Altnernate Universe "The Tribe"
DISCLAIMER: I don't own them.
WARNINGS: Post-Apocalypse basis
MAIN CHARACTERS: All.
THE AU TYPE: The Tribe. (Open AU)
Story Arc: Pre-history, History, Joining
Timeline: "Pre-History" covers Sept-Dec with a brief jump into Jan of Year 0 and "History" takes a brief look at Feb, Year 0, "Joining" covers Jan - June, Year 0
I'm not very good at dialog, so there is very little of it here.
Orrin smiled as looked around the communal table in the Saloon, their tribe was together again and for the most part in one piece. Orrin stood at the head of the table with Evie on his right and Mary on his left. Beside Mary (age 16), sat her younger brother Billy (4). Down the line were Abigail Potter (3), Gloria Potter (17), Nettie (18), Casey (11), Chris (16), Vin (14),Inez (15), Kojay (17) and Chanu (6), . Beside Evie (18) sat Jack Potter (5), Emily Potter (4), Ezra (14), Josiah (18), JD (10), Buck (16), Nathan (15), Rain (15) and Jonah-ay (5). "Tiny" (16) was opposite of Orrin (18) at the other end of the table. There were twenty-three of them now. He could remember when it had only been two of them.
Orrin & Evie
Orrin pulled the blanket closer around Evie and himself as they tried to stay warm in front of the small fire. They were currently holed up in an old office building, but they both knew that they would have to be moving on in the morning. Leaving the Quarantine Centre and heading North they soon found themselves in the middle of a turf war between 2 of the newly emerging youth gangs, nicknamed Tribes, calling themselves "Psychos" (west) and the "Kin Longs" (east). They had learned quickly that as much as the 2 gangs hated each other, they hated unaffiliated kids, nicknamed Strays, even more. He and Evie had had a couple close calls with both tribes, more then one was made even worse by their refusal to 'join-up'. He still had the bruises from the latest run in with a group of Psychos. That group was aptly named; following their leader Nomalos and a doctrine of "Power and Chaos", they enslaved any young stray they could. They took what they wanted, when they wanted because they could. Orrin knew that neither he nor Evie would last long if they didn't get out of the area soon, even if they were a larger prey.
Or reflection, he wasn't sure the Kin Longs were much better. Lead by Lin Chu Khan, the Kin Longs were well organize is a hierarchical scheme. They valued codes of brotherhood, and loyalty to the tribe, distrustful of 'outsiders'. Headquarter in China Town they wore a distinctly oriental uniform. Most of Khan's foot soldiers knew some form of martial art. Organized, but still with a mind for power and control. No, Orrin decided, they needed to find somewhere not already claimed by a Tribe. Snuggling closer to Evie, he drifted off into a light sleep.
They spent the next week making slow progress northward through the snow encased city , trying their best to avoid run-ins with the Tribes. On thing was in their favor; the others usually make enough noise that the 2 teens had plenty of warning to hide before anyone showed up. There was no shortage of empty buildings and the nearly constantly drifting snow helped cover their tracks. Being downtown most of the buildings were high-rises of some sort. A silent reminder of the now non-existent adult population thanks to the arrival of The Virus that killed anyone over the age of 18. If they weren't fighting for survival Orrin would have been depressed at the upside-down state of the world.
To Evie's dismay Orrin had taken to carrying a shotgun that he had found in one of the buildings, a couple days ago. As much as she agreed that they needed the protection from getting beaten by the other teens roaming the city, she hated the idea that Orrin may have to kill someone. Orrin promised that if he could put a scare into people rather then shooting them he would. Personally he wasn't really sure he could shoot another person, but he wanted to present a brave front for Evie, so he said nothing else on the matter.
It was mid-afternoon when they finally broke free of the towering buildings. Before them spread a snow covered road that dipped down an embankment before ending quite suddenly in scrub brush that gave way to woods. The 2 teens stopped abruptly and stared blankly at the wild growth of trees. A gust of cold wind brought them shivering to their senses. Orrin started for the embankment, at least the trees could offer them some shelter while they tried to figure out were they were from the map Evie had taken from the Quarantine Center.
A shout from behind startled both of them. Turning they saw a large group of teens had spotted them. Even from this distance Orrin could tell they were Psychos. He tugged Evie down the embankment, nearly pulling her off balance in his haste. The snow hampered their movements, but thankfully it wasn't helping the teens chasing them any either. Time seemed to stretch out into an agonizing slowness the safety of the trees still distant. Then everything snapped back into place and they stumbled into the trees and scrub. The others could still be heard yelling behind them, a quick glance showed the first of them cresting the embankment and motioning to the other behind that there was a trail. Without saying a word Evie and Orrin pushed deeper into the woods, away from their hunters.
Gaining more then the odd scratch from the bare tree branched, the 2 fleeing teens were taken by surprise when they burst from the tree line and skidded out onto the wind swept ice of a frozen river. There was an ominous cracking noise from beneath their feet. Evie cast a frightened look at Orrin, but they had to keep moving, the angry shouts from the Psychos were getting closer. Their movement was slowed as they made their way across the ice. They were about three quarters of the way across when the pursuing teens burst out of the woods. Glancing over his shoulder to check their progress Orrin heart lurched as he mis-stepped on the rough ice and his feet went out from underneath him. He landed with a thud, loosing his grip on the gun. Evie gave a small scream as the other teens gave gleeful cries of triumph.
Slightly winded Orrin scrambled, half crawling, across the ice after the gun. The Psychos were only about 30 feet away when he closed his hands over the gun stock. The sound of it cocking stopped the teens cold. There was a deadly silence as the 2 groups froze, staring at each other. Slowly Orrin stood up from his crouched position. The ice gave a groan, causing everyone to jump.
Orrin made his position quite clear in very few words. The Psychos would leave or he would shoot. Some of the teens cast worried looks at the groups leader . . . they may have numbers, but the barrel of the shotgun looked pretty big from where they were standing. The leader took a gamble on his numbers and took a step forward. Orrin pulled the trigger.
The report cracked through the air. Orrin had purposely dropped his aim, sending the buckshot spraying into the ice at the teens' feet, causing them to step quickly back. Some more quickly then others as buckshot hit their legs. Yelps of pain added to the surprised yells. Orrin was quick to re-level the shotgun at a chest level. He repeated his demand to leave. There was a cold edge to his voice that matched the winter that surrounded them. The Psychos backed slowly away from the 2 teens, perhaps in hopes of regaining their advantage, but as the ice beneath them creaked ominously everyone decided to make for shore.
Orrin and Evie moved slowly backwards wanting keeping a wary eye on the Psychos as they hurried away; slipping and sliding every so often on the ice. Evie was more then happy to set foot on solid ground again. And truth be told Orrin was relieved to be off the ice too. They waited at the tree line until the last of the Psychos disappeared into the trees on the far side of the river. Suddenly Orrin felt exhausted as the adrenaline rush wore off, and he sat down rather abruptly. Evie started towards him, concerned, but he gave her a reassuring smile and assured he was all right. After a few moments he gathered himself together and they started to climb up the wooded embankment.
A couple feet into the woods they were surprised to find a path about 3 feet across running parallel with the river and a 15 foot chain link fence. After a quick discussion they decided to put the fence between them and the other teens just in case. It wasn't easy getting over the top of the fence, but they only got tangled in to wire at the top a couple times before getting back on solid ground. Taking a couple minutes to collect themselves, they started back up again. Gaining the top, the woods leveled off to a gentle slope, and continued. Orrin figured they had walked about 15 minutes before the woods began to thin. As the trees thinned out the 2 teens found themselves looking across a rather large expanse of open ground, scattered sparsely with large trees, without their leaves though it was hard to tell what type they might be. In the distance they could see a cluster of buildings. It was difficult to tell how many or what they might be from this distance as the light had begun to fade. After a quick debate they decided to try for the buildings and hope that any occupants would be friendly. They had to find somewhere out of the wind to sleep.
They had walked about half the distance and the buildings had grown more distinct. It looked like mostly 2 story buildings placed in a line. Beyond them was a large building. The only sound was the wind, the buildings stood eerily dark and silent. The 2 made their way to the closest end of the building row. They found themselves facing what looked to be the main street of a town straight out of the old west. At the far end of the street, closing off the end of the street, stood a building with a sign proudly proclaiming it to be "The Saloon". In front of them was a wrought iron archway, which stood about 10', with a worn wooden sign - "New Frontier".
They made their way cautiously down the street, but could see no sign of other people. Snow lay heavy and undisturbed. They stood in the middle of the street and took stock in the fading light. Facing the Saloon the buildings on there left were 5 buildings on each side of the street. A cold gust of wind quickly decided for them to spend the night in one of closer buildings, a two story home, and explore the rest of the buildings in the morning. Once they dug the doorway free of snow they were glad to find that the door wasn't locked and swung open easily. They hurried inside.
The next morning they awoke to a clear blue sky, after a cold breakfast they headed out to explore. Standing in the middle of the street they were able to easily read the signs that hung from the buildings. The left side of the street proudly held ownership to a School, the colonial house they had spent the night in, a bank/post office, sheriff's/Jail, General Store/clinic, paper/telegraph. The Right side of the street boasted of a church (across from the school), a hotel/restaurant, stable, smithy, woodshop/undertaker, and a stage coach/ storage. A small sign on one side of the Saloon proclaimed "Baths". Some of the buildings had overhangs, which helped keep the snow from piling up too much on the boardwalk. They decided to start in the Church.
Church - Going up 5 steps they easily opened the door inwards to enter the small porch. An open archway led down a short hallway ending at a second door that stood open, allowing them to look directly into the church. They stepped quietly into the church proper and Evie crossed herself. Early morning light flowed in through the simple stained glass windows that ran the length of the side walls, filling the room with soft multi-colored light. They stood looking at 2 rows of pews, each 6 pews long. At the front of the church stood a simple wooden pulpit off to the left side, to the right were 2 rows of 3 chairs, seats for the choir. Hanging in the place of honor at the center of the wall was a carved wooden cross. Beside them in the back left corner was on old wood stove and a wooden door, to their right was a second wooden door and a shelf filled with books. A closer examination showed them to be a collection of hymn books. The right door led to the bell tower. A rope hung down through a hole in the loft floor above. A wooden ladder nailed to the back wall gave access to the bell tower through a trap door. Though they both wanted to see if the bell worked, neither wanted to advertise their presence in the town just yet. The wooden door on the left opened to a simple room where the priest would have stayed. A small bed filled the far wall, with a small night stand, with a wash basin underneath. The only other furniture was a stool pushed under a writing table. A small cross hung on the wall above the head of the bed.
Hotel - As they entered the main door they found them selves in a lobby. In front of them was the check in desk, a old-fashioned cash register sat on one end, the ½ dozen room keys hung on their respective wall hooks behind it. To the right of the desk was a stair case heading to the second floor. There was a door to their left and right. A door behind the desk read "Office". Evie opened the left door, which held a pane of frosted etched glass with a flower motif. Walking cautiously in, they discovered themselves in a parlor. Comfortable chairs, interspersed with small end tables lined the walls. In the back half of the room there was a rather rustic looking pool table, while the front held a small couch and coffee table. The walls held an assortment of paintings and a couple mirrors. They headed back across the lobby to the other door.
The second door led to a dinning hall full of round tables surrounded by 4 to 6 chairs. Right beside the door was the "check-in desk" with a stack of menus and a modern register. On the far wall was a mall raised platform that held a small upright piano. Candles sat in fancy glass bowls on every table. Evie checked a couple and they had never even been lit!! They easily found the door that led back to the kitchen. A quick search of the cupboards revealed a Bonanza of foodstuffs, both canned and dry goods. Orrin and Evie were excited, there was enough food here to last them until spring even counting on finding Mary and Billy, their prospects at survival had just skyrocketed! Only the walk in freezer was questionable discovery. With no power the cooling systems weren't working. On the other hand it felt like it was below freezing in there any way, they would have to be very careful with anything they used from there. Orrin had a hard time dragging Evie away so they could examine the other buildings. She was already making plans for the celebration dinner they would have when they found Mary.
A quick tour of the upstairs, after having found a set of keys hidden under the front desk, revealed 6 bedrooms of various sizes, 2 bathrooms and a linen closet at the end of the hall. The bathrooms, like the kitchen, were the modern conveniences but made to look rustic with the same dark wood that accented the rest of the building. Back downstairs a peak into the "Office" showed a modern work space. The desk was setup with a phone and a computer, neither was more useful then a paperweight now.
Stable - Set of double doors which could swing out into the street, had it not been full of snow. They were able to clear away the small sally-port door to gain entry. There was a lingering smell of horses in the cold air. Travis wondered where the animals were and what had happened to them. Down the main corridor of packed earth there were 4 stalls on each side, a large sliding door at the far end revealed a snow covered paddock. The nearest stall on the left side had been converted to a tack room. A cabinet filled the back wall. It proved to be locked, but the various doors and drawers were clearly labeled. The cabinet was full of veterinary supplies. The loft upstairs, was accessed by a ladder nailed to the back wall, was warmer then elsewhere being packed full of square straw bales and bags of oats. There were also the sounds of scurrying feet which heralded more then a few mice. Orrin wondered if they could find some tame enough cats anywhere that they could catch and bring back to keep the mice in check. He made a note to talk to Evie about securing the dry goods they had found in the kitchen in "mouse proof" containers as soon as they could.
Smithy/livery - walking through a small door in the front opened into the front of the shop. Various goods hung on the walls from pegs, lined shelves and filled fat, squat barrels. Everything from horseshoes to nails, bridles to rope, horse blankets to saddle backs. In the display case which made up part of the back counter was a collection of hoe and axe heads beside sets of spurs and tooled gun belts. A swing gate gave access to behind the counter and an open door gave easy access to the smithy beyond. A register sat beside the swing gate. A small sign beside the door displayed the hours when visitors could watch a blacksmith using the smithy
The smithy had a wide door on the right side of the back wall that would open to the stable's back pen, and led to an open area with a small hitching post beside a sturdy looking stall. The left of the room was filled with the makings of a working smith. A stone forge sat in the back corner, surrounded on 2 sides by stone walls to keep down the threat of fire. Nearby were a set of bellows, a pair of anvils, a small empty trough, and a stack of cut wood. The walls were lined with neatly hung tools, and a work bench showed a display of various metal items that could be made on a forge, ranging from horseshoes to fancy twisted-rod signs. Bins under the bench contained metal ores and coal. A leather apron lay draped over one of the anvils.
Woodshop/undertaker - The left set of glass windows displayed a selection of half a dozen wooden coffins, stacked on their sides, which ranged from a simple pine box to one that was lined with padding and covered with a deep blue material. The other window showed a collection of various wooden items ranging from small plates to 3' high barrels. A bell jingled above them as the 2 opened the door and made their way into the store proper. Like the smithy, the shop was split with the workshop in the back of the store. In the back a low wooden wall separated the 2 "workshops". On the right was the undertaker's area. A table for the body, a supply of simple coffins and a set of shelves: This held the tools of the trade like an embalming kit. Evie decided she would investigate the other half of the room for awhile.
The woodworking shop was neatly organized. There was a hand press in one corner to put the metal hoops on barrels and a large work bench was in the middle of the work area. Bins lined most of the wall space, filled with various types and cuts of wood. Like the Smithy the walls were filled with neatly hung tools.
Stage - Unable to open the large double doors, Orrin and Evie let themselves into the small waiting room. Benches lined the walls and a small pot bellied stove sat in one corner. A large chalk board by the ticket window listed the arrival times of the stage and a smaller board listed ticket prices. The walls held a scattering of advertisement posters and a couple of Wanted Posters. A door with a frosted glass window let them into the ticket master's office. It was a small room that barely fit the small desk and chair. A stool was slide under the ticket window shelf. Beside the window was a set of 24 cubby-holes filled with various items from tickets to luggage "locks". There was a small cash register on a shelf below the cubbies. A plain wooden door at the back of the room led into a wide open area that made up most of the Stage building. In the dim light it was hard to see much detail, but they could see the outlines of a stage sitting still and silent in the shadows.
Saloon/bath - The Saloon was a large 2 story structure. The upstairs was made up of 10 rooms. Six were "old west" bedrooms and the other 4 were "modern": an office, a supply room, a costume room and a bathroom (The master keys having been hidden under the Saloon's bar). The main floor was split into 3 main sections. The bar itself was access by the double swinging batwing doors, but a pair of wooden doors were also in place to protect the room from the elements during the off season. Large windows lined the front wall that let in plenty of light. A long bar filled the back of the room, lined with stools in front of it and bottles of liquor behind it. Round, scarred wooden tables filled the room ringed with 4 or 5 armless chairs. An upright piano stood against the staircase that ran up the left-hand wall. A few of the tables were set up for games of chance; Poker and 21.
A door behind the bar let to an "Employees Only" section. This held an employee break room/lounge, a modern bathroom/Shower, a small kitchen for the Saloon, a pantry, and a room with linens and a washer/dryer. Orrin and Evie were excited to find another cache of dry and canned goods, about ½ the size of what they had discovered in the main kitchen.
Down the short hallway from the linen room was another wooden door that came out behind the reception desk of the Baths. An old-fashioned register book lay on the counter top, a computer was tucked in underneath. The Baths were a mix of old and new. A hall led from the reception desk with 5 doors, like all the rest - wooden, 2 on each side and one at the end of the hall. The side doors opened to private baths. The rooms held large tubs made of wood and metal. Beside the tub was a low table, and in one corner sat a chair. The tubs could be filled authentically by bucket, which had been placed conveniently under the chair, or simply by turning on the faucets that had been hidden into the molding on one end of the tub. The 5th door led to a room with a squat stove, a small woodpile, a couple stacks of buckets and an old pump handled water spout. The authentic way to fill the tubs, if a customer desired . . .and paid.
Paper/Telegraph - When they entered the building they found themselves in a small waiting area sectioned off by a waist high wooden railing. A swinging gate let them gain access to the main part of the building which housed the large printing press and all the supplies needed to put out a paper in a Frontier town. On the right side of the waiting area was a "ticket window" with a sign above it that declared "Telegraph". A small chalkboard was mounted beside it to display the prices. Inside the office was a small desk, chair and a telegraph machine. There was also a display card that explained the Morse code system. The office could be accessed by a door that led to the "newspaper" area.
General Store/Clinic - A set of steep stairs ran up the side of the building to the 2nd story. Orrin and Evie made their way carefully up the stairs, trying not to disturb the snow too much. Even though they were more then half done checking out the town, experience had taught them caution about advertising the presence of 2 lone strays. Orrin push the door inward and the 2 found themselves in the waiting room of the old west's version of a hospital. Four doors led out of the room along the L shaped wall. Straight ahead were 3 doors. The left most of the doors opened into a 4 bed ward, the middle one opened to a small room that was set up with a dentist chair and equipment. It was unusual to see the archaic equipment here, since it was a more common practice to have barber double as the dentist. The third door opened into the corner room that doubled as both an exam room and the doctor's office. A table sat against the back wall, with a tray of interments laid out beside it ready to be used. In the corner was a desk and chair, the far corner held a cabinet filled with vials and jars marked with various remedies of the day. Orrin uncorked one and sniffed. He was pretty sure it held nothing more then colored water. But he really didn't expect anything else. It wasn't like this had been a practicing clinic. He wished it had been . . . medical supplies would be worth more than gold. The last door was locked, but it was marked 'Employee Only'. Orrin and Evie found the key under the desk in the office. One thing about it the people who ran the town, they were consistent. The room ended up being a large supply closet with shelves of the basics like toilet paper and paper towels.
The General Store downstairs was huge, filling most of the space. The large front windows were setup with displays of Old West tourist items that could be bought inside. Inside the store the 3 remaining walls were lined with a floor-to-ceiling shelving unit of dark wood filled with merchandise; from sewing items and clothing to food stuffs (which proved to be for display purposes only). The rest of the building was packed with shelves and table of items for sale. Crafts, toys, candies, t-shirts, cowboy hats and shirts were all on display. There was also a large selection of books about life in the old west (homesteading, recipe books, gunfighters, trains . . .) Evie grinned as she watched Orrin pick up on of the "Jacob's Ladders" from the box and play with it for a few moments. She had seen a dice game box she remembered playing with when she was younger. It would be fun to play again if they had some quiet time. Running nearly the length of the back wall was a counter which was covered in a colorful display of rock candies, small toys and cards. An antique cash register sat on one end, and a curtained doorway led into the back, which was filled with boxes of tourist goods.
Sherriff - There were bars on the window and the door was reinforced with metal bands. Entering the Sheriff's office Orrin and Evie found themselves in an open space that was maybe 15' wide. In the right corner sat a potbellied stove, a coffee pot on top. To there left, against the wall, was a locked gun cabinet. In front of it sat a heavy desk and chair. Wanted posters were stacked in a basket on top of the desk. Orrin flipped through a couple and found one for Jesse James. He showed it to Evie. The back wall was made up of 2 small isolation cells, made of wood and steel, and a large steel bared cell. A wooden door led further back into the building. A small sign on the door stated the hours that the photographer was open.
In the back half of the building was setup for people to get their pictures taken dressed up in costumes from the Old West. A small reception desk guarded the way to the back rooms. A reservation book sat beside a listing of prices. There were 4 doors that ran down the hallway. The first led to a large room full of costumes hung in rows, all neatly labeled by size and gender. The next 2 doors were change rooms and the last was the photography room. The camera, on a tripod, and the flash umbrellas still waited patiently in the dark room, ready for the next customer that would never come. A small selection of props was stacked to one side.
Bank/post office - The door to the bank was inserted with a pane of fancy frosted glass. The inside was decorated in dark woods and a polished floor. To the right was an office with an open wicket window. A sign above the window read "Post Office", a small chalk board hung on the wall that stated the price to mail letters and parcels based on weight. The rest of the building was taken up by the bank.
There was a waiting area that took up about a third of the building. A counter with 2 teller wickets stood guard over general access to the rest of the bank. Behind the tellers were 2 doors, one labeled Manager and the other simply blank. It wasn't hard to hop the counter, letting the 2 teens explore the back half of the bank. The manager's office was set up old west style. A large wooden desk filled much of the room. A leather bound chair sat behind it and a simpler styled chair sat in front. A ledger book lay open on the desk, filled with neat columns of names and numbers. The 2nd door led to the vault.
Orrin was surprised to see that the bank's vault was a real 1860's vault made of heavy steel. Out of curiosity he turned the handle and heaved. It was a pleasant surprise to find the vault open, but it took some effort to pull open the heavy door. The vault was full of burlap bags marked with a dollar sign. Evie opened one up and laughed. They were stuffed full of old newspapers. Pushing the vault closed again the 2 headed back outside. There were still 2 buildings left and the afternoon was well upon them.
House - They had made a quick search of the house the night before, but now they planned to do a bit more through tour. The house was very well to do by the standards of the time. All the furnishings were made of the highest quality materials. The decorations were from the East Coast and Europe. The main floor of the house was split into 4 basic areas, which could all be accessed by the main hall. Upon entering the house, there was a small entry way where visitors could leave boots and coats. Evie and Orrin all ready knew that the door just past the entry way on their left lead to a day room/ parlor, where the lady of the house entertained guests and did her embroidery and stitching. The door on the right, just before the stairs leading to the 2nd floor, lead to a elaborate dinning room, the great wooden table could easily seat 8 people. A swinging door at the back of the room, to the left of the fireplace, lead to the kitchen. The kitchen could also be accessed from a back door leading outside and another door leading to the front hall. 2 doors on the kitchen's right wall lead to a small pantry and a servant's room, which could be warmed by the fireplace in the dinning hall. The kitchen, filled with a large stove, cupboards, wide counters, and a simple table, even had the added amenity of an indoor hand pump at the deep sink. The last door in the front hall, on the same side as the day room, led to a study, the man's domain in the house. Filled with books and a large desk backed by a deep leather chair, a pair of rifles hung over the fireplace and a pair of epées hung on the wall. The ash of their fire from last night still lay in the hearth.
The upstairs had a U-shaped hallway. Once at the top of the stairs one could go either left or right towards the front of the house. There were 2 doors on the left, 3 on the right and one straight ahead. The rooms on the left were the Master bedroom, filled mostly by the great canopied double bed. A woman's dressing stand was against the right wall and a pair of standing wardrobes filled the left. A pair of simple night stands stood guard on either side of the bed, each with an oil lamp. And the second was a smaller room made up for a baby. A carved waist high cradle held a rag doll which lay as if waiting expectantly for its little companion. A chest of drawers against the far wall, and a rocking chair sat nearby.
The rooms on the right were made up for children: a boy (with metal soldiers scattered over the floor ready to advance on the enemy), a girl (a pair of dolls sat at the head of the bed on the pillow, a tea set was laid out on a small corner table) and a play room (books, board games and toys filled the shelves and cupboards, a pair of desks sat in the corner in front of a blackboard). The last door lead to a turn of the century bathroom with the "advancements" of indoor plumbing. A rudimentary flush toilet, a large bath, and a wash "sink" were here as well as a pair of cabinets with linens.
