“The worst type of man behaves as badly in his waking life as some men do in their dreams.”
― Someone very clever a long time ago
The plan was simple. Descend the mountain. Go to town, locate the prize, take it. Then escape and return to the cabin. Then, quietly enjoy my life waiting out the reset of civilisation. Everything had been going perfectly. I had located the prize in an old abandoned office block. It was my escape that went pear shaped. The town was now fortified had been for three years but I had gained access through the storm drains. My mistake was still trying to leave under the cover of darkness so I tried to save time by jumping the wall.
I had stumbled upon three lawmen. Except here, they were called Justice. It was used like a title, Justice Calvin, Justice Bacon and Justice Locke were now all dead, but not before they woke up everyone. With fresh snow on the ground my tracks were not difficult to find. Initially, I lost them in the treeline but I climbed the water tower near Rankton to survey my surroundings.
This is where I am now. High above the world, looking down over winters kingdom. Cold, angry and unforgiving. It is clear to see the whole militia was out in force. I could see pickups and all-terrain vehicles searching for their intruder. I decided to spend the day there and continue on under the next cover of darkness. I had no intention to fall victim to their justice. It was a risk as if I was found up here I would be trapped.
It is rare moments like these I can contemplate the downfall.
It was blamed on the flu. It kept coming in waves. It kept mutating and jumping the vaccines. Lockdowns and restrictions of movement were common place. Frontiers closed and every nation became an island, then every state. Then every state an archipelago. The economy crashed to nothing and disorder reined in the name of freedom. I do not even know which faction currently holds the town, it has changed hands so many times. With the isolation came boredom; boredom breeds zealots.
As night falls I can see the headlights. They have not returned to town. They need this hunt. Good government needs to be victorious. It appears hunting me is the town’s new quest. To lose me they would appear vulnerable and to hold power they must appear invincible. I can feel the temperature plummeting. If I choose not to leave, the cold is going to kill me. It would be years before anyone found me up here. At least out there I have a fighting chance. As I descend the steel staircase, I hear the ring of a bullet hitting the water tower. It is inches to my left. A spark of contact catches my eye. I drop the twenty feet to the ground. Ducking down and travelling underneath. I look off into the darkness and see the muzzle flash of a second shot. I turn and run into the opposite direction. I must be a hundred meters away when I go flying forward, face first into the snow. I have been hit. The shot has found its target. I roll over defeated. I am winded and struggling for air. I look at the ground and there is no blood on the snow. I pull off my backpack. The prize has stopped the bullet. I pull myself together and continue running towards the woods. More shots ring out; I am not hanging around.
It was never the flu that caused the crash. It was people. We thought we were too important. Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. Way before the flu came we lost our wise men. We placed fools in all positions of importance. That is how the game was lost, we raced each other down to the bottom.
Over the next four hours, they pursued me through the woods. The important thing was to lead them away from my final destination and also cover enough ground before morning. At daybreak they were going to bring the dogs. In the middle of the night I got the jump on three of them. I looked down from my bluff and saw three GI Joe types, with automatic rifles come into the clearing. Courage was knowing what not to fear. I do not fear these three weekend soldiers. I do fear the dogs. I can let them walk on my tracks and smother my trails. I pause, assessing all options. I spare them and head for the pass.
The pass headed towards another town, further away. I had a drop site near there. I collected what I needed. It was a Claymore M-18. It is a particularly vicious anti-personal mine. With a kill range of a hundred meters. I set it up hidden in the pass and wire the trip wire unseen near the entrance. Now the cat and mouse game I have been playing for the last thirty-six hours is to lead them here. Any hunter coming after me would know this was my only logical crossing through the mountains. I could only possibly be heading for here. Mission accomplished; I turn back and take a different route. I am heading back to the cabin. I am going home.
It was two hours after dawn, I heard the claymore go off. That pass would now be full of snow with a number of dead bodies underneath. The coming days would now involve the town digging the pass out and then the coming weeks would involve interrogating the next town over. It does not matter if they are allies or enemies. Politics and all the poison that brings would now be filling the opinions of lesser ignorant people. It was just then I heard a rustle in the trees ahead of me. How have they found me? This was impossible. I was too careful. I reach for my handgun. Then out of the brush bursts a Belgian Shepherd dog. Knocking me off my feet.
She starts licking my face. She clearly is worried; I had been longer than I promised.
“Ahh, baby girl, I am sorry.”
Then there was another rustle; larger than before. The rustle transformed into a crashing. When alone in the woods, big noises sound louder. They also tend to signal bad news. Rousseau’s ears pricked up in anticipation. A black shadow the size of small bear came barrelling towards us.
He nuzzled up to me, panting and pushed his head into my side, rubbing it up and down. Mozi was a Tibetan mastiff. A monster of a dog. I had not needed to make it home. Home had found me. A dog has the soul of a philosopher. After leaving the world of men all the wisdom I needed was right here with these two.
It was another hour before we made it to the Peak. It was a small valley sheltered by the winds, twelve hundred meters above sea level. It was a dead-end, it was positioned on no through route. It would be impossible to stumble upon it. It was a destination. It is why I chose it. It was called the Peak because at its base it opened up to the wonderful view of Gunn Peak. There was also a security feature to the name. If anyone was looking for at us at ‘the peak’, the last place they would look would be inside a valley. I found it eight years ago, just before the madness. There was a collapsed miner’s cottage on the site. We rebuilt it. Getting gasoline up here for the chainsaws was a pain but the greatest wealth is to live content with little. Here, in my little valley was everything I needed. A smaller world yet more complete. With the first lockdowns there was the time to focus on creating a life here. With Rousseau in tow, we made it our kingdom. It was eight hectares of heaven above the clouds. Winter from this vantage point lost its unforgiving anger. It had a majesty, a harmony. It was a visual song for the soul. The true beauty of home is the journey you take to get there. The closer you get your heart soars. An expectation grips you; an unrivalled excitement we so easily forget and take for granted.
