We were lucky, the Stalker managed to crash on the outside of Eden, we took what we needed and headed for the mountains, it has been month, month hard walking, a month of extreme desert Wastes, a month of nothing but sand and heat, but at last we are finally in the heart of the mountains. Long ago people carved roads through these mountains, this will make our trip easier, but on foot, on foot it will still be tough. A week into the trip it snowed, it was truly amazing at first, but the snow was not the only awe inspiring things, there were trees, real trees left to grow unchecked by man for years and I am no talking about the random burned out shrub you find in the Wastes, for the first time in my life I stood in a forest. The air was fresh, the snow pure and white. I had never seen anything like it in my life, and to be able to feel it against my skin, the bare skin of my face was a true taste of freedom, but now, it is cold and damp. The Forest is endless; there is nothing but an old broken road before us over by the surrounding woods. I long for the days of the Wastes, “How are you doing?” Fiona asks.
“I am good, yourself?” I ask.
“Still a little sore from the crash, but other than that I am not bad.” Fiona says.
“Are the others still asleep?” I ask.
“Velvet is, Theodore has been up for a while, and he’s cooking up some breakfast.” Fiona says, “You should eat.”
“I am not that hungry, I am going to hang out a little longer, go eat.” I say.
“Figured as much.” Fiona says, “Here” Fiona hands me one of the blankets we took off the wrecked Stalker, “Figured you could use it.”
“Thanks.” I say, “Hey Fiona, it’s snowing.” We both laugh, a good laugh, like I use to have, before everything it feels good. After several more hours I finally make my way back to the group, the camp is already packed and ready to go, “You should have gotten me I would have helped.”
“It’s ok; we figured you wanted to be alone.” Fiona says. A cold wind blows, my body shakes and I can feel my skin lose its warmth.
“We can’t take this cold much longer.” I say.
“I have been watching the signs the past couple of days.” Theodore says, “We are not that far outside of Denver, it used to be a city, we should be able to get some warmer clothing there.”
“Ok, we head for there before continuing on, if anything we can use the buildings for a few days to warm up before heading out again.” I say. The snow is starting to get thick, making walking difficult, “How much further?”
“Can’t be too much further, we were only about twenty miles out when we left this morning.” Theodore says, “We should be there by late tonight if we keep pushing.”
“Ok, we need to give it all we got; once we get there we can rest.” I say.
“Words of encouragement from our fearless leader.” Fiona says with a smile. After a month Fiona is mostly back to normal, she says that every few nights she will have strange dreams, but with everyone here we are able to reassure her they are just dreams. Finally after hours of walking we arrive at the outskirts of Denver, the hour is late and darkness fills the world. All we can do is stet camp and rest till morning, in no time Velvet has a fire raging. We all gather around absorbing its warmth like sponges.
“So what is on the menu tonight?” I ask.
“Pre-rats” Velvet says handing me the package, a pre-rat stands for premade rations. They are vile, I never thought I would prefer Waste dog to anything in this world that was until Pre-rats.
“Tomorrow we can sleep late and head into the city.” I say, “We can establish a base camp and work out of there until we find what we need.”
“Sounds like a solid plan.” Fiona says, “Depending what we find, we might be able to last quite a while out here.” After diner we all settle in for the night, we have managed to set up camp in a rather large building, the building seems to be made of bricks; the main room is large and open. Several large doors that seem to slide up sit at each end of the building allow for what seems to be large vehicles to enter from one and make an exit without having to back out. Standing there in the room I can’t help myself, the long suppressed wastelander comes out.
Heading deeper into the building I am filled with the wonderment of a child. It has been so long since I have walked alone into the darkness of the unknown, since I have experienced the excitement of the search. Reaching into my pack I remove the flashlight, unlike my old flashlight this one lights right up, I kind of miss the uniqueness the other one use to have. Maybe one day after everything is done I will return to Haven, see if I can find it. Shining my light throughout the rooms this place is unlike the others, having been secluded in a frozen Wasteland for all these years the place seems to be almost untouched. Thick rubberized jackets lined the walls of adjacent rooms, strange helmets sit above untouched by the years of neglect. Dust, real dust covers them. Dust shits in all directions, like us the dust now floats free, free to go where the wind takes it, the words Denver Fire Department become clear, “There you are.” Fiona says.
“Sorry, couldn’t sleep.” I say.
