And The Young Still Stand
Chapter One - Young Hunters
They had all said that we wouldn’t find anything today. The forest floor was too wet to track any game and it was too cold for the deer to be roaming about. But here we were, out on the hunt. It wasn’t the most desirable job to have out here in King’s Landing; but it was certainly the most interesting. The other jobs consisted of foraging or looting the other houses in the development for food that kids might’ve missed.
“Smoke.” The kid to my right mumbles. He wasn’t much older than twelve; but man could he shoot. He was looking up and northward, above the treeline where a pillar of black smoke rose into the cloudy gray sky.
“Looks like Aiden found more.” Another says idly, not bothering to look up. He was older than me, only by two months. He clutched his Colt 1911 tightly in his hands, his head scanning along the edge of the dirt road we were taking, his long straw colored hair bouncing as he does. “That’s three burnings this week..”
“Lets just hope the smell doesn’t scare off what little game we can find.” I say with a sigh, reaching a hand up from my sighted Remington to pull up my white a black spotted scarf over my nose. The stench got overwhelming at times; thank God it’s not summer still.
We had to spend all of the summer up here. Hunting and gathering whatever we could find in the forests and lake. At first it had been easy, the deer and catfish had reproduced over the spring so we ended up with more food than we could fit in the house we all lived in. Eventually though we started seeing less and we had to trek further into the forest to catch food. Some of our traps near the house were catching various things: squirrels, possum, a few rabbits, and even a raccoon. That had been a very good day to go home to. Now, though, as the winter drew near, we had to start packing up to head back into town.
King’s Landing was only just a hunting outpost type thing, that’s what me and some other boys called it. We named it after the housing division where it is set in, Kings Country. I had lived here once, and so had Karry and Leven. The main town - if you could call it one - was situated in an old Alcco building by the Highway, where Mc. Donalds, Sonic, Burger King, and other various (mostly mexican) restaurants were. People had started to set that up last winter, the First Winter. They had to salvage what supplies was left from surrounding stores, which was not a lot; so they decided to send out people to different areas around the main town, mainly in forests or various lakes. Of course, we get a hunky portion of the food we caught to feed us during the summer. It took a lot of our time up. Thankfully the power hasn’t blown yet so we could store the meet. Some kids had taken over the building where the power was distributed soon after, and once we had gotten Alco set up, we sent a group over to negotiate - there wasn’t any room to negotiate however.
We continued to silently creep through the dirt roads, scanning the inner forest for any type of animal we could kill. Droplets of water fell off the ever continuously falling leaves to the ground, making it near impossible to hear any silent walking of a deer. The sky had darkened, we’d had been out here for over four hours if my watch was right. We could not afford to be out here at dark, it was Hell on earth out here in the dark. Suddenly, the boy to the right of me stopped, looking to the right as he held his pump shotgun up. He slowly crept up to the treeline, carefully stepping over precarious twigs and fallen branches from the trees above. I slowly turn my body toward the wall of trees, silently cocking the bolt of my rifle as I lift it up, squinting one eye to look through the scope.
Lord behold, a buck stood near the edge of the line, about two yards in with one foot mid step. His ears fluttered up, turning in various directions as it listened for a threat. They bow pumped his shotgun and the buck twisted his head toward us. I set the red cross of the scope in between the deer’s eyes, inhaling deeply as I wait for either the other hunter or me to fire first. My index finger slowly begins to put pressure on the trigger.
The deer suddenly jolts to our left, it’s feet scrambling as he tries to regain his feet from the sudden arrow in his side. Then it’s brains flew out along with my eardrums. It slumped backward, the green feather-tipped arrow sticking out of it’s ribs. I snap my head to the right, glancing at the third boy who had knocked another arrow just in case. I shoulder my rifle and start stepping toward the decimated buck’s head.
“Looks like no deer brains tonight.” I say with a short laugh, trying to lighten the already sullen mood.
“The antlers okay?” Asks the archer, putting his bow on his back and the arrow back on the quiver at his hip. “We could decorate the truck.”
