Posted: 8/31/2008 6:08:33 PM EDT
[Last Edit: Swindle1984]
This is the new survival story I'll be working on. The Survivor will be condensed into a second thread and edited at some future point while I work on this new story. This one is going to be a bit darker than The Survivor. That said, enjoy.
The year, for those who have been keeping count, is 2027. It is fifteen years after the third World War broke out. Of course, nowadays most people don't care what the date is, or even what day of the week it is. They simply keep track of the seasons and struggle to make it another day.
The world is an ugly place. Well, it always has been, but it's uglier now. The nuclear exchange between every single nation with nuclear weapons, including a couple terrorist organizations, destroyed most of the infrastructure that society needed, but that wasn't so bad. People survived the blasts, people survived the fallout. Heck, they even survived the cobalt-salted bombs and the persistent contamination from nuclear power plants that got hit. They even, amazingly enough, managed to survive the weaponized small pox and airborne ebola that were released from cruise missiles everywhere it was likely survivors would gather that hadn't been glassed.
No, nukes couldn't kill us, the chemical weapons used on the battlefield couldn't kill us, and even the germs couldn't kill us. Heck, even the germs they made to kill the grains and veggies didn't kill us. Man is a survivor. He adapts. He overcomes. He kills. Ever since man first picked up that antelope femur, or heavy stick, or rock, or whatever it was he used to kill that first animal and eat it, he had secured his destiny as a survivor. Because man is a killer.
That's the problem. We're killers. And we're good at it. Too good. I know, I know, after I die and some scavenger or the son of a bitch who finally got me goes through my stuff and finds this journal, you're going to read this part and laugh. 'What, you mean hippies survived the war?' Fuck you. I ain't no hippie. I'm just a man trying to make his way in the world, and I won't roll over and die for anyone else's convenience. Heck, it was the hippies, the peaceniks, the eco-nuts, that kept us from being better prepared for the war in the first place. I hope they're all sucking Al Gore's nuts in Hell.
No. I'm no hippie. But the fact is, we're killers and we're darn good at it. Just too friggin' good. Everyone needs to adapt to survive. Everyone has to kill to survive, because everyone else wants what they have. And that's the problem. Not everyone can make it, because if they do then that means someone else doesn't.
Again, don't think I'm getting sappy over some guy who starved to death because I found his cache of canned corn and ate it, or because I shot some asshole who found my cache of MRE's and tried stealing it. Better them than me. I'm just pointing out the facts of life. In order for some to survive, others have to die. Sometimes the strong overcome the weak, sometimes the smart overcome the stupid, and sometimes it's just sheer random chance that someone makes it and someone else doesn't. That's life.
Doesn't mean I have to like it. Doesn't mean I hate it either. It just... is.
Anyway, we're pulling into Barter Station. Used to be some podunk town, I forget what the name is. I pencilled Barter Station over it on my map two years ago when we found the place and I haven't bothered to remember the original name since. Not like it matters any more. The old world is deader than disco. Though there's still patches of what you could call civilization left. I don't mean the communities of survivors that have scraped by over the years, I mean actual pockets of humanity that were never touched by the war and have been cut off from the barbarism of the outside world. Small towns that no one remembered, self-sufficient and clinging to the old standards and ideas of the past. Bomb shelters. I hear some senator in Wyoming finally emerged from some Cold War bunker with a couple hundred soldiers and government flunkies. Ran out of food. Thought he could take over and tell everyone what to do after he'd left them to die and hidden himself underground for nearly fifteen years.
He must have been pretty surprised when most of his men joined the locals in stringing him up from a lamp post. People may have to live a day-by-day existence now, but they have long memories. God help the poor bastard who decides to open the door to the governor's vault in Arizona. He didn't just fail to warn people of the impending attacks, he actually told everyone to go outside or something. I forget what.
Anyway, gotta wrap it up. We're pulling up to Barter Station and I have to relieve Sam at the wheel. We'll lay in for a couple of days, do some trading, stud out the dog for some fuel, and try to find a job before we move out again. I hope it's something cushy this time, because if I had to spend one more week with a loud-mouthed jerk in my cabin telling me how important he was, I'm just going to shoot the fair and go into piracy for a living.
Gosh, California is still beautiful. The parts that didn't burn, anyway. All the more beautiful with San Francisco gone. I hear there's still a statue of Lenin over in Berkley, if you can stand the radiation long enough to go look. Dang hippies.
Chapter 1: California
Hope walked carefully through the crowd, keeping Eli tight against her. The sounds, and especially the smells, were nearly overwhelming as she made her way through the bustling mass of humanity. The post-apocalyptic world hadn't done hygeine any favors, and the numerous animals present in the market added their own aroma. She nearly gagged at one point when she realized that the source of one particular odor was coming from a man standing nearby selling tin cups and beeswax candles.
Finally, she found one of the men who worked in the market, overseeing it and providing security and organization. They controlled traffic, they rented the land to the vendors, and they supervised everything. She zeroed in on the red sash that made him stand out from the rest and pulled Eli along in her wake.
"Excuse me, sir! Excuse me!"
It took several tries to get his attention over the noise of the crowd, but she finally did and he led her away to a place where it was quiet enough to hear one another without shouting.
"What kin I do fer yer, young missy?"
"I need to arrange transportation for a trip. A very long trip. Do you know anyone who could take us a long distance from here?"
"Sure do! Here, follah me an' I'll take yer over where there's some fellers who do that fer a livin'."
She kept Eli close, tugging his wrist when he tried to linger to stare at something a vendor was hawking to anyone who passed by. She didn't want to lose the man she was following and she certainly didn't want to lose Eli in this mass. Who knew what would happen. After several minutes of navigating through the crushing ranks of vendors and customers shouting at one another, they broke free of the masses and into a relatively clear area, though now she had to be careful not to step into piles of animal dung. The man she was following simply missed them without even looking down to see where they were. He stopped when he got near another man with a red sash, who was talking to several rough-looking men. Behind them were roped-off squares where campers, horses, a pair of oxen, trucks, jeeps, and ATV's were parked, the official parking lot of Barter Station's market. The rental fee for a space was cheap enough that nearly anyone could afford it, mainly because there were so many people who still had running vehicles or animals they could ride that the market organizers still made a profit at such a low price.
"Oy! Dick! This young lady needs a transporter! Think yer kin arrange sumfin for 'er?"
"Maybe if you bothered to enunciate, sure."
"Ah, yer mum! Yer know it's me teef that gimme sich trubble wi' m' words."
"Sure, Sasquatch, sure. Anywho, you need a ride, missy? Where to?"
Hope swallowed and tried to ignore the tightness in her chest. She knew they'd all laugh and say no if she told them outright.
"Well, it's a long way. A very long way."
"Any place is a long way these days. But you got enough to pay, somone's bound to take you up on it."
"W-well, it's a very long trip. I'm afraid everyone will say no because of how far it is, b-but I c-c-can pay."
She cursed her stutter for coming out at a time like this, then noticed one of the men looking her up and down and leering.
"Sure, you can pay. So how far are you goin' anyway?"
"Um... Maryland. All the way to the coast."
She'd expected the incredulous stares, but it was still worse to actually receive them than she'd thought it would be. She tried not to cringe. The first man who'd brought her over here finally broke the silence.
"Well, uh, missy? I 'spose we kin ask, but I don't reckon anyone is gonna take yer up on yer job. Ain't nobody bin to the east coast since the bombs fell. Least wise, ain't nobody bin to the east coast 'n' back. But... we kin ask."
One of the other men stirred and said, "That ain't quit true. I know of one fella who's been to the east coast and back. Least, he says he has."
"That story's bullshit and you know it, Laz. He just says he came from the east coast so he gets more business. 'sides, he only does transportin' when it's worth his while, not for a living. And I don't care how much you got to pay with, there's nothin' that'll make a trip that far and through all that worthwhile. Shit, just the radiation alone makes it bad enough. Would you wanna risk the frickin' mutants, an' zombies, and bandits too? How 'bout the germs? They're still around in some places. I don't care what folks say about the war germs being too lethal to stick around for long, folks who go too far east get sick."
Hope tried not to sound desperate, but the mention of a man who at least claimed to have been to the east coast since the war had gotten her excited. She ignored the pounding in her chest and the constricting feeling and struggled to control her stutter.
"S-so someone has been to the coast? The east coast, I mean? And he does transportation?"
The second man with a sash shook his head.
"Lady, I'm with these guys. He just made that story up when he rolled into town a couple years ago to get himself a reputation. As for transportation, yeah, he'll do it if the pay is good enough, but generally he just wanders around in the wasteland and scavenges for stuff to sell here. But if you wanna try him, Sasquatch here can show you where he's parked."
She nodded, afraid of speaking in case she stuttered again, and followed her guide through the parking area. Finally, she spotted what must be their destination.
It wasn't what she had expected. Most of the vehicles were beat-up trucks, off-road vehicles, and an occasional camper. There were more horses and wagons than motorized vehicles. This one stood out from the rest.
It was big. It was armored. It had four wheels on each side and was painted a camouflage that blended in with the dust of the parking lot very well. Then again, that was probably mostly because a lot of that dust was all over it. The back half of the massive truck was covered in a tarp that was of the same camouflage pattern as the rest of the truck. The most impressive part was that the armor wasn't some improvised job done after the war; the truck had obviously been built that way. It was definitely some sort of surplus vehicle. It said Tatra on the front grill.
A short, thin person of indeterminate gender sat in a lawn chair in front of the cab, stroking a doberman. An early model M-16, probably an A1, was casually laid across the person's lap. When it became obvious that... Sasquatch, and she and Eli were walking specifically to the truck, the person in the lawn chair stood up and dusted... himself, she decided, off. It was definitely a young man, by the stance and mannerisms. It was fairly warm for this time of year, but he was dressed in an oversized trench coat in a camouflage pattern that didn't match the BDU's he wore underneath. The camo of the chest rig holding the spare magazines for the M-16 was yet another pattern. At least the BDU pants and jacket matched. The young man had an olive-drab scarf around his lower face, a matching cap, and the hood of his jacket pulled over his head so only his pale brown eyes showed. He made a clicking sound and gestured for the doberman to stay before the big dog could lurch to its feet. The dog hadn't moved, but it watched intensely.
"Hey, Sam. Got a job fer yer if yer inneressed. Faust around?"
The young man shook his head and pointed off toward a section of the market where animals were being bought and sold.
"Ah. Off studdin' out Max agin'? A'ight. Any idea how long till 'e's back?"
A shrug was his only reply. He nodded, said that they'd wait for him to come back and pulled Hope aside. Eli stared at the doberman in awe.