Mozi barked. Then out of the trees emerged all these small faces. They then came charging up the valley towards us. Twenty-two dark faces of joy. Twenty-two Ouessant sheep. The perfect winter breed, primitive, rustic and every one of them a little Viking. They love the cold. Getting them up a mountain was an amazing feat but all the credit for that belongs to Mozi. They were Mozi’s gang.
Six years ago, people were abandoning their farms, banks were foreclosing. Sometimes, people just woke up in the morning, walked off into the woods and never returned or were ever seen again. On a salvage trip, we found Mozi chained in a barn starving. The sheep were penned up next door, eight of them. We found a load of frozen burger meat in the house and fed Mozi back up. It took a week. We released the sheep and let them graze. They would not leave though. They kept vigil around Mozi’s barn. When he was strong enough Mozi refused to leave. He just could not leave the sheep. The Tibetan Mastiff is a guardian dog. Used historically to protect flocks for the nomads. They were a package deal.
It was boredom that made us do it; that and curiosity. We just opened the gate and walked off back to the Peak. Mozi and his gang followed. The sheep were nimble; like mountain goats the terrain was no problem. Mountain lions and bears should have picked them off, in six years we have only lost three. Mozi protects them and since the crash the wilder, more dangerous animals have descended the mountains. They have got braver and returned to the realms of men. I thought that genetics might be a problem. Life however seems to have found a way, they have flourished. We have eaten ten, only the older girls and some of the rams. Yet still their numbers swell. I can also see that other things are swelling, the girls are looking fat. Louis the ram has been busy we will have more sheep coming in the spring.
Walking towards the house, even under the crunch of the deep snow I feel myself moving into a jog. I look over at our sunken greenhouses and remind myself to move the snow off the tarpaulins tomorrow. Digging them out was murder; ten feet, deep spaces. The secret was to just do a bit each day. If you want that shine to your life it is important to always try to do a little, no matter how small. Otherwise, you might as well learn to live with the rust. I could clear them now but I just want to touch base. I want to feel my feet on the ground of my abode. I want my body to feel connected to the four walls that shelter me. I want to be home.
The sound of my feet on the wooden porch feels like crossing a finish line. There is no one to greet me but I triumphantly lift my arms aloft in victory. The dogs tilt their heads curiously at my antics. I sit on the porch and take in my kingdom. The other world is full of noise, lies, hate and pettiness. How many people out there are looking out with feelings of wonder, like I am now? The snow, with the light in this valley is magical. Removing my shoes after three days is amazing. Rousseau cannot help but bound over and have a sniff. Dogs and feet, are one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
A full rebuild of the cottage was necessary. If I wanted this oasis to fulfil me, I had to structure it the way I needed to live. The cottage would not do. It was hard and took three years. Opening the door and walking in I can feel the cold. I go to the stove and light it. The place needed three things; the kitchen and the bed were already there but I needed to have one final thing. One thing far more important than electricity or internet, I needed a library.
Walking into the extension I look at my shelves, fifty-six handpicked books. The collection is growing. I place my bag on the table next to my Olivetti typewriter. The Olivetti is my favourite thing in the world. There is a farmhouse, two days’ trek from here, with a beautiful vintage Underwood typewriter. The last time I was there I decided it was too heavy. I took books instead. One day I will return for it.
I open the rucksack and remove my prize. This was the whole reason for the trip; four beautiful reams of cartridge paper and three spools of typewriter ribbon. I am shocked, the reams of paper are undamaged. What stopped the bullet by the water tower? Placing my hand in the bag I push my finger through the bullet hole. I have a bonus item; it was what delayed me in the town. It was what made me make the decision to jump the wall. There was a bookshop on Maine Street. I broke in and found the book; the ultimate survival guide. I reach in and pull it out. There dead centre is the bullet. The pages are ruined. It is okay. I know most the words anyway and can still make out most the text. It is nice to know that this book has more than one way to take care of me. I place it front and centre on the bookshelf above the typewriter. It has been far too long out of my possession and a requirement for my collection; Plato’s The Republic.
Growing up in the orphanages and care facilities of the broken, other world. I found a copy of The Republic. I liked the face of the old man on the cover. I opened it at random and read the phrase, 'It is only just that anything that grows up on its own should feel it has nothing to repay for an upbringing which it owes no one'. Something about that sentence resonated in me. It was not the easiest read. Most teenagers were focused on wizards and dragons. I was different. So this strange voice started to become reassuring. Real knowledge, real accountability, false prophets, twisted authority, abuse of power. Somehow it made sense so I strived to read more and understand more. He predicted everything that has happened. He helped me to be ready.
It is important here for me to be truly free. To achieve that, I need my reading and writing, I need my escape. This to me feels like Christmas. I put a pot of water onto the stove and return to my treasures. My hands are trembling with excitement.
Typewriter ribbon, the rarest of commodities, the satisfaction of putting it in place makes me breathless. Unrolling it. Delicately touching the surface and rubbing the spreading ink between my fingers. I put a clean sheet of cartridge paper into the typewriter. I sit on the old oak chair and breathe. Ready to start. The wait before you create something new is special. It is all about the beginnings. Then I hit that first key.
It is like Plato says, those who tell the stories rule society.