School - The school was set up much like the church. A covered porch leads straight into the long rectangular building. A pot bellied stove sat in the left corner at the back of the room, beside a stack of wood in the box. The main aisle ran up the middle of the room with 6 pairs double desks on each side, giving room for 48 students. At the front of the room was a large chalk board that filled the majority of the wall. A picture of the president and the US Flag hung prominently in the middle of the room about the board. A roll of maps hung from the roof on the right, while that teacher's desk sat on the left so she could look out over the class. A set of shelves stood against the right wall at the front of the class filled with the educational books of the day, a world globe perched on top. Work books, quills and empty ink jars lay across the student desks. The half dozen windows let in the fading light.
Evie and Orrin were excited about the things they had discovered today, especially the fact that they seemed to be alone in the town. That night snuggled in quilts taken from the upstairs rooms, in front of a small fire in the study, the 2 began to make tentative plans about their new home.
They decided to check out the other building the next day; it took about 15 minutes to get there. Orrin figured they were walking East. Deciding to walk around the building first, they were surprised to find the layout was much more sprawled out then they had first thought. It looked to be made up of multiple buildings joined together. The part closest to the "town" was set a couple feet apart from its neighbor was made of logs and built in a L shape. The front of the building was sheltered by a covered porch, completing the rectangle shape. A plaque on the front door read "Four Mile House - 1859". The door was unlocked. One thing about the Virus aftermath a lot of public places got left wide open, making it easy for the kids that were left to scavenge things.
The Four Mile House proved to be an interesting assortment of functions. According to the information plaque inside the door the building once served as a stage stop, wayside inn, and tavern for travelers on the Cherokee Trail on their way to Denver City. The short arm of the L had been set up as a bunkhouse. A small stove in the corner would keep those sleeping in the bunks warm during the winter nights. The main part of the building was set up to serve at a tavern, simple meals were cooked on the same stove that kept the building warm. Various items hung on the wall as displays. Some of them were snow shoes, fire pails, various pictures of important people of the day, a stage schedule and a long rifle.
Behind the Four Mile House stood a 2 story building shaped in an "H", the sign above the main doors in the middle section stated "Four Mile Museum". The 1st floor of the middle wing housed the admissions gate, which was easy to hop over, opening into a large open lobby. The large window let in the morning sun. The large gift shop on their left was encased in glass, giving perspective buyers a preview of all the items they could buy. A sign on the wall beside the Gift Shop pointed left, down a hall, to the Cafeteria and public restrooms. On their immediate right was a smaller lobby, with coat check, for a theatre. Orrin poked his head into the theatre, but with no windows it was too dark to make out much of anything. On the far wall of the lobby was a great mural made of different types of interlocking wood depicting life in the area. It filled nearly half of the wall. A native village was on the right, with a farm in the middle, and a frontier town on the left. At the end of the hall on either end was a large set of double door. The sign above the door on the right read "East Wing" and the one on the left read "West Wing".
The East wing 1st floor was filled with displays of Native American life focusing on the Ute and the Shoshone tribes of the area. The 2nd floor was filled with information on the early settlers, the trails used to come west and life on the early farms. The upper floor of the middle wing held information on the military (the 1st Colorado Calvary at Fort Collins) and the frontier lawmen of the area (Jake Slade an agent for the stage coach line, Jim Clarke a marshal in Telluride, among others), The West wing 2nd floor had information on frontier towns (showing Denver's beginnings and other frontier towns in the area), the 1st floor showed how the frontier town and surrounding area changed over time to become a modern city with the coming of the railroad, telegraph and other advancements. The wings were all filled with indirect sunlight that came in from window sent high in the walls. It made the rooms slightly gloomy, but still allowed the couple to look around with out running into anything.
It was getting later in the afternoon when they arrived at the last building. The building was a multi-story structure with a much more modern design. Large lettering on the front wall above the entrance proudly proclaimed "Four Mile Historical Park, Grant Family Educational Centre", small letters underneath stated "715 South Forest Street". A row of old fashioned pole-lamps lead off to the North towards, according to the 'You Are Here' map, the parking lot and the admissions gate. The main doors, being automatic sliding ones, refused to open; but Orrin and Evie were able to force open one of the south entrance doors once they had cleared away some of the built up snow.
The building proved to be built like a conference center, with a simple front lobby (with a semi-circle reception desk), a cafeteria , washrooms, a display room (which currently held a collection of Native American crafts and art), and half a dozen various sized rooms filled with tables and chairs. One was set up for younger children with small chairs, tables and a pile of soft cushions in one corner. Everywhere they looked there were huge open windows letting in sunlight as a view of the surrounding park. Looking through one of the south facing windows Evie spotted something across the open park she hadn't noticed before. In the lower light it was hard to tell what it was. It looked like a bunch of funny shaped hills with sticks poking out of the top. Evie pointed them out to Orrin and after a brief discussion they decided that there was enough light left to have a quick look.
It took them longer to reach the hills then they thought it would. The white blanket that covered everything had a deceptive appearance. Up close the hills looked more like upright cones. Orrin poked one with the butt of the rifle. There was a soft give and a small portion of the gathered snow fell away. Orrin and Evie looked in surprise at the unexpected stylized painted horse that faced them. Suddenly Orrin laughed, causing Evie to jump in surprise. He knocked a bit more snow off the cone, to reveal the back side of a Native American tepee. The painted horse was part of the design that covered the outside. Evie shook her head in mock-disgust. Considering the rest of the park she should have expected an Indian village to be around somewhere. The only thing they were missing now was a "Boot Hill".
The temperature was dipping with the sun, so the pair made their way back to the house and the warm fire that they would soon have started. Orrin mentally ticked off another day, February was over and tomorrow March started. It would still be cold for awhile yet, and there was plenty to do. Well, first thing first, to get out of the cold and keep warm until tomorrow.
March ended up being a busy month for Orrin and Evie. The first job they completed was to secure their food supplies from the four legged furry scavengers that lived with them in the town. A lot went into the walk in freezer; the rest went into sealable jars that they scavenged from different buildings.
After that they split their time between making forays into the city to look for Mary and staking out their territory. They wired large signs to the front gates that New Frontier was open to strays, but trespassers would be shot. According to a park map they had found in one of the maintenance offices there was only one other secondary gate to the East. They posted a sign there as well, and made sure the gates were securely locked. They would have to add something else once the snow melted, but it would be safe for now. Before they ventured out of the park Orrin convinced Evie that after their last run in with the Psychos she should at least carry a gun for show if nothing else. With luck the visible threat of getting shot by both of them would deter most confrontations.
They met the Legions of the Romanus Tribe as they searched north of the park. Of the 6 teens the older, and taller, 3 were dressed in the metal amour and helms of a Roman legionary over top of a warm layer of woolen cloths. The other 3 wore a leather chest protection. They all wore a gladius sword belted at their waists and the deep red over-tunics and cloaks. There were a few tense moments as the 2 groups sized each other up. The legionnaires had numbers, but Orrin and Evie had range weapons. The biggest of the 6 broke the tension, by informing them that they were on Romanus land and then demanding to know what they were doing here and their tribe. Orrin told them that they were with the New Frontier tribe, from the Four-mile Park and they were looking for his cousin Mary and her brother Billy. None of the others recognized the descriptions that Orrin gave. When one of the younger teens asked if they had anything to trade Evie offered an extra pair of fur lined mitts she has found at the general store. There was a quick debate amongst the other teens about what they had to offer. The trade was settled on a small dagger and decorative arm bracelet. Before parting ways the legionnaires promised to keep an eye out for Mary and Billy, and suggested that they come trade with Emperor Marius.
The pair found the quarantine centre for Mary's neighborhood abandoned like all the others they had seen. Still they left a note nailed to the front door just in case. It wasn't until nearly the end of March when Mary found them. And she wasn't alone.
With the weather getting warmer Orrin and Evie realized that they would soon have to do something with the meat in the freezers or risk loosing it. When Evie stumbled across a book in the Educational Center that described how the Indians would prepare food, it was a godsend. They ruined some of the meat before managing to get the smoking process down. But before long they had a large supply of jerky sealed away.
They were busy cleaning up their mid-day meal, when the sound of voices alerted them of new arrivals. Picking up their guns they came cautiously out of the house, and onto the boardwalk. Not seeing anyone they moved out into the main street and to the gate. The voices were getting louder. Looking east they saw, coming along the path that wound from the Four-Mile House, a group of people. It was hard to get an accurate count, but most of them seemed to be young children. As they got closer Orrin got a good look at the teen leading the group. It was Mary!!!!!
Orrin called out a happy greeting. Seeing them Mary wave back, and as if suddenly realizing they were safe, the children left their tight group and began running back and forth, calling loudly to each other. Evie quietly took Orrin's gun and placed both in the rack they had made by the gate. It was a happy reunion, and for a few moments it was utter chaos as everyone tried to catch up at the same time. Laughing, Evie brought some organization to the confusion by asking to be introduced around, as she had never actually met Mary. Obliging, Orrin introduced her to Mary and pointed out Billy amongst the 3 running children. In turn Mary introduced the 2 of them to Gloria Potter and her younger siblings Jack and Emily , who were running with Billy, and Abigail, who she was currently holding in her arms. Evie insisted on getting everyone settled before giving a tour of the town. With the evenings still fairly cool, they decided to move a couple of the mattress downstairs in to the dinning room for everyone to sleep. Before long they had beds set up, the groups meager possessions stored away and headed out to see the town.
It was good to hear children's laughter again, Evie thought.
In early April Orrin and Evie took some thing to the Romanus for trade. Emperor Marius was an older teen, with sandy blond hair and brown eyes, who struck the pair as being fairly intelligent even if he wasn't as big as the 2 guards who stood flanking his throne. Fashioning himself as Emperor he seemed to realize that he was not a descendant of one of the Roman Gods, unlike the delusions that Nomalos had his tribe the Psychos lapping up, but he ran his tribe with a tightly controlled fist. He was quite willing to establish trade and had setup a small room with a number of items spread out on display. Amongst the various novelty gift shop items, books and tools were jewelry, pottery and small packets of seeds. Orrin noticed there were no weapons for trade. After some debate on item pros and cons and haggling on a price they made a deal to trade some canned food, Jerky and cloth for a few books and the seeds.
Happy with a successful trade Marius insisted on celebrating with a drink. Not wanting to hurt future trade Orrin and Evie agreed. He led them back to the throne room and commanded for stools and wine to be brought. Within short order 3 younger kids dressed in simply white tunics appear with the required items and disappeared again. Opening the wine, Marius made a show of pouring the wine and passing it around. With a flourish he toasted to future trade and the 3 drank. Not much for wine, Orrin found the taste rather sweet, but Evie made an appreciative sound which seemed to please the Emperor. Soon the 2 were on their way back to New Frontier and debated ideas for their next trade. Gloria was ecstatic about the seeds and immediately began planning out a garden behind the house.
A few strays passed through New Frontier, staying only for a couple nights before moving on for a different part of the city. Orrin didn't pressure them to stay, but he made sure that anyone considering staying knew what was expected of them: to pull their own weight in work and not to cause trouble. No stealing was high on that list. Most of them paid for their stays with various small items: jackknifes paperbacks, paper, pens or pencils, and on occasion larger items like cloths. The tins of food were the most welcome.
On a sunny day in the middle of April the unexpected sound of a horse whinnying brought the residents of New Frontier away from their work and out into the main street. It was a bit of a surprise to see 2 girls walking towards them leading a miniature horse loaded with gear. Both were petite, wearing jeans and heavy jackets. The taller of the 2 was wearing a fedora and carrying a shotgun. The smaller one had dark brown hair done up in braids. As they came to a stop Orrin saw that the older, a teenager, had blue eyes, while the youngster had brown.
The teen introduced herself as Nettie Wells and her cousin Casey. She was blunt in her reasoning for coming to New Frontier, wanting to find a safe place for Casey to grow up that would still allow her to use her own mind. She added that they were both quite able to pull their own weight. When she was done stating her case there wasn't much left for Orrin to do but welcome them in and introduce them to the rest of their little tribe.
The children were curious about the small horse, which was thankfully very docile amongst all the loud questions being shouted around it. Giving the reins to Casey, Nettie first made sure that the children understood that Liberty could hurt them if they weren't careful before escorting each child up to let the little horse snuffle their outstretched hands and give her forehead a soft pat. She then answered their questions the best that she could until Mary reminded the older ones that they still had chores to finish before supper. The older teens tried not to smile at the round of groans that resulted, before the small group headed off to finish the dreaded chores. Orrin showed them the stable and helped them bed Liberty down before showing them back to the house. Casey couldn't wait to explore the town.
April was just beginning to fade into May when a large teen arrived. He was tall, with a muscular build that showed through the colorful poncho he was wearing. His brown hair, already showing signs of premature graying, and blue eyes were set against tanned skin. He carried a rucksack slung over one shoulder and carried a large staff. As Orrin, Evie, Gloria and Nettie were out checking the fence line, as The Psychos had begun making forays north on the Cherry Creek bridge, Mary met the new comer. Casey kept the children in the house, though there were a lot of curious little heads that could be seen poking around the door frame. As he came closer Mary realized that he was a good half a foot or more taller then her own 5' 5 frame. When she demanded his name the teen opened his arms in a gesture of peace and introduced himself. His name was Josiah Sanchez.
Josiah sighed as he trudged through yet another snow bank, surrounded by empty buildings covered in graffiti, nursing a set of bruised ribs and a sore head. How was it in less then a month, when things had looked so well, had things gotten to this? Josiah remembered how the children at the mission had been so happy, but that had been in December.
Josiah wasn't sure what the kids were more excited about when he came back; the toys or the food. Father Carter decided that they would celebrate Christmas a couple days early and give thanks for the bounty that Josiah had been able to find. He let the children each pick from the things that Josiah had brought back and leaving them to play took Josiah to the kitchens to prepare a feast. They both realized that it would use up most of what Josiah had brought back with him, but Father Carter insisted that the children need full bellies. It would be much easier to keep their spirits up, to give them hope. Josiah didn't mind. He was just glad to see the smiles on the children's faces. He could always go back to the neighborhood again in a couple days.
As Father Carter kept watch on the food, cooking on the camp stoves, Josiah set the long table with the "good dishes", as the children called them, a set of miss-matched china that had been left to the mission years ago. He added a pair of small table candelabras and made sure that they had fresh candles in them. Standing back to study the table he debated on what else he could add to make things a bit more festive. With a snap of his fingers he remembered seeing some holiday decorations in one of the closets. Popping his head into the kitchen to make sure that Father Cater still had everything under control, he headed to the small closet and started digging around. He had to contort his 6'2 frame into an awkward position to see into the back to the closet, but it only took a short time for Josiah to find what he had been looking for; the holly and pine craft decorations that had been made by the children's group last year. Nearly getting stuck trying to get back out of the closet he was glad that he hadn't filled out yet the way Father Carter thought he was going to. He headed back to finish decorating the table with his bounty; the excited atmosphere of the children was infectious.
Even with the excitement of the new toys, it wasn't had to bring the children to the table once the food was ready. Not the traditional meal by any means, the smell of cooked food was enough to make mouths water and young bellies rumble. The children quickly took their places, the older children on the left side and the younger on the right. Josiah and Father Carter sat at either end of the table. As hungry as they were the children managed to fidget only a little while Father Carter made a very quick prayer of thanks giving. Then everyone dug in.
Taking a chance Father Carter and Josiah, leaving the younger children under the charge of the older ones, went together to the neighborhood to bring back more supplies. God, or luck, was on their side, they managed to make the trips without seeing a single other tribe and for that Josiah was grateful. In the back of his mind he knew that Father Carter wouldn't be with them forever. The Virus would take his sooner rather then later, but he didn't want to rush things by having him get beaten up as badly as he had been last time. Every time they went out Josiah was made sure that he took his staff with him, just in case.
It took some time, but after a couple weeks, Father Carter was sure that they would have enough to last them through the rest of January.
When they weren't pillaging Josiah made sure to try and keep the kids busy. They didn't always appreciate the schooling he tried to give them, but they readily joined in the games he made up for them. He took them outside as much as he could, simply to let them stretch they leg, not to mention let Father Carter get some rest. Unfortunately the cold kept them from staying outside for long periods, but the small church hall gave them space to play.
As January drew to a close Josiah watched as Father Carter grew sicker. They were able to keep it from the younger children. They caught the older ones watching them with sad, knowing eyes. They had seen this happen may times before. With their food supplies running low again, Josiah was forced to make yet another scavenging run. Leaving Father Carter to watch the children he took 2 of the oldest with him to help carry the load. He prayed that they would find what they needed and make the trip without being molested. The prayer was partially answered.
The pickings were slim in the neighborhood that the small group had come to rely on for their supplies. Someone else had come through the area, they found enough only for a few more days. Josiah tried to keep the children's spirits up. It was a big city; they could surely find other untapped neighborhoods to raid. They made it home without seeing another soul.
Father Carter managed to see the first days of February. Unfortunately there was no hiding the fact when he had passed away. The children insisted that as a priest he be given a proper funeral. The ground was too frozen to properly bury him but, in the small cemetery, they dug a hole in the snow. After filling it in Josiah read a passage from the small bible he kept with him. It was a quiet, solemn group that he lead back inside and gathered for the evening meal the evening.
Once more Josiah had to leave the small group to find food. Having looked over a map of the city he struck out in a different direction, hoping to find a new area that was relatively free of looting. He had tried to prepare the children that he would be gone over night, but he could see the fear in many of the youngsters' eyes as he left. The older ones that were left in charge tried to be brave. But alone, for them, it was a scary new world and he hated to have to leave.
It took him longer to reach the target neighborhood then he had originally planned. With the late start he had gotten that morning it was too dark to do any scavenging. The best he could do was to find a place to hunker down for the night. He managed to make a small fire, but it was still a bitterly cold night. The next day dawned clear and Josiah was up to greet the sun.
As Josiah walked around the area he noticed that there was some graffiti on the buildings, but not as much as closer to the mission. He took that as a good sign; no tribe had claimed this area as a permanent addition to their territory. By noon he had managed to find enough unlooted pantries to fill his packs to near over flowing. It would be a heavy load to take back, but Josiah knew he was strong, he could make it. He had too.
Loaded down Josiah was forced to spend a second night away from the mission. Huddled beside a poor fire, he worried about the children and prayed that they were all right. He slept fitfully that night, his dreams plagued by dark images of crows. Josiah was tired as he pushed himself towards the mission in the cold dawn. It would all be worth it though, for the children.
He was a block away when odd sounds carried through the frosty air reached him, breaking the silence he had grown used to. And he knew something was wrong. Dropping his burdens beside a street sign he ran as fast as he could through the deep snow towards the mission. As he drew closer the noise became more distinct. Cries of fear, mixed with those of anger, grated on his ears. Finally the mission came into sight.
Psychos were everywhere, easy to spot in their bright, neon colored clothing. Some of them were spray painting the walls of the mission, while others were bent on destroying the precious stained glass window of the adjoining church. But the sight that filled Josiah with anger was that of the children who had been living there. The children had already been roughly rounded up and were disappearing around the far corner of the block surrounded by a large group of teens, a new batch of indentured slaves for the Psychos work force. How could this be happening? Hadn't they tried to live within the commandments? Surely what he had done to help his small group survive couldn't have condemned then to this? Once again he wondered at the "mercy" of God. How could he abandon the children of the world to this decent into barbarism? Surely there must be a reason? A shout brought his attention back into focus. He had been spotted. The Psychos that remained quickly converged on this new sport. Josiah was too old to make a good slave, but he would provide entertainment for the brutal masses that lived by a creed of "Power and Chaos".
With his improvised staff, size and weight Josiah was able to give as good as he got for awhile, managing to drop a couple of his attackers. But soon the numbers overwhelmed him and they closed in around him as he fell to the snow. There was little more he could do, but curl up and try to protect his head. After what seemed like an eternity he didn't feel anything at all.
When Josiah regained consciousness, in the dying light, he ached with pain and cold. The snow that had probably saved his life by cushioning some of the blows now became his enemy as the temperatures dropped. Groaning he managed to drag himself into the empty shell of the church, nearly passing out again. With shaking hands he managed to reach the kitchen and start the small camping stove. He slipped back into darkness surrounded by the unnatural silence of the mission.
Blissfully unaware of the passing day, cold finally roused Josiah. Lighting the stove again he took stock of himself. He was pretty sure he had managed to avoid receiving any broken bones, but every part of his body ached especially his ribs and his head. His rumbling stomach forced him to get up and moving in search of something to eat. He was startled to realize that he hadn't eaten in nearly 2 days. Finding the mission stores totally gone it dawned on him that he would have to brave the weather outside and find the supplies he had been carrying. Forcing himself upright Josiah put on one of Father Carter's old robes for extra warmth before heading out. This time he used his staff to help support his weight.
Providence seemed to be with him for the moment. Josiah managed to make his rather unsteady way back to the street sign without falling down and found the packs undisturbed. Resting for a moment he debated on what to take with him. Finally he decided to take the smaller pack, it held enough to feed him for 3 days and he hoped to be feeling better by then. With a grunt that was both pain and effort he managed to shoulder the pack and start his slow way back.
Josiah had three long days where he did nothing, but think. He easily realizing he would be unable to do anything against the Psychos by himself. As much as the desire burned in him to rescue the children, he understood that the Psychos stood a very good chance of beating him to death if they caught him, and that wouldn't help anyone. Facing facts that the Psychos were probably keeping their new "help" warm and fed, it was a good chance that the kids were probably better off then he was at the moment. Right now he may have some supplies lying out in the snow a block away but he no longer had any heat. He decided to find others of a like mind for help. With God's grace they would still exist in the rubble of Denver.
As February continued its march onward Josiah made his way north, deeper in to the city. Graffiti covered the city streets proudly proclaiming turf for various tribes. The most frequent were signs for the Psychos, brightly colored Anarchy symbols with a giant "P" underneath, and the Kin Longs, a pair of oriental characters inside a circle all done in a yellow. Josiah was guessing on the Kin Longs' as he couldn't read any of the characters, but the same grouping was repeated regularly. He tried to keep to an area that seemed to be a type of no man's land between the 2. There wasn't as much tribe graffiti here, but the buildings had been pretty much looted and destroyed. Josiah had started toying with the idea of seeking help from the Kin Longs as there was probably a fairly good chance that the 2 strongest tribes in the area would be at odds with each other. The only problem at the moment was that even though he had been wandering for weeks and seen the Kin Longs' graffiti he had yet to see an actual member from that tribe.
It was late in the afternoon and with the grey sky threatening to snow, Josiah was looking for a good place to spend the night when he heard an odd muffled sound. Pausing he tried to focus on the sound. There is was again! He veered to his left, crossing from no man's land and into Kin Longs territory. He waited at a street corner, in the shadows of a building, listening hard until he heard the noise again. It was louder now, it sounded like shouting. He pushed his way through a couple deep drifts when movement further down the street caught his attention. A figure stumbled into the street, almost going down in the snow. Righting himself he began to run up the opposite side of the street towards Josiah, looking back over his shoulder. Within moments 5 more figures came bursting out onto the street. Unlike the first, who was dressed in darker cloths, these were dressed in bright orange and reds mixed with black. A pair of them carried staffs. Josiah couldn't understand their angry shouts, it defiantly wasn't English. The odds looked fairly certain that it wasn't going to be a fair fight. The injustice burned at Josiah, and it wasn't hard to decide to help.
The group of teens reached the other boy before Josiah did, closer now he was able to see that the group of teens all looked to be Asian while the teen they were chasing was African. One of them knocked the dark boy down and they quickly surrounded him, focused as they were on beating their prey none of them noticed Josiah's approach.
Josiah had evened the odds right off the bat by laying out one of the Asians with a punch to the back of his head and winded another. Taking stock of the new danger the 2 carrying the staffs turned on him. The dark boy had managed to regain his feet once some of his attackers had turned their attention to Josiah. Josiah was able to use his greater height and weight against his smaller opponents, though they obviously knew what they were doing with the staffs that they carried. In the scheme of things the fight didn't last very long, only a few minutes, but by the end both sided had been bloodied. The Asian teens retreated, dragging their still unconscious friend with them.
The dark teen looked to be about 15 and was a few inches shorter then Josiah's own 6' 2 frame. It was hard to tell under the bulky winter cloths, but he seemed to have a solid build. Josiah figured he would top out over 6' if he still had a growth spurt coming. The teen brushed some of the snow off himself before turning to look Josiah over. He held a hand out, introducing himself as Nathan Jackson and thanking Josiah for his help. Josiah did a double take and suddenly realized that he knew the bundled-up form. The young man had come to the mission with his mother some times when she volunteered her time there for the children. He took the offered hand and shook it enthusiastically, thrilled to finally find an at least some what familiar face. When Nathan clued in to who had helped him out he was equally excited and invited Josiah to come back to his place. With snowflakes starting to gently fall they headed back to no man's land.
Nathan insisted that Josiah stay with him at least until he had healed up. Josiah debated for a moment, still wanting to find help against the Psychos, but agreed. If he was honest with himself he did hurt and needed a place to stay. Besides it would be nice to have a conversation with someone older then a 12 year old or himself.
March had arrived while he had stayed with Nathan. He was sorry to be leaving, they had spent many evenings conversing on a wide range of topics, but he felt he the need to continue on with his original goal. After the first couple debated on the subject Nathan had only shook his head and told him not to bother with any of the tribes in the south city. They were all about as friendly as the Kin Longs to outsiders. So Josiah planned to head north, skirting east around the Kin Longs territory.
