The morning dawned slowly, fog shrouded and dimly lit, as the sun skulked behind darkened clouds and gave stingily forth only a withered light. He awoke to the sound of a crow squawking its displeasure with the new day. The hills had a sullen glow about them, and it appeared as though the day would arise with a glower rather than a smile.
During the night a storm had blown in and blanketed the area with light, sound and lots of rain. He instinctively drew up his wool blankets to cover his head, holding in the warmth of his body and blotting out the light show. Soon the storm had blown through, leaving only the sound of the wind sighing in the evergreens, a sort of rustling sound reminiscent of bodies passing through tall grass.
Eventually the wind died down, its hissing replaced by the ominous sound of leaves dripping onto the forest undergrowth. The drips sounded like stealthy footsteps as they fell on the forest undergrowth. He woke to those sounds, and lay there, trying to determine what exactly it was that had awakened him.
There, the sound of the dripping was a bit louder, more evenly spaced. Something, or things were moving quietly in the brush near his hiding place in the trees. The fire in the Chimnea was long dead, so the smell of smoke was not a draw, leaving only tracking as a possible option.
Now he could make out two, perhaps three different patterns of movement somewhere below his little nest in the trees, advancing through underbrush. Slowly he moved aside the sheltering blankets, the shock of the cold air sending a shiver thru him. He silently checked his Mini-14: it was loaded with the safety on, as he always left it while he was sleeping. After checking in at the outpost run by Harold Blackstone's troops, he had switched to the stock 10 round magazine that had came with the rifle, a magazine filled with hand-loaded 85 grain soft point loads, crafted for taking down the larger game animals that were in the area.
He had a permit, signed by Harold Blackstone himself, allowing him to harvest 1 deer a month, as needed for sustenance. The animals in the area had greatly increased, driven south by the advancing glaciers in the north. It was not uncommon to see moose, caribou, bear and other large game animals moving south to better foraging. He had gone north once, to the glacial fields. It was very cold there, with freezing fog and sudden storms, a most uncomfortable place to be. He had observed from a hidden vantage point, the largest Trybe he had ever seen on the move, heading south into wilderness, what was once western Washington.
The 9.0 Richter scale quake which had hit the coastal area of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia had destroyed most of the built up areas, shattering the liberal bastion that plagued the I-5 corridor. Not built up now though. The pandemic that followed swept thru the area, killing 90 percent of the population. It was a shunned area now, visited only by the brave and foolish, searching for supplies. The organisms that had escaped from the Biolabs in the Seattle area had mutated some of the flora and fauna, and caused much death and horror to the human inhabitants nearby. Nature reclaimed what man abandoned, quickly and efficiently, so that just 6 years after "The Crash", you would not recognize the area.
Blackstone had set up his Fiefdom in the Rogue River area, in Oregon, fending off pressure from the Islamic's in the east, and the Latinos from the south. So far there was no threat from the Trybes in the north, but that could change as the glaciers advanced. He created a Protectorate that extended 100 miles in all directions from the boundaries of his Fief. The Rogue River had been relatively untouched by the seismic upheaval that devastated so much of the continent. The weather patterns had shifted a bit, but where had it not?
He rolled over onto his belly, his rifle cradled in his arms and crawled from the protection of his shelter to the edge of the platform where he paused to carefully peer through the cloaking branches. There was a blanket of mist below, hiding detail and adding a mysterious flavour to the early morning hour. He listened intently and could definitely determine three distinct sources of movement, as yet unseen.
He spotted the movement, not hearing it. It was definitely human in form. He could hear the other two, converging on his position from opposite angles. The figure he could see stooped to the ground and paused there as it studied some minute spoor.
"Damn!" he thought to himself. "A tracker. Must be from one of the Northern Trybes!"
