Thick evergreens formed a vast sea of trees, stretching as far as the eye could see. Ferns and other types of brush grew between the trees, whose outstretched branches shaded the old dirt road. The trees were encased in ivy which draped from their limbs and wrapped around the trunk like a hand around a throat, spiraling up to the canopy. Bright sunlight penetrated the canopy of the forest, it’s rays dancing across the floor of the wilderness. Debris in the form of sticks, small logs, and fallen branches were all over the road. The dirt road, once having been meant to be accessed by vehicles, was now blocked from use by wheeled conveyance via the brush which had taken over it. At the end of the road was a small log cabin. An advancing army of Ivy crept towards the cabin, creating a green cloak on the ground which surrounded the structure. Two windows were on either side of the wooden door. These windows had clearly been boarded over to protect the glass.
The silhouette of a man knelt behind the brush, situated at a distance of forty feet from the cabin. His hands clutched the wooden shaft of a spear; leaning against the tree beside him was a worn ALICE pack and a crossbow. His eyes swept and scrutinized the open space surrounding the cabin as his hands gripped the spear tightly. With great caution, he began to survey the cabin, remaining wary of any threats which may be lurking around the corner. There was no real safe place in this area, but this cabin could be secured for a stay overnight. It would at least provide overhead cover from anything that might be lurking in the canopy of the trees.
The man was around an average height, his arms budging with muscle, which he had gained from everyday life in his Trybe. He was a Caucasian man with tanned skin, his sun tan an effect of the area in which he had originally spent the last sixteen years. This area was located on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountain range in Washington State. He wore clothing composed mostly of animal skins, although his feet were covered by boots that he had raided from a nearby sporting goods store. Many of the structures in this town had not been previously looted, allowing him to outfit himself. The boots had made a nice replacement for his previous shoes, which had been a pair of dilapidated moccasins. A hat which had been made of the furs of raccoons covered his head, complete with the tail protruding from the back. A ‘five o’ clock’ shadow covered his face. This he had kept under control with a sharpened blade, knowing that when he didn’t it he would find himself with a full-blown beard taking control of his face. His blue eyes were framed with black-rimmed eyeglasses. Before the collapse, his father had stored up pairs of reading glasses for this man, knowing that his son had need of these things and would continue to need them in the event of a collapse. Fortunately these were sufficient to correct his vision, otherwise he would be in serious trouble.
He was familiar with this location because this cabin belonged to his grandfather, a veteran of the second world war, who was somewhat of a preparedness minded individual and a firearms enthusiast. His grandfather, named Thomas Morris, had passed away sometime before the collapse of society. The property had become family-owned as had the materials which were stored therein, and had remained largely undisturbed by family members for some time. It had only been visited during infrequent hunting trips after he had died. The risks of attempting to acquire the gear after the collapse were astronomically high, the location being the primary reason for this problem. The cabin was situated right smack on the edge of a zone of territory known as the ‘Shunned Area’.
The ‘Shunned Area’ was a region of farmlands, wilderness, ruined cities and towns which ran from the coast to the Cascade Mountain range, and then from British Columbia to Northern California. The I-5 Corridor, which had been a conduit for the plague, ran nearly through the center of this zone. One did not enter the ‘Shunned Area’ expecting to come out alive. Rumors of this zone had circulated through the various Trybes. These reports were fearsome stories of giant insects, arachnids, and other horrors. This was not a place that you wanted to enter.
His hopes soared when he had located the old structure. He suspected Grandpa had left his firearms inside the cabin, locked away in the basement. The weapons and gear present therein would level the playing field for him, so to speak. His eyes continued to thoroughly sweep and scrutinize everything from the cabin to as far up into the canopy of the forest that he could see, while he simultaneously listened to his surroundings. The lack of threats spurred him to his feet, and he slowly began his approach on the building.
The spear which he held in his hands was an homemade weapon, and was something which he had made using skills learned from his Trybe. The spearhead had been forged from an abandoned automobile spring. His movements were swift and silent, stealth being a skill that he was known for. Upon arrival at the Cabin he found it unlocked and he opened the door which noisily creaked as it swung on its hinges. Beams of light flooded the darkened room, driving back the blackness. Slowly he stepped into the room, his boots thumping against the wooden floor.