"A'ight, if anyone is gonna take yer up on yer offer, i's these uns. They don' stick ther necks out fer folks what ain't payin' 'em, but they sum times take on jobs nobody in thar rit minds 'ud take. If'n you make it wurf their while, they might take yer offer and yer'll have yerself some transpertatin. Yer don't gotta worry 'bout these two; they's honest folks. Little creepy now and agin, but who ain't these days? Oh, an' a word 'bout Sam over thar: 'e don't talkit all. May be 'e's a mute 'causa one ah them germs, may be 'e jus' don't like talkin' to folks. Who knows. Whelp, I'll leave yer to it. Good luck, missy."
With that, Sasquatch wandered back into the fray of the general market. Hope stood there awkwardly, clutching her bundle, then turned to stand awkwardly staring at this... Sam, person, who was had gone back to reclining in his lawn chair and stroking the doberman. The dog, for its part, ignored the stroking and continued to stare intently at Hope and especially Eli, who was still staring at it. Finally, Eli became nervous under the big dog's scrutiny and retreated to the perceived safety at Hope's side. Sam seemed rather nonchalant, but the way his eyes kept roving in all directions, glancing back at her and Eli, and then scanning his surroundings again indicated that he was nervous about something. His scratching the dog's ears seemed more for his benefit than the dog's. What was he nervous about?
After about twenty minutes, when she was beginning to consider finding some place to sit down, she spotted another man and a dog walking towards the armored truck. He was tall, dressed in BDU's of the same unfamiliar camouflage pattern that Sam wore, had an identical chest rig, and an olive-drab tube scarf over the lower half of his face. His cap was a light brown wool, and it took her a second to remember where she'd seen one in that style before- old photos of Nazi soldiers. The memory shook her and she glanced away from the cap to his trenchcoat. It was made of both olive drab and brown material mixed together evenly, so that it looked brown when compared to the dust of the parking lot and then more greenish when he walked past a jeep that was painted in a woodland camouflage pattern. Clever. She noted that both men's coats were worn in and well-used, but their BDU's and chest rigs seemed clean and relatively new. The new-comer had what looked like some sort of AK-47 variant, all black with a scope or something mounted just in front of the rear sight. The dog walking alongside was a sleek german shepherd, larger than usual for the breed, but not amazingly so.
She tried to remember what the other men had called him... Faust? Was that his name, or a nickname? She didn't know. The german shepherd flopped down next to Sam in his lawn chair and studied her and Eli far more casually than the doberman, who continued to stare at them. The newcomer glanced over at Sam, who shrugged and subtly pointed their way.
"Can I help you?"
"Um, y-yes, mister, uh- Faust, is it?"
"Some folks call me that."
"W-well is it all right if I call you that?"
"Lady, you can call me a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater if it makes you happy. You want something?"
"Y-yes. I-I-I had a b-business proposal for you. I was told you would probably be the only o-one to take me up on it."
She noticed his eyes were a piercing blue just before he turned his head, pulled the scarf down, and spat something out. It looked like gum, but that was so rare as to be almost unheard of. He pulled his scarf back up and looked her up and down. Unlike the man from earlier, he didn't seem to be interested in her... charms. He was studying her. He only glanced at the large knife on her belt, but his eyes lingered on the spot where she had carefully hidden the High-Standard .22 pistol she carried. It made her nervous. Finally, he spoke again.
"So what do you want?"
"I-I need transportation. It's a long way, but I can p-pay. I-I'll make it worth your while. W-with trade goods", she hastily added when he raised an eyebrow. She didn't want him to get the wrong impression about how she could pay.
"Transportation to where?"
"Maryland. On the coast."
He stared at her blankly. Sam stared as well. The doberman continued to stare as it had already been doing. The german shepherd licked its crotch, oblivious to all the staring.
"Lady, you gotta be kidding me."
"W-well, S-Sasquatch and some others said you'd been there before."
"Yeah, once. Five years ago. And I was coming from Texas, not California. I can't even count how many times I almost died on that trip. What the heck's so important that you gotta go to Maryland?"
"Um... I can't tell you. But I can pay enough to make it worth the trip."
The scepticism on his face was obvious, even with a mask covering most of it. She pulled out a small coin purse and dumped some of the silver coins in it into her hand to show him.
"I also have a gold piece. South African."
He shook his head and replied, "Not worth it."
Then she laid her bundle at her feet and pulled out a satchel and opened it, holding it where he could look inside. He looked inside quizzically, then reached in, which she'd really hoped he wouldn't do. She wanted as few people to know what she was carrying as possible. He pulled out one of the large bottles and several small ones, reading the labels. He pried the cap off one, noting the foil that sealed it underneath, then examined the labels again. Sam was craning his neck to see without leaving his lawn chair, so Faust glanced around to make sure no one was in ear shot and told him what they were.
"Multivitamins. Antibiotics. Aspirin. Pain killers. And... anti-depressents? Oh, those'll be worth a couple gallons of gas for sure. All have this month's date on 'em, not that anyone pays attention to what month or year it is any more. Bottled this month and still sealed, huh?"
He pried open the foil on one of the vitamin bottles, pulled the cotton stuffing out, shook out a vitamin, and replaced the cotton stuffing and the lid. Then he pulled his scarf down long enough to pop the vitamin in his mouth and crunch it up. She grimaced. They were supposed to be swallowed whole.
"It's the real deal. At least, the vitamins are. And they don't taste old, so I guess these are genuine. Where'd you get 'em?"
"I c-can't tell you."
"Fair enough. This whole bag full isn't enough to get you to Maryland, but it'll get you at least a good part of the way there."
"I-I have more."
He considered that for a few seconds.
"I'm going to point out the extreme danger of this journey. Not just from the pockets of radiation all over, but from bandits and other crap. Mutants. Zombies even."
Eli finally spoke up and asked, in his high, whiny voice, "I thought there's no such things as zombies? They're just stories."
"You believe what you want, kid. You'll know whether they're real or not soon enough. How much more of those have you got?"
Hope gestured to three more satchels like the one she'd shown him, then added, "and there's the money too. Fifty dollars, face value, in silver. And the k-krugerand."
He nodded thoughtfully.
"I need to confer with my partner. This is gonna be a long trip, even if we don't go all the way."
He gestured and he and Sam stood by the back of the truck, gesturing and speaking quietly, glancing at Hope and Eli once or twice. Hope thought Sam might have whispered something too, but the scarf over his face made it impossible to tell. Finally, Sam threw up his arms in apparently grudging surrender, and stomped back to the front of the truck to grab the lawn chair and hurl it into the back of the truck. Faust ignored his partner's apparent frustration and pulled his tube scarf all the way down, grinning easily. She noticed his teeth were in good shape, if not up to the standards of the pre-war era she barely remembered.
"Lady, I think we got ourselves a deal. But before we make anything final, I'm gonna lay down a few rules. First of all, when you're traveling with us, you do things our way. I tell you to do something, you do it. No questions, no complaints. You got that? Second, my partner and I enjoy our privacy. We don't like people much and only bother with them when we need to. You got your secrets, and we got ours. So you keep to yourselves and let us keep to ourselves and we should get along just fine. Third, don't go antagonizing the dogs. They're friendly enough for this day and age, but don't do anything stupid to piss 'em off. Fourth, you do anything that might be construed as betrayal, welsh on the deal, or go stirring up trouble for us with whatever locals we run into, and you're on your own. Got it?"
"All right then. Welcome aboard the Tatra. And call me Nick, not Faust. That's just a weird nickname they gave me. Get your shit stowed in the back of the cab and take a seat. Don't get on the passenger side, that's Daisy's spot. She's the doberman. Oh, and stay out of the back of my truck, understand?"
She nodded, too breathless to reply, and herded Eli to the cab of the truck, which Sam had now opened up. Sam wandered over to Faust while she loaded up.
Faust, or Nick rather, was looking over some of the bottles as he dug through the satchel he'd been handed. He looked up as Sam gave him a punch on the shoulder and raised his hands in a "what the heck" manner.
"Come on. We're frigging RICH now! It's worth it. And she's just gonna give up before we even get through Nevada and we can drop her off somewhere. It'll be a week or two at the most, I promise. We don't need to worry about anything."
His partner seemed to struggle with himself for a moment, then waved one hand around in exasperation.
"Sam, don't worry about it. It's gonna be fine. It's just a week or two. It's worth it. Do you have any idea what kind of stuff we can trade this for? She must've knocked over the last pharmacy on the planet for this. You just watch my back in case she does something stupid and I'll worry about the rest, ok? C'mon, you know me better than that. It'll be fine."
Sam finally shrugged acceptance and got in the truck.
"All right. On the road again. This is definitely going to be an interesting trip."
With that, he opened the driver's side door, and shouted "Load up!" to the dogs, who easily leaped the distance from the ground to the floor of the cab and found their places inside. Before he got inside himself, however, he kicked the front bumper of the truck.
"Don't give me any trouble this time, you Russian bitch. Do you know how hard it is to find parts for you? I want a good trip this time, a GOOD one! All right, let's do this!"
Good story, keep it coming.
I'm bored and my room mate is being an asshole, so here's chapter two already.
The journal entries won't be a regular thing, by the way. Just something I'll use every now and then.
Anyway, here's chapter two.
I hate strangers. You can't trust anyone these days. Heck, you couldn't trust them before the war. It's just that these days trust usually involves more dying than broken hearts and television drama.
It's better to be alone, out in the wastelands. You know who to trust and who to shoot out there. At least, most of the time you do. And now I've got two strangers sitting in the cab of my truck for the next couple weeks, if they actually stick it out and don't give up. I hope they do. It's going to suck dealing with them for that long. It was hell with our last fair, and we only had him for ten days.
I already had to yell at the kid for looking over my shoulder while I was writing. Privacy is sacred. And here we have to give that up while we've got strangers with us and we have to keep them from finding out- Well, you know. I've never said it in my journal, in case it got stolen or we got captured or something, and I'm not about to start now.
Sam is pissed at me, of course. It's entirely my fault for taking the fair, but who the heck can turn down a payment like that? Where the heck does someone get drugs like that in this god-forsaken hellhole? Everything was either blown up, irradiated, poisoned, infected, or killed by drought. Most of the people who knew how to replace it, to rebuild what we needed to keep civilization going, and managed to survive that either got eaten by cannibals, shot by bandits, or taken prisoner by whatever group of survivors found them first and forced to crank out the necessities of survival for one crappy pocket of humanity scratching out a living.
It's a good thing I don't drink, because if I started I'm pretty sure I'd drink myself to death within a week. This shit is depressing to think about.
I hope Sam can deal with these people traveling with us for as long as they tough it out. They look and act pretty sheltered. Hopefully they give up by the time we hit Nevada and I can get out of the dog house.
Speaking of dogs, I forgot to buy more flea collars while we were still in Barter Station. The ones we've got aren't going to last even half the time a trip like this is going to take. Assuming it's even possible to make it to the east coast. That one time was mostly on foot. Who knows if there's even gas between here and there. Anyway, need flea collars. Need to make sure they're still good too, got ripped off once.
