Be forewarned — this post contains certain subject material which some readers may consider offensive, or inappropriate for minors. This doesn’t mean it necessarily is, or that you should not read it. I simply don’t recommend it for people uncomfortable with mild cursing and sexually-implicit situations.
I’ll never forget the day I changed my mind.
I still regret it.
“Come on man, how you still asleep? Git up! We gotta move!”
The corner of something hard jabbed me in the ribs. My eyes shot open before I could tell them not to. I saw two things in that blinding white: Fill’s face looming over me, and his rifle butt prodding me in the side. I threw one hand over my eyes to protect them from the sunlight, and one across to my side. As my eyes adjusted, I peeked through my fingers at my friend, who was still attacking my Evemakers.
“Cut it out, will ya, R? Can’t a Hunter ever get some sleep?”
“No can do, J – gotta call, and we gotta git on it! The deers jumped the fence!”
Sometimes we called each other by just the first letter of our first names. Well, I guess in his case, it was the first sound. His first name was Arnold, but I called him “Ar.” He went by Fill, though, ’cause he was shy about his first name. With a last name like “Fillmore,” I could never understand why he thought that was better than “Arnold.” I guess it was the only way he could keep up his claim that he had the Presidency in his blood. Not that he could ever leverage that, these days.
His last phrase caught me off guard, especially colored by his obvious excitement.
“Deer? Where’s there deer inside the fence?”
“Human deer, idiot! Git up, we gotta take a truck down to the river.”
“Human…deer…Oh! So, you mean…it’s true?”
“Yeah, ‘course it’s true, why else you think all those Psycho-Crazy assholes stay to themselves these days? And you know local women won’t be around ’em.”
So they had kept them, after all. I had had my suspicions after the raid on Warren Wilson last Summer. It had been our largest raid ever, and our most successful. In fact, not even the wars we had won in the Fall had brought us as much loot. I had been in charge of the Food Drive for that raid, being our best Hunter, so I hadn’t seen much of what Labor Pool had hauled in. I had heard stories, though – that although all the men had been killed by Pest Control in the skirmish, almost all the women were alive and kicking when Labor Pool got their hands on them. I never did feel those guys in L.P. were quite right in the head, but they were as playful as kittens compared to the creeps in P.C. Someone once made a joke about P.C. standing for Politically Correct, because no one even tried to correct a P.C., but no one laughed. I hadn’t seen that joker for a couple months now. I wondered if he’d been sent off to Ashe-Hole, like how mothers warned would happen to those who didn’t contribute or wouldn’t keep their heads down.
“Aiite, J! I’m gonna give ya two seconds to git in this’ere truck!”
Fill had left my tent and the flap had closed back down. For just one, sweet, brief moment, all I heard was the forest, and maybe a woodpecker. My reverie vanished when I heard Fill start up something that sounded like it had four big letters on the side: H, E, M and I. Shaking my head and chuckling, I grabbed up my rifle and water. I put my shirt ’round my head but didn’t stop to pull it down past my neck. I would just come back for the rest of my kit whenever we were done doing whatever we were about to do. I jumped out of the tent and threw my boots on.
“Forgit deer, man, yer gonna scare away all the furry little woodland critters from a mile away revving that thing! Don’chu know bout trackin’? Ya gotta be quiet!”
I had been so tired that morning because I had been tracking and setting snares the day before until deep dusk. The only reason anyone around our Community got any fresh meat was because of us Hunters. Unfortunately, there had been more and more Requisition for that commodity this year. We were hard-pressed to meet demand. This month, I was just glad to see the back of Winter. What I did see was a few more furry little woodland critters every week.
“Aww, you shut up, Elmer Fudd! I was in a hurry – it was the first thing I could grab! You know we’re runnin’ short after the P.C. Crash of New Year’s Eve!”
