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￭ in return for your navy blue shirt
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2011-10-29 | |
The tide was low. The lowest it had been for as long as I could remember. From where I sat on the porch of our home, on top of the hill, I saw the railroad tracks, and the pilings of what must have been, the White Rock pier. It brought back memories of childhood tales, as the family gathered around in warm, winter evenings. There were stories of snow, something I had never seen, and of course, the sandy beach, a pier, and restaurants snuggled along Marine Drive, all these I only knew from sepia photographs, for they were now buried beneath the warm waters of the Pacific.
Dolores came out, fanning the baby. She was dusky skinned, a refugee from Latin America. Mankind could no longer survive in the horrific storms that battered the tropics. Most Ă©migrĂ©s died from the harsh trek, but my Dolores was a strong one I fell for her at first sight.
She came over, leaned down and brushed my cheek with her lips. I smiled and touched Soledadâs cheek, for so we had named our daughter.
âLook,â I said, pointing to the shore.
She passed me our baby, moved to the edge of the deck, and stared in wonder at the sight.
We had never seen the tracks, only heard about them.
I bobbed Soledad on my lap, she cooed and I kissed her forehead. She was a treasure, there were not many children born these days, some believed that it had something to do with a hole in the ozone layer. Science was limited now, though my grandparents told me of a time when there were universities and medical institutions filled with scientists and knowledge had abounded.
Hard to believe.
Now, we barely had a country, though weâd heard rumours of towns out east with as many as fifty people, which meant little to us here in this tiny alcove of humanity we called White Rock, for some forgotten reason. My grandparents explained that global warming had raised the sea levels by six meters. Those who lived on the coast, those that survived the storms, floods, and starvation, soon had to deal with another disaster...
The Big One.
It happened in 2031, four years before I was born. They explained to me, that it was the long awaited earthquake along the Cascadia fault. It was so great, that Vancouver Island sunk into the Pacific, and the resulting tsunami, wiped out Vancouver, Seattle, Los Angeles and all the towns and cities along the coast. I found it difficult to understand exactly what a city was
I had built our house myself, with logs felled by hand. One did, or died.
âWere low on meal and honey,â Dolores, reminded me, bringing me out of my reverie.
I nodded and stood, kissed our daughter, then Doloresâ cheek. She took Soledad from me and I went inside for the baby-pack sheâd made. I took Soledad and handed Dolores the carrier, which she strapped on to hold our six-month-old in front of her. When she was ready, I went inside for my Winchester, pulled it off the rack, checked that there was a shell chambered, and clicked on the safety. We would walk the six miles to the store together. It wasnât safe to leave a woman alone these days, in particular, one who was fertile.
I picked up the empty knapsack we used to carry our purchases and slung it over my shoulder. Dolores went ahead of me. I knew she was looking forward to the trip. There were three other homesteads en-route and she hoped there would be an opportunity to socialize and catch up on the news.
Frank Winslow had a vintage, ham radio and was our main source of international news.
Such as it was.
Twenty-five minutes later, we came upon the Edmondâs place. Mr and Mrs Edmonds lived there with their only son Steve and his partner Bev. The girls hugged in delight and Beverly pulled Soledad out of the carrier cooing and cuddling her. I felt for them, I knew they wanted children, but after six years of trying, hope was fading. Steve and I shook hands, then embraced, pounding each other on the back.
âJust stoppinâ by for a visit?â Steve asked.
âNo,â I shook my head. âHeading up to the store for meal and honey.â
âGetting harder to get staples every day,â Mr Edmonds interjected. Steve and I gave him worried nods.
Mrs Edmonds brewed tea in a decrepit pot. She always made good tea. I could taste the mint, but did not know what other ingredients she gathered and dried for it. We didnât stay long, we still had an hour walk before us, and that did not include the return trip.
I didnât want to be out after dark with Dolores and Soledad, rifle or no. Dolores and I had both seen a Wilder, as had several of our neighbours, so we were certain, there was at least one in our area.
Most thought Wilders had been human. They lived off roots, berries and were known to eat raw rats and squirrels. And, they steal. I cannot blame them, for they wish what we all do... to survive. However, they have no sense of right or wrong. We donât know for sure, but we heard rumours that a male Wilder raped a woman, then sliced open her belly with a flint knife and ate her liver.
I would take no chances. If I saw one, I would kill it first, then question it afterwards.
There was no one at the next two homesteads. Dolores and I nodded to one another and continued on our way.
The store loomed ahead. It was a small fortress, easy to defend, which was necessary hereabouts. In particular, if you had food and guns.
âHey Frank,â I called.
Betsy, his wife, peered over the high, log wall with a rifle aimed in our direction. She saw us, and took a long, careful look around before nodding.
