Prey - A Novel by Rae Blair

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic
The depression of 2020 was the straw that broke the camels back. The world divided, to those who hunt and those who run. Gangs of ruthless criminals run the Western world in a future where society has fallen and now reflects the past. They purge cities for all they have, leaving no trace behind of any life. Those who survive as Prey live a constant life on the run, travelling in caravans or living by the land. Those who are Hunters live "lavishly" in settler's villages, build by the fall of purged towns. Here and there are Strays, who have been trapped in the ruins of old purged towns, alone and feral, deminishing by the day.

Submitted: June 27, 2013

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Submitted: June 27, 2013

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Through the leaves of a flourishing oak tree, Mila watches the clouds roll by. And as they wisp away with the wind, leaving ghostly trails behind them, she quickly forgets their comparative shapes and her mind wanders on to the next cloud drifting by. Soon, the sun began to shift in the sky and it's rays beam down through the oak's thick limbs into her pale green eyes. She squints and lifts her hand to her face, her peaceful state interrupted. Suddenly, a thundering boom fills the air. Mila stiffens her body in to an upright position, her eyes widening as she scans the horizon for the source of the sound. Again, only louder; closer. This time, the boom pops her ears, muffling nature's Autumn symphony around her. Across the tall grass prairie, three strangers approach wielding weapons. They are merely silhouettes due to the blazing sun, but Mila knows they are not allies. Quickly, she crawls around the rear of the oak tree to where she has burrowed herself a bunker beneath it's trunk. As her hearing clears, she tunes in to the sound of rustling grass; much more frantic than the rustling caused by an Autumn breeze. Deep within the soil of the prairie, she waits as the three strangers thunk overhead. Once the vibrations of their boots is no longer sensed, she lets out a large sigh and climbs back out from her bunker. 

Hunters.

Though with one look they would have known that she had nothing of value to them, she was a young girl on her own, and therefor, vulnerable to many dangers that Hunters threatened. She had seen it all before, when her hometown still existed. To her dismay, all evidence of her past was wisp away just like the clouds above. She had been on her own for five years now; and she rather it that way. It was safer to be solemn. Never could she fit two bodies in her burrow, nor could she widen the space without damaging the oak. She was meant to be alone, better that way, and so He had made it that way. Funny, Mila thinks to herself, to still believe in God after all this time

As night approaches, Mila digs up a jar of blueberry jam from her stash ten steps away from the North side of the oak. Of course, four years ago when her stash was new, it was sixteen steps away, but her feet had nearly doubled in size since then. She pops the lid and drinks the jam as if it were a cool glass of lemonade on a Summer's day. It was a delicious, smooth home-made jam that her mother had made before things took a turn for the worse. The sugary sting on her tongue reminded Mila of family breakfasts with her sisters. Though her father was already up and gone by the time the children had woke, his presence lingered each morning in the pink cheeks of her recently kissed mother, the ring of coffee stain around his favourite mug, and the thick smell of mint after-shave. Peace befell Mila as she reminisced. Still tranced by nostalgia, she slides beneath the oak tree and falls asleep peacefully in her bunker.

+++

"Excuse me..."

?Please don't be dead. Please don't be dead. Oh, please, don't... Elij stares at the pale, freckle-faced brunette curled up before him. For the first time in a long time, he feels happy to see another human being. Something about her seemed welcoming; trustworthy. Otherwise, he would not have stopped to make sure she is alive. Only hours behind him were a pack of Hunters, advancing by foot towards the East, and he felt it his civil duty to warn Prey he come across. 

"Excuse me... Miss?" Reluctantly, he placed a hand on her shoulder and gently rocked her. The young girls eyes shoot open. Sensing her fear, he backs from the hole she had been sleeping in and stands, arms wide and palms facing to show he is bearing no weapons. She scurries to her feet, chest pumping as if she has a hummingbird heartbeat. Before Elij can speak, she pulls a small hunting knife from her back pocket and wields it before her uneasily.

"Whoa, whoa! No, I'm... I'm a friend!"

Her hostility was expected. For a moment, intrigue is in her eyes, then again, distrust.

"I'm only here to warn you of a group of Hunters. They are on their way from the West, by foot."

