Developmental Editor: Drew Pendleton
Copy Editor: Tammy Pendleton
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2019 by New Legend Books & Comics
Cover Art © 2019 by New Legend Books & Comics
This book is a work of fiction. Names, character, places, and incidents either are of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
As the dust rolls across the now desert-like terrain, fourteen-year-old Scottie Pittman walks east toward what she hopes to be a place that may have been protected from the devastation that has befallen to the once beautiful, bluegrass state. By any standard, she’s a sight. Her dirty jeans now fit more like capris and her shirt is faded and stain-covered. The jacket, Scottie wears, is dusty and weathered from being overexposed to the elements. She has a piece of her father's old shirt wrapped around her head, covering her nose and mouth to protect them from the winds, which are filled with dust and debris. Her small dingy brown canvas shoes are riddled with holes. Her socks, belt, and backpack (which use to be bright pink but are now more of a dirty mauve) have been able to withstand the environment reasonably well. Her dirty blonde hair is pulled back into a ponytail and she is wearing a pair of round welding goggles to protect her eyes from the dust and scorching sun.
Scottie is one of the few survivors of the Crimson Sky, the shortest war in history and wiped out a vast majority of the world’s population. It turned the earth into an inhabitable, deserted wilderness. No, it wasn’t a conflict between nations, and it wasn’t even an official war. In the end, one small group of terrorists caused all the destruction. They unleashed a simple computer virus that tricked countries with nuclear and EMP missiles into thinking they were being attacked. In response, each country launched a nuclear strike and absolute chaos was released upon the earth. The name of the virus was Crimson Sky. The results were catastrophic, to say the least. The skies turned red from the glow of the rockets and it was nothing short of a miracle that anyone survived. No one really knew how many missiles there were until the day they were all unleashed. Then and only then did people understand the destructive capabilities the human race had reached.
Technology before the war was at its peak. Androids had become a regular part of society in most parts of the world and were designed to do all sorts of tasks. Dangerous jobs for humans were becoming a thing of the past. Huge airships flew through the air, replacing airplanes. These massive machines could carry an infinite amount of cargo and people all over the planet, and even into space. This incredible leap in technology was due to a new power source that a group of astronauts had discovered on the world’s first manned mission to Mars.
The team brought back something amazing. It was a mineral that pulsed with a massive amount of energy but remained cool to the touch and was extremely low in radiation. Scientists began to study it and learned to harness its power. That led to the first pulse crystals and the Pulse Reactor, which produced 100 times the power of a nuclear cell. This mineral was costly to mine though, so the crystals were not widely used and supplies were too low to meet demand. Once again, great minds reacted and created the pulse chamber. A pulse chamber would be cheap and easier to maintain. You simply charged them with a crystal, which allowed it to maintain and produce that same level of charge endlessly as long as the chamber wasn’t damaged. One small chamber supplied enough energy for a city block and one pulse engine propelled a jet at unbelievable speeds, therefore breaking the atmosphere no longer required thousands of gallons of fuel. The future of mankind looked bright and missions to Mars became more and more frequent. On any given day, there would be three to five ships on their way to or from the mining camps. The massive airships could go in and out of the atmospheres of either planet with ease. After decades of slow progress, mankind had reached a new level of achievement.
Then, as if from the snap of a finger, it was all gone. A simple computer virus almost wiped out the entire planet. Billions of people died in a flash and cities were turned to ashes. It would take years just for the dust to settle. When it did, there wasn’t much left but devastation. Amazingly enough, people who made it to caves, underground buildings, and even personal bomb shelters survived. Some were bent on dominating others and some just wanted to find a safe place to live, but all experienced great loss and sorrow. The world was no longer a happy place but a place of pain and suffering.
Scottie and her parents lived out west in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Her mother, Janet, was a nurse and worked at the local hospital. She loved her job almost as much as her family. At night, she and Scottie would read together before her father came in so the three of them could say their prayers. Janet and Rick, Scottie’s dad, had been married for eleven years and were close to their twelve-year anniversary. Scottie’s mother was respected by her colleagues and loved by her patients. She was an extraordinary woman.
Rick was no ordinary man. He was a certified genius, with two doctorates under his belt. The government paid him well to work on military hardware and bio-engineering. He was a good husband and father as well. Nights and weekends were for family and he made sure they got his attention. Rick was also a survivalist who loved hunting, fishing, and gardening. These interests were passed down to his daughter as they spent quality time together.
