A Survivor's Tale - Chapter 2 (fiction)

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A Survivor's Tale

Chapter 2

David woke with Kate sleeping fitfully on his shoulder. Her features reflected sorrow and pain, and David decided to wake her gently.

"Kate," he whispered. "Kate."

Her eyes snapped open, focusing on his face with some difficulty, and her body tensed under his arm.

"It's okay, you're safe," he said gently.

When the realization of her situation finally took hold, she let out her breath in a gasp.

"I thought it was a dream," she said in a hushed voice against his shoulder. "I actually dreamt I woke up and I was watching those bastards entering the clearing again, and I looked for you and you were a dream."

Tears formed at the corner of her eyes, and David held her as she calmed down.

"I hope last night wasn't a dream," David smiled down at her.

With her eyes still closed, Kate smiled.

"It occurred to me late last night that I don't even know your last name."

"Spear. David Robert Spear. And yours?"

"Woodson. Katharine Allyson Woodson for formal invitations, but Kate will do just fine, thank you."

"Katharine Allyson is a beautiful name, but Kate it is," David smiled at her.

He hugged her warmly and kissed her. They both enjoyed the ability to relax with another human being, but soon nature called.

After they had taken care of necessities and cleaned up with the water David had retrieved last night, they folded the tarp and blankets they had slept on.

"I hate to mention it, but I'm awful hungry," Kate said. "I haven't eaten since yesterday morning."

"Your wish is my command," David said with a flourish and a bow. "And what would madame like this wonderful morning?"

"Madame would like three or four eggs, an eight ounce steak, a six inch stack of pancakes and two gallons of real coffee. . . but she'll settle for anything you've got," Kate finished ruefully.

"Madame is easy to please. How about two-day old biscuits, dried squirrel, and sassafras tea?"

"Sounds great."

At that moment Ranger hopped into camp through an opening in the trees. David immediately turned his attention to the dog and showed it genuine affection. After a few minutes of petting and hugging the dog, he raised his head and looked inquiringly in Kate's direction.

"Jump on in anytime you want," David said, and to his relief Kate enthusiastically joined in. Ranger enjoyed the attention happily, licking and nuzzling them both.

After a few minutes, David slowed and rocked back on his knees.

"Keep petting him if you want while I get breakfast. I'll know whether he's done his own hunting by how much attention he gives our food."

Kate pulled her legs under her to a sitting position, keeping her hands rubbing Ranger's neck and shoulders.

"It's amazing the bond you can create with an animal with just a consistent show of affection and care," David said over his shoulder as he began a small campfire. "Ranger and I have been together just over a year, and every morning we both look forward to our ritual greeting. It keeps us looking out for each other on the trail."

Kate turned to Ranger.

"Thank you, Ranger, for looking out for David," she said seriously. "If you've saved his life, you've saved mine." She finished with a hug around Ranger's neck. Ranger interpreted this as wanting to cuddle, and climbed into her lap. Kate wasn't prepared for the new load, and before she could react she was on her back with Ranger on top of her.

"Ulp! Help! Help!" Kate gave out with a muffled yell.

David was laughing as he pulled Ranger off of Kate.

"Ranger, I can't turn my back on you for a second before you're molesting my friends," David complained while Ranger licked his face.

David returned to fixing breakfast after getting reassurances from Kate that she was all right. When David pulled the dried meat from his pack, he checked for Ranger's reaction. The dog was only mildly interested, so David knew Ranger had caught his own food overnight, and told Kate.

"Lucky for you, we don't have to share breakfast with Ranger this morning."

David set a small pot of water on the fire to boil. When it was sufficiently hot, he added several chips of sassafras root.

"In about fifteen minutes the tea'll be ready, but we can go ahead and eat the squirrel and biscuits if you're starving to death over there."

"I start eating at fifteen minutes and one second."

"Deal. What would you like to talk about during breakfast? Care to start your life story now?"

Kate smiled sadly.

"I'm not sure there's much to tell. I was born in suburban Chicago, twenty-five years, or ten lifetimes ago, depending on your scale. I was a bit of a tomboy then. Hanging around my father's hardware store didn't hurt. I was supposed to be running that store in a couple of years. I got a business degree at Northwestern, and it was my dad's idea I should get several years experience managing other businesses before I came back and applied what I'd learned to our store."

Kate had to stop for a moment.

"Fortunately or not, I was working in Louisville, when - " she had to stop again.

"When all hell broke loose?" David asked gently, and Kate nodded, her head down.

"My whole family was in Chicago that day. I was supposed to be there, but I couldn't arrange to get off work. I was going to join them later in the weekend."

Kate stopped for a long minute.