The girl is silent. As he looks at the vast, lifeless prairie around them, Elij realizes that she is alone, and has been for quite some time. A saddening notion falls over him and he swings his backpack around his front to fetch his map. The girl raising her hunting knife, extending her lean arm aggressively. 

"It's okay, I just want to look at my map!" He backs himself from her to be safe. Calculating his co-ordinates, he finds his notion to be true. "This... this is Vanreille? This... Vanreille was purged five years ago..."

+++

Mila feels a sombre sadness creep up her body, as if she had dived slow motion in to a cool lake; the water slowly engulfing her. She fights back a frown, she mustn't let him see her weaken.

"Have you been alone all this time?" The boy steps closer, hunched slightly and brows raised sympathetically. Still on alert, Mila does not lower her knife. She is unsure how to react. In fact, she has been alone all this time, and she has not communicated with another human being in five years. It's as if she is learning to speak again. She tries to speak but a dryness stops her words mid-throat and she swallows them back down.

"Did you live here? In Vanreille?" Once again, words escape her. The boy inches a step closer once more and Mila is captivated by his deep blue eyes and soft chin. He seems friendly. For the first time in quite a while, she begins to let her guard down. 

"Your Mama taught you not to talk to strangers, huh?" He stops a comfortable few feet away and smiles. Mila giggles, the sound of her voice being so unfamiliar. She clears her throat, and finally, a sentence escapes her lips.

"I..." Whoa, that's not what it was five years ago. "I haven't had the chance."

"What's your name? I'm Elij." He extends a hand to her; a gesture well-known from her old life, though at present, it seemed otherworldly. 

"Mila..." Her last name escapes her. How could it? Nevertheless, it was unneeded, but the idea of forgetting her own last name seemed preposterous. Another sinking reminder of how long it has been in the burrow beneath the oak, head in the clouds, memories carrying away with every gentle breeze. A moment passes between herself and Elij, perhaps analysing one another more deeply. 

"Mila?" Her glare shifts from his dark-wash denim jeans to his deep blue eyes, which are shaded by dark brows and a long, unkempt bang. "It isn't safe here. There are seven Hunters on their way; Hunters who don't neglect to check every burrow, bunker and cellar they can and will come across."

"I mean no offence, but I have been safe here for five years. I know the world out there, and I am much better off on my own."

"Do you? It seems to me that all you know is a hole in the ground." Mila is taken aback by Elij's comment. Her lips part, insulted. "No offence."

She quickly questions his initially friendly nature.

"I am meant to be alone; better this way. So that is how He has made it." She comes off snide, and instantly realizes her tone. Not speaking for five years has demeaned her social skills. Communication is no longer her strong suit, and though Elij had insulted her, Mila had always been one to kill them with kindness. The best form of vengeance is a confident smile, and so she forces one upon her face. 

"Funny," Elij chuckles. "To still believe in God after all this time."

His words echo in Mila's mind, so familiar. Something about their familiarity provides her a comfort, once more, in her new acquaintance.

"Where are you from, Elij?" Though stationed beneath the ground for half of a decade, miles from any town or camp, Mila was aware of the places from which Hunters travelled. Safe underground, she heard the conversations of many strangers who passed her by. She could finalize her verdict of "friend or foe" with his answer, simply. Elij smirks, looking away.

"A place much different than here."

Hesitantly, Mila disarms herself. Eyes locked on Elij, she backs in to her burrow and retrieves her satchel. Nodding, she invites him to follow her ten steps North of the oak to her stash of non-perishables. As she digs, he kneels beside her.

"What's this?"

"My bunker is small, it fits myself and my satchel. I needed a place to hide my food and supplies from..." She peers up at her new ally. "... unexpected visitors."

"You're like a squirrel."

A glare of disapproval stops Elij from laughing. Rather, he shifts his weight from one foot to another and clears his throat.

"I suppose so."

Finally completing her dig, she removes several jars of jam, beets and pickle from the earth and rests them inside of her satchel. A total of seven petite jars Mila unearths, giving her a sense of relief for Elij's arrival. His face gleams empathy for her unspoken thankfulness. Once packed, Mila follows him a few yards away from the oak. She refuses to look back to the tree she had come to call home. Both sadness and relief sensate through her, thankfulness still lingering. Once they reach his horse and wagon, Mila gasps in excitement. 

"I haven't seen a horse in years!" 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 RaeBlair. All rights reserved.

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