I give a quick look around the mush that was the buck’s head, gagging as I move a large clump of the gore. A few shards of bone matter and muscle spread everywhere around the neck area. That shotgun can do some damage; this was the first time we had to use it thankfully, so we had no idea it did this kind of wreckage. After a few moments of searching, and as the other two boys come to the deer to examine it I grab hold of a large pair of white antlers, setting them off to the side. “That’s what, six pairs now?” I muse, glancing back at the straw headed teen with a smirk. “You’ve got bigger plans apart from a few horns on the truck?”
“Yep. Gonna build an effegi to keep them bad kids away. Scare ’em to death.” He laughs out with in a thick country accent.
“Could you two shut up and help me skin this thing?” The 12 year old snaps at us. He had moved from his spot at the treeline to the deer’s side without me noticing. He grabs a large knife from his jeans pocket, lifting it up to stab down on it. Before he could, however, I snap my hand to grab his wrist.
“Let’s not risk getting germs on this thing.” He glares at me for a few moments before shaking his head and yanking his wrist from my grasp, putting the knife away.
“Just help me lift it. It’s a few miles back. We could probably hit the road if we cut through some brush and put it in a car.” I say with a sigh as I go to grab the buck’s front legs as the 12 year old grabs his hind. Kings Country was laid out like a maze. You could easily get lost in here if you didn’t have a map or directions; which is why it was a perfect spot for a base and or hunting outpost. It was surrounded in forestry, and it has plentiful wildlife to hunt. We begin to drag the buck out to the dirt road, careful not to snag any part of it on branches or thorns.
“You could help us, Phil, we’re not gonna get much done with just two people hauling this thing.” I say, my voice straining as I lift the deer’s front over a log.
“I’m scoutin’.” Was Phil’s only reply, drawing his Colt 1911 and looking out into the trees and down the road. “Never know who could be watchin’ us.”
“We haven’t seen anyone other than our people from Alcco in months.” The shotgunner practically yells. “Quit slacking and get over here and help us!”
“I’m certainly not not gonna help y’all now.” He snickers at the kid, sticking his tongue out at him.
“C’mon guys, no fighting please. Won’t help nothing if we’re fighting over who lifts the dang deer.” I gasp out as I set the carcass on the road, putting my hands on my knees as I catch my breath.
“Easy for you to say, you didn’t even shoot it.” The 12 year old growls at me, setting the deer down as well. “You just sat behind me and aimed at the damned thing.”
“Leave Thomas out of it, he didn’t do nothin’ because there wasn’t nothin’ to shoot.” Phil snaps back, holstering his pistol as he turns around to fully face us. “You’re just gettin’ cocky cuz you’s gotta shotty, Logan.”
Logan pouts his mouth out, narrowing his eyes at Phil as he flips him the bird, cursing at him as he picks up the legs and begins to drag off the deer once again. I do a double take, looking at the teen and then Logan before picking up the buck and lifting it with him.
It had become dusk before we got to a main road. The fur on one side of the buck was slick with mud and fallen leaves. Phil eventually helped us, lifting the deer’s middle so we could start covering more ground. Logan began shivering, he had only come out here with a light sweater on, not anticipating the temperature to drop so drastically, I had passed him my scarf once we got to the road. We came to a few houses, looted by kids a few hours after it happened, I presumed.
Phil had gone inside to check if there was any gas cans for the minivan outside in the driveway. “You could try to calm down, you know.” I say as I lean back in the wooden rocking chair, putting my feet on the banister.
“Sure. Calm down. How can anyone calm down right now.” He shakes his head, gripping his shotgun on the banister, keeping his eyes on the road. “There is no ‘calming down’ right now.”
“Of course there is. That’s why we have movie night every Friday and Game night every Sunday.” I drop my legs down to the deck, humming softly. “We have to get everyone’s mind off of stuff. Especially the smaller ones.” I say with a shrug, glancing at my own rifle which leans on the window. “We just have to use them more often.”
I chew the inside of my lip, looking out over the trees, watching the stars slowly appear as the grey clouds move on. People take loss differently, that’s what I’ve come to notice of the year people have dealt with it. I took it with a new outlook on life. As if it had to happen; in some twisted way. “This isn’t the end of anything,” I had told my sister as I held her close that first night as she sobbed her heart out. “Only the beginning of something new. It may take a while. But it will be here.” It was a dark time for everyone, anarchy ruled and broken windows was the norm. We had enough food to last a good month, but eventually I had to go into town with her to find some more. That’s when we found out just how bad it had been.