His eyes swept the interior of the building for danger. The main room of the cabin contained an old wooden rocking chair, a woodstove and the kitchen. There was a bunk bed visible in the bedroom through an open door at the far end of the cabin. Directly in front of the woodstove, was a door built into the floor which if he recalled correctly, led down into the basement. Once he had determined that there were no threats present either in the cabin or the immediate surroundings, he retrieved his pack and crossbow and re-entered the building.
As his eyes explored the room, he spotted a kerosene lantern hanging from a hook by the door. “Thank you, Grandpa!” he thought, leaning his spear against the wall. His hands wrapped around the bail of the lantern as he removed it from its hook and checked for fuel before withdrawing a flint and steel from his pocket. He set it on a table before striking a light to the wick, welcoming the friendly glow that sprang forth. The smell of Kerosene filled the air as the lantern lit the room. From his pack He retrieved a short-sword, which he had found in a home while scavenging for supplies in a small town. The town had been one of his first stops since the sporting goods store. It was some five days journey from his present location. He then attached the sheath of the sword to his belt.
He positioned the lantern to the side of the door, one hand gripping his blade and drawing it free from its sheath. With his free hand he grasped the metallic ring of the door set into the floor. The hinges screeched their protest as he lifted the door open while stepping out of its path. A rush of stale air greeted him as he retrieved his lantern and made his descent into the abyss below.
The wooden stairs led from the main room down into the basement. They creaked their complaints with each step, his boots thumping against the hardwood boards. The walls and floor of the basement were concrete, unlike the wooden structure directly above it. As he descended he noticed a light switch which he wished worked. The basement was a rectangular-shaped room of unknown dimensions. There were a series of steel firearms lockers directly in front of him, and shelves which had once contained different calibers of ammunition beside them. A series of glass jars were positioned on various shelves, each of them covered with a layer of dust so that the contents were unrecognizable.
He could hardly contain his disappointment when he spotted only a couple of tins on the shelf. Although happy that at least something was there, the shelf was far too empty for him to celebrate. He took a moment to check the room for threats, sheathing his blade when he had determined none were present. On the shelf next to the tins was a small key and a piece of notebook paper. He approached the shelf, surveying its contents. One of the tins was clearly labeled ‘7.62’, indicating the caliber of ammunition which it contained. ‘440’ was written directly beneath the caliber indicating quantity of ammunition within. The fact that the tin was still sealed allowed him to easily determine that it was still full of ammunition. The remaining tin contained stripper clips, a cleaning kit, and a bayonet for a Mosin-Nagant.
He retrieved the lined-paper and the key, pocketing the key for a moment while examining the paper. It was a note, which was addressed to him. It read, “Wayne, it’s Dad and Zach. We took the Garand and the SKS and all the ammo we could carry, and we’re heading south. Stay strong, and don’t stick around in the shunned area long. We left you the Mosin-Nagant and all the ammo Grandpa had for it. Your sister has been through here already, as the AK-47 and its accessories are missing, and we found her old pack. We waited here for you the full two weeks, and we’ve fortified the cabin and went looking for your sister during that time. We went looking for your sister at the next rally point, but it is compromised. If she is alive, she would not have stayed there for very long. If you can help it, stay away from the I-5 corridor, there are big spiders there. Zach says he saw one as big as a house. We think the spiders might be all over the place, but it looks like there are a lot of them around that area especially. They’re in the forest too, but smaller than the ones near the rally point. We have seen some that are near German Shepherd sized. We are going straight to Morton, meet us there. Love Dad and Zach.”
Giant arachnids were not a pleasant thought. Stories about them inhabiting this area had circulated through the Trybes. In view of this fact, it was possible that some of them might have been migrating out of the I-5 corridor into the rest of the ‘Shunned Area’, moving all the way through to the outskirts where they had been encountered by Trybes. This was the most logical explanation his mind could conjure, and it was based on the assumption that the I-5 corridor was their primary place of residence. None of his assumptions about where they primarily resided were based in facts, it was only a conclusion drawn from his family’s scouting report and rumors.
