more post-apocalyptic fiction from Cowardly Lion: Chap 1greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread
presented for your amusement and edification (i wrote this some years ago when a nuke war seemed to be the biggest threat)
David glanced around one more time before sliding carefully through the cleft in the rocks. Silently he moved, testing each step before applying his full weight. Ranger had pointed out something worth exploring on the other side of the rocks, and while he hadnt indicated trouble, David was taking no chances.
When he reached the largest of the boulders, David hugged the ground to peer around its base. There in the center of the circle of stones lay a girl, sprawled next to a burned out campfire. She appeared to David to be breathing, but he couldnt tell if she was awake or asleep because her back was to him. David stealthily took a step closer to her when she stirred and moaned, a low, pained noise. David instinctively reached out to her and touched her on the shoulder.
When David made contact, the girl cried out in fear and rolled across the cold embers, scrabbling to get to the large stones across the clearing. She ended up with her back against the largest stone on the opposite side, her legs drawn up and her arms clasped protectively in front of her. She was incoherent but not crying, and David could see that her face had been bruised. He then knew that this unfortunate girl had been attacked by one of the roaming gangs of bandits that had appeared across the country.
Its okay, its okay, David murmured, dropping the knife hed instinctively pulled from his boot when she jumped, spreading his hands in front of himself to show that he was no longer armed. He could see that she still saw him as a threat, so he backed up a step and rocked back against the boulder he had rounded seconds earlier. He pulled his legs under himself and crossed his arms, relaxing into a sitting position, waiting for the girl to relax and understand that she was not in danger.
For several seconds the girl stared silently at him in obvious fear. David took the opportunity to study her. She looked to be about his own age or a little older, but David knew that looks were deceiving these days. She was wearing ill-fitting mens clothing, the pants several sizes too large. Her shoes were mens also, and it appeared she was wearing several pair of ragged socks so the shoes would not be loose on her feet. Her hair was dirty and tangled, and her face was dirty. David could only wish that she had not had the hope crushed out of her, as it had been crushed out of so many others.
Im not a bandit, Im not going to hurt you, he said gently but clearly. The girl still said nothing.
It then occurred to David that the bandits might come back, and he was not as prepared as he should be. Ranger could do a lot on his own, but it was better to set up a defensive stand before it was needed. David pursed his lips and let out a low whistle. Noiselessly Ranger stepped through the opening beside David, then sat when David gave him the hand signal.
The girl turned her head when David whistled, and her eyes widened when she saw the Shepherd-Husky mix enter the clearing. David realized that the dog had her attention, and allowed himself a few extra seconds to pet the dog, letting the girl see the affection shared between them.
Good dog, good Ranger. David talked to the dog in a low voice, knowing the girl could hear. After a few seconds he pulled back and gestured toward the girl.
Ranger, friend, David said, and the dog skirted the cold campfire to approach the girl. David could see her tense as Ranger drew near.
Ive told him youre a friend, David said to her, so hes going to learn your scent. Hell just sniff you for a few seconds, but now is a good time to pet him if you want.
David had seen the dog win over many people, adults and children both, when they were suspicious of David himself. Ranger knew what was expected of him, and patiently waited several seconds for the girl to decide. Finally she reached out with one hand and stroked the side of Rangers neck. David sat quite still during this scene. David knew there were higher priorities needing attention. After less than a minute, he again spoke the dogs name quietly but clearly.
Ranger, David said, and when the dog looked at him he swung his arm in a wide arc and finished patrol. Ranger smoothly turned from the girl, looked for the nearest opening in the rocks and left the clearing. The girl turned to watch him leave, then turned her attention back to David. David knew that, although there was still some tension between them, Ranger had worked his magic again.
Hes a good dog, and hes a good friend, David said to her. Hes saved my life more than once.
Do you need medical attention? David asked gently, wanting to avoid bringing back too many difficult memories. The girl avoided his eyes in embarrassment, but slowly shook her head in answer to his question.
