This is a little something I started a few weeks ago. I still don't know if I'll add to it or not. It can stand on it's own, I think, or it can also be the start of a larger story. Either way, I decided to share it with you guys.
They were finished.
No one wanted to admit it, and certainly no one would say it, for fear of someone agreeing with them, but deep down, they all knew it was so. This was the end.
They had made a valiant effort, at least that’s what they told themselves. Things had gone to hell in a hurry after the collapse. Thousands had died in the span of minutes when the riot started. Memphis had been a cauldron of boiling anger and resentment, and the realization that the ‘dole’ days were gone had sent many of those dependent on welfare as a way of life into a frenzy of violence and looting.
The electricity was off after the second day, forcing many to seek alternate ways to survive. Winter was early this year for the first time in two decades. Any other time, the prospect of a white Christmas would have excited everyone. But not when you’re living outdoors, with little other than the clothes on your back, and nothing much to eat.
The last minute grabbing of food, clothes and other supplies had included too many heirlooms, antiques, and valuables that were no longer that valuable. When you’re hungry, the only thing of real value is food. When you’re cold and wet, warm, dry clothing became worth more than gold. A fire starter that would work without fluid worth more than that collectible Zippo lighter.
Realizing too late that no one was really working to contain the rioting crowds, the residents of Maple Tree, an upper class property development, were forced to flee just minutes ahead of the descending mobs. Their vehicles were long since abandoned for lack of fuel. They had walked for miles in the cold and snow, covering only eleven miles in three days. The last day with no food, and melted snow for drinking water. The group was pitifully unprepared for what had happened, for the situation they now found themselves in.
Jared Thomas was trying to keep watch for the group as he shivered in his light jacket. It was stylish, and rather expensive, but did nothing to help fight off sub freezing temperatures, especially once it was water logged with falling snow. As he watched for trouble, others tried vainly to get a fire started with the wet dead fall they found around the stand of trees they had taken shelter in.
By Thomas’ estimation they had traveled a grand total of seventy miles since leaving Memphis, headed east. That would put them near Jackson, Tennessee, a good sized town along I-40, midway between Memphis and Nashville. He didn’t expect Jackson, which had been crime and violence ridden before the collapse, to be any better than Memphis. Nor did
he expect any help there, either.
Their one radio had been on an MP3 player brought along by a teenager, and had long since gone silent, the battery drained by constant use. No one thought to ration how they used it, instead wanting the constant updates they were accustomed to before the collapse. Now, they knew nothing, except cold, and hunger, and desperation.
They knew from harsh experience that almost every road was occupied with roving gangs, searching for food and victims on which to vent their anger. Their presence had forced the group into the woods where they were now, lost and afraid. They had no way to defend themselves, none of them having owned a gun, or ever imagining a world where they’d need one. Everyone was regretting that decision, now.
Thomas was startled from his reverie by movement in the snow. He strained to make out the approaching shape, and realized with a start it was a man.
“Someone’s coming,” he announced. The group stopped whatever they were doing and hurried to where Thomas’ was standing. Gradually the man became more visible, walking toward them with purpose, something across his shoulder. Thomas was shocked to see it was a small deer.
The ‘man’ turned out to be a teenage boy, Thomas thought. As he arrived, the teen merely dumped the deer on the ground, and looked at the assembled group.
He was tall, Thomas noted, with what looked like sandy blonde hair peeking out from under a floppy hat combined with toboggan. Piercing blue eyes seemed to pin the group in place. The bulk of his leather coat hid the boy’s build, but his strength was apparent, considering the ease with which he’d carried the deer.
Thomas looked at the deer, noting how blood had stained the snow covered ground. The deer had been gutted.
The teen looked at them for less than a minute, eyes sweeping the group, appearing to take in everything about them in the time. Then he was moving again, walking into the trees. Without a word, he began to pull smaller trees in the circle down, and tie the tops together. In less than five minutes he had formed a crude hut of small cedar trees, occasionally hacking limbs off with a small hatchet. These limbs he tossed into the center of the hut.
With the hut formed, the boy gathered the branches he had cut, and used one of them to sweep the snow from the inside, taking the wet leaves with it. No one in the group moved to assist him, not knowing what to do, or what he was doing. Once the inside was clear, the teen carefully placed the branches into a small pile in the center.
Removing a small medicine bottle from one of several pouches on his belt, he removed what looked like a damp wad of cotton and placed in under the branches. He next removed a fire starter, raking shavings from it onto the cotton, and then struck the flint. Sparks flew from it, and the cotton and magnesium flared to life.
The teen, who had still not spoken a word, worked carefully for several minutes, feeding twigs and cedar and pine needles to the fire as the wood began to catch. The group looked on in silence as the fire grew. The teen looked up at them, and motioned for them to join him in the hut. The group moved as one, beckoned by the warmth of the fire.
The teen slipped away, and Thomas heard the hatchet again. Minutes later, he could see pine branches being slipped into the walls of the hut, shutting off the cold air still coming in between the trees and their branches. Thomas looked longingly at the fire, wanting nothing more than to be warm, then slipped outside to help. He watched the boy for a minute, learning what he could, then hesitantly picked up one of the branches, and began weaving it into the hut’s wall.
He finished, and stood back to look at his handiwork.
The boy examined it for a second, then nodded approvingly before going back to work. For some reason, the teen’s approval was important to Thomas. He hurriedly went back to work. The sooner he was finished, he figured, the sooner he could enjoy that fire.
Working steadily, he was surprised when they were suddenly finished. The teen pointed to the hut, motioning for Thomas to go inside, which he did, gratefully. He watched as the teen took a knife and began to fashion something out of a set of branches he had set aside. Shaking his head, Thomas went inside, where the others were gathered around the fire, still shivering.
He was pleasantly surprised to find that the hut was much warmer. The ground was even somewhat drier, with the heat from the fire working to dry not only the inside of the hut, but the clothes on their backs.
Five minutes later the mysterious teen entered the hut with an armload of cut wood, which he carefully added to the fire. Gradually the fire grew, and the teen left the hut again, returning with the deer, now skinned and run through with a heavy branch that the bark had been stripped from. He carried two other branches in his other hand that formed a Y shape. He motioned for Thomas to help, and handed him one of the Y branches. Thomas took it and stood opposite the teen across the fire. Between the two of them, they managed to hang the deer, using the Y branches to suspend the deer over the fire.
The boy looked at Thomas, then reached down and slowly turned the deer a quarter turn. He waited five minutes, then turned it again. Thomas nodded his understanding, and stood by the stick. Reaching into a shoulder bag, the teenager produced a butcher’s knife, which he handed to Thomas, still without a word.
The teen looked at the group, shaking his head in silent resignation. Waving to Thomas, he stepped outside of the hut, and disappeared into the snow, never having spoken a word. Thomas watched him leave, feeling lost once again.
Then he turned the deer.