Reads: 215

Page looked to her group after she clipped the phone back to her belt. ‘Well if we can’t hunt here, we may as well press on to the settlement.’ She advised. They all nodded their agreement. After the group finished their lunch, they hooked the horses back up and continued on their way. The River View settlement was small just like Ty and Theo said it was. The guards on the walls were watchful, but did not point their weapons at them. Behind the settlement, Page spotted the horses. Five of the herd were fjord horses. At the gate a woman met them frowning.

‘What is your business here?’ She demanded of Ty. The man was standing behind Page with his rifle ready just in case.

‘Don’t ask me.’ Ty told her. ‘She is in charge.’ He nodded toward Page.

‘We are traders.’ Page told her before the woman could respond. ‘Your tone however is far from welcoming. Should we move on?’ The woman shook her head.

‘Sorry.’ She said relaxing. ‘We have had problems with raiders trying to sneak in. Ever since the news of what happened at Dexter and Morganville hit the air waves, the raiders have been trying to pull the same stunt.’

‘Morganville?’ Theo asked worried. ‘We haven’t been listening to the radio. What happened?’

‘Same as Dexter.’ The woman told him. ‘Just much more bloody. Filthy raiders murdered four traders and stole their equipment. As soon as the settlement let them in, they murdered, raped, and tortured the people. Then they killed and looted anyone one unfortunate enough to go to the settlement looking to trade or settle. Rodgers stopped them with a group of others he recruited to patrol the roads.’ Page shook her head outraged.

‘Son of a,’ she growled but stopped herself from swearing. She sighed ‘You don’t have to let us in. We have everything set up to view from the side of the wagon.’ The woman nodded her appreciation.

‘I am Mayor Stine.’ She told them ‘I will do the trading for the settlement.’ Page put on the brake and climbed down. Theo helped her lift the tarp from the stockpile of goods. Without a word, the woman looked over the supplies. Page stood back and just let her look. Kidd glanced at her and gave her a slight nod. She already knew just by the Mayor’s body language, that they would get what they would need without a problem. Stine step back and was silent for a long time before looking to Page.

‘You have an unusual assortment of goods here.’ She said ‘What are you looking for?’ Page motioned to Elly and Buck.

‘We need two more fjords.’ Page told her. ‘Good for wagon work.’ Stine nodded.

‘I have three that were trained for pulling wagons. Two others who were plow horses.’ The mayor told her. ‘I will take all of this; in exchange you can pick which two you want.’ Page smiled but not in amusement.

‘That is a bit one sided don’t you think?’ She said ‘A quarter of my stock could sustain a settlement this size for a year.’

‘What other settlement do you know that has fjord horses?’ Stine said smugly and Page laughed wiping the smile off her face.

‘I can name three of them east of here.’ She told the woman. Stine frowned.

‘Let me guess,’ she started. ‘you’re a Coalition trader.’ Page nodded ‘I supported the idea, but the damn thing is killing my haggling skills. Half of what you have here and I will give you your pick of two.’ Page was quiet for a long moment. They did not need to trade anymore thanks to the massive amount of food stores Dexter had supplied them.

‘How about this.’ Page offered. ‘I will give you the whole lot for my pick of two fjord horses, and a riding horse with tack for my companion.’ She motioned to Theo. ‘Charger is a little too much for him to handle and he needs a calmer mount.’ The mayor flinched shocked but Page could still see the gears in the woman’s head in full motion.

‘Would you be interested in throwing in that dog?’ The mayor asked and Page just shook her head. ‘Well I had to try. You have a deal.’ Page shook her hand and stood back to watch the mayor’s people unload the items.

When they were finished, the mayor herself led them to the horse fields. Several of the horses trotted to them sniffing. The mayor chuckled pushing a couple away from her.

‘Away you gluttons.’ Stine chuckled. ‘These are my carrot hogs.’ She told the group. ‘I think Ranger will be a good wagon horse for you.’ She motioned to a big gray dun male. ‘He is strong as a clydesdale and very even tempered. If you’re looking for a boy and a girl, I suggest Gracey. She takes a strong hand, but I saw you drive up. Your lead horse is good and I don’t think you will have too much trouble with her.’

‘Which one is Gracey?’ Kidd asked looking over the herd.

