- The Wastelander - "A Tale from the Apocalypse"

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- The Wastelander - "A Tale from the Apocalypse"

Chapter One: Who the Hell is Phillip Kindred?

I don't know how long I was in that damn tube.

My first waking memory was the sensation of falling forward, my bleary eyes opening just long enough to see the floor rushing up to meet my face. Pain radiated through my skull, and the faint coppery taste of blood filled my mouth. As my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light of the room, I took in all there was to see. The floor, thick with dust in some parts, was bare metal tile. Against either wall was a row of Cryo-Stasis chambers, their corresponding numbers painted on the tiles at their feet. My mostly-naked body was sprawled across a great big "30"

No, wait... it was upside down. I was laying across the number 03.

The realization of what had happened was still sinking in. Why had I been placed in cryo-sleep? For the life of me, I couldn't remember. Maybe it was just the chemical cocktail, or maybe it was brain damage from being left on ice for so long... but I couldn't remember a damn thing after getting off duty and heading home from the precinct. After that, everything was a blur. Panic gripped me for a moment, but it quickly faded as I realized I wasn't alone in the room.

There, slumped against the wall with his chest ripped open, was the corpse of a man in a hospital smock just like mine. His eyes were wide open, frozen in shock. Just by the look of him, I could tell he hadn't been dead long. A quick glance around told me that whoever had done this was gone, but I instinctively began scouring the room for anything to defend myself just in case. All I found was an old Multi-tool. The blade was dull and the scissors were all gunked-up with cryo-preservative, but other than that it was like new. I flipped out the largest knife blade and held it out like a sword, slowly inching my way across the bloody floor and over towards the doorway.

The hall outside was dark and completely overrun with debris. Overturned medical tables and piles of badly-damaged equipment blocked the corridor, probably makeshift barricades set up by the staff before they were ultimately forced to abandon the facility. Of course, that assumed they had survived long enough to abandon the facility. There was always the chance they'd ended up like the poor bastard back in the lab behind me.

What about him? Who was he? What was he doing here, and why was he killed?

Say what you want about my priorities, but the inner homicide detective in me wanted answers. He also wanted his uniform, his badge, and his gun. I felt utterly naked without them, and that wasn't just because my bare ass was hanging out in the breeze. With a deep sigh, I turned back into the lab and knelt down beside the body. At first glance, he looked like he'd lost a fight with a chainsaw. It was only when I got closer and really 'looked' at the injuries that I recognized them for what they really were: claw and teeth marks. Those weren't what had killed him, though. No. That distinct honor was owed to whatever had caused the burn-like charring of the flesh on either side of his skull.

I also found a blood-stained strap on the man's left wrist. It read, in bold letters: "Philip Kindred".

Something about that name struck me as familiar, and yet... I couldn't quite place it. Was he someone I'd met during the time for which I have no memory? Maybe we'd met in the lobby of this damn place, waiting for our turns to be put on ice. Whatever it was, it nagged at me. I knew the man, somehow. I knew him, but I would be damned if I could remember anything about him other than the name Kindred.

I still don't know why I did it, but I quickly removed the strap from the dead man's arm and placed it upon my own. As I tucked the strap bearing my own name underneath, I caught a glimpse of light reflecting off something metal in the corner of my eye. There, just a few feet away, was a strange bronze emblem attached to a braided-leather necklace. Something about it gave me the heebie jeebies, but I couldn't just leave it there. What if it was important somehow?

Despite the thousands of questions running through my mind, there was only one which mattered to me right now. Finding that one answer, I just sort've... knew... would help me to find the answers to all my other questions.

"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

The next few hours flew by in mere moments.
I began by carefully stepping through the broken glass of the cryo-lab window and out into the overgrown field which had once served as its parking lot. Row after row of rusted out cars, trucks, and vans protruded up through the waves of tall grass as they swayed in the breeze. The grass itself was protruding up through the shattered remnants of concrete and asphalt, leaving me with a pretty good idea of how long I'd been in the freezer. This wasn't the kind of decay that happened over a few months.

I was looking at years' worth of overgrowth and disrepair.

Maybe decades.

