“What about that?” I asked, pointing to another steel door.
“We call it the greenhouse,” he said, “but it’s just a cave. The only other way in is through a hole about a hundred feet up, but it lets in enough water and sunlight to keep the rest green.” He said it was overgrown and a few animals like snakes, badgers, and squirrels that survived the fall through the hole lived inside. Once they encountered an injured Candok bear. The first Ballengers foraged in there and actually grew a few things to survive. “I’ll show you that another time. We don’t go in unless we’re armed with spears and nets.”
We turned down another passageway and came to a smaller, more ordinary door. Jase opened it and lit another lantern.
It wasn’t what I expected. A chill crawled down my spine. The thick metal frames of hundreds of bunks lined the walls like an army barracks. A few were collapsed, but most stood at attention like they were still waiting for occupants. The mattresses were long eaten away, and wispy filaments hung from the frames like ghostly skirts. The smooth walls were an eerie mottled gray. “What is this place?” I finally asked.
“This is where it began,” he answered. “It was a shelter meant for hundreds. Only twenty-three made it.”
“But the writing?” I said as I walked down the aisle between the beds. Scrawled over every inch of the walls were words. Thousands of words written in a language I didn’t know. Jase said it was the earliest version of Landese, which had changed over the centuries, but I did recognize names—those hadn’t changed. I saw Miandre and Greyson. More names, Leesha, Reyn, Cameron, James, Theo, Fujiko, Gina, Razim.
“It was the last order of Aaron Ballenger—to write it all down as well as they could remember. They did. There was no paper, so they used the walls. There’s more. This way.”
He took me into another room, and another. A kitchen, a study, a sick room, all of it covered with words. There was no reason to where or how they wrote. Some sentences stretched the length of the room in large block letters. Others were tiny balls of sentences, barely readable.
“All of these rooms? Supplies? And there was no paper?”
“They burned it for fuel.” He pointed to the empty shelves in the study. “These were probably filled with books. They were trapped inside for a long time. Scavengers waited for them outside.”
“You know what all these say?”
He nodded and looked at a group of words next to him. “This is one of my favorites.” He translated it for me.
I hate Greyson. He looks over my shoulder as I write this. I want him to know. I hate him with the heat of a thousand fiery coals. He is cruel and savage and deserves to die.
—Miandre, age 13
“But weren’t they—”
Jase smirked. “Years later. I guess she changed her mind.”
“It still doesn’t say much for your revered leader.”
“He was fourteen. He kept them all alive. That says everything.”
“Why do they write their ages, after every entry?” I asked.
“This might explain it.” He crossed the room to the opposite wall and crouched to read an entry near the floor.
Today is Fujiko’s birthday. Miandre made a cake from a ration of cornmeal. She says birthdays used to be celebrated and we must do the same because we don’t know how many more we will have. Every year is a victory, she says.
After we eat the cake, I write all of our ages after our writings.
Someday we will all write 20, 30, or 40, I say to everyone.
By then we will run out of walls, Miandre says.
By then we will have new walls, I answer.
It is the first time I have thought of a future in a world that has always been about After. Tor’s Watch is our new Beginning.
—Greyson Ballenger, 15
“Don’t you think it’s strange that they wrote their thoughts on the walls for everyone to see?”
“I think everything about their lives was strange. Living in here was strange. Maybe when you’re fighting to survive, you need to share things with other people—even your deepest secrets.”
I knew it was no accident that his eyes landed back on me with his last few words. Digging. Did he still suspect something about my encounter with the dogs?