Further note: Gotta remember to pick up that cache in the place where we talked about trees. Don't want to forget something that valuable.
Hope was somewhat apprehensive with how nervous the two men driving them seemed as they came to a bridge with long-abandoned cars at one end. She'd already noticed that they were more heavily-armed than she'd expected. A rifle and maybe a pistol she'd have expected, but what they had was overkill in her opinion.
Nick, or Faust, or whatever it was she was supposed to call him had his AK variant and probably ten or more magazines for it, and she'd already noticed that the selector had two positions on it. She silently thanked her father for having been a gun fanatic who helped run an arms museum before the war; all those books of his came in handy for identifying the wide-ranging and often bizarre selection of guns available to the survivors of the nuclear apocalypse.
Besides the AK, he had what she thought was a CZ-75 or some copy of it in a drop-leg holster on his right-hand side. She'd never been able to tell the difference between all the different clones. In a cross-draw holster he had a brushed-nickel revolver of some sort; 6" barrel, probably a .357 Magnum from the look of it. Nice rubber grip. He had another automatic pistol in a shoulder holster; she only spotted it once because his overcoat and chest rig hid it very well.
Sam was equally heavily armed. In addition to his M-16, he had a Glock of some sort in his own drop-leg holster and, she noted with some surprise, a Mauser c96 in a crossdraw holster. No shoulder holster as far as she could tell.
In addition to the guns they carried on their person, the cab of the truck was strewn with weapons, which Nick had immediately forbidden them from touching under any circumstances. Propped up vertically in a rack like the ones in police cars were a scoped bolt-action rifle of some sort, what was either an FAL or G3 (she'd never been able to tell the difference between them), and an AR-15. The passenger side door had a holster attached with an M1 Carbine in it, and the driver's side door had a double-barreled shotgun that had been cut down and had the stock sawn off so it was like an oversized pistol. There was a grenade in one of the cup holders.
There was a Mossberg shotgun and another scoped bolt-action rifle in a conventional gun rack in the back of the cab, and she'd seen a pistol in the glove box when Sam had opened it up to get out a map. She was quite certain more weapons were stowed around the cab, and could only guess what was in the back of the truck.
Sam took the driver's position while Nick climbed out, snapped his AK into full-auto, and cautiously walked across the bridge, taking partial cover when it was available. The german shepherd was obviously well-trained; it sniffed all the abandoned cars and roved ahead, scanning constantly. Satisfied that there wasn't any apparent danger, Nick waved the truck forward and Sam gave it gas slowly, glancing around nervously. Hope definitely heard Sam hiss something under his breath. So, he could talk. Did he just not talk to strangers then?
Once the truck was safely across the bridge, Nick and the dog hopped back inside and Nick took the wheel again.
"What was that about?"
"One of those cars wasn't there when we came in to Barter Station. Good spot for an ambush with that bottleneck. We're good though."
That was about as much explanation as she ever got for any of the things those two did, and it did clear things up, so she didn't push with more questions like she'd been inclined to when they'd first set out.
Another hour or so down the road, the sun started going down in the spectacular blaze it usually did. It occurred to Hope that sunsets probably hadn't been nearly as gorgeous before the war had thrown up all that fallout and dust in the atmosphere. Nick pulled the truck off the road behind a stand of trees that hid it from easy view and idled the engine for a few minutes as Sam brought the armored shutters down over the windows.
"Ok, we go to sleep early tonight. Gotta get up before dawn so we can hit the road. If you're gonna eat, do it now. I don't want anyone up and moving around after I'm asleep. If you gotta piss or take a dump, do it now. Otherwise, nobody leaves the truck until morning."
Hope stared blankly for a moment, then quietly said, "Um, w-we don't have any food. We thought you'd be providing everything."
"That was a stupid thing to think. You're responsible for all your meals. We're just paid to get you somewhere."
"But- we gave you everything we had to trade."
Now it was Nick's turn to stammer and look awkward. He glanced at Sam, who just glared at him.
"Um... Ok then. I guess we can share for now. But as soon as we hit the next town, you're earning yourself some food and providing for yourselves. We're not a charity."
He began digging through a bag on the seat when Eli piped up for the first time since they'd set out earlier that day.
"I have to go to the bathroom."
"Great. Sam, would you- Um, right. Fine. I'll be back. Keep an eye on her, make sure she doesn't do anything stupid."
Nick turned out the cabin lights, strapped on a set of night vision goggles, cursed and smacked them when they didn't immediately turn on, and carefully stepped out, rifle at the ready. Eli clambered down from the huge truck, and the doors were shut as quietly as possible. She couldn't hear them walking around through the truck's thick armor plating.
Hope decided to try to engage Sam in conversation. If he didn't like to talk to strangers, then she'd better make sure she wasn't a stranger, shouldn't she. It was going to be a long trip, so they might as well as get along.
"So... I don't think we ever properly introduced ourselves. I'm Hope. Eli's my little brother. We, uh, haven't really left home before. Barter Station was the furthest we'd ever gone before today. Your name is Sam, right? Do you guys spend most of your time out in the wastelands?"
Sam said nothing, sullenly tossed her a foil-wrapped package labeled Humanitarian Daily Ration, and tore open a can of frank n' beans. Drawing his knees up to his chest as much as the chest rig allowed, he turned away and pulled down his scarf before eating with a spoon out of a pocket on his chest rig.
Hope tried not to be obvious about her curiosity and resisted the temptation to lean forward to get a better look at his face. She'd suspected he had scars from an injury or disease, but the little he could see of his face revealed it was smooth and fine-featured, with no blemishes she could see. It was hard to tell in the dark, but she revised his age somewhat; she'd thought he was maybe sixteen or seventeen, but now he might be as young as fourteen. Interesting. She had no way of telling, the way he kept his face hidden by that scarf and his hood, but she didn't think Nick and Sam were brothers, especially since Nick only referred to Sam as 'my partner'.
The doors to the cab opened. Hope jumped; Sam didn't. Nick and Eli climbed inside and the doors were shut and the cabin light turned on again. Nick pried open a can of ravioli and began eating with his own spoon. He glanced back at Hope and Eli, tossed them a bottle of water, and said, "that meal's supposed to feed a person for a whole day, so make it last."
Ah. No more food was forthcoming then. She followed the directions on the package and shared it with Eli, who didn't care for anything except the stale chocolates included as a desert. She saved some of it in case they didn't get breakfast and pulled a blanket over herself and Eli. The doberman took up an entire third of the bench seat, which was big enough for four or five people, and snored slightly. Nick and Sam finished eating quickly, took a few sips of water, and Nick shook out a multivitamin for Sam. He'd already eaten one earlier, and apparently wasn't sharing with his passengers. Fair enough. They were his now anyway, and Hope had kept a small bottle for herself and Eli, along with some antibiotics and aspirin.
Nick turned the key all the way off, leaving it in the ignition, and turned off the cabin light. She could hear him and Sam rustle around as they spread blankets over themselves and prepared to sleep in a partly reclined position, still in their seats and with their rifles laid across their laps. Nick murmured "good boy" and Hope could hear the shepherd thump his tail against the seat for a few times before everything settled into silence.
Hope woke up coughing and choking. Eli stirred and whimpered in his sleep against her, and she tried not to wake him. Blast. The coughing wouldn't stop and she couldn't get any air. Her chest felt like steel bands were tightening around it. She groped in the pouch on her belt, grabbed the inhaler, removed the cap, and took a single precious puff off of it. She held her breath as long as she could before another coughing fit forced all the air out of her lungs, trying to give the medicine as much time to work its wonders as possible. She couldn't afford to use multiple puffs; it was going to be a long trip, and she was certain she couldn't replace any of the inhalers she'd brought along.
The coughing finally subsided and she cleared her throat to get rid of the phlegm it had shaken loose. She relaxed as her breathing slowly became easier and her heart stopped pounding inside her rib cage. She hadn't awakened Eli. She listened carefully for an indication that she'd woken the two- how should she refer to them? They weren't her employees, even though they technically were working for her. She wondered if they'd recognize the sound of an inhaler if they'd heard it. If they knew she'd held out on something that valuable when she'd told them she'd given them all she had, would they be angry?
The front of the cabin was entirely silent. She wasn't aware of falling asleep again almost immediately.
She didn't know how long she'd been asleep when she woke up again. Something had woken her up, but she didn't know what. She listened carefully, not hearing anything except her own breathing and Eli's.
There. A thump. Something was bumping against the side of the truck. That was what had made her wake up. She felt the seat shift under her as the doberman moved slightly, indicating that it took had been awakened by the thumping. She realized she'd fallen asleep with the inhaler in her hand and carefully felt for her pouch so she could stick it back in. It wouldn't do for them to see that when everyone got up in the morning.
"It's a pig. It's scratching an itch on the side of one of the tires. Go back to sleep."
Hope, not expecting a voice, jumped slightly. She let her eyes focus and eventually the silhouette of Nick sitting up with his rifle faded into view. She took his advice and settled back down, wondering how he'd known she was awake.
How long had she been asleep? Had he heard her with the inhaler when her asthma hit? She didn't know. She couldn't ask. She was asleep again before she could worry about it further.
She became aware that it was morning, technically, when the sound of door slamming woke her up. She felt groggy and sat up. There was a very dim glow on the horizon, but the night sky was still visible. Nick started the engine and let it idle. The digital clock on the dashboard said it was five in the morning. Sam opened the door again and let both dogs back into the truck, the doberman hopping over the seat into the back again, giving Hope a sidelong look but then ignoring her. It must be used to occasional passengers, but it didn't seem to like them any more than Sam did.
"Ok, Sam and I already did our business and let the dogs do theirs. You two take a crap or whatever it is you gotta do and be quick about it. We hit the road in five minutes."
"Ok. Um, is there any toilet paper? I didn't bri-"
"Use leaves. Not those ones with three points. You don't want the rash those'll give you, trust me."
Sam snickered audibly and resumed going through some sort of checklist. Hope and Eli climbed out of the truck and answered nature's call behind a bush before clambering back inside. As Hope had suspected, no one was serving breakfast, though Nick seemed to be gnawing on a piece of jerky. She unwrapped the leftover food from the night before and shared it with Eli. Eventually he dozed off again. She couldn't though; she was too excited by the journey. Neither of the two partners seemed in a conversational mood though, and she finally settled back and dozen off herself, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the massive off-road truck and the rumble of its engine.
When she awoke again, it was broad daylight, she was the only one in the cabin, one of the doors was open, and someone was shouting.
Interesting , please continue
Very nice. Good plot, great descriptions, and intersting characters. Looks like another winner.
Great start and was glad to see a new offering from you.
I can't wait to read more.
High praise, coming from you.