“Car!” Logan says as he quickly squats down, aiming his shotgun through the wooden beams toward the yellow car pulling into the driveway. I shoot up, grabbing my rifle as I push myself up to a bigger beam which holds the stairway intact, aiming at the car as well. The passenger door opens, a hand going up as a dark haired boy slowly stands up.
“We’re not here for trouble!” He shouted up at us. I aim the crosshairs right on his forehead, and began to scan the dimmed car windows. The driver’s seat door opens, and out another kid, maybe just turned sixteen. “Just here to see if there’s any food around, we’re not from around here, see!”
“Either way you got to scat.” I shout back, I see Logan glance at me, as if asking what to do. I pull my hand up from the bottom of the gun and motion for him to follow me before I begin to slowly go down the stairs. I keep my gun pointed at the pair of boys. “We don’t take too kindly to strangers in these parts.”
The dark haired boy glances to the deer on the porch. “We’ll trade you for the deer,” He gulps, slowly putting his hands down to his sides. “We’ve got medical supplies, ammo.” He gives a wave of his hand and the driver reaches into the car, popping the trunk. Two more kids, one a girl, looking to be about 10, and another boy about Logan’s age. They shuffle nervously around to the back, grabbing a large backpack. The boy had a strapped sub machine gun on his back. This could go very badly if either of us word things wrong.
“What kind of stuff?” I ask, glancing at the backpack.
“Tylenol, Advil, some cold medicine and stuff.” He says calmly, motioning for the girl to put the backpack on the ground in front of me. The girl nods sheepishly, quickly passing the pack over and returning to her spot beside the machine gunner.
“Go ahead and check. See what wares we have.” His voice cracked slightly, and I could tell he was debating something in his head. His eyes glanced over to the driver, whose arm twitched slightly. I kneel down, throwing my rifle over my shoulder as I begin to open up the bag. It was full of rocks. A gun cocked, and a gunshot ringed through the driveway, I shoot my head up and look to the right, where the driver lays on the windshield, slowly sliding off with a missing eye, spreading blood over the car as his body falls to the ground like a rag doll. The passenger grabs my hair and yanks me forward. With a yelp of pain, I grab a switchblade in my boot, flipping the blade out and swinging it down on his foot. The boy yells out in pain, letting go of my hair as I grab the pack pack of rocks, standing and swinging it at the boy’s head. The bag smacks into his head with a loud crack as the know back pushes his head into the window, which shatters into millions of tiny pieces over the seat and ground. He goes limp.
The girl screams, ducking behind the car as the other kid swings his gun over and cocks it. I quickly roll to the front of the car as the bullets wiz past me. I look to Logan, who grips his arm as his screams of pain are muffled to my ringing ears. I give a cock of my rifle, pushing off to the opposite side of the car as the boy fumbles to reload. I step over the driver and take aim through the windows, aiming right at his ear as I pull the trigger. The gun kicks as the window shatters in front of me, the bullet going through the already broken one as it sinks into its target. The boys head snaps to the side as he falls to the ground, the gun and full magazine going with him. Suddenly, the entire world’s sound comes seeping into my ears. Logan’s screams of pain as he clutches his bloody arm. Phil runs from the side of the house, his pistol in his hands and aiming at the little girl, who stands at the trunk of the car just staring at us with a dumbfounded mouth.
I shake my head, moving a hand up to run it through my light brown hair with a long sigh, dropping to my knees as I catch my breath. “That didn’t go well.” I say, looking to my left toward the driver, his one eye staring up at the cloudy gray sky.
Phil rushes over to Logan, pulling around his brown satchel, unbuttoning the top flap and reaching in, pulling out a roll of white cloth. It’s not bandages, mostly old white shirts we ripped and cut and put on an empty roll of toilet paper. We ran out of bandages last week when Margaret got chewed up by a wolf, her whole arm was like a chew toy.
