Sitting silently on the cliff top in the darkness, Amber watched the throng of different tribespeople as they bustled about busily on the beach beneath her. Her eyes and ears had become accustomed to her surroundings and amongst the noise of the distant hubbub below and the quiet chug of a far distant generator, she could now just make out the sound of the waves lapping softly and gently on the sand. Right in the centre of the mass assemblage of tents and stalls, a raised platform had been illuminated by several beautiful strings of fairy lights attached to a central pole. These multicoloured lights twinkled and flashed, and attractively stretched right out from the central post to the very edges of the beach, like the ribbons of a maypole, marking the boundaries of The Gathering. She noted that in the event of an emergency, by following the strand with mainly green lights, she should hopefully be able to lead the Mall Rats safely off the beach by a quieter route that was hidden out of the sight of all the other tribes at The Gathering.
She did wonder why the event was so lavishly decorated by lights when The Gathering would be held during the daytime and decided that it was obviously meant as a show of power and strength by one of the Tribes – probably the Locos. Lights had to be powered by something – probably the generator she could hear in the distance. And a generator meant fuel, which therefore meant that someone had a supply held in storage somewhere. She really hoped that this show of might, wouldn’t deter the other tribes from listening to their plan of trading their wind turbines to generate future power.
She concluded that the attractively lit central platform must be the place where all the tribal leaders would be meeting together tomorrow and wondered how an area could possibly look so beautiful and pretty and yet feel so intimidating at the same time.
The distant sounds hummed against the silence around her as she continued to watch the activity below.
Suddenly, in the blackness, she was taken by total surprise when a hand covered her mouth, and simultaneously another hand shoved her hard, knocking her sideways onto the grass. Before she had a chance to react or fight back, she was flat on her back, with the person straddled across her waist, holding her wrists against the ground above her head.
The figure dressed in black leaned down and whispered in her ear “Well! Well! You were one of the very last people that I expected to see this evening!”
Recognising him instantly, she whispered angrily, “Lex! What on earth are you doing here?”
“Same as you I would imagine,” he laughed. “Checking out the layout of The Gathering, looking for any traps the tribes may have set for us. Working out how they are planning to attack us. Checking out the escape routes. You know – all those sorts of things.” He loosened his grip on her wrists slightly, enabling her to roll over and push him off her and onto his back on the grass. “Seeing how you made me ‘Head of Security’ Amber, I’m doing,… you know,… security stuff.”
Amber sat up and brushed herself down.
“I think having traps set for us is the least of our worries Lex.” She sighed “The Mall Rats are such an insignificant tribe that I don’t think we feature on any tribes radar at all, let alone be noticed enough for them to consider setting a trap for us. To be honest I think we run a far greater risk of either being totally ignored or being laughed off the beach by the different tribe members, before we even get to the Tribe leaders’ meeting, than we do of being attacked.”
“Yeah… well I still think its a trap” He muttered.
“Well, you would” she replied.
“Amber, I’m just trying to make sure that I keep all of the Mall Rats safe when we go down there and make fools of ourselves in front of all the other tribes tomorrow morning. And I suspect that you have similar worries and concerns for the tribe too, otherwise you wouldn’t be sat here. Anyway, as ‘Head of Security’, I don’t remember you asking my permission to leave the mall, nor do I remember you even letting me know that you were planning to come on some solo spy mission! I can’t believe that when you told the mighty Bray of your plans to reccy the event, that he just agreed that it was safe for you to come out here on your own! I’m surprised lover boy didn’t try to stop you or at least come with you.”
Amber sat in silence, staring down at the beach, not answering him.
“I can’t believe that bloke!” Lex continued angrily shaking his head. “So much for ‘Oh, I’ll look after the Tribe!’ All Bray thinks about is looking after number one! I just can’t believe he didn’t come with you!”
“Shut up Lex!” She snapped.
“Ah…!” He laughed as it slowly dawned on him. “You never told Bray you were coming out here did you!”
“Lex… I don’t have to tell Bray everything I do! I don’t understand why you have it in for him and neither do I understand why you think we fancy each other! I can assure you that we are not a couple!”
“Yeah, but you wish you were though, right Amber?”
She sighed and rolled her eyes in frustration.
He looked at her. This time when he spoke his tone was far more solemn “Did you tell anyone at all that you were coming out here tonight Amber?” He sighed.
“I don’t need to tell anyone Lex. I can look after myself, thank you!”
“Amber,” Lex said gravely. “You should always tell someone before you go out of the mall by yourself in the dead of night. For God sake woman, It might not have been me who sneaked up on you just now! it could have been a Demon Dog or a Slave Trader or a …”
“As though you care what happens to me,” She hissed. “I’d have thought you’d be very happy if I just disappeared. You’d be able to become the Leader of the Mall Rat then! Look Lex! I never wanted to be the leader and I didn’t choose to be, but the group decided for themselves and I know that me leading the Mall Rats irritates the hell out of you, but I definitely think that it’s a far better option for me to lead the tribe than you. Besides as I’ve said before, I don’t need you or Bray or anyone else for that matter looking after me thank you very much. I’m quite capable of looking after myself!”
They both sat silently for a minute in the warmth of the night, the only sounds coming from the hum of the busy activity far below.
Eventually Lex broke the silence. “Fancy having a drink with me, Amber?”
She turned to look at him as he held out a wine bottle towards her, in his hand.