The day the virus hit was just an average summer Tuesday with the only exception being that Scottie went to work with her Dad that day. That was the only thing that saved his and Scottie’s life. Rick worked in an underground sealed laboratory, which was protected from the blasts and aftermath. Janet, unfortunately, was at work on the eight floor and did not have access to a bunker. The hospital was laid to waste and there were no known survivors. Rick, believing his wife could still be alive, risked his own life to go out and find her. He found nothing, and his search came with a high price to pay. Rick became ill due to radiation poisoning. It was then that he came up with a plan to save his daughter. They would wait for the radiation to drop, then set out for Kentucky, where he was from.
Every day they would watch the levels slowly drop, but not fast enough. Rick knew that he was not going to be able to make that trip, so Scottie would have to prepare for a solo journey. He spent every waking minute teaching Scottie everything about how to take care of herself and how to get back home. Most kids could not have taken in that kind of knowledge, but Scottie soaked it up like a sponge. After all, her IQ made Rick’s seem like that of a child. Scottie had scored off the charts when she was very young and showed the uncanny ability to remember everything she sees, reads or is told. This made teaching her any skill extremely easy. She was scared as any child would be, but Rick assured her that God would keep her safe. One way of doing that was giving her an amazing brain and sassy attitude. It didn’t hurt that her dad was a weapons engineer either. Rick hung on for almost three years. The radiation returned to safe levels after two or so, but Rick was too far gone, as he suspected he would be. The last six months Scottie nursed her father as he withered away to nothing. The day he died, she wept as she buried what was left of him, and then headed for Kentucky.
Rick’s hometown was Berea, Kentucky. He was sure some of his family survived and they would take Scottie in. It would be a long hard journey filled with a lot of danger but his girl could do it. Now fourteen years old Scottie had made her way from there to Berea. But the town she was looking for was no more. Scottie found the same destruction there as everywhere else she had been, but there was a backup plan. Rick had told Scottie about a military testing facility in the mountains south-east of Berea that hopefully would have supplies and maybe even some lasting remains of the staff that worked there. With any luck, the mountains surrounding it protected it from the blast waves. Very few people knew of this place, so if nothing else it might be a safe place for Scottie to live out her days. It wasn’t ideal, but it would do if all else failed.
Scottie looked down at the compass she has tied around her wrist, as though it is a watch, to check her heading. “From what Dad said, this should be the right direction.” She thought to herself. Off in the distance, she saw hillsides scorched and bare.
“What a pretty place this must have once been…what a shame.” She said aloud.
Ahead of her, she noticed a dust trail coming her way and wasn’t quite sure what it was. “It couldn’t be people,” she thought, “There’s too much dust.” She continued walking, thinking that whatever it was it would pass by the time she got there and besides it is right in front of her and she has no desire to go out of her way. The dust cloud kept getting closer and closer and by the time she figured out what it was, it was too late. She has been spotted by two men on makeshift motorcycles. Running would be pointless, they would surely catch up to her.
Two men on those bikes pulled up alongside her but Scottie kept walking. The first man pulled down the dirty rag over his face to reveal an even dirtier face and nasty teeth.
“Little girl! What are you doing out here all alone?”
Scottie kept walking, choosing to ignore the men. She had run into people like this from time to time and had found that to keep moving is the best course of action.
“LITTLE GIRL!” The man yelled. “I’M TALKING TO YOU,"
Still, Scottie kept moving. The man looked at the other one and said.
“Can you believe this, Willard?”
“You reckon she’s deaf or something, Dale?” Willard replied.
Dale then glanced at Willard as he shrugged his shoulders and the two men got off their bikes, quickly catching up with her. Dale grabbed her by the shoulder and spun her around.
“What’s in the backpack little girl?” He said eerily.
“Nunya”, She replies
“Nunya? What’s a Nunya?” He asked, bewildered.
“Nunya business. Now move along before I have to hurt you.” Scottie demanded as she turned, headed back in the direction she was walking.
“Can you believe the balls on this girl?” Dale said to Willard.
Dale ran after her, grabbing her again and twisting her around. “Little girl, I ain’t gonna…” He started but was cut short when she zapped him with a million volts of electricity from a stun gun.