"I'm sorry," David said.

Kate recovered her composure and continued.

"I lived for a while on the outskirts of Louisville, but things got real tough real fast. I was fortunate I made it through the winter. By then I was living in what was considered a refugee center, but kind of looked like a commune. Sleeping arrangements were kind of 'open-dorm' style, with a lot of crowding to keep warm."

"When the weather turned warm this spring, I decided to look for another place to stay. My cousins had lived on a farm in western Kentucky, so I tried to get there. I guess I was foolish to think I could make it on my own, but right then it seemed like the only way."

"It was summer before the Army would let anybody travel, and since I had a destination in mind they finally let me board an Army bus headed that way. I think the refugee administration was bending over backward to help people get out of the camps."

"Unfortunately, two hours out of Louisville we were ambushed by a small army of bandits. They used some kind of explosive, a mine or a grenade, to force the bus off the road. They had it well planned, and the soldiers on the bus didn't have a chance. With the soldiers dead, the bandits backed a truck up to the bus and loaded all of the army weapons and supplies on board."

Kate continued in a strained but steady voice.

"They shot the male passengers, and took the other girl and me with them. We drove north over back roads for hours. Then we stopped to make camp."

She fell silent again at this point, and David put his arm around her shoulder.

"I don't want to talk about the next three weeks," she said so quietly David almost couldn't hear.

"I managed to escape from them at last. I don't know why they didn't track me down, unless they had enough 'replacements' by then and I wasn't worth the effort."

"I ran for two days solid. I broke into a few homes looking for food, something I'm ashamed of, but I was so hungry. I survived for three weeks that way, going through garbage, stealing from people, always afraid to trust anybody. It had been three days since I had eaten last when those bastards you saved me from found me. They gave me food, all right, and then let me know how I'd be expected to pay for it. After I had some strength back, I ran from them, too, but they came after me and beat me up good. And that's where you and Ranger found me."

Kate looked at David.

"When you handed me the pistol, the thought came to me to shoot you and run again. I don't know why I decided to trust you, but I'm glad I did."

David held her silently for a moment.

"I'm glad, too," he said finally.

They sat quietly for a short while, until Kate turned to David and asked "Isn't breakfast ready yet?"

David smiled and hopped up to get the food. They ate mostly in silence, anxious to fill themselves. David discreetly ate more slowly than Kate, to be sure she got all she needed.

When they were finished, David put out the fire and carefully buried the embers and ashes. When he was finished cleaning up the area, he reached into a pocket on his pack and retrieved a notebook and pencil.

"This is my journal," David said to Kate. "Don't take it personally if I don't want you to read it. I don't even let Ranger read it."

Kate laughed and said "I understand. I used to have a diary years ago. I know how private they are. I'll sit quietly while you write. Let me know if I can help."

"This'll only take about fifteen minutes."

"Don't rush on my account."

David struggled with his thoughts as he recorded what had taken place the day before. The ambush weighed heavily on his mind. He knew he was able to justify the situation for himself, but didn't know what Kate's reaction would be. Kate was another subject entirely. He didn't know what the future held for the two of them, but having another person near to share his life was affecting him more than he had anticipated. He knew they would have plenty of time before a decision had to be made on staying together or not. He had learned many months ago the only reasonable way to plan was short term only, and let the future take care of itself.

When he completed his journal entry, he looked up to find Kate watching him.

"David, I don't feel any remorse, I don't feel anything about, about what happened yesterday. Is there something wrong with me?"

David smiled wryly to himself at the timing of her comment. Evidently her thoughts had also turned to the ambush yesterday. He took his time before answering.

"Kate, when you were aiming the pistol at the man's chest, what were you thinking?"

"That if I aimed correctly, and shot him, he wouldn't be able to hurt anyone else," Kate answered slowly.

"You were exactly correct. Did you have any doubt that if we didn't ambush them, they would have taken the first opportunity to kill me and hurt you again?"

"No, I knew that," Kate answered again. "I guess it makes sense."

"I think it's a good sign you had trouble using the word ambush. I don't think you enjoyed it, and that makes us different from them. For your information, I've killed one man before now, and the situation was very similar. I had to resolve that it was him or me, and that I was the one who deserved to live. I don't enjoy it, but I've seen the evil that men can become, and I've had to accept that I have to be able to kill to protect myself or loved ones."

"I got the shakes shortly after I first killed a man, and you may or may not get them eventually. If you ever want to talk about it or need anything else from me, please let me know. Does all this make you feel any better?"

Kate nodded, and sat with her arms around her knees. After a few moments, she raised her head and smiled at him.