I did shut up. We didn’t like to talk about New Years. You see, if a P.C. gets all liquored up, he’s mighty dangerous. If he’s good an’ drunk, no one sticks around, and usually he goes for a walk Outside for “some air.” He’ll come back with food, or a person. If he ain’t too slammed, the person might still be alive. Now, if it’s a New Year’s Party, and there’s several P.C.’s locked in the heated battle of a drinking contest, someone’s supposed to hide all the car keys. If you don’t, once they get it in their ‘roided skulls that they need a walk Outside, they’ll think they can take a vehicle with ’em. Steep slopes are why we’re so protected in here, but they don’t protect drunk drivers from themselves, it turns out. And we just don’t have the Supply available to rebuild ten whole trucks and three muscle cars.
My shirt was still just hanging around my neck when I jumped up into the cab.
“So, they kept all those hippies from the two dubs, huh?”
“Guess so! I know it was a couple U-hauls full they brought back, and I know I saw their First Count. Lots o’ little fillies last year! Now, though, it doesn’t sound like more than a few got out today. I mean, If there were dozens of’em tryin’ to hoof it, we’d’a already found ’em.”
“‘Kay, so, you know if anyone’s asked the ones they left behind if they know anythin’ about it?”
“Uh…I don’t think there are any still here. I think they said we lost ’em all. I was told the entire Supply escaped.”
“Man, that’s a hella high attrition….”
Labor Pool had their own little ways, physical and psychological, of “keeping the Servants at home and unable to roam.” The thing is, Servants, we all saw. They were just like any slaves throughout history, doing the little things we told them to. I hadn’t ever seen the L.P. haul from Warren Wilson wandering around the community, though. Supposedly, the spoils from W.W. had turned out to be too numerous and godless for even L.P. to control. I had heard people mutter quietly, like it was taboo, that we’d been forced to “let ’em go.” It had been a real let-down at the time, because a lot of folks had their eyes on some. We said it must have been all that organic milk that had kept them in a good, curvy shape. Even I had thought that it was a waste of pretty doe-eyed faces just to “let ’em go.” Not a one of them would last two nights out in the Wilderness, especially now that they had no safe home to go back to. No one could live in the Wilderness for long.
“Yeah, you know how we all wanted to keep ’em as…company? Well, I heard P.C. is raisin’ Hell this mornin’, ’cause their toys are missin’. That’s what this Border Patrol grunt tol’ me. Sounds like L.P. never let ’em go Outside, so to speak…. Maybe what they meant was…they had to give over Claim…to P.C…..”
We both contemplated the full Ramifications of that situation. Suddenly, the high attrition rate made sense. Of course, no one would have known if P.C. had a pile of used goods locked in their basement. No one had anything to do with P.C. if they could help it, except during raids and wars. Even then, we all just tried to stay behind them and out of their line of sight.
We were already at the Pearly Gate, and Border Patrol had it open, waiting for us. We didn’t slow down at all, just rocketed on out into the Wilderness at near seventy. A Border Patrol grunt called us over the radio.
“Intel come in from two Dogmen following the Swannanoa. Y’all are to go left on Tunnel Road and take Azalea all the way down. Watch carefully, the Dogmen seem to think these hippies might swim. Guess puppies can’t track through the river.”
I picked up the walkie-talkie and answered the affirmative. Fill rolled down our windows, and cold air blasted my face. Well, I was sure awake now. Down near the river, the humidity makes early Spring chill feel like wet ice in the air. I finally pulled down my shirt. We slammed a hard left onto Tunnel Road, and I maybe blinked twice before we got to Azalea. Fill let it coast now, using what was left of our sprint to roll on to the river.
We heard the hounds before we saw ’em. It looked to me like the Dogmen were having a harder time than usual holding them back. Maybe it was just my own disdain for those hounds, but this time, I thought I heard something like desparate hunger in their baying. It was a more insistent, frenzied bark than I remembered. Maybe a P.C. had told those bitches of the urgency of the situation, I mused. We waved at the handlers, and the Dogmen could barely nod in return, they were pulling so hard on their leashes. We left them behind and the morning got quieter. That lasted until we got to a sharp bend, where there used to be some soccer fields or some kind of municipal sports park.
I know neither of us were prepared in the least for what awaited us around that bend.