As an aside, both Sam and Nick are wearing Multicam BDU's, woodland camo chest rigs (Nick's is a Russian M23 Pioneer chest rig, Sam's is a generic American chest rig for the M-16), and Sam's coat is a Night Desert camo jacket with hood. Nick's coat is based on one I wanted made on commission, has an oversized mandarin collar that can be turned up to protect the lower face from wind, dust, etc., and when buttoned up has "pockets" that provide access to the pants pockets and anything on your belt or in a holster. The brown-and-green pattern was something I saw once on a jacket that someone was trying to market as a camo pattern that never became popular; it caught the light and looked more brown against brown backgrounds and more green against green backgrounds. The brown worked better than the green did.
And yes, Nick is wearing a reproduction of a Nazi M43 cap, brown wool, with the sides that flip down to protect your face in cold weather. It looks cool.
I based all their equipment and clothing on stuff I was familiar with, so I could keep a consistent image in my head of what they looked like.
Nick's AK is an SLR-106 chambered in 5.56mm, with an Ultimak scope mount and a holographic sight. It was refinished and modified at some point to be select-fire. Naturally, no one is enforcing NFA laws in the post-apocalyptic future.
Sam's rifle is indeed an old-school M-16A1, bare bones with no frills except for a modern bird-cage flash suppressor to replace the original three-prong one. As for where it came from, your guess is as good as mine. It might have been raided from a National Guard armory, but that would be telling.
I'm going to finish lunch and then start on chapter 3. I have a LOT more time this semester than previously (It's my last semester, I'm only taking nine hours, and they're all on Tuesday and Thursday. Score!) so hopefully I can keep up regular updates instead of stretching them out forever trying to find time to type everything out like with The Survivor. I go off for training to enter the national parks service in January, so I want to get as much of this banged out as possible before that steals all of my time and energy.
Hope looked outside the open door and the windshield, but couldn't see anything. The yelling had stopped. She opened her door and cautiously dropped the distance to the ground. Sam was making choking motions, holding his hand over his mouth; this was rather redundant, with the scarf he insisted on wearing at all times. Eli was watching impassively as Nick removed his coat and tube scarf. The dogs were nowhere to be seen.
"What's wrong? I heard yelling?"
Nick spat something that was unintelligible but probably vulgar, and tenderly probed the back of his neck.
"Ran over some barbed wire and got it caught on the underside of the truck. I went down to unhook it and a fricking scorpion got me in the neck."
Eli turned to Hope, doing his best to remain stoic but obviously amused.
"You should've seen him trying to smash it, Hope! He went crazy! He finally stabbed it with a knife a bunch of times and called it names!"
Sam was now on his knees and making louder choking sounds, holding his sides. Nick gave him a disgusted look, and pulled a first aid kit from his chest rig.
"Sure, everybody laugh it up. Hurt like a mother fucker. The barbed wire is loose, if anyone cares. Sam, go get the dogs. Tourists, back in the truck."
Hope helped Eli climb back into the truck and shoved some of the things crowding the seat and floor out of the way to make the place more comfortable. Nick finished wiping down the sting on his neck, slapped a small bandage on it, and put his first aid kit away.
A minute later, the truck roared back to life and the journey continued.
The truck stopped again some time after noon. Hope didn't see any reason for the stop, and the only thing Nick said was to stay in the truck. Sam, of course, said nothing. They simply got out of the truck.
Nick banged around in the back of the truck while Sam wandered off into the woods with the dogs. A few moments later, Hope saw Nick follow them carrying a pair of shovels. Now what in the world?
The next half hour was one of boredom. Eli wanted to go to the bathroom again, but they were forbidden to leave the truck. Just as Hope was wondering how long this mysterious stop was going to take, both dogs came loping back to the truck. They were soon followed by Sam, carrying the shovels, and Nick, carrying a large, almost flat, wooden box by a rope that had been tied around it for a handle. The box and shovels went into the back of the truck, and both of the wanderers brushed fresh dirt off of themselves before getting into the truck.
"What was that all about?"
"Just something we had to pick up on our way out from Barter Station. Don't worry about it."
"But what was that box-"
"I said, don't worry about it."
Nick's tone was not one to be argued with, so Hope shut up. She didn't know what this was all about, but she hoped it wasn't anything that made her regret hiring these people to transport her to the east coast. Nick drove on in silence, taking a swig from a bottle of water, and Sam sat in the corner. The german shepherd sat in the center of the seat and panted, absorbing as much of the cool air from the vent as possible.
That bothered Hope too. Why did Sam wear that scarf and coat all the time when it was so abnormally warm for this time of year? Nick wore a scarf too, but not constantly like Sam did. Then again, these were people who wandered the wasteland by choice. They were bound to have bizarre habits and customs that she wouldn't understand.
"So, what's the plan? Do you know how we're getting to the coast?"
"My plan is to spend a few days driving in a circle and drop you off at a nice beach in California and tell you it's Maryland."
It took her several seconds to realize that Nick's dead-pan delivery was actually a joke. She laughed politely.
"We've got maps, but most of the old highways got bombed in the war. It's clear for a few dozen miles, then you get to a town that was glassed or a bridge that was washed out when a hydroelectric dam got blown, or an overpass that collapsed, and you have to spend hours going off-road or through little towns that never got any traffic back in the old days until you find a way to back on the highway again and follow it until the next break. We'll have to detour way up north though, almost to South Dakota. There's a huge patch of land where they used a cobalt bomb that's still too hot to enter. We could go south, but that area's too populated. We want a route that's more sparsely populated."
"Why? Isn't more people better?"
"Nope. Not for us, anyway. Too many people see this truck and figure if we've got the resources to keep it running, then we must have enough to share. And then they get pissed when we don't. I'll let you figure out what happens next."
She thought for a moment, then said, "Oh."
"Yeah. So, fewer people is better. Less likely we'll get ambushed by bandits too. And, our trade goods will be even more valuable because they'll have less commerce up there."
"So why is it less populated up north?"
"Winter. No power grid for most of the continent, so electric heat is out. Nobody is bringing coal, heating oil, or propane up north in huge quantities either. Harder to grow crops too. So most folks either migrated south, which is what started the whole mess with folks shooting refugees who were stripping them bare like locusts, or they stayed and froze to death. Not many people living there now, but there's enough that we can find fuel, food, whatever else we need to make the trip. Hopefully."
Hope leaned back in her seat and let her eyes unfocus, feeling the truck bump its way over a spot where the road had washed out. An ordinary car, the kind that was popular before the war for their speed and mileage, wouldn't have made it across at all. The truck barely noticed.
Good story, keep it coming.
Seriously, i've probably checked this thread 3 or 4 times TODAY to see if you posted an update. Keep it coming! I'm definitely enjoying the originality of it; it would make a great movie.
It'd definitely have to be a mini-series. Way too much story (and distance) to cover for just a movie.
ETA: More info for you guys:
The truck is based on the Tatra 813:
The one in the story is a fictional cross between the standard truck and the up-armored version used as self-propelled rocket artillery. The Tatra 813 is still popular in off-road rallies around the world, which is presumably how this one got to the US. The one in the story has the windows all around (except the rear, where there are none) like the standard truck, but with armored shutters for them all like the up-armored version. The rest of the cab and the doors are identical to the up-armored version.
The armor will stop anything up to and including .50BMG, but beyond that... In the post-apocalyptic future, it's near invincible. It's a tough bastard, and a good thing too, what with spare parts being a bitch to find and all.
As you can see, there's plenty of passenger and cargo space. Just the sort of vehicle you'd want for TEOTWAWKI.
I also happen to know where you can order one. The standard cargo version OR the rocket artillery version (with launcher demilled per ATF rules.).
Another great chapter. Thanks.
Good story. I am really enjoying it. Please keep it coming!!!!!
I read a lot when I'm out in the wastelands, or when I'm holed up in some town just to get some semblance of civilization for a few days. What I read is mostly pre-war survivalist fiction or technical books. I read the technical books out of necessity; they also make decent trade items if you find a community trying to build certain machinery or that has a school running.
The survivalist fiction I read for my own personal amusement. Some of them are very similar to my own experiences and give me someone I can identify with in the story. Some of them are so far from reality that I wake the dogs up laughing at them.
I always wondered why people were so into this stuff before the war. It didn't make sense. Why would you fantasize about a world where most of the people were dead or dying and every day was a new series of horrors and dangers? Then I realized that I was looking at it purely from the perspective of someone who has spent most of his life dealing with all of that shit for real. I had missed the point. I went through and reread the books again, and the handful I have (or rather, had, since I dump all the books I don't like enough to read more than once. They take up too much space.) that didn't involve some post-apocalyptic vision or third world war.
I looked at the problems the characters dealt with on a day to day basis before the disaster struck them. They worried about retirement funds, having enough insurance, making payments on their car and their house, losing their job, getting a promotion, being popular, yadda yadda. When things changed and they started living the way I do, worrying about having enough food, enough ammunition, avoiding bandits who murder, rape, and pillage everywhere they go, radiation, disease, etc., it was like a vacation for them from the stress and worries they'd dealt with all their lives. The story was a vacation for the reader too, at least in his head. It was an escape fantasy.
I guess that's why I read these things too. The characters always reminisce about the world before everything went to hell, and talk about the luxuries they miss. That's my escape fantasy. If my only problems were coming up with enough money to pay some stupid tax or being popular with some group of idiots, I'd feel downright ecstatic. It's my escape fantasy.
I guess, whoever you are and whatever your problems, in the end we all really just want to escape. Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side. Or maybe we just need a change of pace to keep the tedium from making us crack. We see problems we think we could handle, and we'd rather have those than the ones we've got, even if it means we have to wipe away the entire world that created our problems.
I need to stop thinking so much before noon.
The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. Once they passed a very ragged-looking man who was walking the other direction and apparently lost in thought. He didn't notice the truck until it was nearly thirty feet away, at which point he dove into the bushes alongside the road. Nick only glanced at him as they passed, seeing the man peering out at them with a very battered shotgun at the ready. He didn't fire and the truck didn't stop, so both parties went their own way.
Hope wondered who the man was, what his story was. His unkempt beard and long, graying hair indicated he had been an adult before the world he knew had ended. Who had he been before everything changed? Who was he now? What was his purpose in life, if he even had one any more?
She would never know. Eventually, she thought, she would stop caring too. She would meet too many people, all the same, most too traumatized to live a normal life if you gave it to them. She'd become like them, in a way.
The thought didn't disturb her as much she would have expected. She'd already been away from home for three weeks and seen some things she'd never imagined in her wildest dreams. She was bound to grow up sooner or later.
She just hoped Eli didn't grow up hardened like the people she had seen. The two men taking them to the east coast seemed nice enough, in their own way, but others... The market place at Barter Station was enough to make her uncomfortable, even a little big frightened. Out in the wastelands, away from even those vestiges of civilization, things were much, much worse. She just hoped she hadn't done something stupid by going on this trip.