âCome to the man gate. When Frank opens it, be quick about getting in.â
âYou may be sure,â I grinned up at her.
She glared at me.
We jogged over to the small door, set into the larger gate. Dolores prepared to run inside, I unslung my rifle, clicked off the safety, put it to my shoulder, and fanned it away from the building, searching for movement. I would pull the trigger first, and deal with the results later.
The heavy door swung open, Dolores ran inside with Soledad, and I backed in, panning my rifle across the landscape searching for movement, until Frank slammed the door shut and dropped the hefty beam across it. I snapped the safety on, and pointed the gun at the ceiling. Frank nodded and smiled.
âGood to see you. Weâve just got a fresh shipment in. I think youâre going to have a happy partner,â he grinned at Dolores, then winked at me.
In addition to the meal and honey, we purchased a bolt of heavy denim, which must have been a found item, as I did not think it was still being manufactured. He also had shells for my Winchester. We bought three boxes, as they were harder to come by every year. I didnât use my rifle to hunt anymore, its sole use was to protect my family.
In spite of the shaky welcome, Betsy stuffed us with fresh biscuits and marmalade from the orange trees, which flourished in their large, stronghold. I purchased a length of hemp rope, so Dolores could make the denim into a pack for our hike home. She hung it over one shoulder, packed with the lighter purchases, and slung Soledad in her carrier. I took the meal, honey, and spare cartridges in the backpack.
We headed home.
With Dolores and our daughter in front where I could watch, we headed south at a fast walk along the rugged path. My girl was tough, and I was proud of her. She was a fine mother and a hard working partner. No man could ask for more.
We waved to the Edmonds as we hurried by their homestead, in a rush to get home before dark. Dolores glanced back at me, a grin of contentment on her face. I would die for these girls.
The trees were tall in this region, the path, a narrow canyon cut through heavy underbrush. My eyes shot around searching for danger. Darkness loomed in the depths of the northern, tropical forest. My heart pounded, my finger found the safety, ready to click it off in an instant.
Without a sound, a body crashed down on me. It clawed at my face and snatched for the rifle. My surprise was absolute. It fought with supernatural energy.
âRun!â I screamed to Dolores. I wrenched my rifle from desperate hands, and slammed the butt into the ribs of the body on top of me. There were crunching sounds. I thrust it away, adrenaline coursing through me.
I shoved my Winchester into its mouth and pulled the trigger.
Blood spattered me. I spun to see Dolores clawing at another one.
âHELP!â She shrieked.
The Wilder grabbed for Soledad, trying to snatch her from the carrier. I aimed my rifle, but with the violent struggle, could not risk shooting my wife or daughter.
âBASTARD,â I bellowed, and ran to them.
In that instant, the Wilder managed to snatch Soledad from her carrier and flung Dolores to the ground. The look of triumph on its face shot fear into me, as it took her and bit down on her neck. I launched myself at it, and smashed into them.
My fist found a chin, I prayed it was the Wilderâs. We rolled several feet. Soledad ended up on top, screaming in pain and fear. I pushed her free, found the neck of the Wilder, and squeezed.
It was then that I realized it was a female. She looked into me, her eyes begged... begged for life. I smashed my hand against her oesophagus and crushed her throat. She tried to gasp, but her trachea was crumpled and destroyed. She died beneath me, choking for breath.
I jumped up and ran for my girls. Soledad screamed, her neck bled, it looked bad. I ripped a piece off the roll of denim to staunch it. Dolores lay quiet on the dirt path. I snatched up my daughter with one arm and tapped Doloresâs face.
She didnât respond.
I realized that she was covered in blood... I slapped her face.
She didnât move
Sheâs dead, I thought.
She breathed, then stirred.
âSOLEDAD!â She screamed, shooting into a sitting position, her eyes bulging; terror etched on her face.
âSheâs here... weâre both here. Iâm so sorry my love,â I told her. âWeâve got to go. Please come.â
My brave, strong, Dolores struggled to her feet. I slung my rifle over one shoulder, held Soledad in one arm, and pulled Dolores to me with the other. We limped home.
It was well after dark when we arrived at our house. I slammed the beam behind the door and tended my girls. The cut on Soledadâs neck needed stitches and she screamed as I sewed her up.
Early the next morning, I battened down the house so the girls would be safe. I went to see if any of the supplies we left behind were still there. The bag of meal was shredded and there was no sign of the honey, but the cloth was salvageable and the shells were there, though the cartons had been torn open by what must have been wild animals.
I began to hunt for Wilders and killed twenty-four of them over the next ten years, but it would never be enough. Mankind would die out and give way to the Wilders and slimy things. I was happy I would not live to see it, but worried for Soledad...
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