Wheels Keep Turning

There is nothing Darrell hates more than thieves. Dirty, filthy, lying, cheating sacks of meat that they are. So the fact that he has caught and dispatched the latest; one that had managed to find his way down into his shelter where he’d begun pilfering, is pleasing to him. After all, it’s taken him a great deal of work; blood, sweat and tears, to scrounge everything together that is down in this basement/safe room.

Why it wasn’t in use by someone when he discovered it is anyone’s guess, but whoever thought running rather than hunkering down here was the best option must have been mad. At least that is what the man with his shaved head, black beard and brown eyes thinks as he jostles with the corpse of the trespasser until he believes he has a sufficient hold upon them.

From there Darrell drags the body, still spilling blood which he’ll need to clear, over to the stairs and then awkwardly up them.

It takes quite some time to conquer the steps, and more than once during the process did Darrell almost lose his grip on the lifeless body, feeling that it’s as if they it is wet, slippery, but knowing full well, bar the blood, that it is not.

Still, once he is in the interior of the house at ground level with the sun beating down harshly, it doesn’t take anywhere near as much effort, or time fortunately, to haul the body out of the concrete box, feet dragging, and into what may have once been a garden for this property or maybe the next.

To be honest he doesn’t actually know and cannot really tell. It’s simply a guess. It might not be a good one; however it’s the only one he’s got. Not that it changes what he does next, which is to continue dragging the body until he reaches the remains of a couple widely spaced trees behind which sits a shallow hole.

The hole wasn’t originally dug with the intention of serving as a grave but it should be suitable enough to be used as one; the scavenger clad in tatty clothes thinks while unceremoniously slinging what was in life Hans, into it.

The body lands with a thud a couple seconds after, creating a sizable cloud of dust as a result, but isn’t best suited for the void into which it has been cast since it’s roughly a half size too small.

Darrell, noticing such but caring not an ounce, does little more than shrug, sniff and then grab the shovel propped up against one of the two tree trunks that have few branches and no leaves jutting from them.  

Several minutes later and Hans’ body is barely covered by the fine dry dirt which had been piled, low, a few feet away.

However, with the sun becoming hotter all the time and the scavenger lacking interest in giving the trespasser a proper burial, he heads back inside.

Just as well I laid plastic sheeting down, the bearded man thinks staring at the pool of dark blood beginning to congeal on the floor of his hideout when he returns to it. It’s a thought that strikes him and rings loudly in his head in the moment prior to him stooping down to collect said section of plastic and then retread his way back up the stairs to dump the sheeting in a corner.

Yet, the scavenger manages only two steps before letting out an exhale, concluding that he cannot afford to discard the precious material so carelessly. Hence, that is why he turns, wanders back to and unfolds the piece of sheeting so that it has the opportunity to dry out instead. It’ll take many hours but that’s fine. He’s in no hurry for it is not needed currently. What use it’ll serve once it has however he doesn’t know.

Time will tell, is the thought that enters his head without any concern for if others like the thief might be nearby. Principally that is because the likelihood of such is remarkably slim in his experience. Especially, since it is pretty obvious that the thief, dead and soon to be rotting, was alone. Their sort are rarely inclined to travel with anyone. He’s never asked why; never been curious enough to. Thieves are not his kind of people. They are the lowest of the low.  

Nevertheless, in that way the thief is not dissimilar to this scavenger, and yet Darrell is not the norm seeing as often scavengers rove around in bands. The bearded man had too once. But that was a good while ago. Many things have happened since. Including him having reached the conclusion that he is better off alone. You might ask why. Well it is simple. Because people cause problems and in the time after the end there are enough problems is as, so why add to them? He hasn’t an answer, for why others do, but in his experience that is what people have a tendency to lean toward. Either that or they stab you in the back hoping you’ll never see it coming. Generally you will. Or at least Darrell has, he must admit while emptying the pack the thief had been stuffing and placing the items back in their rightful places.

There are few things, save for thieves, that the bearded man dislikes more than chaos; things not being where they should be. For everything has a rightful place. It is just finding it than can be the challenge.

When he is done sequestering items back to where he has decided they belong, their proper place, he goes about quickly checking his own gear, that which is about his person, only to then head for a wall map located toward the back of the square room.

Hans had been unable to see it, when he’d been alive, with all the racks packed to bursting and his greedy wide staring eyes thinking only of his fortune for having found such a place. If he hadn’t been so preoccupied he might have noticed Darrell loitering in the shadows, but he hadn’t and paid the ultimate price for his mistakes.

The aforementioned map shows the area in which these houses still, partially at best in most instances, stand. The papers surface faded, yellowed, torn, moth eared, covered in folds and marked with red crosses.

