I have two towels. I’m rich by today’s standards. Right now, they are pinned together to form a poncho that’s keeping me warm. It’s the end of spring.
The first few generations after The Event, no one kept track of time, days or years. Heck, the world was so bleak and black that no one could keep track of the seasons. You couldn’t tell the difference between winter and summer.
Someone in one of the larger settlements up north on the Upper Bay near Old New York, calculated the current year as 2520 OD (Old Date) or 500 ND (New Date.) They cared about these things in the places where people gathered. I cared about it because they were my best clients.
One of the back tires on my red Schwinn Meridian tricycle was flat. I pushed the bike and my attached B Turtle camper along the ancient tarmac, avoiding holes and the larger cracks. It was close to dusk, so I decided to find a good spot to camp for the night. I’d fix the tire in the morning when the light was better. Evening light was beautiful to see, the reds, blues, purples and greens from the messed up ozone making for a beautiful show but not good to see by.
Off to the right, a group of trees created a ring with bushes and low branches, perfect for staying hidden. I steered my caravan to the copse, looking for a way in. I pulled out my favorite machete and chopped an entrance without making it look obvious. I pulled my rig in. If only all campsites could be so perfect. I used a branch as a broom and erased my trail from the road to my hidey hole.
Setting camp took less than thirty minutes which was good since the light faded fast and I didn’t dare light a fire. I strung my little alarm bells around the tree tree trunks. I hadn’t seen anyone for five days, but I preferred to err on the side of caution. My paranoia kept me alive for almost ten years of travelling alone.
I inflated my tent, fluffed my blankets and laid out my knives and crossbow for the night. I crawled in, and took off my towels. I folded them into a pillow and unfolded my map of the area.
This was new territory for me, far afield from where I usually roamed for the goods I collected to sell and trade.
This trip was a commissioned job. I was after a stash of drugs in an old manufacturing facility in Georgia, just north of what used to be called Atlanta. The old city had been demolished during The Event. Gossip said it was now a lake of pink bubbling goo. I looked forward to seeing that.
I treated myself to a Twinkie and a glow stick while I calculated how many more days I had to travel to get to Hoschton and the pharmaceutical company called bird in some really ancient language. Maybe two more days if the weather held and nothing weird got in my way. So, make that at least three days, since weird was the new normal. I marked the map with today’s final location and the date.
A brief note in my journal:
no rain sunset to sunset not sure if something to do with going south or if weather patterns are changing this morning saw a 4 eyed animal each eye a different color i lost the staring contest tired
I snuggled under the covers, sighed and closed my eyes. It was so quiet here. I might stay here a little while. I liked being alone, as far from other people as much as possible. Nine years of roaming after her village had been wiped out. The Raëlianist belief in democracy didn’t go well with the various dictatorships around them, so their neighbors sent them on to eternal life. I escaped the massacre because I had run away again.
Based on when my den mother said I was born, I was now 23. Middle aged. I only had a few more good years in me before some disease and catastrophe took me out. I enjoyed every minute of my life. I came and went as I pleased. My strength and skill with the weapons I found kept me alive. I was even a bit famous. Melissa “Lis” Machete. “Watch out for that one,” people said. “She talks quietly and carries several big knives.”
Getting close to anyone was dangerous, so I kept my knives close and people at blade length, if not further.
Life was good on my own.
I woke, my favorite KA-BAR Becker 22 already in my right hand. I held my breath. Nothing. Maybe I had heard the sound in my dreams.
Nope. That was definitely a real sound but it sounded fake. Deliberate. Staged. Like someone play-acting an injury.
“Ow. Owie, ow, ow.”
What the heck?
“Are you gonna come investigate? I have a boo-boo and could use some help over here.”
Seriously. This was just weird.
“Do I have to spell it out for you? I mean, I thought I already did, but hey, some beings need a little extra info.”
I shoved my feet in my boots and scooched out of my tent.
“Yoo-hoo. Over here.”
Who in their right mind called out to strangers like that? I followed the childish, unemotional nonsense words out of the chopped doorway I had made. I went slowly. It could be a trap. I had to be a trap, but her senses told her it wasn’t. But it was odd.
“Don’t you have a light. I don’t want you to step on me.”
“That’s not likely with all the noise you are making. You’re going to attract human predators if you keep chattering.”
“There are no beings of any kind except us for many, many clicks.”
I stopped when I sensed a huge mass just in front of me.
“Finally.” The voice in the dark was matter-of-fact, dry and hoarse.
I listened. The night was still. I took a chance and cracked a glow stick.
Holy crap, Batman. I jumped back. An Icke. A friggin’ Icke. I held my knife in front of me. The reptile humanoids were boogeyman stories told by mothers to keep their children in line.
“Yo,” said the Icke. It waved at me with a two-toed or was it two-fingered clawed appendage. It bared its teeth. Jeez, was it smiling?
“I have a thorn between my toes. Help a fella out, will yay?”
I aimed my light lower and saw a red and swollen foot with a metal spike in it.
“That looks very painful,” I said.
“It’s not a party.” He held it up to me. “Pull it out.”
“Stay still. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t be long. I miss you, already.”
I stumbled. This guy. I got a pair of pliers from my tool chest and headed back. I gripped the glow stick between my teeth. My machete was at my feet, close and easy to grab, although the Icke seemed pretty docile. I gripped the spike and pulled. It held. I tugged and wiggled.
The spike came out with a wet squelch.
“Ah. That’s better.” He expelled a puff of air. “You have a gentle touch.”
I examined the wound. It seeped yellow puss.
“That should be better soon. You can be on your way, now.” I shooed him with my fingers.
He sniffed and cried a fake cry.
“You can’t leave me. I’m damaged. You saved my life. Don’t you humans have some rule about being responsible for someone when you save them?”
“That’s nonsense. I never heard anything so ridiculous.”
“I could be your BFF.”
“Aren’t you a human?”
“Yes, of course,” I said.
“How do you not know what a BFF is?”
“Just tell me. I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.” I stood up to go.
“Help me up.” He held out his hands. He managed to make a boo-boo face.
“One night,” I said. “I don’t do companions.”
I leveraged my shoulder under his arm. He leaned on me. I felt myself sink into the ground from his weight. We hobbled back to my camp. I rinsed his wound and wrapped it. I gave him water and duck jerky. He consumed both with wet lip smacks.
“Tomorrow, we part ways,” I said as I handed him a blanket.
“Sobek,” he said.
“That’s my name,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“That’s an odd name.”
“I am not exchanging names. There is no need.”
“Oh, come on. What can it hurt?”
His reptilian eyes could have passed for puppy dog eyes. Jeez, I was a sap.
“My name is Lis,” I said. “I’m going to sleep.”
“Good night, Lis.”
I got under my quilt.
“Lis, good night. Lis.” A pebble hit the side of my tent. “Lis. Good night. Lis.” Another stone. “Good night, Jim Bob. Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, John-Boy.”
“Shut up, already,” I said.
“Good night, Lis.”
“Good night, Sobek.”
Sobek grunted what may have been a chuckle.
“Best Friends Forever,” he said.