Good. My medical knowledge isnt as good as it might be. My name is David. Ive been traveling and camping through this part of the country ever since the war. Luckily the Midwest wasnt hit as hard as some parts of the country, or that kind of random travel wouldnt be possible. Are you from around here?
All this time the girl had been watching him in silence, and David hoped he could get through to her before the bandits returned, or someone else stumbled onto them. He decided to talk a little more about himself.
Im twenty-three. I was in college out of state when the war hit, but this area has always been home to me so I made my way back. I love these wooded hills. The hiding places and abundant game make it relatively easy to get along. Not that I wouldnt mind a real bed after a hot shower, David grinned at her. A trace of a smile crossed her face and then faded.
Now can you tell me your name? David asked softly.
Kate, she replied hesitantly in a low voice.
Thanks, Kate, that helps, David said gently. Now we need to decide where were going from here--
Suddenly a low guttural growl sounded in the clearing.
Stay down, thats Rangers warning! David turned and quickly slipped back through the break in the natural rock wall through which he had entered the clearing. Kate put her hand to her mouth to keep from crying out in fear. After just a few seconds, David hopped over the low wall to the left of Kate, and moved quickly to her side. She stared at him, eyes wide and questioning.
There are three men approaching from the south, two have rifles and ones got a pistol. Does that sound like the men who attacked you?
Kate nodded, and her eyes filled with tears at the thought of falling under their control again.
Take it easy, they think theyre safe right now. Theyre walking all bunched up, easy as pie for an ambush. Were there only three men before?
Kate nodded again, not yet understanding that David intended to make sure these men wouldnt hurt anyone again.
Have you ever shot a gun? David asked. Kates eyes widened even more as she just looked at him.
We dont have time for that, David insisted, I cant do this by myself. Youve got to help.
Only a few times, a long time ago, Kate answered finally. It was .38 caliber, I think.
Great, since thats all Ive got with me, David responded, pulling a small revolver from beneath his shirt. Quick, over here. He led her to the other side of the rough circle of rocks, to a gap that was partially hidden by a small tree. He helped her get into position, then gave her instructions.
Two things. First, wait until all three are inside the clearing. Second, as soon as all three are inside, aim for and shoot the tall one with the rifle. Do you know who that is?
Kate swallowed hard and nodded.
Good. Go for an upper chest shot if at all possible. David gave her a quick smile and a pat on the arm to try to reassure her, then disappeared to her right and over the rocks. He could only hope that she wouldnt freeze on him, and that the men wouldnt react quickly under attack.
Kate remembered enough from the target shooting several years ago to prepare for the shot. She slowly pulled the hammer back on the revolver, then rested her hands on the rock behind which she was partially hidden. She carefully left her finger outside the trigger guard and waited until she heard the men.
Laughing and cursing, the men obviously had no thought for a possible ambush. The shortest one entered the clearing first and took a quick look around.
Dammit, shes gone, he yelled to the others. I knew we should have tied her up.
She couldnt have gotten far, the tall one with the rifle said as he stepped into the clearing. We can track her down before tonight. The third member of the gang followed him into the circle and nodded in scorn.
Shell pay for skipping out on us, he laughed.
Kate knew that now was the time, so she steadily brought the revolver to bear on the tall one. She squeezed the trigger and the shot rang out. What happened next seemed like slow motion. The tall one staggered under the impact of the slug, got a surprised look on his face, then his legs folded under him. The other rifleman had his gun to his shoulder at that point, when Davids knife seemed to materialize out of his chest. He too looked surprised, but still tried to aim and fire his rifle in Kates direction. She dropped behind the rock as the rifle fired, but it hit nowhere Kate could determine. From behind the rock Kate could hear the sounds of a struggle. She was afraid to expose herself, but determined to help David if he needed it. She looked over the top of the rock to see Ranger on top of the third man, who was fighting for his life.