Nothing beyond the parking lot looked familiar. The dilapidated ruins of a city loomed off to the east, but it offered nothing in the way of meaningful landmarks. The towering skyscrapers, which long ago must have been extremely impressive, now leaned at treacherous angles. In the midst of these dead giants, less-imposing structures stood in somewhat better condition. The elements were kinder to the sturdy brick towers and compact metal frameworks of last century's architecture. Even still, I turned away... back towards the small, bunker-like structure from which I'd climbed.

There were still answers to be found in there... I knew it. Whether those answers came in the form of facility records, or a face-to-face encounter with whatever had eaten Philip Kindred, I was less certain of.

Hesitation gripped me.

I struggled with my urge to run for five long minutes, just standing there out in the open lot. It was only after a sharp crackle of gunfire tore through the air, followed by an unearthly scream, that I truly made up my mind to duck back inside. Whatever was in there, it had to be better than whatever that howling monster outside had been. I practically dove back in through the window, nicking myself on the very same shattered glass I'd so deftly avoided before.

Safely inside, I left Mr. Kindred to his eternal slumber and headed once more for the door. The darkened hallway didn't intimidate me nearly so much as it had before. Maybe it was just adrenaline from the pain of being cut, but I charged forward into the darkness almost hoping to find some snarling beast waiting for me. What I found, instead, was a long line of sealed doors on either side of me.

Only one door in the entire hall stood open, though I use the term 'open' loosely. As I approached the heavily-barricaded doorway, the emergency lights in the hallway flickered to life. A plaque on the wall, spattered in a thick rust-colored mess that could only be blood, read Exam Rm. 17.

It took me a few minutes to dig my way through the pile of junk shoved into the doorjam, but what I found beyond proved to be worth the effort.

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

If you looked beyond the stacks of dust-covered computer cases, rusty old filing cabinets, and the blood-stained Examination Table shoved off into the far corner of the room, Exam Room 17 wasn't all that bad. With no windows and only one door, the room was relatively safe from whatever horrors lurked outside. It also meant the wind had a harder time sweeping in and chilling me to the bone, though by its very nature... the whole facility was a bit on the nippy end. Still, all things considered, it wasn't half bad. With a little work, I considered, it might even be possible to open up some of the sealed-off rooms. But that would be a job for much, much later. At this particular moment, I was more concerned with finding somewhere as far away from the gunfire and inhuman shrieking as possible.

Somewhere outside, another mind-rattling shriek pierced the air. Moments later, a single booming gunshot cut it off.

I spent the next few minutes in silence, waiting. After fifteen minutes or so of that, the only sound I'd heard beyond my own breathing was the occasional strained hiss of the Central Air trying to kick in. I stared at the sputtering vent for a moment and scowled. Somewhere, deep in the heart of this place, there was still power. It wasn't great, what with the flickering lights and the pitch-black hallways, but there was power.

I wondered if the same could be said for the world outside. The skyscrapers in the distance had all been dark. There was no electric hum in the air, no sound of distant traffic in the background.

As I rose up to my feet and prepared to venture back outside, I paused in the doorway of the cryogenics lab and glared down at Mr. Kindred's body disapprovingly. He didn't seem to be bothered at all by my condemnation. In fact, he didn't seem to be bothered by much of anything. Death had freed him of all worldly concern. I wondered how long it would be until death came back again looking for me.

I glanced down at my wrist, at the small plastic-coated strap which read "Philip Kindred" in bold black letters. Beneath it, hidden from view, was my own.

Until I knew more about why I'd been woken into this frigid, deserted place... Kael McClellan was dead.

As for poor Phil... He was about to become notoriously difficult to kill.

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

Loving this story. You have excellent writing style and an ability with cliffhangers, which leads me to say "more please".

I was greeted by a startlingly cold breeze as I stepped back through the frame of the shattered window.

This time there were no shrieks or screams, no gunshots, nor howls. There was only a strange and unsettling silence... like when crickets go quiet in the presence of danger. I was determined, however. I darted boldly across the rocky parking lot and hunkered down behind the crumbling facade of a retaining wall. I was just about to poke my head around the corner when I heard the distinctive sound of a man coughing.

The noise came from behind and above me.

My breath caught in my throat as I glanced up just in time to see the tips of a pair of filthy hiking boots appear over the edge of the wall. I relaxed for a moment as I realized that I hadn't been spotted, but that wouldn't last for long. It was only a matter of time before he looked down.

