Post apocalyptic story
He sat quietly next to the fire sharpening the arrowhead that killed the rabbit that was now cooking over the same fire. The aroma of the roasting rabbit mixed pleasantly with the crisp air as his stomach growled with contempt for having to wait. Before the "Collapse" he would have been having dinner at the Columbia and enjoying a nice glass of scotch, but that was before. The "Collapse", what an innocent term for complete and total decimation of the United States. No one was quite sure what had actually happened to bring it about, but at first prices started rising then the shortage started. If you were able to find the things you needed the prices were sky high. Eventually the riots started and people were getting shot for things as simple as a loaf of bread. Then one day the lights went out...
The lights stayed out for about a month during which groups of armed and unarmed people started looting the stores. The first to go were the electronic stores, big screen TV's and video games. Of course he knew things were going to get worse, he was a realist after all. While the electronics were going he made sure he got to the sporting goods and gun shops (afterward it proved to be the best move he ever made). Eventually the lights came back on, but were limited to the government buildings and military buildings. In time even those lights went dim.
He poked at the rabbit and, determining it was cooked well enough, then pulled it off the fire. Pulling his knife out he began to carve off a piece of meat when he heard the snap of a twig to his right just out of the fire light. "You can come out of the shadows. Your safe unless you mean to do me harm." His hand moving to the blade attached to his ankle. Just then he heard a billowing scream come out of the trees followed by a large man wielding an ax above his head. Instantly, with a flick of his wrist and a glint from the knife the would be attacker was laying face down on the ground and the faint sound of his last breath escaping his chest.
Body still warm and blood still seeping into the ground, he searched the man for anything that may be useful to him. Finding nothing of use, other than a couple of knives and the ax he had attacked him with, he dragged the lifeless body beyond the firelight and into the woods in order to keep scavengers away from the campsite. Placing the newly acquired items with the rest of his belongings, he removed his dinner from the fire. As he began pulling meat from the bones of the roasted rabbit he heard a quiet shuffling behind him. Rolling his eyes, he thought "Really, another one? Am I ever going to get to eat?"
"I haven't had anything to eat since this morning so what ever you decide to do you better make it god" he said to the person behind him. Nothing came in response to his statement, not a word, not a sound, nothing. Turning to where the sound had come from he saw the last thing he ever expected to see.
She couldn't have been more than fifteen years old. Her hair and cloths were filthy, her feet were bare and she looked as though she hadn't eaten in days. While he sat there staring at the girl she was staring at the rabbit as if it were dancing an Irish jig. Without a word she walked over to where he was sitting and sat down next to him.
"I suppose you'd like some" he said.
She just looked at him.
"Do I at least get a name?"
"Sydney" she said quietly not taking her eyes off the rabbit.
He peeled off a piece of the rabbit and handed it to the girl. As she reached for the piece of meat she suddenly shrunk back from his hand. He looked down and realized he hadn't put his glove back on from earlier. He put his glove back on his hand and offered the meat with his other hand. Sydney cautiously took the food and greedily had seconds as well as some wild potato he had boiled up. The entire time she was eating she sat in complete silence, but from time to time she would look at him then to his hand as if it were going to come after her. After a few seconds she would return to her food and continue in silence.
Prior to everything going to hell the medical companies had developed prosthetic appendages that could be connected directly to the nervous system in a persons body, enabling them to control it as if it were the real thing. It was a huge advancement that brought a new freedom to thousands of people that were originally limited by the loss of a limb. Like everything however, this new technology began to be abused and perverted and people began having the procedure done to replace perfectly good arms in the attempt to become more than human. In addition the power for the limbs was supplied by the bio-electric system of the body so there was no need for batteries.
When the Collapse came these people that had had the enhancements done started by being the leaders of the various groups that metastasized all over the country. Like many people they thought the strongest should be the leaders following the survival of the fittest line of thought. This lasted about two years when the people finally realized that a leader had nothing to do with being a dictator, and became tired of the group with the "Cyborg Leader" simply taking what they wanted. One by one these "Leaders" were killed by the locals and things became more of a wild west. There was a loose association between neighbors in order to keep their families safe, but there was nothing that could be called a law enforcement.
Fletcher received his after an automobile accident that left him missing his right arm from the elbow down. Even when things started to hit the fan he never made it obvious that he had a prosthetic. He was never one to go to the front and take up for a cause, but if something needed to get done then he would do it. He was a loner and normally had no need for somebody hanging around all the time. He now wore gloves to cover his hands since it is easier than trying to explain and people still have a fear or bias towards "Artificials" as they called those with a prosthetic.