"Well, David Robert Spear, you've heard my wonderful story. Do I get to hear yours now?"

"Are you sure" David began "you want to hear a long and probably boring story of how I've overcome impossible odds against survival, fighting single-handed the wilds of the Midwest," - all the while acting out the most improbable charades - "trekking back and forth across dangerous wheatfields and cornfields, how I've enslaved, yes, enslaved a previously carefree and fun-loving dog and turned it into a wild animal, how I've awed and astonished entire communities with my comings and goings -"

By this time Kate was laughing so hard that David was forced to quit and join in.

"I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed playing to an audience," David said when they finally quit laughing.

"Quit stalling," Kate demanded. "You still owe me the story of your life, and I hope it's more entertaining than mine was."

"I had a question and a couple of comments about your story, but then I promise to talk. First, where did you learn to shoot?"

"On my cousins' farm. They hunted regularly, and although I never used the rifles or shotguns, they persuaded me it would be a good idea to know how to handle a pistol. Little did I know at the time how it would save my life."

"Lucky for both of us they knew it would. I admire their foresight. One of my comments concerns your father. I think I would have liked him. How much of the hardware business did you learn from him?"

"Quite a lot. I was too small as a girl to do much heavy work, but I know all the theory and the tools. I helped dad lay out plumbing, wire house and workshop circuits, and build small barns."

She stopped for a moment. "I really miss those days sometimes."

"I wish I'd known your dad," David said. "Well, I guess I can't avoid it any longer. My story starts twenty-three years ago, in the small town of Brownstown, Indiana. My parents both worked for the county government, and I truly thought there was nothing more boring than small town life while I was growing up. Fortunately for me, one of my high school teachers took a liking to me and gave me some direction. It began with an invitation to join his hiking club, and when I discovered the freedom of carrying almost everything you need on your back and traveling under your own power, I was hooked. Don's club took weekend and week-long trips all through the Midwest, hiking and camping. Traveling and learning with that group was easily the best thing that happened to me."

"Hiking, as they explained it, usually around a campfire, was the ultimate in self-reliance. If a person could rely on himself against the elements, he could rely on himself anytime. Hiking taught me the confidence and skills I needed to survive this last year, and I owe Don more than I'll ever be able to tell him."

David fell silent for a moment.

"What happened to Don?" Kate asked quietly.

"Don, and my parents, and my sister, and about one-third of the population of Brownstown died when the typhus epidemic came through the Midwest," David answered slowly.

"I'm sorry," Kate replied, and took David's hands in hers. "I guess we both lost our families pretty badly."

After a pause, David continued.

"When hell-day hit, I was in college out west. Don had convinced me to go to college, something my parents hadn't been able to do. We, Don and I, talked for hours about whether I needed to go to college. When I graduated from high school, he helped me get a job with a bricklayer. I showed a little aptitude for the work, and my boss taught me a lot. I was still camping with Don's club on weekends during this time, which was where we did most of our talking about college. We finally compromised. I would go to college, but not for a degree. Don and I outlined a course of study for me that would cover a wide range of topics over the course of five years and three colleges."

David smiled sadly at Kate.

"When we toasted our agreement on my 'curriculum', we declared it a masterpiece. I was one year into my degree in 'self-reliance' when hell-day hit."

He stopped again.

"I still have my copy of the plan. I owe it to Don to try to complete as much of it as I can."

"Anyway, there I was out west when hell-day hit. Fortunately, the little college where I was enrolled wasn't even close to a target zone, and the little towns were more stable than the big ones after the usual amenities of civilization failed. Most of the students were locals, and headed home. Four of the professors and about a dozen of us students were from the Midwest, and we discussed the possibilities of getting home."

"From hiking I learned the value of traveling light, so while some students were trying to get two or three footlockers home, everything I had I could, and did, carry on my back. Certainly I had taken my camping gear with me to school. I had a fully loaded backpack and a duffel bag, and I was prepared to jettison the duffel if I had to. I traded off some of my non-essential clothes, like dress shirts and slacks, for extra pairs of shoes and socks. I may have taken advantage of some of the students who didn't have any idea what was coming, but I didn't coerce anybody. They just thought extra clothes would be as useful as anything else, while I was a little more selective."

"We boarded two of the school's vans and headed for home. This was about three weeks after hell-day, and we really had no idea what we would run into, since radio reception was sporadic and news was sparse and unreliable. We knew, of course, that both coastlines were hit bad. We were pretty certain Chicago and Detroit had been hit, and a few of us who knew better guessed at Indianapolis because of the Army finance center and the defense contract companies. Unfortunately, none of us realized that St. Louis, our first destination, was targeted. It must have been because of the railroad and highway lines across the Mississippi River. Anyway, we were stopped by military barricades 75 miles west of St. Louis. It hit a couple of students pretty bad, because their families had been there. We backtracked about 20 miles, and stopped to formulate an alternate plan."