Dale collapsed and was left twitching on the ground. Willard comes running at her but she gets him too and he also hits the ground twitching as Scottie walks over to their bikes. After a brief exam of the design she can tell that they have been modified to burn crude oil. She pulls the lines, which causes the tanks to drain onto the ground. Scottie quickly turns and heads back in the direction she was going, zapping each man again.
“Look, fellas, I hate to do that to someone but you left me no choice. By all rights, I could take your stuff, but I won’t. I did, however, drain your tanks, so you’ll be walking back to where you came from. Please don’t try to follow me. I don’t have anything of value and if I do see you again, I will crank the power up on this baby and I ain’t sure but I think it might kill ya.” She says to them, pats her stun gun and walks away as the two men try to regain their composure. They lay there for a good while as Scottie walks off into the distance and out of sight.
By night Scottie reaches the base of the mountain range. “I’m beat.” She thought.
“I better find a place to sleep. I can tackle this mountain tomorrow.” She says to herself.
After looking around, she finds a little notch in the bank of what used to be a creek bed and snuggles in. She turns her face to the sky and begins to tell her nightly prayers.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to keep… Also God, can you tell mom and dad I said hi and that I miss them. Goodnight.”
She then flips the black welding lenses of her goggles down and drifts off to sleep. That night, like most nights, Scottie dreamed about her old life. She relives a fishing trip that she and her parents went on about a year before her mother’s death. This particular trip was to Waurika Lake.
“Scottie, come help me hook up the boat,” Rick yelled up the stairs.
“Be right there dad!” She yelled back down as she put on some shorts and a t-shirt over her swing suit.
She wanted to be prepared to swim, just in case the fish weren't biting. She ran down the steps and into the kitchen with her long hair flying through the air.
“Scottie Nichole, put that hair up.” Her mother told her.
“Oh mom, I like it down.” She replied.
“You know it is going to be in your way and a rat’s nest with all that wind blowing it,” Janet tells her.
“OK,” Scottie says with a disappointed tone.
She then gets a hair tie out of the kitchen junk drawer and pulls her hair up.
“Better?”, she asked sarcastically, of her mother.
“Much”, Janet replied.
“Scottie, where are you?” Rick yelled from outside.
“I’m coming.” She yells back.
She ran outside and helped him attach the boat to the truck by guiding him back to the hitch. Ten minutes later the three of them were on the road and headed for the lake. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the water was perfect. The boat was in the water in no time and they are off. The trio caught a handful of fish but nothing big enough to keep. After a couple of hours of failure, Rick drove the boat out into the middle and stopped.
“What are we stopping here for, dad?” Scottie asked.
“Something is not right with the engine.” He told her.
“Come back here and let's check it out,” Rick said to Scottie.
“Everything ok, honey?” Janet said with concern on her face.
Rick’s only reply is a wink and a nod to his wife. Scottie heads to the back of the open bow boat, where the motor is located, and started to unlatch the cover. Rick comes up behind her and scoops her up in the air.
“FISHIN’S OVER!” He yells as he steps up on the back of the seat and jumps out into the water with his daughter in his arms.
The two of them hit the water with a huge splash and came up laughing.
“You two are so goofy,” Janet said as she looked over the side of the boat at them.
Scottie and Rick both look at each other, up at her, and in unison, both use their arms to send a big splat of water soaking Janet.
“OH, YOU TWO HAVE HAD IT NOW!” Janet yells as she laughed and jumped off the boat into the water next to them.
With that splash, Scottie wakes and quickly sits up. The smile on her face from her dream quickly turns to a frown as reality sets back in. The look of heartbreak on in her eye is enough to make even the toughest man cry. The little girl wipes a tear from her cheek, lays back down and returns to sleep.
This is It!
The next morning Scottie woke up early to the sun beating down on her face. She sat up, opened her backpack and took out a toothbrush, toothpaste, a small pack of jerky that she made and a canteen of water. She removed her morning portion of the jerky from the package and ate every last crumb. Afterwards Scottie took a small drink from the canteen and sat it on the ground.
“That hit the spot.” She said with a smile.
