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And finally, some people
Jacob had slept badly that night. The dead man’s face kept coming back to him. That hadn’t happened to him in years. He awoke much too early that morning, stretching and yawning, and sat up. The sun was barely poking up over a small mountain range. Jacob wasn’t quite sure where he was, everything looked different in the dark, and he was surprised to see that his chosen camping ground was abounding with life. Flowers, tall grass, weeds, and thin trees were all growing. Birds flitted around in the early morning light. He picked up his crossbow, which was next to him, and stood up. He rubbed his eyes and looked around again, surveying his surroundings for food. A few dogtooth violets were visible in the tall grass. Those didn’t usually grow around here, but they tasted good. He grabbed those quickly, and chewed on the roots. He loaded a bolt into his crossbow and began to parallel the road, walking in the grass. After ten minutes, he scared a rabbit out of a tangle of grass taller than him. He shot instinctively. Instinct what one of those things he trusted after years of living in harsh
bomb-made environment. The crossbow bolt, really just a sharpened bicycle spoke, struck true. The rabbit didn’t even twitch as he got close to it. He removed the bolt from the animals dead body, and pulled out his knife to skin it.
Jacob’s knife was a very good make. He had found it when such rarities were still easy to come across and the blade had yet to break. It was a stainless steel and sharpened to perfection. It was his multipurpose tool, and nothing had yet been too much for his knife. In only a few moments, he had the rabbit cleaned, and skinned. He looked around. The grass was several feet tall, perfect cover for a person to hide in. He watched the grass for a few moments, before he determined it was safe. He took the flint-and-steel from his backpack and, after a few frustrating minutes of failure, lit a fire. The rabbit sizzled deliciously over the open flames. As he watched it cook, he heard voices coming from further up the road. A lot of voices. Jacob jumped. He could hear footsteps getting closer as well. He looked at the rabbit. It looked good enough to be cooked. He could hear footsteps now, they couldn’t be far. Jacob couldn’t see how close though, a curve in the road obstructed his vision. He left the rabbit in the fire a few more seconds, then jumped up and stamped it out before leaping into the tall grass on the side of the road, and walking in until he was fully hidden. He would come out if they looked friendly, but it they had on the red uniform of the Red Civilian’s Army, also known as the Reds, he would remain hidden. A full minute later, the group walked into Jacobs obscured line of sight. They were a rag-tag group of civilians, either too old, too young, or crippled. A small boy, he couldn’t be older twelve, was leading the group. He held an old beaten AK-47 in his hands. Behind him, man in his twenties hobbled on a peg-leg. He was waving everybody else on with a three fingered hand. The other hand held a large revolver. Jacob watched as they all walked past. They were all armed, but they looked friendly enough. He stepped cautiously out of the grass and shouted.
“Hey! Hey, you guys!”
One of the people in the group, a young boy, turned around. He turned back quickly, and although Jacob couldn’t hear what the boy was saying, he knew he was talking. One of the leaders, the youngest one, walked from the back of the group to the front. He waved. Jacob returned the wave and walked towards them.
As he came into hearing distance, the young boy asked him a question. “What are you?”
“A scavenger,” Jacob’s reply was automatic.
“Ah, I see, you wish to trade?”
Jacob nodded, He was now within arm’s reach of the boy.
“We would love to trade with you, but we are in a hurry…” he said, “and anyways, we have nothing worth trading, we barely have enough food.”
Jacob looked down at the roast rabbit in his hand, he hadn’t eaten it yet. Fat was dripping down his fingers. The boy looked too and licked his lips. Jacob felt a rush of sympathy for the boy. Forced every day to fight for his life in a battle with nature and with man. Forced into leadership at a young age.
“Well, the next town has plenty of wildlife for hunting, and you can take this, give it to the hungriest of all of you,” he said, tossing the rabbit. The boy didn’t refuse, but instead, tore off a small piece for himself, and handed the rest to a small boy with four fingers on his right hand.
“Thank you. Could you tell us how far the next town is, by any chance?’”
“About a mile or so up that way, it’s been scavenged, but not too badly, there’s still stuff there, you could probably find some clothes for the younger people.” He said. “In fact…” he took a shirt he had found from one of the houses and handed that to him. The man thanked him.
“Do you wish to come with us? We could always use another in the tribe.” The boy asked as he took the shirt and handed it to a boy who only wore a torn pair of jeans.
Jacob shook his head, “I wish to journey up this way,” he said, “but I would like to know if there any towns up ahead where I could stop at.”
The boy shook his head, “None that you could scavenge, they’re all property of the local king. If I were you, I’d avoid that way as much as possible. Don’t go into any of the towns, stick to the hills, there aren’t very many people there, you might be able to sneak past."
