I walked alone searching for survivors even though I knew that there was probably no-one left to save. The entire world around me looked like a flatland of solid grey ash. This barren planet used to be lush and green, or so they tell me. But I have a hard time believing that now. This is what I know and this is what I have always known. I was born into this, this time period known only as The Aftermath. I don't know why it is referred to as that. I'm not sure what exactly it is the aftermath of. War I assumed.
I pressed on, at least I thought I did, the look of my surroundings that I saw through the lenses of my gas mask never changed so I might have been walking in place and not known the difference. On the horizon I could see little rectangular silhouettes. Every now then I came across a building that managed to remain standing but I dared not enter. That's usually were bands of looters liked to hide. I was a good shot but I could never take on a group of twelve with just me and my pistol.
It is funny how I remember how to kill, of all things. I couldn't remember my name, where I came from, or what had happened that turned the world into this hell. I felt like a ghost, walking through a wasteland. But I remembered how to use weapons and take lives. When a situation came up when I needed to kill someone or something I wouldn't hesitate for a split second.
I continued to walk and to my surprise I stumbled upon a small stream of water. There were piles of rubble and trash scattered around the stream but the water itself looked clear enough. I decided it was a good time to refill my water canteen. I squatted down to fill the canteen up and felt a chill as a breeze blew over me. It was quiet.
When stood back up I threw my head back to take a drink. I began sipping the water when suddenly I heard a loud boom, and suddenly my canteen turned into shards of plastic right in my hands. Water was sent flying everywhere. I immediately dove for cover behind one of the rubble piles. My gun was drawn and ready. I raised my head just enough to try and see where I was being attacked from. It was no use there were many different spots someone could have been hiding behind. I grabbed an empty can that was on the ground and tossed it in the direction I believed my attackers were, still keeping my eyes peeled for someone to pop up from behind cover. Sure enough someone did, aiming down the barrel of a long, dangerous-looking rifle. In a lightning-quick move, I stood up, aimed and fired my gun. It was a perfect headshot. The figure crumpled back behind his barricade.
Then I heard someone shouting. "Drew! NO!" the voice said. I saw another person run out from behind another pile of rubble and over to the body. "No! Please no! Don't die on me!" the voice was screaming in a shaking voice. I walked over and cocked my gun, always on alert. When I saw the two people I stopped dead in my tracks. It was a young woman, I guessed about 18 years old, crouched over the corpse that was bleeding from the hole in its head. She wore a long dark greenish-gray cloak and the hood was over her head. She was crying. Then she looked up at me, her eyes flooded with tears. I had had my gun pointed at her, but at the sight of her face, twisted with sadness, I quickly lowered it. I started to walk away.
"You're not going to kill me too?" the young woman suddenly asked.
"No." I responded.
"Why not? You killed him… aren't you going to kill me now, and take all that we have?" her voice sounded bitter.
"I don't do that. I am not a looter." I told her. At this she hung her head and started weeping again. I didn't understand. "Looters," she began after she had recollected her ability to speak, "they're a major problem around here…"
"Aren't they everywhere?" I asked.
"Well, yes I suppose so. Anyway that's what my boyfriend and I were doing… we were protecting this place from looters. We thought you looked dangerous, we thought you were one." Her voice trailed off and she stared grimly at the dead body.
"What exactly is this place? Why were you protecting it?" she hesitated a moment before she answered. I crouched down and sat beside her. She recoiled in fear at first, but I threw my gun down and made my hands visible. "I won't hurt you. And I'm so so sorry."
She took a deep breath and then began. "We were guarding the stream. It's the only water source for the people of Ravenstern."
"Ravenstern?" I asked.
"There are colonies out here?"
"I don't know if there are any others," she said solemnly.
"Could you take me there?" I asked her.
She did not speak for a long moment. I knew what she was thinking. She was thinking that since I already murdered a member of their little colony I probably would not be very welcome into it. But a colony! The idea fascinated me. A place with people, actual people! Not looters or bandits, not mutants or monsters, not fields and fields of dead, grey earth, but a colony! Perhaps there could be answers there. Maybe this was my chance to find out something about myself or about the world.
"Please, please take me there. I really am deeply sorry…let me make it up to the good people of Ravenstern, or at least, let me make it up to you."
She stood up, picked up the rifle that had belonged to her friend, and rejected every effort I made to keep eye contact with her. She simply said "follow." And with that she began to vanish into the fog. I dashed after her.
After running blindly through thick fog chasing only the shadowy silhouette of this stranger we came upon a large wood and iron gate. It appeared we were before tall wooden walls too and I assumed they were walls that encircled the colony, but due to the fog I could not tell how tall they were. She walked to the gate whispered some strange word and it began to slowly open. I walked through the gateway and was immediately met by two guards. They patted me down, and tore my cloak and mask off and took my gun away from me I started to resist but figured that it was a better idea to let it go. When they were done with me they shoved me on my way. I turned around and got a good view of the colony for the first time.
It was like nothing I had seen. There were people walking around holding baskets of food, children holding their mothers' hands. Their faces were all uncovered! No one wore or bandanas, goggles, or re-breather masks. I had never seen so many human faces at once. Many peoples' faces were dirty and worn looking. But I remembered what this was: a colony of refugees. People like me, who had somehow survived the Earth's expiration date.
"Follow me. I'll take you to our leader." The young woman told me. At first I had not recognized her. She appeared much different with her hood down and in the clear light and air of the colony. I had not noticed her hair before. It was long and blonde and something about the sight of it captured me. I began to follow her.