Thank God I was barefoot, or I'd have never gotten around the corner of the wall silently. As it was, I did a quick check around the corner and swiftly rounded it without a sound. The coughing man was still just standing there, looking out across the parking lot at the moss-and-ivy covered white walls of the Cryogenics Facility as I pulled myself up the wall and crept up behind him.

The closer I got, the more panic began to set in. What exactly was I planning to do, here?

I didn't know.

What I did know was that I was freezing cold. I had at least one shard of glass embedded in my foot, and more than a couple chunks of broken asphalt. My stomach was churning, hungrily. It only took one look at the thuggish brute standing there at the edge of the wall to know he was a bad dude. My instinct as a cop could have told me that much, but the string of severed fingers dangling from his backpack definitely settled the matter.

All I had to do was get close enough without getting spotted. Keep an eye on my shadow... keep an eye on the ground... inch a few feet further... and then I was there.

It was only by sheer dumb luck that I spotted the tire iron sticking up out of the cracked dirt just an arm's length away. It was more than a little rusty and badly bent in several places, but I had no doubt it would make do. I had to wriggle it back and forth for a minute in order to pry it out of the ground, but it seemed that my quarry had yet to find reason to turn around.

A slight change in the direction of the wind brought the scent of burning paper and tobacco wafting my way. He was smoking a cigarette. No wonder he wasn't paying attention...

Armed now with my tire iron, I rose up to my full height and made no further effort to conceal myself. There was no need.

With a sickeningly wet 'thunk', I took a full swing at the back of the smoking man's head. I heard his skull crack twice... the first as I shattered it with my improvised club, and the second as he toppled forward off the edge of the wall to land face down on the asphalt below.

He didn't even flinch. He never had a chance to. He was dead before he hit the ground.

There, in the grass beside the spot he'd been standing, was the smoldering butt of his cigarette. I crushed it out with my bare foot before moving over to the edge of the wall and dropping back down.

I stood over the man's body for a moment and reflected on my decision.

It wasn't the first time I'd ever taken a life. There'd been this Bank Job, back before... all of this. Three guys with fully-automatic assault rifles blew away a pair of security guards and took everyone in the bank hostage. I was with the DMPD SWAT unit dispatched to the scene. We were forced to breach the perimeter once it became obvious that they weren't going to negotiate for the release of the hostages.

The whole thing turned into a bloodbath. Turns out, some of the hostages were actually part of the crew robbing the bank.

When the smoke cleared, eight suspects and five hostages were dead.

But stopping a bank robbery is different from killing a man in cold blood.

For all I know, he could have been a great guy. Maybe those fingers were taken from rapists and murderers he'd brought to justice on his own terms. Maybe they were taken from fallen comrades, as a grim way of carrying a piece of them with him. Maybe he was just out there, having a smoke, looking for supplies to bring back to his family.

I would never know for certain.

But the odds were just as good he'd have killed me given half the chance, too.

The fact of the matter was: I'd found myself in a strange new world. Only the barest remnants of the old world I knew still remained, and those were little more than charred husks and filthy clumps of paper strewn about on the wind.

Cold and naked and hungry, I saw an opportunity to get warm and clothed. Maybe even fed, if I was lucky enough to find that he'd had some food in his backpack. So I took it, even if that made me into a monster. I'd rather be a live monster than a dead saint any day.

Besides... from the look of things, living like the saints hadn't done the world any favors.

That city on the horizon caught my eye again.

I harbored no illusions of finding civilization there. The place was dead... long abandoned and left to decompose at the hands of the elements. Still, it beckoned to me.

"There..." the voice in my head kept whispering, "... maybe there's something there. Maybe there's somewhere warm... somewhere safe. This place is death. Stay here, and you'll end up like the man whose name you've stolen. Or the one whose brains you just turned into Swiss Cheese."

Somehow, deep down, I knew the voice was right.

I had to get moving. This place was death. Perhaps there was somewhere safe in the city to hide, rest, and scrounge up something to eat and drink.

I stripped the dead man of everything he had. I took his shirt, his pants, and his boots. I took his bag. I took the binoculars from around his neck. I even took the lighter and cigarettes from his pocket. I found an empty canteen and a few bottles of dirty-looking water in his bag, but no food. I found a pistol, a shoulder holster, and a handful of 9mm rounds.

I armed myself with these.