By that time, the sun was just starting to warm up the river valley. It was high enough to shine on all the meadows that used to be playing fields. We came around the curve with the engine idling, both of us looking intently around for any movement. There was a mostly broken and fallen down wooden fence around the big field, probably the main soccer field back in the old days. On the other side of it, right out in the middle of the meadow, we saw four shapes, colored different shades of skin tone: one peach, one like coffee with milk in it, one about like the yellow-brown wet sand on a beach, and one like cloud with a little sunrise playing on it. My eyes were pleased to count those four shapes. They were delighted to recount them, and more than ready to count them again. I believe we simply had never seen untouched, perfect skin out in the Wilderness, or anywhere else, for that matter. We stared, dumbstruck, our mouths literally hanging wide open. Fill barely pressed the brakes, and brought us to a slow, quiet stop. He put the truck in park, and we just sat there for a spell.
“What did we used to call that, R? Sun-bathin’ or layin’ out or somethin’?”
“I dunno, J, but I call it better than that breakfast we missed!”
“Yeah, I hear ya, buddy….”
Who knows if minutes passed, or seconds, or even hours, as we sat there in awed silence. I know the girls could hear the truck’s engine idling. They didn’t show any signs of noticing us, though – they just laid there on lavish display. Sometimes one would stretch, maybe rearrange her position so that we could catch a full-on view of all her assets, before she settled back down. It wasn’t too hard to see them even when they were laying out flat, but if we hadn’t been in such a tall truck, it might have been more difficult to make out the curves through the grass. Even so, I wondered if they were talking to each other as they lay there – we were a bit too far away for me to tell if their mouths were moving, or if that was just my eyes welling up with tears of joy.
I was the first to break our reverie.
“Oh, man, R – the dogs.”
“Oh, shee-ut, son. The only bitches I wanna think about right now are –”
“R, you don’t want them breaking this up, do ya? What if those stupid puppy-lovers see their quarrel has stopped, and just let their girls loose? You know Dogmen ain’t really the brightest lanterns we got in Supply….”
“Hmm…maybe yer right…. Well, then, guess we oughta go take take charge of this sitchee-ayshun….”
We both opened our doors as quietly as we could. Fill’s comment about human deer came back to me now – it was like we were watching a herd of deer, and we were afraid they might run. We didn’t even push the doors closed, we just left them half-latched. I hadn’t even thought to grab my rifle out of the truck, but as we walked through the hole in the fence, I saw that Fill had a large bundle of rope in hand.
“Hey, whatcha gon’ do wi’ that, genius? Tie ’em up? Think the other two will stand there jus’ a-waitin’ on us while we hawg-tie the first ones?”
“Shuddup, fool. Jus’ follow my lead….”
We walked slowly over to the four beauties lying on their clothes in the tall grass. They had stripped down to just panties, and had laid down their clothes on the grass like blankets. At that time, it didn’t occur to me that if they had been laying there for a bit, they would probably be getting wet and cold from the dew seeping through those clothes. It also couldn’t have been more than a half an hour since the sun had stretched its rays over this field in the first place. Nope, none of that was on my mind at the time. The four of them just laying in front of us as if they’d been there for hours was about all my brain had room for.
Fill tried out that “lead” he had promised.
“Hey. Whatch’y’all up to this mornin’? Workin’ on that tan?”
I thought I might heard the one colored like a cloud choke, or cough, or maybe she swallowed a bug. What I was sure of, though, is that her chest was the roundest and fullest of the four, and it gave one of those little rippling tremors that made me want to put my hands all over her. Another movement caught my eye. The light coffee one had moved her face, framed by black hair, curly and full. She seemed to be the most muscular of them all, but her curves were there, too. Most of her thick hair was spread out on her shirt as she raised her head to speak.
“Well, jew know, we were, until dese two beeg, strong, handsome boys came over and blocked out all our sunshine. Now we might get cold down here in da shade….”
The pretty peach had hair the color of that same sunshine, but tinted with a bit of dusk. I couldn’t tell exactly what color it was, but then again, it was hard to look at just her hair.
“Yew boys know what happens wen a girl gits co-old, doncha?”
She reached up slowly to her own chest, running her fingertips oh-so-smoothly along her belly and up to the two points of darker skin on her peaks, and squeezed them, pulling and twisting. Her face looked pouty, almost pained, as if someone was pricking her with a needle. She bit her lip and looked at me with eyes glazed over. She moaned, and I think my knees almost gave out right then and there.
