Martin swore the new place was safe enough, and I believed him. He was usually right. Besides, I didn’t trust my instincts anymore. Not after I’d led the others straight into a band of Rovers squatting in the basement of the arcade. I’d been sure it was abandoned, but the Rovers beat us there.
We ran, of course, dragging Josie between us. Found a spot between two brownstones. It was less of an alley than a crevice, the kind of place kids used to get stuck in back when there was a fire department to call. We squeezed in and huddled behind a rusted-out refrigerator that was wedged in the narrow space. I was sure they’d hear us hauling Josie over the top of that fridge, but they ran on by, howling like madmen. We were lucky.
The crevice opened out into a cramped courtyard, surrounded on all sides by the brick walls of the surrounding buildings. It felt like an architectural oversight, this strange little space. The only other way out was up a drainpipe. It was a good place to hole up for a while.
That night, Josie dragged a cracked planter into the corner, made herself a little nest with her blanket and the hollow shell of a couch cushion. Something had stolen most of the stuffing out of it.
Martin and I shared the other blanket, tucked ourselves in another corner. I let him feel me up, his hands sucking the warmth from my skin. What was I going to say? It was my fault we were out here, and besides, I owed him. He fumbled with my shirt, with the waistband of my jeans. I wouldn’t let him kiss me, though. We’d none of us seen a toothbrush in weeks.
A bird flew into the courtyard the next morning and couldn’t find its way out. I don’t know what it was looking for. There was nothing to eat. I mean, even the roaches were gone. That bird was the first thing resembling food that we’d seen in two days. We had to go out.
“What should we do with her?” I glanced at Josie. She wasn’t catatonic anymore, that was a good thing. She wasn’t exactly talkative, but she could respond to questions. The problem was the outbursts. Any little thing could set her off. Loud noises were the worst, ever since the bowling alley, but sometimes we had no idea what triggered her.
“We’ll have to leave her here.”
I was already shaking my head. “No, she could never get back out over the fridge on her own. You know, if.” If somebody found her, I meant.
“We don’t have a choice,” Martin said. “It’ll be safe enough.” There it was again.
Josie licked her lips, watching the bird flutter around the courtyard. She was turning more and more, I don’t know, feral every day.
“Who lives here?” she asked suddenly, startling both of us.
“Us, I guess,” I said just as Martin answered, “We do.”
Josie slid her too-intense gaze over to me then back to the struggling bird. “It’s not much of a birdhouse.”
“It’s what we got right now, baby doll,” said Martin, more gently than I would have expected. He turned to me.
“There’s a place down on 4th, near the old Square. John says that Will says it hasn’t been looted yet. Just gotta get past the Rovers. You game?”
What else could I say? We had to eat. I shrugged. “Count me in.”