The last couple of weeks I’ve been working on an old manuscript that’s been sitting around on my computer for three or four years. Starting to get into the groove, and thought you folks might want to have a look.
“Are you sure about this, Weasel?”
“For the hundredth time, I’m sure!” Weasel looked away from the binoculars long enough to glare at her, his appearance very like his namesake. His eyes were small and close set, peering down a pointy upturned nose. “Christ, Gwen, if you didn’t believe that cracker, why the hell did you come with me?”
Gwen shrugged thin shoulders. Sequins sparkled from the ‘Superstar’ logo emblazoned on the breast pocket of her denim jacket. The full effect was lost as half the sequins were absent, leaving faded blue marks in their place. “Beats starving to death in the city.”
Weasel grimaced, relaxing his defensive stance. “We ain’t gonna starve to death, okay? Riddick said those people were still up here. They’ll take us in.”
She startled him with a rusty laugh. “I wouldn’t take us in.”
“Yeah? Well, I guess it’s a good thing you ain’t already up here, ain’t it?” Weasel returned to scanning the narrow valley with his binoculars.
She glanced behind her at Weasel’s crew, those that were strong enough to follow him on this bizarre trek. An even twenty had been left behind, too sick or dispirited to join their exodus to the proverbial holy land.
Forty-three survivors from a city of thousands splayed out in various states of repose, none of them older than eighteen. They lounged in the afternoon sun, their once fine looking leather and silk clothing ripped and scuffed, sweat stained and filthy. Hollow eyed, many of them tried to hide the cadaverous lines of their faces with make up. It had become the rage to emulate American Indian war paint, and the garish colors helped disguise their emaciated features. Those that had the foresight to bring possessions, scant as they were, carried them in anything from designer packs to salvaged wheelbarrows. Several had taken the opportunity to remove stylish if tattered shoes, revealing blisters and swollen joints from days of forced marching on the harsh two lane highway. Only a few had had the sense to scavenge better shoes in towns along the way, but even those limped along from the rigors of breaking in new leather and canvas. It had been years ago, but Gwen thought she remembered an appropriate phrase; a trail of tears. This time it was a trail of shoes marking the passage of this destitute lot in search of survival.
The worst were the little ones. They stared listlessly at their elders with sunken eyes, long past the ability to complain or weep at the gnawing hunger in their bellies. All told, Weasel had twelve children under the age of five still breathing. Half of them had no parents, orphaned in the second and third wave of illness that had swept through Weasel’s crew. Others had lost older siblings to the fighting and starvation that had run rampant among the survivors of the Methuselah Plague.
If they didn’t arrive at their destination soon, the trail would be decorated with bodies as well as shoes. The food had given out two days ago, and everyone now traveled out of habit instead of hope. No one had realized how far away from the city they would have to walk to reach the village of Lindsay Crossing, the place Riddick babbled about on his deathbed. Had the distance been evident from the beginning, Gwen knew the kids would have remained in the squalor of their crib until they had wasted away to nothing.
“I think this is it.” Weasel brought her attention back to him. He handed her the binoculars. “Look down there. Does that look like a house?”
She peered in the direction he indicated. “It looks like a church steeple. So? We’ve been through a lot of small towns since we left home. There hasn’t been more than a handful of kids in half of ‘em.” She didn’t mention that some had been in worse straits than the Gatos.
“Yeah, but look to the left of that. It’s another house. There’s smoke coming from the chimney.”
She followed his direction, and froze upon sighting potential civilization. A wisp of smoke trickled from the brickwork, and she sucked in her breath. Stepping past Weasel, she scanned the valley with more intent. “Shit, Weas, there’s lots of chimneys smoking down there.” Hope flared in her heart, a stab painful enough to cause her to tremble. She ruthlessly forced herself to stillness; she couldn’t afford to lose control in front of Weasel, couldn’t show weakness now when she hadn’t done so since her family had died. Instead, she turned to stare at him. “You might be right.”
He nodded, his dark complexion whitening at her confirmation. He almost dropped the binoculars when she returned them, hands shaking. When he turned away, Gwen wondered if he was going to break into tears. He seemed close to losing it. She scoffed to herself. Weasel had held his crew together with an iron fist. He hadn’t even broken down when his little sister was caught by the Clinton Street Crips, and raped to death two years ago. No way was he losing it now.
The kids had gone through a lot the last couple of years. As resources dwindled, the canned goods no longer supporting the population, famine began its march across the city. Gang fighting, once simple territorial disputes, became one of claiming what little food remained. This pilgrimage in search of a dead man’s home was a last ditch attempt at living. If Riddick had been wrong about his people, if they weren’t as generous as he’d claimed, Weasel and the rest of them would die before winter.
Gwen stared into the valley. What if they won’t take us in?
Weasel turned back to his crew. “I think we’re here,” he said in a raised voice. “I know everybody’s tired, but I want to get this over with. The sooner we get down there, the sooner we’ll know whether to keep hoofing or not.”
It was a measure of their exhaustion that none complained at the shortened rest period. They slowly donned their shoes and sandals, dragged themselves to their bloody feet, and prepared to move. A few shouldered packs, others picked up the weakest of the children. A baby whimpered, but even that took too much energy, and it soon fell silent. When everyone was ready, Weasel led his people down into the valley, Gwen at his side.
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