergency” he said, before walking back.

 

As she sat, feeling vulnerable, two new voices emerged in the distance. One was definitely a woman. The voices quietened as she walked back. Graham spoke, “Millie, this is April and Scott.” April gave a bright smile. Scott didn’t move a facial muscle. Graham continued, “we have taken a vote, and decided you can stay, so long as you chip in once you find work.”

 

“Oh, wow, really? Thanks! Thanks everyone, you’re so kind.”

 

Scott sat on the grass and looked on into the distance. Jason offered her a handshake and April stood smiling, staring. Graham continued, “They’ve just got back from town. Anyway, there are two ways contributions work. First is chores, so going to town once a week with the rubbish, getting supplies, washing up and so on. The second is financial contributions. When you work, you pay National Insurance which funds healthcare, and tax which funds roads, youth centres, police and all that. We do the same here. Everyone chips in so we never run out of supplies. Plus we have movie nights on the phone on Saturdays, with pizza.

 

“It may sound like a lot now,” April empathised, “but within a week you’ll get used to how things are done.”

 

“Exactly,” Graham agreed, “Any left over money you have from future work after chipping in, is yours to spend on activities or junk food. Or a birth certificate, whatever you like really. Or you can always waste it all on clothes like April”. April smiled with a tilted head and raised her middle finger. Graham stood up unphased, “In the meantime, you can help me with my work. I’ll show you tomorrow, and help you get your birth certificate. Right now, we have a problem to address”

 

Scott whipped his head around, as if his daydreaming were rudely interrupted. “What problem?”

 

“While you and Scott were in town, Jason and I had an unexpected visitor,” Graham explained. “Some fella from the council said they intend to sell this land.”

 

“Who to?” asked Scott.

 

“He wouldn’t say. It’s confidential, apparently. Point is, they said we have one week to get gone, and they’ll be back to renovate the land for offices.”

 

“Wankers.” April sighed. “Where are we supposed to go?”

 

“I don’t know, yet. Sometimes I wonder what upsets them more, the thought of homeless people or the thought of housing them.”

 

“Maybe you could... Well, I don’t know if it will work.” Millie said, hiding her hands in her lap.

 

“What is it? What you thinking?” Scott asked.

 

“I don’t know if this will work against a big company or the council or whatever, but perhaps if you get legal aid of some sort, and challenge them under the ground of some rights, like squatter’s rights or something, you could prolong it.”

 

“You really think that will work?” April asked.

 

“No.” said Millie. “But even if you don’t win the case, court systems take weeks, sometimes months to get organised for trials, so it could buy you some more time.”

 

Graham rubbed his chin, “leave it with me.”

 

“The quiet girl has brains,” said Jason. “Good job we voted her in, ‘ey Scott?”

 

Scott looked away.

 

April linked an arm with Millie, “Let’s see your luxurious room, ay.”

 

Millie’s eyes widened as she entered the wigwam. Large tapestries of Bohemian patterns covered the walls, complimented by a ceiling of fairy lights. In one corner, were two coolers, a hanging calendar, and a stack of plastic tubs and some boxes, resting on an imperfectly built kitchen counter. Above, hung utensils and a shelf of herbs. Next to the kitchen was a space of empty floor and some bean bags. The rest of the wigwam was hidden by a few sets of curtains, hanging from shower rails, which hung from string. She could see, from where they weren’t fully drawn, open suitcases of clothes next to blanketed airbeds, each with a torch dangling above.

 

“Where do you plug in the fairy lights?”

 

“Ah,” April’s face dropped into a serious tone. “We once had a strange woman visit. She came from the woods, with three white rabbits following closely by her feet. We asked who she was, but she never spoke, not a word. One by one, she picked up the rabbits, and calmly slit their throats. The black magic has gev’ us electricity ever since.”

 

Millie stood baffled.

 

“Just kidding. Rechargeable batteries”

 

“Oh.” She smiled.

 

April drawn back a curtain, revealing a small space with some boxes, and another airbed perched behind against the wall. “Give us a chuck then.”

 

“A what?”

 

“A hand, moving these into the living room”

 

“The place looks lovely”, said Millie, heaving up a box. “I just hope I’m not a liability or anything”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I don’t know, I just don’t want to get under anyone’s feet.”

 

April placed the last box next to the bean bags, and turned to see where Millie was looking, to see Scott, peeling a label off a beer bottle. April turned back to Millie. “Well I’ve been dying to have another female around here.” She rested a hand on her shoulder, “and if anyone has a problem with that, they’ll have to answer to me.”

 

She smiled. “Thanks.” Then she swallowed, “Um, how does the shower work?”

 

 “I’ll show you tomorrow, after the lads bring back some more water from town. Until then…” She walked across the room to fetch a packet of baby wipes and roll-on deodorant. “…It’s the next best thing to a shower.”

 

After wiping herself down, it was the freshest she had felt in a few months. Only an hour ago she was worried some strange men were going to hurt her. Now she felt she had been invited to something worthwhile for the first time since she could remember. She couldn’t figure out what she did to deserve the luck, yet she wasn’t going to let such wonders get in the way of her relief. This is the first time she had felt joy in a long time.

 

After getting dressed into some clothes borrowed from April, she sat with the others and listened to their debates, singing and jokes. As the sun began to fall tired, she looked at the top of the wigwam and saw a plank of wood held up by string that, in purple paint, displayed a single word, ‘home’.


Submitted: May 26, 2021

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