"So, stranger," she began to say, "what exactly is your name?"
I paused for a moment, shocked by the question. "I do not know," I said realizing I must have sounded regretful. My answer caught her attention. And for the first time her eyes met mine. There was something incredibly deep about them. Her face was one of confusion and I thought maybe even an undertow of intrigue. But the expression quickly vanished.
"Well we're here," she said as she led me through a door and into a large room where a man was standing speaking to what looked like a council. At the sight of the two of us he dismissed the council members and walked over to us. It wasn't until he was standing close that I realized how tall the man was. He had to have been over seven feet. He had a respectable aura to him and I knew he must be the one in charge. He walked up to the woman and hugged her and began expressing how worried he had been and how he hated whenever she left. I soon realized it was her father.
"Really, daddy," the young woman was saying, "I'm fine…actually…it's Drew…he's the one who…" her voice trailed off. Her father looked at her concerned.
"I'm so sorry to hear…" he said. And then he looked at me. "And you are?"
His daughter stepped in and explained the whole story. She concluded with "and apparently he does not know his name."
"If I may sir, first I would like to thank you for letting me into your colony. Second I want to deeply apologize for the terrible mistake. If there is anything I can do please let me know. I may have acted as a cold-blooded killer but that is just my instinct. I assure that I am really a fair person.
He thought for a moment and then looked at me seriously. "You are a good killer stranger?"
"Yes sir, I'm afraid so. One of the only things I know how to do."
"And you swear you're not a looter, or anything else that wishes to do harm?"
"No sir, I only want to clear my name."
"A name that you don't even know?"
"Stranger, as I'm sure you have figured out by now looters are a major problem for the colony of Ravenstern. Drew was our old captain of the guard and well, I had never seen anyone been so handy with a weapon. However if you were able to kill him, honestly, that makes me eager to see what you'll be able to do. If you want to clear your name you must help protect us from these bandits. That is my offer."
His daughter could not remain silent any longer "Daddy no! This man killed my Drew! He can't stay here!"
The man raised his hand to silence her. "I understand it must be hard for you knowing what this man has done. However, I am only looking out for the best interest of the colony. We need protection."
"I'll do it." I said.
"How can we trust him?" his daughter demanded.
Then the man looked at me intensely for a long moment. His eyes were every bit as intense as his daughters. He stared and stared.
"I can trust him." He said at last, "the name is John Raven. Welcome to Ravenstern." He shook my hand. "Kim, get the stranger a room."
Reluctantly his daughter, the young woman, Kim, led me through the colony once again. She didn't say a word. She led me to a longhouse with many small bedrooms lining the hallways. She told me to pick an empty one and left without another word. I figured this was a building for guests. I crashed hard onto the nearest bed and fell into a very deep slumber only to be awoken early in the morning by nightmares.
After a many many weeks of staying and becoming used to colony life, the colony lives were getting used to me. I began training some of the men. I taught them how to use guns and how to defend themselves. I also began to teach Kim and to my surprise she proved to be a very fast learner, faster than anyone else. She became an incredibly dead-eyed shot. She still showed little to know signs of liking toward me. Something about that made me feel funny. I wanted her to like me. For some reason I can't explain, I wanted her to look at me and smile. I began to think it would never happen. I hoped she would at least accept my apology.
So there I was, on what started off as a normal day. I was standing on the catwalk over the main gate of the colony staring off into the horizon when I saw what looked like a cloud of dust rolling across the land. I wasn't able to see clearly but I knew it could be one thing: the band of looters. I readied my weapons and called out to the men I had trained to be soldiers. They sprang to action readying their guns. I heard the cocking sound of a large rifle right next to me. I looked over and saw Kim already aiming down the sight of her long-range weapon. Her face was serious.
"Remember what I taught you," I said, "show no mercy, for none will be shown to you."
Now the looters were in range. They looked like a mob of tiny stick people. Kim began firing, one round after the other. I proudly watched as the heads of the tiny stick people splattered like melons. Of course she could not hold off the whole mob and it was not long until they breached the gate. They must have had a charge or some sort of bomb because they blew it open with ease. But we were ready for them. A hail of gunfire showered from both sides. The looters looked surprised to see the colonists fighting back for once. I fought well that day, the colonists did too, but Kim was magnificent. The look in her eyes was intense and foe after foe died before her. I think it was her anger that fueled her. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.
After a short and bloody firefight the looters were retreating. We had won. The colonists began to cheer and celebrate. John Raven came forth to thank me and congratulate me. I told him I was glad to do what I could.
"You are always welcome here, Stranger." He said gratefully.
"Thank you, sir." I said back.
I was glad to clear my name up here but I still felt like something was missing. I came here in search for answers, a clue or a lead. I still had no idea who I was. After a few more days of celebration I decided I would move on from Ravenstern. John did not take the news too well.
"But what will we do without you?" he asked again and again.
"You don't need me! I doubt that group of looters will meddle around here again. And when a new band of robbers comes around a good number of your men are more than handy with guns. Not to mention….your daughter, sir."
"Kim?" he asked.
"Yes. She is an incredible soldier. If I do leave you, you'll be in good hands."
I bid farewell to everyone, packed up my belongings and headed toward the gate. I was about to put my mask on and head on out without looking back when I felt a hand on my soldier. I turned around. It was Kim.
"Thank you, stranger…" she said quietly.
I nodded and then walked away. She stood still there and watched me vanish back into the foggy wastelands.