Next she put a small dab of toothpaste on her toothbrush and with a small sip of water she began brushing her teeth. For about two minutes she meticulously brushed her teeth until they were clean. Good dental hygiene was one of her mother's pet peeves that she had drilled into Scottie’s head since she was little. Once done, she spat out the foam, took another tiny sip of water, swished it around and spit it out as well.
“AHH, nice and fresh.” She said as she smacked her lips together.
After taking one last drink of the water, she put everything back in her backpack.
“Time to get going. This mountain ain’t gonna climb itself.” Scottie said aloud as she rose to her feet.
With that, she walked up out of the old creek bed and started up the mountain. This wasn’t going to be an easy climb, and she knew it. If the base was still standing on the other side though, it would be worth the effort she had made to get here. Scottie hoped it would be because the last month had been a hard one. Food was getting more and more scarce, which was not good. She didn’t like to think about what she made this last batch of jerky from, but she had to eat. Purifying water had become second nature to her but finding a good water source isn’t always easy either. There was enough jerky and water to last her a couple more days, but after that, she would have to get creative. The ascension was long and the terrain was rough. Several times she changed course and went out of her way because the terrain was too steep, but by midday she had reached the top.
As she walked over the peak of the mountain, she saw something she didn’t expect to find. About fifty feet below the peak were green trees, bushes, and weeds. Below that, to her astonishment, was grass and what appeared to be clear water flowing through a creek at the base of the mountain. She couldn’t believe her eyes. It was as if heaven had ascended to earth. This oasis in the wasteland stretched on for several miles, and from what Scottie could tell it was surrounded entirely by this mountain range. It was that fact that most likely sheltered it from the blasts of the war. This meant that maybe the entire world wasn’t a total waste, like everything she had seen so far. The thought of this put a smile on her face and a hop in her step.
“How can this be?” She said aloud, as she pulled down the rag covering her face and lifted her goggles.
“I must be dreaming. After all this time…I’m home.”
The somber tone of her voice reflected the astonishment and wonder she felt at that moment. It had been such a long journey, but it was all worth it. She stood and looked at the beauty before her and imagined how much better her life was about to become. After that brief moment of quiet reflection an excitement came over her and she could no longer hold it in.
“YAHOO, I’M HOME!” She yelled, leaping into the air, with her hands over her head.
As soon as her feet touched back down on the ground, she darted down the mountain as fast as she could. Scottie followed what seemed to be an animal path, and she couldn’t wait to get down there and jump in the water. She hadn’t known joy like this since before her father died, and right then she didn’t have a care in the world. Life was looking up for Scottie and she could feel it.
What Scottie didn’t know is that off in the distance the two thugs she had dealt with yesterday had spotted her on top of the mountain, with their binoculars. They had pushed their bikes back to their camp and refueled. Once done, they slept for a short while and headed back out at first light to search for her. The duo now stood, no more than a couple of miles away, staring at her.
“There she is, Willard! By God, we’ll teach her a lesson for messin’ with us!” Dales said.
“Yeah, that’s right Dale, we’ll teach her.” Willard agreed, dopily.
“Just wait little girl, we’re going to catch you and take that purty little backpack of yours and zap you with that freakin’ stun gun. I wonder what she’s so excited about Willard. You reckon she found something valuable up on top of that mountain?” Dale said as he watched Scotty jumping up and down.
“I reckon she found something. She’s awful excited.” Willard replied.
“Oh, it might be something great. Buck might give us extra rations and credits if we bring it back to him.” Dale told him.
“Extra rations suuuure sound good Dale. My mouth is already waterin’.”
“Let’s go, Willard; we need to find a way up that mountain.”
The two men returned to their bikes and headed in Scottie’s direction.
A short time later Scottie made it to the base of the mountain. Kneeling down on the creek bank, she leaned out over the water with her face only inches off the surface. She took a deep breath in through her nose to get a good smell. It smelled fresh, and it was crystal clear. Scottie then reached into her backpack and took out a water test kit. It was the last thing her father gave her before he died. She put the test tube under the water, pulled it back up, put in a drop of the liquid testing agent, and the water remained crystal clear. This meant that the water isn’t contaminated. She scooped up a handful and took a small sip.
“Tastes good,” she said as she smacked her lips together.
A huge smile came up on her face as if she had just struck gold and suddenly she plunged her face into the water, gulping it until her belly was full. She sat back up, rinsed off her hands, then wiped her face.