Sam threw a can of soup and a little metal thing into her lap, shaking her out of her reverie. It took her a moment to figure out that the metal thing was some sort of can opener, and it took her quite a bit longer to open it. She took two plastic spoons that were handed to her and she and Eli ate cold soup from the can. It tasted slightly metallic and was very slightly discolored from age, but was still edible. She normally could have eaten the entire can herself, but she wasn't going to complain. She didn't want to seem greedy, and she really couldn't call Sam or Nick stingy. They were, after all, sharing from their own supplies when they had expected their passengers to look after their own needs.
Sam chewed on a piece of jerky and a small chunk of bread, presumably purchased in Barter Station. Nick didn't eat until Sam had taken his turn at the wheel, and he wrote in his little notebook as he did so. Hope wondered what it was he was always writing; a journal? A story? Notes detailing his plans to get to the east coast alive? Both dogs wolfed down the bread and jerky given to them. The doberman looked hopefully at her from across the seat, so she held out the empty can and let it lick the inside. Afterward, it looked a little less standoffish toward her.
The trip continued mostly in silence. Occasionally she would ask a question and Nick would answer, or only grunt and continue writing. It was hard to start an actual conversation; he wouldn't answer any questions about his background, and he didn't seem at all interested in asking her any. Sam simply didn't talk at all. Finally, she asked what they did.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what do you guys do for a living? What do you do out here?"
Nick stared off into space for a moment, either trying to understand the question or trying to formulate an answer. Finally, he just shrugged and replied, "We survive. I'm not really sure what kind of an answer you're looking for. We scavenge for useful things, trade with people we come across, and basically just make it day by day."
She was about to respond to that when Sam smacked the dashboard to get Nick's attention and pointed. Nick looked.
On the side of the road was a semi truck that had overturned. It must have happened a very long time ago, because there was a tree growing between the cab and the trailer. The entire road was strewn with broken glass that had spilled from the truck.
"What happened here?"
"Beer truck overturned. Years ago. Probably not too long after the war, when things were still semi-normal. This far out from town, nobody bothers to clean up the glass. It's kind of become a landmark around here."
"We have to go around, right?"
"Nope. Just drive straight through. The truck isn't on the road."
"But won't the glass cut up the tires?"
Nick chuckled and smacked his fist against the roof a couple times in prideful ownership.
"Listen, this baby is army surplus, the best friggin' off-road vehicle ever built. Or one of the best, anyway. The tires are THICK. They're reinforced with kevlar. You could shoot them with a handgun and it'd only piss them off. Even if we did get a puncture, the truck has a system that automatically inflates and deflates the tires as necessary to get the best traction on whatever kind of ground you're driving on and it has some sort of reservoir full of foamy stuff that glues leaks shut. Like that fix-a-flat stuff in a can. You find one of those and they're worth their weight in gold. Same thing, but since we've never had a flat, we've never had to use any of what the truck's carrying. Got a spare jug of it too in case we need to refill. No idea if it's still good or not. Besides that, the glass has been walked on, run over by cars and animals, and sitting out in the middle of a road for God only knows how long. Most of the pieces are too small to hurt even a regular tire. And we have eight wheels; if one goes flat- oh no! We've only got another seven to drive on! Plus four spares stuck under the back of the truck, and a couple more that we cached somewhere. Best part is, if we ever did need to change a tire, we won't need a jack to lift the truck. Which is good, because this bitch is thirteen tons. You flip these switches here and it lowers down stands to anchor the truck to the ground; it's so you can attach a bunch of stuff to it like a bulldozer blade, winch, or even an artillery piece, but you can also use it to lift the truck up enough to change a tire. I know, I tried it."
He really was proud of his truck. Further, he was right. She couldn't even hear the glass crunching under the tires as they just drove right over it and kept going.
Dinner was served hours later and was just as skimpy as lunch had been. Sam switched places with Nick again when he was done eating. They were apparently used to eating light. They stopped for a bathroom break further down the road, but didn't stay stopped as Hope had expected. Sam merely flipped the headlights on and kept driving into the gathering darkness.
"We're not stopping for the night?"
"Nope. Too dangerous around here. From now on, we keep moving until we hit the desert."
"Why do we stop when we get to the desert?"
"Because the desert's safer. It's also your last chance to decide to turn around."
Hope didn't respond to that. Nick seemed to be anticipating a retort of some kind, but when none came, he pulled a ratty pillow out from under the seat and went to sleep. Sam stared straight ahead at the road.
Eventually, Hope and Eli fell asleep too.
The truck kept going.
I want a Tatra!!!!!!!
Cool story too! I can't wait until the next installment!!
Find the tanksforsale website, they're located in the UK and do exports to the US.
They have the cargo version for sale and had a couple of the armored rocket artillery versions a couple years ago. Dunno if they still have any.
They also have a T-72 for sale.
Now that is the ultimate BOV.
Great chapters and keep providing additional information.
Chapter 5, punks.
Hope woke up when Eli started talking with her ear just inches away. She jerked awake, disoriented. She'd been dreaming about home and it took her a moment to realize where she was.
"Nah, the next settlement is on the other side of the desert. That's why Barter Station's so big; they're the major trading area for the whole region."
"How big is the desert?"
"Not too big. It'll take us three or four days to cross, depending on the weather and other variables."
Hope rubbed the grit from her eyes and sat up stiffly. She had a kink in her neck that rapidly developed into a cramp. She gasped and began rubbing her neck briskly. Sleeping in the back seat of a military vehicle was uncomfortable.
"Ow. Where are we?"
Nick glanced into the back, then shut his notebook and tucked the pen into the sun visor above him.
"We're pretty far along. Sun came up about an hour ago. We passed through what's left of some town named Kayville last night, if that tells you where we are."
It didn't. She wriggled around in the seat to stretch her muscles and changed the subject.
"I don't understand how you two can stand sleeping in the truck like this all the time. I'm stiff everywhere."
Nick chuckled before he replied.
"Generally, we sleep in a tent. If there's a community that's safe enough to stay in overnight and they have beds to spare, we sleep in those. We're only in the truck because we don't want to stop any more than we have to."
"Bandits. This part of California got off pretty light and recovered the fastest. That means more people. More people means more stuff to steal, more women to rape, and more people to murder for whatever sick thrills you get from it. This area is populated enough to get victims on a regular basis when they travel back and forth, but isolated enough to jump someone without worrying about a posse coming after you. So, we keep moving. Lessens the risks."
Sam tapped the dashboard to get Nick's attention and began to pull over.
"Ok, time for a break before we swap drivers. Get out and stretch, but stay in sight of the truck. If anyone has any objections to this stop, keep 'em to yourselves. Go now, or forever hold your pee."
Hope helped Eli climb out of the truck, frowning to herself over Nick's bizarre, and often candid to the point of vulgarity, speech. It wasn't just that he was usually blunt or that he simply spoke differently than what she was used to, it was if he were referencing things that only he understood. She was beginning to suspect that his sense of humor mostly involved dead-pan in-jokes and that he was really amused at no one else getting them.
She went behind a bush, hiked up her skirt, and squatted down to do her business with some distaste. She'd known the trip would involve danger, but it was always an abstraction. She'd also known it would involve discomfort and a lack of the luxuries she was used to, but expectations never seemed to quite prepare you for reality. Finishing, she located some leaves that seemed up to the task and cleaned up.
Walking back to the truck, she noticed Sam leaving a bush of his own with a small roll of toilet paper in his hand. Genuine toilet paper. Hard to produce in this day and age, and expensive. She forced the disgust that they couldn't even share it with their passengers after the literal fortune she'd paid them and told herself it was probably their only roll. And again, they'd expected their passengers to take care of themselves for the duration of the trip.
She walked around the truck and stopped when she saw Nick hop out of the back with a rifle. It was small, with a wooden stock, and he smoothly inserted a black magazine shaped somewhat like a banana. Or at least, shaped like pictures of a banana. She hadn't seen a real one since she was four.
"Hey, kid. What's your name?"
Eli glanced up from where he was scratching the german shepherd's ears and replied, "Eli."
"Eli. Ok. I saw a rabbit hole over by that big pine over there. Why don't you go bag us its owner while Sam and I get things ready for breakfast?"
He held the rifle out to Eli, then twitched it when he only stood and stared at it.
"Well, c'mon. We don't have all morning."
"I... I don't know how."
"Whadda ya mean, you don't know how? They don't have rabbits where you're from? You just pop him in the head and bring him back."
Eli's discomfort became obvious and he fidgeted with his hands.
"No, I mean, I've never used a gun before. I don't know how."
Hope would have bet that nothing could really surprise Nick. He was too paranoid about ambushes to ever be surprised when one really occurred. He was too jaded about everything else to feel anything if some unexpected happened. He'd been excited when he saw what she had to pay him with, but not really surprised.
Now, however, she realized she would have lost the bet. Nick's jaw actually dropped. He stopped holding the rifle out and let it dangle at his side.
"Are you serious?"
Eli cast his eyes down and nodded, his cheeks beginning to redden.
"How old are you?"
"And you don't how to use a rifle?"
He shook his head, afraid to talk now. Nick's astonishment at encountering someone with no experience with a firearm was clearly total. He noticed Hope standing there and he quickly shifted from incredulity to disgust. He chambered a round in the little .22 rifle and stomped off into the undergrowth, muttering "what the heck kind of townies did I get on this trip" to himself before disappearing.
Hope helped Sam light the small fire on the side of the road while they waited for him to return. After a few minutes, they heard a POP, with Nick returning carrying a rabbit by the ears shortly thereafter.
Lunch was sparing. A piece of stale bread and some jerky. The rabbit they'd had for breakfast had been better.
Hope looked at the three books Nick had handed her when she and Eli had commented on being bored. At home, she'd usually read romance novels or mysteries. She dearly loved the Miss Marple character by Agatha Christie. She'd never even heard of these books before, and the premise written on the back of each one made her rather doubtful as to the odds of her enjoying them.
Enemies Foreign and Domestic. It was a large book and she noticed several objects, ranging from feathers to old dollar bills to a piece of notebook paper with page numbers written on it, inserted between pages. After looking at the scrap of notebook paper, she realized that all the other objects were bookmarks that matched all the page numbers written down. Apparently they were Nick's favorite parts of the book. She flipped to one and began reading, confused. Why would a man shoot some woman on her balcony at all, much less plan to do so for months in advance? And why abandon the rifle afterward? She looked at the description on the back cover again, then set it aside.
Battle Royale. She read the back cover, couldn't gain anything useful from it except that it had apparently been considered "violent exploitation" in some place called Japan, and opened the front cover. There she found a descriptor for the book and was even more put off of reading it than the first one. Nick's taste in reading material was definitely not up to her liking.
She looked at the last book doubtfully.