With a deep breath, I put on the dead man's clothes and shouldered his bag. I laced up those filthy tanned leather boots and took a drink of water. It was warm, stale, and unfiltered... but that didn't matter.

My feet carried me forward across the cracked asphalt, headed East.

Headed for the city.

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

Chapter Two:
"Welcome to Battle Creek"

The highways were almost indistinguishable from the wilderness. At least in some places.

I tried to follow the road, but large portions of the asphalt had given way to thick tree roots and scraggly vegetation. The rusted-out hulks of cars along the way had long-ago been re-purposed into homes for the various creatures now calling this stretch of highway home. It was surreal... like something out of a bad SciFi Original.

That last bit made me chuckle a little. "So much for the sentient robots and flying cars, eh? Future turned out to be pretty shit, if you ask me."

The words had hardly left my lips when something stirred in an old, overturned station wagon just a couple feet ahead. I froze in mid-step, my hand instinctively clenching around the rusted neck of my bloodied tire-iron as the indistinct figure slowly crawled out into the street. It was only vaguely humanoid at a distance.

As I dared to move closer, it became apparent that the withered humanoid shape was in fact a horrifyingly disfigured woman. The deep gash across her face was only partially healed and visibly infected, and the tattered rags which passed for clothing were designed specifically to reveal the grotesque symbol burned into the flesh of her back. She tried to turn and run, but her scrawny legs buckled under her weight and sent her crashing down to the ground with a shriek of terror.

"Hey!" I barked, glancing through the grime-covered windows of the old wagon. A squirming young infant lay inside, wrapped up in hastily stitched together bits of paper and fabric. "You forgetting something in here?"

The woman stopped her panicked screaming and turned back to me with big, sheepish eyes. I couldn't tell if she understood what I was saying or not, but she'd certainly understood the sound of the crying baby. I released the tire iron and let it thump quietly back against my leg. That earned a moment's ease from the malnourished woman, who was now slowly inching her way back to check on her wailing child.

While she tended to the infant, I turned my attention back to the overrun patch of highway.

Compared to the relative safety of the Cryogenics Facility, this place left me feeling utterly exposed. Still, there was plenty of cover to be found and no small number of places to hide. Given the woman's condition, it would've been easy for anyone passing by to simply mistake her for a corpse. Actually, considering that awful infection currently festering on her face, she probably wasn't too far off.

I found myself glancing back over my shoulder at her and wondering whether that rot was going to get better or worse. Did it even make a difference whether I was helpful or not?

Something in my gut told me that she wouldn't make it much longer without anti-biotics. Even then, she'd still need stitches and some clean bandages to keep the damn wound from turning septic again. The odds of finding all of that here, in the middle of a highway's worth of unguarded cars exposed to scavengers both human and otherwise, were slim to none.

That left me two options:

1.) I convince the woman to bring her child and come with me to the city where our prospects might be better...

or,

2.) I leave her behind, go to the city, scrounge around a bit, and see whether or not there's anything there worth getting her hopes up over.

I guess there was always just the third option of 'Do Nothing'. Maybe some other folks would have taken that one... "No good deed goes unpunished" and all that noise. It didn't really matter, though. I didn't even give the idea a second thought. No sooner had it come to mind than did I push it right back down again. I wasn't going to be that man. I wasn't going to be the man who watched the whole world go to hell and just shrug it off.

One can be a harsh realist without becoming a sociopath. One needn't watch the weak wither and die when lending a hand is easy and safe. Selflessness will get you killed, but pragmatism dictates that practicality is what really matters. I like to think of myself as a practical man. I know that there's a certain amount of safety in numbers. I know that it never hurts to earn a little gratitude. But, more importantly than all that, I know that a woman and a child will garner far more sympathy from whatever passes for civilization around here than just me alone.

Not that I expected to find any civilization.

I turned back around to find the woman seated beside the car, the infant's dry lips pressed to her pitifully shriveled breast. I was immediately reminded of one of those old charity commercials from TV, where some B-list celebrity walks around through the slums of Africa or South America and shows us all those tired, filthy poverty kids scrambling around through the streets half-naked and starved to the point that their bones became visible. She looked up at me with exhausted eyes and waited to see what I would do.

I waited to see, too.