“That feels good.” She said as the water ran off her face and down onto her dirty shirt.
After about an hour of playing around in the water, she filled her canteen full and made her way into the woods. She couldn’t help touching everything she passed by, like a kid walking through a toy store. It had been four years since she had seen anything like this and all of her senses were responding at once. It isn’t long before she saw wildlife living in this oasis as well. There were animals in the wasteland but mostly cats, dogs, rats, possums, and other scavengers. This place also had squirrels, rabbits, and colorful birds. Just ahead of her, she saws a small path through some thickets.
“Rabbits,” She whispers to herself.
She reached into her bag, pulled out some wire and made a snare trap.
“I’ll be back to check you later.” She laughed, then stood back up and continued to look around.
It was hard for her to keep her mind on the task at hand with all this beauty surrounding her. Still, she made her way north, looking for the base like her dad told her to do. Soon she came upon the remains of a road. The road was hard to see due to trees and weeds growing through it, but she could tell what it used to be and followed it. Soon she came upon a tall chain-link fence and an unlocked gate across the road. The fence, like the road, is overgrown with weeds and vines. Scottie could see a sign on the fence, so she climbed up two feet and cleared the vines from it.
“AREA 12 Property of the US Government DO NOT ENTER” She read.
“This is it.” She thought as she climbed down, pulled the gate open, walked through it and headed on up the road. At top speed, she ran for over a mile until she stood in front of a huge wall with a massive steel door. The wall and door stood over thirty feet tall and though it was covered in growth, none of it was strong enough to climb. The area around the wall was paved with thick concrete, which hadn’t allowed trees and other big plants to grow there. This left her with a problem. How does she get over the wall? At this point, it was about too late to worry about it tonight so she decided to call it a day and start fresh on this issue in the morning. She gathered up some thick vines and other plants and built herself a very soft bed for the night. Her stomach began to rumple. This meant it was time to return to her snare trap. She did so and found a plump rabbit.
“Sorry, Mr. Bunny but you’re gonna be delicious.” She told the rabbit, as she pulled it from the trap.
Once she returned to her campsite, she built a small fire and skinned the rabbit. Using two Y-shaped sticks and a straight one, she made a spit and roasted the rabbit. Her mouth began to water from the aroma of the cooking meat. She was almost giddy with anticipation of eating freshly cooked rabbit. Scottie was not the only one, however, who caught the scent of cooking flesh. As the sun was setting, she noticed four dogs come out of the woods and stand at the edge of her campsite, staring at her. Scottie stood to her feet.
“This is my food! If I have anything left when I am done I will share but until then, you better back off or I’ll light you up like a Christmas tree!” She yelled at them as she pulled out the stun gun and held down the trigger which sparked with a bright flash that lit up the dark.
The dogs stood there for a moment longer, then turned and went back into the woods. Scottie sat back down and continued to cook her meat.
In no time, the rabbit was ready to eat and Scottie tore into it. She disregarded all her manners, ripping the meat off the bone and eating it as if it was the first meal she has had in days. Licking her fingers and smacking her lips, she didn’t want to waste a drop of it. It wasn’t long before the rabbit was just bones and gristle. Because Scottie is a girl of her word. She gathered the bones and took them over to the edge of the woods where the dogs were standing.
“Here you go, I always keep my word. Thank you for not bothering me while I ate.” She said as she laid the bones on the ground and walked away.
Once she was about twenty feet away, a dog came out of the woods, looked at her and started to lick the bones. After a few licks, he turned and looked back into the wood. The other three soon came out, and the team started gnawing on the bones. Scottie smiled and walked the rest of the way back to her makeshift bed. She sat and rested for about an hour, watching the birds and other nightlife move around, then followed her routine and went to sleep.
The next morning, she brushed her teeth, drank her water and ate her jerky. She went into the woods and set more snare traps. The thought of another rabbit or maybe even a squirrel for supper tonight sounded fantastic. After that, she started looking for a way over the wall. She walked up and down the wall and both ends ran right into steep cliffs that could not be climbed without equipment. By midday, she found herself back at the large steel door and still without a way to get through it.
“Ok, think Scottie. How do you get over this door?” She thought. “There has to be a way over. I can build a ladder. No, I don’t have the tools for something like that.”
