We're in the city. I won't tell you which one. I'm updating from a library right now - free internet access is always welcome. The comforts of a city are well worth the trek. And we're no safer here than we are anywhere else, but they come with enough advantages that we may as well make a beeline for them. As long as we keep moving.
I realised yesterday that I named this blog all wrong. I mean, we may have been driven from our homes by danger, but the idea of refuge is...naive. Nowhere is refuge from Him. Still, it's simple and catchy, I guess.
But where are my manners?
About eight months ago, I ran away from home. To be more accurate, I was forced away. I was seventeen at the time.
I kept moving around the country, like some kind of hermit. My problem just kept following me.
Eventually, one of the lackeys found me just outside a small town I'd been staying in, near Nottingham. He chased me. I ran.
Not fast enough. This was my first time in proper confrontation. I'd read about them, but I had no idea how fast someone gets when all they want is to rip you apart at the seams. I ran into a back alley, hoping to lose him. No good. He'd almost caught me. He was a thin man, but tall, with a long reach and a knife in his hand. If he caught me I was done. Vicious eyes behind a blank-faced mask. Hair hanging greasy from the side of his mask. An intimidating man even without the threat of danger.
Someone barrelled into the side of him. A tall, lightly bearded man, in excess of six feet, and muscular, clad in a black t-shirt and jeans. The other one - the proxy - clambered to his feet, but never even had time to face the man. He grabbed the proxy's arm and pulled him into the path of a powerful sideways swing of his fist, sinking deep and hard into his kidneys. He fell to his knees, groaning and coughing. The big man then stood back, ran forward and kicked the same spot again, like he was kicking a football. A crack of ribs. Shrieking from the Proxy.
I heard a rustling in the undergrowth. I whipped around to see five others standing nearby, watching. A tall black woman, a skinny, weedy looking man, and a troubled-looking middle-aged woman with a pretty teenage girl's hand on her shoulder. Behind me, the dull thuds of impact on flesh had become wet and heavy. The black woman shouted "Roland, that's enough!"
The big man, Roland, stood up. next to him, the thin man was bloodied and broken, his mask lying on the ground to reveal a face that was bruised and already swollen.
"Come on, Shannon, he can't chase us if he can't get up."
He placed a large foot on the proxy's leg. A look of distaste crossed Shannon's face. "Do what you have to do."
Roland raised his leg. I looked away and covered my ears. It still didn't stop the screams. The middle-aged woman looked horrified, and the teenage girl clutched at her shoulders.
Roland walked over beside me, the proxy's walled in his hand. Emptying the contents into his pocket, he looked down at me and said, in a grave voice, "Someone will have reported that. We need to go. Are you coming with us?"
I couldn't help but notice that his shoe was wet with blood.
So from then on, I moved with them. They showed me a lot - the things I should have with me, the things I wouldn't need. How to be safe. They were a friendly lot, in contrast with their introduction to me.
Shannon assigned Natalie to keep an eye on me. As patriarchal as this is going to sound, having a girl about my age looking after me was a blow to the ego. But she was excellent - physically fit, smart, and confident to the point of cockiness. You could see why Shannon deferred to her even more than to Roland. She did look down on me, insulting me when I wasn't keeping up, or was getting too relaxed, but these were flaws. She called me slow or weak because I was slow or weak - and after only a little while, I wasn't anymore. I realised that, since I'd ran, I'd been surviving purely by luck. In a real confrontation, like that other one, I would have been killed.
About a week later, we found Rachel. As much as I was looking forward to having my own charge, she was looked after by Lianne, the friendly middle-aged woman. Natalie's tough-love approach suddenly seemed like I'd drawn the short straw.
And that was two weeks ago. Since then, it's been the same. We walk. We camp. Sometimes we buy supplies. Sometimes we drive, if we've got the money. Rachel and I trying not to be a burden. And we always look out for one another. Because there's one mantra beaten into you as soon as you join up with these guys:
"There's always another nightfall coming."