Jacob nodded and thanked the boy. The group set off again down the road, Jacob waved at them for a few seconds, then turned around and began to walk off down the road. The rumble in his stomach reminded him that he had just given up his breakfast. He took his crossbow from the long grass, where he had set it before going to talk to the group. He loaded the bolt into it and set off again, looking for any possible creature he could shoot. Nothing came across, and by noon, his stomach rumbling was enough to scare off any nearby wildlife. He resorted to eating a few strands of grass, mixed in with some grasshoppers, and set off again. The day had been pretty uneventful except for meeting up with the nomads. He was dwelling on this when he heard a shout. He stopped. It had sounded angry. He heard footsteps coming up behind him and sighed. Probably a local thug. He turned to face the unknown person.
“Wha’ do ya’ think yer doing trespassing on King Smiths land?” The man said roughly. He was wearing torn cotton clothes, covered in mud. He had a small pistol in one hand and a long sharp stick in the other.
Jacob shrugged, “I didn’t know I was on his land. I thought this was open for anybody to walk on.”
The man shook his head, “it’ll cost ya’ if you want to pass,” he said, “’else, I have to kill you.”
“What’s the payment?”
“Five royal coins, ‘else, anything worth that.”
Jacob was annoyed, kings had the annoying tendency of using money, which was, of course, useless. “I have stuff, not money, what do you want?”
The man eyed his crossbow. “I’ll take the bow and you can go.”
“I need this,” Jacob said, motioning to the bow with his head. He had a suspicion that this man wasn’t working for the king, just saying he was so he could steal things. “ I can give you something else though.”
“Bow or your life, sorry, that’s my deal.”
“You know, most kings give warning of their territories, so you can know you’re there.” Jacob said.
“What does that have to do with anything?” The man asked carefully.
Jacob just shook his head. “I’m not going to give you anything until you can prove you work for a king,” he said. Then he raised the bow to the man’s head. The man’s pistol was up just as quick, but the hand was shaking. Jacob lowered the bow slowly go down as he saw this, or, made it look like he was. The man relaxed visibly as he saw Jacobs hand go down. Then Jacob squeezed the trigger.
The wound wasn’t fatal, not even close, the bolt was in the space between the shoulder and the arm. Jacob didn’t waste any time either. He threw the bow at the man. Its metal frame struck him in the nose, knocking a surprised and injured man onto his butt. Jacob stepped forward and ended the fight with a kick to the face. The man sprawled back into the dirt, unconscious. Jacob wouldn’t have usually done something like that. The policy for him usually went “give whatever is asked for, so long as they don’t kill you”, but he knew without the bow he would definitely die anyway, only much slower. He would either be forced to starve, or else, hunt with his gun, which was like sending up a flare to any man-hunters, (people who hunted down those who traveled alone, and took their supplies to sell) and had decided this was worth risking. The man was already waking up. Jacob kicked his gun away into a ravine on the side of the road. He bent over and took the bolt out of the man, and kicked him in the head again. He knelt down. In this kind of living condition, the wound was bound to get infected. He took his pack off, and dug around until he found a small first-aid kit. He put some sulfa powder in the wound, and then wrapped it up gently. The kit was several years old, but medicine didn’t really ever go bad, it just got old, which meant that it had to be taken in higher doses. The man was waking up again as Jacob left. He didn’t hide the man’s gun. If he found it, well, that was fine. The man needed to find food. If he found his gun, he could do that. He did however take the stick (the man must have been using as a spear) and snapped it in half, then threw the halves into the thick undergrowth on the side of the road. Not altogether, a boring day, Jacob thought. He looked up. The sun’s position in the sky told him it was time for dinner. He cleaned the bolt off with his shirt, and reloaded it. He was going to have meat for dinner, no matter how long it took. He began walking down the path, scouring the roadside for meat. The man Jacob had defeated sat up. All he saw was Jacob disappearing into the distance, crossbow in hand, and too far away to shoot at. Jacob, about two-hundred yards ahead, didn’t look back. He never looked back. Just keep moving forward, he thought as he walked around a bomb-crater in the road. Just keep pressing forward.
The night, Jacob sat close to a campfire. For the first time in a few days, he felt well fed. About an hour ago, he had found a small fox hunting around in the grass. The crossbow didn’t do much, but it slowed it down, so that he could finish it with his pistol. It had lots of meat. He still had scraps of it in his pocket. The fat from it dripped down a hole in his pants, and ran down his leg, but he didn’t mind, since it was warm. He had found some edible grass, and some fresh water to wash the meat down with. He leaned back on his sleeping bag. It was warm tonight, and there wasn’t any wind. He might just fall asleep there. He was considering it when he heard voices. They weren’t close, but they sure as heck weren’t quiet either. Jacob sat up. There was lots of shouting going on. The voices were semi-close. He guessed maybe a quarter-mile away. Then a gunshot. Jacob’s heart skipped a beat as he heard that. The sound rolled over the hills and grassy land where he was. He now sat upright, his hand not on his crossbow or his pistol, but his rifle.
