29 comments

Oct 03, 2020

Adventure Fantasy

*Author’s Note: “No Teddy Bears in the Wasteland” is a standalone story, set in the same universe as my other Reedsy short-stories, with overlapping characters and events.*

“You’re not giving him a knife for his birthday!”

“It’s not like it’s a chainsaw. You’re being overprotective.”

Even in the dark Keith could feel his wife’s eyes burning a hole in the side of his head, as they lay next to each other in bed. Her silence spoke volumes.

“My dad gave me the same knife when I was a kid.”

Kelly switched on the bedside lamp, so her husband could see this was no longer pillow talk.

“You were sixteen, Garry is still a child,” she said, propping herself up onto her elbow.

“Since the bombs dropped, life has got a lot shorter. Ten is the new sixteen in the Wastelands.” Kelly could see past Keith’s glib words to the fear in his voice. “The world is getting smaller. Our camp isn’t as safe as we thought it was…that cave was too close.”

“The explosion sealed that cave, and they’ve increased security now so they’ll keep us safe.” Even Kelly didn’t believe the words she spoke, and neither would the man that knew her best.

“They say Rita is going to lose her leg, and her horse took most of the blast. I bet she’s feeling safe.” Kelly lay back down, and stared up at the ceiling. “He needs to learn to be more self-reliant, we won’t be around forever, and if there’s people out there who still have guns and explosives, the Guard can’t protect us.”

They talked late into the night; the facts of their situation was terrifying, but one fact did reassure them. Whatever they had to face, they would face it together. 

***

“Can I hold it again?”

“No! It’s not a toy Hannah.” Garry echoed the words of advice his dad had given him that morning. Just because he hadn’t stopped playing with it – flicking out the knife blade, then switching to the saw blade, and cutting things that didn’t need cutting – it didn’t mean he wasn’t taking his new responsibility seriously. He did feel a year older than he did the day before, despite it only being twenty-four hours ago. With his new found maturity he walked ahead, leaving the younger children bickering behind him. 

“He’s so lucky.”

“My mum would never let me have a knife.”

“That’s because you’d end up with no fingers, and having to pick your nose with your toes.”

“Whatever – I wouldn’t lose any fingers.”

“Not going to deny picking your nose then?”

“Shut up!”

Abed walked behind the children in silence; he zoned out their chatter, and was alert to any danger. He was always the Guard for the children when they marched to the river to gather water for the camp, and had never had to use the crossbow he carried. But since the patrol had been attacked investigating that smoker, things felt different. He usually led the march alone, but today he was glad to have back up.

Flo was riding point on horseback. She had always been curt, but since Rita’s injury she was out for blood. Even the children knew to give her a wide berth.

They were almost at the river, and Abed took a moment to watch the children. He was responsible for them all and knew them well. He knew they were sponges. They showed no signs of change; in front of him the eldest two, Miranda and Kunle, led the two donkeys that carried the empty water containers, and the younger four walked between them and Flo, teasing each other as they always did. But Abed knew they all felt the rising tension in the camp.

Once they got to the water’s edge, Flo patrolled further down the river to check for any potential ambush. She found no threats, but didn’t look as pleased about it as Abed did. She positioned herself on the high ground, so anyone approaching would be seen with plenty of warning. Flo nodded down to Abed, who then had the children begin collecting the water.

The children were a well oiled machine. Miranda and Kunle took charge. The younger children ran in pairs down to the bank to fill their containers. When the first container was dragged to the donkey, the older duo lifted it onto its back, and made sure it was fastened securely. Garry and Millie were winning, with Garry taking charge of their team. In an attempt to catch up, Hannah dragged the container faster than Tom could manage. He slipped, and was helpless as he watched their container tumble back down the bank to the river.

“Be careful!” scolded Miranda, and Hannah and Tom ran back to the river’s edge with their tails between their legs. As Kunle fastened the winning team’s second container to their donkey, only Millie celebrated. As Abed recognised his own responsibilities reflected in Garry’s face, he mourned for his childhood. In the end, the Wasteland would take everything from us.

Garry mirrored Abed as he scanned the surrounding area, then walked over to his Guard.

“While we wait for them, can I cut down a branch from that tree? It has the perfect ‘V’ for a catapult.” 

Still feeling guilty, Abed agreed.

“Sure, but do it quickly.” 

Garry ran down to the tree and flew up it like a squirrel. Abed smiled for the first time that day, as he remembered climbing trees when he was a child; a time when he never wanted to grow up. Abed looked over to the other children; Miranda fastened the fourth water container to the second donkey, and Hannah was teasing Tom for the mud still caked on his face from his fall. 