It was then that Scottie saw something shiny under the vines next to the door. She walked over to it and pulled the vines back to reveal a control panel. The panel was completely powerless, but she thought she might be able to use her stun gun to juice it enough to crack open the large door. She took her knife and small tool kit out of her backpack and went to work. It took a little time, but she got the panel open. She pulled the faceplate out and started tracing the wires.
“These have to be the ones.” Scottie said aloud, holding the red and green wires in her hand.
She cut the wires, stripped them back and connected them to her stun gun prongs.
“I hope this works.” She said, turning her head to the side and standing back as much as she can as she pulls the trigger on the gun.
With the first “ZAP!” the door creaked and jerked. Scottie hit it again “ZAP!” and this time the door nudged open a couple of inches. Scottie got a big smile on her face and pulled the trigger on the gun several more times. By the time she was done the stun gun was dead and would need hours of charging with her solar charger but it was worth it. The door was now out about a foot and Scottie squeezed through.
On the other side, she found the most solid structures she has seen in years. All the buildings were still intact and from the looks of it, she could make a nice home out of this place. This would also be a great base of operations for her to search out other survivors.
“HELLO! Is anyone here?” She yelled out, looking for other people, but no one replied.
She kept walking past the rows of buildings on both sides of her until she reached the back half of the facility. There she found a huge stockpile of old junk, parts of planes, vehicles, and drudges.
A drudge is a robotic suit that men and women can use to do jobs that are dangerous or require heavy lifting. They range in size, starting at around twelve feet tall and going to about twenty-five feet tall. They also have different looks. Ones designed for only heavy lifting had an open cockpit and you can see the drivers. They enclosed the others that were designed for the more dangerous jobs and airtight to protect the drivers. These manual suits were later replaced with automated androids.
“This stuff is so cool!” Scottie exclaimed excitedly as she searched through the piles of junk.
Next, she headed back towards the buildings. There were ten buildings in total and most of them were warehouses. The building in the middle was the command center and living quarters. That was the first building Scottie went into. There she found a control room, and the walls were lined with shelves full of manuals. She began to look over the manuals and read anything that looked interesting. Scottie spent the next several hours reading over them until she found what she was looking for. It turned out that the facility had two modes of power. It had a Pulse Reactor and a natural gas backup generator with its own tap straight into a gas mine.
“Eureka!” She said as she slammed the book closed, grabbed a crank powered flashlight from her backpack and ran down the steps to the lower level.
Once at the bottom floor, she looked over the controls to the Pulse Reactor. From the look of it, the reactor had gone offline because someone turned it off, using the master power shutoff switch. Since it wasn’t a power failure, the backup natural gas had never kicked on. Scottie knew it could be dangerous, but she had to see if the reactor would start. She took out the startup guard sitting next to the reactor console, turned the power shutoff switch back on, which supplied battery power to the control board. Next, she started pressing the buttons in proper order to start the power on sequence.
“Here we go.” She said as she pushed the last button.
The reactor ignited and came online. The whole building powered up, but the ignition was short lived, and the reactor shut down. This time, however, the system registered that as a power failure, which caused the natural gas turbines to ignite and begin to turn. In seconds she had back up power online and that would work just fine. She sat back in the control chair and smiled at her great accomplishment.
Here Comes Trouble
Shortly after seeing Scottie atop the mountain jumping up and down, Dale and Willard headed off after her. They were still a good distance from her so they had a way to ride. Soon enough though, they were at the base of the mountain close to where she had gone up. The two got off their bike and looked up the mountainside.
“That’s awful steep, Willard,” Dale said as he snarled up his face while blocking the sun with his hand over his eyes.
“ I don’t think we can make it up that hill there, Dale,” Willard said with a dumbfounded look on his face.
“Well, of course, we can’t Willard, these ain’t mountain goats,” Dale responds.
“MMMM…billy goat sounds good,” Willard replied distracted by hunger.
“Will you shut up! You’re makin’ me hungry now!” Dale yelled at him.
“What are we going to do, Dale?” Willard says after a few moments of silence.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to go around it until we find a good place to go up…duh! God, you’re so stupid.” Dale scoffed.
“Sorry Dale, I don’t mean to be so stupid. I can’t help it.” Willard replied with his head hung.
“Just get on your bike and let's get outta here,” Dale told him.
