Last chapter! Well, it's been a long time coming. I'd like to thank all my reviewers who have commented over the course of this story, it has been much appreciated.
This epilogue takes place 4 and a bit years after the virus. I think that it's a satisfying ending, please tell me if you like it.
Disclaimer: I don't own characters, Survivors, etc.
Without further ado:
Abby sat on the wall, basking in the dawn light as she watched the maypole go up. They had started the tradition the year before, enjoying the excuse for another celebration. Peter and Najid were helping to secure the pole. Both were far taller now, Peter being sixteen and Najid fifteen, and it would not be long before they were adults. She smiled as she saw how true this was, with Peter gazing at young Emily, a fifteen year old who had joined the community with five others last year.
A small giggle caught her attention. A little girl was spinning around on the grass, her long blonde ringlets twirling around her as she span. The child's mother walked up to her, carrying a baby boy on her hip.
"Gracie," she chided softly, stroking the girl's hair. "You'll make yourself sick again if you get so dizzy." She looked up and saw Abby watching and smiled.
"Hi Abby," she said, walking over, carrying the baby and holding little Grace's hand.
"Hi Anya," Abby replied, stroking the baby's cheek as Anya stood next to her. "How's our Luke doing?"
"He's good," Anya replied, bouncing the tow-headed baby up and down in her arms. "He'll be five months old tomorrow".
"Mummy!" yelled Grace excitedly, pulling on her mother's arm. "Look, ribbons!"
"I think we're going to have to go see the ribbons," said Anya, rolling her eyes slightly. "Are you coming, Abby?"
"I'll be there in a moment," she nodded, seeing Greg moving towards them. He greeted Anya as she walked past, and ruffled Grace's hair.
"Hi Abby. What are you sat here thinking about all by yourself?"
Abby looked thoughtful as she replied. "Just how far we've come, I suppose, in only four years. I'd never have believed it, back when we all met on that roadside, that we'd be living in a community with nearly sixty people. That we'd survive."
"No, I never did either. It was never in the plan."
Abby smiled. "Oh yes, the plan. Living all on your own in some mud-filled hovel out in the sticks?"
"Still a mud-filled hovel. It's just that I can't get a moment's peace," joked Greg.
They lapsed into silence as they watched the others finish their preparations. Tom walked up to Anya, gave her a kiss, then took baby Luke and listened to Grace's breathless exclamations over the ribbons.
"If you'd have told me Tom would be a good father a few years ago, I'd never have believed you," Greg shook his head rather incredulously.
"I think it's more to do with the fact that they're his and Anya's children. He loves her so much, he was bound to love her children too."
"Hey!" a sound went up, as several of the men and boys started to play football. The sound had come from Al, who had been trying and failing to tackle Najid. Both Greg and Abby laughed.
"He can't just cheat and pick him up and shove him to the side any more, can he?" said Greg, amused.
Abby searched with her eyes and found Al's girlfriend, Megan, who was holding Al's son, a small boy of one year old. "I expect he'll be able to do the same with little Nathan in a few years."
"Greg, come play!" yelled Najid, kicking the ball to Peter, who decided to do a few tricks, glancing at Emily, who smiled at him and twisted her straight, blonde hair round her finger. All the men, with the exception of Sami, were playing football along with some of the women.
"Duty calls," said Greg, patting her hand before making his way over to the others. Abby shifted herself more comfortably on the wall, not feeling like joining the larger group just yet. Al was attempting to show Nathan how to kick a ball, and Megan laughed as he instead hugged the ball to himself and toddled off with it.
Grace ran up to Abby and held up her arms. Abby lifted her up.
"Hello, Gracie. How are you?"
Grace pouted rather mutinously. "Mummy says we have to wait for the dancing 'til after they finish playing."
"Shouldn't be too long".
They had been sitting there for a while quietly when Grace suddenly smiled widely, and put on the tone she always used when confiding secrets. "I know some information", she said, stumbling over the long word. "I'll tell you it if you want".
"Do you? Is this information you're supposed to be sharing, Grace?" Abby asked her laughing, tickling her tummy. Grace giggled and wriggled away.
"Um," said Grace, her head tilted to the side as she considered, "Mummy never said I couldn't".