Quick, Kate, the gun! David called from the other side of the fight. Kate crossed the clearing swiftly and handed the revolver to David.
Ranger! David called, wanting to finish the job before his dog was wounded. Ranger, hearing Davids voice, stopped trying to tear at the mans throat.
The man thought he had gained an advantage when the dog relaxed, but as he reached for his holstered pistol David shot him through the head. Kate shuddered and turned around to avoid the sight. David stuck the pistol in his belt, gave Ranger the hand signal for patrol, then turned to Kate.
Are you all right? he asked, touching her shoulder. She startled him, whirling and rushing into his arms. He held her as she began sobbing uncontrollably, now able to release the fear and grief shed experienced. David murmured into her ear, holding her firmly to him. Thinking about the situation next to them, he maneuvered them both around so that her back was to the dead men. She still clutched him around the neck, so he rubbed his hands up and down her back to help her relax. Her sobs slowly subsided as David continued to reassure her that she was indeed safe now. Meanwhile, his mind was racing ahead to plan for the next several hours. When Kate seemed to be calm, he spoke to her.
Kate, Im proud of you. You performed perfectly in a nasty situation. Now we need to plan what comes next. Are you thinking clearly enough to answer some questions?
Kate straightened herself and looked into his face with tear-stained cheeks. She unselfconsciously wiped her face with the back of her hand, then smiled sadly at him.
You saved my life. I thought Id never be free of those bastards. Thank you. Now, what do we need to do?
David was taken aback for a second, then answered.
Youre a remarkable girl, Kate. Those powers of recovery are rare. Unfortunately we dont have time to talk, so well have to save the biographical notes for later. Those three shots are likely to attract attention. We need to salvage what we can from those men and then leave the area, at least for a little while.
Kate shuddered when he mentioned the dead men but continued listening.
Ill take what we can use, but you may have to help me carry it. Itll take about five minutes to get ready. Any questions?
The one with the pistol has a knife in his boot, the tall one has maps, and one of them has a necklace of mine that Id like back, if thats all right.
David stared, laughed out loud, then leaned over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.
You continue to surprise me, he said, noting with a mixture of relief and pleasure that she smiled at him after the kiss. He would have found all of those items by himself, of course, but she was proving to him that he had made the correct decision in helping her and trusting her to help him.
David moved quickly to the men. They all had slung light bedrolls across their shoulders, and two of them wore small packs. He stripped off the bedrolls and packs, then rolled them onto their backs.
Well carry these packs with us until we have a chance to stop somewhere, David said as he went through the pockets of the dead men. I have a place in mind where we can hide out and at the same time keep an eye on this clearing. Well want to hide out for a day, day and a half, to avoid any trouble. Rummaging through their pockets turned up quite a few useful items David stashed in his pockets. When they reached their hideaway, he would take the time to judge each item more strictly before he decided to carry it or leave it. When he found Kates necklace in the tall ones shirt pocket, he smiled grimly to himself. Luckily Kates shot had missed hitting it.
He noticed Kate had hit just left of center on the breastbone, showing a good degree of marksmanship.
He finished his salvage operation on the third man, stuffing what he couldnt get into his pockets into the knapsacks. When he was satisfied he had as much as they could carry, he turned to Kate.
Ready to go? he asked.
All packed, she replied with a trace of a smile.
Great, he grinned back at her. Our objective is that hillside south of here. About halfway up Ive got a secure spot. Ill carry both packs until we reach the spot where I stashed mine, then youll have to take one. From there well head for the hills, so to speak. I figure itll take us just over an hour to get there if we push it. If at any time you need to take a rest, let me know. Just remember the sooner we get there, the sooner we relax. Any final questions?
Not now, she said, but tonight Ill have plenty.
Me, too, David said. He picked up the packs and rifles, then whistled for Ranger. When the dog entered the clearing David smiled at him.
Lets go, Ranger. Lets take a walk.
