Monday, July 22, 2013

Stayed Behind, Part Three

The rest of the night was spent cleaning and polishing the teeth I’d plucked from the Byakhee’s skull, before depositing the bloody head in a wooden bucket outside our door for the street cleaners to take come dawn. I collapsed into bed after a cold sponge bath, wiping away the grim and the stench of demon from me with lilac-scented water. Despite the chill of the cold on my naked form in the dead of night, I was quickly able to warm myself next to Christina beneath the fur of a great wolf.

Morning, or noon I suppose, came all too soon for me, the harsh rays of light filtering in through the one window of our small hut. Groping about me in search of Christina, I groan as I realize that she must have gone to work already, leaving me nothing to do but laze about all day. Looking up from the bed at my work table, I yawn lazily and smile at the empty bowl where my gathered teeth had sat; she’d have new arrows for me tonight.
I get up and don a simple tunic and a pair of worn breeches, strapping a curved dagger to my side as well as my coin purse. When the world went to Hell, the barter system ruled for quite some time, and in a way still does. But our community is trying to reintegrate money into our economy, something many of us are happy to do, if only to once again grasp at the vestiges of what little of our past lives remained.
Pulling back the curtain that serves as our door, I step out into the street and stretch out the kinks in my muscles, rolling my shoulder back and forth to try and loosen up the knotted muscle. Looking around, I see only a few people milling about, mostly the elderly and children, and decide to make my way to the brewery to see if they needed any help, as they always seemed shorthanded and never short on spare coin.
Weaving through the alleyways of huts and ramshackle lean-tos, I slowly climb the hill that our village resides upon, allowing me to gaze out at the wheat and barley fields being harvested by lines of workers. Near the fields is a shepherd, with a dozen sheep and goats milling about mindlessly. I pause and take in the scene before me, sighing at the very thought of what we’ve accomplished since the end of the world.
From twenty or so ragtag groups of survivors, we’d banded together and formed a village, hidden in the hills of rural Pennsylvania. Every year a survivor or three would find us, join us and add to our workforce. And with the children growing up, and even more children being produced, our little nest in the hills was rapidly becoming a fledgling city; already the village elders had spoken of building a better wall around the village proper, and trying to pave the dirt paths with river stones for ease of travel.
A gang of laughing boys, preteens judging by their lanky arms and legs and acne marked faces, rush past me, spades drawn out and being swung at imaginary enemies. The spade… a tool perfect for farming as well as handling a zombie. A simple crack to the skull is sufficient, and not many of the zombies we encounter are smart enough to do anything but take the blow. They’re obviously off to soldier training, something every member of our community does at least once a week.
Soldier training… the perfect solution for the worst problem; basic combat drills and how to take orders, as well as training in how to use one of the spades as a weapon. More than once a herd of Shamblers have come across our little slice of paradise, groaning and moaning as they sniff out the living blood beating within our veins from over hills and through the forests. Each time we handled the herd head on, as a village. While we suffered some casualties, we were able to keep our home as our own, as well as take the chance to loot the risen dead for whatever goods they had on them. An original abomination from the pit would be grey and nude, with long curved nails and sick black eyes… but someone who had fallen to such a monster and risen as a zombie themselves often enough had something worthwhile on them.
Loose change for melting down into new weapons or tools, clothes that could be salvaged for use for our growing population, even weapons like firearms strapped to their hips or chests. Our doctors would pull their teeth and melt the metals down from them into small bars of precious minerals while our warriors would try and save three or four from being killed and keep them around as practice for those being trained.
The Hunters like me rarely found anything of use from such herds, and spent our time after such an attack severing heads and burning bodies. Some of us collected jewelry from the fallen, a sin that I had committed numerous times to get Christina something nice and sparkly for a special gift. She always loved those special gifts…
Looking up, I see one of our carrier hawks flying overhead, heading to the large communal tent where the town elders slept and lived. Squinting my eyes, I could see a small parcel wrapped neatly on the small birds leg.
“Looks like the brewery will have to wait,” I mutter as I begin walking towards the large tent, knowing that hawk came from one of our look out hunters. We had seven hunters all positioned about five miles away from the village, up in a tree fort with enough rations and water to last them two weeks. Every hunter took a turn on watch, myself included (Christina always hated when I would go.)
Pushing back the leather flap of the tent, I move into the dimly lit bungalow to catch sight of three town elders, along with Zachary, reading a scrap of parchment they’d taken from the hawk’s leg, the prideful creature now resting on a bird stand eating a small rat, probably offering by Elder Babbling.
She always had a soft spot for the hawks we employed as messengers.
“If a herd is on the move then we need to mobilize immediately,” One of the elders said, the old man wearing a simple toga and sandals. His short cropped white beard and bald head made him look far older than he was, something that threw many of us off when we heard his calm and collected voice ring out over the gathered men and women during any village meeting.
“We’re in the middle of a harvest; we can’t just up and drop everything to get ready to fight a zombie horde.” Elder Babbling said her voice strained and weak as always. “I say we send the Hunters out and have them try and guide the herd in a different direction, or at the very least pick off their numbers and slow them down long enough to finish the harvest.”
“Those heathens? Elder Babbling, with all due respect I see no reason why we should place our lives in the hands of such heretics. If we pray and prepare ourselves, we will most certainly keep the restless dead at bay. This could be a test by the Almighty himself!”
“Then I say we pass it, just in case.” I say aloud, announcing my presence. “Elder Babbling is right, we need this harvest before winter sets in. Send a detachment of our hunters to meet this herd, and we’ll thin their ranks and try to guide them away.”
“And how will that prove to the Lord we are devoted enough to face his challenge head on?” Zachary asked loudly, eyes becoming narrowed slits as he glared at me.
“Oh, I don’t really know or care what your Lord has to say about all of this, I just want to keep the village safe.”   

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