Future Distorted - Cover

Future Distorted

Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard

Chapter 9: Winter's Education

Heather drove the fishing boat back to the island; James fell asleep. Getting him off the boat and into the tent was interesting in a herculean sort of way. Heather and I manhandled him off the boat, nearly dumping him into the freezing waters of the lake. The sun was well up and James was only able to be barely wakened to semi-consciousness by our jostling; not nearly enough to help us out.

Panting, Heather and I grinned at each other after tucking him in. "Breakfast?" Heather said hopefully.

I sighed. "You're hungry, too?" I asked plaintively. "I was hoping all the meat we ate last night would tide us for a few days, but we still seem to be requiring as much or more food as often as normal humans."

"Don't animals who hunt eat a lot of meat at one meal?" she asked intelligently. "Like a tiger eating a whole deer and then not eating for a week or so? We only ate a couple of roasts between us last night."

Grimacing, I nodded at the sense of that. "And we ate till we were full last night. I guess that means our stomachs have not changed as much as some of the rest of our bodies. Let's get another roast out and stir up the fire. Then we can get some rest. Hopefully we won't have any more uninvited guests."

The next few days were tense but quiet. For the first time in over a week, we found ourselves getting bored. To combat that, we began practicing with our swords, teaching Heather to defend herself. James taught us some unarmed stuff and a few things he learned for knife fighting, but the Marine Corps doesn't do much training in swordcraft. Most of what we practiced we based on stuff I remember from various movies and TV shows that was adjusted for practicality by James' knowledge of combat. He also taught us a few things about hunting and trapping, showing us how to make snares and explaining the basics of tracking animals.

We kind of got into a routine after that. In the morning, before the sun rose and we lost James, we would eat breakfast together when Heather woke up and watch the sun rise. We would practice our hunting skills for a short time and then James would go to bed and Heather and I would practice fighting with each other for an hour or so. We would then patrol the perimeter of the isle, looking for any movement on the lake or on the mainland. Lunch would be followed by a nap. We would all kind of wake up together around sunset to eat dinner and then patrol the isle again. Heather and I would head to bed a few hours before midnight. I would wake up from my light doze sometime after midnight to share the night watch with James.

The next couple of weeks followed that pattern, broken only by us spending three days huddled together in the tent under all of the blankets and clothes we had when an arctic front came roaring through, dumping three feet of snow on us and freezing the boats solidly to the island. When the front passed, the sky looked even worse than before, going from greasy purple to brownish purple.

A few days after the blizzard, I realized we missed Christmas. It came and went with no fanfare. Not that the three of us had anywhere to shop for gifts and, as far as we knew, our families were either dead or mutated. I sat up one night brooding about it, depressed. Christmas was always my favorite time of year, even if I couldn't bring myself to believe in its purpose. I loved the spirit and pageantry associated with the holiday more than the religious nature and the o'erweening materialism that had consumed it. I missed the dinners at friends' and relatives' houses and the fun involved in trying to get the perfect gift for nieces and nephews. It was a holiday for family and reflection on the year swiftly passing, looking forward to what the New Year would bring.

I kind of lost track of the days by that point so I wasn't sure if December 31st had passed yet or not, but I already knew the New Year was going to suck even more than the last few weeks.

Almost a month after our late night battle, we realized we were running through our food pretty quickly. A week after the blizzard, Heather and I spent a freezing day digging the fishing boat out from under the snow and ice. After a very short discussion about it, we took one of the other tents, some food, weapons, and a rifle for each of us to the mainland on a hunting trip.

By day, Heather and I would try to use what we learned to bring in some deer, a bear, anything that would supplement our supplies. At night, James would wake up and show us how to set snares around the area we camped in until Heather got too cold. She would retire to the tent to sleep and keep warm in the sleeping bags while I stood watch. James would take his rifle and go hunting by himself. He was on the lookout for not only animals we could eat but also any more marauders. That was what he called our uninvited guests.

James had a cousin who was a survivalist. Dude was nuttier than a box of Peanut M&Ms but had cornered James at a family reunion and told James all about the Apocalypse and what it would look like as civilization broke down. According to James' cousin, there would be survivors who hunted, gathered, and scavenged as they tried to rebuild civilization and there would be marauders who would prey upon the survivors because it was easier than finding food and equipment themselves.

We spent two weeks going from the cove in which we hid the fishing boat on the south shore to the west bank of the river in the north. We caught a few small animals with our snares each day and finally ran into a small herd of deer the day before we headed back to the boat, killing three of them. James showed us how to field dress them to make them easier to carry back to camp. He also showed us how to skin them and we made frames to stretch them out for scraping and drying. None of us knew how to tan the hides to preserve them but that was not something we needed to worry about until it started to get warmer. We did the same with the rabbit and raccoon hides. It was both an amusing and an educational trip. Amusing because Heather spent a lot of it straining between being totally grossed out and salivating uncontrollably with hunger as she learned what to do with what we killed.