It had been twelve years since the power went out the first time and things have changed in the Bay area. Downtown Tampa is controlled by gangs that claim the various highrise buildings and it has become a no mans land for those that still live in the area. A few years ago the monster storm that the weather guys were always warning about came through the bay area and South Tampa ended up under water for days and in the process many of the homes were demolished or lost completely. With a majority of the buildings in that area gone the plants, many of them invasive, were able to get a controlling hold and it has reverted almost completely back to a rainforest with the exception of some of the main roadways. A group of locals have taken up residence in that area, but they aren't seen very often. In fact, most people stay away from South Tampa as much as they stay away from Downtown. Most of the people that decided to stay in the area, as few as that was, moved to the east of the bay since the damage from the storm was not as severe, but most people moved north where the weather was bit more temperate.
Fletcher watched the girl as she slept and wondered where she has come from. The area they were currently in was a boundary area for south Tampa and Downtown and no one really lived here, they just passed through. If she was passing through where had she come from and where was she going? Where were her parents? Why was she alone? All of these were good questions in his mind, but they would have to wait until the morning. Sitting with his back against a tree Fletcher fell into a light, fitful sleep almost keeping one eye open.
Sunlight slipped through the canopy of leaves as Fletcher awoke, looking around, thinking he was forgetting something. The girl, where had she gone to? The fire was still burning and his bow was missing. Damn, he thought, so much for being kind to strangers. He got up and started looking through the rest of his belongings to see what else might be missing when Sydney walked out of the trees with two small rabbits in her hands. Setting down the bow she quickly began cleaning the rabbits with Fletcher just staring at her.
"It's not a good idea for you to be running around in these woods by yourself like that" said Fletcher.
"I was fine. The rabbits come out early and I didn't want to miss them." Sydney replied.
"I still don't think you should be running around here by yourself. The gangs come out of downtown looking for people just like you. The next thing you know you're part of their inven... you just shouldn't be out there alone." he said.
Sydney continued cleaning and preparing the rabbits while Fletcher calmed down. Why was he even worrying about this girl he just met the day before? He had been alone for years now, it was easier that way and he didn't have to be responsible for anyone, but himself.
"Where are you parents?" he asked as she started cooking their breakfast.
She look at him for a minute then answered "They died two years ago when one of the gangs attacked our home. I've been alone until the man you killed the other night captured me about three weeks ago. I've been waiting for a chance to escape." Fletcher looked at her with a bit of surprise. She didn't speak like a little girl even if she had been alone for the past two years.
"So you're telling me you've been alone fending for yourself for two years? How does a young girl survive in this place alone for that long?" he asked.
She looked at him for a minute with a quizzical look and the out of know where she exploded with laughter. Literally falling to the ground she laughed for several minutes while Fletcher just looked at her (not to mention getting a little aggravated) with a dumb stare.
"And what is it that you think is so funny? I didn't realize I was that much of a comedian." said Fletcher.
"You think I'm fifteen?" she said with a grin. "I don't know if I should be flattered or insulted. Sit down and I'll tell you a story."
Sydney sat down and, while they ate, began her story.
"The truth is, I am 26 years old. About a year after the Collapse a man came to may parents with a proposition. He explained to them that he was with a group that had been researching a way to extend the life of humans, the catch was that the treatment had to be performed on a person prior to the age of twenty. He had been watching our family and offered to provide us with supplies to last for a year in exchange for letting them perform the procedure on me. We had been scrounging for survival for several months and I knew we wouldn't be able to survive for much longer without some help. The man went on to explain that the procedure was perfectly safe and that they could come along in order to make sure that it was legitimate and I was in no harm. My parents were going to tell him what he could do with his procedure, but I stepped in. I told my parents I wanted to do it, we couldn't go on without some help and this was the best way to do it. My parents finally relented and I agreed to go through with the procedure if they would include a rifle and a supply of ammunition."
Fletcher continued listening intently as she spoke and in the process had not taken one bite of his breakfast. Sydney, took a few bites of her food and then continued.
