Thin smoke was drifting in a grey cloudy curl up from the meager fire, which was burning away the last green-tinged branch in the center of the room. A half-empty box of matches lay beside it, on top of a crumple of clothing. The doors were blocked by desks and tables nailed in place, and there was a bookcase tipped across the window.
The room was dark, but for the pitiful glow of the flames as they sputtered, and the two occupants were huddled in the corners. One was rifling frantically through something as the other gazed with dead eyes on the ruin and decay that surrounded them. From time to time, there was a dull pounding outside, but they barely flinched when it began and let out a scant puff of air in relief when it ended.
The sounds outside had stopped for the moment, and the two men inside sagged in a release of the tension that plagued them. One of them coughed dryly for a moment, choking on the smoke that drifted in the heavy air. There was a long silence, broken by the occasional cough and the small shifting sounds of the other’s search in a drawer. It was mercifully free of the dread pounding from outside. Suddenly a weary, plaintive cry split the air.
“Drat, where have all the biscuits got to?” called Oscar. “I know we had some, and I could have sworn the cabinet was simply chock-full of unopened boxes. We can’t possibly have gone through all the biscuits in the past week.”
The person at the other end of the room, hunched and miserable, unbent himself slowly. When he stood, he towered nearly a foot over Oscar, who was short and plump. He said, “Bloody hell, I don’t know. The tea’s all there.”
Just the mention made Oscar recoil, his arms clasping the tins closer to his breast. “Yes, Maurice, I know where the tea is, I’m holding it. We can’t properly have tea without biscuits though, now can we?”
Maurice shook his head in unthinking assent and shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose we’d better look though. Whatever shall we do if there aren’t any in the room though?”
Oscar’s eyes widened – he had clearly never thought such a thing could happen. “Oh dear, I don’t know. Let’s not think of it. They must be here somewhere.”
The two men shuffled through the contents of the cupboards and drawers. After several minutes, the banging outside started again and they both winced. They bent their heads as it continued, bringing their shoulders up as if the tension in their muscles would keep the sound away. Oscar shambled to the fire in the middle of the room and thrust the dented teakettle over it, dropping it so neatly on the flames that the fire nearly went out altogether. He cursed and knelt, huffing at the fire and flapping his hands at it. It was soon burning away doggedly again, and he crumpled a piece of paper to shove under the kettle that inspired a burst of brightness that flared and then sank again when the paper was ash.
The pounding from without sounded louder for a moment, and Oscar shrank with fear where he was crouched by the flames. He scuttled over to Maurice, and clung to a sleeve as the other pushed boxes aside on a shelf. They stood there, together and silent, until Maurice spoke.
He said, “I honestly don’t see anything, Oscar. It might be that there are none left.”
Oscar’s face was a mask of horror. “No biscuits? That just can’t be.”
“Well,” said Maurice, pragmatically. “What can you do about it, right?”
Oscar’s eyes narrowed in sudden calculation. “I suppose,” he began, his tone suddenly speculative. He eyed the doorway, where the pounding was beating on steadily. “There aren’t too many out there right now, are there? I bet -”
“No,” Maurice cut him off. “Don’t be so utterly ridiculous. Goodness, Oscar, we don’t even know what there is out there really, but you remember Alice when she came inside. All bloodied up and out of her mind, and then she -” Both men shuddered. Maurice continued firmly, “No, Oscar, you certainly can’t go out there.”
Oscar sighed and leaned back, his eyes still fixed longingly on the blocked door. He seemed to be weighing almost-certain death against almost-certain biscuits for a minute longer, and then he resumed the search.
It really was very lucky for them that they found two boxes of biscuits, faded and dusty in the back of the closet, later that night. They had a quiet evening with hot tea, stale biscuits, and a surprising lack of banging and pounding from the bloodthirsty hordes outside, and their voices were tinged with relief as they talked and joked. The biscuits in those box might last them another week or two, certainly.