At the end of the two weeks, James and I carried the deer carcasses on a pole between us while Heather pulled a makeshift sled with the tent and other stuff. It took us three times as long to get back to the boat as it did for us to walk north in the first place. We wound up having to chip the boat out of the ice that had formed while we were away, but it was quickly done and we were on our way back home.

I grimaced at that thought as James piloted the boat northward to the island. That windswept, nearly barren bit of sandy dirt sticking up out of Lake Moomaw had become "home" in my mind. There was no way we could stay there forever. Come summer, there would be too many things drawing us to the shore for us to stay on the island. I was already thinking about relocating us to the small peninsula near the dam. If we were to build a wooden palisade across the neck and around the shore, we could probably be pretty secure there while giving us better opportunity to explore the surrounds and maybe even scavenge farther out from the lake. I especially wanted to plan a trip down Blacksburg way to raid the university library there, whether I went alone or we all went. There were things we needed to know how to do if we were going to make this surviving Armageddon's Coming work. Not the least being how to tan hides now that we had some to work with. We would not be able to pop down to the local Walmart when our clothes began to give out.

"I know that look," James shouted over the noise of the boat's engine. "You're thinking about something."

I grimaced again and nodded. "I was thinking we can't stay on that island forever. As our midnight guests showed, it is too exposed and hard to defend. If we had not raided Walmart before we fled DC they would have overwhelmed us with their numbers. Our guns and my seeming immortality are not going to be able to carry the day every time someone tries us," I shouted back grimly. "I was contemplating that peninsula by the dam as a possible site for a fortified home. If we can get a palisade up, it would be more than we would need and it could give us room for supplies. I was going to say a garden as well but we all seem to have gone more than a bit carnivorous."

He shrugged. "Actually, I don't mind the fruits and veggies we took," he admitted sheepishly. "I have been eating them since you and Heather don't seem to care for them. I know you guys force yourselves to eat a little bit, but I see the faces you pull as you do. I know we don't have a whole bunch of them since you did the shopping on our way out, but I wouldn't mind a little variety in my diet."

I gave him a look that was half-amused, half-interested. He seemed to have kept more of his human physiology than his bearish exterior seemed to indicate. I wish I was a biologist instead of a historian. Historians were going to be rather useless for a while, if they ever again became necessary. History is dependent upon civilization and civilization went bye-bye. If we could jump-start it again, I might become useful once more, but until then I was more useful because of my ability to heal and the monsters' disdain for how I tasted.

The island came into view just after the sun rose and we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw all of the boats where they belonged and no evidence that anyone visited while we were gone. We had to use my claymore to break up the ice closer to the island in order to beach the boat. After unloading the deer, rabbits, raccoons, and other stuff from the boat, we got to work. Heather put all of our personal stuff away before joining me by the hole in the snow James and I dug. It was going to be a freezer of sorts for us while the snow lasted. James pulled out a knife and started a yawn-filled tutorial on how to disassemble an animal into its constituent parts and what was useful and what needed to be discarded. By the time he was done with the first deer I thought I had it down pretty well. Well enough, anyway, for James to hand me the knife as I put his lesson into practice. When I was done, Heather got her turn. She was grimacing and salivating through the entire process and jammed a hunk of shoulder meat into her mouth when she finally finished, chewing with a grossed out snarl on her face.

Swallowing, she shuddered. "That is so gross and sooo good," she complained, putting down the knife and washing her hands with some snow. "Why the hell does it have to taste so good raw?"

I picked up a piece and took a bite, chewing blissfully. "Damn, you are right! That was delicious," I said after swallowing before popping the rest of the hunk of deer in my mouth.

James was now the one who looked grossed out. "That is disgusting," he replied, spacing out the words and emphasizing each with his revulsion. Shaking his head, he grabbed his knife and left us to our raw deer as he went for the tent and sleep.

Heather and I gorged on the deer before putting the rest away in the snow chest we made and throwing some tarp over it and piling more snow over that. We then got our weapons and patrolled the island. Despite the sun coming up behind the scud of dark brownish purple, it actually seemed to get colder. The ice we had chipped and broke to beach the boat was frozen solid around all of our watercraft by noon and by dusk the ice had extended a dozen feet out from the island. The air temperature plunged with the coming night and James found Heather and me huddled together near the fire. He threw another log on the fire and looked at us with a measuring expression, seemingly indifferent to the arctic-like chill.

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