With his footing secured on a lower branch, Garry pulled out his new toy and quickly began sawing at the branch. With the small saw blade, cutting the green wood was hard work, but Garry was determined. He just needed to cut the branch below the “V”, and he could cut the rest as they marched. 

Halfway through the branch he heard a weird noise below him that stopped him in his tracks. There was a rhythmic clatter by the roots that sounded odd. He stopped sawing and looked down, and saw six logs bound together into a square with some sort of wire.

“If the branch is too thick, leave it,” said Abed, standing at the base of the tree, with the tree’s trunk blocking the view Garry saw. Garry gracefully slid down the tree.

“There’s something down there,” Garry reached down into the tree’s roots, “Look ri-.“

“DON’T TOUCH IT!” screamed Abed, and yanked Garry back by his jacket so hard, he lifted him clear off his feet, and he landed with a thud. “What’s wrong with, the cave was only a week ago.” Then Abed slapped the back of Garry’s head, to make sure the lesson sank in, but only Garry’s pride was hurt.

Abed rested one hand on the tree trunk, and leaned over to see into the roots. He instantly recognised the framework of a fishing trap, as the fish struggling on its lines forced it to rattle against the tree’s roots.

Abed turned back to Garry who was now back on his feet.

“You’re right, it’s a fishing trap,” confirmed Abed, then he held the back of Garry’s head and brought his forehead onto his, “I’m sorry for hitting you, but you must think before you act.”

“Because it might be boobytrapped.”

“Exactly, and some mistakes we don’t get to learn from.”

Abed released Garry and smiled at him, and then tussled his hair; Garry knew he’d done well. By now the other children had gathered around the tree too, and Abed thought it would be a good teachable moment.

He looked up to Flo, and asked her with hand signals if they were safe. Her hand gesture confirmed they were ok, so Abed began.

“As we found out last week, boobytraps are hard to see even with an experienced eye, so never try this by yourself.” Abed kicked the loose dirt and leaves into the base of the tree, and watched it all harmlessly fall into the river. “One way to check for tripwires is to use something light, which will cling to them and reveal their position. Leaves will bounce back against the wire, but it looks safe this time.”

Hannah edged forward to get a better look at the tree.

“STOP. Stay where you are until I’ve checked it properly, just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not there.” Then Abed continued his lesson, “With a fishing trap like this, the trigger cannot be too sensitive, otherwise the fish pulling on the line would set off the explosives.”

Abed laid down at the edge of the bank, and studied the tree’s roots. The children held their breath. It only took a couple of minutes for Abed to be satisfied, and then he addressed his class again.

“If there is a trip, it will be a wire connecting the frame to a weight under the water, which will detonate when the frame is lifted out.”

The younger children were transfixed by the lesson, but Miranda and Kunle understood what would happen next, and neither stood at ease beside their donkeys. But Abed would never put anyone at risk.

“To remove any chance of detonation, I’m not going to move the trap, and simply cut the lines instead.” Now even the younger children became quiet, as the lesson stopped being merely theory. Abed looked up at Flo, who was still calmly scanning the surrounding area. “Miranda. Lead them behind that rock over there,” then with a dry smile Abed added, “just in case.”

The children watched Abed from the safety of their makeshift bunker, and just as he was about to start cutting, a shout stopped him dead.

“Abed!” called Tom, who was standing the closest to the water’s edge. “I can hear something down here.”

Abed walked over to Tom, and they both followed the sound of splashing, and found a net hidden in the reeds. 

“Bring over one of those containers.” Miranda, as the obvious second in command, brought over the container. Abed filled it with two grotesquely disfigured fish that he’d scooped out of the keep net.

“Ewww,” squealed Millie.

“That one looks like Hannah,” said Tom, gleeful after finding fish-Hannah and her lumpy friend.

“Shut up!”

The younger children continued to bicker while Abed took the machete from his hip, and cut the four fishing lines, which all still had fished hooked. The older children – now including Garry – filled the two other containers, and Abed put the lines and hooks in his pocket.

Flo rode down from her vantage point once the donkeys were reloaded; now not only with water, but also three pairs of fish. The group began their march back to the camp, with all the children back in their positions, except Garry, who walked at the back with Abed, shadowing his movements.

“You did good today.”

“Thanks,” pride beamed across Garry’s face. Abed knew he couldn’t wait to tell his parents when he got home, but he was still alert and checking the same potential ambush spots that Abed was checking.

“And the next time we come down to the river, you can finish cutting your branch.”

“Okay, but I don’t want to put anyone at risk just for a new catapult.”