With the warmer weather the snows were melting, making traveling easier, if somewhat messier. Josiah found that the area he was moving through had been largely vandalized, but not too badly looted and he didn't loose much time in scavenging for food. Water, once the snows melted totally away, however would become a problem. He paused for a moment to watch a flock of birds fly overhead, swooping in their own aerial dance. They looked like pigeons. After they disappeared he continued on his way, it was getting time to find a place to sleep.
Eventually he had moved far enough north as the graffiti changed from general vandalism to a repeated tribe symbol amongst the other designs and slogans. It looked to be a bird of some sort with flared wings and outstretched talons. Josiah decided to move with a bit more caution. The sun was bright in the sky when the sound of marching steps, echoing oddly through the empty buildings and streets, reached him. Not sure where they were coming from he ducked into an open doorway. Before long the sound grew closer and from around a corner up the street appeared a group of four kids in dark green fatigues. They all were carrying rifles of some type over their shoulders. So intent on trying to figure out who they were he nearly missed the movement in the shadows along the far side of the street. A pair of smaller kids flitted in and out of the doorways, leapfrogging each other up the street. Josiah realized they must be a vanguard for the others. Then they saw him.
A whistle pierced the air as the 2 vanguards dropped prone, pointing their guns at Josiah. The whistle caused a flurry of movement from the other 4 as well as they broke formation and crouched with guns ready, pointing up the street. Josiah carefully placed his staff on the ground and raised his arms in surrender. There was no way he could survive a bullet. One of them motioned for him to lay down on the ground, he complied. Almost immediately he heard the sound of running feet coming from across the street, and felt a gun barrel press into his back. Josiah swallow hard and tried to lay very still. It wasn't long before more footsteps arrived and he was allowed to sit up.
Four of the teens formed a loose circle around him, while the other 2 kept an eye out for more trouble on the streets. The four boys and 2 girls all looked to be about the same age, in their early teens. On closer inspection he realized that they were wearing cadet fatigues, a patch sewn to their left shoulders proclaimed them Cadet Branch 243, Screaming Eagles. When asked, Josiah introduced himself and explained that he was looking for help against the Psychos. After a brief debate the teens fell back on their orders and decided to return to base. Once on his feet Josiah was a good foot taller then his guards, but he wasn't inclined to cause trouble. One of his guards picked up his staff, but they left him to carry his own pack. With the vanguard in the lead they headed off at a jog, back the way they came.
The group set a quick pace; jogging for a block, then walking for a block, before repeating. They had gone nearly 4 blocks when the leader called a halt. Josiah was glad for the moment's break. He knew he was in decent shape before the Virus, and had kept up as much as he could, but he was pretty sure these kids could keep this up all day. The leader, a Sergeant Harris, took a radio from his belt and placed a call. There was a brief coded conversation that made little sense to Josiah, but he could guess that someone was being informed of his arrival. Hooking the radio back onto his belt the teen signaled for them to start off again. 3 blocks later they arrived at the main gates of the Denver Military Base.
A teen and a youngster were on guard at the gate, and after another coded exchange Josiah's group was let through. Josiah found it a little unsettling to see the young boy was armed as the rest were. His guards hustled him onwards. They followed the main road, passing half a dozen buildings, before entering a large brick structure. Another teen, a girl, stood on guard just inside the door. She saluted as they passed her, heading deeper into the building. As they let him through a maze of corridors Josiah was surprised to see a number of kids, of various ages, moving through the halls on missions of their own. Some wore dark blue jumpsuits with a large array of non-military jackets overtop, while other wore cadet uniforms. They were all armed. Finally they stopped in front of a door. The letters on the frosted window looked like they were recent additions: "Lt. Samuels C.O". The group's leader knocked sharply on the door. Receiving a reply he opened the door motioned Josiah through, following him inside.
The teen that faced Josiah across the large desk looked like he had stepped off a recruitment poster. Wide shoulders and a muscular build, Lt Samuels kept his dark hair cropped close to his head, his green eyes studied Josiah intently as Sgt. Harris reported in. Like all of the Screaming Eagles Josiah had seen so far, Lt Samuels looked decently fed. Silence filled the room after Harris finished talking, finally the Lt stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of it. He was tall enough to look Josiah in the eyes. Dismissing the Sgt. with orders to wait outside, he gestured for Josiah to take a seat and sat back down behind the desk.
Lt. Samuels was blunt when he talked with Josiah. He told him that the Screaming Eagles wouldn't help him start a tribe war. Besides the children from the mission were lost the minute the Psychos showed up and no matter how much Josiah wanted to help them escape he had to face the facts that by now either the kids were dead or being taken care of just fine by their new "masters". If he wanted to do penances find another tribe that needed a preacher. He would allow Josiah to stay for a couple nights, but unless he wanted to enlist he was on his own. Josiah wasn't sure how to reply, the Lt had made his position quite clear. Finally he thanked Samuels for his honesty and would be glad to accept their hospitality until he had some time to think. With a nod of acceptance Samuels called Sgt. Harris back into the room and instructed him to escort Josiah settle him into the visitor's quarters and make sure he got fed. With a crisp salute Harris herded Josiah back out into the hall.
The walk through the halls, this time, was much more relaxed. Sgt Harris was willing to talk as they moved along. When Josiah asked about the difference in uniforms, Harris explained that there were actually 2 tribes living on the base. The Rat Pack, who wore the blue jumpsuits, were the original inhabitants of the base, kids of the base military personnel. The Screaming Eagles had arrived at the base in time to help fight off another group of kids that had been bent on total destruction. The 2 tribes had skills that complemented each other so the 2 leaders decided to join up. The Eagles took care of the defense and the Pack took care of figuring out new ways to survive. Josiah also found out that with the National Wildlife preserve practically on their back doorstep they were never short of meat. Checking his watch Harris noted that supper was being served in the mess, so if they wanted to eat they'd need to go there first.
Josiah sighed heavily as he sat on his bunk, staring at the far wall. Lt Samuels' words kept chasing themselves around in his head, forcing him to acknowledge the fears that haunted him since Father Carter died. He failed the children at the mission; he was to blame for not preparing them, for not protecting them, for leaving them. He didn't blame Lt. Samuels for not wanting to fight the Psychos. Anyone who had survived the winter would be trying to establish themselves for long term survival now and decimating half your tribe to try and rescue a group of kids not even part of your tribe made little sense to the military group. It brought him back to the problem of what he was to do now? He still couldn't rescue them on his own. Did he keep trying to find a tribe to help? Did he find a new tribe where he could start again, a penance? He still had no answers when he finally drifted of to sleep.
In the few days he stayed at the base March had slipped away like a lamb. Josiah had spent much of his time in his room trying to come to some kind of resolution and even though he wasn't sure anyone was listening, he prayed. Both Lt Samuels and Sgt Harris escorted him to the main gate. Samuels shook his hand and wished him good luck and reminded him he was welcome to join up, Josiah smiled but declined. Harris wished him well, hoping he found what he was looking for. After thanking them again for their hospitality Josiah shouldered his rucksack, his newly returned staff, and headed west.
Josiah wandered the city aimlessly, staying on the North side and moving generally west. He was looking for a sign. As the days passed he met with more strays who were coming out in the warm weather. The nights were still cool though, and he was willing to share his fire and a meal if any of the strays asked. He picked up a general knowledge of the powerful tribes in the area; the Alpha-Omegas at a private school on the far west side, the Romanus at the history museum downtown and of course the Screaming Eagles. One stray mentioned a group who had settled in a mall, calling themselves the Mall Rats. One evening Josiah decided to try and figure out the date. He was surprised to find that it was about March 12. Tomorrow would be his birthday. He wondered what the day would bring.
The next day dawned bright and clear. After yet another canned breakfast Josiah packed up his things. Exiting from the semi-dark of the building into the bright lit street he took a few moments to let his eyes adjust. With no destination in mind he simply turned left meandering north, he had reached the residential suburbs of Denver now and the quiet streets with their lawns littered with forgotten items was a depressing reminder of a world past. He was startled from his mental wanderings by the sharp caw of a bird, which was picked up by others nearby. Josiah looked around, his heart catching, as he suddenly realized he was surrounded by a flock of crows roosting in the trees that lined the street. He took a tentative step forward, only to jump backwards as a group of birds launched themselves skyward and swooped past him to the other side of the street. Taking a step backwards he was relived to see that the dark birds did nothing more then caw sharply at him. Josiah took another step backwards and then another. When he finally made it to the end of the block he did an about face and hurried back the way he had come. He didn't slow down until he was out of the residential area. It looks like his sign had found him in a big way.
Josiah kept moving south, but didn't get too much further before dusk fell. Finding a mostly intact storefront he started a fire and settled in for the night. He had just started warming the pot of chili over the fire when a voice called form outside. Willing to help strays Josiah still kept a hand on his staff as he invited the other inside. Stepping through the door and into the firelight was a young girl who looked like she was maybe 13. Her blond hair had been cut ragged and stood up from her head in spikes, which had been tipped with bright colors. She wore cut-off jeans and a short leather jacket overtop a dark blue short shirt. Her face was serious as she looked him over, but Josiah could see that he hazel eyes held laughter. She dropped her pack and stuck out a hand, introducing herself as 'Kit Kat', no tribe. Josiah shook her hand and introduced himself in kind before offering to share his meal. He eyes lit up and she quickly dug into her pack to see what she could add. Before long the 2 had settled in for a meal of chili, fruit loops and juice boxes. Josiah found Kit Kat to be an lively, talkative, companion and before they had settled down for the evening he learned most of her life's history. Her most interesting bit of news was her recent stay with a tribe to the south, calling themselves New Frontier. They were welcoming in strays and didn't mind if they stayed or not. Just 'pay' for a room and you had meals and a bed. The tribe was 'nice people' in her opinion. Eventually the pair settled down to sleep.
Parting ways the next morning Josiah decided to follow his signs and continue heading south. Perhaps he could find his penance there. Having to spend more time scavenging for supplies it was the first days of May before he saw the first signs for New Frontier; a pair of 6-shooters crossed at the barrels with NF underneath. He followed Kit Kat's instructions, and the street signs, until he found the main parking lot for the Four-Mile Park. He studied the large signs posted at the admissions booth. It stated that New Frontier was open to strays, but trespassers would be shot. A smaller sign advertised rooms for rent for food, work or trade goods, payment negotiable. Another was a list of general rules. No Stealing, No Fighting, All Weapons to be turned over at the Jail. It seemed fairly common sense to him, play nice or get lost. Wiping a hand on the colorful poncho he was wearing over the worn priest's cloths, that were all he had left from the mission, he shouldered the rucksack and with a deep breath took his first steps into the Four-Mile Park.
He followed the worn path and small hand painted signs on stakes around the buildings towards the large wrought iron gate of the town of "New Frontier", his eyes were drawn to the white washed church on the right side of the street. Drawing closer he called out. Within moments a young woman appeared from a house on the left side of the street carrying a shotgun. She wore a blouse and ankle length skirt; her blond hair seemed to catch the sun. Raising the gun she demanded to know who he was and what he wanted. Spreading his arms in a gesture of friendship he introduced himself as Josiah, originally from St Cathrine's mission in the south city and he was looking for a place of peace where he could find his way. The young woman studied him closely for a few moments before lowering the gun and introduced herself as Mary. That seemed to be a signal of some kind as a group of children came boiling out of the same house to greet the newest arrival to their town.
By the time the others had returned Mary had Josiah booked in at the Saloon and was touring the town. When he entered the small one room church it felt like he had been there before, as if he was coming home. Evie was delighted to learn that he was a preacher, though Josiah tried to convince her he wasn't a priest, and she insisted that he hold a small service in the church on Sunday. Josiah was a bit reluctant, but when the others added their agreement for the idea, he agreed. That night Orrin discussed his terms of Josiah staying. It was the same deal he offered the others; help with chores, communal scavenge with a finder's item choice, and follow the rules, with the added addition of him doing Sunday services. Josiah agreed. He moved into the church the next day.
Nathan closed the study door behind him and turned to check on the fire in the wood stove, making sure it was banked for the night, before placing the candle holder on the small nightstand and getting ready for bed. Even with the cold temperatures outside, the preparations he had helped his parents make to the house would ensure he survived to see spring. Blowing out the candle he settled back on to the cot, staring blankly into the darkness. It had only been a couple weeks since he had "buried" his parents, just after New Year's, and secured the upper floor windows before shutting off the second story from the rest of the house to help conserve heat. He tried to blink back the tears that formed to make slow tracks down his face. He missed them so much!! Rolling onto his side he gave his pillow a couple of angry punches. It wasn't like he hadn't known they were going to die; all the adults had. But it just hurt so much, especially at night when he had nothing to do but think and his thoughts inevitably turned back to what was only a month ago. With a heavy sigh he wiped his eyes and tried to settle down to sleep.
Lifting the iron bar from its brackets Nathan opened the heavy shutters on the kitchen window to let in some of the early morning light, before starting to rummage through the cupboards to fix himself breakfast. Perhaps cereal and canned peaches, he thought. While eating the dry cereal was sometimes difficult he was getting used to not having milk with it. Sitting down at the table so he could look out the window, he contemplated what he needed to do for the day. The first thing would be to walk through the whole house, to check the 'fortifications' that had been made were still in good shape. It would be the first time that he had been back upstairs and his stomach was in a tight knot. The thought made it hard to finish his meal. He forced himself to finish both the meal and the duty list: Check house fortifications, Check neighborhood for activity, bring in more firewood from the garage, and restock cupboards from the basement. Finally, after cleaning up the dishes and re-shuttering the window, Nathan took a deep breath and headed upstairs.
Having been closed up the upper floor was frigid; it made Nathan glad for the heavy cloths he was wearing. He was using one of the precious flashlights to make his way through the rooms. In each room he unbarred and opened the heavy shutters on the windows, and then checked them for damage before resealing the fortifications and closing the room's door behind him. Finally he found himself standing in the semi-dark outside his parents' bedroom. Taking a deep breath he slowly reached out and opened the door. He was a bit surprised to see his hand shook a bit. The first step into the room was the worst, but he forced himself to walk the length of the room and open up the windows to let in the morning light. For a few moments he simply stared out the window, before turning to look at the bed were he had placed his parents. His breath caught for a moment. His parents' bodies had become dust, lying undisturbed in humanoid shapes, the family picture he had placed with them had settled on the bedspread that covered his mother. Not overly religious he simply bowed his head and prayed that they were together and happy. Wiping his eyes clear he quickly finished up and headed back downstairs. He had checked the downstairs fortifications yesterday, so now it was time to head outside.
Heading out the backdoor, Nathan took a minute to set the 3 deadbolt locks, and then went out the back gate and into the alley. It had taken him a lot of practice, but he eventually learned how to move easily wearing snow shoes. He didn't always wear them when he went out, but they were good for moving quietly and keeping him out of the deep snow. It took him most of the morning to recon the neighborhood. He knew that a lot of the houses in his neighborhood had kids in them, but most were sent to Quarantine Centers in the fall. He hadn't seen anyone else since Christmas time. He did know that there was a gang in China town, to the north-west, because he had seen tracks in the snow and the Tribe's symbol appearing on building walls. They called themselves the Kin Longs. His first meeting with them, before Christmas, had been rather abrupt and brutal. They had beat him up and told him that his kind wasn't welcome in China Town. It defiantly made him leery of venturing to close to their territory. Giving himself a metal shake, he turned away from the block that he had marked off to himself as no-man's land and headed south.
When he got home he wasn't sure if he should be relieved or worried that he didn't find any signs of others. His parents had made plans to make him fairly self sufficient, but he knew that sooner or later he would have to find others; he couldn't live on his own forever. Besides what was the use of learning how to heal and help people if he didn't find those who needed it?
Once back in his own yard he unlocked both the garage and the house before making the multiple trips he needed to refill the large woodbin in the front hall. He was tired and hungry by the time he was finished. Locking and barring the door behind him, he headed first to his bedroom to change into dry cloths and then to the kitchen to see what he could make for a simple meal. Opening a window to let some light into the kitchen, he opened a cupboard that was full of MRE (meals ready to eat). He decided on having a "Menu C" MRE and pulled out a Chicken Fajita meal. While the meal cooked, the chemical reaction let the meal heat without a flame, he spread out the rest of the meal package on the table. It was actually a fairly large collection. Besides the Chicken Fajita there was a small package of wheat snack bread, cheese spread, bacon, nacho cheese pretzels, fig bars, oatmeal cookies, BBQ Sauce, Iced Tea juice crystals, a lemon tea bag, salt, chewing gum, matches, toilet tissue, a moist towelette, and a spoon. He spread the cheese and bacon on the bread and ate before the fajitas finished cooking. All things considered it tasted pretty good.
After cleaning up Nathan rescanned the cupboards and made note of what supplies he needed to bring up from the basement. Taking a backpack and one of the flashlights he headed downstairs. He shivered, the basement was even colder then the upstairs had been. He moved quickly to the far side of the basement, passed the rows of medical supplies and books on shelves that his parents and neighbors had helped collect in the fall, to the shelves of canned and dry goods. He had been down here so many times that he was sure he could find most of the items with his eyes closed. It only took a couple minutes to get a box of cereal, crackers, and various cans of vegetables. Back up on the main floor he glanced out the window and was pleased to see that he still had a few hours of daylight left. He quickly went to his room and grabbed the medical book he had started reading last week. Settling into the kitchen chair he opened the book at the marked page and started to read.
January gave way to February with a series of heavy snowfalls, which continued on and off throughout the month. Nathan was thankful that none of them turned into serious storms. The last snow had fallen a couple days ago; Nathan stared out across the front yard as he let his lunch cook itself, and listened to the silence. That was really all there was any more. He had never really noticed it, even when it had just been him and his folks in the house. Now though, things were different. The silence was always there, the sudden groans as the house shifted or the loud scratch as the wind pushed a branch against the window still made him jump. Most of the time he didn't mind the silence, it was the days were he hadn't seen any sign of other human life for awhile and started wondering if he was alone. A day like today, when nothing moved outside, even the usually present sparrows had vanished to somewhere else.
Suddenly he had an overwhelming urge to get out of the house. Gripping the counter top hard enough to turn his fingers white, Nathan took a few deep breaths to try and calm his racing heart. Get a hold of yourself!! Nathan berated himself. You'll end up killing yourself if you just go dashing off without any preparations. Finally he took one last deep breath and turned his back on the window and sat down at the table. Realizing he was starting to get cabin fever, Nathan decided it was time to get out and do another recon. He wanted a full day to be out, so he would use today to get ready and head out first thing in the morning. This time, he decided, he would enter China Town.
Nathan decided to see what he could find for apothecary shops in China Town where he could find some more herbs. His mother had thought ahead and gotten a friend from the clinic to get the written translation of some common herbs from English to Mandarin. He had brought a copy of the page with him. He used his snowshoes until he got to the first of the Tribe's marks. Hiding them in the snow beneath a street corner sign, he erased what marks he could before cautiously heading into the unfamiliar territory. He would have liked to use the snowshoes, making it easier to trek over the snowy streets, but if he ran into trouble they would be too cumbersome to make a quick escape.
It took him most of the morning to find an apothecary. It was harder then he thought, when he couldn't read any of the shop signs. He had seen a lot of footprints in the fresh snow, but had yet to see another human being. At least the footprints showed he was no longer alone. He managed to slip into the shop via a broken window in the back. Taking a break for lunch Nathan looked around the shadowy shop. The back area where he was looked to be a living area of some sort, jackets hung on hooks over a row of shoes. The hooks were on the wall beside a narrow set of stairs that led upstairs. A narrow table had a small statue on it, flanked by holders of some sort. A closer inspection revealed the statue to be an old Asian man walking with a staff. Small sticks were stuck in the sand filled holders. Nathan was a bit confused on the purpose of the setup. Oh well, Nathan thought, perhaps he could find a book on the subject later.
He moved carefully through the curtained doorway into the main shop. He found himself behind a long counter which ran most of the room. Against the wall on both sides of the door was a waist high counter top. Above the counter was shelving that reached nearly to the ceiling, filled with rows of large jars, each neatly labels with oriental characters. Below the counter were cupboards and drawers. He opened one out of curiosity and discovered neatly arranged rows of mortars and pestles of various sizes. Recognizing their value he rummaged around until he found some paper he could wrap them in and carefully put 2 of the medium sets in his pack.
Making his way through to the front of the shop, Nathan peaked cautiously out the windows. Ironically as much as he wanted to meet another person, he still remembered his first run in with the Kin Longs, and being this far from home in the middle of winter he really didn't want to get injured. Seeing the coast was clear he made his way back to the shelves. Taking out the piece of paper he began comparing symbols. After a few minutes he gave a huff of frustration, in the dim light it was to hard for him to match the unfamiliar script. Glancing over his shoulder towards the front of the shop he decided to risk using the flashlight he had brought along. Still daylight, the flashlight wouldn't advertise his presence to anyone on the outside unless they were looking directly into the shop.
Even with the flashlight it had taken him nearly 2 hours to find the jars he had been looking for. All the jars were mostly full of various herbs, barks and other items, but there was no way the large containers would all fit in his pack. He had come prepared though and putted out a bunch of individual air-tight tupper-ware like containers. He worked quickly to transfer some of each jar to a container, before sealing and labeling it. Once he was done he put everything back where he found it and repacked his bag. It was time to go home.
Slipping back out the window he did his best to erase the marks he left in the snow. If he was lucky the overcast skies would open up and let fresh snow finish off the work for him. He decided to head out the back alley, rather then retrace his steps to the main street. Following the alley, past empty houses, to the end of the street Nathan warily sneak a look out into the street, only to quickly jerk his head back. Five figures stood grouped part way down the street, dressed in bright orange and reds mixed with black. Kin Longs, and a pair of them were carrying staffs. Nathan hastily covered his tracks and ducked into the closest house to try and figure out what to do.
Moving as quietly as he could through the house he tried to find a window that would give him at least partial vantage to the street, without giving himself away. Finally he was able to find one on the second floor. .Nathan crouched in the corner of the empty house, peaking out the window. He watched as the teens moved off, heading towards the alley he had just been in. He waited to see if he would be discovered. The tense minutes stretched to seem like hours until finally the group had walked by with only the briefest look down the alley way. He waited as ling as he could, before nervous tension finally made him move. With one last look out the window he headed back outside, only this time he took the front door. His only dilemma now was that to get home he still had to cross the street the other teens were walking down. Risking a peek around the corner of the house he was relieved to see the group nearing the far end of the street. They seemed more intent on their own conversation and avoiding the odd punch thrown at them by their fellows then anything else. He decided to chance it.
He had made it nearly halfway across when one of the patrol, spinning away from a punch ended up facing back up the street. Catching sight of him the teen shouted and with in a heartbeat the whole group took after him. Nathan sped as fast as he could down the street and ducked into another alley that would take him closer to home. As he raced toward the other end his foot snagged on something hard under the snow and he stumbled into a wide street, almost going down in the snow. Righting himself he began to run up the street, looking back over his shoulder. Within moments he spotted the patrol as they came leaping out onto the street, screaming at him. He couldn't understand what they were saying, but he bet it wasn't very pleasant. The group of teens reached the him within moments and one of them knocked him down and quickly surrounded him. Struggling in the snow Nathan couldn't make out much, but arms and legs striking at him.
There was a resounding cracking noise that could be heard even over the Kin Longs' shouts. Suddenly there were fewer of the Asians beating on him and Nathan struggled to his feet, trying to avoid the blows still coming at him. He was surprised to see a large caucasian teen had joined the fray. He was swinging a large staff against 2 of the patrol. A kick to his stomach decided that he would worry about his new ally later, once they had managed to get away from the Kin Longs.
In the scheme of things the fight didn't last very long, only a few minutes, but by the end both sided had been bloodied. The Asian teens retreated, dragging their still unconscious friend with them.
Nathan brushed some of the snow off himself before turning to look his ally over. The other teen looked older and was a few inches taller then his own 15 years and 5' 11" height. He had brown hair, already showing signs of premature graying, and blue eyes. Nathan held a hand out, introducing himself as Nathan Jackson, thanking the other for his help. He watched, slightly concerned, as he did a double before taking the offered hand and shook it enthusiastically. Introducing himself as Josiah Sanchez, he explained that he had met Nathan when he had come to the mission with his mother when she volunteered her time there for the children. Nathan slowly realized who had helped him out and he was equally excited to meet up with a friendly face. He was quick to invite Josiah to come back to his place. As snowflakes starting to gently fall they headed back south.
The 2 teens made their way back to Nathan's with a stop to retrieve his snowshoes. Josiah watched quietly as Nathan brushed out their tracks leading to the back gate and lead him into the house. With the day nearly spent Nathan looked over the 2 of them and decided he'd best patch them up before starting supper. Stoking the fire in the kitchen and lighting half a dozen candles before fetching his first aid kit he got down to business. Josiah raised an eyebrow at the toolbox filled with bandages and other supplies.