"The following morning the man came back to get us. You know to this day I still don't know what his name was. We ended up going to what looked like it use to be an office building surrounded by armed guards. Inside the building it was pretty plain, but they had several labs setup as well as some offices that I could see. I don't really remember how long I was there and lost count of the blood tests they performed, but each morning they would come in and hang a new IV bag of some yellow liquid and each afternoon add a syringe of a neon green liquid to the bag. One day I woke up and the lights that were normally on all the time were now off, my parents came in and told me we had to get out of there as quickly as we could. Apparently there was a shift in the people who were in charge and the night before they decided there was nothing left to do there. Next thing my parents knew everyone was gone and we were alone."
"We made our way back to our home and with the gun they provided my father was able to provide a regular supply of meat until we were able to get a small crop growing and start raising rabbits. As the years went by it became obvious that they had altered me in some way. I stopped aging and now I still look like a teenager. My body, if it is still aging, doesn't age anywhere as quickly as my mind."
As she finished the story Fletcher sat there absorbing everything she had said. Somewhere along the line the government must have figured out how to alter a persons DNA to at least slow the aging process. Dangerous technology in the wrong hands, just like the prosthetic technology that replaced his arm. The silence between them was obvious, but not uncomfortable. You could hear the wind in the trees and the air was still not too heavy with moisture. Fletcher knew they needed to get going, whether she followed with him or not and the morning was getting late.
"So why me? Why didn't you leave after I killed the nimrod from last night?" Fletcher asked. "You could have been long gone from here by now and I wouldn't have known where you went."
She stayed silent for a minute before she spoke. "Except for the last three weeks, I've been alone for the past two years. Those three weeks made me realize that being alone is not a good thing in a place like this and if for no other reason than strength in numbers, two of us can deal with things together much better than we can alone." she said
After a second to compose herself she continued.
"You could have killed me last night. You could have raped me, you could have done whatever you wanted, but you didn't. You treated me decently, you treated me like a human being and that is a rare trait to posses in these times. I felt joining you as a companion or at least a fellow traveler would be the best option." Sydney finished.
It had been quite a while since he had someone to talk to, not to mention share in the work. Besides he thought, she cooks a pretty mean rabbit.
"Fine," he said "but you better not slow me down."
Sydney smiled a small grin and started cleaning up as Fletcher started breaking down camp.
The next couple of days were uneventful and Fletcher was able to collect many of the traps he had laid recently. The two of them talked while traveling, but when the work started it was done silently as they were both absorbed in the duties they shared. At the end of the second day they set up camp and Sydney started a batch of squirrel stew with a couple of wild potatoes they had found earlier that day.
She looked over at Fletcher who was starting the fire. "So, are you going to tell me about your arm or is it just for show?"
Normally he would have gotten angry over that comment and question, but coming from her it didn't seem to bother him. "Fine, you keep cooking and I'll talk." So as she cooked he began to relate the story of the bionic hand.
"I was a cop before the collapse, before everything went to hell. I was out on patrol one night when I got a call for a robbery in progress. I started for the call, but about halfway there a drunk decided to run a red light and hit my cruiser. The impact caused my car to flip and in the process my arm was crushed. After being rushed to the hospital the doctors tried to save my arm, but there was too much damage to repair and I ended up losing it just below the elbow."
This time it was Fletchers turn to take a minute.
"I spent nearly a year recovering and being pissed at the world. One day one of the doctors at the hospital told me about a study being conducted using a new prosthetic limb technology. They explained that the arm was robotic, but connected directly to the muscles and nerves in my arm and would respond as if it was the original one. I didn't even have to think about it, that was a changing point for me. After the operation I ended up spending another year in therapy learning to work with the arm as well as how it worked in general. The procedure was a success, obviously," holding up his right arm "but it didn't last too long. While the technology was sound, the application became corrupted. Just before the collapse, people started to have the surgery done on an elective basis which you wouldn't think was an issue, but afterward these people, artificials, were the ones that caused issues believing they were superior to everyone else. They didn't last long at the top since they were in the minority, but the bias still lingers and not many people place much trust in those that are left."
As he finished his story Sydney stirred the stew and checked the potatoes. Turning to him she waited a moment before speaking "So basically we were meant to be together... Both of us are outcasts in one way or another. The only people that don't have a problem with us, is us."
"Is that stew ready yet?" Fletcher asked. "I'm getting hungry over here."