“J, back up a step, will ya? They need to feel the sun on their skin, y’know whaddai mean?”
We backed up just enough to keep our shadows on the grass in front of their clothes. At that, four bodies stretched out, like they were just waking up. The four shapes writhed slowly, and four throats murmured and whimpered in contentment. Fill dropped his rope, and I don’t think either of us noticed the thud.
“I just looove the sun in Springtime! I haven’t seen the sun in a while…and that makes me sad….”
Clouds was arching her back, letting the sun caress her skin like I wished I was doing. Her chest was pushed up, and my interest along with it.
“That’s what we’re doing out here, you see. This spot is where we can get the most sun. Living in the forest like you gentlemen in your big compound, well, it’s nice, I guess…and safe…but we like to be free….”
Sand-on-the-Beach had eyes that looked a little squinty, but that just made her look exotic and mysterious. In the back of my mind, completely out of focus at that moment, was the image of a tiger, leaping free out of a cage and running across a field to freedom.
“Y’all are prob’ly fixin’ to ask us if we wanna hitch a ride wich’u back up t’yore place, huh?”
Blondie propped herself up on her elbows and fixed us with a judgmental stare.
“See, now, yore place is borin’. It’s…stiflin’, and cramped. Stayin’ inside all the time, cooped up like some mother hens with those big sweaty, smelly, overcompensatin’ tiny-tool DOUCHE-baigs –”
“Jaimie, cálmate, cool it, bay-bee…Come ooonnnn, jew don’ wanna ged all upset right now, during our one-derfol girls’ day at de spa? Hee hee….”
“Yeah, sweetie, don’t sweat it. Just lay here with the sun, soaking up these rays. This is where it’s at….”
“I hope these nice gentlemen don’t ask us to leave our perfect spot in the grass. That might mean we would have to put our clothes back on….”
This ultimatum from the tigress had Fill tripping over his own words.
“Oh, no, uh, not at all! Um, ‘course I wouldn’t! Oh – ask you to cover up, I mean. Uh, I, uh, I do gotta ask ya t’come back, though…. Them’s orders….”
This time I was sure I heard Clouds giggle. I looked her way just in time to see her chest shake beautifully with suppressed laughter. I didn’t have the time I wished I could to think on that, though, because they all started standing up, and this was where things started to come to a head – so to speak.
“Way-ull, if thayat’s how y’all’r gonna play it….”
Starting with Blondie, each girl put her hands on her hips, leaned onto one leg, and cocked her head to the side to look at us as if we had insulted them or something.
“I didn’ wanna hayafta aisk this, but I guess it’s the only way. Yew boiys jus’ don’ see th’ Big Pick-sure, do ya? If we go baick theyere, yew prob’ly won’t never see us again, yew know thayat? But if y’all jus’ come’long with us, now, then we kuhd haive arselves a ree-ul good tahm, alll the tahm.”
“Jew boise don’ reely like to chair, do jew? Not reely? Don’ jew wan’ ahs ahll to joreselves?”
“You guys don’t look like the ‘Free Love’ type, to me, I’m just saying….”
“Just think, if we all get in that impressive truck you brought down here, we could just slip right on out of this valley, and past the next one, and the next one, and just never look back. We would only need to look at each other….”
Tigress was staring straight at me, and behind her alluring eyes, something in my stomach felt her strength, and the Hunter in me recognized that independent spirit, the strong will, the ability and desire to go off away from the crowd and just fend for yourself. In that moment, I wanted nothing more than for us two strong men to take these four members of an endangered species somewhere safe, where no one else but us could ever find them. They needed to be protected, like we used to, before the world went all ass-up, and face-down in the mud.
Fill and I looked at each other finally, and I saw the conflict in his eyes. He really wanted to put these beautiful human does right up on his lap and just drive off, but he was scared. I knew what he was scared of, too. Our community hadn’t been so successful by letting things slip through its fingers.
“Look, R, there comes a point in yer life when ya gotta recognize what’s right, and lemme tell ya, brother, this, this here is so right, it’s stupid. It’s also stupid to run, I know, but it is the right thing to do, right now. You’n’I, we been all over these hills, and we know places we kin go that they will never find us. We can make this happen! We can have anythin’ we want!! We jus’ gotta take it! Ain’t that what we always done?”