"Go on, then. Give me the gossip" Abby said, momentarily amazed at how much Grace had grown over the past 3 years. She still remembered when Anya had told them she was pregnant with her. It had been just before Jimmy and the rest of his group had joined. Anya had been in shock, worried about how Tom would take it. He had been very caring of Anya, but was ambivalent about the child during the pregnancy. Seeing Grace though, he had fallen immediately in love with the baby. When Anya discovered herself to be pregnant with Luke, he had been surprised to find himself happy about it.
"I saw Sami kissing Laura behind the chicken shed earlier," Grace whispered into her ear.
"Really?" Abby said, intrigued by this latest development. Laura had been trying to get Sami's attention ever since she had come with Jimmy's lot, and Abby was happy that Sami had finally done something about it. She hoped that Laura could help him. Ever since she had known him, Sami seemed like he had been hiding a sad secret that even the persuasive little Grace could not have wriggled out of him.
"Yeah," said Grace, nodding her head vigorously.
"3-1 to us," yelled Jimmy, arms up in the air, calling the end score of the football match. Jimmy had been a welcome addition to the community, and had been a valuable asset. Practical and dependable, he reminded her sometimes of her husband David. This would once have been a painful association, and thinking of David was still sad, but the memories and their son Peter were enough for her to be glad of. Abby and Jimmy had a romantic relationship of sorts, and though it was not what Abby would term serious, it was enough for both of them.
She was distracted by Grace indicating to be put down. "They've finished now! Come see me dance, Abby?"
Abby let Grace lead her to the rest of her discovered community. She was struck by the number of children that had been born since the virus, as she saw Grace run off to play tag with two of her little friends. Tom and Anya's two children; Al and Megan's Nathan; Jack and Amanda's three-year old twins Hannah and Michael; two year old Jacob and his month old sister Elinor. A woman, May, who had joined their group with Emily's community the year before had been pregnant before the virus, and her son Elijah was nearly four. Mark and Rosie, only twenty and nineteen, had a one year old daughter, Alice. Two year old Sophie, daughter of the pregnant again Josie and her partner Dan, completed the little crew.
Even as children were born, the community had still had to withstand losses to its number. Jack and Amanda's third child died of a suspected heart defect aged 2 weeks. Without modern medicine, even Anya had been unable to save the baby. Two of the older people in the community, both in their sixties, had died of pneumonia in the harsh winter of the third year. Their graves stood on a small plot of land, marked with wooden crosses.
Survival had been tiring, the first two years in particular, as they had built houses, latrines, outbuildings, a well. Greg and Jimmy had been ingenious in this regard, and Abby doubted they could have done so well without them. Now, for the first time, it looked as though they would be able to do well with the farming and survive off what they had grown without supplementing with pre-virus stores of food. They had learnt canning, preserving, they had even made a smoke house that preserved meat for throughout the winter. Learning to care for animals had been tricky, and they had been worried when during the first year, they had lost many of their animals. However, as they had to rely on whatever tinned meat they could find, they quickly learned about animal husbandry, and the livestock population had finally recovered enough that last October, they had been able to butcher enough animals to see them through the winter.
They had now worked out farming rotas, schedules, and chores that had dealt some conflict in the early years. None of the community had done much work in farming, and expectations of how hard they would have to work had been shattered long since. In busy farming times, 10-12 hours of work a day were necessary, and even on festival days, cows still had to be milked, eggs had to be collected, and vegetables for dinner had to be gathered. Even though they were spread out across 10 houses in all, most of which had been constructed not long after Jimmy and his group had arrived, work was communal. For women, the advances that had been made in the sixties with methods of preventing reproduction had been stopped and reversed in its tracks as contraception went out of date or was unavailable. In ten years' time, women who were having their first or second baby could easily be having their fifth or sixth. In any case, there was a gap of more than a decade between the youngest child who had survived the plague, a 14 year old boy called Phillip, and the eldest child who had been born after the virus, nearly 4 year old Elijah. To survive in the long term, as many children possible were needed to be born to work the land as the survivors of the virus aged.