“That’s not your responsibility…yet.” Garry’s look of pride exploded into a full blown grin. “You’re going to make a great Guard one day. The future of the camp is in safe hands.”

Abed was afraid for Garry, and hoped the Guard recruiters would leave him alone for a few more years at least. Knives and crossbows shouldn’t be the only toys children play with.  

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29 comments

Charles Stucker
04:41 Oct 04, 2020

Even in the dark Keith - comma after dark “He needs to learn to be more self-reliant, we won’t be around forever, and if there’s people out there who still have guns and explosives, the Guard can’t protect us." Run-on. I'd break it up like this, "“He needs to learn to be more self-reliant. We won’t be around forever. If there’s people out there who still have guns and explosives, the Guard can’t protect us. the facts of their situation was terrifying, but one fact did - were, not was. Also, use "but one aspect did." “What’s wrong wi...

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Andrew Krey
22:31 Oct 04, 2020

Thanks for taking the time to read my story, and leaving great feedback as always. Agree with all those typos, and yeah I must have missed off the "you". With the universe I'm creating in the Wastelands, I want it to feel like the world has managed to keep turning - merely under the new conditions. So for that to work, children will need to be present, and as you said with the last story, also new ways to get food (rather than surviving on pre-apocalypse food). I'm hoping the universe will keep growing as the prompts inspire me, but w...

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Keerththan 😀
17:12 Oct 19, 2020

The ending line was awesome! I enjoyed this story very much and the characters were well framed. Great work. Keep writing. Would you mind reading my new story? Thanks

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Andrew Krey
21:08 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it :) Sure I'll take a look now

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Vicky S
03:59 Oct 09, 2020

Hi Andrew, I thought your characters were really interesting- I'd like to read more. How you've written your dialogue moves the story along nicely. Great job!

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Andrew Krey
13:59 Oct 09, 2020

Thanks Vicky, I'm glad to hear you'd like to read more :)

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Yolanda Wu
05:09 Oct 08, 2020

You wrote the dialogue in this story really well, and I loved the incorporation of toys which hit the prompt in a subtle and creative way. I am in love with the title, it caught my attention immediately. And the story itself was so intriguing with interesting characters and a captivating plot. Wonderful work, Andrew!

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Andrew Krey
08:12 Oct 08, 2020

Thanks Yolanda, I'm glad you like this story too, hope that means making the stories connected is working and adding another layer of context to my stories too :) I wanted the plot to be as much hints as spelt out. I treated it like a first chapter of a novel, where you want to read on to find out what the hints mean...but in this case 'reading on' is reading my other stories on here lol I decided for this tale to make the real action in the interactions of the characters. As a form of twist, so despite there being a life or death thre...

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Yolanda Wu
09:46 Oct 08, 2020

I love that you have made your stories connected. And you've managed it well with each story being able to be read individually, but having that extra connection the more dedicated readers can understand. Glad to read your stories, Andrew. :)

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Andrew Krey
01:30 Oct 09, 2020

Thanks, it's because I appreciate my dedicated readers :) lol

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Yolanda Wu
01:36 Oct 09, 2020

It is definitely amazing to know that there are readers out there who love the stories as much as you do. :)

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Andrew Krey
01:55 Oct 09, 2020

Yeah the likes and comments always give me a boost as a writer :)

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Aisa M
17:15 Oct 07, 2020

I was getting some Hunger Games vibe, but lighter because of the playfulness of the kids. Good one!

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Andrew Krey
23:36 Oct 07, 2020

Thanks, in glad you liked it :) That's what I was going for, usual interactions, but in an unusual setting P.s. I do love the hunger games!

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Katina Foster
00:27 Oct 06, 2020

Well done! You did a great job portraying the conflicting emotions of raising kids in a dangerous world when they might have to fend for themselves. Needing them to understand the stakes while also wanting them to have some of the freedom & innocence of childhood. I thought the dialogue was good, too. To me, it showed how people return to a sense of normal, even in the most abnormal situations. I enjoyed all the little tie ins with your last story. Were they really an enemy camp or is everyone just frightened of anyone they don't know?

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Andrew Krey
00:46 Oct 06, 2020

Hey, glad you liked it :) that was what I was going for, so glad it worked. I want the idea of people accepting their post apocalyptic fate, but desperately trying to find some normality within it. Plus, by doing so I hoped to make the character's more relatable rather than crazed psychopaths with sharpened teeth. That kinda relates to the ties ins too; Cyril and his friend are travelling across the wastelands and fear everyone else based on their bad experiences. So he encroached on their territory, and they were investigating to keep th...