For the rest of the meal they sat quietly and listening to the crackling of the fire and the normal sounds of early evening. Fletcher wasn't use to having someone around all the time, not that she was bad company, but he was just use to doing things a certain way. Of course Sydney was trying to figure out why she was staying, after all she had been perfectly capable of taking care of herself for several years now.
"We should get an early evening" said Fletcher "If we get started by light we should be able to make it to my cabin my mid-afternoon."
"You have a cabin?" asked Sydney
"It's no mansion, but it serves it's purpose and it's far enough away from others that I don't need to worry about being bothered."
"You don't like people much do you?" She asked
"I don't have problem with people for the most part, the collapse just brought out the worst in people and I don't need to be reminded of the worst of us. People were self involved before hand and after they were completely self serving. I can't help thinking that things may have been different if people were more involved in everything as a whole." He finished
"Well, I guess the best we can do right now is make things right as much as we can and see where it takes us." Sydney replied.
Leaning over to Fletcher she kissed him on the cheek and then went over to her blanket and went to sleep. Fletcher just sat there struck dumb, just staring at her trying to figure out what just happened. After a few minutes he laid down on is bed roll for a fitful nights sleep as well.
They woke to a fine, misty rain that had everything soaked including them. They ate a quick breakfast of venison jerky and oranges and then packed the camp to get going. The rain lasted most of the morning and cleared up around lunch time and after eating a small lunch they were able to make Fletcher's home around mid afternoon.
The land itself was flat and partially wooded and the nearest thing that resembled a road was about two miles from the house. A stream ran fresh and clear through a small gully, about a hundred and fifty feet from the house providing a fresh source of water. In the back of the house was a field containing a vegetable garden and beyond that was an old orange grove.
Sydney was impressed. Fletcher didn't seem like the farming type and was very surprised to see the garden that appeared to be flourishing under his care not to mention the rest of the land immediately around the house was actually fairly well manicured. It wasn't an English garden, but the forest had not been allowed to take over the land and house. The house was two stories with a porch along one side and while there were some spots on the outer wall that were in need of some repair the house was not falling apart either.
"Once I get these hides stretched out back we'll get settled down inside." Fletcher told her "Go ahead and look around."
"Do you need any help with with that?" she asked "You know I don't have a problem with working."
"Never needed help before. I should be good to go." he answered
The garden contained a variety of vegetables and on the far side was a small greenhouse that allowed for continuing the crops in the winter. In addition there was a water pump near the back og the house and under the backside of the house was a root cellar filled with some of the dried and jar goods he had collected. She walked into the orange grove and picked an orange which turned out to be very sweet and juicy. All through the walk she noticed rabbits, various birds as well as sign of deer and other small game. All together this seemed to be a perfect spot.
As she walked back towards the house she noticed Fletcher finishing up with the hides
"This place is gorgeous, how did you find it?
"Actually I didn't need to find it. This place has been in my family for about seventy years. My grandfather built it and we've been here ever since. I've got no electricity, obviously, but there's fresh water and between the garden and hunting I have what I need. After everything went down the toilet I try to keep things as simple as possible around here. The way I look at it, this is the way things were before they started getting screwed up."
"I like that." Sydney replied "It makes perfect sense, peaceful and everything working together. So do I get to see the rest of it?"
"Come on," he said "follow me."
The first floor was the stereotypical setup with a kitchen living space and a bathroom. The kitchen had been setup with a wood burning stove and a small hand pump at the sink. The bathroom had a toilet at which point she had to ask if it worked. Fletcher explained that while there wasn't running water going to the bathrooms he kept a bucket of water in each so that the toilets could be flushed. Since there was no sewer system and the septic when out a few years back he ended up rerouting the pipes further down stream about one hundred yards, so it was well away from the house.
She followed him upstairs and again another bathroom with a tub and another hand pump. He explained that they were attached to the same system he had downstairs. Besides the bathroom there were two bedrooms on the second floor one of which he used.
"I don't have another bed for the second room, but it's yours if you want it. And, if you want to take a bath we can heat up some water downstairs." Said Fletcher
"A hot bath, yeah I don't know if I can handle that. Show me where the pots are."
She heated up some water and filled the tub upstairs and for the first time in years took a hot bath. She even after washing she sat in the hot water until it went cold and actually lost track of time. She dried off, got dressed and then went down to the kitchen where she found Fletcher already making a dinner.
"So, what's for dinner?"