Ranger waited for David to set the direction, then bounded off through the brush and tall grass. David and Kate walked silently behind him, each filled with private thoughts about the day. As they crossed the creek at the base of the hill, David pointed out raccoon, rabbit, squirrel and deer track.
I can remember the deer track, Kate said, but the rest all look alike to me.
Dont worry, schools not in session yet. Theres time enough later. David looked at Kate. It had taken them longer than David planned to reach this point. Kate looked awfully tired, so he decided on a stop before they finished their trek with a hill climb.
Fifteen minute break, David announced, sliding his pack to the ground. nows a good time to freshen up before we make camp. I think Ive got a sliver of soap here somewhere.
The look of relief on Kates face would have been funny if it hadnt been quite so sad. David thought of the numerous times that a quick wash-up had made him feel better. He knew she was experiencing much worse.
Just face and hands right now, David said. Well come down later and get a good wash. He dug the soap out of his pack and handed it to Kate. Kate lay down on her stomach where the bank was only inches above the creek, splashed her face and began to wash. David fished around in his pack again, the came up with another item.
A ha! he said, I knew I had a comb with me.
Quick as a flash, Kate rolled over, sat up and snatched the comb out of his hands.
You thought you had a comb with you, she corrected him with a grin. Turns out I had a comb with me.
All right, all right, you win, David laughed. May I please use your comb when your finished.
Sure, Kate laughed with him, and then suddenly turned serious. For the longest time I didnt think Id ever laugh again, David. I expected to die fighting those bastards, without having the chance to enjoy another moment of life. I owe you, David. I wont forget that.
Just as seriously, David replied You cancelled any debt you might have owed me when you helped take those guys down. Without your help, all we could have done was run. With your courage, we not only freed you but eliminated the source of the problem. A lot of people owe you, and if they dont know it, I do.
Kate looked slightly embarrassed but pleased, and turned to finish cleaning up. David was impatient to reach high ground and determine more precisely what he had gained from the skirmish, but recognized that the break was helping Kate gather her strength.
When Kate had finished at the creek, she stood to face David. The transformation left David speechless for a moment. The bruises were still painfully visible, but the clean face and combed hair showed a one thousand percent improvement.
The expression on your face tells me what I used to look like, Kate said unhappily. I still feel really dirty. Is there a chance well be able to clean up for real sometime soon?
Getting to camp will take another twenty to thirty minutes, setting up will take another fifteen to twenty, by shortly after that well be ready to come back down and clean up for real, as you put it. Maybe another hour. Itll be worth the wait. If we get the hard stuff done now, after cleanup will be nothing but relax.
Kate smiled resignedly. Lets go, she said.
After fifteen minutes of tiring climbing, Kate wasnt sure she was going to make it. Fortunately, David turned to her at that point and indicated a halt. Kate slumped to the ground and waited.
Wait here for me, David said. Im going to scout the camp and make sure no ones been there since I have.
What if they have? Kate wondered.
Best case is that they think like I do. Didnt take anything they didnt absolutely need to survive. Looked over my cache of goods and only took things I had more than one of, and possibly left something in exchange.
Does that happen?
Sometimes. Once I came back to a camp, another one, not this one, to find two pocketknives and a sharpening stone missing, but the trader had left three fishhooks. I didnt really need the hooks, but I sure appreciated the spirit of the exchange. Thats the best case.
Whats the worst case?
Everything they need or want they take, trash everything else. Ive never been boobytrapped, but Ive heard of it happening. I did have one camp trashed, and when I saw it I turned around, took off, and Ive never been back. You never know when those bandits will return looking for easy pickings. Thanks again for the help with the ambush. Those were worst case types.
And you dont know what youll find up there? she nodded up the hill.
Not til I see it.
Kate struggled to her feet while David looked on curiously.
If you think youre going up there with me-- David began, but Kate stopped him.
Please be careful, she said, and gave him a warm hug. I really need you around right now, she whispered into his ear. She let him go and turned to look out over the fields below. David knew this wasnt the time to pursue the thought, so he turned uphill and moved quietly through the brush, with Ranger at his side.