"I already had an alternative in mind, and raised it. I proposed traveling down Interstate 55 to the bridge at Chester, Illinois, and trying to cross there. Three of the professors and about half of the students wanted to go north instead of south, and we decided to split up."

"Our van went on down to Chester. Even carrying all the spare fuel we could on board, we were running low by then. Chester was a madhouse. Refugees were everywhere, most with no place to go. After a day of wrangling with the authorities, they let us know that they weren't letting any but military vehicular traffic over the bridge, because civilian refugee traffic had nearly wrecked it. They were letting anyone walk it that chose to, but it was strictly single file each way."

"After another council, the remaining van passengers voted to continue the trek south to find another bridge. I was the only person in our van prepared to travel on foot, so I opted to take my chances there. I made my goodbyes, wished them well on their trip, and set off across the bridge."

"I didn't have a well formulated plan, but I knew that if I could join up with U.S. 50, I could follow it back to Brownstown. It would be a distance of about 350 miles. I felt confident that I had the resources I needed to complete the trip. Survival is 99 per cent attitude."

Kate nodded and smiled.

"My dad taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to do," she said. "I hadn't been too sure of it lately, but I guess he was right all along."

"Right," agreed David. "I don't think you could have made it as far as you have without being a survivor."

"I'm glad to have you with me, for more reasons than one," he added with a smile.

"So, did you make it to Brownstown?" Kate asked.

"Yes, I did, by early fall. The trip had taken longer than I expected, but less time than I had feared it might. It was then I found what had happened to Don and my family."

He fell silent, and it was Kate's turn to put her arm around his shoulders. They sat quietly for a few minutes, both caught up in memories of loved ones.

"I spent the winter in Brownstown. Fortunately the hunting and the local harvest both were good, and the morale of the town never flagged. A lot of people moved into homes together to help the heating situation. Since commerce, as we were used to it, was virtually suspended, everyone worked eight to ten hour days on survival, and we actually did quite a lot better than some areas."

"The local civil defense people assured us we weren't getting enough fallout to worry about, and I guess they were right, because we never heard of any cases of radiation sickness. Their guess was that Indianapolis was hit by air bursts instead of the dirtier ground bursts, and that's what saved us. We don't know why they didn't hit Camp Atterbury or Crane Naval Ammunition Depot. Maybe they missed. Maybe our retaliation took out the nukes planned for them. I don't guess we'll ever know."

"In the spring, I decided that living in Brownstown was too painful. My parents had lived in a roomy, well-constructed house. I had donated it to the rooming situation, but I couldn't stand to live there. I moved out what I needed and went to live with the family of one of Don's hiking buddies, a man I respected. We talked over the winter, and he agreed to let me use his house as a 'home-base', as needed, while I traveled around. He had family responsibilities and wasn't as mobile as he would have liked. We decided that perhaps the best thing for me was to become a 'floater', an informal news source for the small towns around the area. I live off the land, trade goods and information and manual labor for anything I can't hunt or forage for myself. I don't get much further north than Brownstown, although if somebody needs a runner that direction for a specific reason I'll usually go. I've been as far south as Tennessee, but only once. I have friends along the route, where I socialize and trade and sleep sometimes, but by far the greatest amount of time I've spent by myself."

"So, now you've heard my story. Any questions?"

Kate thought for a minute, then shook her head.

"I'm surprised you've made it as far as you have."

"It takes a lot of thinking ahead and being careful," David said. "It also helps to have a friend like Ranger by your side. I know Ranger has detected trouble at much longer ranges than I have, and we've taken some wide swings out of our way when either one of us was uncomfortable about our route."

"How fast do you travel?" Kate asked.

"That depends considerably on the weather and the route. When the weather is good and I'm comfortable traveling along a roadway, I make good time. On a good day, Ranger and I put in between twenty-five and thirty miles. That's an extremely good day. An average day would be anywhere from ten to twenty miles, again depending on the weather and the terrain. I try not to travel during the hottest part of the day, but I'm also sure not to travel the roadways after dark. That's when the bandits come out along the roads. At night, I sleep out of sight of the roadways."

"Remember, the mileage we make is not as the crow flies. It may be only sixty miles from Brownstown to Louisville, but I visit and trade and socialize at a number of places, and that sixty miles may take two weeks."

Kate thought quietly to herself for a few seconds.

"Which way are you headed right now? I might like to tag along."

This last came out rather hesitantly.