As those born grew from infants to toddlers to small children, a generation was growing up who had never seen a television, never seen a school or nursery, or knew what coins were for. Even those who were teens or adults when the virus hit found it difficult to remember the details of pre-virus life as bits of it became irrelevant. They started to create a culture that was specifically theirs or recreated from what they remembered; festivals, music and dances. One of the survivors had built a wind flute and learnt to play it. Even clothing was changing. On one of their expeditions up North, they had found a community in Wales that had procured flax and traded for some. Last winter, they had built a spinning wheel and a small loom and spent laborious hours figuring out how to weave linen and wool from their sheep. In the process, they had been forced to alter their designs, which had been based on the clothes they had already been wearing, pre-virus clothes. Without denim, polyester, elastic, lycra, or easy manufacturing techniques, these clothes were difficult or impractical to make. They had turned to much earlier times for ideas, when people last had only linen and wool to make clothes from scratch with. Thinking of this, Abby took a quick count of the people around her, noting that many people were now transitioning their wardrobes to clothes the community had made themselves, creating a rather odd picture of people in dark denim jeans and brightly coloured T-shirts standing next to others wearing loose tunics or laced bodices and chemises in muted colours they had created from plant or animal-based natural dyes.
There were other communities, of course, like the one they had procured the flax from in Wales. Links were established with nearly twenty like-minded communities that could be found across England and Wales. There was some trade that went on, especially between villages in close proximity to each other, but the most valuable assets were in skills. Abby's community had done well in this regard, due to Anya's doctoring expertise, and Greg and Jimmy's various creations. People would travel the country to learn how to properly set a bone or how to make a loom and in turn, other communities had skills Abby's community was deficient in, such as farming or fishing, which they could impart wisdom on. This system, built in a co-operative effort to improve all of their lives, was working well, and standards of living were slowly being raised. Together, these communities had over 700 people and the number was rising.
These were not the only people to live in England or Wales, but they were the lucky ones. In the four years since the virus, disease, starvation and murder had risen to catastrophic levels, and out of 100,000 who had survived the immediate aftermath of the virus, there were 10,000 now living in the UK. Around 3000 lived in farming communities, some better than others. The remainder were a mixed bunch. Many had been part of communities that failed, due to a failed farm, rivalry between community members, or decimation by scavengers, and were either regrouping or trying to scrape a living from whatever food they could find in the cities and towns. Scavengers, numbering about 3500, were those who had never attempted to farm or work, instead roaming the country and collecting and hoarding whatever they could find. Bitter rivalries sprung up, and parts of cities and towns were burnt to stop a rival faction gaining control of a food supply. Some bands were more successful, and had quantities of food and supplies that could keep both them and their children fed for 20 years or more. Weaker bands found survival far more difficult, and as petrol became near impossible to obtain, they were often forced to walk on foot to wherever they could get food or water. It was these weaker bands that were mostly responsible for the attacks on established farming communities, stealing food or animals, or attempting to drive out inhabitants and take the farm for themselves. The communities, hearing stories of how scavengers had destroyed farms and killed people to get what they wanted, had a zero-tolerance policy for scavengers stealing the crops that would save their children from starvation in the winter. With ammunition in short supply, hanging was the preferred method of execution. Abby remembered the year before, when a group of three men had been found loading sacks of wheat in the dead of night. It was one of the only times after he had been with Anya that Tom's harder nature had come through, but at this stage of the survival process, he gained a good deal of support. It was reasoned that the men, if they were let go, could easily come back with more people, believing that their community was weak, and next time succeed in stealing enough that they would starve. The men had been held for three days until those who wanted to hang them won. Abby still winced when she thought of this, remembering Samantha Willis and the uncomfortable similarities.
Abby's thoughts were interrupted by a small tug on her jeans. "Hello, girls," she smiled, as Grace came up with her friends Hannah and Sophie.
"Can you help Sophie do the ribbons, please? She can't do it on her own, and her Mummy's too pregnant to go very fast."
Abby stifled a laugh as she agreed to help Sophie. As the music started, and she helped Sophie weave the ribbons in and out, she watched the smiling faces around her. Tom was holding Luke, Anya was helping Grace, Al was watching with Megan and Nathan. Sami had emerged with Laura, looking happy but confused. Greg and Jimmy weren't paying attention, but were engaged with a discussion that probably involved the new stove they were always discussing. Najid was sat with Al. Peter, her son, was watching Emily, who was one of the dancers. As the dance ended, Abby knew that, despite everything, she was happy.