The End Of Our World As We Knew It.
A short story by Keith H. Burgess.©
I struggled on, the weight of Lisa and our supply of water on the travois felt immense. Only mind over body was keeping me moving forward now. It was hot and my boots felt as if they had lead soles. I dragged the travois into the shade of a large rock, and after giving some water to Lisa, I sat down to rest.
What had happened? Where were the rest? We had arranged half jokingly to meat at Rays place if it all went to hell in a hand cart, not really believing that Armageddon would happen. Well it had all gone to hell, slowly at first, and then push came to shove. But no one was there, Ray and his family were gone and the place had been ransacked. Lisa had the little Berretta .22 auto, and I had my customised 308. The ammo weighed a ton for the 308 but we had plenty of .22 ammo.
One shot kills with the 308 were not difficult, but we wasted a lot of the meat. It just didn’t keep in the heat. Cooked meat lasted a little longer, but we both got very sick at one stage unable to travel for several days. After that we weren’t game to carry meat for more than a day. The 308 ammo didn’t last long so I ditched it and fell back on the .22. But one shot kills at the distance I was shooting were not possible, and once again the ammo was going fast; funny how you can be content to shoot one round at a time with a repeater, but as soon as you pick up a semi-auto you just can’t stop pulling that trigger.
Night must have come and gone but I don’t remember. I lay there in the sun not able to move. I called to Lisa but she did not answer. First had come the hike in food prices so more and more people were scavenging the grocer’s throw out bins. Then there were no bins, it was all for sale. There were more people living on the streets, I figured we could go and camp out at Ray’s parents place if it got any worse. Then overnight it all changed. Food prices and accommodation were no longer an issue. The worst had happened and we had to get out of town.
I remember movement, I was moving. I was being carried. My face was covered by a wet cloth but I could not move my arms. Then darkness and then I was in a supermarket. All the shelves were empty and covered by dust. My mother was there saying “there is nothing here Rob”, and then Lisa was taking me by the hand and leading me outside into the bright sunlight.
I heard voices but could not open my eyes. I felt….I don’t remember what I felt, heavy maybe, tired, then I was in my parent’s garden. Finally I woke to find Lisa stroking my hair. I lay on a bed of bracken fern up off the ground. What happened I asked where are we? “They say a Ranger found us and then a group of them brought us back here”. I tried to sit up but couldn’t. Lisa said “Lay still and rest”, but I kept trying to sit up so eventually she put her hand behind my shoulder and neck and helped me up. My first thoughts were “my God, I have gone back in time”. I could not have told you what time exactly, I could not understand what I was seeing, but I did know that this was not the 22nd century.
There was a rock ceiling, and a dirt floor. There were fires but no smoke or very little and I racked my brain to think where had I seen people dressed like this before, and then it came to me! Way back when I was searching YouTube for “militia”, I came across videos with people dressed very similar to this, but my first recollection of people like this was when Lisa and I went to the cinema and saw The Last Of The Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis as Natty Bumpo. My head reeled and I lay back down and slept.
When I woke again it was night time. The only light came from the glowing fires. There was a fire near me now and Lisa was sitting cross legged in front of it eating something she held in her hands. The smell of roast meat came to me and I was suddenly very hungry. Then thirst overcame my need for food and I asked Lisa if there was any water. The meat was varied and all tasted great. But they would not let me eat my fill. Over the coming days I regained some of my strength and was able to get up and wander around my new home.
The open part to this rock overhang was blocked by young trees that had been only partly cut at the base and laid back against the rock to conceal the living quarters. There were racks of meat drying slowly over fires and animal skins on frames leaning against the walls. Each fire was a separate group site, but there was a communal camp fire over to one side of this cave like home. Wandering around was like being in a museum display, part stone age and part 18th century. There were bows and flintlock guns, people knapping rocks and making arrows. There was a constant coming and going of people bringing in firewood and water. As I gained more strength I was able to go outside but was warned not to go far and if I heard the sound of sticks being hit together I was to get into the cave as quickly as possible.
Most of the meat came from trap lines, but some hunting was done also. People, men and women they called Rangers ranged the surrounding areas every day as a precaution against intruders. It was one of these Rangers who had found Lisa and I. There were gardens, but they were out of sight and not easily found unless you knew where to look. Not far away was a creek in which could be found turtles and eels. Large stands of Cumbungi or what I called cattail grew along the creek banks. These apparently supplied a variety of foods and the reed stems were used to make arrows. As soon as I was well enough to get about at a normal pace, we were asked if we wished to stay or leave. We decided to stay.
Each day I was taught a new skill and got to practice the skills I had learnt. I took my turn at various chores including gardening, water carrying, standing guard, foraging for firewood far from our shelter, scraping and stretching animal skins, tending the fires that dried the meat, and digging toilet holes in the gardens. I longed to tend the trap lines and hunt with my .22. But I was told that the .22 Berretta was not to be used for hunting, and instead kept in reserve for defence. This brought back the realisation that this seemingly idyllic lifestyle is always under the threat of being destroyed by others that are also trying to survive, if not by the enemy itself, then by our own people.
I learnt to make traps and how to trap. I also learnt how to get close to animals, something I had never been able to do before. I learnt to look for sign and started accompanying the Rangers who were sometimes gone for days. Once a Ranger and I spotted a group of people camped. We scented the smoke from their fires before we saw them. We watched them until they broke camp and moved on noting the direction they were travelling. Then we returned home to make a report.
Chapter 2. The Diary one year later.
I don’t know if anyone will read this, but it gives me some satisfaction being able to record the details of my life here. Lisa and I have a son now. My old clothes have been cut up to make baby clothes and nappies, the washing of which is a major undertaking using hot rocks in a rock basin not far from our shelter. It took us sometime to get used to sharing the same space with everyone else and we were not used to having to keep quiet when having sex. Many couples go bush for sex and only work and sleep in the shelter.
My clothing now consists of mostly leather except for a cloth breechclout and a shirt. Lisa and I made our own moccasins and leggings and frock. Our sleeping bags were of no use under these living conditions and were stripped down for the material. This went to making our undershirts. We have furs made into what are called “matchcoats”, but these are only worn in winter. Our bedding of bracken fern is also covered in furs.
I don’t miss electricity or anything else about my old lifestyle. Truth be told this life seems a lot easier than the life we had before the invasion. We still live with the constant knowledge that we may one day be found by others, but it no longer scares us. We are confident that we will be able to handle whatever comes our way. I am running out of room on this page of parchment, and the lead pencil hammered out of a round ball needs re hammering to a point, so I will stop writing for now.