"How does duck with bell peppers and onions sound?" He replied
"It sounds like you should have been cooking instead of me all of this time" she said smiling
They sat down at the table and began to eat. To Sydney it seemed almost as if the collapse never happened. She looked around and while the modern electronics she remembered as a child weren't present there was everything they needed. Fletcher seems to have recovered all of what was good about society before people forgot what was important. There was even a large bookcase filled top to bottom with books which really peaked her curiosity.
"Where did all the books come from?" Sydney queried.
"There's a library about three miles from here that survived pretty well. When everything first fell apart people didn't bother looting the library because they were too involved with trying to get there hands on crap like electronics. After they realized that the power wasn't coming back on they were worried about surviving and didn't consider books a necessity. Eventually people forgot it was there and most of them moved north anyway. Many of the books haven't survived because of the humidity, but many have. Your welcome to read any you want." He explained
Fletcher looked at her for a brief second imagining what her skin would feel like next to his and then forced it from his head. He didn't need this, it was a distraction that he thought he had gotten over a long time ago.
"So you've been here the whole time, keeping to yourself and living a normal life? Why didn't you move north like everyone else?"
"Why would I? I have everything I need here, food, water, shelter, peace of mind. It wasn't always normal. At first people knew the house was here and they would come looking to survive. Of course not all of them came with survival in mind. There were a few I had to convince to leave, but I haven't had to deal with that for several years. Look, like I said before, I'm perfectly happy with things the way they are. I look back at the way things were and people were lazy. They had technology to do everything for them. Christ, they had electric staplers and electric knives. How much lazier can you get. Thy were too lazy to get involved with the running of the country and now things are back to the way they should be."
Fletcher got very quiet while he finished his meal.
"I didn't mean to make you mad. In fact I like what you have here. I just wanted to know why you stayed, what you wanted." Sydney told him
"Don't worry about it. It'll be dark soon and we're both tired. Why don't we get some sleep and start fresh tomorrow?" said Fletcher
Fletcher got her a couple blankets for her to sleep on and then left her to herself.
Sydney laid there thinking about everything that has happen from the time she stopped aging to right now. Until now everything had been surviving. Day to day she was just looking to survive, now she was laying in a house with a roof and even had working toilets. Her thoughts started drifting to things other than survival, she started wondering what books she might find, and what she might be able to cook up with all that was in the garden. Then her thoughts started to wander towards Fletcher. She thought about him being alone all this time, didn't he have some one when the collapse happen? If so where was she? The fact that he was so moody she could understand, but wished she could do something about it. She eventually fell into a sound and solid sleep.
Over the next several days the two of them worked together in the garden as well as hunted for rabbit and other small game. Fletcher showed her how everything worked around the house and the property and explained the schedule that he kept through the seasons so that there was enough food throughout the year. The days were long, but they talked most of the time and got to know each other as well as found a common respect for each other.
At one point Fletcher was able to take Sydney to the library to search for books that were still salvageable. They were able to find several of the classics he thought she would like and then they ran across a section of bibles. Sydney just sat there looking at them with a tear in her eye.
"What's wrong?" Fletcher asked
"I was just remembering my parents. They used to read from the bible all the time. I almost forgot all about that until I saw these here."
Fletcher removed several of the books already in his backpack and slide the largest bible he could find in their place.
"Anything that reminds you of the good things is worth having." said Fletcher
She looked at him "Thank you..."
After getting back home she made dinner while he washed and placed the books they had brought back on the bookcase and set the Bible on the table next to the chair in the living room. After eating they sat down and read for awhile before going upstairs to bed.
Sydney laid in her room for a little while thinking about everything that had happened and how things have changed in the last month. She felt calm and safe, safer than she had in a long while. She thought about Fletcher In the other room and realized she care for him, more than she had expected to.
Fletcher laid in his bed staring at the ceiling as the light began to dim, thinking about her. She was the last thing he thought he would have ever needed and sure as hell didn't expect to find. He knew he just wanted her to stay, whatever happened, and fill this place with a light that hadn't been around in a long time. The light was completely gone now and he could hear the crickets outside when the bed rocked slightly. He looked over and Sydney had crawled into bed next to him with a look in her eyes that was the softest he could ever remember. They made love that night and forgot about everything else.
Perhaps it's not the technology that makes us advanced, but the ability to find what had been missing and make things work even in the most difficult of situations. We have achieved so much technologically, but what is it that we really need to survive? All the beauty in the world can be found without technology by simply opening your eyes and mind.