After what seemed like ages, I eventually stepped forward and seated myself on the grass and asphalt beside her. Out from my pocket came a cigarette and my newly-acquired lighter. I lit the end up with a quick flick, sucked in a deep lungful of bitter smoke, and promptly coughed it back out again.

This earned me a slight smile from the woman. I smiled back and offered her the smoldering cigarette, which she took and sucked on greedily. I spoke while she did so.

"My name is Kael." I blurted without thinking. "Who're you?"

The woman furrowed her brow and looked away abruptly. After a moment, however, she eventually responded with a dry, raspy voice.

"Mel. He's just 'Boy'. Prolly won't live long 'nuff fo' a name."

A sharp pang of excitement filled me as I engaged in my first bit of communication since getting out of the meat locker. I pushed away all thoughts of the man whose brains I'd bashed in just an hour before, and my worries over whether or not he had been a danger to me.

"Mel. Right then. You been here like this for long, huh? I was headed up the road a bit further, to the city. Did you come from there?"

If she did, then maybe it wasn't the sort of place I wanted to go after all. Regardless of her pending answer, however, one thing was abundantly certain.

It wasn't just me... the future was definitely shit.

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

I love your story, keep it up!

"No. Not tha' city." Mel stated bluntly, her bloodshot eyes drifting over towards the crumbling towers on the horizon. "Inn'a North... there's a place. T'sa bad place. You dunwanna go there. Y'ever hear sum'n talk 'bout Zom-Zom's... kill'em."

I nodded silently and brought my attention back over to the battered, malnourished woman beside me. Pushing up to my feet, I dusted the dirt off my jeans and turned my attention back towards the city looming to the East. Something was calling me there... that nagging little voice in my head kept assuring me that something I needed was there.

What exactly did I need, anyways, besides some food in my stomach?

"Mel..." the word came out a bit dryly, forcing me to clear my throat and try again. "Mel, I'm headed towards that city there. I might be able to find some food, and a warmer place to sleep. Would you and... err... 'Boy'... like to come along?"

It was a very strange, forward thing to ask of someone I didn't know. The grand totality of our interaction thus far had been a short bout of fearful screaming, a couple hoarse sentences, and now a proposal to travel together. It was almost laughable in its absurdity. Then again, had you told me that one day I'd wake up naked on the floor of a cold-storage facility, murder a man for his boots and pants, then venture out into a world which bears closer resemblance to Hell than any 'America' I remember... I'd probably have you locked up in the drunk tank.

And yet, despite the insanity of it all, here we were.

Mel's face was still scrunched up uncertainly as she spoke. "Ain't gunna find nothin' but death. Death'll find us here soonenuff, though. May'swell stick witcha, huh... least ya kin bury 'Boy' fer me once ah'm gone." She blinked at me for a moment, then added as an afterthought, "D'ya run inn'a a dogman yet, Mistah Kael?"

My brow furrowed nervously. "Dogman? Can't say I have. Sounds like bad news."

Mel laughed nervously and ducked her head in through the open back door of the station wagon, nestling 'Boy' into his makeshift blankets. When she came back up again, her expression had turned dire. "Ba-aa-aad news, dogmans. They's kin smell ya miles off, see. Stalk ya fer as far as y'kin run. They d'need t'see ya, or hear ya. Jus' gotta sniff ya once 'en then yer meat. Ya can't kill'm like a person, neither. Dogmans're tough... real tough... ripped m'old man apart like he weren't nothin. Old Man ust'a work steel down in Junk City. Big 'ol guy, him... but dogmans's bigger. 'En they hunt in packs."

My eyes fixated firmly upon the medical tag around my wrist. That 'Kindred' guy's chest had been ripped wide open. Was that the work of a dogman? It had to... I couldn't think of anything with claws big enough to do that kind of damage. Had he met the beast while he was still alive, or had he been dead for a while?

I suddenly found myself wondering if the damn thing was still inside the facility while I'd been rummaging around. If so, that meant it might not be safe to try to get back to that cozy little room I'd found. Least-ways, not without a better weapon than my bent-up tire iron.

While I was busy lost in thought, Mel had finished wrapping up what few things she'd collected in her ratty old sleeping bag. Once it was all inside, she tied the bag up in a knot and slung it over her shoulder... then knelt back down and scooped 'Boy' up with one arm. "We best git movin' if ya rilly mean whadya say 'bout findin' food 'n water."