The two men got back on their bikes and headed south to look for a good place to go up the mountain. They rode for hours and started up the mountain in several spots only to have to slide back down because it became too steep. The last attempt looked promising and Dale made it about a third of the way up before flipping over, tumbling down the mountain, and landing face-first in the dirt. Willard quickly came to his aid and helped him up.
“You ok Dale?” He asked.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He replied as he spits out a mouth full of dust.
“You sure had me worried. That was a long fall.” Willard told him.
“We are going to have to go back, Willard. We ain’t got enough fuel to keep going.” Dale declared as he continued to dust himself off.
“Ok Dale, that makes sense to me. I guess we’ll have to let the little girl go.”
“Heck no, I ain’t letting her go. She insulted my manhood. A real man can’t let that slide. We’ll have to go back and bring extra fuel with us.”
“Good plan Dale, you sure are smart.”
“Yeah, I am…ain’t I,” Dale replied with his chest out.
Dale and Willard turned around and headed back the way they came. About an hour later, Dale noticed something that he hadn’t seen on the way through the first time. He pulled over and got off his bike as Willard followed.
“What’s wrong, Dale?”
“Nothing’s wrong. You see that cave looking place. I don’t think it’s a cave.”
“What do you reckon it is?”
“If I knew what it was for sure I would have told you already, stupid.”
Dale walked over to the opening and looked it over. The hole was only a foot wide and about two feet tall. Dale stuck his head in to see. As he did he could see a light off in the distance. Pulling back out of the hole with a big smile on his face, he spoke in an excited voice.
“Hot dang, it’s a tunnel! Get over here Willard and help me clear the debris out of the way so we can get the bikes through there.”
The two men worked for another couple of hours moving dirt and rock until they had an opening big enough to ride in. They got on their bikes and rode into the tunnel. It was almost a mile long but when they got to the other side, they couldn’t believe what they saw with their own eyes. In front of them was the beauty of nature. Trees, grass, and clean water as far as the eye could see.
“Oh my God Dale, look at this place,” Willard said as he pulled the rag down from his face.
“Yeah, I see it Willard but I can’t believe it. How in the world did this place survive?”
“I don’t know Dale but I bet I can beat you to the water,” Willard replied.
“Now Willard, don’t act like a kid…GO!” Dale said.
With that said the two men jumped off their bike, ran down to the creek, and jumped into the water. Neither of them had bathed in weeks and the cool clean water felt really good. They splashed each other, floated around, and drank their bellies full as well. They looked like two young kids on summer break, playing in the creek. For that short time, life was good and all their worries slipped away. The fun lasted about thirty minutes, then the two walked out of the water and laid in the tall grass on the creek banks.
“Wow, that sure felt good didn’t it Willard?
“Yeah Dale, it sure did. I don’t remember the last time I saw or drank water so clean.”
“This place is a paradise,” Dale said like he had discovered heaven itself.
“Can we stay here Dale?”
“Yes, we can Willard. ‘Course ya know we have to keep this place secret. We can’t tell anyone about it or else everyone will want to come here. Ya know we could make a killin’, selling that water to people.”
“I bet Buck would pay us a ton for this clean water,” replied Willard.
“No! We can’t sell any of this to Buck. He will want to know where it came from and if he finds out he’ll come in here and take it over.” snapped Dale.
“Oh yeah, you’re probably right about that. Don’t worry Dale, I won’t say a word to him about it.”
“Good. Now hush up, I am going to lay here and take a little nap, after that we can camp here and head out in the morning exploring.”
“What about that little girl?”
“Forget about the little girl Willard, we got bigger fish to fry now?”
“You got fish Dale?”
“No, I ain’t got no fish, you moron. It’s an expression.”
“Oh, ok I just misunderstood.”
“It’s OK Willard, it ain’t your fault that you’re dumb. Now hush and let me nap.”
The two men laid there for a few more minutes and Dale drifted off to sleep. Willard was too excited to nap. He was thinking of all the stuff they can get for this clean water. They might even get as rich as Buck.