Said crosses indicate where Darrell has already visited, searched and where appropriate, cleared. In many instances the nearest locations as shown on the map, which covers a thirty mile by thirty mile square with his current position far to the East, proved to be largely unrewarding. Having been picked clean some unknown time prior to his arrival and left for rediscovery packed with little but disappointment. Yet, many more, those further afield, proved fruitful as can be seen by the volume of stacked items all around the bearded man.

His focus on the map, growing ever more intense as he leans in until he is millimetres from its crumpled surface, is accompanied by Darrell chewing on the inside of his cheek. It’s something that continues as he searches for what he thinks will be his best hope of securing additional resources.

Does he need them? Perhaps not and yet that does not mean he is inclined to forego the opportunity and leave them for someone else. After all, this is a dog eat dog world; so if you wish to survive it is best you gather, needing or not, as much as you can. Yet, unlike Hans he has no intention of heading north. In fact, he has no intention of heading anywhere. His plan, if it can be labelled as such, is to simply hoard until there is nothing left for him to in this area and then live off of what he’s got.

It is a tactic seldom employed in the wasteland of the world, from what the scavenger has seen and so he thought, having seen many lives lost from operating in the ways that everyone tends to, he would try a different approach. Thus far it’s worked, far better than he could’ve ever imagined to-be-truthful, and so why deviate?

Because you require clean water is why. Those are the words that ring clear as a bell in his head, reminding him of the single flaw in this plan of his.

Irritated by the reminder but unable to refute the clean and argue to the contrary he selects his target and stabs a pin into it. Once he returns he’ll strike it with a cross. Never before though, for this is part of his system and he dare not stray from it.

With his destination decided, the scavenger grabs his pack, which is pre-made, and heads across the concrete floor covered in plastic sheeting, up the stairs to the ground floor of the houses’ interior, where he pulls on the lever to cycle the door closed, before hiding the lever with debris better than he did previously and then head out of the open concrete box.

This time the scavenger heads out of the fire marked property heading in the opposite direction to when he’d dumped Hans’ body, and to a collection of spindly branches which are largely without leaves. The few leaves which are present however are curled, shrivelled, brown and brittle.

Tossing the branches aside carelessly he soon reveals the presence of a motorbike. It’s a dirt bike with flaking paint and damaged plastics but once mounted is quickly shown to be functional because Darrell fires it into life and revs the small engine. The high pitched noise burbles and fires before he knocks the stand out and then flies up a bank heading away from the cluster of structures and toward his destination.

A massive long plume of dust follows in the wake of the bike. Its presence is unavoidable, unfortunate, though does not change the face that in Darrell’s mind bikes remain the best means of travel, he thinks.

Looking down at the instrument panel of the bike while hurtling along, Darrell cannot help but be reminded of the other issue which afflicts him. Not water but fuel. It’s another scarce commodity and his method of transport is running low without any having been found in a depressingly long while. It’s why now more than ever he needs to find some, and soon, because otherwise he could end up stranded or worse, having to do runs like this on foot. He doesn’t fancy either option for both would make him easy pickings. Not that riding a bike makes you are impervious or invincible, for it does not. Yet, what it does make you is quick, manoeuvrable, mobile. These are all the things that allow for swift getaways if a situation necessitates it. Thus far, it has not but that does not mean that it will always be that way. After all, there is no telling what might be around the corner in this time after the end.

Turning his attention away from the fuel gauge and his concerns, the bearded man blasts up dirt tracks determined to remain off the roads wherever possible, and for good reason.

You see roads, what remains of them as they are broken and eroded, are perfect places for ambushes, especially when you are headed up towards the hills in this area. And yes they are hills, not mountains. Mountains would be several orders of magnitude larger and yet Darrell would despise climbing both if he were forced too.

Stop thinking about the fuel! He demands of himself only to take a quick glance down instinctively.

Mercifully, the gauge has not moved since last time he set eyes upon it, and so it shouldn’t seeing as he has travelled little distance at all while continuing to wind up the tracks which snake toward his destination.

It takes a good while; Darrell has no concept of time nor cares for it, before he nears the vicinity of his destination. But if you might think a lack of knowledge of time is concerning, you should be aware that all that matters in the era which follows the end is whether it is day and night. Everything else, well its inconsequential really for there is no need for exact times to be known as there are no meetings or public transport, flights, etc.

Nevertheless, with his goal close by, Darrell felt it better to cut the engine of his bike and instead push it the remainder of the way. It isn’t far, shorter than he expected he soon learns, when he reached the edge of the loose tree line.

Not wanting to risk discovery of his bike, the main reason for why he did not ride it up to this edge he is at, the scavenger stashes it behind a series of more tightly packed, but still widely spaced, remains of trees nearby, which have bushes in-between to act as cover.