On his northern reconnaissance he had run afoul of a small group of Stehiken Trybe as they tried to ambush him. They were mostly younger men, seemly just boys, and he detected them before they could spring their trap. He had killed two of the six, one with a shot to the head, and the other with a knife thrust into the throat. He then had to jump into the river to escape, and if not for the tether on his rifle, he would have lost it to the raging current. Some miles down the rushing stream, he dragged himself out of an eddy, and had laid up for a day, deep inside a briar patch.
Since that incident he had been followed, shadowed by an unseen entity, or entities. Rumor had reached him that the relatives of the slain youths were out for revenge. He was from that time on watching his back trail closer than ever, sleeping lightly and constantly on guard. He had way too many cold camps behind him, and wished to end the threat once and for all.
He gently eased the safety off the Mini-14, readying it for action. Not knowing the exact location of the other two intruders worried him somewhat. He wanted a quick series of shots rather than a protracted hunt and seek session. They were unaware of his position at this point and he did not want to have to abandon this camp because of its discovery.
He set aside the rifle and moved silently back into his shelter, retrieving the crossbow that hung on the wall. It was a break action model, not needing the clumsy cocking lever of the cruder designs. It had a scope that was sighted in for 50 yards, but it would send a bolt much farther. Here in the wildlands where his camp was situated, you could not see much further than 75 yards in any given direction due to the trees and underbrush.
He returned to his vantage point and could see that the tracker had advanced to within about 100 feet of his position. He slowly moved the crossbow into position and began to sight in on the man. Brush obscured his shot, for he wanted a head shot, to eliminate the chance that the tracker might cry out and alert the other two. The tracker moved to within about 50 feet, utilizing the brush as he advanced. He stopped, looked about as though trying to locate his compatriots and then looked up and locked eyes for what seemed ages. Hate filled them as he recognized the face peering from the cover of the trees. Then like a flash he raised his rifle to his shoulder to fire.
Fast as the man was, he was too late. The bolt leapt from the crossbow as a tense finger squeezed the trigger, the crossbow bucking against his shoulder. His practice with the weapon paid off as the bolt sank deep between the trackers eyes. Never a sound escaped his lips, and he sank slowly to his knees, then slumped to the side, swallowed up by the ground level mist carpeting the forest. In this brave new world, death came suddenly at times, with no announcement to warn of its proximity. So was the case for the tracker.
He listened carefully, but heard no sounds of hasty retreat to signify the end of the threat. He waited for a few more moments, and was rewarded with the sound of stealthy footsteps approaching his hidden shelter among the trees. He silently retreated to the small shelter and hung up the crossbow. Just below where the crossbow hung, was a large knife, a Kukri.
He slipped it onto his belt and swiftly tied the thong that fell from the end of the custom sheath to his leg, leaving a small amount of slack so as not to bind when he moved. The footsteps stopped at the base of his main support tree, and he heard the unmistakable scuffling sound as someone began to climb. He withdrew the knife from his sheath and moved closer to the edge of his platform, nearest to where the sound was coming from. There he waited, poised to strike when the target revealed itself at last.
First one hand grasped the platform's edge, then another, and then a forearm for leverage. Then the head appeared over the edge, a warrior's face painted for stealth and shadows with the tattoo of the Stehekin Trybe in the customary place on the left cheek. He struck with all his might and the Kukri sank deep into the skull of the warrior, the look of surprise and then fear filling his face as his doom fell upon him.
The Stehekin warrior fell crashing to the ground, wrenching the embedded kukri from his executioners hand as he fell, hitting branch after branch on his way to the ground. There was no longer the element of surprise, so he grabbed his rifle and began searching from his newly revealed retreat for the third intruder. Off to the right he heard the no longer "silent passage" through the brush as the last Trybe member beat a hasty retreat.
He saw the warrior pause and turn his head to see if there was any pursuit. Centering his scope's crosshairs on the warriors back, just above the heart, he squeezed the trigger and was rewarded by seeing his target throw up his arms and do a face plant on a small stump of alder that had been harvested for building material long ago. If the shot had not been a killing wound, the fall onto the sharpened stump surely would have.