I nodded in agreement, my legs already moving once more in the direction of the city.

"I mean it. We'll find what we need there. I've got a good feeling about it."

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

Mel scoffed at my optimism, but said nothing further about the matter.

We were on the move, now... a strange trio if ever there was one. It was a bit like the lead in to a shitty joke: 'A freeze-dried police officer, a half-mummified slave girl, and an infant walk into the wasteland.' The punchline, of course, is that they all die horrible deaths. That's the only real joke anyone ever tells about the wasteland.

Everyone dies horrible deaths. Not much of a joke, really. You just gotta laugh and pretend it's funny, because the alternative is to accept the fact that it's true.

The odds were not in our favor.

Even the voice in my head was beginning to wonder whether or not this was a stupid idea.

I guess the punchline to the joke is that we didn't die horribly.

No, we didn't even die bravely or fearlessly. We just kept right on living... walking forward down that road until the sun was nearly sunk back down behind the tops of the trees behind us. Finally, as the light began to fade, we reached our destination. There ahead of us was a weathered green sign hanging by a single bolt from the face of the overpass.

It read, in faded white letters:

[Exit Only] Next Right
Battle Creek - 1/2 mile

I couldn't help myself but to burst out into laughter. We'd made it. Tired and starving and thirsty as we were, we'd made it! Mel even managed to force up a small bit of enthusiasm, smiling brightly as she walked over to settle in against the chipped and cracking concrete wall.

I had just started off in that direction myself when I caught a glimpse of something shimmering faintly across the road.

I diverted my course subtly, motioning for Mel to stay where she was before maneuvering across the highway. If that reflection was what I hoped it was, it would be nothing short of a miracle. We'd drank the last of our water long before the sun had begun to set. Now that darkness was almost on us, there would be enough to worry about just to try and keep warm... adding extreme dehydration on top of the bone-chilling cold was not something I'd been looking forward to.

As I stepped off the road and out into the field, a brief gust of wind shifted the tall grass just enough for me to get a glimpse of the river's edge.

That was all I needed to see. I immediately broke out into a sprint, un-shouldering my backpack along the way. By the time I reached the water, I had two dirty plastic bottles in hand. Both were plunged in deep and held there until the bubbles of air stopped. I filled the third alone, and my canteen last, then stuffed the whole lot of them back into my bag and zipped it back up.

I was about to climb back to my feet when I realized something I hadn't noticed before.

The river, in spite of its proximity to the city, was quite full of fish. It was thriving so much so, in fact, that all I had to do to catch a couple of them was dig up a worm and tie it onto a loose bit of string I found in the bottom of the bag. I would have gotten three, but the slippery bastard ate my worm and took the whole damn string with it... yanked it right out of my hand.

Still, a couple of fish were better than nothing! At least we'd have food.

Mel was waiting right where I'd left her when I got back, once again staring idly into space while 'Boy' hungrily suckled from her what little nourishment she had to offer. I wasted no time dropping a bottle of water into her lap, anxious to go set up a fire and get those fish cooking.

The bottle of water and the sight of those fish earned me another of Mel's rare smiles. For just a fleeting moment, it was almost as if she'd forgotten whatever monstrous things had happened to her.

While Mel sipped conservatively at her water, I went around gathering up any dry twigs, sticks, or other bits of flammable material I could find in the immediate area. A nearby dead tree provided me with a couple of branches long enough to serve as skewers, while one of the cars I rummaged through on the overpass yielded a camping bag filled with smaller-sized versions of kitchen cutlery and various pots and pans. I snatched up the whole bag, stuck the branches inside of it as well, and carried the whole lot of it back over to our little camp site.

Mel watched me building the fire. She even helped me pile up some stones to make a small fire-pit. I wasn't much of an outdoorsman myself, but that didn't seem to matter. Mel knew even less about survival than I did. If she picked up a few tidbits that I managed to pull out of my ass from half-watching old episodes of National Geographic... at least it was something.

The only part she shied away from was when I started gutting and cleaning the fish.

She never did say what, but I could tell something about the process had repulsed her. It certainly didn't stop her from stuffing her face once I'd fried 'em up over the fire, so I decided not to press any further.

As we lay there, the three of us huddling for warmth beneath one grungy old sleeping bag, my thoughts turned to the star-filled sky above.

