Reads: 214

As soon as it was safe, the group went back on the road heading east. Days passed one after another and Page was happy that they were uneventful. The weather even started to warm up making travel not only fast, but also pleasant.

‘Mom,’ Kidd said drawing her attention. She was in the back of the wagon on a folding chair. The boy was driving and Theo was on the bench at his side. Ty was riding along the side of the wagon. ‘I think that’s the airport Mouth asked us to look for.’ Page stood peering at the field north of the road. She could just make out a group of buildings off in the distance with a small plane covered with grime and over growth in front of one.

‘I think your right Kidd.’ She said ‘Good eyes.’ She unclipped the phone Ty had given her and dialed. The wagon hit a bump and she nearly lost her footing. ‘Easy Kidd.’ She warned sitting back down. ‘You’re going to break a wheel or a horse’s ankle hitting those pot holes.’

‘That wasn’t a pot hole.’ Theo said. ‘I believe it was a groundhog.’

‘Oh for the love of,’ she sighed ‘we don’t even drive cars anymore and the critters are still committing suicide.’ A deep chuckle drew her attention to the phone. ‘Sorry Mouth. Having some trouble with the local wildlife.’ She watched Ty stop and collect the groundhog. ‘Well at least we have some fresh meat for diner.’

‘Road kill stew.’ Mouth sighed ‘Reminds me of home.’

‘One word buddy,’ Page said ‘therapy.’ Mouth chuckled.

‘I see you on the satellite and know why you’re calling.’ He said. ‘I have a couple more reports from travelers about a black ripper in the area that keeps to the trees. No one wanted to stop in the area to check it out for me.’

‘Why not?’ Page asked still convinced it was a halfling and not a ripper. Rippers never went into trees. She and Kidd had been chased up enough trees to know this as fact.

‘They said it was really creepy.’ Mouth said sounding worried. ‘If you camp out there Page, just be careful. We have lost track of a few people who have passed through the area. At first, I took it as just ripper kills. Now, I am not so sure.’

‘How close are we?’ She asked glaring at the woods to the south of the road.

‘The last sighting was near a place called Superior Meats.’ He told her and she could hear him typing. He told her the mile marker and she sighed

‘Alright.’ She said ‘We will check it out for you. I still think it’s just a halfling.’

‘I would have agreed with you before the last call.’ Mouth said. ‘The man that called me left the interstate because of this thing. He said it really gave him and his family a bad scare. Unfortunately, his signal got weak and I lost him before I could question him. I have a big group traveling in that direction. If this thing is dangerous, I want to get word out to avoid the area.’

‘We just passed a mile marker.’ Page told him, we should be close to that area when we set up camp tonight. I will give you a call if we spot anything.’

‘Thanks Page.’ He said ‘I really appreciate this. Are you sure you won’t do an on air inter,’ Page hung up before he could finish.

‘Still trying to get that interview?’ Ty asked

‘I’ve got to say this,’ she chuckled ‘he is a persistent little cuss.’ Page told them about the conversation.

‘If this thing isn’t a halfling,’ Theo said ‘just to be safe we should camp around the horses and wagon tonight.’ Page nodded her agreement and reached down petting Dogg’s head. He had been at her side all day and she wondered if he sensed her wrist was bothering her so much. He sat up on his hind legs and lay his head on her lap.

‘Just an over grown lap dog.’ She teased rubbing his ears.

When the sun dipped down low, they decided to set up camp in the field north of the road. They set up their rope coral around the wagon to keep the horses close. Page had it open near a small pond so they would have some water to drink. Charger, Theo’s horse who had been tired to the wagon charged into the pond and swam around.

‘That is one silly horse.’ Page chuckled rolling her sleeping bag out on the bed of the wagon.

‘No cot?’ Ty asked.

‘There won’t be room for both mine and Kidd’s cot.’ She told him ‘We will survive with just bags tonight.’

‘Where is the zipper?’ Theo asked ‘I never noticed before that you didn’t have one.’

‘I learned the hard way if something happens while we are sleeping,’ Page explained ‘a zipper on a sleeping bag can cost you your life.’

‘Do I even want to know?’ Ty sighed

‘No.’ Kidd said frowning ‘It was scary.’ Page nodded her agreement. ‘Can we have the beef stroganoff tonight?’

‘Ty has our diner on his horse.’ She told him.

‘You ran over his head.’ Ty said tossing the groundhog to Kidd. ‘Don’t think there is enough brains to tan him with.’ Kidd shrugged.

‘Mr. Elliot showed me how to tan with bark.’ He looked to Page. ‘Are we staying here a while?’

‘I was hoping to move on tomorrow.’ Page said. ‘That’s not much fur on that guy. Is he worth losing a day?’

‘He is going to be one of my new gloves for next winter.’ He said. ‘I would hate to have to waste anything. Even one pelt.’

‘We can stay.’ Page told him. ‘With the woods this close, we may be able to catch you a second glove.’ Kidd smiled. ‘Come on Dogg let’s go for a walk.’ She looked to the others as she got out of the wagon. ‘We are going to go collect some fresh greens for dinner. Hold off on cooking him until I get back. It would however be helpful if you cut him up for stew.’ Kidd nodded and set the groundhog aside.

