It is not like other times. The air hasn’t stirred for at least 20 minutes. Raven is on the ground facing up. The last tremble was a while ago. She doesn’t remember because the intensity knocked her out. She wakes up to a sun that is only slightly moved. At least she thinks it is. A branch snaps and she jumps up ready to defend herself. Too fast. Her head is still woozy from the fall. She stills and listens for more noise. But, really, what is she going to do if it’s an animal three times her size and with claws and shit?
Anther snap and her body hair stands in attention. A tall, lanky man materializes out of the thick brush. Bear.
“Oh good. You’re okay. I thought the impact did you in this time.”
Raven bristles in offense. A smile creeps on his face as he approaches, still cautious. Raven, true to her name, is a tall, dark and muscular woman. Her black hair is in a ponytail, which she hides with a simple white feather headdress. From a distance she looks like a dark-skinned platinum blonde. Her green eyes rest on him nonthreatening but without warmth. She wears green army pants and a matching olive shirt. On any other woman it would look unfortunate, but the second-hand outfit makes her look like someone about to do a photo shoot.
“I told you not to run off,” she says.
There is a faint tug at the corner of his mouth. “I didn’t know you would miss me.”
She gives him a look. “Well, if you’re going to be a jackass and ignore orders, you might as well tell me what you found.”
“There is an army about three miles from here.”
He agrees. They are getting closer and time is running out. She swallows in quiet panic.
“But maybe,” he says, “the impact will keep them away at least for a while.”
“At least until we can get to the castle to look for Eagle?”
He nods. He notes that she looks pale. And her eyes have circles under them.
“You need to eat,” he says.
She ignores him and looks around for her backpack. She had just put her tent away when the impact of the blast knocked her stupid.
“Are you listening? You need to eat. You’re no good to us if you’re weak.”
She sees something familiar behind some brush. “I already passed out. I think I’m good.” But that is the precise moment her stomach gives a fierce grumble in protest.
Bear laughs. He fumbles through his satchel and fishes out some pheasant jerky. She finds her bag and pulls it to herself to inspect.
He walks to her and hands her a strip. For a moment there is a flicker of tenderness in her eyes.
“Are you sure? You must not have a lot left.”
He shrugs. “I actually killed a few, what was it, last week? Not enough time to cure but beggars can’t complain.”
She almost laughs, takes the strip and nods to him appreciatively. Holy hell it tastes good. She never is one to talk about food the way other people do. It’s not like the old times…the times her grandparents would talk about when she was younger. They used to have establishments where people could pick what type of food they wanted to eat. Imagine having a choice on what you wanted! Imagine not walking the forest hoping that there was a nest full of eggs or an animal small enough to shoot with the crappy rifles they have. And every shot is precious because bullets are scarce and expensive at the depots. They had to go back to their ancestors’ ways of doing things. Hunt and gather. Make traps. Kill your own food. Collect rain water. Most of the lakes and streams are polluted now. People are always on edge because they are hungry or thirsty.
“They’re getting stronger. I overheard some drifters say that once we get about 15 miles from the epicenter, the vibrations are too powerful to move beyond the valley.”
She stops chewing for a second at the mention of drifters. “Did you talk to them,” she asks a little too fiery still with some jerky in her mouth.
“When you overhear something you’re not involved in the conversion.”
“Don’t be an asshole.”
She puts the rest of the jerky in her bag too angry to finish. “You know…you’ve been getting a little too comfortable lately. I told you to stay off the path. And you fucking ignore me. You’re close enough to listen to god knows what drifters.” She gives him an arresting stare. “Do you know what will happen if anyone…anyone finds out we’re here?”
He knows. And he has been careful. This coming from a woman with white feathers in her hair. White feathers! In a green and brown world. Now he is angry at the lack of trust and the bombardment of accusations. If it were not for him, her ass would have been captured a month ago. A month ago when she slept with that beefy drifter who happened to be an undercover agent for the Union.
She reads his mind. “You have no idea what I have sacrificed for the cause.” There is a stir in her heart that whispers the memories of a life long ago. There is an image of a little girl sitting at the dinner table in the old trailer. It wasn’t a luxurious life, but it was hers. And she was with that little girl she loves. The little girl looks up at her and gives her a cheeky smile.
“The teacher said I was the best reader today.”
Raven gives the little girl a slice of warm bread. “Ah yeah? What did you read?”
“Well…I’m reading Alice in Wonderland. Do you know that book?”
Raven sits down with a plate of beans and some chicken. It’s not much but it’s enough to fill them up.
“Yes. The curious little girl who fell down the rabbit hole. Do you like that story?”
The little girl furrows her brown and thinks deeply for a moment. Then she looks up at Raven with her big brown inquisitive eyes.
“I don’t like the story about the the walrus. But I do like the Cheshire Cat. He’s a pretty smart cat.”
“I don’t like the story about the walrus either. Do you know why?”
The little girl shakes her head and stuffs some beans in her mouth.
“I think it might be the same reason you don’t. You see, the walrus is the story of betrayal. The oysters trusted him. And he did the worst thing anyone can do.”
“Yeah! Eat them!”
Raven shakes her head. “No baby. The worst thing anyone can do is betray you. Not honor their promise, no matter how small. Always remember that.”
The little girl nods and dips the bread in the sauce. Then she looks up thoughtfully. “I would never do that to you.”
Raven smiles. “That’s good to know. I’ll remember that.”
“Raven. Raven. Fucking Raven!”
She snaps out of her trance and Bear is watching her with a look of both exasperation and concern.
“We need to move forward. We can’t stay here too long. Someone will find us.”
And no more is said. They make sure the area looks undisturbed and decide to go North.