Lights Out. The synopsis on the back cover seemed intriguing. A story about the war and how everything had changed then. She knew, at least for the most part, since she'd led a fairly sheltered life up to now, what the world was like now, and her usual reading material gave her a vivid picture of what had been lost when everything had changed. But she'd always wondered what the transition had been like. No one had really told her. They'd all been too busy ensuring their own survival to think of such things early on, and afterward they didn't care to describe what they felt everyone had been through and had a universal understanding of. And she'd been too young to really appreciate the difference between the world before the war and after.
She looked at the publication date and was surprised to see that the book had been written years before the war. How would the author know what he was talking about then? She decided to give it a try anyway, since the alternative was boredom or trying to start another conversation with Nick.
Half an hour later, she put the book down. She'd never been carsick before and didn't quite understand what the problem was. She glanced at Eli, who was completely absorbed in the small book Nick had handed him. My Side of the Mountain. Nick had told him to read it or spend the rest of the trip staring at the back of driver's seat, commenting that he had to start somewhere. She put one hand over her mouth and leaned forward with her eyes shut, willing her stomach to stop feeling so awful.
She quickly forgot the nausea when a loud sound startled her. It had sounded metallic, like a large rock had smacked into the truck. Had they hit something?
Nick cursed and slapped a switch on the ceiling. The steel shutters slapped down over the windows. The truck cab immediately went dark, the only light coming from the small openings in the shutters for the driver to see through. Sam had immediately snapped awake and thrown the thin blanket off of himself to grab the Mauser from his crossdraw holster. Distantly, Hope realized the purpose of the crossdraw holsters was probably because they were easier to draw from while seated. She still didn't understand why Sam would use an antiquated pistol like that though.
"What's wrong? What's happening?"
"Some joker just shot at us. Shut up and sit down."
Hope bit back a sharp reply, knowing that the rudeness was simply Nick being blunt and functional, as usual. He didn't need a distraction, so he told her so. He simply didn't want to spend the time or effort to explain it to her. She kept quiet, but didn't obey the order to sit down. She leaned forward, trying to look out the small viewports in the shutters. Both dogs were alert.
Through the dirty windshield and narrow holes in the shutters, she saw three men step out into the road. Two held rifles. The third held both hands up in an imperious gesture to stop. They looked tough.
Hope's heart began beating and she felt her chest tighten. They'd be sitting ducks in the truck cab! Would the armor stop a bullet? It already had, hadn't it? She didn't see a hole any where. She held one hand to her chest and willed her lungs not to give her trouble now. It didn't seem to be working. She fought the urge to cough, knowing that if she did she'd start choking and have to use the inhaler again. She wondered how Nick and Sam would fight the bandits off.
Apparently, this was more easily accomplished than she had expected, and with far less drama. Nick didn't even accelerate, he simply kept the truck moving at the same speed. The two men with rifles dived off the road when they realized their prey wasn't stopping. The third man continued to hold his hands up with a look of astonishment on his face. He quickly disappeared from the port's small view and Hope cringed when she heard a dull thud located approximately where the front bumper would be. The rock-smacking-against-metal sound occurred twice again against the passenger side of the cabin, and then they were apparently clear of the ambush.
She leaned back into the seat and felt the tension fade away. With it went the tightness in her chest, and her heartbeat slowly returned to normal.
"I thought we were in for a fight."
"Nah. Idiots didn't even put up a roadblock with an abandoned car or anything."
Nick left the shutters down for an hour, even though the bandits were miles behind them. He eventually raised them again when he had to carefully weave the truck between the rusted hulks of cars that had only been partly pushed off the road years before. The dead cars thinned out after they passed the remains of an old gas station that had been looted and burned and eventually the road was empty again.
They stopped again at around five in the afternoon when Eli complained about needing a bathroom break. Hope's stomach curdled when she saw Nick examine the bloodstain on the front bumper, then retrieve a black marker from the glovebox. He returned to the front of the truck, bent over, and drew a diagonal line across four vertical lines just above the bumper. There were a total of ten lines now. She had the same sensation now that she'd had when she'd gotten carsick.
Nick seemed like a nice enough person, all things considered, but there was a macabre side to him that was far too casual for her liking. She wondered if it was his extended time in the wastelands that caused that, or if the majority of people were like that now. That last thought didn't give her any comfort.
She heard the dogs barking shortly before the gun shot. Before she even saw him move, Nick was on one knee, rifle aimed into the woods, with the massive front tire of the truck against his back. He scanned from right to left and back again.
There was a crashing in the brush ahead, and the doberman burst out onto the road, spinning about to face the woods again in a vicious snarl. Sam came out right behind it, with the german shepherd on his heels. He nearly said something, looked at Hope, then went to Nick's side and talked hurriedly in his ear. Nick relaxed somewhat and got to his feet.
"What's wrong? What is it?"
The nonsensical answer confused her. Zombies? How it could it be zombies? Those only existed in the tacky, gross films that her father sometimes watched whenever he could get the television to work. Didn't they?
Nick ignored her question and glanced about.
"Where's, uh... Eli. Where's Eli?"
"I'm right here."
Hope turned to see Eli hiding behind one tire, squatting beneath the truck. He looked frightened.
"Ok. How many are there, Sam?"
Sam flashed five fingers, then shrugged.
"Get the dogs in the cab, then grab the Snake Charmer and some slugs. You two, up on the roof."
Nick helped Hope and Eli climb on top of the cab, and they were joined shortly thereafter by Sam, holding a tiny gun in one hand. He set the gun and a box of ammunition pulled from a pocket on his chest rig on top of the cab, then unslung the M-16 and squatted down beside them. Nick glanced around every few seconds, but it was obvious he was simply doing it from habit rather than actually looking for attackers from all directions. He took the tiny gun, retrieved an equally small shotgun shell from the box, and stuck it into the chamber, snapping it shut.
"Eli, you've never handled a gun before?"
"No, sir. My dad- Um, Father never let me touch his."
Nick grunted in evident disapproval and gestured for Eli to come closer.
"Well, better late than never. Today you get to practice headshots."
Hope took a second to evaluate that statement, then quickly decided she didn't like it.
"Wait a minute! What do you mean, 'headshots'? What's going on? What did you mean, zombies? They're not real, are they?"
"Real enough. They're not some undead monster like the old movies always showed, but they act like it. People who got too much radiation, or one of the war bugs, or maybe just plain went crazy. I dunno what it is. They just don't act like people any more. They usually aren't dangerous unless they're hungry, but frankly I'd shoot them anyhow."
He stared at her. The look on his face surprised her; it wasn't scorn or surprise, it wasn't even directed at her. It was pity, and maybe a bit of revulsion.
"That's no way to live. Here they come."
She spun her head just in time to see them shamble from the undergrowth onto the road. They were horrible. All four were wearing wearing torn, filthy clothing, including pants they had obviously soiled repeatedly without removing. Their hair was wild, long, and full of sticks and leaves tangled in it. Their skin, pale in some places and sunburned in others, was covered in festering wounds. One had a spot on his arm that was quite obviously necrotic. All were missing teeth. The only sound they made as they shuffled forward was a painful hiss of breath as they sucked air in and out of their mouths. They all seemed like the mindless zombies from the movies, except the movie zombies weren't in obvious and constant pain from the abuse their bodies suffered. Nick was right. That was no way to live, even if they weren't dangerous.
"Ok, now just lean into it, and- no, keep both eyes open. Put the bead right in the center of the face. Pretend there's a triangle there, the nose is one corner and the eyes are the other two corners. Aim for the center of the triangle. You want them to drop immediately, just bang- flop. If you wound them, they'll just suffer. Now, just slowly squeeeeeeze the trigger so it surprises you when-"
"No! Absolutely not!"
Nick and Eli looked up Hope in surprise at her outburst. Sam continued to watch the approaching 'zombies' impassively, rifle ready. The muted barking of one of the dogs inside the cab could be heard.
"What's wrong with you?! You're teaching him to shoot people in the head?!"
Nick rocked back on his haunches, giving her an odd look.
"He's gotta learn sometime if he's ever going to look after himself. Better to start with an easy target than in the middle of a real fight."
She stared at him, searching for words, before simply settling on "No!"
"It's wrong! You can't have him shooting p-p-people! That's sick!"
Now it was Nick's turn to look ill, and he turned his eyes to the ghouls that had nearly reached the truck.
"We're doing them a favor. They're not people any more."
"Yes they are!"
Nick didn't look at her. Suddenly, he angrily snatched the Snake Charmer from Eli's hands, pressed it to his shoulder, and fired. The rear zombie sprouted a crimson flower from the bridge of his nose, spasmed violently, and collapsed like a puppet with the strings cut. Nick ejected the spent shell, slipped another one in, fired, and repeated the process a third time. The last zombie had reached the truck and was pawing at the side of it pitifully, staring up at them and wheezing. He stared coldly into her eyes as he casually leaned the muzzle of the little shotgun over the side of the truck and blew its brains out.
"No. They're not."
He turned to Sam and said accusingly, "I thought you said there were five."
Sam shrugged, looked around the truck to make sure there wasn't another they hadn't noticed, then began climbing down off the truck.
"Guess he wasn't hungry then."
Nick swung his legs over the side and stopped to look Hope in the eye again.
"Welcome to the wastelands. Enjoy the heat or get out of the fucking kitchen."
She refused to look at him, squinting to avoid tears in her eyes as he climbed down. She made Eli get down on the other side of the truck. With the Snake Charmer returned to the back of the truck, they all got in the cab and resumed the journey. Nick was angry, though she wasn't certain it was her he was angry at. Sam avoided attracting Nick's attention and stared out the passenger window. The german shepherd whined, not knowing what had everyone upset. Nick eventually relented and scratched its ears reassuringly.
Hope was beginning to wonder if they shouldn't give up on this mad adventure and return home after all.
Good chapter. Thanks!
All the SHTF stuff AND Zombies!??!
Awesome! worth the wait, hope the next chapter is even half as good!
Well, psuedo-zombies. They act like zombies, but they're still alive and still subject to all the weaknesses of the human body.
I was hoping for some redheaded zombie shtf sex scenes....
You want sex with a redheaded zombie?
As for more, yeah, unless I get interrupted (I was supposed to meet someone but they weren't there and aren't answering their phone), there's gonna be another chapter in a little bit.
The rest of the day was spent in silence. Hope fumed in the back, irritated by the clinking sound of something on the floor every time they hit a bump, which was often. She was tempted to start kicking at random objects to make it stop, but that was guaranteed to start a shouting match, so she restrained the urge.
Eli was absorbed in the book again. Sam was busy studying an old road map and comparing it to a hand-drawn map, making notes on the first with a pencil that had been sharpened so many times that only a stub remained. Nick just drove. She couldn't be certain, but he seemed to have gotten over being angry.
Why was he so upset? He was the one trying to teach a child to use a gun by shooting those... things, in the face! All she'd done was stop him because...