There wasn't much Nathan could do for Josiah's earlier injuries, but he bound up the newer ones. He was grateful that neither of them required stitches. He managed to patch himself easily enough. As he packed the medical supplies he discussed supper ideas with Josiah. As his first guest, he thought perhaps something special would be in order. They decided on stew, stove top stuffing, carrots, peas, and cake. Most of it would be from cans, but spices would help there though. He'd have to use condensed milk and eggs for the cake mix however he was pretty sure it would work out and Josiah was willing to give it a try. He led the other teen downstairs to get the needed supplies and put away the things he had gathered from China Town. Josiah was amazed by the foresight and supplies that the Jackson's had gathered. As they cooked supper Nathan explained how he was hoping to offer simple medical services once he had studied up a bit more. He just had a few misgivings about how he would be received though. Josiah thought it was a good idea and would think on how he could safely present himself to the other kids still in Denver. Before long the 2 settled into a simple meal, which became exceptional with the pleasure of another for company.
After cleaning up the 2 talked until even the larges candles began to die out. With a chuckle Josiah suggested that they had best call it a night. Reluctantly Nathan agreed. Making sure the house was secure he set up a second cot in the study and showed Josiah where he could wash up. As the 2 relaxed in to sleep Nathan, knowing of Josiah's plans, insisted that he stay with him at least until he had healed up. He was thrilled with the positive reply.
March had arrived while Josiah had stayed with Nathan. He was sorry to see him go; as Josiah was knowledgeable on a wide range of topics and they had spent much of their time in long discussion. He had given the older teen some of his MREs, which the older teen had been reluctant to take at first, but had relented when Nathan had insisted. After Josiah had left Nathan headed back inside, anxious to finish off the project the 2 of them had started; making "Red Cross" arm bands and patches for his clothing. With luck, the symbol will mean the same thing to the kids of the tribes as it did in the time before to the adults.
For the most part March was quiet. He began making rounds of his neighborhood, carrying a small backpack with him that held a small medical kit, some MREs and bottles of water. He was able to help a handful of strays that came through his neighborhood. All of the strays were wary at first, but were quick to recognize the Red Cross patch and ask for help. A couple needed patching up; the others just needed a good meal. He was careful to never lead them back to his house.
It was nearing the end of the month when things took a darker turn. A young stray, perhaps 8, had found Nathan as he reached the southern end of his neighborhood and insisted that he come and help "Blaze". As Nathan followed the youngster south, he tried to find out what was wrong, but all the boy would say was that 'They beat him up'. Finally they came to an alley and tucked in behind a dumpster was another boy, not much older then the first one. Nathan was shocked by what he saw; the boy was unconscious and bleeding from cuts on his face. Crouching beside the dumpster he checked for broken bones and was relieved not to find any, though he did find a lot of torso bruising. He quickly got to work, binding what he could. A couple of the cuts required stitches, so it was a blessing that the youth was out cold. The younger boy crouched silently on the other side of his friend, watching everything with wide eyes.
Nathan was just finishing up with the last of the stitches when the boy gave a startled squeak of panic. His view was blocked by the dumpster, but it didn't take long for Nathan to learn what had panicked the boy. A group of 6 teens had surrounded them, their bright neon clothing marked them as Psychos. Nathan's eyes narrowed, Josiah had warned him about this tribe. The leader of the group was rather blunt about what they wanted as soon as they realized that Nathan had some medical skills. He was coming with them, willing or not, to fix up one of their tribe members who had gotten shot. Nathan was surprised to hear about the shooting. In his limited experience with the Tribes and in talking with Josiah, only the Screaming Eagles had any sort of weaponry and the Psycho territory seemed to far south for them.
Nathan didn't protest when he was hauled roughly to his feet by one of the teens, a 2nd took his pack from him and began to paw through it before being forcefully reminded by a solid thwack to the back of the head by the group's leader and grudgingly handed it over. The leader gestured to 2 others to bring along the boys. Blaze was unceremoniously slung over a shoulder, while the other was roughly grabbed by his arm. The group moved off, deeper into Psycho held territory. Nathan tried to keep track of where he was, but the best he could do was that they were heading south and west. It was getting dark when the Psychos finally entered "Crazy Eddie's Discounts" in the middle of a small strip mall. There were 2 more tribe members inside, one of which had been shot. The 2 boys were tied up and dumped in a corner to be watched over by a couple of the younger teens. Nathan was roughly shoved towards the injured Psycho and was told to 'fix him'.
Not having a lot of choice at the moment, and bound by a personal decision to help, Nathan knelt beside the injured teen and pulled up his shirt so he could examine the wound. The injury was messy and there was no exit wound, which meant the bullet was still inside. Nathan winced slightly when he realized that he would have to go hunting for it. There was a bit of an argument about getting his pack back, but they at least gave him back his medical bag. Getting better light was as easy as turning on a bunch of high-powered flashlights. Obviously the Psychos weren't worried about batteries.
It took Nathan a long time to find the bullet, fish it out and finally sew his patient back up. He had used the single shot of morphine he had brought with him to keep the teen quiet, well quieter , allowing him to do the more delicate 'fishing' work without the added worry of his patient moving at the wrong time and injuring himself further. He found that the hulking presence of the tribe members who were gathered around watching to be more nerve wracking then his own self-doubts of his untried abilities. By the time he had finished tying the bandages he was sweating.
He had barely managed to stand up when he was roughly pushed back down again. He grunted in pain, as his tailbone connected sharply with the ground and his back smacked against a support pole. Before he realized what was happening his arms were pulled sharply behind him, around the pole, and bound with rope. It was explained to him that now the Psychos had found a medic they weren't about to let him go, though if his patient died his remaining life expectancy would be very short and painful. With that none to subtle threat Nathan was ignored. Before long most of the Psychos had bedded down for the night and were fast asleep. Nathan began working on his ropes, he wasn't going to be anyone's kept slave and he planned to live a very long life.
Nathan was exhausted. His wrists were rubbed raw and he hadn't slept. He had been working on the ropes throughout the night, he could feel the fraying edges, but now as he watched the night grow lighter, bleeding into dawn, he was starting to loose hope that he would be able to get free before the Psychos woke up. Please, he thought desperately, please!! He strained against the ropes willing them to break, praying for a chance to be free. As if in answer the rope suddenly gave way, causing Nathan to give a surprised yelp. He froze, watching the sleeping teens for any sign that they had heard him. A couple shifted, but it seemed that they were only getting more comfortable. Nathan waited two long agonizing minutes before he decided he was safe. He looked over at the 2 boys that had been picked up with him; there was no way that he would be able to cross the length of the room and back again without wakening someone up. He had to leave them.
He crept across the floor, picking his way carefully amongst the debris and around one of the Psychos who lay across his path. He nearly had a heat attack when the teen he was sneaking past gave a loud snort and sat up partially. Nathan drew his hand back, ready to hit him in the head if needed. But, still asleep, he simply waved a hand in the air as if swiping at something and flopped back down. Nathan didn't breathe again until the teen started to snore softly, he could feel sweat trickle down his back. Finally he got himself moving again and made it to the door. He cast one last look at the 2 boys he was leaving behind, his heart heavy with guilt, before slipping out into the early dawn.
Nathan unconsciously rubbed his wrists as the 3 youths disappeared north, he was happy that he had been able to help them. Their injuries had been minor and a hot meal had probably done more for them then anything else he had done for them. They were the 3rd group he had seen this month that were passing through on their way to check out a new tribe called "New Frontier" who, by all accounts, were open to strays. His wrists still showed light scars from his meeting with the Psychos nearly a month ago. Having had to abandon his pack, he had been forced to make rough field bandages out of his shirt. It had taken him nearly the whole day to get home. It had taken him much longer then that to heal up. Packing up his back he took a random route home.
That night he ate supper outside and watched the birds as they flitted across the blue sky. It was one of the last days of April. He lay back in the fledgling grass and stared at the clouds, thinking. He was slowly becoming known as a healer like he had planned, but he knew that no matter how well he and his parents planned he still needed other people. He had felt it today when the 3 youths had left. Even havening been with them less then 24hr, he had been sorry to see them go. The immediate problem was that even though he wanted to join up with a tribe, his immediate neighbors would probably prefer to string him up. He figured that he would need to find a group to join before he became too well known for being in this neighborhood. It wouldn't be hard for the Kin Longs or the Psychos to overwhelm him by force. Perhaps he should head to see this New Frontier. From what he had been told it was in the center of the city, in a park along the river. Nathan decided to head inside and look at a map. He had to figure out how long it would take him to get there and what supplies to pack.
April had migrated into May as Nathan made his way through Denver's empty streets. He had headed north to avoid the Kin Longs territory before heading into the city center and following the river. It was actually a quiet journey; the only other life he saw was some birds and the odd cats. He was pretty sure he heard some dogs fighting, but he didn't investigate too closely.
He came upon a fence of what he hoped was the "4-Mile Park" and followed it north. He had marked off a couple parks to try, but this one was the closest to him so he thought to try it first. Half an hour later he had his answer. He found a gate that had been padlocked and wired shut. The large sign hanging from it informed him that the entrance to New Frontier to the north and to just follow the fence. So he did. It took him most of the afternoon to get there.
Examining the signs at the front gate was rather informative. They were straight to the point about what was expected of anyone coming onto New Frontier. Nathan felt himself grinning; he had a good feeling about this place. Slipping through the Admissions gate he headed down the path. He was tempted to look in a couple of the large buildings, but decided against it.
As he drew closer to a cluster of buildings that looked to be set in 2 rows a sharp whistle pierced the air. Nathan jumped at the unexpected noise, wonder where on earth it had come from. He paused on the path, but when nothing else seemed to be forth coming he continued on. Suddenly the large wrought iron gate that marked the Main Street was in view, along with 3 people who were spread out across the entrance. All 3 were older teens, the man was flanked by 2 women. The one on the left was smaller with blond hair while the other 2, who looked older, both had darker hair. The man was the tallest of the 3, almost the same height as Nathan. They all carried shot guns.
The man introduced himself as Orrin Travis and asked Nathan what they could do for them. Nathan started to introduce himself, but he had barely gotten his name out when Josiah's head popped out of the first building on the right. He looked like a gopher pokin' up from his hole. It was a bit of a toss up on who was more surprised out of everyone at the turn of events, as Josiah bounded down the church steps and enveloped Nathan in a bone cracking hug. Once Orrin and the others realized that Nathan was a friend of Josiah's and a medic to boot, they were quick to welcome him in. Before Josiah had dragged more then a couple feet into the street proper, more people began to tumble out of the church; mostly children but there were a couple other teens as well. Another place was set at the large table in the Saloon and soon the whole group was sitting down to a rather boisterous meal.
The next day Josiah and Orrin gave Nathan a tour or the town. With their approval he took one of the rooms in the Hotel and set up shop in the clinic before starting to take stock of the town's medical supplies. They would defiantly have to make a trip back to his house to get a few things. He started making plans of what to bring first. Then he'd have to talk to Orrin about where to store it.
Vin spent Christmas on the run, with only the cloths on his back a small backpack, and his .22. It seemed like every kid left in the city was hunting for him, and damn near all of them were Devil's Dogs wanting him dead. Shivering in the meager shelter he had managed to find Vin cursed Eli Joe. Ever since Eli Joe had framed him for killing Kincaid, their leader Kane had put a bounty on his head; a month rations dead or alive. He hated having to run like he was, but right now it was his word against Eli Joe's. He made a promise to himself that one day he would clear his name. The long, brown haired teen was headed north. He already knew from living on the streets in the fall that the Devil's Dogs had claimed a large chuck in the SE part of the city and he was closer to the north border then anything else.
A week after New Year's Vin passed out of Devil's Dogs territory and he began to see new signs: a silhouette of a howling wolf backed by a full moon. He hadn't run into anyone from that tribe yet and he was grateful for the small bit of quiet it gave him. With night coming on Vin was glad to find a small shop with barred windows that looked intact. Slipping around the back, he found the back door was dented a bit like someone had kicked it. It took some work in the dieing light, but he was able to force the door open and head inside. Snapping on his flashlight he played it over the room.
After shoving a chair under the door handle he moved through the back office and into the shop proper. He was surprised to see that for the most part the place looked in good shape. Even though the intact windows kept the winter winds at bay, he still shivered in the cold air, his worn clothing wasn't standing up well to the 24/7 wear. The place had been toss at some point; racks of cloths lay spilled across the floor, shelves lay in pieces their contents amongst the wreckage, and the glass from the back display counter lay in smashed bits. First thing first Vin decided, since it was too dark to do any scavenging he gathered up some of the thicker jackets and carried them to the back office. The smaller room was marginally warmer and he quickly made a little nest to keep him off the floor. Curling up it wasn't long before long he had fallen into a light doze.
The next morning Vin began to sift though the remains of the store. As he worked the morning sun warmed the interior making it tolerable. He found some business cards that proclaimed "John's Simple Supplies", he wasn't sure exactly what that meant but considering the cloths he had picked so far it had something to do with camping or hiking. A lot of the stuff wasn't the right size for his slight, 5' 5 frame but Vin was happy with the pair of red long johns he found and a quilted vest. He wasted little time putting his new items on, grinning happily. Warmth.
As the day progress Vin found more items that he could use. A couple handfuls of scattered .22 shells, 2 large hunting knives and a sleeping bag; all things that would help him survive. As the day grew to a close Vin made one last discovery in the pile of jackets he had gathered for his nest; a heavy buckskin jacket with fringes along the arms. Trying it on, he was pleased to see that it fit reasonably well, a bit on the big side but figured he could wear a couple extra layers under it. Happy, he made a quick meal of canned pineapple and ravioli before snuggling into his new bag; warmer then he'd been in months.
A few days later Vin was spotted by a group of teens as he moved through the silent streets. He waited quietly, gun ready, as the 5 of them came closer. He knew that without knowing the streets in this area of town he could just as easily run himself into a dead-end alley ambush as get away. At least this way he knew the odds. The teens were a mix of girls and boys all wearing boots, jeans, leather jackets and colored sashes tied around their waists. The youngest two wore yellow sashes, and Vin guessed both boys were about 8 or 9. Two others, a boy and a girl, were older; closer to Vin's own age of 14. They wore striped sashes of yellow and green. The girl who seemed to be in charge wore a blue sash. Vin figured she looked about 16.
The girl, Susi, spoke to him in rapid-fire Spanish, telling him that if he wanted to stay in Los Lobo territory he'd better prove himself or else. Vin sent a quick thought for forgiveness to the Garcias, one of his earlier foster homes that had forced him to learn Spanish; the only language they would allow in the house. A flash of anger spiked through him at being commanded by the older teen. It was a new world now and he was going to be his own boss now. Susi looked surprised as he answered her in Spanish-. He didn't want any trouble, but he wasn't above defending himself. Susi snorted in disbelief. Even under the layers of cloths and buckskin jacket she could see he was just a scrawny kid. She didn't even give the rifle a 2nd look. Lots of kids in their tribe had guns, there just weren't any bullets. Besides she had her orders. She gestured for the two yellow/green sashed teens to grab him.
The crack of the .22 caused all the Los Lobos to jump in surprise. They froze as Vin smoothly ejected the spent cartridge and chambered a new round. The 2 kids retreated back to their original positions. Susi considered her options; finally she told Vin that he would come with them and meet La Diablo, the head of their tribe. She would decide the young stray's fate. Vin was curious to meet the leader of Los Lobos, so he nodded in agreement and shouldered his rifle. The others fell in around him as they began to retrace their steps back to their headquarters.
La Diablo stood at one end of a large open room which was dimly light with flickering torch light. She was small, barely topping 5 feet. Her skin was a dusky tan and her dark hair hung in loose braids around her face, but it was her eyes that caught Vin's attention. They had a dark, penetrating gaze that was almost hypnotizing. He could easily see why the Los Lobos followed her. When Susi presented him to her and explained what had happened she studied Vin closely. He felt a whisper as if something had crawled up his spine. Then La Diablo spoke.
Her voice was quiet, but in the now silent room it carried easily, and held the steely note of command in it. Since Vin was smart, or lucky, enough to not only to survive so far in this emerging world of tribes, but also find a working gun and know how to use it he would be given a chance for freedom. He would fight for the right to walk the streets of the Los Lobo territory or he would join the rest of the slave stock to be bartered off.
Vin blanched at the announcement. He almost asked if she was insane, but one look at her face silenced him. She was deadly serious. But who would want slaves? There was no one left but kids! Squaring his shouldered he stood as straight as he could and held her gaze in defiance as he accepted. Pandemonium reigned for the next few minutes as the Los Lobos let out wild shouts of excitement and prepared for the unexpected entertainment. Quickly Vin found himself divested of his gear and outer coats, which were handed over to La Diablo, standing in the middle of a makeshift ring. The Los Lobos surrounded him, standing on the outline of a large ring that had been painted on the floor. Large torches on poles were slid into small holes in the floor and set alight. Shadows danced crazily for a moment before disappearing in the added light.
A large teen stepped into the ring at La Diablo's call. He had to be over 6 foot and was built like a brick wall. His blond hair took on a reddish cast from the torch light. He wore a blue sash. Vin noted that the guy had forearms bigger then Vin's legs. Holy Crap!, came a small panicky thought in the back of his mind. His stomach clenched into a tight knot. He swallowed hard. With a flick of her hand La Diablo started the fight.
Vin was nearly caught off guard, but the flick of Blondie's eye to his right, where La Diablo stood, was enough and he was able to sidestep the teen's initial rush; barely. Vin danced away, using his speed to make up for his small size verses his opponents. Slipping behind him, Vin was able to land the first blow. Unfortunately it only seemed to make the blond mad. He spun with startling quickness; swinging a fist at Vin's head, catching him with a glancing blow that sent him reeling into the kids surrounding them.
He felt hands grabbing at him, pushing him back into the ring; right into the behemoth's path. Vin let out a short expletive as his feet tangled sending him tumbling to the floor. He managed to tuck his body and instead of crashing into his opponent, was able to roll past under the waiting arms. He scrambled to a crouch just in time as Blondie turned around. Get a hold of yourself, Vin thought fiercely, yer a Tanner! And ya've faced guys just as big as this on the street. Vin narrowed his eyes. Los Lobos really weren't playing fair. It was time to fight dirty.
Vin exploded out of his crouch in a flurry of motion. Caught off guard by the sudden frontal attack the older teen hesitated for a moment; and that was all Vin needed. Learned from year of fights on the streets and some rougher foster homes, Vin knew where most of the bodies soft spots were and for big guys like this all he had to do was take him out at the knees. He lashed out with a foot, driving it into Blondie's kneecap. There was a sickening crunch and a moment of stunned silence before the teen dropped to the floor clutching his knee and howling in pain. Vin stood in the middle of the ring, out of easy reach, and glared defiantly at La Diablo.
For a long tense moment no one moved. The only sounds were Vin's hard breathing and Blondie's moans of pain. Then, slowly, La Diablo entered the ring. The tribe held it's breath. She stopped an arm's length from Vin and stared coolly back at him. Vin could feel beads of sweat slide down the side of his face as he held her gaze, feeling a nearly irresistible urge to look away. Suddenly a grin broke a cross her face, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, and she pulled a shockingly white piece of cloth from the pouch at her side with a cry of 'Vida!'
Life!! Vin felt his knees go weak for a moment as La Diablo made quick work of tying the sash around his waist. A couple kids helped carry Blondie away as the rest of the tribe began to celebrate.
The remainder of January had flown by as he stayed with the Los Lobos. Blondie, whose name turned out to be Ricardo, hadn't held a grudge against Vin; even though there was a good chance he would always walk with a limp. The two had become good friends. It was early February when the first hint if trouble came. Ricardo had warned him that a group of Los Lobos had met up with some Devil's Dogs looking for a stray that sounded a lot like him. Vin decided then it was time to move on. A month's rations was a lot, especially now. He had sought out La Diablo and politely told her it was time to move on. The look she gave him made him think she knew more then he first thought, but she simply wished him well and told him to wear his sash when he came back into Los Lobo territory. Vin had left the next day.
Now he was making his way through the city, moving South East, aiming to keep out of the Devil Dog's territory. As Vin banked his campfire and settled back in his sleeping bag he wondered was Ricardo was doing. Probably playing dice and loosing badly.
Vin ducked down a trash filled alley way as the sound of a police siren screamed from up the street. He didn't want to get caught by the Psychos after just ditching the group of Devi's Dogs that had been chasing him. He had found out who one of the biggest buyers of slaves was; Nomalos. Hunkering down behind one of the large garbage bins, he wrapped his heavy coat closer around him. At least with the snow on the ground it was easy to avoid Nomalos' "chariot". He could only drive on the streets cleared by the Psychos' slave force. Once the snow melted it would be a whole different story though.
Vin muttered darkly to himself as he ghosted through the silent streets in the wake of the Psychos passing. He had spent most of the last month moving through the south section of the city walking a fine line between the Devil's Dogs territory and trying to cross through the Psychos land. The main problem was the Psychos were always on the hunt for strays to round up for their slave force and he'd have a couple close calls. They seemed to have a sixth sense on where to find kids that were on their own. He had seen them run down a pair of kids who couldn't have been more then eight. It was like getting gut punched, watching those bullies haul those two kids away and not do anything about it. But him getting grabbed wouldn't have helped those kids anyway. It just would have added one more to the work force and Vin Tanner didn't plan on being anyone's slave. There was no help for it he'd have to swing further south, away from the Psychos' headquarters, before heading east.
Vin was happy. He had left the city streets marked by the Psychos glyph behind him. With the weather warming he could see the beginnings of life stirring around him. Small shoots of plant life was starting to push its way slowly free of winter's embrace. For the moment he was happy just to sit watching the clouds go by. Small birds darted through the blue sky, dancing around the tall buildings. The afternoon passed quietly and eventually Vin hauled himself upright, heading off to find a place to sleep.
Picking his way through the quiet streets Vin had begun to swing north a bit instead of due east. As he moved he thought on things a bit. He figured that March was probably about half over by now and thanks to a find a couple days ago he was well set for food to last him into April. Water was a bit harder, but he was getting pretty good at leaving bottles outside with funnels to catch dew and the occasional evening rain shower. It didn't always net him a lot, but so far it was enough to keep going.
His stomach gave a growl and Vin paused for a moment, debating on eating something now. He hadn't had anything since breakfast and it was mid-afternoon already. A power bar he decided; that would do until he had found a place to camp. Shrugging his pack off and making sure his gun was in easy reach, Vin quickly dug through to find the desired snack.
The soft noise of a rock skittering across the ground brought his head up sharply. He froze, trying to identify where the sound had come from. There! He heard another rustle of movement from across the street. Sweeping up the gun he stood and held it at the ready, his eyes constantly scanning for a sign of motion. Before long he spotted movement in the lengthening shadows as 3 kids stepped into the street. Two of them were young, not even teenagers yet. The third was about his height. All three looked oriental and wore cloths that were bright orange and reds mixed with black. They reminded Vin of some of the martial arts uniforms he had seen. The oldest carried a large staff.
Nothing broke the silence as the four studied each other, debating on the outcome of a fight. Vin watched how they held themselves, balancing lightly on their feet, and was sure they all knew some type of fighting. He figured he could get one for sure, maybe two as they crossed the street, but he knew he wouldn't be able to take out all three. Finally the staff carrying teen inclined her head slightly towards Vin and moved back into the shadows of the building. The other two ghosted after her. Relaxing his stance some Vin lowered his rifle. Once he was sure they were gone he quickly hoisted his pack. Eating could wait until he found a place to sleep.
A week later Vin met up with a young teen, a stray like himself, who offered to share his lunch. Vin agreed and added a couple cans of soup to the fare. Not much for talking himself, the other more then made up for it, almost to the point of distraction. But Vin listened closely, learning. He learned that the closest tribe was the Kin Longs, further north was a military base with kids and for the first time, heard of a place called New Frontier.
Vin thought on these things as he walked through the afternoon. The military base was an established tribe; a place where he could possibly rest for awhile, before being pestered to join, without worrying about the price on his head. New Frontier sounded a bit too good to be true though. Every other tribe wanted him dead or to join up. How could a tribe open to strays keep from being over run? He decided to sleep on it and in the morning he turned his feet north.
Vin didn't offer any resistance when the four kids dressed in green fatigues closed in around him. They knew what they were doing and unlike the other kids he had met, these ones all carried guns. Very large automatics. They were all polite, but when one offered to carry his rifle for him he knew it wasn't a request. He handed over the rifle and the whole group visibly relaxed. When asked Vin told them who he was and that he was looking for a place to rest up awhile. The freckle faced kid with 2 stripes on his sleeve just shrugged and said that Lt Samuels could decide that, but they'd give him a hot meal and a bed for the night at any rate. Vin replied that was just fine.
The patrol kept in constant contact with their base and Vin was given a curious once over by the gate guards as he passed through. Before long he found himself standing in front of Lt. Samuels. The older teen studied him with a keen eye. When asked how good he was with the rifle, Vin just shrugged. He could usually hit what he was aiming at and that was good enough for him. Samuels gave him a disbelieving snort. Samuels would allow Vin to stay for 3 days, he would get three squares and a cot to sleep in. At the end of those 3 days he could continue to stay if he decided to join up otherwise he would have to be on his way. His rifle would remain locked in the Lt.'s office. Vin didn't like the last part but he could understand it. He shook Samuels' hand on it. Samuels turned Vin over to a young female private, who escorted him down to the mess hall, and for the first time in over a week he sat down to a hot meal.
