With Kara busy with the doctors, Dawn has barely seen her during the last month where she has been assigned random tasks. She has become used to never knowing what the day will bring and enjoys the few moments of rest she can get in the evening. After a day of hunting in a patch of grasslands that saw four people disappear, she is thankful to work on the less tedious task of shucking corn and peeling potatoes. Sitting between two large piles, Dawn switches from one to the other after thirty minutes. She blindly throws the finished vegetables over her shoulders and into a water-filled container. After five hours of working with only a short drink and bathroom break, she finds herself moving with very little thought. The trajectory to toss the corn and potatoes is etched into her muscles, so she never misses unlike the others who are close enough to talk to each other. Dawn no longer questions why she tends to be isolated from the others when her tasks require she stay in the camp. Even when she is sent out for hunting or gathering, she finds herself in the back of the group or sent on her own. Regardless of the feeling that she is not wanted, she has made sure to stay smiling and positive whenever Kara is around. To her relief, Melissa has done the same when the three of them have been together for the communal meals.
“It isn’t fair what they’re doing to you,” a voice says from behind the pile of corn. Pushing a wheelbarrow in front of him, a black-haired man with scars on his body comes into view and bows his head. “My name is Trent. I’ve been watching you for a while and I feel bad that you haven’t made any friends. Do you want me to introduce you to some people? Maybe we can take a walk after work and learn about each other.”
“They don’t make pickup lines like they used to,” Dawn replies while she struggles with a very hard potato. Hearing a click, she immediately hurls it into the air and watches it explode above the camp. “Funny how nobody else gets the deadly vegetables. You’re right that it isn’t fair how I’m treated, but it is what it is. I promised a girl that I would make sure she gets to where she’s going. If anything, the rest of you have made it clear that I shouldn’t stay at the haven once we arrive. That and your leader is a paranoid dictator who sees me as some kind of threat.”
“Well, she has lost a lot,” Trent explains with a smirk. Noticing that she keeps staring at him, he flips over his wheelbarrow and takes a seat. “I think you should let her aggression roll off your back. We don’t know how long this journey will take and we’re stronger together. It could get people killed if we begin fighting amongst ourselves. Here let me help you with this work. You seem distracted by me.”
“Sorry, but you resemble somebody that I knew long ago,” she says, her cheeks blushing against her will. Letting him focus on the potatoes while she takes the easier job of shucking corn, she examines his face and notices a yellow tint to his eyes. “I don’t want to make any trouble here. Just going to do what I’m told and keep my head down. That doesn’t mean I’ll let myself be manipulated, tricked, or attacked. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being alone after spending so much time with all of you. Not that I’ve seen you before. How long have you been with the caravan?”
The man chuckles at the question and flings two half-finished potatoes into the distant pot, which is being heated. “People do call this the Grand Caravan, so it shouldn’t surprise you that there are people you haven’t seen before. I’ve been a member for a year and there I still haven’t met all those who arrived earlier. As you can see, we spend more time traveling and working than being social. Whenever we do get some quiet time, most people stay with their families or close friends. Those who lack those connections go off alone. I overheard Melissa talking about us staying here an extra day due to the nearby lake and bison herd. Perhaps you and I can go on a night expedition to gather some supplies. That could improve your standing with our leader and her loyal supporters.”
“Serial killer, rapist, or horndog?”
“You really want to get me alone, so I’m assuming you have bad intentions.”
“Seems your paranoia isn’t helping your situation.”
“It has kept me alive all these years.”
To Dawn’s surprise and frustration, Trent simply shrugs and goes back to peeling the potatoes. Barely able to focus on her own job, she repeatedly watches as he continues his haphazard work. There are times he only removes two slivers of skin before tossing the tuber into the pot. One piece is whittled down to the finger-shaped shard that he throws so far that it misses the target. Fearing that she will get in trouble for his mistakes, Dawn clears her throat and tries to wave him away. When Trent refuses to leave, she begins to wonder if he is a phantom created by Addison. Pretending to stretch her arms, she smacks him in the face with enough force to damage his nose. The man yelps in pain, which causes the other workers to stop and turn towards the noise.
“I’m so sorry about that,” Dawn whispers as she presses a clean rag to his nose. Knowing her situation cannot get much worse, she gives a twist to reset his nose and fights the urge to giggle at the noise. “For a second, I thought you were a hallucination and I tried to catch you off-guard. I didn’t think I’d get you in the face or that I was swinging my arm so hard. There is a lot less blood than I expected, but it’s been a while since I had to deal with a broken nose. Why are you smiling?”
“Because now you owe me,” Trent replies before blowing his nose. Whistling to a passing group of children, he waves them over to finish Dawn’s job. “I can understand why you’re nervous about a stranger wanting to be alone with you. Maybe I pushed too hard. For that, I’m sorry. What if I gather some of my friends and you join us instead of it being the two of us? It could be fun and maybe we’ll bring back a good haul for our journey.”
“My crippling paranoia makes that sound even worse,” the smirking woman admits. Seeing that she no longer has a job, she sighs and gestures for Trent to lead the way. “How about we make this a day trip? Last thing I want is for Melissa to think I’m slacking off and get on my case. I’m sure you will defend me if she gets angry.”
Openly ecstatic, the man bows and says, “It would be my pleasure. Trust me when I say that this will solve all of your problems with our leader. Once she sees what we’re about to bring home, she might even put you in charge.”
Feeling that Trent is being overly optimistic, Dawn can only nod her head and wait for him to lead her away from the vegetables. She continues watching those that they pass to make sure they are acknowledging his presence. Every few minutes, someone dressed for a hunt joins them and a hurried introduction is made. One woman tosses Dawn a rifle and a belt that holds a serrated knife, both of which are an improvement over her regular gear. She begins to get amusement by the outing when she sees a large man lumber out of a tent and join with two harpoon guns on his back. By the time, she reaches the exit, the hunting party has grown to twenty-three people. It is not until they are climbing up the ladders that Dawn begins to wonder why all of her new companions were ready and waiting for something that she had only recently suggested.