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A.g. Scott
04:13 Oct 04, 2020

Forgive me if this is way over the top, but I wanted to provide a detailed critique because you're on the right track. My biggest problem is how much exposition is in your dialogue. I've selected a couple of paragraphs, and I'm going to rework them to demonstrate how you could benefit from showing as opposed to telling. Discussion at the end. 1) “Since the bombs dropped, life has got a lot shorter. Ten is the new sixteen in the Wastelands.” Kelly could see past Keith’s glib words to the fear in his voice. “The world is getting smaller. O...

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Andrew Krey
22:03 Oct 04, 2020

No, not over the top at all. I've been sharing my writing for a while, so developed a thick skin. I'd much rather have the feedback and ignore, than neve hear it. I view feedback as a lesson, rather than an insult, so thanks a lot, really appreciate it. I really liked your take on 1a, but for 3a I wouldn't have it that harsh/flippant, as the Guard is still part of the community/camp, so it would be like mocking a friend after a tragedy, but I get the point you're making. I keep an updated version of all my Reedsy stories, so I'll tweak th...

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Jonathan Blaauw
17:35 Oct 03, 2020

I'm so glad I read this! And I'm also glad your author's note makes it clear it's a standalone story because when I find a story that relates to others in someone's collection, I tend to feel I'm missing out by not having read the others. You cleverly take care of that concern up front. Your note also has me intrigued, because there's a lot more going on here. The ambush when investigating the smoker, for example - is that incident from a previous story? I don't even know what a smoker is in this context, but I'm fascinated! And that, I ...

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Andrew Krey
01:07 Oct 04, 2020

Wow, what amazing feedback! It couldn't get better even if I wrote it myself! Thank you, really appreciate you taking the time to read my story, and leaving your feedback. I'm really glad it hit the mark with you in terms of a standalone story. I always read the latest story from a new person on here, so I was mindful of that when I made the decision to make all my stories standalone. My intent is to have each a story that can be read in isolation, but for those that read more than one, there'll be an extra layer to the story - overlappin...

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Tina Laing
14:39 Oct 09, 2020

A nice story

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Lily Kingston
04:26 Oct 07, 2020

I like how you have an overall darker tone, but lighten it up with the occasional joke from the children. I think the last line is super good and fitting, especially with how it fits with Garry getting a knife as a 'favorite childhood toy'. Keep up the good work and keep writing!!

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Andrew Krey
10:56 Oct 07, 2020

Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, really glad you liked it. I'm glad the humour worked, it's hard to know whether what you think is funny will also be funny for others, especially written rather than spoken jokes. My aim was to show that the adults in the camp tried their best to keep the children innocent, but it only worked with the younger children - who are still able to joke and play - but at 10 Garry is already losing that carefree innocence. So the main theme is growing up too fast, but I hoped the jokes could demonstrate t...

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Lily Kingston
18:55 Oct 08, 2020

yeah, I get not knowing if your jokes work because of how subjective humor is. It's cool how you used them to help develop your theme. Most of the jokes in my stories are just for fun.

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Andrew Krey
01:54 Oct 09, 2020

Yeah I try to make make the words work as hard as possible lol

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Becky Holland
03:51 Oct 05, 2020

What a good story- just saw a couple of things. Abed was afraid for Garry, and hoped the Guard recruiters would leave him alone for a few more years at least. = No comma after Garry. Garry’s look of pride exploded into a full blown grin = full-blown (put dash) Flo rode down from her vantage point once the donkeys were reloaded; no not only with water, - no comma after water. Abed walked over to Tom, and they both followed the sound of splashing, and found a net hidden in the reeds. - no comma after splashing. Abed lai...

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Andrew Krey
16:19 Oct 05, 2020

Hey Becky, glad you enjoyed my story, and thanks for taking the time to read it. I subscribe to the Oxford comma school of thought, and those are the commas you suggested removing. Both are acceptable, provided you're consistent throughout your writing. I'm from the UK, so we spell several words with 's' rather than 'z', but thanks for spotting 'newfound', I missed that one. Thanks again :)

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Becky Holland
18:12 Oct 05, 2020

You are right. When I read a story, I run it through Grammarly to check and see if I catch the things that need to be caught. I get the spelling with the s and the z, and the commas for sure. I guess we need to look at where the author is from when we review a story so we can make sure we are reviewing it in their language?

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Andrew Krey
18:22 Oct 05, 2020

Well both comma rules are used in England, but I prefer the additional one because it can provide more clarity for longer lists. I'm used to being queried for English spelling now, I think the majority of active users on Reedsy are American. I always appreciate feedback, thanks again :)

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