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Authors: Shalini Boland

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The Perimeter

BOOK: The Perimeter
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THE

PERIMETER

 

Shalini
Boland

 

 

 

Copyright © Shalini Boland 2013

 

~

 

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

~

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior permission of the author.

 

~

 

http://www.shaliniboland.co.uk

 

 

This novel is dedicated to England, my home.

Always stay safe, strong, just and beautiful.

(But a little more sunshine would be nice)

Chapter One

Riley

 

A sweeping wind blew in from the east, sharp with the tang of snow. The wind didn’t care about the thickness of my wool coat, or the dense knit of my scarf. It sought out my skin and bones and chilled them despite the many layers I had wrapped around me. Shivering, I shoved my gloved hands deep into the pockets of my coat. I needed to get indoors where the air had been warmed by a crackling fire and a bubbling stove. But that would be hours away. I was here for a good while longer, queuing for provisions.

There was a queue for everything. And these weren’t normal-sized queues either. No, they were huge, great snaking lines which stretched so far back you couldn’t see the end. I stamped my feet on the frosty ground and curled my toes inside my boots to get the circulation going again. Tried to ignore the icy burn which spread along my limbs.

  A woman with two children stood behind me and I toyed with the idea of letting them cut in front. But there were more women with more children behind her and I’d already let three families go ahead of me.

The line inched forward a smidge. Not enough. What were they doing up there? Couldn’t they move any faster? I watched my breath float in front of my face. It hung in the air for a few seconds, and then I swore it began to crystallize.

Pa’s supplies were running low. Since Grey’s aborted attempt to take over the south, people had been keeping more to themselves. They were hoarding, and this was making it increasingly difficult to obtain vital supplies. Fresh food and medicines were the most in demand. Especially since the weather had turned.

Cutter’s Quay, the place where we normally traded, was a virtual graveyard these days and had become increasingly dangerous. Poverty and fear had made people an awful lot less honest. Pa had to take armed guards and refused point blank to let me go with him. I hadn’t complained. I’d learnt to pick my battles.

Today I was inside the Charminster Compound, and it was a whole different street scene compared to the last time I’d visited. Gone was the effervescent street market piled high with fresh produce and handmade crafts. The bantering stall holders had been replaced with the discontented mutterings of the sick and the scared.

Pa worried about the fragile balance of our part of the world. Yes, chaos always simmered beneath the surface, but at least we had the compounds and perimeters as some kind of protection. If society grew scared again . . . if there was no food . . . no perceived safety, then the people would destroy everything from the inside out. The walls and fences would come down and everything we had slowly built up would be for nothing. It would be the end of things. Again. Pa truly believed that this was a possibility. That our small patch of civilisation was in danger. He said frightened people were like spooked ponies, ready to bolt headlong over the edge of the cliff and into the abyss.

I realised that in front of me the queue was breaking up, the people drifting away. Some were crying, others shouting.

‘There’s none left!’ a woman cried. ‘No bread, no eggs, nothing.’

‘Mummy, I’m hungry
.
’ Her son tugged on her arm.

My stomach lurched with fear. If the stalls were selling out already, what would these people do? How would they survive the winter? For me, it was an inconvenience – fresh provisions were a nice addition to our tinned and dried stores. But for most of these people, this stuff was a necessity. They relied upon it.

I heard more raised voices up ahead. Pockets of arguments breaking out around me. Silent discontent was fast becoming noisy anger. I turned to the mother behind me. She looked at me with wide eyes, gathering her children in close.

‘Go home,’ I hissed. ‘It’s not safe out here.’

‘Can’t go home yet, I got to trade for food. We’ve nothing left to eat. I need more firewood too or we’re gonna freeze.’

I fished inside my rucksack and pressed a bag of dried peas into her hand, along with a precious jar of honey. ‘It’s not much, but take it,’ I said. ‘Hide it, before anyone sees.’

She stood there gaping. ‘What? You’re giving me this stuff? I’ve got some jewellery to trade you for it.’ She shoved the items inside her clothes and began fishing around in a tatty cloth bag slung across her body.

‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘There’s no time. You better get out of here; it’s turning nasty.’ The queues had disintegrated and the street was now swollen with angry traders and frightened families.

‘Thank you so much,’ the woman said, her hand pressed over her heart where she held the food in place. ‘I won’t forget this.’ She turned and left, her two boys shepherded in front of her
.

It was time for me to leave too. There was no way I’d get any trades done today. But then I heard the unmistakable burst of rapid automatic weapons fire. The sound was close and I dropped to the ground. A few people screamed. Some ran, others froze. And then things turned even uglier. Fights began to explode around me. A man yanked a bag of provisions away from a young woman and ran off. She yelled, outraged, pulled out a knife from her waistband and gave chase. I risked standing up again. I had to get out of there. Quickly.

Uniformed guards flooded the compound firing shots into the air. Their appearance stopped the mayhem for a brief moment and everything grew silent. It was as though someone had pressed the pause button. But as quickly as it stopped, the madness started up again.

Where the hell was Pa? He was supposed to meet up with me here after his meeting, but there was no way he’d find me in this chaos. I spun around as someone grabbed hold of my shoulder, my fist already pulled back to punch whoever it was. But it was okay; it was only the woman from before.

