Zed woke up first. The sun was out, but in the shadow of the walkway it was cool. He pulled the blanket around his shoulders and stepped out into the sunshine. The heat from the ground warmed his feet, and he could feel the sun touching every part of his skin. He heard the others waking up behind him and turned to see Sparrow stirring the cold embers of last night's fire with a twig. She looked around at the band of children rubbing their eyes and stretching their limbs after a cramped, cold night. "Next time I'll not put as much wood on all at once."
"It was good though," Dee said, wriggling his toes. "I like fire."
Sparrow picked up her satchel, looking through it, "Where did the biscuits go?"
Rat burrowed deeper into her blanket. Tekla spotted the crumbs though and pointed them out.
"Em!" Sparrow scolded, pulling the blanket off. Rat rolled away from her grasp and sat some distance off.
"Ugh, never mind." Sparrow said, reaching into one of her storage niches. She brought out a pillowcase filled with small red apples and handed them round, "These will have to do."
Bee, Zed and Dee didn't know what to do with them until they saw Tekla bite into hers and nibble away at it down to the core. Rat devoured her apple, pips and all.
After they'd eaten, Sparrow set everyone to work. The handcart was brought forward and filled with the rest of the food supplies. The blankets were folded and also placed in the cart. Mixed in with one of the blankets was a small soft toy bird that fell out as they shook the blankets. Tekla seized it and stuffed it in her pocket. Rat watched with interest.
Eventually the only evidence that they had been there was a few scattered apple cores and the embers of the fire. They set off along the path, taking it in turns to push and pull the cart. "The mission today," Sparrow said as they walked along, "Is to get you all shoes. And more clothes. It's warm now cos it's Summer but it's going to get colder."
The path they were walking along was lined with trees, which gradually thinned out to reveal smallish buildings on either side of the path. Each had a raised wooden box by the door, some filled with flowers and others filled with climbing plants. Sparrow went over to one of the climbers and picked pods off it, showing the others. "These are good to eat." she said, splitting the pod open. "Peas are the best just like this."
Zed shook his head, "Peas come in cans, don't they Bee?"
Sparrow laughed. "They grow like this first. There's lots of food in the gardens, we just need to pick it. Like the apples you had earlier."
They went along the row of houses, picking the pea pods and other things that Sparrow showed them. At every house, Sparrow rattled the door handle to see if it was locked. Sometimes she went round the back of the house too. Once she came back carrying a pair of black rubber boots. She eyed up the feet of the others then handed them to Bee. "Put these on."
Over the course of the morning, they managed to find a pair of canvas gym shoes for Dee, slightly-big sandals for Zed, and another pair of rubber boots for Rat. She wouldn't wear them, and screamed when Sparrow tried to put them on her. Sparrow put them in the cart with the rest of the stuff.
Dee tried one of the doors, "This one is open!"
They all came over and crowded round the open door. Sparrow stepped inside and the others followed. A large entry way led to a kitchen on the left hand side and a washroom on the right. A set of stairs led up to the bedrooms.
"Zed - you, Tekla and Dee search the kitchen for food. I'll take Rat and Bee and look for clothes upstairs."
The cupboards in the bedrooms and the hall upstairs yielded fresh finds - another canvas rucksack, a school satchel, and plenty of clothes. Sparrow tried to persuade Rat into wearing some shorts and a jumper, but Rat just shook her head and bared her teeth. She dug into the pile of clothes and dragged out a brightly coloured baggy t-shirt. Sparrow held it out for her to wriggle into, and she paraded round the room looking down at herself in satisfaction. It came down to her knees like a dress, and covered the grey tunic. After that, Sparrow laid out the clothes on the bed and let Rat choose what she wanted. What Rat wanted was a pair of large dungarees with big pockets and brass fasteners that clicked into place enticingly. Sparrow helped Rat into the dungarees, tucking the t-shirt in at the sides, and pulled the straps to the tightest they went.
Everything in the room was too small for Bee, so they tried the next room. Rat followed them and discovered the mirror. She head-butted her reflection, then tried to bite the glass. When that didn't work she squished her nose against the glass like she had done with the door in the hospital, trying to peer through. Sparrow opened the cupboard to see clothes hanging on a rail inside. Bee trailed her hands along the fabrics until she reached one she liked and tugged it down. It was a soft long-sleeved cardigan, that tied around the middle. She pulled it on and rubbed her chin against the soft bit at her shoulder. "This is nice," she said shortly.
"Good." Sparrow said. "That's you both got proper clothes. Now for the boys' turn." She grabbed the new bags and filled them with jumpers and socks, and headed downstairs, yelling for the others to come out into the hall. Zed, Dee and Tekla turned up, hands full of packets and cans. "Great. Now you can go upstairs and get some clothes to go on top of those grey ones....Not you, Tekla, you've already got clothes."
The two boys ran upstairs and they could hear the sounds of cupboard doors and drawers being flung open, and a whoop of excitement as they discovered the mirror. Sparrow led the others into the kitchen and packed the new food supplies into the already bulging bags. The back door led out into a vegetable garden where they found carrots and beetroots and potatoes. They were quite small still, but Sparrow took them anyway. She gave them to Bee to hold while she checked for more.
The boys came back down the stairs. Dee was wearing shorts and a green jumper, and Zed had half- tucked his checked shirt into a pair of trousers with the bottoms rolled up and held around his waist with a striped tie.
Sparrow nodded, satisfied. "I've got extra jumpers and socks for everyone." Rat was persuaded to put her rubber boots on with the addition of bright yellow socks and the bribe of some crackers, and cheese found in the fridge - with the furry bits cut off. Another round of apples completed the lunch, and the now colourful band closed the front door behind them and set off on the path again.