Buck Brewer was a coal miner before the war. He and his crew were deep inside the mine in West Virginia when the war hit so they were sheltered from the blast. Buck, being the foreman, took control of the men and when the dust settled, they emerged from the mine and set up camp. This camp would become what is now Coal City. A dusty dirt town filled with thieves and murderers. Only one man could rule such a place and that man is Buck Brewer. Buck is a massive individual and was a man of low character before the war. At over six-foot, three-inches tall and about three-hundred pounds, most men tremble in his sight for fear he will unleash his wrath upon them. He was and is often described as mean and hateful. His demeanor has survived him well as the kingpin of this part of the country. He controls everything east of the Mississippi River and it has amassed him a fortune in traded goods such as water, canned food, meat, and whatever else someone might need or want. He is not a man to be trifled with, so keeping this place secret from him wouldn’t be easy but it was worth a shot to Dale and Willard.
Dale woke up from his nap to find that Willard had also fallen asleep. He was often really mean to ole Willard but deep down he cares for him. After all, why else would he put up with him? Despite his shortcomings, Willard was trustworthy and people like that are always good to have around. Dale stood up and walked down by the creek. He looked down from the banks and saw some large fish swimming around.
“Boy, I bet those rascals would be good. I bet I can spear a few of them too.” Dale says to himself.
He then turns and looks back at his friend. There are two choices at this point, spear a couple of fish and eat them before Willard wakes or spear enough for them both and surprise his friend with a great meal. He chose the latter and made preparations. First, he gathered up some dead wood and started a fire. Next, Dale snapped off a small tree about an inch thick, got out his knife, and sharpened the end of it.
“Perfect,” he said as he finished up. “Now let's catch some of those rascals.”
Dale walked back down to the creek and stood on the bank. Patiently, he waited for just the right moment then struck but hit nothing but water and rocks. He tried over and over with no luck.
“Dag gonit! This is harder than I thought it was gonna be.” He said in frustration.
He looked over in the dirt along the back and saw a worm.
“I got it!” he said as he quickly sat down and pulled off his smelly shoes.
Dale stepped down into the water, turned, reached down, and picked up the worm.
“You’ll do just fine.” He said then stuffed the worm into his pocket.
He dug around and found four more worms, which he also stuffed into his pocket. Once he believed he had enough, he waded out into the water until he was about four feet from the shore. The water was about up to his knees and deep enough for some nice fat fish. Dale reached in his pocket and pulled out a worm. Then he pulled his right foot out of the water and stuck the worm between his toes. Holding on to it tightly he slowly put his foot back into the water and waited. It wasn’t long before a large fish noticed the worm and started towards it.
“Come on big boy, come get the juicy worm,” Dale whispered.
The fish swam closer and closer until SWOOSH! Dale stabbed the spear down into the water and hit the fish. He pulled it out of the water and smiled big, exposing his nasty teeth.
“I gotchya.” He told the fish as he took him off the spear and tossed him over onto the bank. “Now let's get some of your friends.”
This went on for about an hour and Dale ended up catching six fish in all. Once he thought he had enough, he gutted them and headed back up the hill. He stocked up the fire and put out an old iron skillet that he carried in his saddlebag. Dale wiped off the skillet and laid it on the fire. Once it was hot, he placed the fish on it and they started to cook. It didn’t take long for them to cook but Willard was still snoozing away.
“WILLARD! Wake up, boy!” Dale hollered over at him.
Willard opened his eyes and then started to smell the aroma of cooked fish.
“MMMM, something sure smells good.” He said as he slowly rose. “Watcha got over there Dale?”
“Fresh fish Willard, speared’um myself. You want some?” Dale said proudly.
“Sure do!” He replied as he jumped up and ran to the fire.
The two men started digging into the fish as if it was the best meal they had ever had.
“Man this is good stuff Dale!’
“Yeah, it’s de-lish-us, ain’t it?” Dale replied.
“Say, Dale, why is your foot bleeding?” Willard asked as he looked down at Dale’s foot.
“Oh, that’s nothing, I just speared myself a couple of times,” Dale responded.
“Oh, you ok?” Willard questioned.
“Yeah, I’m fine. That water cleaned it right up. Besides, I think it helped draw in the fish a little more.” Dale laughed.
The two men finished eating all the fish then settled in for the night. They discussed all the great things they could do here in their new-found home. Around ten o'clock Dale stoked up the fire one more time and they went to bed. The next morning, they loaded up and rode back to their other campsite to get their fuel and supplies with plans to return as soon as possible.
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