‘She is the white dun.’ Stine pointed the big female out. Page nodded but she and Kidd both looked over all five of the horses. Gracey did not like to have her hoofs checked, nor did she let Kidd look at her teeth. The other white dun female was easier to examine and looked to be in better shape. She had kept nudging Page to get her attention as Page examined Ranger.

‘What’s this one’s name?’ Page asked the Mayor.

‘You have a good eye.’ The mayor told her looking pleased. ‘That is Giselle. She is Gracey’s twin. She was also a damn fine carriage horse.’ Page nodded and motioned to Giselle and Ranger.

‘We will take those two.’ Page told her before looking for Theo. He was off with Ty looking over a chestnut quarter horse. The horse looked like someone had splattered him with white paint. ‘It looks like Theo found a horse too.’

‘Chester is a good riding horse.’ Mayor Stine assured them. ‘He is very gentle for his size.’ Page nodded and led the two horses over to the men.

‘I think I like this one.’ Theo told them. ‘I would need to ride him before I decide however.’ Stine nodded and motioned to a man who had been watching from the fence line. He grabbed a saddle and bag before lumbering over to them. Page watched as he threw a blanket over the horse and then saddled him. Once the horse was ready, Theo mounted and rode around the field. He grinned at the group when he rejoined them.

‘Well, I must say it's nice to ride past a body of water and not get dragged into it.’ He told them scratching Chester’s neck.

‘What?’ The man asked confused. Page chuckled and told them. The mayor shook her head smiling.

‘He sounds like a handful.’ She replied. ‘I can see why you would want a different mount.’

‘Charger is a good horse.’ Kidd said ‘He has personality.’ Page nodded her agreement and they led the horses back to the wagon. Charger bounced around the second he was free from the harness and charged to a patch of grass to roll in. Page just shook her head as she pulled out the larger harnesses and put them on the two new horses. Ranger and Elly sniffed noses before Page put the four into their places and hooked them in.

‘Well that looks a little better.’ Ty chuckled. ‘Rain and Charger looked like babies beside those two.’

 

‘It will be easier on all of them now as well.’ Page admitted. ‘I am happy we finally found some more fjords. I was starting his to fear that we had the only two left in the country.’

‘There are a lot of breeders up north.’ Stine told her. ‘That’s where our five came from. We traded for them a few months ago.’ Page nodded and reached into the back of the wagon. She pulled out a large wagon wheel and handed it to the mayor. She looked to Page confused.

‘As you guessed, we are part of the collation.’ Page told her. ‘I was asked to evaluate your settlement. Hang that on your walls where the traders can see it, and they will know this is a safe settlement to trade.’ Stine flinched surprised.

‘My god, your Page Gallagher aren’t you?’ She said ‘I suspected when I saw the scar under your eye, but was not sure.’ Page just shrugged and climbed back up to her seat. She found Kidd had gotten Charger out of the mud and was tiring his lead to the back of the wagon with Rain.

‘Everyone ready?’ She asked. Kidd climbed back up to the driver’s seat and took the rains. Page looked to the mayor. ‘Pleasure doing business with you Mayor Stine.’ The woman nodded looking awe struck. Kidd flicked the leads and the horses started to move.

‘How far to the border?’ Ty asked moving his chair to sit beside them.

‘Not that far.’ Page assured them. ‘We have a few more miles and then we should reach the Mississippi River. Once we cross the bridge, we will be in Wisconsin.’

‘I thought the Mississippi was in the south.’ Kidd said confused. ‘That's the river in Tom Sawyer isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ Page replied ‘but it is a very long river. When we stop tonight I will show you it on the map.’ He nodded and she unclipped her ham. Turning it on, the sound of traders chattering about settlements filled the air. Page smiled feeling a little proud of herself. Once there was a pause, she clicked to talk. ‘This is Gallagher with news for anyone on 90 near the River View settlement. I checked it out as promised. I found the Mayor a tough bartender, but the settlement is good for trade.’ The news set off a wave of chatter that they sat listening too. She clicked off the ham when her sat phone chirped. ‘Gallagher.’ She greeted.

‘Hi Page.’ Mouth greeted. ‘I see you on the bridge. There is a rest stop just before French Island. I need you to stop there. The signs will tell you the rest area is closed, but you just have to move the barricade. It has a nice grassy area and a pond for the horses.’ Page frowned confused. Mouth did not normally call to suggest places for them to set camp.