After a restful evening Vin was up with the dawn. While he wasn't surprised to see a guard standing near his door, he was surprised to see someone else up this early. An outhouse beside the barracks and dunking his head in the rain barrel outside woke him up the rest of the way; ready for the day. Looking around he was surprised to see movement around the base. All the kids seemed to be heading in one direction. Beside him Private Lamas quietly suggested that they join the morning calisthenics in the quad. Vin debated the idea and after a moment nodded in agreement. He didn't mind the idea of exercise. Besides it would give him an idea of how fit the tribe actually was.
His internal clock told him that it was close to six in the morning. Gathering in formation with the other kids Vin stood enjoying the cool breeze that danced through the warming April air. The formations had the youngest, seemingly lowest ranking, kids in a line on the far left and the oldest at right. Six rows of six with a Corpl. in front for every 2 lines and a Sergeant leading the drills. Vin stood pretty much in the middle of the pack with the private right behind him. He made quiet note that about a third of the kids word blue jumpsuits while the rest wore some sort of fatigues. The Sergeant started with jumping jacks. An hour later, his hair damp with sweat, Vin was more then ready to follow the sandy haired private to the mess. He was astonished at how well even the littlest had kept up. Sure they didn't do as many reps as to bigger kids who had too keep up with the Sergeant, but they hadn't quit moving for the whole time. As they neared the mess the smell of cooked food made his stomach grumble loudly. Lamas grinned at him and led him inside.
Vin had taken his time eating his almost over-flowing plate. One thing about the Screaming Eagles, some how they had more then enough food to feed their little army. As he ate he watched as kids came and went. There was an air of purpose, but no one seemed in any sort of rush. When he asked, Lamas explained that the jumpsuit kids were the "Pack Rats", the think tank division for the Screaming Eagles. Finally he placed his empty tray back into the pile. Vin wondered idly what he was going to do for the rest of the day. He was pretty sure that he wasn't going to simply be turned loose. Lamas solved that particular dilemma by informing him that Lt. Samuels would like him to report to Warrant Officer Quinn at the gun range.
So by 8:30 in the morning Vin found himself sitting on a bench with seven other kids listening to Warrant Officer Quinn remind them of gun safety. Quinn was a large black teen who stood over six foot. His voice was gruff and he watched carefully over the others as they stripped, cleaned and reassembled their weapons with an eagle eye. Vin worked beside Lamas as the young private patiently walked him through the steps, sharing the private's gun. Finally, when Quinn was satisfied, he moved them out to the range. He positioned Vin beside Lamas and handed him a pair of binoculars. His job was to see how often the kids hit the targets. Handing each one a clip, he told them to lock and load. Each kid got 5 shots. They averaged an inner circle hit about 75% of the time. They did it three more times before Quinn called a halt and got all the kids to stand at ease. Picking up a bolt action rifle he slid in a clip and handed it to Vin. Gesturing to the targets down range he told him to hit the bull's-eye.
Vin examined the gun. It was the same model as the one in Lt Samuels' office. Laying down on the shooting platform he sighted along the gun and found the target at the other end of the field. Taking a breath he let it out slowly, focusing on the center of the target. The bull's-eye. Smoothly squeezing the trigger he watched at a hole blossomed in the target, just nicking the center circle. Vin adjusted his aim slightly and fired again. He gave a small smile when a hole appeared in the center ring. So did the next 4 shots. On the next clip he didn't miss any.
Quinn gave Vin a approving nod as he handed back the rifle, telling him that had been a damn fine job. The rest of the kids just looked at him with various degrees of amazement. Quinn quickly headed off the rising buzz of questions by sending out his charges to pick up the spent cartridges and clean up the field. That didn't save him at lunch in the mess though and he wished he could disappear. He gained a little peace when one of the senior officers at the head table told everyone to eat up or go hungry.
Vin spent the afternoon simply relaxing in the grass outside the barracks. Lamas sat quietly nearby. The kid didn't say much after the barrage at lunch and for that Vin was thankful. He didn't really feel like answering too many questions. As they headed back to the mess for supper at six Vin noticed that a lot of the kids stopped to stare. By the time they hit the line for chow he was beginning to feel a little self conscious and more then a little bit nervous. Lamas just laughed and told him that in a tribe this size everyone would have know about his shooting by the time afternoon classes had started. Vin's cheeks colored and he tried to ignore the buzz of conversation going on around him, focusing on his food.
After supper Lamas took Vin to the rec hall, off the gym, where the tribe members not on patrol gathered to relax for awhile. Many of the older teens sat around tables and played cards. Other kids played board games or read books, and Vin could hear the sounds of a basketball game going on in the gym across the hall. The 2 headed for the gym. An pair of MPs, a boy and a girl, came to collect any of the kids under 10 for lights out at 8pm. The rest of the crew had until 9 to report back to their rooms.
On the third night Vin sat cross-legged on his cot, gazing out his window, deep in thought. After his second demonstration on the range Lt. Samuels made it clear that Vin would be a welcome asset to the Screaming Eagles, wanting him to stay. Now Vin had a dilemma. The Screaming Eagles was a good tribe, healthy and able to take care of itself and for the most part a fairly decent lot. He had noticed a few looks from some of the kids, but so far that's all it had been. Vin wasn't sure he really wanted to stay where his days were planned out to nearly the minute. He figured he could get used to it for three squares and a bed, but it just didn't sit right with him, conforming just to get regular meals. He'd missed meals in the past and it hadn't killed him yet. Besides somehow, in the back of his mind, there was something telling him to move on.
So the next morning, as April drew to a close, Vin gave Samuels his decision. He could read the disappointment in the other's face, but the Lt. was a man of his word. Escorting Vin to the front gate personally Samuels handed him back his rifle. He tried one more time, as Vin shouldered the weapon, and when he was politely turned down again he gave a resigned nod. Shaking Vin's hand Samuels told him that he was welcome back any time he changed his mind. Thanking him for his hospitality Vin headed off into the city.
Vin was barely out of Screaming Eagles territory when the sound of animals fighting reached his ears. It sounded like dogs fighting. He swung his rifle down from his shoulder and chambered a round. He didn't want to shoot any of the animals, but no kid was a match for a dog, especially on that was crazed or injured. Carefully he moved down the street, when he came to a small fast food parking lot he saw the dogs. It was a mass of snarling, biting fur. He watched the three animals carefully, but they ignored him completely as they rolled and fought around the lot. They looked to all be about the same size; one was a brown color, the second a black and the third a soft grey. Suddenly there was a high pitched yelp and the brown animal collapsed to the asphalt. Vin could see it was badly mauled and at least one of its legs was broken. It struggled to rise for a moment, but soon fell back to the ground and lay still. Within moments the grey had the other down, worrying at its throat. And then it was over.
There was a quiet as the grey raised its blood stained head to look around. Vin watched it warily, but it showed no sign of attacking. Sitting on its back haunches the animal licked what it could reach of its injuries. He realized that the dog had some wild breeding in it. It looked a lot like the pictures that he had seen of wolves. As it smoothly stood up and looked straight at Vin, he was surprised to see to had it had light green eyes. The grey sniffed in distain at the 2 fallen dogs before padding slowly towards the edge of the parking lot. Vin took a couple steps further back, keeping his rifle trained on the animal, but it made no move toward him and walked into the street. It had gone perhaps 50 feet when it stopped and looked back over its shoulder at Vin. The brown haired teen narrowed his eyes. It seemed like the grey was waiting for something. The two stared at each other until finally Vin took a single step forward. The grey, in turn, passed forward a few more steps before turning to wait again. Vin stood for a moment before giving a small shrug. Lowering his rifle to cradle it in his arms he started off after the dog.
Vin had decided he couldn't keep calling the animal 'hey dog' or 'grey', so he decided to name the canine Ferrell, though he still wasn't sure if it was more wolf or dog. Ferrell didn't seem to mind, he wagged his tail when Vin first tried it out. After the first couple days Ferrell had closed the distance between them until he was only a couple paces in front of Vin, at nights now the animal curled up beside him. Vin was a bit nervous, as he followed Ferrell south-west into the heart of the city, but he figured if it came to it he'd veer north again to avoid the Devils Dogs.
May slowly advanced onward and Vin began to see more signs of wildlife other then just bird and the odd deer. He had been spotting rabbits the last couple days, and figured it was because they were moving through a more wooded area that ran along a river. Vin hadn't realized that there was a river running through Denver. It was defiantly cool and he wished he had found this part of the city sooner. About two weeks after he had left the Screaming Eagles he came upon a large wire mess fence. Looking down at Ferrell he asked the dog which way he figured they should go. Ferrell cocked his head to one side, as if considering the question and then simply wagged his tail and began to meander his way north. Vin smiled and shook his head in disbelief at himself before following along.
It was a bit of a surprise when they came across a large gate that had been wired shut and had a sign hung on it. Vin squinted at the letters in an effort to make them quit moving around so much, but it still took him a long time to decipher them all out. Well, lookie at that, he thought seems he found New Frontier after all. He decided to camp that night in the woods. That night he set a few snares in the surrounding brush in hopes of catching a rabbit or two. Every time he set a snare he got a funny feeling. It reminded him of his grandfather and the things he had taught a young five year old Vin the year he had stayed there and it made him sad. On the other hand though he sure was glad grandfather had taught him those things 'cause it sure was helping now!! Vin settled in to sleep curled up in his sleeping bag, resting against Ferrell's back.
The next morning, after packing up his gear, Vin checked his snares. He was pleased to find that he had actually caught 2 rabbits. He quickly broke their necks and set about skinning one of the furry creatures. He split the animal and tossed half to Ferrell, who quickly caught it in mid air, before heading back to camp and stirring up the fire. It didn't take too long before the meat was cooked, but by that time Ferrell was back wanting more. Vin sternly told him that if he wanted more he could hunt for it himself. The second rabbit would show New Frontier he could provide for himself! Ferrell tried to beg for a few more minutes before giving up and heading off to find his own meal.
Once Ferrell had returned and the fire put out the two companions headed off to find the entrance for the Park. By lunch the pair found themselves approaching the frontier town. They were met at the gate by an older dark haired teen, who was leveling a shot gun at them. Vin stopped and raised his hands in the air, the rabbit flopped loosely against his arm. Ferrell sat down on his haunches and sneezed. Soon Vin had explained who he was and that he was looking for a place to stay for a bit. The other, Orrin, was a bit leery of accepting in Ferrell with the small children in the tribe, but agreed to allow it after Vin convinced him he would take full responsibility for the dog.
Orrin wasn't the only one excited over the fresh meat and Nettie quickly took things in hand. Before long the diced meat was added to a boiling soup pot. The small children were immediately attracted to Ferrell and their first contacts were watched closely by all of the older teens. Ferrell was willing to let the children pet him for awhile and did nothing more then sniff at a couple. When he'd had enough of the fur tugging he simply wandered off to the kitchen to curled up and went to sleep. More then just Vin let out a sigh of relief.
After lunch Vin helped out around the town and was surprised how quickly the day flew by. As he lay on the bed in his room, Ferrell lounging at his feet, Vin felt a quiet settle over him. He would stay here for as long as he could.
It was the first week into the New Year and the power finally failed. It was Chaos. Up until that point Charlie had been keeping the slum kids separated from the rest in the small gym, their interactions with the student body limited to meals in the cafeteria. Not that anyone had complained the 2 groups were pretty much happy to ignore each other, barring a handful of slum kids who had become flunkies of the Alpha-Omegas. It was status quo until the lights went out. At that point the kids left the dark hole that the windowless room had become, and headed out enmass. Charlie had tried to make them go back, but the other kids were quite willing to fight him for it. His only saving grace had been his goon squad; the 8 seniors who were line-backers for the football team. Once the squad got in the mix even the dirty street tricks of the other kids couldn't hold out. Charlie wasn't stupid though, he knew he'd have to offer up something even if he was still "king of the hill". With all the kids clamoring for heat and light Charlie decided that they would stay in ½ dozen rooms in the "admin" wing of the school, and the rest of the campus would be salvaged for burnable material. Of course the first stop had been the library. Ezra had been appalled at the use of the books for fire wood. Besides the fact that even he could see they burned to fast, the loss of knowledge was devastating. But he held his tongue and scavenged half a dozen or so of his favorite books from the fires.
The first fires had been lit in the staff lounge, for the students, and the detention room, for the 'interlopers'. Too bad no one had thought about where the smoke would go. The fires had burned bright and hot. Within minutes the rooms had become filled with smoke, sending the kids coughing and stumbling into the halls. At least the smoke alarms didn't have the power needed to kick in. The noise always gave Ezra a headache. The first night had been spent with everyone huddled together in the frigid darkness. The next morning Charlie had given orders to fashion proper fireplaces. The school held some of the best and brightest of Denver's elite, but it was the 'slum kids' who figured out how to take the welding units from the I.A room and turn them into stoves. Charlie awarded them extra peaches from the cafeteria stores.
It wasn't long before the kids settled into the new routine. Most of the time the students simply lazed around, and ordered the elevated 'slumers' to do their grunt work like cooking and scavenging. Charlie kept a tighter reign on the other slumers, by providing their firewood and food on an as needed basis. Ezra found the close quarters a distinct cramp in his life-style and began to go on salvage runs during the day. Charlie sent a couple of his flunkies with him for the first week, but when they reported that all Ezra did was methodically search rooms, he allowed Ezra a bit more freedom. Not because he trusted the gambler, but because none of his inner group wanted to be burdened with such an obviously boring job. Charlie sent one of his slummers instead, but Ezra easily got around that. He was after all one of the elite. Always careful to come back with something useful to justify his scrounging, once he was free of prying eyes Ezra began forwarding his own plans. He wanted to stockpile as much as he could to facilitate his own escape.
January was over and February was looking to be pretty bleak. Charlie was slowly becoming more tyrannical in his decision, especially concerning the slum kids. The students' main room had become stale, smelling of smoke and unwashed bodies. Ezra decided he needed to get some fresh air and went looking for Ryan in hopes of a game of chance as a diversion, it would be worth the risk of Charlie catching him just to get out of that stuffy room. He slipped into the hall and detoured into the nurse's office, one of the few unoccupied rooms that let in natural light and still had a small mirror hanging in it. He wanted to remain as presentable as possible considering the conditions. He studied his features in the mirror. At 5' 4, his shorter frame had always been trim, now though it was showing sighs of the restricted fare. His green eyes narrowed in annoyance as he took in the length his brown hair was getting. But who was he going to get to trim it? He ran a hand through it and grimaced at the greasy texture, he needed to go get some more snow for a wash. He'd make a detour on his way back from seeing Ryan. Ezra slipped out of the room and headed towards the detention rooms that Charlie had relocated the slummer in.
Ryan was one of the leaders still left in the "under privileged" group, the young teenager was able to keep the other kids from getting too out of hand. Had the weather been even a bit reasonable he would have lead what was left of his group into the city to try it on their own. It wasn't hard to get into the detention rooms; he simply had to pick the lock on the Councilor's door, which lead to another set of doors, ultimately letting him into the detention rooms without having to go past the guard Charlie had put in place. It was one of the things he could put up for collateral in the games of chance against Ryan: a back way out.
The 3 rooms that the slummers occupied weren't overly large, but even going through them three times Ezra was unable to locate Ryan. When he finally picked out Tina in the gloom she told him that Kipen and one of the other goons had taken Ryan and some others away in the morning, she was worried that they hadn't come back yet and it was nearing the evening meal. Ezra sighed, yet one more of the disappearances amongst the "non-student body". Ezra puzzled on the problem of the disappearances as he retraced his steps. There was always an odd kid or 2 that showed up, every week or so, looking for a warm place to stay, out of the winter cold. Those kids quickly fell into 2 groups; those willing to obey Charlie and those that didn't. Those that didn't were becoming a smaller group every week. Ezra had been all over the school in his scavenging and hadn't seen any sign of the missing kids. If he was honest with himself it put a cold spike of fear through him to think that Charlie could make kids disappear so easily. So far Ezra had managed to keep out of Charlie's way and on the good side of enough of Charlie's goon squad that he wasn't considered a threat, but he knew it wouldn't be long before Charlie found some reason to make him disappear too. Ezra decided to speed up his plans of escape.
Ezra knew all of the hiding places in the school, some of them that even Charlie's goons didn't know, for the simple fact that they were too big and heavy to get in. Ezra slipped into his favorite spot, a small, loose, air vent in the ceiling of the Chemistry room led across the suspended ceiling tiles to pretty much anywhere in the school. Right now Ezra was headed to the janitor's closet in the Girls gym change room. One of the rare rooms that was still locked, for the simple fact that Charlie felt it was beneath him to enter a girl's changing area and none of his female flunkies had any interest in going anywhere near the gym. Removing the vent cover in the roof Ezra slowly lowered himself quietly into the room. Once safely on the ground, he paused to listen carefully. It always paid to be cautious. Flicking on the flashlight he carried, he moved softly, checking to make sure everything was as he had left it and most importantly the door being still locked. Once he was satisfied he added the latest of his pilfered goods, a can of tuna, to the food pack and re-hid the pack. Satisfied he hoisted himself back up, into the roof and replaced the vent.
Ezra had just started back when the sound of voices caught his attention. He knew the vents could play tricks with sounds, but these sounded close. He decided to see if he could find them, knowledge was power after all. Ezra soon found himself looking out over, what should have been a dark and abandoned gymnasium. Except now it was filled with nearly a dozen teenagers and younger kids, some of which were holding large flashlights or flickering torches. He could easily recognize 3 of the bigger teens, even if their school uniforms hadn't given them away, Charlie's goon squad. The 4 of the youngest kids he recognized as being slummers. The last teen he knew was Ryan. The other 4 teens varied in size and age, but they all wore leather jackets, jeans and colored sashes tied about their waists. The one who looked to be the leader wore a deep red, while the others wore either a green or blue sash.
It wasn't until Kipen (one of the goons) started pushing the younger ones forward, that Ezra had a suspicion of what was happening. When 'Red Sash' handed over a bag that clanked, and one of the 'green sashes' started tying the kids together did he understood. Charlie was selling off the kids that didn't conform! Ezra had planned to wait for another week or two, hoping to get through the worst of February's weather, but upon witnessing what amounted to the reawakening of slavery, he decided that it was high time to leave.
Ezra watched as the gym emptied out and the darkness settled back in. Then he forced himself to wait even longer. Finally he crawled back to the janitor's closet and back down through the vent. Leaving his dust covered coveralls on he added on the layers of heavy winter cloths. Slipping off his school shoes and adding them to the clothing pack he finished off his outer wear by putting on warm boots. Checking over the 2 packs one more time to make sure they were secured together, and closed, he settled them over his head and onto his shoulders. The sleeping bag attached to the top of the food pack bumped against the back of his head. He preferred that to banging against the back of his legs. Finally with one last check of the room Ezra turned off the flashlight, secured in a side pocket on the front pack, removed the cloth blocking the crack at the bottom of the door, turned the lock and slipped noiselessly into the dark hall.
Having planned his escape, it was almost simplistic to slip out one of the side entrances. He was glad that he had been able to wait until after the power had failed in January, otherwise the door alarm would have sent a shrill alarm through the mostly deserted halls. Now though the hardest part was to push the door open far enough to squeeze out. He had been forced to take his packs off to do so, but now he was free. He wasted only moments in pushing the door closed again to cover his tracks before heading off.
Before the next day was out, Ezra had made himself at home in a small gardener's hut behind one of the "upper class" house that he had become familiar with in the fall. Leo, the gardener, was quite willing to play a hand or two of poker on a Friday night. A wind had picked up during his trek and a light snow had begun to fall. Ezra was glad for the weather to cover his tracks, but it meant he had to gather his first load of wood in the cold and wet. He preferred not to do manual labor if he could avoid it, but was quite willing to do so if it meant his survival. At least the small hut would be easier to keep warm rather then half the school. He laughed quietly as he remembered the resulting smoke from Charlie's first few attempts.
Maude would be appalled he thought as he brought in the load of wood from a well stocked shed nearby. It brought a smile to his face to think of his older sister having to do something as lowly as haul wood. Settling down in front of the fire he found his thoughts turning to his sister. She had raised him since he was 5, when they had been placed with a rather indifferent relative after their parents' death, making the 4 years separating them in age seem more like decades. She had always been advanced for her years. Maude had sent him to the Denver school to get him out of California and a rather unfortunate situation he had gotten into with some relatively unsavory characters. The Virus would have taken care of most of that problem Ezra thought wirily. Ezra sighed, shivering slightly as the wind howled around the small house. As much as he dreaded seeing his sister and wondering what con she had planned for him to participate in, he hoped she was all right. He knew she was under The Virus age, but the last time he had heard from her was in the fall. Granted, if anyone could find a way to survive and prosper in this new world that was emerging it would be Maude. And if he had anything to say about it he would carve out his own comfortable niche. Preferably a few states away Maude. Finally with a small sigh Ezra snuggled a bit deeper into the quilt nest he had built and fell asleep.
March had arrived and Ezra knew he had to move on. The weather was starting to warm and his food supplies were running low even with careful rationing. He had spent much of his time since leaving the school trying to decide what to do. Finally he determined to try his luck with the other citizens of Denver, no doubt he could find others willing to play a hand or two in a game of chance. He already had a small amount of jewelry from the 'big house', and he was sure to find other things to use as collateral in the multitude of abandoned houses that occupied Denver. His mind made up, he made plans to head out the next day.
The next morning his first stop was a neighboring house on the next block. Ezra was glad that Maude had forced him to learn how to snowshoe when he was 8, in served him well now as he slogged through the winter landscape that still encased Denver. Unable to reach the front windows, thanks to some very large and prickly bushes, he made his way around the side of the house. Finally, at the back of the house, he found a glass paneled door and made his way into the house.
It took him a couple hours to do a semi-decent rummage through the house. Thanks to some of Maude's tricks he had been able to find a set of very nice diamond necklace hidden in the false bottom of a dresser. He had also been able to find a small collection of rings, bracelets and a couple watches. He was more heartened to find some canned goods still in the cupboards. He even found a small jar of peanut butter! He quickly scavenged a spoon and took a large mouthful. It tasted wonderful!!! He enjoyed the sticky sensation as he swallowed. After a quick debate with himself he indulged in one more spoonful before adding the jar to his pack.
Heading to the back door, Ezra was startled to see a handful of deer-like animals nibbling the bark off the trees in the back yard. Watching them he was fairly certain that they weren't deer. Perhaps antelope he decided after a few minutes of deliberation. How in the world did antelope ever arrive here, he wondered. He was positive they weren't native to the area around Denver. He hated to disturb the graceful animal, so he quietly picked up the rest of his gear and made his way back to the front of the house and let himself out the front door.
Ezra made his way slowly south-east, towards the center of the city. He appropriated small items as he found them, but residential housing and undisturbed buildings were more difficult to find as he moved into the claimed territory. He learned to be wary of the dog packs that were now running wild in the city. The once friendly family pets had quickly turned back to their feral roots. He had stumbled across a small group of half a dozen dogs and had it not been for the fact they were already involved in eating one of their own, he was pretty sure he would have been next on the menu. A mouthful of snarling teeth was more then enough incentive to send him on his way. That was when Ezra first thought about finding a weapon.
Safely squirreled away in a small brownstone Ezra debated the idea of a weapon. It had become obvious that he would need something. Even though he was quite capable of shooting accurately with a hand gun, it having been one of the 'approved' sports at his last school, the problem was he abhorred the use of physical weapons on general principal, preferring to rely on his own natural verbal talent to talk his way out of most situations. The dogs however presented a different problem; besides an obvious language barrier, they were animals and not exactly prone to negotiations. He was pretty sure the pack he had met earlier wouldn't be the last. The only other thing that could be considered a weapon that he had a passing knowledge with was a fencing blade, which would be hard pressed to stop more then one assailant. A gun would make more sense. With a sigh he began flipping through the yellow pages that he had found in a desk drawer to try and find a couple likely places nearby to try and find a firearm. This would have been a lot easier if the Internet was still available, he thought darkly
Ezra gave a huff of frustration, scowling darkly at the wreckage of the sporting goods store hat he was standing in. It was the 3rd store he had tried, and it was the 3rd store that had been ransacked. He picked up the remains of a sleeping bag, which was peppered with holes. From the state of the store it looked like whoever had looted the guns had decided to hold target practice in it as well. Having made a quick search of the store for undamaged supplies and coming up empty, he picked his way carefully through the broken display cases and scattered glass, to return outside. Well he had one more to try.
Arriving at the next address, on a quiet side street, he did a double take before simply staring at the display window for another minute. Rechecking the address again he was at the right place, but instead of a "gun shop" the store displayed costumes from the Middle Ages through the Civil War. He glanced at the sky, and decided that even if it wasn't the store he'd been expecting, it would be a decent enough place to spend the night. He took a couple minutes to pick the lock on the front door, before slipping inside and relocking the door behind him. Stashing his bag behind the front counter Ezra decided to explore a bit, while there was still a bit of light.