She hadn't let him show Eli how to use a gun. He'd been genuinely shocked when Eli had told him he'd never used one before, and then he'd acted disgusted. But not at Eli; at her father, for not teaching him. He'd told her that he had to learn if he was ever going to look after himself. Most of his complaints with his passengers were that they were supposed to provide for themselves.
She was beginning to see something about Nick that she hadn't understood before. But those people...
No. He was right about that too. You couldn't call that living. They were just mindless monsters, and killing them quickly and painlessly was a mercy, not a cruelty. She still couldn't believe he'd tried to teach Eli to shoot at them, but she could almost see the logic of it in her mind. Eli needed to learn to shoot, an invaluable skill that he would probably need before they reached Maryland. Killing the 'zombies' was something anyone with a little decency would do, to end their suffering. It was also necessary since they were dangerous. It all fit together. As for teaching Eli to shoot with targets that had been people at one point...
It either meant that Nick was incredibly heartless, which she didn't believe from the way he'd insisted that killing them was a mercy, or it simply meant that he'd grown used to such things out in the wastelands and saw them as normal.
She wondered, how did Nick learn to shoot?
They stopped again before dark to stretch and go to the bathroom again. Eli disappeared behind a bush while Sam led the dogs off into the trees. Hope didn't need to go yet, but she knew she'd better since there wouldn't be another chance once the truck started moving again.
Nick approached her with a sigh.
"Look, sorry about earlier. You're right, it was... inappropriate."
"I said you were right. Let's drop it. But the kid's gotta learn some time, before he has to fight and doesn't know how."
Hope stared at the faded asphalt of the road, then finally nodded.
"Last chance to turn around, princess. Once we cross the desert, we have to keep going until we reach a place that sells fuel. No turning around then. We turn around now, we'll still have enough gas to go back to Barter Station and drop you off."
She said nothing. Eventually, he turned to walk away.
"How did you learn to shoot?"
He looked at her quizzically.
"My dad taught me. When I was five. Why?"
"Nevermind. Forget it."
He still gave her an odd look as he turned and retrieved the roll of toilet paper from the truck cab.
Hope awoke when the sun was still rising and stared at the gorgeous oranges, yellows, and purple tinge of the sunrise. She remembered her aunt telling her once that sunrises looked like the sunsets used to. She wondered what the sunrises had looked like before the war. Probably nowhere near as exciting.
Nick was in the passenger seat, looking at the maps and doing some sort of math on a notepad. Probably figuring out how far they could get with the gas they had. Sam was humming to himself behind the wheel. She sat up straight and yawned, rubbing the grit from the corner of her eye. Sam glanced back and used one hand to pull his scarf up again. He was certainly an odd one.
She let Eli continue sleeping and stared out the windows at the scenery. The grass was sparse. All the trees looked wrong. It took her a moment to realize that most of them were dead. Some even looked burnt. Dirt was scattered across the road in drifts, deposited by wind and sometimes rain. Despite that, the road was surprisingly smooth, and it wasn't just the truck that made it that way. The road really was in excellent condition. After a while, she asked about it.
"Hm? Oh. You leave a concrete road alone and it doesn't get worn as quickly. It's high-traffic areas that get potholes and cracks. Out where the roads don't get traveled so much, they're in pretty good shape. You only gotta worry about where they got washed out by water or blown up in the war."
As the sun rose higher, it seemed to change the landscape. Grass and bushes had disappeared almost entirely. The trees were spread out further and nearly all of them were dead. The soil became browner and browner until it gradually became sand.
"Is this the desert?"
"Yeah. We've been in it for a while, it just doesn't get really barren until you're further in."
Eli eventually woke up and inquired about breakfast.
The desert was interesting, Hope decided. It wasn't as dead as she'd thought it would be. Sparse, low plants grew scattered all over the landscape, and big birds circled far overhead. She couldn't tell if they were hawks or vultures. Once she saw what might have been a rabbit, but it moved too fast for her to get a clear look. The air was cool and dry, but it smelled clean, fresh. She wouldn't want to live here, but she liked the desert, she decided.
Eli had played with the dogs, throwing an old tennis ball that most of the fuzz had worn off of for them to chase. He'd been intimidated by them at first, and Nick had warned him not to run away from them because they played rough and he might get hurt, but he'd eventually warmed up to them. Sam had taken over throwing the ball when Nick handed Eli what looked like a stack of paper crudely stapled together. Eli looked at it intently while Nick began setting up empty soda cans on top of a car that looked as if it had run off the road, crashed, and then burned long ago. Its appearance was all rust and broken glass.
Hope wandered over to see what the papers were. They looked to be badly xeroxed pages from an instruction book of some sort. She lifted the pages Eli had already looked at so she could see the cover; Introduction to Basic Close-Quarters Combat. Nick cursed as the wind blew over two of the cans and set them upright again.
Eli squinted intently at the blurred and smudged illustrations on the page he was studying, then looked up as Nick approached.
"Call me Nick, kid. You're making me feel old."
Hope smothered a laugh. Nick couldn't have been older than his mid-twenties.
"Ok... Nick. I can't tell what this one is supposed to be. What's a 'butt-stroke'?"
Nick immediately reached out and swatted Sam on the butt just as he threw the tennis ball. Sam acted as if he'd been touched with a live wire and immediately punched Nick in the arm. Nick darted away, yelping in pain and laughter.
"Uh, sorry. I'll show you that one later. For now, I've got something more important for you."
Hope shook her head. She had definitely fallen in with some eccentric people.
Nick returned from the back of the truck with the little .22 rifle.
"Ok, before I even let you touch this thing, you gotta know the four rules of gun safety. I was gonna skip that the first time since- well, nevermind. Ok, pay attention and repeat after me, you don't get to shoot anything until you can recite all four to me. Rule number one-"
Hope was feeling a little better about this trip. Nick had been extremely patient with Eli, and Eli had kept his frustration at not being able to hit anything at first in check. Eventually, he caught on and was able to hit any can Nick instructed him to on the first try. When they were done, Nick had him retrieve all of the spent .22 brass and the cans. She'd figured he wanted to keep the cans since they could still be valuable to anyone with a recycling operation, but she was surprised at his keeping the brass. There wasn't enough raw metal to make recycling them worth the effort unless you had an enormous amount. Nick eventually explained that he somehow used them to make bullets for the AR-15 and M-16 they had. It was beyond Hope how that worked, but she didn't question it. He'd said it too matter-of-factly for it to be one of his bizarre jokes.
An hour before sundown, the massive truck pulled off the road and Sam and Nick began setting up a small two-man tent.
"We're not staying in the truck?"
"Nope. Desert's safe enough that we can stop for the night and sleep in a tent. Uh, we have another tent, but it's pretty big. I mean, ridiculously big. It'd take an hour to set it up with all four of us. So..."
Hope smiled and hefted the bundle she'd brought.
"That's ok. We had to spend a couple of nights in a tent of our own before we reached Barter Station."
Nick raised an eyebrow, evidently impressed that his passengers had some degree of self-sufficiency, then got irritated again when Sam jabbed him in the ribs with a tent pole to get him to help finish setting up.
Hope had the pup tent erected in short order and Eli laid out the sleeping bag inside. Nick cautioned them about snakes and scorpions and about shaking out everything before they put on any clothing or shoes, then disappeared inside his own tent. Sam followed with two sleeping bags and the two men zipped up the tent and prepared for bed. The dogs curled up between the tent and the truck, huddled together for warmth. It wasn't cold enough to be a concern, fortunately.
Hope felt indescribable relief as she changed into the pajamas she'd brought along. She'd slept in her regular clothes in a seated position repeatedly and only gotten to change twice while on a bathroom break. Sliding into the sleeping bag was a luxury. When she'd first set out on the journey, she'd thought it the most uncomfortable way to spend a night ever. She guessed it all took a little perspective.
Eli slid into the sleeping bag beside her, the arrangement they'd settled on by necessity when they'd set out with just the tiny pup tent and one sleeping bag and quickly settled down for the night. Hope stared at the darkening sky, violet on the horizon fading into a deep blue that in turn faded into black with the most intense stars she'd ever seen. The lights of the cities weren't there to drown out the lights of the night sky any more, but the haze from ash and fallout had much the same effect in most places. Out here the sky was almost painfully clear.
"I'm glad we went on this trip."
She put one arm around her little brother and smiled. She still wasn't certain it was a good idea; in fact, she was pretty sure it was one of the worst ideas she'd ever had. But she didn't regret it; not yet.
"Me too. Goodnight."
Great story. Just one recommendation. I can picture Nick and Sam, but no physical description or Hope and Eli? That would help me understand some of her personaility if I at least knew her and Eli's ages.
Eli has been stated to be 10. Sandy-brown hair. Think of Anakin from The Phantom Menace, except less whiny and less wooden. Hazel eyes. Wears home-made brown denim pants and flannel or cotton t-shirts for the most part.
Hope is about 19, darker brown hair kept braided, very slightly overweight, hazel eyes, and wears home-made flannel or cotton shirts. Has home-made brown denim pants but prefers skirts of the same material as her shirts. Lots of tan canvas pouches and a hunting knife on a belt around her waist. Has a High-Standard .22 pistol hidden in a pocket sewn into the side of all of her shirts, which she wears tucked in so it doesn't flop around.Wears an off-white cotton/wool blend robe with a hood over it. Her outfit is vaguely medieval looking.
Both wear pre-war tennis shoes. Hope carries all of their supplies, meager as they are, such as clothing, the pup tent, and their sleeping bag, in a large canvas bag (her bundle). It mostly stays on the floor of the truck, but when she needs to carry it she either totes it bother her arms or can sling it over one shoulder.
The story is mostly told from Hope's perspective (though I will change to the perspective of other characters when necessary to the story, such as Nick's journal entries), so she isn't as concerned about what she or Eli look like, hence the lack of descriptors for the most part. I'll probably fix that in the future.
The overall impression of these two should be that they're largely sheltered from the horrors of the post-apocalyptic future and that for whatever reason Hope decided to set out on this journey for, she didn't really plan ahead.
Thanks. That helps alot!
Great story keep it going.
Damn! Another Swindle story! DAMNDAMNDAMNDAMNDAMN!
Really looking forward to the story as it develops.
If I remember and if something doesn't come up, I'll probably do the next chapter tomorrow.
Come on its past "tomorrow". I just don't want to keep with this story for 2 years as with the last one.
Hope awoke to water splashing against her face. Ah. She'd forgotten the tent had a leak in it right where her head went. She opened her eyes and stared at the roof of the pup tent only six inches above her. It was just light enough to see the water running off the fabric. Above the sound of the rain pattering she heard the truck door slam. She unzipped the end of the tent and lifted it, careful not to let more rain in.