‘What’s going on?’ She asked weary of the answer.

‘French Island is infested. You’re going to want to cross it in a day.’ He replied but he sounded off to her.

‘Okay, thanks for the heads up.’ She told him ‘What’s wrong?’ Mouth sighed

‘It’s just bunker politics.’ He told her sounding more like himself. ‘The General who runs the bunker is out on a scouting mission and he left one of the doctor’s in charge. The guy has no experience dealing with people and he is getting on my last nerve.’

‘Sorry to hear it Mouth.’ Page told him meaning it. ‘How are things otherwise?’

‘Oddly quiet.’ He told her. ‘No big news today other than a randy behemoth scandalizing a settlement in New Hampshire. Oh, that reminds me, your little friend Nico has moved into the settlement of Dexter. Apparently he has taken it upon himself to guard their cattle.’

‘He must miss Dogg and the horses.’ Kidd said. ‘He used to play with them on the road a lot.’

‘Oh yeah, Ashly needed to talk to you Page.’ Mouth said

‘Hi Page.’ Ashly greeted ‘I think I found someone to take your shift on the radio. Do you remember a trader by the name of Glenn? You ran into him in Washington.’ Page thought back to her days in Washington. They had run into many people on the road. None were traders at that point. They were just trying to get to a safe place.

‘I’m sorry no. We ran into a lot of people in our travels.’ Page sighed

‘It’s okay.’ Ashly assured her. ‘Anyway, he and his family are trading on a huge stretch of the interstate. I have been talking to him on the trader’s channel and he seems to have a good grasp of what's happening out there.’

‘Well if you like him,’ Page replied ‘that is good enough for me. It will be a relief not to have to do those shows anymore. From what we have been hearing, Wisconsin is packed full of Rippers and there are no safe routes. It is going to make it hard to talk on the road let alone speak loud enough for your recording information to hear me clearly.’

‘We know.’ Ashly sighed ‘It is the only reason I started looking for a replacement. People love hearing you on the radio and the response has been amazing. It is not worth risking your lives however.’

‘Nice to know your taking after Mouth and not factoring in my personal feelings.’ Page said a little annoyed. Mouth’s chuckle only irritated her further. ‘Ass.’

‘It’s not my fault your so news worthy.’ The man said amused. Page rolled her eyes before hanging up on them.

‘I think I found that rest area on the map.’ Theo said handing Page the atlas. She looked to where he pointed. It was a little ways past the second bridge. ‘It’s not even noon yet. We may be able to clear the island before dark if we keep going.’

‘We would,’ Page agreed ‘but it would mean making camp close by.’

‘She’s right.’ Ty said worried. ‘If Mouth says the island is packed, then it must be bad. Being that close is going to kill Page.’

 

‘It’s bad.’ Page sighed ‘I have been feeling them for the last couple of days. Thought it was just from getting smacked around back in Dexter, but when I woke up,’ she shrugged not needing to finish. The three males looked across the bridge worried.

Page was not concerned. They had passed through other places like this and made it just fine. French Island would be no different. The westbound side of both bridges had been jammed with abandoned cars. Someone however had cleared the eastbound lane. Bridges scared Page more than anything did on the road. Without people to maintain them, she did not know how long they would stay safe to cross.

‘Wow.’ Kidd said standing and looking down to the river. He frowned confused. ‘I thought it would be bigger. Wider I mean.’

‘It is.’ Page assured him. ‘The farther south the river goes, the bigger it gets. I think that rest area Mouth told us about is next to the river. At least it looks like it is on the map. We can take a dip after we get camp set up.’ Kidd nodded and sat back down.

The rest area was right where Mouth said it would be. Ty hopped down and moved the orange and white barrier off the road. Once the wagon passed, he put it back and jogged to catch up. Once he was back on top, Page looked to him confused.

‘Why put it back?’ She asked and he glanced back the way they had come.

‘I don’t want anyone to know we are up here.’ He told her kissing the top of her head. ‘Give us a night of peace before we go into that mess tomorrow.’ Page nodded her agreement.

