Authors Note: Sticks and Stones is a short story about the apocalypse told in three parts. I will be finishing and publishing the next two parts by the end of June.
No one knows how the last war started, or why the world’s nations had decided to destroy each other. The televisions and radios had been destroyed by the EMP’s the bombs had put out and at this point figuring out exactly what had happened isn’t important. Now we scrape and scrounge and fight and somehow, through it all, manage to survive.
The tribe had run out of bullets nearly a year ago. The rifles used in the last war were now nothing more than decorations scattered around the tents and log structures that make up our camp. I had asked Todd why we didn’t melt them down for metal, he had replied that we didn’t have a furnace hot enough to melt the steel. So I guess they will remain as a monument to a civilization on the short end of its decline.
“Hey Carl, how’s the apocalypse treating you?” Mike asked. Mike, my boyfriend, is the most beautiful man I’ve ever laid eyes on. 6’4’’ tall with pale brown hair, blue eyes and a build straight out of a fireman’s calendar. It had been love at first sight, for me at least.
Mike took my hand in his and leaned in for a kiss. “The apocalypse is fine,” I replied, returning his kiss. “How are you?”
“Would you two get a room? There are good Christian people in this camp.” Todd joked, interrupting Mike. We were lucky to have Todd, his pre-apocalypse obsession with preparing for the imminent collapse of modern society had saved us all. Many had called the preppers crazy, but without Todd I don’t think Mike and I would have survived.
“We don’t have a room Todd, we’re still waiting for you to build us one.” Mike quipped.
“I’ll get right on it, as soon as I’m done with the walls that protect us, the drainage that keeps the shit from drowning us, and the piping that keeps us in fresh water. Is that okay with you Mike?”
“I guess, but you’ll have to hurry up, you wouldn’t want Carl and I to offend any of our more puritanical neighbours, would you?”
“No, no, we definitely can’t have that.” Todd patted Mike on the back, “when are you guys scheduled in the watchtower? Maybe I can get someone to cover for you if you need some privacy.” Todd was always trying to help out. It wasn’t enough that at sixty he had pulled us all together, helped us build this camp and taught us how to survive, he also took time out of his busy schedule to make sure that we were all having fun.
“It’s okay Todd,” I replied. “Mike and I never have any difficulty finding privacy. We were just on our way to take over the south tower. Come by for a chat if you can find a moment. See you later.” Todd waved goodbye. Mike and I started toward the gate.
“He’s so amazing,” Mike said, “I hope that when I’m sixty, with hair more grey than brown, I’ll be capable of half the things Todd can do.”
“Me too, I don’t want to be stuck in bum fuck northern Montana with a crippled homo.” I joked.
Mike laughed, “who do you want to be stuck in bum fuck northern Montana with?” Changing the subject: “how long has it been since the last attack? About a month now I reckon.”
“At least that, I remember when they happened nearly every week.”
“Yeah, the other tribes and camps must be settling in for the winter, or maybe they’ve moved on.”
“I hope so. The walls outer wall is finished which will probably help to keep them off our back. I certainly wouldn’t want to try and raid a camp surrounded by an eight foot high log palisade. Remember when we ran out of bullets while fighting – what did they call themselves?” I asked.
“The wolves of northern Montana. What a funny name for a bunch of starving refugees.”
We approached the gates where Monica and Franklin were standing guard. “Out to the south tower?” Franklin asked. Franklin was a weird guy. Mid-forties with the remains of a massive beer gut hanging loose beneath his skin-tight ‘Rolling Stones’ t-shirt. Before the apocalypse he was some kind of stay-at-home IT guy, but his story seemed to change every time I asked. Monica was your typical trailer trash. She cried for almost a week when the tobacco ran out.
“Yeah,” Mike replied, “we’re starting another week long rotation. Do you know who’s out there now?” The first line guard towers were five kilometres south of the main camp, rotations were twelve hours a day with seven days on the tower and seven days on the wall. Tower duty was boring, but Mike and I had agreed that it certainly beat agricultural duty – there was no way the two camp gays were going to spend their days digging in the dirt. At least we got to spend time alone together, privacy was at a premium in camp.
“Yeah,” Franklin cleared his throat onto the dirt in front of us. I barely contained a leer of disgust. “Molly n’ Eric are on the south tower now.”
“Great, we’ll just stop at the armoury and grab our things.” The armoury is directly beside the front gate, allowing two people to guard both the gate and armoury at the same time. Todd was always saying that he was more worried about ‘the threat without than the threat within’ and taking things from the armoury is, for the most part, on the honour system.
Mike and I entered the armoury and walked to where we had left our weapons. Todd retrieved his heavy recurved bow and I took my crossbow, I don’t have the strength to draw a heavy bow like Mike and I liked the convenience of a crossbow. We both grabbed our quivers and the razor sharp machetes all patrols and tower guards were expected to carry. I strapped my machete to my belt, my quiver to my back, and loaded a bolt into my crossbow by drawing its string back with the cocking stirrup. “Ready to go?” I asked.
“Yep, lets head out, but try not to talk to Franklin, every time he speaks I feel like I need to bleach my ears.”
I chuckled, “sounds like a plan, he’s definitely not my favourite person either.” Together we walked past Franklin and out the gate.
“Mission accomplished.” Mike joked as we strolled out into the forests surrounding our camp. Mike and I had lived in Landusky, MT before the collapse. When the power went out we decided to move north, further into the forests of Antoine Butte, hoping that the sparse population and thick forest would keep us safe. We met Todd on our way north. He had painted his truck window to read: ‘supplies and shelter.” We had pulled over immediately, knowing that we would do better with someone who might know what they are doing. Todd took us into his group and that was that, we’ve been with him ever since.
“What a beautiful day,” Mike said.
“Yeah, gorgeous. You would never know that we’re halfway through September, I think.” In the digital age no one bothered to carry a calendar. Now, without our precious electronics, no one knew exactly what day it is. Todd had figured that, due to the angle of the sun, it was probably late fall or early winter. The current climate didn’t seem to agree with him.
Walking through the forest is always a mildly unnerving experience. Until recently it was probably the most dangerous thing anyone was expected to do; the death of a patrol was at least a monthly occurrence. The brigands and bears had thinned out lately, making Mike and I a little more relaxed than we used to be.
“Put your weapons on the ground, we don’t want to kill you.” A harsh male voice called from the trees behind us. I froze. “I said,” the voice got harsher, more impatient, “put down your damned weapons. I don’t want to kill you.”
“What do we do?” I asked Mike, panicked.
“Follow my lead,” he replied, placing his bow on the ground and unbuckling his machete. With shaking hands I followed his lead.
“Okay,” said the voice, “drop to your knees and put your hands behind your head. No funny business, we have guns.”
Mike dropped to his knees beside me, I followed shortly after. The sounds of rustling grass indicated at least four people approaching, probably five. Someone roughly grabbed my hands from behind, drew them behind my back, and bound them tightly.
“Now, now, look what we have here.” The man moved around in front of me, where I could finally put a face to his voice. He looked haggard, almost like a street junkie. The kind of guy who has spent too many nights out in the cold, hopped up on something or other. He was slightly overweight with a long straggly brown beard, wearing what looked like untreated hides over most of his body. He smelled like rotting meat, probably because of the hides. His companions all remained behind us. I couldn’t help but imagine the guns they probably had trained on the back of my head.
“What do you want,” asked Mike, sounding a thousand times more confident than I felt.
“Want?” The man asked. “You’ll see.” I felt a brutal, sharp pain on the back of my head. The world faded to black.