David smiled at her.

"I'd hoped we could travel together for a while, but I didn't have a clue as to what you wanted to do. Ranger seems to like you, and he's a pretty good judge of character. You're a survivor, and you had the guts to back me up when I needed it. I'd be happy and honored if you'd like to 'tag along'."

Kate grinned a sigh of relief.

"I'd love it. I was so afraid that you preferred the solitary life, afraid that you'd see me to the nearest town and take off. I would've understood if you had, really I would've," she finished sadly.

"Not a chance," David smiled at her. "Ranger would've never spoken to me again."

"Good old Ranger," Kate laughed. "I haven't known him two days, and already I owe him more than I can repay."

"So," Kate said more seriously, "what's next?"

"I guess we teach you a little more about this business of survival."

End of Chapter 2

still open for comments.

-- Cowardly Lion (cl0001@hotmail.com), July 14, 1999


gee, i wonder if they'll sleep together? hopefully he's spongeworthy, since the contraceptive industry is undoubtedly down for the count. let's just skip to that part - and don't skimp on the details.

-- Trollyanna (r@t.com), July 14, 1999.


First off, I missed chapter one. Maybe someone will link it here for me. Just a couple comments. The characters seemed to have been together much longer than stated here, and a tad hoaky. But other than an occational confusing sentence (I do it all the time), I found the story very entertaining and look forward to the next chapter.

Sidebar: Anyone know if the story from Storyteller (Helen @ Co.) or the one from ?Anonymouse99? with Ned in Atlanta have been continued? I haven't seen anything from them in a while.

-- Mike (midwestmike_@hotmail.com), July 14, 1999.

Well, Mike,

I think Storyteller and A99 may have made a fundamental error of novice novelists: they don't have an ending nor a good idea of how long their tome might be (necessary for pacing). There's a lot more to it than this but, without this important foundation, much extended writing founders.

I hope Lion has the stamina and foresight (and an ending in sight) to continue. I like his style.


"Dad, dad, we're dead meat. We're dead meat!" --- The feral child, Mad Max II: The Road Warrior

-- (Hallyx@aol.com), July 14, 1999.

"Dad, dad, we're dead meat. We're dead meat!" --- The feral child, Mad Max II: The Road Warrior

-- (Hallyx@aol.com)

Well "HallyX" I dont know shit from shinola when it comes to "Mad Max" or "novelists". And I am not convinced you are opposed to the tales, many of us here at TB2K have enjoyed the home grone stories of Helen, Ted and the newest with my heart in hand because he adopted a dog.

Hallyx@aol.com), July 14, 1999.

Well "HallyX" I dont know shit from shinola when it comes to "novelists". And I am not convinced you are opposed to the tales, if you are no problem, many of us here at TB2K have enjoyed the home grone stories of Helen, Ted and the newest with my heart in hand because he adopted a dog.

-- Mike (midwestmike_@hotmail.com), July 14, 1999.

midwestmike: i don't trust my html, but if you can cut-and-paste the link to chapter one is at the top of chapter two. hope you enjoy it!

trollyanna: i prefer to write in the classic style, where much is left to the imagination, as opposed to the current style. as for 'protection,' keep reading.

hallyx: thanx for the good words. i too hope i have the endurance. at this point in time new chapters are scheduled about two weeks apart.

-- Cowardly Lion (cl0001@hotmail.com), July 15, 1999.

Hi Mike,

Not sure you and I are on the same page here. I've commented favorably, defended and encouraged each of the Storytellers who have contributed here. I wish I had an ear for fiction. Just an old burnt-out poet and erstwhile essayist am I.

I've enjoyed what I've seen of the TB2K stories (even Invar's shaggy dog) better than Hyatt's overwritten drivel. Keep on the keys, kids.


"All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure."---Mark Twain

-- (Hallyx@aol.com), July 15, 1999.

"Not sure you and I are on the same page here. I've commented favorably, defended and encouraged each of the Storytellers who have contributed here. I wish I had an ear for fiction. Just an old burnt- out poet and erstwhile essayist am I. I've enjoyed what I've seen of the TB2K stories (even Invar's shaggy dog) better than Hyatt's overwritten drivel. Keep on the keys, kids. 



Please ignore the raving lunatic behind the curtain (that was me), I was following, and responding to WAY to many posts and sites for my feeble mind to cope with. I got a little confused. OOPS.

I just have to keep saying to myself "Their is no place like home, their is no place like home, their is no place like "Will continue's" barn, their is no......WHAT?

Dead meat, I'm dead meat.......

-- BluePlateTonightIsMidwestMike_ (midwestmike_@hotmail.com), July 15, 1999.

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