She was about to say something about how massive the swarm to the east was, when a sharp jabbing pain ripped through her skull. The pain was so great, it momentarily blinded her. As it started to pass, she realized she was not blind. She had closed her eyes at some point and she was laying on the roof of the wagon. Kidd had stopped the wagon and was on his knees beside her. Ty helped her sit up and let her lean against him. Theo had his kit and opened it digging inside.

‘I’m okay.’ She assured them. Page was a little surprised that it was true. She did not feel the pressure from the rippers at all here. It was almost as if they were in a safe zone. She told Theo and he frowned confused.

‘This is not a behemoth area.’ He said worried checking her eyes. ‘At least there have been no reports of them in the area.’ Page knew if anyone would know, it would be Theo. Aside from trying to help the trackers, he was learning as much as he could about the behemoths. He was sure that the big guys were the clue to helping the trackers overcome the pain of having rippers around. ‘After we set up camp, I will give you a proper exam.’ He told her. ‘I know you are not going to like this, but I want you to rest until I can take a good look at you.’ Page sighed but nodded.

She felt fine now, but that burst of pain was like nothing she had ever felt before. She hoped this was not a new added bonus to being a tracker. Ty helped her up and she sat in his chair. Kidd reluctantly took the driver’s seat and took them behind the small brick building.

As Mouth promised, there was a clear area in the back that would be perfect for setting their camp up. There was only one problem. Both Page and Ty stood at the same time and scanned the area for people.

‘What is it?’ Kidd whispered worried.

‘The grass is mowed.’ Ty whispered back. ‘Who mowed it?’ Kidd nodded worried and put on the brake. He grabbed his bow and scanned the area as well. Other than the mowed grass, there was no sign at all of people. Page and Kidd even walked the woods and found them packed with wild life and still they found no sign of people anywhere.

When they returned, Ty and Theo had already set up most of their camp. Theo motioned Page to a chair near the new fire pit. With a sigh, she sat down and let him look her over. Theo frowned to her worried.

‘I am not finding anything.’ He told her as he put his interments away. ‘Any pain since?’

‘No.’ She told him ‘Well, nothing new anyway.’ She glared at her wrist and then looked to him. ‘When can I eat solids again?’

‘I would like you to wait until I can get an x-ray of your jaw.’ He said ‘I was speaking with a trader last night. There is a settlement after French Island that has power. We can charge the portable x-ray.’

‘Good.’ Page said looking longingly to the wagon where their food was. ‘That soup I have been eating is good and all, but it’s not very filling.’ Theo nodded worried. A loud hum made everyone in the group jump. Page was on her feet fast and grabbed the nearest baseball bat.

‘The hell was that?’ Ty whispered watching the woods. Page shook her head not knowing the answer and not wanting to find out.

‘Load the wagon back up.’ She whispered back. ‘We will camp on the bridge.’ The three males nodded and made to move when Dogg started to growl in the direction of the building.

Men in black armor wearing black mask emerged from the woods. All were armed with some kind of military machine guns. Page knew immediately that these were not raiders. Kidd fired an arrow just at Page swung at the nearest male.

A white gas filled the whole area and she heard Dogg yelp in pain. Page looked around for her people but the gas was far too thick to see anything. Someone grabbed her from behind lifting her from the ground. Page slammed her head back and regretted the move as pain rocked through her already wounded head. The man’s scream of pain was a little worth it and he did drop her.

‘Kidd?’ She called worried. ‘Ty? Theo?’ Movement to her right drew her attention. It was another attacker. Page went in low and brought the bat up fast slamming it into his arm. His gun went fling and he fell like a rock. Something small hit her neck but she ignored it. She tripped over something and went down hard on her bad wrist. The pain was horrendous and she was left unable to breath for a moment. As it passed, she looked to see what she had tripped over. Ty was laying still on the ground at her feet. He had a welt on his head and his hair was plastered with blood. Kidd way laying in his arms unmoving. Page tried to go to them, but her vision blurred.

To more men in black approached and she tried to get to her feet to defend herself. The world around her spun and she had to lean on her bat to steady herself. The men moved closer and she tried to swing at them. Page found herself on the ground again laying on her back. One of the men moved over her.

‘I am sorry it has to happen like this.’ He said before pointing the gun at her and pulling the trigger.


Submitted: August 04, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.

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