“What is it?” she asked, taking the bottle from him.
“Cider” he replied “and hopefully a really good strong one.”
She watched as he took another bottle out of his bag, unscrewed the top and had a swig. He sighed with enjoyment as he tasted it. “Oh my God! That’s one hell of a good brew!”
Amber unscrewed her bottle and tasted the liquid. It warmed her insides. It had been over a year since she had last drunk any alcohol, but she could tell instantly from the strength and taste of the drink that this was no cheap bottle of cider that had been raided by a tribe from a shelf in one of the supermarkets. This tasted like the real deal. This was a home-made brew.
“Lex? Where did you get this from?” She asked, “You haven’t been secretly making cider in the Mall have you?”
He laughed “No. I’ve got a contact out on one of the farms who grows and sells apples and makes her own brew.”
“You liar Lex!” She replied calmly, as she took another drink from the bottle. “It’s been months since you were last out of the Mall for a long enough time to have travelled to one of the farms to meet with a contact!”
“Okay,…Well…Lets just say that there’s a lot more fun stuff being traded down there tonight than will ever see the light of day at The Gathering tomorrow!”
She nearly choked on her drink “Are you telling me that you’ve been down there, on the beach, already?”
“Well I had to check it out didn’t I?” He smiled shrugging his shoulders.
“You stupid idiot Lex! I hope you didn’t cause any trouble for us tomorrow!”
“Calm down Amber!” He answered. “Of course I didn’t. I had a quiet look around and when I was happy that I’d sussed out the layout, I just bought as many bottles as I could manage to carry in my bag and left. Then I came up here to keep an eye on what was going on and to have a quiet drink.”
“I just can’t believe you sometimes Lex!”
Lex laughed. “Oh! Just shut up and drink the cider Amber - before I change my mind and ask for it back! - You don’t seem to realise that I never usually share my alcohol!”
She took another drink. Lex relaxed and lay down on his side and lent on his elbow on the grass, while still facing both Amber and the beach. The pair drank in silence, watching the events below.
“You’ve got to agree that this cider is good stuff though” Lex eventually said.
She nodded and giggled slightly “Okay, I’ll agree with you on this occasion Lex, it is very good stuff.”
“Well Hallelujah!” he laughed “Our great and mighty Mall Rat leader, finally agrees with me on something.”
She laughed “What’s up with you Lex? Are you sure that you are feeling alright? It’s not like you call me the leader and to not fight with me for leadership?”
“Nah…Well…can’t be bothered with all that tonight to be honest. Anyway, I quite like being ‘Head of Security’.”
They both carried on silently drinking their cider.
“You know something?” Lex said quietly, “You’re actually quite okay as a leader…for a girl!”
“And there I was thinking you were about to give me a compliment Lex!”
“I was giving you a compliment Amber! Just don’t you ever dare go telling anyone that I said you were an okay leader! - I’ll only deny it!”
“Right!” she tittered.
Amber relaxed down on her back on the grass and looked up to the night sky. “Wow! I’ve forgotten how long it is since I’ve done this! just laid quietly, looking up at the stars. With all the worries of looking after everyone I’ve not done it for a very long time. Probably not since before the virus.”
Lex gently stroked her shoulder as she lay there.
“Don’t you start getting any ideas Lex!” She said lazily, without a fight. “Anyway, where’s Zandra tonight?”
“Oh she’s busy this evening throwing Ryan out of my room and moving her stuff in”
Shocked, Amber turned to look at him. “Really! And is that what you want?”
He laughed, “To be honest, Amber, not really. But then what could I say?”
“No! Might be a good start!”
Lex laughed cheekily “I’ve always found it very hard when it comes to women”
“I bet you have!” she laughed and went back to looking at the sky.
Lex tenderly stroked her arm all the way down to her wrist, and was surprised when Amber interlocked her fingers with his. He was even more surprised when she held his hand and didn’t seem to be in any hurry to let go of it.
“Ooh look Lex” she said excitedly pointing up to the sky with the bottle in her hand “I’ve just seen a shooting star! Oh hang on! There was another one there! Oh! And one there!”
He turned to look up at the sky.
“It must be nearly Christmas” she said excitedly “To get this many shooting stars on one night must mean it’s Geminids night.”
“What’s that then?” He asked.
“Well every December, around the 14th, there’s a night when the Earth passes through this stream of debris from an asteroid and it gives us this display of over 100 shooting stars an hour! Just watch anywhere in the sky for a few minutes and you’ll see one.”
Lex took another swig of his cider and stared silently up at the stars. Suddenly the sky streaked beautifully before his eyes.
“Oh! okay! Wow! I’m impressed!”
“Did you know that you are supposed to make a wish after seeing a shooting star Lex.”
“Have you made one?” He asked.
“I’ve made several!” She laughed. “As I’ve seen several shooting stars in the last few minutes I’m allowed to make several wishes. So… have you made your ‘one’ wish yet?”
“Well? what is it? Tell me Lex.”
Lex leaned over and softly kissed Amber’s lips. Then he leaned back, smiled and looking back up to the sky said “I suppose I’ve got to wait until I see another shooting star before I get the chance to tell you my next wish”.
Amber gently took his face in her hands, surprising him. She smiled and before leaning up and kissing him, said “It’s okay Lex. If you’d like me to, I’ll tell you several of mine!”