He sat and waited, listening for further telltale sounds that there might be others about, but all was silent, even the complaining of the crows was absent. He waited for several hours, listening intently as the normal daily sounds of the forest resumed. The crows had resumed their squawking, calling out the locations of the dead, and the prospect of a meal once they regained their courage.
He checked his rifle and engaged the safety in preparation for his descent. He descended swiftly and crouched in the concealment of the large cedar branches, sweeping the forest floor with his gaze for abnormalities that might betray a lurker. Seeing nothing to cause alarm, he moved to the body and retrieved his Kukri from its resting place in the Stehekin warriors head. One of the cruel realities of the aftermath of the collapse was that the dead had no use for possessions, so they were left with none.
He proceeded to examine the corpse for more clues as to who had been pursuing him. On the right cheek was the tattoo of the family name within the Trybe. The small crest there was the Owens family, a powerful and large group. Well, they were at least one warrior short now. The warrior had been carrying a single shot shotgun that had been cut down to a longer pistol length. Had he brought that into battle on the shelter platform, there would have been no evading the spray of pellets. There was also a large sheath knife attached to the warriors belt.
He stripped off all the clothing, leaving only the under shorts for fear of disease. He rolled it all into a bundle which he carried back up into the sheltered perch in the tree. Moving on to the next corpse, the one he shot with Mini-14, he determined it was from the Timmons family, a small non-descript family within the Trybe. He repeated the process and found a .22lr Stevens bolt action that had seen better days. He stashed his booty from this corpse and proceeded to the last one, the one he had shot with the crossbow.
He had learned much about the Trybes when he was up north in Washington state. Many of the powerful families had once been much poorer before the collapse of civilization, power now being measured by how many boots you could put on the ground in an engagement with other families or Trybes. He knew of at least 3 other Trybes, the Columbia Trybe in south eastern Washington, the Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho, and the Freedom Trybe in south eastern Idaho. The Stehekin was the largest of the Trybes so far, composed of west side refugees and the remnants of the East side and Spokane area all gathered together.
He straightened out the body of the last intruder and began stripping off his garments and gear. This one had a large possibles bag, indicating he might have been a wealthy member of the Trybe. As he removed the heavy wool hunters shirt, the head lolled to the left side, revealing the family tattoo on the right cheek. He recoiled in horror at what he saw there. It was the mark of the house of the Stehekin Free Peoples, the house of the Chief of the Stehekin. After a few moments of panic, he resumed his gathering of the items stripped from the corpse and grabbing the sub-chief's rifle, returned to the platform amongst the bows of the concealing cedars.
It was hard to focus on his loot when panic was gripping him with it's icy tendrils. He pulled a bottle out of the wooden chest in the rear of the shelter and took several long pulls from it before replacing it in the chest. In a few moments he began to calm down and turned to examining his loot.
The sub-chiefs rifle was an AR-15, as was befitting his social stature. The possibles bag held 3 more loaded magazines and a cleaning kit, a fire making kit, some dried food and a small leather bag containing herb. He sorted thru the clothing and found that most was too large, the possibles bags yielding much the same as the sub-chief's. He cleaned the weapons and put them in a storage area under his bed. The rest of the booty he would search for any identifying marks and if none were found, he would sell them at the barter fair in New Hope.
He descended the tree and drug the bodies an adequate distance away and built a pyre to dispose of them after sunset so the smoke would not be seen, he hoped. He needed to be on the go and get back to his mission for Blackstone. Tomorrow was a new day, and he hoped to get an early start. As the sun fell behind the hills, he lit the pyre and retreated back to watch the flames from his platform. Sometime late in the evening, he quit watching the pyre and fell asleep.
The other eyes did not!
Consent Thou Not - “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” – Proverbs 1:10 John was a Christian, and a married man. He had been for almost five years now. Still s...
3 months ago