After he left, Kate sat again, leaning against a tree, trying to believe everything would be all right. If anything happened to David, she didnt know if she had the resources to go on.
As the minutes dragged on for Kate, David took his time scouting the camp. Ranger had not shown any sign of a problem, but that only meant that if someone had been there the scent was faint by now. He approached cautiously, watching his steps for a possible boobytrap. He knew that if those men had been here, the chances would be good for a trap. Davids eyes strove for every detail as he reached the perimeter of his secure area. Nothing looked disturbed, so he circled to his right, still keeping his eyes trained on the ground and lower brush for sign of human passage.
When he had encircled the entire perimeter, he breathed a sigh of relief that the first stage had shown good news. He slipped into the camp, a ledge on the side of the hill with a rocky outcropping sheltering the rear half. Underneath this natural roof, David had carefully hollowed out a sleeping and storage area. He moved now to his cache of supplies.
The ultralight fishing line David had left looped over his supplies had been undisturbed, and David felt a great relief that his second stage was also secure. It had worried him more than he had let Kate know that those bandits might have reached his camp and taken his supplies. Now that he could relax, the day began to tell on him. He felt the muscle fatigue that came from being tense all day, and knew he would sleep well that night.
Kate gasped with tension when David stepped back through the trees, then sagged with relief when he gave her the thumbs-up signal.
Five more minutes and well be in camp, he told her. We can leave the heavy stuff here and pick it up later.
No, Kate said determinedly, were going to get everything in place before we relax. Im trying to learn this survival business. Im going to carry my weight if it kills me.
Youve done fantastic, David said gently, and later on well talk about realistic workloads and rest times. For now, I know were both anxious to be done with this day, so lets go. They picked up their gear and headed up the hill.
When David led Kate into the campsite, she looked around herself in wonderment.
This is something else, she said.
Home away from home, David smiled. They both sobered at the thought of other homes from long ago. David looked steadily at Kate and said We can trade stories later. Lets set up camp.
David set the packs toward the back of the site, and turned to the cache of supplies. Lifting the tarp from the supplies, he laid it on the ground.
Pick a soft spot. Thats where were sleeping.
Kate smiled as she said I cant believe you didnt pack a mattress.
I had an air mattress in the camp that was trashed, David replied. Awful comfortable, but I try not to think about it.
Well use packs for pillows, he said. Its not too bad when you get used to it.
Out of the cached supplies David retrieved a two-gallon bucket, a small bar of soap, and a clean but worn towel.
Well fill this when we wash, so well have a little water up here in the morning. I hope you dont mind using hand soap to wash your hair, its all Ive got. He moved to the second covered pile of supplies. Ive got some extra shirts and a pair of jeans here, but I have no idea how theyll fit you. Its a little hard to tell from what youve got on.
Kate blushed self-consciously.
Can we get on with the cleanup?
With bucket and extra clothes in hand, David led the way back down the hill. Ranger alternately led and followed them, getting petted by both of them as he went past. The trip down took less time that the trip up, and they were at the creek almost before Kate expected it.
Upstream about a hundred feet is a small pool, large enough to duck your head under, David said. Ranger and Ill stand watch while you wash, then Ill go in.
Kate ducked her head. This may sound funny, but Id rather have a little privacy out there. This time, at least.
David found himself blushing and hoped it wasnt too noticeable. No sweat, he said. Ill sit with my back to you and let Ranger take the other side.
Thanks. And its sweet of you to blush.
With that, Kate turned and headed upstream, David following, with Ranger bringing up the rear.
I feel like Ive come back from the dead, Kate said as they returned to the base camp on the hill. Taking a bath and washing my hair makes me feel like a million dollars. Well, a thousand dollars, anyway.
David sprawled onto the tarp and groaned.