He wandered aimlessly through the aisles and racks of cloths, he was surprised to find the store was much bigger then he had originally expected. Things seemed to be arranged by time period, with the Middle Ages at the front of the store, nearest the window, and the early 1900's nearest the change rooms in the back. Beside the 2 change rooms was a small public bathroom. Ezra paused in the civil war section, but found he was drawn to the early 1900's "old West". Curiosity prompted him to flip through the various miner, gunslinger, and buffalo hunter clothing. Then, between a black duster and a tanned leather coat, he found it. The coat was a deep red; underneath was a black vest framing a white shirt. A pair of black pants hung beneath. All made of soft materials. A gambler's suit. It was perfect. Turning to the change room Ezra suddenly realized how dark the room had become. Well the fitting would have to wait until tomorrow.
Ezra broke his fast as the first light of the new day began to touch the far side of the street. On his way back to the change rooms he was surprised to see a second door. A quick tug proved that it was unlocked, and he realized that the electronic lock that would normally have been holding the door closed no longer functioned. Even though there had been no disturbances in the night Ezra decided to check the 2nd level out before trying on his new cloths. He preferred not to be caught with his pants down.
He proceeded to ghost up the stairs; covering the face of his flashlight so only enough light filtered through that he wouldn't miss a step. The stairs led to an open archway and inky darkness beyond. He slid up to the archway and paused on the threshold of the 2nd floor; straining to hear and sound of life. Minutes drew out with agonizing slowness and all he could hear was the heavy beating of his heart. Finally he decided to risk a light and uncovering his flashlight shone it into the room. And let out a terrified scream.
He also dropping the flash light and nearly fell back down the stairs. The flashlight rolled across the floor throwing up weird patches of dancing light and shifting shadows. When nothing came charging out of the darkness at him, Ezra pealed himself off the stairwell wall and scuttled along the floor to pick up his flashlight. With more then a bit of trepidation he shone his light back over to the left side of the room. When he saw what had scared him so badly he felt a blush rising in his cheeks. A polished suit of armor stood as a quiet sentinel.
Ezra decided to make sure there were no other surprises and set about exploring the room. After the collection of clothing downstairs the 2nd floor was somewhat of a shock. Suits of armor stood guard along the left wall, while weapons of all description were displayed in glass cases and on the walls. Swords, pikes, maces, shields and bows spilled into the muskets, knives, hatchets and pistols. It took longer to search, with no outside light source, but he soon determined that he was truly alone and found himself looking into the display case, which made up the sales counter on the back wall, in awe. Not only had he found an undisturbed cache of weapons, but a whole case full of jewelry; from cuff links to necklaces. He had hit the mother load!!
Ducking behind the counter he set about picking the locks. There was no need to risk cutting himself on broken glass if he didn't need too. Medical assistance wasn't exactly a phone call away any more. The 4 locks gave way relatively smoothly, but he was glad to be able to take his time. It let him keep his skills sharp. He opened the glass panels first, giving him unlimited access to the displayed jewelry. He simply scooped everything into a convenient shopping bag from a pile beside him. He wanted to examine the pieces downstairs in better light so he could get a better estimate of it's worth. Once he had secured the bag he slid open the 2 lower doors. Oh My God. Ezra thought.
Reflected in the light of his flashlight were boxes and boxes of ammunition. Everything from measures of black powder for the musket guns to the bullets used in the 6-shooters. He scrambled quickly over to the display of guns to examine them. Finally he decided on a 1875 Army revolver, .44 caliber, and a small derringer that mounted in a simple spring loaded system that would fit under his sleeve. Then it was back to the counter to find the right ammunition. He was able to fill another shopping bag. With his newly found bounty fixed firmly in hand, he headed back downstairs, feeling happier and more secure then he had in a long time. Now it was time to try on some new cloths!!
Ezra spent the rest of March holed up in the costume store. Once he managed to cull 4 new sets of cloths from the store's selections he sat down to take an inventory. He was more then happy with the weapons he had procured and was constantly practicing with the derringer so he could catch it in his hand without it getting caught in the sleeve of his shirt. It wasn't hard to see that his food stores were running low again. Ezra sighed at that, it seemed like a constant trial to find food. On the up side he had quite a large stash of jewelry and ammunition, both of which would be ample reason to attack him. Ezra decided to hide the majority of his stash. The store seemed as good a place as any, on the small side street.
Finding a small lock box was the easy part, it took him three more days to find a loose floor board on the 2nd floor, at the base of a wall case, behind one of the suits of armor, that could be removed and replaced with very little disturbance to the area. Studying his work, he was confident that it would remain unfound unless someone ripped the building apart. Another thing he had Maude's teachings to thank for. He also took the time to hid his snowshoes and heavy clothing in the drop ceiling of the first floor. With the warming weather, the extra gear would be an encumbrance. He spent one last night at the store. The next morning, dressed in his new cloths, he shouldered his remaining pack, and after securing the door behind him, headed further south into the city.
Ezra picked his way through the litter of downtown. Cars were scattered along the streets, abandoned by the adults who had last drove them and many were spay painted or boasted of broken windows from the kids that were left. It was sad to see, a reminder of what had been lost. Ezra paused beside a black jaguar, to admire it's lines. He peered in the passenger side's broken window. The car was still in fairly good shape and he daydreamed briefly of hopping in ad driving away from Denver. A sharp sound from ahead of him, on his left, snapped his head about. He quickly spotted a tall teen frozen at the street corner only a dozen feet or so from him. They simply stared at each other for a long time. Ezra noticed the teen looked older then him, maybe 16, with shoulder length brownish-blond hair, some of which had been plaited into a couple small braids. He wore cargo pants tucked into a pair of dark boots, a long sleeved shirt under a dark vest. He had a satchel hung over one shoulder and a skateboard in his other hand.
Finally the other teen broke the silence by clearing his throat and introducing himself as Bray, with the Mall Rats, and asking who Ezra was with. Ezra explained he was "an unaffiliated free agent among the citizens of Denver". At Bray's mystified look, Ezra used the common term that he detested; a stray. Bray shrugged and told Ezra that if he needed a place to stay for a couple days and could offer up something to help in the way of food he was welcome to come along with him to The Mall. Ezra was quite willing to go along. He still had a few canned goods and the prospect of new blood for games of chance was a prospect he wasn't willing to pass up. April was looking up.
Bray led the younger teen through the empty streets. Before long Ezra began to see Tribe symbols painted on the walls; a bird of prey with flared wings and outstretched talons on the east walls. Bray told him they belonged to the tribe "The Screaming Eagles", who were at the military base. A few blocks later Bray pointed out the Mall Rats sign; bright neon colors in a starburst pattern, with a small rat silhouette in the middle. When they reached the Mall Bray led the way onto the parking garage and through to a open side door to a metal slide down security gate. Bray called through the open grates for Jack to let them in. Ezra could hear arguing voices for a few minutes before, finally, there was a grinding sound of gears and the gate began to rise. The gate had only raised up about mid thigh when Bray gestured for Ezra to scoot underneath. Ezra looked at him in disbelief, bray simply shrugged in response as if to say 'that's as far as it goes; take it or leave it'. Ezra took off his pack and rolled under the grate. Bray came quickly behind him, and was barely through when the security gate came crashing back down. Ezra looked at the gate with grave misgivings. Surely they had a better way to get in and out of the mall. Voices called his attention to the fact of others arriving and he turned to get is first good look at the mall.
He had followed Bray out of the small alcove and found himself in the mall's main concourse. Stores lined both sides of the hallway. The 'lobby' was taken up by a large, lifelike tree that stretched up into the 2nd level, the skylights above let in abundant light. Behind the tree was a split staircase that led up to the second level. Ezra was surprised to see gathering of kids at the top of the stairs. A blond haired girl, with a stern face, had come a few steps down. Behind her were two older teens, both boys looked much more menacing in Ezra's mind. The platinum blond was built like a line-backer and the Asian teen was caring a large club and appeared quite willing to use it.
Bray introduced Ezra to Amber (the girl), explaining that he was a stray and needed a place to stay for a couple days or so. He added that Ezra had canned food to cover him. The Asian boy gave a snort of irritation when Amber said they would put it to a vote. Ezra was shocked to discover that she wasn't kidding. Bray left him on the main floor and hurried up the stairs to join the others. Ezra tried not to hear their debate, but they were not being subtle about it. Lex, the Asian boy, didn't want another security risk. He called Ezra a 'fancy man'. A couple of the younger girls liked how he looked. Finally Amber simply called for a show of hands. To Ezra it looked to be an even split, but he couldn't see all the hands. He watched Amber do a quick count. She, Bray, Lex, and the blond turned back to face Ezra. Lex looked put out. Amber gave the group's decision. He would be allowed to stay. Ezra let one of his more charming smiles blossom and thanked the group generously.
Within moments he found the younger members of the tribe downstairs beside him, introducing themselves and trying to figure out the best place for him to stay. Patsy, the youngest at 10, was quick to point out the others. With them was her brother Paul, who was deaf, and dark haired Cloe, who struck Ezra a s being slightly shy. On the stairs was Amber, Bray, Lex and Ryan, the blonde. Behind them were Dal (a small dark haired boy), Jack (who wore a 'golfing' visor which allowed his dark hair to stick up at odd angles) , Salene (with her deep red dyed hair), Trudy (who was dark haired and shallow cheeked), Tai-san (a tall, slim Asian female) and Zandra (a smaller Asian girl, studying her nails). Ezra tried to commit their names to memory. It wouldn't do to forget a potential ally's name. Or enemies . . . he glanced upwards and found Lex scowling at him.
The sharp wail cut through the mall, causing varied reaction from the assembly. Mostly it varied from pained sympathy to outright annoyance. Ezra was shocked, how in the world had an infant ended up here?! Surely one hadn't been left at a Quarantine centre in the fall!! Selene, Amber and Bray disappeared into the 2nd level. The other drifted off. Patsy explained in a hushed voice that the baby crying was Brady, Trudy's baby, and that Trudy wasn't well. Ezra allowed himself to be led on a tour of the mall.
Within a week Ezra had the lay of the land. Dal and Jack were the tribe's chief mechanic and inventor respectfully; and spent much of their time holed away trying to solve whatever was the tribe's current problem. He was impressed on how they had solved their water problem by making a filtration unit. Now they were working on how to charge batteries. Patsy, Paul and Cloe spent much of their days playing games with each other and their dog Bob, who Ezra found quite likeable once he got over the shaggy mongrel's appearance and habit of giving him rather slobbery kisses. Salene seemed to spend most of her time working in the kitchen and helping with Brady. Zandra seemed to mostly working on her nails and hair. The rest of the time she worked on the other girls, when they would let her. He saw very little of Trudy, who kept to her room and mostly slept. Tai-san seemed to be the story teller of the group, who Ezra got along well with once he got past her 'mystic' attitude. Ironically his first and best customers for games of chance were the oldest of the tribe; Lex and his sidekick Ryan. He made a point to make sure he lost the 'big hands' to Lex, but by winning the majority of the small pots he still came out ahead.
Ezra spent nearly a month in the mall and as pleasant as the time was he couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't the right place to stay. And he always listened to the feeling that told him when it was time to move on. He was sure that he had gleaned everything he could from the Mallrats without causing any bad feelings amongst the group, but he was most pleased with his success at teaching Cloe how to effectively play poker against Ryan. Expressing his regrets, thanking then for their hospitality and promising to return Ezra followed Bray back out into the city.
Bray walked south with him for a couple blocks, until another tribe's symbol appeared on the west side of the street. The letters SPQR, in black, surrounded by a circle of golden olive branches. Bray scowled at the Romanus symbol. He explained that the Romanus tribe was expanding from the museum in the center of the city where they were based, but had so far left the Mall alone. Ezra thanked Bray once more and bid him good bye, before heading deeper into the city centre.
A handful of days pasted before Ezra was challenged by a Romanus patrol. The 6 teens moved boldly up the street, confident in their strength of arms. Three of them were dressed in the metal amour and helms of a Roman legionary, their legs bare except for a set of grieves over laced sandals. The other 3 wore a leather chest protection; they too were bare legged except for calf high sandals. They all wore a gladius swords belted at their waists and the deep red over-tunics and cloaks. Two of the bigger teens carried spears. When confronted, Ezra told the soldiers that he was traveling the city of Denver looking for trading opportunities and perhaps the odd wager or game of chance. The leader of the patrol immediately assigned 2 of the younger Legionnaires to escort Ezra back to the museum.
On the way back the 2 boys were rather forthcoming to Ezra's inquiries. They introduced themselves as Peter and Lee, both 11 years old. Their tribe was lead by Emperor Marius. There were 12 house surfs, which did the cooking, cleaning, and 'stuff', and 24 Legionnaires, who went out on patrol in groups of 4 or 6. When Ezra asked about food, Lee said that once a week a group 4 older teens showed up on bicycles with a cart filled with food. Marius traded with them for stuff in the museum.
It was getting late when they finally arrived at the broad museum steps. His escort led him up the steps, past a couple guards at the main doors and through the halls to the "Roman" wing, where he was presented to Emperor Marius. The sandy blond haired teen had intelligent brown eyes. Dressed in a toga of deep purple and wearing a wreath of olive branches he looked very impressive seated on the stone throne flanked by 2 large guards. A small boy and girl, dressed in a simple white tunic, knelt on either side of the throne.
Marius was interested in trade, but deemed it too late in the day for proper negotiations. Instead he sent the small boy scurrying to fetch a bottle of wine. The boy returned quickly with a tray that held two bejeweled goblets and a tall bottle of dark red wine. Ezra decided he could like it here.
Ezra had been with the Romanus tribe nearly a week, close to the middle of May already, he was surprised to discover. The dark haired card-sharp had struck up a relationship with a couple of the younger 'servants', who were enthralled by his card tricks. They were quite willing to help him learn the layout of the museum. He made sure to find out where the side fire exits were. Marius declared him a gentleman and highly amusing. Ezra wasn't sure he liked the last descriptor, but he let it pass, for he had been playing the part of one easily drunk. It was a tact that made the guards relax a bit and Marius believe he was winning for then he actually was at the evening card games.
Ezra sat on a low stool beside a table that had a nearly finished bottle of wine as well as cards and coins scattered across it. Marius reclined on a raised eating couch. Having just won a large pot Marius declared he was in mind for a new distraction; it was time for Ezra to prove how good he was with his 6-shooter. The wager would be the pot from their last hand of cards that Ezra couldn't hit the bull's-eye 6 times. Ezra drunkenly agreed.
A target was quickly set up part way down the hall and Ezra staggered to his feet, drew his gun and gestured for the guard to move out of the way. The guard figured that was probably a very good idea, considering the gun wasn't being held very steady and quickly stepped back towards a wall. As Ezra aimed he took a drunken step and caught his foot on a carpet edge, discharging his gun and missing entirely. Marius let loose with a loud laugh and demanded payment. Ezra complained about the rug and Marius graciously allowed him to try again; for double of nothing. One of the guards snickered as he watches Ezra struggle to switch out the spent bullet; they were all ready to duck. Snapping the gun closed, Ezra swung his arm upward and rapidly fire off 6 shot.
And put all in the same hole. Marius' eyes narrowed in suspicion as Ezra became sober as he turned to collect his winnings. Marius gestured to the guards, who drew their swords and began to advance. Ezra, seeing his danger, immediately sprung his derringer and pointed it at Marius' head. Ezra was surprised how calm his voice came out, considering how fast his heart was pounding in his chest, when he demanded that someone retrieve his pack or he would shoot Marius.
There was a tense moment until Marius signaled his acceptance and sent a couple of the kids running. Within 5 minutes they were back. Ezra carefully shouldered on his pack, keeping his small gun trained on the Romanus leader. The guards, faces twisted in anger, stood tense and ready to spring. Ezra slowly backed out of the room and then turned tail to run. Within moments the guards pounded after him. The young conman gained some time on the Legionnaires by ducking out one of the side entrances and sprinting down the street. Rounding the corner on a full run he damn near ran straight into a smaller brown haired boy. The kid swore at Ezra, and then seeing the pursuing Romanus, turned tail and ducked down the nearby alley and through a back door. Ezra was 2 steps behind.
Once the sound of pursuit had passed the 2 cautiously snuck back out onto the street. The boy introduced himself as Lincoln, and Ezra replied in kind. Glancing up the street Lincoln asked where the other teen was coming from. Ezra cleared his throat a bit self-consciously and replied that he had a slight misunderstanding with the ruling head of the Romanus tribe that incited his abrupt departure from their headquarters. Lincoln seemed stumped at that answer for a bit, before shrugging in dismissal and turned to head off. Not truly sure of where to go next Ezra inquired after any other tribes in the area. The smaller boy gestured to the south, the direction head had turned to, and said that the closest tribe was a new one called "New Frontier". Within a few minutes Ezra had talked Lincoln into going together to the park.
The two strays were greeted warmly by a large teen that had come out of the church, who called himself Josiah. He led them on a tour of the town and gave them a gentle reminder of the rules. Ezra's eyes lit up as they were lead into the Saloon. He was going to like it here.
Chris & Buck
New Year's was a repeat of Christmas, Buck thought, his blue eyes clouded with worry. He sighed and watched Chris take another slug of bourbon, his green eyes blood-shot, staring blankly into the fire. Buck had managed to get Chris back to the abandoned mall after the fire at the Center in the end of November. They had been living there ever since. Not that Buck was sure what they were doing was living. After the first night Chris had found one of the liquor stores in the mall and had been steadily drinking his way through it ever since. At least they had been able to find enough to eat; though they were both loosing weight. Slowly Chris slide down onto the pile of blanket. Once Buck was sure he was passed out he got up, moved the bottle and pulled some blankets over his best friend. Not the most auspicious start to the New Year, he thought, but at least it can get better.
As the weeks passed the 2 teens fell into a routine. They slept late, usually cold rather then the weak winter daylight woke them. They ate from the scrounged food supplies and preformed their morning ablutions in the staff lounge, off the shoe store they were sleeping in. Buck would then try to get Chris to come with him to scrounge the mall for supplies. Sometimes his cajoling worked, but for the most part Chris simply shrugged him off and returned to his nest of blankets and a bottle. Those days Buck could only sigh, and try once more before heading out to scrounge.
Buck wandered the 2 story mall; he had a lot of it memorized now, and was glad the original looters hadn't penetrated that far in. He didn't bother with the clothing stores any more since they both had enough layers on to keep them warm, with the long johns, and since Chris had found the western shop he hadn't changed into anything else. Buck would have liked to see a bit more color on his friend, but the dark cloths and long black duster seemed to fit the blond's current mood now.
Nothing was the same since the fire and Buck worried about Chris,. Not that he blamed him; the blond had lost all the family left to him, his little brother Adam and his girlfriend Sarah. But now he was watching his best friend self destruct by drinking himself to death. Buck gave a deep sigh as he sat in the food court, worrying about things. Unfortunately there were still plenty of stores and restaurants in the mall where Chris could find liquor, and Buck was a bit leery of leaving the mall while it was still the middle of winter. At least here they had a bit of the basics; shelter, food and water. He wished he had some idea of how to help Chris, but it seemed every time he tried to get him to talk Chris just got surly and retreated back into the nearest bottle. Heck he had even tried emptying the nearest liquor store of its stock last week by moving it to the back room of a kid's clothing store. But Chris had simply glowered at him and headed to the closest restaurant, helping himself to what was behind the bar. Finally Buck hauled himself to his feet and picked up the backpack that was full of the day's finds. It was time to go back; maybe he could get Chris to come with him tomorrow.
The next morning, one of the last in January, Chris announced he was going back to the Center. Buck nodded in agreement, but inwardly cringed. While he was glad Chris was getting out of bed, he really wished it wasn't to go back to those blacked ruins. He had done this twice before and each time it was the same thing. They would trudge the 3 blocks through the deep snow with Chris making the odd comment about perhaps there was someone still there. Once there Buck would trail along behind he friend as he made his way though the burned out shell of a building. All that remained of the Quarantine Center they had all been living in last fall. Unerringly they would end up in the first floor room where they had slept and Chris would sift through the ash until it was too dark to see any more. Buck could only follow along, his heart growing heavier with each passing hour as Chris began to withdraw back into himself. Finally they would make their way back to the mall, and no matter how full the moon was darkness seemed to surround Chris. Please, Buck prayed, let today be different.
It was near noon by the time they had tramped their way through the snow to reach the center, which was nearly thigh high in some places. At 6'1 Buck had a bit easier of a time traversing the white stuff then his slimmer, 5'10, friend. But Chris made up for it by pure bull-headed stubbornness. Buck figured that spring would come a lot earlier if Chris' glare could melt snow. Buck tried to prepare himself to go inside, he knew it wasn't really there, but he could swear that the whole place still reeked of smoke. Besides the place gave him the willies; how many people had burned to death in there besides Adam and Sarah?
While Buck had paused Chris had forged ahead. He couldn't explain to Buck why he kept coming back here. He just felt so lost. There was a gapping hole in his chest that hurt so bad . . . he just kept thinking 'we got out maybe they did too'. He had to know for sure. He had to have proof. His thoughts tormented him, chasing themselves around in his head. Why had he left that night with Buck? Why not the night before? He could have saved them if he had been there. Couldn't he? But maybe they had gotten out. But where were they? Round and round like a pack of baying wolves. Chris found a way to beat those wolves. He drank to shut them up, to try to loose the hurt, to forget. He pushed his way up the steps. Maybe he could find proof today.
The sharp yell of another human voice cracked through the cold air, surprising them both, causing them to jump. Chris had grabbed the handrail, barely keeping from ending up on his ass when one of his feet slipped off the step. He looked over his shoulder, further up the street they were on. Buck followed his gaze and saw a small group of teens a couple hundred feet away. One of them held the leash of a very large german sheppard. Buck wondered what they were feeding it as he moved to join Chris on the stairs, if it came to a fight they were outnumbered 2 to 1.
All of the teens were males and looked about the same age at Chris and Buck. They wore a mish mash of heavier cloths, but over top of it all they each wore a jean jacket with 2 interlocking Ds on them. A couple even wore spiked dog collars. Buck thought the Ds reminded him of the Daredevil comics he used to read, but these were different. The top D had a pair of horns of in and the bottom one trailed a Devil's tail. The group got closer yelling things as they came. Buck didn't know what a stray was, but from the tone it was a derogatory term. He could tell from the way Chris' eyes narrowed that he had caught the slur too. The 2 teens were informed that they were on Devil's Dog turf and they had 2 choices, clear off or join up. Chris' eyes narrowed even further as his jaw clenched. He never did take kindly to some idiot telling him what he could or couldn't do. He took a step back, to get a better footing on the landing and was glad to see Buck follow suit. The toughs grinned, thinking they were going to get some easy prey. It didn't quite turn out that way.
In the end everyone, including the dog, sported injuries of some kind. Buck and Chris used charred pieces of timber to knock a couple of the teens dizzy. But things quickly deteriorated to a fist fight. Buck was very thankful for the layers of cloths they were wearing. They were torn to sheds in places, but he was pretty sure that the dog had been unable to break the skin when it latched onto his leg. Chris had encouraged the animal to let go with a solid kick to it's side, sending it slinking away. Supporting each other the 2 teens moved off as quickly as they could, while the Devil's Dogs where still picking themselves up. Buck wasn't sure who was leaning on who, but he had never been so glad to see the mall, or hear the building howl of wind that promised more snow.
It had been a couple weeks since the fight with the Devil's Dogs and neither had stirred very far from their sleeping quarters. Buck sighed as he looked at his friend in the glow of the firelight. Chris was passed out drunk again. Buck leaned over and tucked the sleeping bag closer around the blond teen and settled back, his thoughts falling into the same old patterns. He could understand, something in Chris broke when Sarah and Adam died in the center fire. Buck sighed. They were all each other had now and Buck was determined not to loose him too. He had to find somewhere he could keep an eye on Chris and not worry so much about food and shelter, before he totally self-destructed.
February was nearly over from what Buck could figure and they were both starting to get cabin fever, even in a place as big as the mall. Chris was more irritable then usual and Buck wasn't feeling all that charitable either. Supper started out with complaints about the food, and things had gone down hill from there. Before either of them realized what was happening Chris was yelling at Buck; calling him names, blaming him for taking him to the mall the night of the fire. Wrapped in his pain and grief he didn't see the same look on Buck's expressive face, even as he threw a punch at it. For being plastered he still had a wicked right hook. The punch knocked Buck to the ground, leaving him stunned. Over balanced Chris ended up tumbling down himself, finally giving in to the alcoholic oblivion that pulled at him.
The tears that filled Buck's eyes were from more then just the pain in his jaw. Chris' drunken words were simply the same ones that he tormented himself with one more then one dark, cold night. And Chris blamed him for the exact same thing. Hated him. Even Buck couldn't convince himself it was the just the drink talking. Heart heavy Buck dragged Chris back to his bed and tucked him into the sleeping bag. Chris was still his best friend, even if he hated him. Hell he was family and Buck wasn't going to just leave him. Though avoiding him for the next couple days might not be such a bad idea. The next morning when Chris woke up Buck was gone.