His mind pondered over how accurate their report was. Could they reasonably cover the entire I-5 corridor without being caught and eaten by anything? The most likely scenario was that they surveyed the area, spotted a high population of giant arachnids, and made their report based on that. Regardless it was enough of a warning to make him think twice about going through there if he could help it. Yet what routes were there around it? Even if he did avoid it, he knew some of them had to be around. While on the trail several hours back he had heard movement far behind him…and it had to have been something big. It was however out of visual range, so he could not verify that. From this he had gained the distinct feeling that something was stalking him.
He grimaced at the words of the letter which read, “the rally point is compromised.” Was his sister still alive? If the rally point was compromised, this presented the real possibility that she was not. This thought was enough to discourage him since family was everything to him. With the destruction of his Trybe, the prospect of the loss of family members was especially painful. There was a slight sliver of hope since she had the AK-47, the caliber of which should have been a formidable match for a giant spider unless it was otherwise house-sized. She would still have to be cautious of her expenditure of ammunition as she could only carry a limited amount. On the off chances that she might retreat to the cabin from the compromised rally point, he decided to remain for the full waiting period.
Wayne folded the note and placed it in his pants pocket, stuffing it deep down inside. He set the lantern where it would provide sufficient light, and then pulled out the key and unlocked the firearms locker, opening the door. The rack inside held one firearm, a Russian Mosin-Nagant model 91/30 with an olive-drab shoulder sling. The stock was aging and somewhat beaten, but it was still serviceable and the rifle would most definitely help level the playing field with any of the rumored monstrosities in the ‘Shunned Area.’
He pulled the rifle free from the rack, resting the butt-end of the weapon against his thigh while he angled the barrel toward the ceiling. Working the bolt of the rifle, he checked the chamber thoroughly and once he had determined that it was empty and safe he slung the rifle over his shoulder. He then retrieved the two tins and the lantern and brought them back upstairs. Once he had reached the main floor of the cabin, he leaned the rifle against the wall with his spear.
His first priority was to secure the building. The windows had already been boarded over by his family members when they had occupied the structure during their weeks-long stay here. He closed and locked the door, and secured the upper and lower crossbars which were attached to the doorframe.
When he had finished, Wayne made a prompt check of the bedding on the lower bunk to make sure it wasn’t infested with bugs. He then unrolled his bedroll which had been attached to his pack out onto the bed. He retrieved his rifle and positioned it near his sleeping arrangements, making sure he had quick and easy access to the weapon. Once these tasks were completed he seated himself on the bed. With relative security, Wayne retrieved food and water from his bag and began to eat.
Dinner was blackberries, wild greens, and the last of his venison. He had killed a small deer with his crossbow not too long ago, skinning it and retrieving the meat it’s body provided. This had lasted him quite a few meals, but now he was out. He carried water in what had been known as a hydro flask before the collapse of society. As he ate and drank, his mind mulled over everything that had happened up to this point.
Wayne had been a part of a small Trybe in the east, well beyond the ‘Shunned Area’. They had formed after the collapse, with the goal of helping each other stay alive. Several Trybe members were former U.S. Army Green Berets, and they had taught everyone who was able to participate in their training how to fight and survive in the wild. They had trained Trybe members how to build booby traps for defensive purposes, and up until recently they had survived many of the horrors of the collapse. Their size had numbered at roughly one hundred people, and they were known as the Nason Trybe.
Their small size had also been their downfall. It resulted in a one-sided conflict with the Stehekin Trybe, who came out of the fighting victorious. As far as he knew, he and his three family members; brother, father, and sister, were the sole survivors of the Stehekin Trybe’s vicious invasion of the Nason’s territory. On that fateful day he had been chopping wood while his sister was washing her clothes at the river. His father and brother had been off on a hunting trip.
Therefore he and his family members had escaped death. Even with Green Berets as their acting leadership, they still fell to the superior numbers of the Stehekin Trybe’s raiding party, numbering roughly three hundred warriors. His family’s plan was simple. They were to rendezvous at Grandpa Tom’s cabin, then head South to their aunt’s house in Rouge River Oregon, moving along a series of pre-selected rally points. While they had been separated during their flight and the resulting pursuit by Stehekin warriors, the plan allowed them to regroup. The other rally points would also enable them the chance rejoin and resupply, so that the opportunity to be reunited with one another was always present in the event of separation. They were to wait for each other for no longer than a two-week period at each rally point if possible. Grandpa Tom’s cabin had been picked as the first location with the knowledge that the Stehekin Warriors wouldn’t follow them into the ‘Shunned Area’, and because of the weapons and gear stored there.