“Yeah, J, I know, but…you know how they get….”
That hauntingly hungry yelping bark echoed from down the river valley, and we both started, as if we’d already been caught. I noticed the damp clothes that had served as blankets were already back to serving as a tempting screen over what lay beneath. Eight points of interest showed me that those clothes were wet, and I thought about how ill-equipped these girls were to survive in the Wilderness.
“We have to do this, R, old friend. And it’s really now or never. Like I never seen it before, this is a now-or-never situation! Come on!”
“Aiite, fine, y’all heard ‘im, we doin’ this! Git to the truck!”
He looked around in the grass for anything they might have brought with them, and my glance darted around the edges of the meadow, at the treeline, to see if anyone had seen us. It looked to us like the coast was clear, and we were ready to high-tail it out of there. We turned to run for the truck, and we both saw that the girls had somehow covered that fifty yards already. They were opening the doors and climbing on in. I heard Fill mutter something under his breath, but then we, too, took off. Several frantic seconds later, we were also jumping in, breathless, our four new refugees crammed into the tiny backseat. We slammed our doors shut as Fill was shifting the truck into drive, and he mashed his foot down on the gas. I turned around in my seat just in time to see another truck rip around the bend behind us, immediately followed by the two Dogmen from earlier, on foot.
“God DAMN it!!”
Fill slammed his other foot down on the brake. He and I looked at each other in surprise, then each of us noticed what the other had cursed at. He had seen two dirt bikes fly out of the woods right in front of us, each loaded down with L.P. gear, nets an’ ropes an’ such. The painted motorcycle helmets covering the riders’ faces were only slightly less creepy than the sinister eyes that I knew were underneath. I looked back at Fill again.
“Look, brother, let’s just play it off for now, we’ll figure somethin’ out as soon as we can.”
“I guess we have to, man. But DAMN, I wish we’d been a minute faster! You shore we cain’t jus’ take ’em out, real quick?”
“I don’ know bout that, y’know, I think that might go south pretty fast….”
A small but staggeringly hard grip closed over my shoulder.
“Why ain’t yew gunnin’ it?? Le’s GO!! Yew can knock over some li’l bicycles!! An’ don’ch’all got guns an’ shit??”
I turned around to see more Southern Fire in a girl’s eyes than I had ever seen in twenty-something drunken mountain brawls.
“What? You crazy, woman? I said we’ll figger somethin’ out! Maybe you don’ remember what happened back at Warren Wilson, but these guys have never let anyone they’ve seen with their own two eyes git away from ’em. Ever. Come on, it ain’t like I changed my mind ’bout runnin’ wich’y’all, I’m jus’ gonna play this by the book for a minit, an’ maybe we’ll all leave later tonight or somethin’. Shit, I dunno! We got no choice here!”
She sat back and looked at me as if she didn’t believe a word I said. Eight eyes regarded me as if they didn’t have the time of day for my pathetic excuses. I faced forward again, and tried to convince myself I didn’t agree with them. I tried to convince myself that I hadn’t backed down.
Fill put his hand out the window and flashed a thumbs-up, and the vehicles moved into a formation in front of and behind us. We all drove carefully, like some military convoy, back to our little prison of a mountain cove. Whereas I had felt uneasy about leaving through the Pearly Gate earlier that morning, I was downright sick to my stomach when it flashed past us again, our direction now uphill. I really regretted not sticking to our original plan of running for it, or at least trying to fight our way through, but I knew that way would have only led to strife and blood. At least now everyone was sure to be alive tomorrow.
If only I had any idea then of the bloodbath that would sweep across our community that night….
Congratulations! You have just read the first working piece of any of my novels that I have ever put onto the internet! This is very obviously very much still a work in progress, and I was very hesitant to throw it up here. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and let me know what you think! Constructive criticism is my favorite!
All words, photos, works and art on this blog are the sole creation and intellectual property of Nicholas Biddle (based currently in Perry, GA). No part or whole may be reproduced without full due (legal) credit given. Thanks for reading!