Chris didn't think much of it that day. He was simply glad to be left alone in relative peace, with his memories. He barely noticed the passing of the day and decided that it was too much effort to eat anything, so he simply finished off the bottle of rye be had been working on all day and fell asleep. Buck wasn't there prodding him awake the next morning, or the one after that. Chris wondered briefly if he had left, and felt a aching wave of abandonment wash over him. It turned to anger when he realized the cans of food by his bed hadn't been there the day before. Buck had been there in the night, but hadn't bothered to even stay until Chris had woken up. I don't need him to take care of me, Chris though angrily, I can damn well take care of myself. Muttering darkly to himself Chris set off to find his own food.
Buck avoided Chris for over a week, but he couldn't just abandon him. Buck knew once Chris was passed out it was very hard to wake him, so he contented himself to making sure the fire stayed hot during the night and he left food for Chris if he decided to eat. He was surprised to see Chris scrounging on his own, but the dark muttering warned him off of approaching. At least until the 2 met rather unexpectedly in one of the restaurant bars. There was an uncomfortable silence for awhile. Finally, more out of desperation then anything, Buck latched onto the first thing he saw and offered Chris a cigar. The blond blinked at him in surprise. A small smile ghosted across his lips as he pulled up a stool to the bar and accepted the cigar. He bit off the end, but since neither of them had a match on them; he just decided to chew on it for awhile. It had a strong taste, but compared to some of the stuff he'd been drinking it wasn't that bad.
The 2 headed back to their camp that night and settled in with some of their old camaraderie restored. Buck felt relieved as he lay curled up under his blankets. He hadn't like the last week, feeling like he was skulking in the shadows. He was pretty sure Chris hadn't forgiven him yet, but at least it was a start. Chris gave a soft sigh as he fell asleep. Even if he couldn't admit it to himself he'd missed Buck. It was good to have him back.
Buck scratched another mark in the wall and did a quick tally. It looked like March had begun a couple days ago. Chris was talking about going back to the center again, but had actually listened to reason when Buck suggested they wait until they could find something to defend themselves with. The next run-in they have might not turn out so well. It took nearly a week, but they finally found half a dozen guns in the security offices along with boxes of shells. Both boys knew how to shoot from living on the Larabee ranch, but that had been with rifles, so they both agreed that they needed to practice a bit with the handguns.
It actually didn't take that long to set up a range in the deserted hallway of the main concourse. And within the week they had both gone through a box of shells, becoming decently proficient with the weapons. Buck was surprised at how quickly Chris had gotten the hang of shooting the handgun, considering he was still drinking heavily. He had always been the better shot between the two of them, but Buck was sure he was even better with the handgun then with a rifle. He watched at Chris spent his time now, split between an open bottle and practicing with the gun. Not just shooting it, but drawing it as well. Sometimes, watching from the shadows of the darkened hall, Buck thought Chris looked more like an old western gun slinger then a teenager from the 21st century. He was sure it was in part to his eyes. Chris' eyes had grown old.
Later Buck watched Chris through half closed lids, pretending to sleep. The blond sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, a half full bottle of bourbon on his left and the gun cradled in his lap. His attention was on the hand gun, and Buck was beginning to worry about what thoughts were going through his mind. While Chris was no longer drunk 24/7 his black mood was as constant as the gun he now wore on his hip.
Chris knew Buck was watching him. He could tell even though the brown haired teen was pretending to be asleep. One part of him knew that Buck was worried about him, but most of the time he just couldn't bring himself to care. He had been thinking a lot about the fire. More often he thought about joining Sarah, Adam and his folks. But always a small piece of his mind stopped him. The part that still realized there was someone alive who cared. With a final gulp of liquor, which burned down his throat, Chris holstered the gun and curled up to sleep.
By the end of the month Buck couldn't put Chris off any longer. They made the trek back to the center. The snow had begun to melt a bit, with the weather warming, and Buck was grateful for the smaller drifts. They moved with caution this trip, keeping their voices low, not wanting to be caught unawares by any of the Devil's Dogs. Buck kept a wary eye out as he followed Chris through the Centre, but the world around them was quiet and empty.
Chris found himself back in the 'bunk room' staring at the charred and twisted metal cots, one of the few things that weren't reduced to ash. It killed him to keep coming back here, and vaguely he knew it hurt Buck as well, but he just couldn't seem to help himself. This was the last place he knew Sarah and Adam were. How could he just leave them? He sifted through some more of the ash with his hands. If he could just find something . . .
Buck watched in silence as Chris moved through the room, his hands darkening to the color of the ash he was digging through. Unexpectedly he thought he heard something, he swung his gaze from Chris' crouched form to look out the window. He strained to see anything amiss. There! It was faint, but in the dead city the sound of other humans carried. He hissed at Chris, who either didn't hear him or choose to ignore him. Crap, Buck thought. He was sure it was getting closer. He hurried over to Chris, urging him it was time to go. It took precious time for Chris to understand, but finally he gave a single nod and straightened up. Quickly brushing his hands off on his pant legs he lead the way back out to the street. He paused, Buck had been right, the yelling was getting closer.
The 2 teens slipped from the building and paused on the street, trying to gauge how much time they had. But even as they watched a single figure came out from the end of the street, quickly followed by a gang of kids carrying clubs. The whole works was coming straight at them. The 2 shared a look and ran back up the stairs to the Centre; they would never make it to the other end of the street in time. They watched as the first kid, who looked about 13, was overtaken just outside of the Centre. He was wearing the same cloths as the other Devil's Dogs they had met earlier, but the others were wearing bright, neon colored clothing. Some wore rollerblading elbow and knee pads, and another couple wore helmets. They pounced on the Devil's Dog, reigning down blows with fists and clubs, yelling at him. Buck looked at Chris, some how they had found themselves in the middle of a turf wars.
Chris' eyes narrowed as he watched the beating. Devil's Dog or not, nobody deserved to be beaten to death. Not now, there had been too much death already. He tapped Buck on the shoulder, pointing first to the gang outside and then to his gun, miming shooting in the air. Buck nodded in agreement, even half pickled Chris was a force to be reckoned with, and they crept back towards the door. The 2 stepped quietly out onto the front landing, the snow muffled their footsteps. Both hand their guns drawn. Chris glanced at Buck to make sure he was ready and then raised his gun in to the air.
The sharp crack of the shot split the air and echoed amongst the tall buildings. The group in front of them froze, stunned. It was almost comical. Slowly, as the sound of the shot died away, the neon clad kids turned toward them, their face slowly turned from surprise to anger as they saw only two. The ones in the back stepped carelessly over the downed teen to join their comrades in a loose line. They were a mixed group of girls and boys. There were seven of them.
The oldest, a boy, sneered at them, promising to hurt the two of them even worse for stopping their fun. Chris just looked at them and replied that he would shoot if they didn't leave. Buck looked at Chris, startled by the cold way his friend spoke. The Psychos seemed to believe they had the advantage of numbers though, as the leader signaled them and the group started forward. Chris pulled the trigger.
The sharp report of the gun was mixed with a scream this time as one of the kids crumpled holding his stomach. The others looked at Chris in astonishment that he had actually shot one of them. Chris, his eye casting a cold glare over the group, spoke only one word: Leave. They left, hauling the softly moaning teen with them. Buck hurried down the steps to check on the Devil's Dog while Chris kept watch on the others. By the time they were out of sight, Buck had the other kid sitting up. The kid thanked them for their help and was soon limping away. Chris and Buck headed back to the mall as quickly as they could. By the time they reached the mall Chris was shaking so bad that Buck was half carrying him. The only clear thought that kept running through his head was 'Oh my god, I think I just killed somebody'.
Buck watch as Chris tossed restlessly, caught in another nightmare. Only this time instead of the fire he was reliving the shooting. Buck decided to have a talk with him in the morning. They couldn't keep on like this.
When Buck broached the subject the next morning, Chris scowled at him. He was more then a little reluctant to give up his drink. He was afraid of loosing the temporary numbing peace that it brought; even if it didn't always help with the nightmares. He swore at Buck for even suggesting it, but Buck refused to give up; keeping after him on and off all day. Finally just to get him to shut up Chris decided to listen. He never realized how scared Buck was of loosing him. That night Chris threw away the bottle of bourbon he had started on. By the next morning he figured he was about to die.
When Buck woke up he found Chris covered in sweat, shaking and groaning. Scrambling to his side he propped Chris upright, calling to him and trying to get him to respond. He did in a way; he got sick, throwing up what little he had in his stomach. Buck quickly cleaned up what he could with a cloth that was in easy reach. Not sure what else to do he simply sat there holding Chris and rubbing his back. Eventually the blond fell into a fitful sleep. Considering the day, he found himself wishing that it was all a really bad April Fool's joke.
Chris knew something was wrong. He could feel his heart racing, his pulse roaring in his ears, covered in sweat. His first panicked thought was that he was having a heart attack. Dimly he felt himself being propped upright and Buck calling to him. The change in position made him realize he was covered in sweat. Unfortunately the movement also made his stomach lurch and he found himself getting sick. Other sensations faded as his whole body seemed to turn into one giant ache focused mostly in his throbbing head and rolling stomach. He could feel Buck rubbing his back but it wasn't really helping. He heaved a couple more times, but with nothing left in his stomach it did nothing, but add to his misery. He was almost relieve to give in to his tired body and slipped into sleep.
The next week was hell for both teens as Buck cared for Chris. The blond teen was miserable and Buck was worried. Chris was rapidly loosing weight, between the shakes that racked his body and the constant nausea and headache, what food didn't accidentally get spilled usually got thrown back up. At least he was able to keep the water down that Buck kept forcing on him. Buck feared that stopping cold turkey was going to kill Chris and he made a decision.
Leaving Chris sleeping Buck stole away to where he had hidden a store of liquor. He brought back two bottles of bourbon and a shot glass. He calculated it out in his head as he walked back. He figured on starting Chris off with 12 shots a day and then each week cut it back by 2. He glanced at the bottle; it held about 15 shots so he wouldn't have to go back until the day after tomorrow. Buck prayed he was doing the right thing.
At the ranch Chris had always been a light sleeper but now, without the drink, he found himself burdened with insomnia. Even when he did sleep he usually ended having dreams that were bad enough to jerk him back awake with a racing heart. Like now. He had come awake suddenly, only to find himself alone. Where was Buck? He thought as he looked around franticly for a moment before getting unsteadily to his feet. Christ, where the hell was Buck??!! He staggered to the door of the store, his heart almost racing more then when he had woken up. His brain refused to wrap itself around the fact that he was alone. Finally making it to the door he sagged against it for a moment before looking up and down the hall. He peered into the shadowy halls, straining to locate his friend.
Buck was surprised to see Chris leaning against the door when he got back. He could see the other teen trembling and hurried quickly to his side. He winced at the scared look that haunted his friend's eyes. He put his pack down beside the door and helped Chris back to his blankets. Once he had the other settled and the current bout of shakes passed Buck laid out his plan to Chris.
All Chris heard was that Buck was going to let him drink. For that he'd agree to anything. He quickly scrawled his signature on the piece of paper Buck held out to him, his eyes already on the bottle he could see peeking out of Buck's bag. He watched as the paper was carefully folded and tucked into Buck's front pocket. The he watch with a hunger that frightened him as Buck took out the bottle and poured a shot. Chris drank the first shot in a single gulp so quickly that he nearly choked on it. He could feel the burn race down his throat and into his belly. Warmth flooded through him. He held the shot glass out to be filled up again.
Buck sighed as Chris railed against him. Buck had just cut him down to 8 shots a day. He tried not to take it to heart; he knew in a few minutes that Chris would simply drop into a depressed silence. The blond had been on an emotional yo-yo. Buck wasn't sure what frightened him more; when the blond sat still and silent or paced like an irritable caged animal ready to flare into anger at the smallest provocation. At least he had stopped vomiting and sweating all the time Buck thought as he kept an eye on his best friend. He was even getting a bit of an appetite back, but still didn't eat enough for Buck's liking.
The day Buck caught Chris sneaking off to drink a bottle of whiskey he snapped. That was when he yelled at Chris, demanding if his was what Sarah would want him to be doing? Breaking his promises? Throwing his life away by retreating into a bottle? What would Adam think of him, the big brother he idolized? Buck knew it was a vicious strike against his friend, but reminding him of the 'contract' he had signed didn't seem to be working and if this was the only was to get through to Chris then he'd do it. He ducked the bottle Chris flew at his head and caught the smaller teen in a bear hug when he rushed at him, swearing a blue streak for bringing up Sarah and Adam. Buck held him tight as the fury quickly burnt itself out, leaving Chris sobbing into Buck's shoulder. Like his momma used to do for him; Buck simply held Chris, rocking slightly back and forth, crooning softly until sobs deteriorated into a couple hicupy sighs. For awhile Buck simply held Chris in the silence, letting him know that he would always be there for him. Finally Chris pulled away and roughly wiped his eyes. Squaring his shoulder he looked into Buck's eyes. He apologized for getting mad and promised to stay with the contract. Buck seeing a small spark of the old Chris in his eyes, believed him. By the last week of April Chris was down to 6 shots a day.
May had arrived and they both knew it was time to leave the mall. With the warmer weather the tribes were beginning to expand their territory and they were right between two large, mean ones. Besides they were running out of food. Chris was glad that his headaches were finally lessening to the point were he could go a couple days without having one. Buck was thankful that Chris was no longer bouncing between emotional extremes. He still had bouts of depression where he would simple sit and stare at nothing, but for the most part he was simply irritable, snapping occasionally at Buck to leave him alone. By silent agreement after leaving the mall they headed to the Center ruins one last time.
Chris stood beside the burned out window looking at the ring sparkle in his hand as it caught the morning light. The ring he had gotten at the mall the night it had caught fire. He had been going to ask Sarah to marry him, an empty dream now. I'm sorry baby, he thought, I wasn't there. I'm sorry I couldn't save you and Adam. I'm not sure I can keep going without you, but Buck sure is trying. Please forgive me. He carefully put the ring back inside the jeweler's box and held it tight for a moment. Chris knelt beside what would have been Sarah's cot, brushed away some ash. He reverently placed the box on the floor, his tears ran unchecked.
Finally he stood up and roughly dried away his tears. Turning to leave he stumbled, catching his foot on a loose board, falling to his hands and knees between the 2 cots. Ash billows up around him, but Chris didn't even notice. Something else had captured his total attention. Caught in a crack between 2 boards was a simple gold locket. He reached out, noting dimly that his hand was trembling, and touched the locket gently. He worked it carefully out of the crack and soon had the small heart shaped locket in the palm of his hand. He couldn't believe his eyes . . . the soot covered object was Sarah's locket.
Buck stood in the doorway and watched as his best friend grieved, adding his own silent prayers to the blonde's. His gazed moved back to the bright blue ball and soft teddy bear they had left for Adam, his own tears for those lost as well as those still among the living left trails down his cheeks. When Chris turned to leave he straightened up, shouldering their packs only to put them down again in a hurry at Chris tumbled forwards. Making his way across the room, he tried to bat the ash away from his face. When he finally was beside Chris he stopped and stared at the locket in other's hand. He would know it anywhere; he remembered when Chris had first put it around Sarah's neck. Oh My God he whispered. As the ash settled softly over the 2 teens Chris looked up at Buck, his eyes wide. Buck finally understood. It wouldn't lessen the pain any, but now Chris knew. Now, finally, he could start to grieve.
Buck and Chris spent most of May working their way north, wanting to get out of the territories marked by the Devil's Dogs and the Psychos. Once they were shocked to hear a police siren, but when they spotted the car they quickly hid. Two guns against a dozen kids on wheels and in a car were bad odds. They got lucking in scavenging and found enough food to keep them going. Water was a bit harder, but they managed to find a small standing pool and boiled water from it to fill their canteens. Chris was down to 2 shots a day, and both teens were thankful for it. His hands had finally quit shaking and he had been able to eat without feeling nauseated for about a week. He was still annoyed at his insomnia, but at least the dreams weren't as often lately, even if they still as bad. Buck was glad to see the color was coming back to his cheeks, though he figured it could have been more from finally getting outside into the sun then anything else.
When they hit the Cherry Creek they decided to keep heading north and found the nearest bridge to cross over. On the far side they found a sign nailed to a tree, a sign that offered shelter to strays at New Frontier. It wasn't much of a debate, both teens were weary and foot sore. It took them a better part of the afternoon to work their way around to the front gate and follow the path in. The first person they saw, a large teen with brown graying hair, was a welcome surprise to Buck. He hadn't seen Josiah in a few years, since he stopped going to the community centre to play basketball after school. Josiah was delighted that Buck had survived and welcomes both teens rather enthusiastically into town. Before long the two teens find themselves being lead up the main street, getting the grand tour of the town.
Chris is surprised to hear that nearly a half of the current residents were kids under 10. He let his eyes wander the store fronts as they walked. In the General store he saw a lanky boy with long hair helping an older girl moving some boxes. The teen must have felt eyes on him because he looked up, scanning the street through the window. Chris felt a shock of connection course through him as the set of blue eye locked onto his. He felt someone tugging on his arm, glancing over he saw Buck gesturing to the large building at the end of the street. Oh crap he though a Saloon. By the time he looked back into the General Store the 2 teens inside had disappeared.
When Buck had seen the Saloon sign he had asked Josiah about any liquor. The large man had replied that there were a maybe a dozen cases of assorted things left from the winter months. Curious Josiah inquired why he wanted to know. The younger teen cast a quick glance at Chris, who was trailing behind them, and then back at Josiah, the older teen had a flash of inspiration. Josiah assured him that all of the liquor was locked up in one of the old walk in fridges to keep it out of little hands. Buck grinned in relief; he didn't want Chris to backslide any. Glancing behind them again to check on Chris, the brown haired teen found he had stopped in the middle of the street. He wasn't sure what had caught his friends' attention, but he figured the blond would want to know where they were staying for the night at any rate and tugged on his sleeve. Handing over their stock of liquor to Josiah Buck arranged for 1 shot of bourbon a day for him and Chris and the rest as payment for their stay. He wondered idly if there were any unattached girls.
JD sat curled up in his favorite chair, his feet tucked under him, reading about the adventures of Tom Sawyer. He and Joseph had dragged the overstuffed armchair from the study to the smaller servant's room off the kitchen in October when they had moved everything else. He looked up from his book to check the level of the candle on the small end table, it was only half gone, so he still had a couple hours of time left. He tucked the blanket it a bit closer around himself. The heavy cover worked well to help keep him warm. He glanced around the room, taking in the small camping stove that proved heat, the pile of books and toys scattered about, sleeping bags spread out on bed mattresses, the beanbag chair on the other side of the table. A wave of sadness washed over him as he stared at Joseph's spot. He still hadn't seen any sign of his friend since he had been grabbed by a group of older teens on Halloween. It was nearly 3 whole months with out finding anything. With a sigh JD, pushed his long black bangs out of his hazel eyes and turned back to his book, trying to loose himself for a little while. He planned to look for Joseph again tomorrow.
The next morning JD dragged himself out of bed and ate a quick breakfast of Fruit Loops and a can of peaches before getting into his warm cloths. Making sure he had some food and a bottle of water in his backpack he headed outside. JD slipped through the snow and crouched at the edge of the evergreen hedge, peering carefully through it. Today he was a scout for the calvary on the lookout for renegade Indians. It was an adventure he had played many times as he tried to find his friend or looking for food. Sometimes he as other things: a gunslinger, Robin Hood, a knight. He liked variety. With the coast being clear he darted across the street as quickly as he could in the foot high snow. When you're only 10 and 4 foot 5 it made hard going when the drifts got deeper. Safely across the street he squirmed through the decorative bushes and headed through the yard. With luck he would be able to search a couple new blocks before it got dark.
JD made his way slowly home. He was cold, wet, tired and a little depressed. He had traveled far today and hadn't seen any sign Joseph or even the big kids who took him. Dusk was giving way to true darkness when the house finally can into sight. With a relieved sigh JD pushed a little harder to get back to get home, only to stumble to a stop when he spotted lights moving in the windows. What?! A cold shot of fear raced through him as older voices drifted to him on the cold night air. He scrambled for the concealment of the hedges that encircled the property. He pushed his way into their prickly shelter as the voices got louder.
JD watched a large group of teenagers, both male and female exited the house through the front doors. They were all carrying backpacks or bags of some kind, all of which were bulging. More then half of them carried bottles of various sizes, drinking freely from them and passing them around. A couple kids stumble awkwardly down the wide front steps and sprawled into the snow. JD recognized the bottles as the special alcohol Mr. Clark had kept in the glass cabinet. He had Joseph had tried a bottle one night and both gotten sick. The bottles hadn't been touched since. A couple of teens played their flashlights across the lawn and JD shrank back in his hiding place. Please don't see me, he thought desperately. JD shivered in his hiding place from more then just cold. Finally after an eternity to the small boy the teens righted their drunken companions and headed off.
JD waited until he couldn't see their lights anymore. He struggled out of the binding limbs of the hedge as his frozen fingers tried to open a spot for him to crawl through. Stumbling up the stairs himself, he managed to get inside without causing injury to himself. Fishing out his own flashlight he didn't get any further then the entryway to see the destruction the gang had caused. Numb from cold as well as shock he wandered mutely from one room to the next. Everywhere furniture was destroyed; mirrors were shattered, tall shelves toppled, pots and vases broken.
Dazed JD stood in the doorway to he small servant's room. His chair had been smashed, it's cushions slashed. Joseph's beanbag was ripped open, the stuffing strewn about the room. The table was reduced to kindling and the sleeping bag and blankets had been torn apart. The small camping stove had been knocked into a corner, badly dented.
Shivering again, more from cold now, JD headed for his hiding hole, a small space under the servant's stairs at the back of the house. He changed into dry cloths and slipped into the heavy sleeping bag, which had once belonged to Mr. Clark. Turning off the flashlight he lay curled in the dark. Tears slipped down his cheeks.
The next morning JD woke feeling a little better and decided to finish checking out the house in the light of day. Eating the last of the food stored in his cubby he added a couple more layers and headed out. It looked even worse in the daylight. The biggest blow was in the pantry. He trembled a little as he crouched in the empty pantry, looking morosely and the small can of peaches in his hands, the only piece of food left in the pantry. Where was he going to find more food and water? Maybe it would be an adventure, he thought, like in his books of the Old West. That would be fun, JD decided, to have an adventure and maybe find some cowboys.
JD spent the rest of the day hunting through the house for anything he could use. The best find was that the camp stove would still work. It still looked a bit scuffed, but JD had managed to fix up the worse of the dents and with all the busted up furniture he had plenty of wood he could pack up on an old sled he'd found in the storage under the back stairs. He added everything from his hidey hole except the sleeping bag and his outside cloths. That night he snuggled into the sleeping bag, his tummy rumbling with hunger. It was really, really hard not to open the peaches, but he knew he had to save them until tomorrow. It took a long time to fall asleep.
JD laughed as he danced and frolicked in the lightly falling snow. He was feeling pretty good right now. He had just found an undisturbed house with some canned goods in it, as well as some new books to read, and this morning it was snowing!!! Once he had seen the snow he had headed outside to play. Now the yard was criss-crossed with his footprints and snow angels. Finally he decided it was time to head inside and get warm.
Like all the houses he had found in move south, there was no shortage of item that he could break up for to burn. Melting snow on the camp stove, he mixed up some of the condensed milk he found and for a treat he added some chocolate Nesquick. Yummy!!!! Today had been a really good adventure!!
As time marched on it got harder to move with the sled as the snow melted, so JD finally decided to dump it. Loading everything into the sleeping bag he tied it shut with some rope. It ended up being about half filled. Letting the loose half flop down he fashioned a pair of straps and used it as an improvised backpack. Slowly the buildings changed from the grand upscale building to larger middle class. Now JD found himself on tree lined streets filled with small houses which stood side-by-side strip malls. Graffiti was more prominent here, as well as vandalism. It was harder to find a secure place to sleep at night, but he was getting really good at climbing trees to check for unlocked windows.
As far as he could figure it was close to two whole months since he had left the big house and he had yet to see another kid. Sure he'd seen the odd track or two, but they hadn't led much of anywhere before they had been lost in the snow. He was beginning to a little crazy, wanting someone to talk to. Heck he hadn't seen any other animals besides birds and mice. He was really glad there hadn't been any rats!!! He hated rats.
Then one morning he came across a small group of eight deer. They were walking down the middle of the street just as calm and quiet as could been. JD started at them from the front porch of the house he had slept in, and watched in amazement as a couple stopped to chew the bark from the trees no more then 10 or 15 feet from him. He watched in rapid fascination, from their twitching ears to their small furry tails. JD wasn't sure how long he had stood there, but as the deer moved off he found that he couldn't bare to let them out of his sight. Quickly gathering up his things he scrambled into his pack and hurried after them. He managed to follow them for nearly half a day before the loud cry of a bird startled them and they bolted away.
JD was really glad the weather had finally warmed up, the first few weeks of April had been cold and he was getting really, really tired of being cold. Actually he was just really tired. He hadn't eaten in a while and the rest of his supplies were close to being non-existent. His steps dragged as he made his way down the street, even his head droop as he looked down to try and make sure his feet kept in a straight line. He carefully followed the sidewalk and round the corner of the tall building. A shout from close-by startled him. His eyes widened in panic as he spotted a group of 6 kids only a few hundred feet from him. Even the youngest of the group looked bigger then he was. He took in the chest armor, swords and bright red cloaks before his feet decided it was time to leave and carried him quickly back the way he had come.