What happened? How did things get so bad? What am I doing here?

The questions went on and on, endlessly, until before I knew it I'd fallen into a fitful and contemplative sleep.

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"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

I awoke to the sounds of a crying baby and jerked upright.

The sound was distant, and it took me a minute of anxiously looking around before I spotted Mel and the fussing baby strolling through the field on the other side of the highway. I checked to make sure that the fire had completely died out before standing up and heading across the road as well. The air was still cold, despite the early rays of daylight, and I shivered once or twice as the wind managed to worm its way through the fabric of my clothes. Mel, who was much less covered than I, seemed to hardly notice the cold.

Mel was already sitting at the edge of the water with 'Boy' by the time that I arrived. I'd stopped to poke my nose into a couple of the wrecks along the way, fishing a seemingly unopened First-Aid Kit out of the back of a utility van. I settled down beside Mel and her squirming infant, the metal box in my lap, and fiddled with the metal latch holding it shut. It took me a while to get it opened, but it certainly turned out to be worth the effort.

There were bandages, pill bottles, scissors and thread. There was a rubber tourniquet too, as well as a pair of tweezers and a medical-grade needle for applying stitches in the field. At the very bottom, a small cardboard box labeled 'morphine' was neatly-packed with plastic-tipped hypodermics.

My first order of business was determining the contents of the pill bottles.

Two were generic Acetaminophen, red-and-white capsules with obscure medical codes printed on them. The next was a bottle of Amoxicillin, precisely what I'd been hoping to find in the city to help with Mel's infection, though I couldn't be sure whether or not the one bottle was enough. The last of the bottles was a prescription sedative, one of those off-brand names I can never remember. Ambiquil or Sombria or something like that.

The important part, really, was the anti-biotics. Stitching up the wound would help, and clean bandages were definitely a plus, but stopping that ugly infection was a life-or-death situation.

I just hoped there were enough pills left in the bottle to do the job.

Beside me, Mel was more interested in watching the fish than watching me sort through medical supplies. There were still an abundance of them splashing about in the river, occasionally causing a fit of near-girlish laughter from Mel as they flopped about through the air. I caught myself watching her watch the fish more than once. It really was something to see... you could almost forget that she was half-starved and withered with disease.

"D'fishes be speshully wriggly t'day... s'pose y'll ketchuss s'more?" she asked, grinning toothily.

Shrugging, I closed the first-aid kit back up and set it on the ground beside me. "Probably. Might not even need to catch 'em, if they keep jumping like that." I stood, then, and began stripping out of my disgustingly filthy clothes. I'd yet to check all the pockets of my jeans, but a quick feel about revealed them to be empty.

So, off they went, much to the amusement of my newfound traveling companion.

"Yeah, yeah... laugh it up..." I grumbled, abandoning my clothes up on the bank and slipping down into the freezing cold water. "You're next. You've got to be clean if you want me to help with your injuries."

Mel's smirk faded, but it didn't last for long. "Y'be seerus, then? Yagunna be teck'n care'o Mel 'n her Boy, isya? Gotta be sumkinda idjit, you. Jus' gon' git yo'self deaded, Mistuh Kay."

Even as she spoke the words, she lifted up her rags and cast them off into the grass behind us. I watched out of the corner of my eye as she slid butt-first down into the river, sending fish scattering off in every which way. Was this really the way the world worked, now? Was someone doing something even remotely decent a completely unheard of thing? I had my own selfish reasons for not wanting to travel alone... but even that seemed to be an unheard of kindness when compared to the brutality of the rest of the world.

I fished out an already-dirty clump of rags from my backpack and handed one over to Mel, who took it silently and set about cleaning herself up. I didn't much feel like speaking either. There were a lot of things weighing on my mind, and I saw no reason for troubling Mel with them.

She had her own troubles. The whimpering infant clinging to her shoulders was just one of them.

=[o]= Signature =[o] =

"Who the hell is Philip Kindred?"
The Wastelander: A Tale from the Apocalypse

This is good stuff man keep it coming :D

Think!! Before you act... Or die and post funny stories :)

Possibly the greatest survival story I've ever read.
MOAR. please.

"How do you play NEO Scavenger?"
"I kill people and steal their shoes."
Welcome to Hobo Simulator 2014