Emerging from the Rubble 

Chapter 3

“You two new boys, listen up!” shouted Owl as the men stood around talking quietly. Everyone fell silent when Owl began to speak.


“You don’t know how this works, and you only have one chance to learn. We move quickly, in groups of four. Each group takes a street and works from house to house. Be as quiet as possible. You are looking for food items, weapons or tools. If you find anyone alive, bring them to me for assessment. If you find anyone sick, kill them. If you meet resistance, kill them. Move on quickly. Don’t think about it, just act and move on.”


Yan and Thomas looked at each other with a deep knowing in their eyes. They knew that this would be a challenging day. Suddenly one of Owl’s men had his arm to their backs and was ushering them toward Owl.


“You two are with me,” said Owl. “You Polecat! With us!” he shouted at Polecat who quickly came over. “Polecat knows the ropes,” said Owl.


A half hour’s brisk march away lay a satellite town of the main city.


“You must’ve been through this town before?” Thomas quietly asked Polecat as they walked.


Polecat sighed, “Too many times,” he said wearily. “Owl insists we keep coming back, over and over. Sometimes I think it’s just to give us something to do, to give us something like structure. Sometimes we do find something new, but mostly we don’t.”


“So, Owl makes you do things purely for the sake of discipline?” asked Yan.


“That’s right. He says it is good for our minds and bodies. I just wish we could move further out. Hey, did you pass anywhere exciting when you came to us? You must’ve seen things?” Polecat suddenly seemed genuinely interested.


“We have seen many things,” said Yan, “but not really anything we can report for plundering.”


“Didn’t you have to take things for your own survival?” Polecat replied.


“We believe that if we show kindness, and trust in people, we are looked after,” Thomas answered.


“You have so much trust! How can you be so sure you won’t be overcome by those more powerful? The world is cruel!”


“Yes, it is. But Yan, Anne, Harmony, and I met because we believe in love and life. We want to put others first as best as we can, and to see the good in people.” Thomas tried to smile a warm smile to demonstrate sincerity to Polecat, but Polecat was perplexed and seemed slightly amused by the whole idea.


At the edge of the town Owl halted the men and motioned the teams of four to fan out and go to their designated streets. He called forward Polecat, Thomas, and Yan.


“Come,” he said sternly. “Let’s go. I have something to show you.”


They walked in silence for several minutes until they came to a depot that was full of deteriorating buses. Owl led them to one bus and said, “Watch this,” with a glint of pride in his eyes.


He slammed his hand on the bus door, violently pushing it open. Inside could be heard the scurrying of people and worried, whispered voices. Owl climbed into the bus and clapped his hands.


“Today is the day!” he shouted. “You have resisted too long.”


His announcement was met with cries of distress from men and women further down the vehicle.


Owl disappeared into the bus and then re-emerged at the door gripping a young woman. She was dirty and her clothes were almost in rags.


Owl yanked her down the step. “Go in and get the others,” he ordered. “They are coming back with us.”


Polecat immediately went up into the bus in obedience, but turned back when he realised he was not being followed by Thomas and Yan.


“Go on!” yelled Owl. “This wretched family have been refusing to leave this hole and join us for years, and now they must be taken by force.”


“Why can they not stay here if they want to?” asked Thomas.


“Are you really questioning me?” Owl retorted with disdain. “Go up there and get them, now!”


Polecat scurried to the back of the bus and a scuffle could be heard. He then came out of the bus with a very thin man who he gripped by the hair, and with his arm wrenched behind his back, as if he was under arrest.


“There are two more. Now get in there!” scowled Owl through gritted, angry teeth.


“We don’t use force,” said Yan calmly.


Owl’s temper snapped. He released his grip on the young woman who fell to the ground, and he pushed his chest aggressively against Yan’s.


“You don’t use force?” he sneered. Before Yan knew what was happening, he found himself on the ground, Owl standing over him.


“Perhaps you need to know that I am in charge here,” Owl barked.


In a rapid, forceful movement, Owl brought his foot down hard onto Yan’s stomach, knocking the breath out of him. Yan groaned with a mixture of pain, and desperation for air. Owl stepped over him and smashed his boot into Yan’s ribs. Yan rolled over, fighting for breath. Owl lashed out and kicked Yan in the face. Yan’s nose burst and blood ran into his mouth. He fell backwards with the force of the kick and lay on the floor, the fearful crying of the bus woman becoming a strange echo as his consciousness wavered.


After only a few moments, the pain in Yan’s body receded and he regained consciousness. His wounds stopped bleeding and he stood to his feet calmly and unaided.


Owl was confused. The two friends stood before him, with no threat of reprisal. Distracted by the sudden violence, Polecat in panic had let go of his captive, who had quickly fled the depot with the other three bus dwellers.


Owl quickly realised his plan had failed, and he had been made to look weak. His fury was now directed at Polecat.


“You let them go, you fool!” he screamed, drawing out a police baton from his belt. He threatened to smash it into Polecat’s head. Yan quickly moved in front of Polecat. Wiping the residual blood from his top lip, Yan passively challenged Owl and protected Polecat.


Owl was humiliated. He raised the baton again but hesitated, his feet shuffling slightly in the dirt.


“It’s ok,” said Yan softly, still looking at Owl with his compassionate eyes.


By now, Thomas had joined Yan and was standing by his side, shielding Polecat.


Owl exhaled loudly, his frustration obvious. He sheathed the baton, straightened his shirt, and stepped forward, closing in on Thomas and Yan. With his sweating face just millimetres from theirs, he clenched his teeth again.


“Don’t forget who runs this place. I have killed insubordinates before, and I wouldn’t think twice about dispatching you, and your female friends.”


Owl spat on the ground and turned away, walking out of the depot into the heat of the day.


Polecat was trying to understand what had just happened.


“I would say thank you, but I am so scared of Owl!” he stammered. He took a huge lungful of air, then immediately softened. “But, thank you. No-one has ever protected me in my whole life. Why did you do that for me? Who am I to you?”


“You’d do the same for us,” said Thomas, with a strange certainty in his voice.


Polecat felt a tear slide down his cheek, for the first time since he was a child. Somewhere deep in his heart, he believed that he would. Was this what it felt like to be loved?