‘Whoa,’ she said, leaning back.

I lowered my arm and realised my heart was thumping hard
.

‘It’s not safe
,
’ she said. ‘Come with me
.

‘It’s okay, I’m armed.’ I tapped the weapon at my waist.

‘Against all this lot?’ She waved her arm in a sweeping motion and I took in the pandemonium, the screaming and yelling, the running and shooting. ‘Come on,’ she said.

I glanced wildly around one more time for Pa, but it was no good – I’d never find him here. The woman’s kids were staring up at me and I gave them a quick smile before nodding and letting their mother lead the way.

To my surprise, we headed toward the exit wall and not the interior of the compound where I’d presumed she lived. But this way looked infinitely more dangerous, with people stampeding to get through the main gates, creating a bottleneck as they tried to escape the machine-gun fire and the violence of the crowd. A voice suddenly boomed through a megaphone.

‘Clear the streets. Curfew now in place. Clear the streets. Curfew now in place. Clear the streets immediately.’

‘Where are we going?’ I yelled above the noise. But she either didn’t hear me or chose to ignore me, keeping up her hurried pace. The children clutched at her coat, following on behind. She skirted the main body of the exiting crowd and made her way down a narrow side street to a cluster of large grey dumpsters at the entrance to an alley. Turning to check I was still following her, she and her children slipped into the alley
.

I hesitated. It was deserted down here, the sounds of the riot already falling away. Footsteps behind me rang out on the cold concrete. I gave a start and turned. It was a man running toward me. My fingers inched down to my Saiga semi-automatic, but I needn’t have worried; the man kept on running down the road, away into the distance.

‘Come on,’ the woman said. ‘Let’s get out of here.’

‘Do you live down here?’ I asked.

‘Yeah. Kind of. I’m Lou, by the way.’

‘Oh, right, yeah. I’m Riley.’

The high brick walls of the alley looked like the backs of shops or houses, with small dark windows and the occasional door. It was creepy and deserted and smelt of rotting things. As I followed Lou and her kids, I worried about Pa and prayed he wasn’t getting caught up in the violence.

‘Maybe I should wait here
,
’ I said. ‘Till it blows over. I’ve got to go back and find my father anyway.’

‘You can’t wait in a deserted alley by yourself
,
’ Lou said. ‘That’s worse than being back there.’

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Yeah. You’re right.’

Lou walked over to one of the doors and knocked. I thought it funny she didn’t have a key to her own house. I saw curtains twitch at the window and then a few seconds later the door opened a fraction, and then all the way.

‘Come in, come in, quickly.’

We filed into a dark narrow hallway. I couldn’t see the person who had let us in, but the voice sounded as though it belonged to an old man.

‘Thanks, Arthur,’ Lou said. ‘Don’t go out tonight or tomorrow, okay? There’s a bit of trouble on the main street.’

‘Trouble? Pah, I can tell you about trouble. Who’s your friend?’

‘Her name’s Riley.’

‘Riney? What sort of a name is that?’

‘It’s Riley,’ I said as we entered a tiny kitchen. ‘With an ‘l’. Riley.’

‘Riney, Riley. Odd names you people have these days.’

The old man, Arthur, opened the back door and stood aside while Lou and her children walked out of the house and into a miniscule back yard. Arthur was short and tiny and bald with a beak-like nose and huge bushy eyebrows. He looked more like a funny creature than a man.

‘Thanks, Arthur,’ Lou said. ‘Sorry I didn’t bring you anything this time. The market’s sold out.’

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture and gave me a glare as I sidled past him into the yard.

‘Thank you,’ I said. But before I’d got the words out, he’d slammed the door behind us and I heard the sound of bolts sliding across.

I raised my eyebrows at Lou and she raised hers back. ‘He’s a charmer isn’t he,’ she said. ‘But he’s lovely really. Just not great on conversation.’

She raised her fist and banged on an old metal door set into the back wall of the yard, beating out a short complicated rhythm.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked.

‘Getting out of here,’ she replied. The door swung open and a dirty face appeared on the other side. My hand went to my gun, but I relaxed again as Lou briefly hugged the man
.
The children scampered through the exit and across a wide wooden board which spanned a metre-wide ditch. The smell rising up from it almost made me gag, it was way worse than inside the compound, but I kept my reflexes in check and tried to breathe through my mouth. Lou turned and motioned to me to follow the boys across.

Taking a careful breath, I stepped through the doorway. The man with the dirty face gave me a harsh glare, but he let me past and closed the door behind us, sliding several large bolts across.

I found myself standing beneath a thick swathe of grubby beige material. Some kind of shelter I presumed. Lou tilted her head and I followed her out from behind the tent-like structure, across the makeshift bridge and back onto solid ground. My mouth dropped open.

We were now standing deep inside the gypsy encampment, known as
The Walls
– an apt name as it lay immediately outside the Charminster Compound
,
in the shadow of its towering patchwork walls. Walls which were topped with glinting razor wire, sharp against the jewel-blue sky. Lou smiled and I wasn’t altogether sure it was a smile of friendliness. Her children had scampered off and I realised everyone here was staring at me. Hostile glares from men, women and children.

BOOK: The Perimeter
4.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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