Deciding, with little effort, the trees alone will not be sufficient enough to break up the shape of his bike, Darrell snaps a couple bushes down to stumps and uses said branches to better camouflage the twin wheeled vehicle.

When he’s finished with his efforts he steps back to admire his handiwork. It isn’t amazing but it’ll have to do seeing as there is nothing else he can use, unless he wants to go traipsing through the burnt wood. He has no intention for that would only waste time, risk his life.

So turning on his heels, he spins toward the remains of what had once been a lake. It’s dry now, and has been for many years, but you continue to be able to see where the water used to reside.

Not being a naïve man, the scavenger did not anticipate it would still exist and so, as planned, begins to stride across, a section of what once would’ve been underwater, at a brisk pace.

His prize, he hopes, is the lodge which is sat on the far bank. From this distance, during his approach, it continues to look untouched; as though the world has not ended. Yet, all around it are assurances that it has. Not in-keeping with its surrounding, the scavenger wonders how it has survived.

Who cares!

Yeah, you’re true; he admits to himself without breaking his stride which has him on course to reach a pair of wide double doors he hopes will prove to be locked. Not because it is part of some trap but rather because no one ever found or gained entry to this place.

Fuel would be nice, but it is water he needs most. He’s running short and if his plan is to work, what he needs most is water. The human body cannot live, long term, without it. Especially when the food he’ll be eating is dried and persevered, often using salt. If it were fresh things might be different but generally the only food, save for hunting and good luck because there are so few animals left to hunt that it is unlikely you’ll survive for long if that is how you plan to get enough to eat, is stuff which has long lives on it.

Reaching the lodge not too long after, Darrell makes efforts to peer through the thick, solid glass covered in dirt. Sadly, what he can see is not a whole lot, and that is after he’s wiped at it with the sleeve of his tatty clothes, the coat of which is billowing in the stronger winds found up in these hills.

Nevertheless, unlike others he thinks this remains a good sign for if the windows and glass were shattered then it would obviously already have been picked clean, and so it would be pointless for him to rummage about in search for what little, if anything, might remain. 

Not long after that he tries the doors, both of them, only to discovers, not surprisingly, that they are locked tight. Again Darrell believes that to be a good sign.

What isn’t good however is when he attempts to barge the doors with his shoulder only to be left with a dull throbbing down one side. He rubs at it and checks, with fingers only, that the damage isn’t serious. It isn’t. He’ll be left with bruising but bruises are of little concern in the wasteland. It is cuts, broken bones and gashes which are of worry out here. All can turn nasty quick; leaving a man, or woman, ill-prepared and to a relatively slow but excruciatingly painful death.

Not something Darrell is inclined to risk and so fearing continued barging will only get him, at best nowhere and at worst injured, he steps back.

His first conclusion is that the lodge doesn’t have as many windows as he would’ve expected. He soon adds that he does, however, know little about such things as lodges. Though, having spied no obvious points of entry he begins to walk around the perimeter. Eyes seek and search as he treads carefully. After all, he doesn’t want to set off any traps, if there are any.

Continuing his analysis, but thus far having found no suitable entrance, the scavenger concludes that the lodge certainly must still be sealed. His eyes shine brightly as a result while he dares to dream of what wonders might await him inside.

Bottled water, copious amounts of it is what he craves most, though additional ammunition, weapons, tinned food, fuel would be welcome too.

If he were not so far north he’d attempt bartering using any excess goods he might find within to secure water but around these parts there are no civilised folk banded together. Cannibals, psychos and fanatics are about the sum of what you’ll find in this corner of the world. Pity, and yet…

A sound reaches Darrell’s ears. Instinctively the scavenger pulls his knife. It is the same one which claimed Hans’ life because of his trespassing and attempts at theft.

Clean and devoid of blood, the polished silver coloured steel blade shines, reflecting the sun off its surface when it does catch it. His grip tightening around the grip, Darrell grimaces and waits. He is sure he did not imagine… Another sound reaches his ears. It isn’t from the same direction as the first and so he begins to turn. Regrettably he manages to twist only twenty degrees before out of nowhere he is grabbed by a figure who hauls him to the ground.

Kicking and slashing the scavenger makes best efforts to break free. It fails. Though, the scramble does not continue for the attacker, Darrell sees the shadowed outline of, is soon looming over him.

The scavengers eyes go wide when he spots what the figure is wielding, a length of broken pipe. In response to it Darrell begins to roll but quickly learns he is too late.

The pipe comes down hard. The scavenger screams. Bones shatter under the force but the blows do not abate, rather they keep coming. The first few disable the man, his knife lost in the process; the latter strikes end his life, caving his head in so that only bloody mush remains.

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