Sam was messing around with a bottle, swishing it around and looking at it carefully before swishing it some more. A box was in his hand, sheltered from the rain by the camouflage poncho draped over him. The dogs were under the truck, out of the rain.
Nick... Now this was interesting. Nick was stripped to the waist, arms akimbo, staring up into the sky. A flash of lightning revealed that his eyes were actually closed. Hope supposed he liked the rain. It surprised her that it would rain at all in the desert.
Sam finished with the bottle, poured the contents out onto the increasingly muddy ground, and began setting up large plastic containers with funnels on top of them. Ah. He'd been checking to see if the rain was free of contaminants before gathering some for drinking. Nick finished whatever it was he was doing and helped. Once the jugs were set to capture the rainfall, he returned to the tent. Hope zipped the enclosure shut and settled back down. The sun was coming up, but it didn't look like they were going anywhere.
An hour later, and the early morning sun had already burned off the rain clouds and sucked most of the moisture from the dry ground. The mud had dried and cracked in a seemingly endless pattern that stretched out to the horizon. Nick and Sam had already packed their tent away and were pouring the water they'd collected into one container when Hope and Eli crawled out of their cramped tent for breakfast.
Nick shot a jackrabbit or something that they cooked with breakfast, which included some stale bread and dried apple flakes. After that, everything and everyone was loaded into the truck and they hit the road again.
Nick seemed to be in a particularly good mood. Sam just stretched out onto the seat and cranked up the air conditioning. He was obviously suffering in the desert heat, but insisted on wearing that scarf and hat, as well as the jacket and chest rig. Nick had kept his cap and chest rig, but the tube scarf and jacket were shoved under the seat. Hope didn't think she would ever understand these two.
Eli had finished the book and two manuals he'd been given and announced that he was bored.
Nick, still cheerful, stuck a cd into an old portable cd player that was connected to a cassette converter. The cassette deck this was all plugged into had obviously been retrofitted to the truck years ago by someone who only partly knew what they were doing.
"You guys like Johnny Cash?"
"I was totin' my pack along the long dusty Winnemucca road,
When along came a semi with a high an' canvas-covered load.
"If you're goin' to Winnemucca, Mack, with me you can ride."
And so I climbed into the cab and then I settled down inside.
He asked me if I'd seen a road with so much dust and sand.
And I said, "Listen, I've traveled every road in this here land!"
I've been everywhere, man.
I've been everywhere, man.
Crossed the desert's bare, man.
I've breathed the mountain air, man.
Of travel I've had my share, man.
I've been everywhere.
I've been to:
Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota,
Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota,
Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma,
Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma,
Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador, Amarillo,
Tocapillo, Baranquilla, and Perdilla, I'm a killer."
Nick sang along in a not-quite off-key voice and smacked the steering wheel in time with the beat. Hope and Eli were amused by this. Sam just fought with the german shepherd for space in front of the air vent.
"So, how long until we're through the desert?"
"We're making really good time. Should be through in two more days. After that, we'll be in eastern Nevada. We'll stop in a little town I know and stay there for a couple days. It's pretty much the last bit of civilization we'll encounter on this trip. That I know of, anyway."
Hope tried to visualize an old map of the United States in her mind.
"Where do we go from there?"
"We'll cross Utah into Colorado, but they got plastered with nukes, and a big cobalt bomb made sure that whole area is still hot. We'll turn north into Wyoming and then into the Dakotas. From that point on, we'll be in uncharted territory. The whole trip will take longer because we'll have to backtrack and find a detour every time we come across a hot zone or a place where a bridge washed out or a city got blown up."
Hope couldn't remember the map well enough to really picture everything Nick was saying, but he and Sam had maps of their own and seemed to know what they were doing.
The rest of the journey through the desert was relatively idyllic, with regular stops, nights spent in tents instead of the truck, and Nick patiently teaching Eli how to use the little .22 rifle. Hope tried her luck with the little rifle and hit her target dead center every single time. Unlike Eli, she'd been considered old enough to teach by their father and she was reasonably confident in her marksmanship. If Nick was impressed, he showed no sign of it.
Eventually, the desert scrub began to feature stunted trees and scattered patches of grass that slowly crowded out the desert sand and soil and replaced them the fields and woods Hope was used to.
"Coming up on Wilma in a couple of hours. We'll have dinner there."
Wilma turned out to be a town with a population of about 2,000. It had managed to survive not only the radioactive fallout that came after the nuclear exchange and the engineered diseases and chemicals carried by cruise missiles and terrorists hiding in the country before the war started, but also the famines and waves of starving urban dwellers who had descended on the rural areas and stripped farms and ranches of crops and livestock. Hope wasn't surprised to see that the town had a high wall of wooden posts with guard towers and rusted barbed wire around it, nor that they maintained a cleared area in a fifty yard swathe around the entire town.
The people here were tough and disciplined. She didn't think any gang of bandits would profit much if they tried to prey on this tight-knit community.
The guards at the gate seemed to recognize the truck immediately and, after a cursory check to make sure the drivers were really who they thought they were, the truck was waved through. Nick steered the truck down the narrow streets until he reached an old fire station, at which point he backed the truck into one of the bays.
Eli asked, "won't they need the space for their firetrucks?"
Nick laughed and made a gesture that took in the entire town.
"You see a lot of cars around here?"
Eli didn't have an answer for that. The four people and two dogs piled out and paid the man who seemed to be managing the fire station as a parking garage. Then they followed Sam along the winding streets and buildings until they came to a small motel.
The elderly woman at the desk recognized Nick and Sam immediately.
"Well, haven't seen you two in a long time! Thought maybe you'd decided to stay in California for good this time! The usual?"
"Two rooms, actually. Got passengers."
"Ah. Dinner for four, then?"
"And the dogs."
"Of course. All right, here's the key to your usual room, and the one next to it. How long you gonna be staying?"
"Two, three days."
She nodded and marked something down in a notebook on the counter, then disappeared in the back to holler at someone in what was probably the kitchen. It was the first time since leaving home that Hope had seen someone that old and that overweight. Wilma had been doing well in the post-apocalypse.
A few minutes later, the woman came back with a tray laden with bowls of stew and fresh-baked biscuits. Nick thanked her and Sam took the keys from him so he could carry it. Hope and Eli followed them back outside to their rooms. Hope and Eli were shown into their room and their food was set on the small table, then Nick and Sam disappeared into their own room.
Hope and Eli ate in silence. After they'd finished eating, they could hear the same Johnny Cash cd playing in the next room. The combination of thin walls and the loud music made it easy to make out most of the lyrics. Once something thudded against the wall, but the sound wasn't repeated, so Hope decided nothing was wrong. After the cd had started over at the beginning again, the music was turned off and she could hear water running. This town had running water and electricity?
Hope quickly ran to the bathroom and tried the sink. Running hot and cold water! For the first time since they'd left home! She squeeled with joy and began undressing, stopping to shoo Eli out of the bathroom when he came to investigate her sounds of joy.
She stayed in the shower for entirely too long, luxuriating in the sensation of cleanliness and warm water. Reluctantly, she got out so that Eli would have a turn before the hot water ran out. She dried off with a towel provided with the room while Eli showered, and then looked at the slips of paper set on top of a dusty television. Ah. She could pay to have her laundry cleaned too. Perfect. She'd wondered how she was going to wash her clothes on this trip. The only reason she still had clean outfits was because she hadn't changed very often while riding in the truck.
She flopped onto the bed, soaking in the pleasant sensation of clean linen and worn, but serviable flannel blanket. They would be here for two or even three days.
Great chapter! You are definitely a skilled writer.
Great chapter. Made me feel good there were civilized survivors left.
Keep up the good work.
Yeeeeaaah... Might want to hold your vote on that one.
Thanks Swindle. I'm enjoying it.
Hmmmmm...... making me wonder what was in that stew.
Eli stepped out of the shower feeling cleansed and refreshed. He quickly dried off and dressed in his bedclothes, which were a pair of raggedy shorts and a homespun Captain America underoo t-shirt. As he stepped out of the bathroom he noticed that Hope had fallen asleep on top of the covers with a damp towel barely covering her. Eli had never seen a woman in this state of undress before, and his mind started into a hypersexual overdrive common to boys entering puberty. He had always wondered about the differences in plumbing between men and women, but he had never actually SEEN a naked woman before. The fact that it was his own sister never really entered his mind. He slowly approached her bed, and noticed she was breathing evenly. His tiny hands were trembling, his mouth was dry, and his lustful heart was beating like a triphammer. Quietly and carefully he took the edge of the towel and started sliding it up her leg, closer and closer to her holiest of holys, all the while watching her face for any sign of her waking up. He was so close now, just a couple of inches to go, he could hear his heartbeat in his ears, his vision had tunneled in on her pubic mound under the towel, and he could barely breathe. Closer, closer, almost there......
Suddenly there was a loud knock at the door. Eli panicked. He felt his heart actually stop. Hope's eyes popped open but she could barely discern anything in the twilight of the room. She realized all she had covering her was a towel, so she stepped out of bed and put on her robe. "Who's there?" she asked to the person on the other side of the door. "It's Dave man, open up I think the cops saw me come in here." stated the whispered voice on the other side of the door. She gave the standard reply to the ancient gag: "Dave's not here!" and heard footsteps shuffling away from the door. She started back to her bed and noticed Eli laying on the floor between the beds. He appeared to be having some sort of siezure. "What happened little man?" she asked. "Did you have a bad dream and fall out of bed?" "Bad dream" Eli repeated, "fell out of bed. That's exactly what happened, Sis." Hope picked him up off of the floor and placed him gently in his own bed and tucked him in. 'Sweet dreams" she said smoothing the covers over him. Except one area wouldn't smooth down. With a mild shock she realized there was a small tent in the covers right where Eli's groinage was located. She hurriedly turned, and blushing in the twilight went back to her own bed, got in, and was almost immediately asleep.
You're going to fiction-writer's hell.
I'll take that as high praise. You have to admit it was funny in a twisted sort of way. I won't do it again. I really enjoy your stories, and hope that someday we can meet face-to-face. I also hope you won't hit me when we do.
I'd like to meet the Texas crew some day too.
And I'm not making any promises.
Ewww. Don't do that again, please.
yet another excellent story! Keep the chapters rolling out!
I'm pretty busy this week (I get to spend the weekend stalking Bruce Campbell), but I MIGHT get another chapter out before then.
That is just wrong man Swindle has a good story going dont ruin it
Did you get any candid snaps of Bruce? I really am sorry. I did not expect you to quit writing. This was a great story-even without incest! I'm groveling here. Please don't cut us off.
Sign up for the ARFCOM weekly newsletter and be entered to win a free ARFCOM membership. One new winner* is announced every week!
You will receive an email every Friday morning featuring the latest chatter from the hottest topics, breaking news surrounding legislation, as well as exclusive deals only available to ARFCOM email subscribers.