JD didn't make it very far before he was surround. His heart hammered in his chest. He wasn't sure what they wanted and he knew there was no way he'd be able to fight them. He kept a wary eye on the kid wearing the black crested helmet. For a couple agonizing minutes the only sound was the harsh breathing as everyone caught their breath.
Finally, just when JD felt like yelling just to break the silence, the teen with the red crest began to talk. He was Optio Janus of Emperor Marius' Imperial Legion of the tribe Romanus, and he demanded to know who JD was and why. In a rush of words JD told then he was John Daniel Dunne, but everyone calls him JD, and he was on an adventure to look for cowboys but he didn't belong to any tribe. He was running away from some really mean big kids. He was really tired and hungry. And what was and Optio?
Janus looked a bit startled at the flood of information, and replied that an Optio was like a 2nd lieutenant in the army. He asked if JD was carrying anything to trade. JD shook his head emphatically, causing his bangs to fall back in front of his eyes again. He pushed them out of the way as he told Janus all he was carrying was his cloths and the camp stove. Janus gave a shrug of his shoulders and turned away, gesturing for JD to follow. He told JD that he was a bit small for Legion armor yet, but if Marius liked the looks of him he would offer JD something else. The other 5 closed ranks around JD, cutting off escape even if he had wanted too.
JD was excited, Rome wasn't as much fun as cowboys, but it sounded like the start of a good adventure. He hoped they would get there soon. He wondered if they would have any food. The Romanus kids watched JD as he bounced along for the first block or so asking rapid fire questions about their tribe and where they live. As Janus gave his permission, the other kids were quite willing to talk. The further they walked though the less animated JD became. He was glad to hand his pack over to one of the others to carry for the last leg, even if it was nearly empty it felt like a ton of brick right then.
It was getting late when they finally arrived at the great museum and Janus took them to report to his commander Centurion Anthony. The large light haired teen took one look at JD, who was asleep on his feet, and sent the whole crew of them off to the barracks to get a meal and sleep. Anthony would present JD in the morning.
JD couldn't even remember what he had eaten the night before, but the porridge he was sharing with the dozen or so Legionnaires couldn't have tasted more delicious. He cast a hungry look at the partially full pot the cook was serving out of. He debated if it would be impolite to ask for more. One of the Legionnaires must have caught him looking because, suddenly, an arm reached out and snagged his bowl, passing it down the table to be refilled. JD blushed and mumbled his thanks as the filled bowl was placed in front of him. There was good natured laughter around him as the freckle faced teen who had grabbed his bowl told him to eat his fill.
Once breakfast was done JD sat quietly, his legs swinging back and forth, on the bench and watched the others get ready to go out on patrol. What was going to happen to him now he thought? Optio Janus had already said he was too small for the armor, and looking around the room he reluctantly had to agree. Fortunately he didn't have to wait long. Before the last of the legions went out on patrol Centurion Anthony arrived.
JD hurried to keep up with Anthony as he strode through the gloomy halls of the museum, lit by the odd torch or lantern. He was fascinated to see that Anthony wore a red crested helm, but his crest was turned perpendicular to the front, so it ran across the helm from left to right, rather then Janus' which ran front to back. He had nearly worked up the courage to as when suddenly they stood in front of a pair of wooden double doors guarded by 2 of the Legion. They both saluted Anthony and after one knocked sharply on the door, they pushed them open. Anthony pushed JD gently inside.
The abrupt change to an open, brightly lit room was a such a surprise to him that JD stumbled to a halt and stared. The room had 6 great pillars that stretched from floor to ceiling on both walls. Between each pillar was a large display case showing off the treasures of the Ancient Romans. Murals and mosaics decorated the walls. A large skylight shone light into the room, chasing away the shadows. At the far end of the room, on a raised dais, was a carved stone throne. It was flanked by 2 very large Legionnaires. In the throne sat Emperor Marius.
Anthony gently prodded JD forward to stand a few feet from the steps of the dais. JD wasn't too sure about this. Marius reminded him of one of the older students from school who used to bully him and Joseph. Following Anthony's example he put his fist over his heart and bowed. Straightening back up when Anthony did, JD looked Marius. Sandy blond hair was encircled by a golden wreath of thin leaves, his brown eyes tracked up and down JD, making him feel small. JD wanted to hide behind the large Centurion at his side.
Marius sighed, and told JD the best position he could get would be a house surf. He would work in the kitchens or in the throne room. The Emperor made a dismissive gesture with his hand, indicating the floor at his feet. JD's eyes were drawn to a small boy and girl, dressed in a simple white tunic, who knelt on either side of the throne with their heads bowed. JD blanched at the idea of becoming somebody's servant again. He knew he wasn't the biggest, but he knew he was smart, and he could take care of himself. Then JD got mad.
He drew himself up to his full height, put his hands on his hips, and glared at the older boy. Marius simply raised an eyebrow, until JD told him exactly what he could do with his offer and where he could put it. A deadly silence descended into the room as Marius' face went from haughtily indifference and became twisted with rage. Marius snarled out his sentence. Centurion Anthony was to give JD 20 lashes and throw him into the street.
JD could only stare in horror as Anthony bowed to Marius. When the Centurion grabbed his arm and began to drag him from the room, a stab of fear shot through him. JD began to struggle against the large teen, but his grip was too strong. He started yelling and hit him instead. All he earned from that was a rough shake and bruised knuckles from hitting his armor. The guards at the door smirked as JD was hauled through and down the hall. One of them offered to help Anthony, which was answered by a scowl. They watched as the Centurion and the small boy were swallowed up by the shadows.
Realizing struggling and shouting were getting him no where; JD fell silent and simply concentrated on trying to keep up without being dragged. Finally Anthony opened a door and pushed JD inside. Light coming in from the window showed the room to be an office, with tall bookshelves and a wooden desk. Following into the room, the Centurion closed the door, and released JD who quickly scuttled to the far side of the room. Anthony leaned against the door, looking sadly at the small boy. As time slowly passed JD realized that he probably wasn't going to be beaten. Finally he uncurled himself from the corner and stood up. Hesitantly he asked if Anthony was going to beat him.
Anthony gave a watery smile to JD as he shook his head, apologizing for the rough treatment in the throne room. He had to give Marius a good show. They just had to stay out of sight for awhile and then he would get JD out one of the staff entrances. JD felt a wave of relief rush through him, thanking Anthony profusely. The centurion put up his hands in surrender and laughed. He pulled a deck of cards out of his pouch and the 2 settled in to pass the time.
JD waited anxiously in the darkening room. Anthony had left a long time ago, promising to return with JD's bag and some food. JD paced the room again, keeping an eye on the door, willing it to open. Finally with a huff he flopped down in the chair he'd moved beside the window and looked out. The dark clouds were gathering even thicker, casting a gloom over everything. Even as he watched the rain began to fall in fat drops. Boy, JD though, I sure hope I can stay here until it stops raining at least. Finally, over the sound of the rain on the window, he heard the sound of approaching footsteps. He scooted to hide under the desk, just in case it wasn't Anthony.
The door opened with only a whisper of sound and within moments JD could hear someone walk in before closing the door again. Anthony called JD's name and laughed when he popped up from behind the desk, saying he looked like a gopher coming out of its hole. He put JD's bag down and pulled out a couple buns and some squeeze cheese, handing them to JD. While JD ate, washing it down with a bottle of water, Anthony explained that he would keep JD hidden until the storm stopped. Then he would have to head out on his own. His best bet would be to head east, avoiding Legion paroled streets, to find the Screaming Eagles Tribe; a group of military cadets. Otherwise he could head back North, towards the other closest tribe called the Mall Rats, but that would take him through Romanus controlled territory
As it turned out JD had 2 days to decide what he wanted to do. A long, boring 2 days. Anthony had left his deck of cards, but JD had been reduced to reading the archeology books on the bookshelves to keep from going stir crazy. He'd thought a couple times about going out to explore the museum halls, but quickly decided against it. With the storm still going outside the large, gloomy halls were a bit too spooky to be exploring alone, especially since he wasn't supposed to be seen by anyone. He had promised after all.
The next morning, with the sky clearing, Anthony arrived with breakfast and soon was leading JD through the halls, down some stairs and outside. Shaking the older teen's hand and thanking him yet again, JD turned his sights to the East. Moving quickly, he soon put the museum behind him.
April bled into May as JD made his way through the city, becoming slightly lost amongst the silent sky scrapers. He was hungry again, his food had been consumed days go. He hadn't seen anyone since Anthony and he was beginning to wonder if there was anyone else left in the city. He debated with himself between going back or carrying on. His adventure books never said anything about this. Finally, exhausted, JD found a sheltered spot beside a dumpster in an alley and curled up to sleep.
The patrol group found JD asleep on their way back to the base. After a quick discussion they decided to take him back with them. Sgt Harris bent over the boy and gave him a shake to wake him up. JD blinked owlishly, trying to figure out what woke him up. When the sandy blond haired kid in fatigues came into focus he scrambled backwards with a scream. The other boy quickly raised his hands up in a gesture of peace. Once JD understood that no one was going to hurt him he calmed down. Sgt Harris introduced the 4 man patrol to JD, offering him a granola bar. JD quickly accepted, bolting down the food, and soon the 5 were on the road again headed for the base. By the time they reached it JD had filled the patrol in on everything from playing with Joseph to his plans to find cowboys and adventure. The story was interspersed with questions that he peppered the patrol with. Harris was in a state of shocked over load by the time he turned the ball of energy over to the Lieutenant.
JD skipped down the hall, following Sgt Harris to the 'canteen'. Harris said it was were they could get something to eat, which was good 'cause he was really hungry. Lt. Samuels had said he could stay on the base for awhile, and if he decided to he could 'join up'. JD wasn't sure on that, he still wanted to find some cowboys, but maybe being an army man wouldn't be too bad. When he had told Lt Samuels about what had happened with the Romanus tribe he said they would teach him how to take care of himself. JD wasn't sure exactly what that would entail, but he liked the idea.
The first three weeks of May passed quickly. JD learned how to shoot the hand guns that all of the kids on the base wore as well as what to do if a bigger kid grabbed him. He was having fun, but there sure were a lot of rules that he had trouble remembering all the time. The thing he was most interested in was the stories that some of the patrollers came back with; a tribe in the centre of the city based in an old west town. That was where he really wanted to go; only he didn't know how to get there. JD thought about that for a while and finally decided that if anyone knew it would be Sgt Harris who was in charge of the patrols. Realizing it was nearly supper time, JD scampered off to the canteen. With luck he could find the Sgt there.
Harris was seated at the 'officers' table with Lt Samuels, Riley (Pack Rats leader), Sgt Clark and Warrant Officer Quinn. JD squirmed in his seat as he ate. One of the big rules was not to interrupt the officers table while they were still eating. Supper took forever!!! Finally Lt. Samuels stood up to leave and the rest of the tribe that was present stood and saluted until he left. JD waited a moment more until he saw Harris hand his tray to a waiting cadet. Slipping from his seat he hurried over to the table. He tried to stand at attention until the Sgt noticed him, but his feet kept wanting to wiggle. Harris decided to let the youngster out of his misery and signaled that he could come over and talk.
The words come out of JD in a rush, but Harris seems to understand the gist of it. He excused himself from the table and suggested that they go to his office. JD nodded excitedly in agreement and scampered off to return his tray to the kitchen before beating Harris to the doors. Before long JD found himself sitting in a wooden chair in front of Sgt Harris' desk listening with rapt attention to the little information the older teen could give him on New Frontier. Once the Sgt was finished he barely had to think about it, he was going to New Frontier as soon as he could. Harris didn't seem very surprised by this announcement and simply suggested that JD wait until morning. Morning seemed a really long time away, but since JD could see it was already beginning to become dark outside he agreed to wait.
The next morning JD could hardly wait to get going, but Sgt. Harris insisted on having breakfast first and then taking JD to see the Lt. for his official 'leaving'. JD was surprised to hear that Lt Samuels was sorry to see him go, but was glad that he said JD could come back and be a Screaming Eagle if New Frontier didn't work out. At last it was time to go and JD headed out with Harris and 3 others on patrol. They headed east for a few blocks before turning south. After four blocks Harris called a halt. The Sgt shouldered off his pack and dug around in it for a moment before finding what he wanted. Straightening up he handed over a holstered handgun and a small pouch of bullets to JD.
Harris' conscience nagged at him for giving the small 10 year-old a gun, but this was a new world now and someone who looked that innocent was just asking for trouble if he couldn't defend himself. JD drew himself up proudly as he took the gun and checked the safety as he had been taught before strapping on the holster. Squaring his shoulder he put on his most serious face and promised Sgt Harris that he would only use the gun in self defense. Harris nodded in acceptance and with a final reminder for JD to go south until he reached Highway 287 before following that back into the city centre to avoid the Romanus tribe, sent the young boy on his way.
JD was very careful to follow Sgt. Harris' instructions. He really didn't want to have to go back to mean old Marius. He made sure to keep to the shadowy side of the street and look both ways before crossing into the open. It took a long time before he finally spotted the signs for Highway 287. Once he spotted that and started to follow it back into the city, his spirits lifted. He became more and more excited the closer he got, spinning tales of the cowboy adventures he would have. When he got his first look at the Tribe sign for New Frontier he just had to stop and stare. It was perfect. A pair of 6-shooters crossed at the barrels with NF underneath. He bounced on the balls of his feet in excitement. He was getting close, all he had to do was follow the signs for 4-mile Park!!
JD made his way through the centre of the city, to the parking lot of 4-Mile Park and following the signs he hurried down the winding road to the collection of buildings that looked like they had stepped out of one of his books. JD was excited; he was finally going to see some cowboys!! He hurried a little faster. As he drew closer he could hear the raised voices of a large group, and they didn't sound very happy. Rounding the last corner he saw a gathering of kids and teenagers at the front gate of the frontier town. Some of the group were wearing six shooters and carrying shotguns. One of then was even dressed in a long duster and another was in a fringed buckskin jacket. Cowboys!!! No one noticed as he arrived beside the group. He caught snatches of conversation. It seemed that they were getting ready to repel an attack. Adventure already!! JD spotted a blond-haired girl about his size in the assemble crowd. He decided to introduce himself and find out what was going on.
New Frontier - June
Orrin, or 'The Judge" as many of the town's residents were beginning to call him, was troubled by the news that a couple strays passing through from the south had brought. The Psychos were moving North. He had hoped that the Cherry Creek would offer a natural border, but they had been growing more persistent since April. He needed help if he was going to stop the vicious tribe before they ever reached New Frontier. His gaze fell on the Saloon. He knew exactly where to look.
He found Chris in the Saloon's back table nursing his evening's drink, Buck was nearby at the bar talking with Mary. Chris looked up at his approach and nodded in greeting. Orrin took that as an invitation and sat down. Orrin simply laid it out on the line, neither he nor Chris were much for beating around the bush. The Psychos were coming and if they weren't stopped New Frontier would fall and so would everyone in it. Orrin wanted Chris to lead a group of teens to be New Frontiers "Regulators" to deal with threats to the town; the first being the coming invasion. They would get room and board. Chris studied Orrin for a few minutes in silence before motioning Buck over. He knew Buck would agree, both of them had already commented privately on the lack of protection for the children. They just needed a few more men.
Buck eagerly joins in and quickly suggests Josiah, who he knew could hold his own in a fight. He'd seen the older teen box. Chris decides to talk to Vin, a recent arrival in town, who looked like he could handle himself. Chris didn't mention the weird connection he already felt to the other teen. With a plan of action Buck bounds out of the Saloon to find Josiah. As usual the older teen was in the church. Josiah was silent after he had listened to Buck's excited explanation. He was conflicted. He had found a quiet place for penance and wasn't sure he really wanted to 'pick up the gauntlet'. The laughter of children playing outside the church caught his attention, reminding him of another group who had looked to him for protection. He couldn't stand by and loose them again. This time it would be different, he thought, this time he wouldn't be alone.
Josiah suggested they talk to Nathan. If they were heading into a fight it made sense to bring a healer along, besides Josiah knew that the dark teen could use his knives for more then just cutting cloth. Nathan listened carefully to Buck and Josiah, as they explained the Judge's plan. He easily agreed, with the stipulation that his skills as a medic came first. Neither of the other teens could argue with that. Meanwhile Chris had finished his drink and headed to the General Store where Vin spent most of his time helping Gloria sort and rearrange the stock.
The bell above the door chimed as he stepped into the store, and over the sleeping form of Ferrell who was laid out on the boardwalk. The dog opened one eye sleepily and gave a soft woof of recognition. He greeted Gloria with a nod, and catching Vin's eye cocked his head towards the street. Vin quietly excused him self from Gloria and followed Chris back out side. Vin leaned against one of the overhang posts, while Chris stood beside him. Anyone listening would have been lucky to count a dozen worlds between the 2, but Vin understood what Chris was asking. He agreed to stand beside him.
The 5 men all ended up back at the Saloon, where Orrin was waiting for them. He wasn't surprised by the group of teens who had agreed to become the Regulators of New Frontier. It was a good thing that Mary, Nettie and Evie knew how to shoot though. It wouldn't do to leave the town totally undefended when the Regulators were gone. The men gathered around the table and began to plan out their reception for the Psychos.
Their discussion was soon interrupted by the raised voices of 2 of the younger teens at a nearby table. Ezra and Lincoln, both who had been in town for a bout a week, were getting into a rather heated debate over the last hand of cards. Orrin frowned, this wasn't the first time he had had to talk to Lincoln or Ezra in their short time here. He had allowed the gambling with the stipulation that it only happen in the Saloon when the younger children were not present and with non-food items. Food and water were too hard to come by to be gambled away.
Lincoln was loudly accusing Ezra of cheating; the other teen was vehemently denying the fact. As the Regulators surrounded the table the 2 became quieter. Orrin studied the table. Ezra had the winning hand, and it looked like the pot was for a jackknife, a small ring and some loose change. Ezra agreed that he had dealt the hand, but denied any under handed dealings. Orrin put a stop to all of it by telling both teens to take their stake from the pot and call it a night. He also suggested that they if they would be remaining in town they had both better decided to get along. The 2 teens quickly gathered their things and disappeared outside. Orrin sighed. Lincoln rubbed him the wrong way, but he wasn't all together sure on the overly self-confident Standish either. With a shake of his head he turned back to the others, they still had some plans to make.
The next morning, after breakfast, the peace was broken when the sounds of a scuffle broke that sleepy silence. The residents of New Frontier gathered quickly from their tasks to the main street and were surprised to see Ezra and Lincoln brawling in the dirt. For being so fussy about his appearance, Ezra sure wasn't heeding it now and he held his own against the bigger boy. Orrin gave a pointed look at Chris. Since the announcement at breakfast this morning, Chris and the others were now official. Chris gestured to Buck and Josiah. The 3 older teens waded in to separate the combatants. Once separated, the 2 were hauled up to stand in front of Orrin. He just looked at them for a moment, only last night he had given them a warning, now for the first time he would have to expel someone from their tribe.
Orrin drew himself, to stand tall in front of the assembled tribe, and reminded all of them of the rules they agreed to when they arrived. Ezra and Lincoln had broken those rules even after warnings. Unless anyone had anything to add he would pronounce judgment. A silence grew. Orrin gave a mental sigh, he was about to speak again when young Casey caught his eye. He motioned her to step out. She was hesitant at first, but quick grew confident speaking in front of the gathered crowd. She told them how she had seen Lincoln approach Ezra and yell at him. Ezra had tried to leave, but Lincoln wouldn't let him. He had hit Ezra when the smaller teen had tried to leave, knocking him to the ground and jumping on him. That's when Ezra fought back.
Well that put things in a different light, Orrin though. He could see the mood of the gathered teens change. More then one dark look was shot in Lincoln's direction, and Orrin suspected Josiah had changed his grip on the youth's arms when he winced a bit. He looked at Chris and told him to help Lincoln pack his things and leave the 4-Mile Park. Lincoln was no longer welcome on New Frontier land. He asked Nathan to take a look at Ezra before breaking the gathering up. He watched from the boardwalk as the older teens herded the children off. Buck helped Nathan take a protesting Ezra over to the clinic, while Chris, Joshua and Vin propelled a rather subdued Lincoln in to the Saloon. With in 5 minutes the 4 were back out on the street. Chris lead the way with Vin bringing up the rear. Josiah kept a firm hold on Lincoln, almost frog-marching him down the street. Orrin decided to head over to the clinic and see how Ezra was getting along. It was about time he suggested a little community service to the younger man, he needed to show the rest of the tribe he was willing to help the whole and not just himself. The protection of New Frontier was a perfect opportunity.
Ezra tried to wriggle out of committing to helping in the coming conflict as much as he tried to wriggle out of the chair while Nathan examined him. Neither did any good. Nathan bandaged up his cuts and Orrin got the promise of participation. When Chris found out about the addition, when the 3 got back at lunch, his only comment was to Ezra. Run out on me and you'll wish you hadn't. Ezra took one look at the cold green eyes boring into him, he believed completely. Chris was not one to cross. The tribe had barely began their noon meal when Nettie arrived, from patrol, out of breath. The Psychos were starting their advance over Cherry Creek Bridge, and some of the faster kids were probably already across.
The news threw the small group in to chaos as people tried to go six different ways at once. Chris let loose with a sharp whistle and called the Regulators to get their weapons. They would meet at the front gate in 5 minutes. Orrin helped Evie get everyone else organized and headed towards the house. It wasn't long before the whole tribe was gathered at the front gate. Nobody noticed the small dark haired boy show up until he announced that he was coming along to fight the bad guys too.
Chris looked down at the dark haired boy with the wide hazel eyes, who had to be at least a foot and a half shorter then him, and tried to keep the shock off his face. The kid couldn't have been more then 8 or 9, no to mention; somewhere he had picked up a gun belt and wanted to come along 'to fight the bad guys'. Chris replied roughly that they weren't going on a nature hike and he could stay in town with the rest of the kids. Turning back to round up the Regulators he missed the determined expression that settled on JD's face. Buck didn't. He watched as JD was herded into the house with the rest of the kids, all the while stubbornly refusing to give up his gun to any of the older teens. Chris called his name, and for the moment he dismissed the small boy to the back of his mind. The 6 teens moved off at a jog, to Ezra's protests, to meet the incoming horde.
. JD watched from the window as the Regulators headed out and scowled. JD knew he could help. Sgt Harris said he was learning how to shoot really well. Just cause he was little everyone thought he couldn't do stuff. Well he'd show them!! It didn't take long for the older kids to become distracted and JD was able to slip out of the room and creep downstairs. Checking carefully to make sure the coast was clear he slipped outside. He would have to be fast to catch up, but he was really good at running.
Alternating between a fast walk and a fast jog the Regulators made good time to the ambush site. While Nathan, Chris and Buck set up behind the large rocks, that were once a picnic area, Vin, with Ferrell, slipped into the woods towards the fence. Josiah and Ezra headed after him to take up flanking positions in the trees. Vin was back within 10 minutes to report that they had guessed right and the main group of Psychos had headed directly at the 4-mile park from the end of the bridge. They were nearly at the fence. It wouldn't be long before they had it cut and were through. If they survived this, Chris thought, they defiantly had to make plans to strengthen the fence and make regular patrols. Vin ghosted back to the trees. They hoped to try and catch the other teens in the cross fire.
JD paused to catch his breath. Boy those other kids could move fast. He was happy with his progress though, he had kept the older kids in sight for the most part. Having seen them disappear into a large group of rocks all he had to do now was aim for that. It took him nearly 10 minutes. JD made sure to jog though, he didn't want to be out of breath when he joined the fight. He might miss something!! Sliding in amongst the rocks he presented himself to the first teen he found, a large dark haired boy with a friendly face.
Buck was surprised to see JD appear beside him, proudly pronouncing he was ready to fight the marauding savages. He called softly for Chris, who was to his left in the rocks. The blond haired teen slipped quietly into sight. Chris stopped dead and stared at the small boy standing beside Buck. A triumphant yell from the other side of the trees snatched his gaze away. It was too late to send him back now. The Psychos were coming.
NB1: In the Park the main buildings run on an East West line, Ed. Centre (E), Museum (M), Four Mile House (4), Old West Town (T). The main entrance of the Ed. Centre is on the N side- with a secondary exit on the south, the Museum entrance is on the S side, the Four Mile House entrance is on the W side and the Old West Town main street is entered from the South. There is a small old west cemetery (C) to the North of the Town at the tree line. The Indian Village (V) is to the South East of the town and South of the Ed. Centre. Parking (P1) is N/NE of the Ed. Centre and the Secondary gate is to the east (P2).
NB2: Set up of town
NB3: I have never been to the Four Mile House or Buckskin Joe's, so I took a poetic license for their configuration and content.
NB4: I have never been to Denver. I have tried to landmark were possible via Google maps, and apologize for any inaccuracies.
NB5: Later in June (~wk2/3) - needing more supplies the 7 head to Nathan's old neighborhood (meds and food), where they find other strays (Rain, Kojay (17) and his younger brothers Chanu (6) and Jonah-ay (5), and Yosemite (16)) and bring them along . Inez shows up later on the run from the Devil's Dogs and settles in the Saloon, taking over the bar and cooking duties (June wk4)