Jacobs rifle was something altogether different. It was a .7mm hunting rifle of the best make. He had found it ten years ago in a ruined store from a town where a recent battle had gone on. He had come into the town a day or so afterwards, and began scavenging the dead bodies for supplies. He had found the rifle, and had fallen in love with it. This is why he hadn’t traded it. Nowadays, it was only used to shooting large animals, or people from long distances.
Jacob heard more shouts, a bit more panicked this time, and then finally, an explosion as several guns went off at once. Jacob jumped up as he heard that, rifle in hand, and began to move his camp-site hurriedly deeper into the tangle of weeds on the side of the road. He searched his pack for his box of ammunition. He grabbed a handful of shells, and began loading them into the gun. He stuffed the extras in his pocket, and took another handful of shells to put in his pocket. He fought his way through several feet of weeds before coming out of the tangled grass onto the old broken-apart highway. He was dressed for fighting. His shirt was black, so he fit into the shadows, and his pants, originally a pair of jeans, were covered in mud, helping him blend in more. His dirty face made him 100% unnoticeable. He looked down the road to where the shouting was and saw the light of fire as a gun went off in the dark. His gun had been relieved of its scope, which meant he could shoot in the dark, although he only planned on shooting if anyone came too close to him or tried to shoot him. He waited, another gun went off on the opposite side, and in the light cast by the gun-fire, he was sure he saw a man dressed in all red. The Reds, (a group of heartless killers and conquerors that was made before the war as a civilian resistance to the Brazilian invaders, but had gone traitor and fought against the United States in the last days of an official war) were down there, fighting somebody. He stepped farther into the road. Even in the dark, he could see the bright red uniforms of the Red Civilian Army as they moved. The group wasn’t a particularly skilled group of people. They weren’t all that bright, and they didn’t have better weapons than everyone else. The Red Civilians Army won only because they had overwhelming numbers. This didn’t look like the main group. The main group was somewhere in the destroyed ruins of California. This looked like a smaller part, small being a relative term. There were at least one-hundred people in this group going against, Jacob squinted, maybe thirty people. Guns were going off on both sides, and it was already obvious the Red’s were going to win. Jacob saw one man in a red shirt pause. Jacob kneeled as he got ready to take a shot.
The sun had set a few minutes ago, but there was still a little bit of light cast by the stars and the moon. Jacob used this light to aim. He aimed carefully, waiting until he was sure he would hit his target, then squeezed the trigger. The gun kicked back and for a second, he couldn’t see as fire that had come out of his barrel had removed his ‘night-vision’. He blinked and waited for his eyes to adjust. After a few seconds he looked at where he had aimed. The man was writhing on the ground, clutching his leg and trying to move behind the bend and rusty frame of a car that had been hit by a bomb several years ago, during the bombings. Jacob pulled the bolt of his rifle up and back, the bullet shell ejected out, and a new one came into place, shoved into the chamber of his gun as he slammed the bolt forward and pushed it down. The fight seemed to be ending. Dead bodies were scattered over the road, and, Jacob saw what the fight had been over. Before, it had been too far away to see in the dark, but a fire had sprung up in the grass on the side of the road, revealing in its flickering light, a small clump of stones, and beyond that, a small town. The Red’s wanted the town, and they had just got it, or so it seemed. They ran towards the town, killing those who they had only wounded, when suddenly an explosion of fire erupted from the rubble, and another group of people, maybe forty or so strong, rushed out, firing as they advanced on the group of Reds. Jacob watched the proceeding slaughter as the reds, caught off guard, began to fall, and then, retreat. The town guards fired at the retreating group of soldiers, and some went as far to chase after them.
The Red’s retreat may have been good for the town, but, Jacob realized, they were running straight at him. He aimed a shot at one of the people in the lead, and watched as he tumbled face first into the broken asphalt. Jacob didn’t look to see if the man got up or not. He jumped up and ran straight into the grass, fighting his way in as deep as he could. A few moments after he stopped moving, he heard the footsteps of the surviving Red Army as they ran right past him, only a few feet away. He prayed in thanks for the long grass, and sat as still as he could. A few minutes later, the footsteps of those chasing them ran past his position. He waited a little while after this, then loaded a new bullet into his gun, and began to fight his way through the grass to his camp. It took a few minutes, but he found his pack and sleeping bag, sitting in the same position he had left them in. He took his knife from his backpack, and started hacking at the grass a bit further away from the road. He set his sleeping bad down there and moved his pack next to it. He didn’t want to be found if any more fighting took place that night. He looked at his sleeping bag. The adrenaline of combat was wearing off, leaving him tired. He lay down in it, closed his eyes, and promptly fell asleep.