Night arrived slowly in the woods, stretching fingers of mist between the trees. Sparrow could tell by the dampness in the air and the darkening of the sky through the branches that it wouldn't be long before it was impossible to make their way through the maze of trees and ditches. She looked back at the others dutifully following her and tried to keep the panic from her voice as she spoke.
"We need to make camp soon."
"How soon?" Tekla asked, dragging her broken spade handle behind her.
Sparrow craned her neck up to look at the patches of sky visible and hesitated. "'Nother five minutes or so..." She held back a shudder at the thought of making camp with nothing between them and the darkness all around. Better start looking for a good spot though. She scanned the ground on either side of their narrow track and peered into the gloom ahead. The track rose up and widened, as if flattened by many boots, and the trees skewed off to the side where their branches had been torn from the trunk.
"I think this is the way they came..." She attempted a run forward and stopped short at the edge of a large concrete basin, part-filled with branches and leaf litter. At the end of the basin the concrete rose up, and formed the side of a bunker half built into the ground. The others gathered round.
"I guess here is as good a place as any to make camp." Sparrow said, jumping onto the leaves and sliding down to the concrete. The branches piled up were snap dry, and would make a good fire easy to start. She set some of the others to gathering fallen wood and the rest to clearing space in the basin where they could sit. Bracken grew out of cracks in the structure, and she pulled handfuls of the tough, leafy fronds to spread under the blankets to ward off the cold seeping up from the concrete underneath. "Gotta create a layer..." she muttered to herself, then turned her attention to coaxing a spark from her flint and steel. As before, Zed watched with interest.
Soon, a small tendril of smoke spiralled up from their fire, and little tongues of flames licked eagerly at the sticks that Sparrow fed it.
Sparrow sat on the edge of the bunker, looking down at the glow of the fire and the others slumped around it. Tekla snuffled and shifted in her sleep. She shifted her gaze to the darkness pressing in all around her, and as her eyes adjusted , she could see the dim shapes of trees moving gently to and fro in the night breeze. But wait - something else was moving through the trees along the ground. Sparrow fumbled for her knife and gripped it tightly. The thing, whatever it was, was moving away from them, but as she glanced all around she could see bobbing lights and shapes coming from all directions, it seemed. She slid down into the bunker and looked anxiously at the fire. Hopefully the light from it would be hidden by the walls, or mistaken for one of the encircling torch flames.
She crouched ready to spring up if necessary, and listened for the crunch of leaves or the snap of twigs that would tell her if anyone or - she gulped- anything was approaching. A thought darted into her head that maybe it was her dad and the other workers, and all she'd have to do would be to stand up and call out, and everything would be okay again. He'd scoop her up and tell her how brave she'd been and how good for looking after Tekla and the others. Here her imagination faltered because she couldn't think of a normal world where the others would be welcomed.
But she squashed that thought right down, because she heard the crack of a branch from somewhere above her. Her hand hurt with clutching the knife and it felt slippy with sweat in her grasp. A low whistle that could have been a bird pierced through the night and the hairs on the back of her neck and arms pricked up.
One of the hunched shapes around the fire sat up and she mimed furiously to be quiet before realising that it was Bee. She crawled over the sleeping bodies as carefully as she could and placed a hand on Bee's shoulder.
"Wha..." Bee started to say, but Sparrow quickly shoved her hand over the older girl's mouth.
"Shhh..." she whispered in her ear, "There's something moving in the woods."
Bee shifted slightly, reaching around for the bit of metal pipe she had picked up in the hut earlier in the day. Both girls waited, listening, as the sounds of crunching leaves got closer and closer. Then all at once, a flaming torch appeared above them. People came into view, shouting. Sparrow stood up, holding the knife out in front of her. Bee got to her feet and waved the pipe above her head. The shouting turned to hesitant laughter.
"It's just some kids!"
Sparrow scowled. "Don't come any closer!"
The younger kids were waking up now, rubbing their eyes and sitting up.
The figure nearest ducked Bee's swinging pipe and backed away, "Okay girlie, we're just passing through now."
Another of the figures grabbed the pipe off Bee, "Hey, you could hurt someone with that."
"That's the idea..." Bee growled, trying to grab it back.
"Lay it off, Whin - give it back." The first figure moved the torch so they could see his face, and crouched down, "Best to keep the fire low in the forest at night, eh?"
Sparrow nodded, but didn't move the knife from its defensive position.
"C'mon Whin - let's get back to the others."
The woman called Whin dropped the pipe into the bunker, narrowly missing Zed. Bee heard the clang of it on the concrete and scrambled to pick it back up. Rat tried to shimmy up the side of the bunker and after them, but Sparrow hauled her back and wrestled her back into a sitting position. Tekla sat up, yawning, "Did I miss somefin'?"