Being in the woods brought Page a sense of peace. She always loved the smell and sounds of the animals doing their thing. Even better, there were no rippers close by and for the first time since they left Spring Gulch, she was headache free. Dogg ran playing in the leaf litter. Page just shook her head and went to work gathering wild greens they could eat. She froze looking to the east. There was something there that did not feel like a ripper or a halfling and it was coming closer.

There was no movement that was out of place in the forest before her. Page knew something was there however. Keeping in mind what Mouth told her, she looked into the trees and still saw nothing. Dogg froze and started to snarl his hackles going up.

‘Easy boy.’ Page soothed patting her thigh. The dog was reluctant to go to her, which was out of place. He always obeyed without exception. She scanned the woods again but there was nothing. ‘Come on Dogg. We have enough for diner.’ She started back toward the camp glancing back occasionally. The pressure was still there and she was sure it was following. Maybe it was a new kind of halfling. The halflings had been very shy at first.

At the camp, she told the others about the thing following her. Ty frowned to the woods and Page did not turn to look. If it was watching, she did not want to scare it.

‘I don’t see anything.’ Kidd said. ‘Are you sure mom?’ Page just looked at him and he blushed grinning. ‘Yeah I guess you are.’ She went to the fire seeing her big cast iron pot already there. The groundhog was all ready to be cooked. As she worked, she kept track of their guest. It had stayed in the trees not showing it’s self at all.

After dinner, Ty added more wood to the fire before sitting in his chair. He patted his stomach and grinned to Page.

‘Woman, you sure can cook up a mean groundhog stew.’ He said with a bad southern draw. Page smiled as Kidd giggled. ‘Do we have a game plan for tomorrow?’

‘Just let the horses rest and eat.’ Page said. ‘If we can keep charger out of the pond that is.’

‘At least I was not on him this time.’ Theo said giving her a sad smile. She nodded her agreement.

‘Can we mom?’ She looked to Kidd and found him holding a radio.

‘Keep it low.’ She warned and he nodded. There were no rippers in hearing range, but she still did not know what that thing in the woods was. Mouth was talking about a tracker in Mississippi that saved a settlement from a swarm. Once he finished he went on a rant against people who were still against trackers.

‘Give them hell Mouth.’ Theo chuckled before looking to Page. ‘I think I have an idea for something that can help you. The few weeks talking to you has given me a clearer picture of what is happening to the trackers. If I give you a list. Can you collect some items for me in the next town?’ Page nodded and looked to Kidd.

‘Next house we see,’ she said ‘you’re walking it.’ Kidd nodded

‘Thanks mom.’ He said

‘Don’t thank me yet.’ She sighed. ‘Remember the first rest stop I walked. Don’t pull a Gallagher.’

‘Which one was that?’ Ty asked

‘That would be the one that I almost got myself killed slamming a truck door,’ Page said annoyed with herself ‘and then trapped myself inside the building with a ripper.’ She frowned remembering the woman. They had looked like people still then. The ripper’s leg was broken and she was having trouble walking. That was the only thing that saved Page that day. Pure dumb luck.

‘That’s why people mistake you for former military.’ Ty said taking her hand. She looked to him confused. ‘People who come home from war tend to come home with this look. Ever heard of the thousand mile stare? You just had it.’

‘I have never been to war.’ Page argued but even Theo shook his head at that. He motioned around them.

‘This is war Page.’ The doctor told her. ‘We had no idea in that bunker how it was out here. We saw the rippers, but never understood it was an all out war of human vs rippers.’ Page shrugged.

‘I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but a lot of people out there are like that.’ Page sighed. ‘They grouped together and built up settlements as fast as they could. No one wanted to deal with the rippers or the few crazy humans running around. Now they are trapped in their little bubbles of safety with no clue what is happening outside their walls.’ She motioned to the radio. ‘There only outside contact is Mouth and those of us nuts enough to travel the road trading.’

‘Nuts is right.’ Ty chuckled squeezing her hand. ‘If I didn’t see you walk into and leave a ripper infested building with my own two eyes I would never have believed it was possible.’

‘She’s the only one that can do it.’ Kidd said proudly. ‘No one was around to tell her it couldn’t be done, so mom just did it and now she is really good.’ Page shrugged.

‘It keeps us in fresh foods doesn’t it?’ She said motioning to the wagon. ‘Besides, most settlements we have run into are struggling to contain themselves. If the supplies we can get from the cities helps them, then I will keep going in to get it.’ She shrugged standing. ‘It’s late and I am going to bed. Our guest has retreated back into the woods.’ She looked to Kidd. ‘One hour. No more.’

‘But,’ Kidd protested and she gave him a hard look. His shoulders sagged and he nodded. Page gave Ty a quick kiss and went to the wagon. Sleeping on the hard wooden bed was going to make her stiff and miserable in the morning. She would have to try to get up before the other to work it out so she did not take it out on them.

She had almost fallen asleep when a huge cold nose poked her. Page laughed and pushed Charger’s head out of the wagon. ‘Get out of here you troublemaker.’ The horse nickered and walked away. Page chuckled and snuggled down into her sleeping bag.

Submitted: February 08, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.


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