I feel like thirty seven cents. Using adrenaline all day like we just did always does this to me. I need to get my second wind before we settle in for the night. He lifted one arm over his eyes and tried to relax.
Kate looked at him with genuine concern. Is there anything I can do to help? What else do you need to do before you can relax for the night?
My normal drill is to sort through any trade goods Ive picked up during the day, decide what to save and what to trade off. Second, I have to plan my food for the next couple of days, hunting if necessary to secure some game. After that, I need to jot down in my journal what happened today while its still fresh in my mind.
Right now the game provision doesnt apply, because well be here at least through tomorrow and Im carrying game to last through tomorrow night. The rest will take about an hour of daylight.
How much daylight do we have left right now? Kate asked, glancing at the position of the hills shadow on the terrain to the north.
About two hours, David replied.
Kate thought for a minute, then said David, roll over onto your stomach.
David lifted his arm off his eyes and gave her a questioning look.
Im going to rub your back while you take a nap, she said. I can wake you when the suns halfway between where it is now and the horizon.
It was Davids turn to think for a minute, then he gave up to the temptation.
Thanks, Kate, thatd be real nice.
He rolled over onto his stomach, and Kate slipped down next to him. He couldnt believe how good that back rub felt.
David awoke to the sound of Kate gently calling his name. It took him only seconds to remember the situation.
I didnt know the best way to wake you. I was afraid that if I grabbed your shoulder, youd come up shooting.
Not shooting, but Ive been known to come awake with my knife in my hand before.
David sat up and tucked his legs under himself. He realized Kate had been busy while he had slept. The two knapsacks they had retrieved from the bandits had been emptied, their contents neatly laid out to inspect, the guns laid by the side.
Thanks, Kate, David smiled warmly at her, this wont take long at all. He was pleased by the ammunition the men had been carrying, but turned his attention to the guns first.
"Tell me what youre thinking while you do this, if thats okay, Kate said.
Sure, and that reminds me Ive got your necklace. He pulled it from his pocket and started to hand it to her, then drew back. May I put it on you? he asked shyly.
Id love that, Kate replied softly.
She moved to his side, then turned and lifted her hair so he could clasp the necklace. It wouldnt have taken him quite so long if her nearness hadnt been so wonderfully intoxicating. After he clasped the jewelry, he leaned gently to the back of her neck and gave her a soft kiss.
Kate leaned back toward him and let his arms envelop her. David crossed his arms around her and gave her a long, warm hug.
I guess sorting out trade goods can wait until tomorrow, David said softly against her ear.
Ill help you with your journal tomorrow, too, Kate whispered back to him.
I would really like to make love with you right now, David whispered, but Id understand if thats not okay.
In response Kate rolled over against David in such a way as to lower them both gently to the ground, then pulled him over her and brought his lips to hers for a sweet kiss. They both had tears in their eyes as they took a much-needed respite from their troubles.
end of Chapter 1
-- Cowardly Lion (email@example.com), July 09, 1999
hmmm,how about;"I love having sex with rape crises victims,but Id understand if thats not okay.
-- critic asshole (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 09, 1999.
Cowardly Lion, you are such a young romantic! But keep on and ignore asshole who is assuming facts not in evidence which may or may not be true.
-- sue (email@example.com), July 09, 1999.
That is a good story Lion keep up the work. I think we all enjoy the change in routine. Ignore anyone who can't understand that fiction is meant for entertainment and that we don't use these stories to prove or disporve the Y2K situation. It's just nice to read a good story once in a while, I hope you keep it up and keep posting.
-- Jack Gordon (TrnityTest@aol.com), July 09, 1999.
does anybody want to see chap 2? it explains how they got where they are. as a writer, i'm always looking for feedback, so flame away as necessary.
-- Cowardly Lion (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 12, 1999.
Go for it, Dude.
"The first step...is the one on which depends the rest."---Voltaire
-- (Hallyx@aol.com), July 13, 1999.
-- link (email@example.com), November 01, 1999.