A Post-Apocolyptic Tale of Companionship
*set in what used to be the northeastern united states, about 40 years after all the bees vanished, 25 years after all naturally grown grain cops are dead, and 15 years after most government agencies dissolved or restricted their influence to the few remaining metropolitan/civilized areas...mostly in the south.
everything looks the same at street level. the undergrowth is so thick that if you don't bother to look up (which is not something you can forget to do if you plan on surviving this place) you wouldn't even be able to tell if you werer in a genuine forest or the remains of a great city. not that it would matter either way. it's all empty and dead here. most of the people who survived the famine moved their families to Texas or one of the Carolinas. i wasn't so fortunate. my parents wanted to stay in Jersey...
"i was born here, and i plan on dying here." is what my father had said.
he got his wish. and for the past 10 years or so i've been fending for myself. basically alone in the middle of what used to be one of the most populated areas of this country. sure, there are other humans around here. a few other loners like me, but most of them are older and would rather use me for personal amusment than as a partner or a companion. and there are the Famine Babies. the "next step" in human evolution. tiny elfish people that can digest grass and leaves and disappear faster than you can see them. none of them can possibly beolder than 12 and all of them were born into homelessness. they have never known a world that wasn't empty. if i didn't catch them darting out of the corner of my eye so often i'd say they weren't real...but i know better.
i'd mention my name if it mattered, but since i'm the only one talking my name feels meaningless. maybe i'll come up with a better one anyhow. i mean, if i'm only going to be talking to myself i can call me whatever i want, right?
...suddenly, for some reason i really want to find a volleyball...
the morning insect fiesta normally wakes me up early. i've never liked getting up at the ass-crack of dawn, but when you have to hunt down your breakfast, the earlier the better. if i'm feeling good i might try fishing (usually without luck) or hunting small animals (i've gotten quite efficient and capturing and killing most rodents and squirrels). but at that time of day i'm usually not quite ready to be chasing down tiny furballs, so my breakfast is most often consisting of whatever i can dig up from under a large, moist rock. worms...large beetles...anything that looks non-poisonous and high in protein.
after eating i begin to search for a new home for the day.
when i said that the only people i saw were other loners and the Famine Babies...well, that's by choice. there are plenty of other humans around here. violent and territorial gangs roam around killing a stealing anything that crosses them. i once made the mistake of staying in an open drain pipe for two days and barely escaped with my life after they found me sleeping. the left side of my face hasn't moved since i took that beating, and i still can't make a good fist...not even to shake at the sky. anyway, the point is, it's not safe to stay in any single place for more than a day, and you still have to be on constant alert...like a giant hairless meerkat.
i suck down four thick, juicey worms, swallow a handful of potato bugs, and i'm on my way.
the sun is out today and it must be summer (or close to) because as the sun rises to the top of the sky it gets so hot that i take off my clothes and just drag my massive backpack (one of the benefits of the government giving up on this area is that there are no more decency laws. so, anytime is naked time). before the famine if a single man walked through the forest it would burst to life around him. each creature warning the rest than MAN IS COMING! now, aside from some freakishly parnoid blue jay, they all could give a shit. nothing is afraid of a man alone. that's how i can catch squirrels. i get them close with something shiney, then a grab them and kill them. easy. so i enjoy the crunch of the compost under my feet and the whirring noise generated by some large swarm of tiny bugs in the grass. everything is soothing today, and i feel grateful that i never really got to know life before the famine.
the silence of the moment is broken by splashing noises and they are close. i rush up a small hill in the direction of the splashing (it's always good to know where water is, even if you can't use it right away). a creep the last few feet as the source of the sound comes into view. i'm on my belly so as not to be seen by whom/whatever is making the sound.
i see what looks like an above ground pool and i realize that this "forest" is actually the remains of an affluent, residential neighborhood. in the pool, flailing about wildly, is a large german shepherd. and it does not look pleased. i strain to see what has made the dog so upset and i see that it has been caught in a snare. probably set by someone like me who camps nearby, but possibly by a more territorial (less violent) gang. my instinct to get up and leave is overwhelming. i start to move away, but my haste give away my position and the dog is no longer unaware of my presence.
the formerly frenzied canine stops dead in the water and stares at me. it's teeth bared, and growling so low and monsterous that i feel chills at the base of my spine. it thinks i'm here to finish it off. i can't move. torn between my desire to escape a wide open situation or the urge to help a creature in need. i sniff the air and decide to take a chance with the dog.
i approach the animal carefully, but without hesitation and without even truly looking at it. since the dog is trapped in the pool i can make my way all around him without fear of harm...thus claiming the area in the mind of the dog (these are the sort of tricks you pick up when living in a post-apocalyptic almost wasteland...how to deal with a ill-tempered animal). i get up to the edge of the pool and right away i see the snare wrapped around the dogs back, left leg. the other end of the snare has become entangled with the mesh of roots and branches that cover most of the pool leaving the dog no chance at anything other than a watery grave. the german shepherd is not excited that i am so close. it snarls and snaps and makes a big fuss. i still do my best to pay the poor creature no mind. i come up to the dog sideways, so as not to seem confrontational, and sit down at the edge of the pool with my back to the animal. i'm just out of his reach. the dog continues to threaten me for a few moment, but it's getting tired. the tongue comes out and i know it's time. i hop in to the pool and wade over the where the snare is caught on the branches and roots. the dog whines as i pull on the simple device.
as soon as i get the one end loose the german shepherd jumps out of the pool. it twirls in a circle trying to pull it's paw free from what's left of the snare with it's teeth. i exit the pool and approach the dog. it turns and charges. i stand my ground and the dog stops inches from me and barks and barks. i step forward. the dog barks and shuffles backwards, giving up ground but not back down in it's posture. i wait for the animal to stop barking and i get down in it's level. the dog studies me for a moment and then comes over to get to know me. as it's smelling my crotch i quickly remove what's left of the snare. it goes after my arm but the bite doesn't draw blood and i use the moment to "bite' the animal back with my free hand, right on it's neck like the jaws of another dog. the shepherd fights me a little bit but soon it's on it's back, submitting to me. and i can see that this big dog is a girl. i stand up and the dog springs to attention, and suddenly, i'm not alone anymore.