Lucas continues to wail his screams, blood seeping through his fingers as he holds the wound. “Let go, idiot.” Phil commands sternly, his attitude changed from a mere six minutes ago. The boy moves his hand and the blood slowly runs down his arm, painting the dead blades of grass dark red. Phil grabs his arm, lifting it slightly to check the other side - From what I can tell by Phil’s expression and vulgar language, the bullet didn’t go entirely through.
I ball my hand up, banging it on the door of the car, standing up with the help of my rifle and shouldering it as I slowly walk toward the young girl. She stares at me with a shocked pair of bright blue eyes, a strand of curly hair falling from behind her ear. “Don’t hurt me.” She stutters out, raising shaky hands up above her head.
“I won’t, I’m just gonna check the trunk, okay?” I ask as calmly as I can giving her a gesture to put her hands down. She complies, stepping to the side out of my way. I walk past her, giving her a sad nod and a light pat on the shoulder. This had probably been her first time seeing someone die. Placing my hand down at the latch of the trunk, I lift up the door, giving a quick glance and slamming it down. Empty, as always. I doubt these kids brought anything else other than the rocks. But hey, free backpack. I shake my head in an attempt to rid the thought out of my head. I move over to the side of the car, setting my eyes on the two bodies. I slowly walk over to the rat-faced boy, turning him onto his side and putting my hand to his wrist. After a short moment of feeling about on his wrist - constantly moving my two fingers - I finally find the knook, and feel nothing.
I look to his head, where a large shard of glass protrudes out of the side of his forehead. I set the boy down on the ground as Lucas lets out a loud hiss and a curse of pain, mostly directed toward Phil and his handiwork. I reach down, grasping my pocket knife from his foot and yanking it out, wiping the blood on my jeans and closing it. I stand, stepping backward and opening the back door, quickly checking the seats and the floor before shutting the door. “I don’t think they had anything.” I mutter as I step over the bodies, setting my eyes on Lucas and Phil, Lucas’ arm bandaged, a small amount of blood bleeding through the tight cloth.
“I don't know how we’re gonna get the rest of it out without tearin' his arm.” He says with a heavy sigh, putting his hand on his forehead and pushing his hair back. Lucas lets out a whimper as his fingers twitch, his face contorting in pain. “We need to get back to the house.” Phil says, wrapping his arm under Lucas’ good arm, lifting him up with help from the other boy’s legs kicking at the mixture of dirt and dead grass.
"We can take this car. Still has gas." I mutter. I shoulder my rifle, giving the rat-faced boy a light kick. Phil and Lucas begin their way over to the other side of the car, Phil having to lift Lucas over the eyeless one. He opens the back door and Lucas plops in on the back seat with a shout of pain. "He got hit in the arm, not the leg." I say.
"Yeah. Well I figured I gave y'all enough shit earlier. Do him well to not waste energy." He opens his hand above his head. "Keys."
"I don't have them. Eyeless was the driver." I shrug. A twig snaps to my left and I turn to see the young girl running off down the street, opposite of the way we need to go.
"Oi! We're not gonna hurt you! Your friends shot us first!" Phil yells after her. She doesn't stop and she disappears at the treeline across the street. "Dammit. She'll come to bite us in the ass later." He trails off, leaning out of my sight for a bit as he shifts through the boy's jacket. I grab each of the dead boy's arms, dragging them to the side.
With a long gulp of saliva, I wipe the two's blood off my hands on the grass. Their eyes wide and their expressions frozen. Two kills. Two more than I would like. I stare at them for a long few seconds, licking my lips as I reach up to take off my Disney World ball cap. I wonder how many schemes these guys pulled; if they were forced to do it or not.
The honk of the yellow car makes me jump. I sigh, putting on my hat again and jogging over to the passenger door, pulling it open and sitting inside.
"Are we not going to get the deer?" Logan asks, grunting as he sits up slightly.
"No. Let the wolves have it." I mumble, flipping my rifle and setting it idly in my lap. "Will be better for us. That will set them up for at least two weeks so they wont have to bother us."
"We have enough meet in both freezers." Phil says with a cough. He pulls the gear into reverse, slowly backing out of the dirt driveway.
Phil begins to drive home, darkness taking the forest. Despite the combined darkness and noise of the car; the prominent howling is heard. We all shiver as the wolves proceed with their roll call.