While Wayne held an awareness of the plan, the purpose of the note was to keep him up-to-date in regards to the progress of his family members. However his sister had failed to leave a note indicating that she had been here, leaving details surrounding her activities up to speculation. This was negligent on her part. However, everyone should have been heading for Rouge River and no one planned to stay in the ‘Shunned Area.’ Unknown to Wayne, he would be in the ‘Shunned Area’ much longer than he planned to be.
There was hope for his family. His father had been a designated marksman in the United States Marine Corps. It was an indisputable fact that although his father was no superman, he could hold his own. According to the information in the letter, all of his family members were well-armed. An M1 Garand with its .30-06 caliber ammunition had quite a bit of punch, and his brother and father had skills that would keep them alive. The only real concern was his sister who at times could be foolish, although she was not hopelessly stupid. Everyone in the family, including Wayne, knew how to shoot and handle firearms. While Wayne was known for being a good shot, his father was a far superior marksman given his past training.
Wayne was a proven leader, having successfully lead several war parties. These qualities seemed to mean nothing for his overall survival in the ‘Shunned Area’ during his stay in this zone, but little did he know there would come a time when they would come in handy. He was also a skilled woodsman, and was known for his intelligence.
He gradually became overwhelmed by the sensation of acute sadness. Setting his food aside he reached into his back pocket and retrieved a necklace. It was composed of olive drab paracord, which had been ran through a small coin. Before the collapse the coin had been a quarter. A hole of a sufficient enough size to run the cord through the coin had been drilled through it. He had retrieved the necklace from the lifeless body of his girlfriend who had been shot dead during the Stehekin Trybe’s most recent raid into their territory. He had previously given the necklace to her as a gift.
It seemed like somewhat of a strange gift. Why on earth would a woman want some rope with a coin attached to it? This particular young woman had an obsession with the time before the collapse, to the point where she liked to collect trinkets from those days which had no value. Both she and Wayne had only been children during those days. As a result, she didn’t know much of that time other than what she had remembered from her childhood. Therefore she was known not only for collecting trinkets but for pestering the Libran for information about the days before the world in which they presently lived. Giving her a quarter, strange as it may seem, actually did mean something to her. Therefore she had frequently worn the necklace until the day she was killed.
Wayne forced back tears and swallowed his sadness, stuffing the necklace back into his pocket. He could not afford to be dwelling on his loss. In this day and age it would seem that tears were a luxury that he could not afford, neither could he afford to be thinking of revenge. Seeking after vengeance at this point was foolish, especially when the Stehekin Trybe was a fighting force of fifty-thousand strong. It would be as foolish as attempting vigilantism in this dark world in which it seemed as though evil reigned. Such a person who attempted to clean the world up with his gun would soon run out of ammunition, or find himself killed very quickly. The scum of the earth, often referred to by every day people as ‘wolves’, did not long tolerate a ‘holier than thou’ white knight. Although in some cases the overall lawlessness of the world and an abundance of firearms that could be scavenged if one knew where to search allowed the people to occasionally rise up against the filth that sometimes reared its ugly head.
These days, the biggest Trybe on the block was the Stehekin Trybe. Rumors circulated among the other Trybes that they were holding slaves, and treating them in a cruel fashion. Many were angered by this, but there was nothing that could be done; if you messed with the Stehekin Trybe you were squashed. Their fighting force was too large for anyone to be able to fight back against them. Yet Wayne remembered overhearing members of the Trybe talking about raiding parties and other groups that were moving south toward Oregon, disappearing. This had taken place during ‘the rendezvous’, which was a meet-up in which all the Trybes had called a ‘truce’ and had come together to trade and share news.
When he had finished eating, he opened the tins, cleaning and loading the rifle. He then set it next to his bed, going to sleep in order to seek rest from the long trek of the day. That night, something large crashing through the woods awoke him from his slumber…
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