“Me either, find anything good?” Fiona asks.
“What do you think about these? I ask picking up one of the helmet. Taking the helmet from my outstretched hand and examining it.
“Not going to stop a round.” Fiona says tapping the helmet.
“I don’t think it was intended for combat.” I say, “Shall we check up stairs?”
Heading up stairs we find several more rooms, most are similar to the offices I found back in Seattle, but there is one room larger than the rest, several beds line the walls. Fiona and I both start to laugh at the realization that the others are huddled around a fire down stairs, sleeping on the cold hard floor, “You think we should let the others know.” I say.
“Nah, they are both out cold, let them sleep, we can tell them in the morning.” Fiona says. Flipping over a mattress I send a cloud of dust into the air, “wow that is a lot of dust.” Fiona says, trying to wave the dust from her face only to cause the opposite resulting in several moments of sneezing, “Can we get out of here?” Fiona manages to get out between sneezes.
“Sure.” I say taking Fiona’s hand as I leading her away from the cloud of dust. It takes several more minutes before Fiona stops sneezing, her eyes now puffy and red she stands like small child wiping snot from her nose. I can’t help but laugh, Fiona is not happy.
“It’s not funny.” Fiona says sneezing once more.
“I’m sorry; I’ve just never seen anyone have an allergic reaction to dust.” I say, “Though you generally don’t find much clean dust in the Wastes.”
“You shouldn’t laugh at me.” Fiona says, “Especially when it is your fault.”
“Sorry, but it was pretty funny.” I say, “I mean the way your face scrunched up.”
“Yeah, Well.” Fiona says punching my in the arm as she walks past, “Hope it leaves a mark.” As if timed the floor below Fiona gives out, for a moment my heart drops with Fiona. Diving towards the hole I reach down to find Fiona hanging by several cables and wires, the floor below sits at least twenty feet down.
“Fiona.” I say reaching for her, “Grab my hand.” Reaching her with all her strength Fiona misses several times before taking a moment to rest.
“I can’t reach.” Fiona says.
“Try, I know you can do it.” I say, “I have faith in you.” Reaching further into the hole I feel my body start to slide, “Hurry I’m slipping.” Using all of her energy Fiona flings her hand up into mine; pulling with all my strength we managed to escape. Laying there we rest a minuet our ordeal over my mind jumps back to Seattle, to the day I feel through the elevator shaft, they day I almost died, I met Fiona there and now everything has come full circle. Only this time no one fell down the hole, we had each other to prevent that, it was our combined strength that allowed us to escape.
“That could have sucked.” Fiona says.
“You have no idea.” I say, “Are you ok?”
“Yeah, a little bruised, but I will be fine.” Fiona says, “I think I am ready for bed now.” We don’t even more, laying there next to the hole we wait as our adrenaline wares off and we drift into sleep, Fiona’s let dangling down the hole.
The morning sun is warm against our skin, the first feeling of warmth we have has since the snow, and the building has done a fine job of keeping us somewhat warm, heck anything is better than sleeping outside. Fiona lies a few inches away, she must have moved closer during the night, probably seeking warmth. In the cold mountain night the warmth of another human is invaluable, moving silently to a nearby window I take in the city for the first time. It is truly beautiful; this city unlike Seattle seems to have been spared the wrath of the Brotherhood. It looks as the day it was abandoned, a frozen shrine to the world of yesterday. It is strange to see a place like this outside of Eden; it brings to the mind only one question, why?
“Fiona, wake up.” I say, “You should see this.”
“What is it, can’t it wait.” Fiona says, rolling back over away from the window and me.
“No, you will want to see this, trust me.” I say nudging Fiona with me foot.
In protest Fiona begins to stir, “You are such a pain, cant you let a girl sleep?” Fiona asks.
“Just come here, look at this.” I say, Fiona finally making her way to the window, her eyes widen as she takes in the site, “It’s beautiful.”
“How is this possible, I thought the Brotherhood destroyed everything?” I ask.
“I don’t know, I though the same thing.” Fiona says.
“Maybe Theodore has some answers.” I say, “We should go see if the others are up anyway.” Heading back down to the others the vision of the city still burns in my memory. How it is this city has survived so long, how it survived the Brotherhood. Velvet and Theodore have already woken by the time we arrive; Velvet is busy preparing this morning’s Pre-Rats.
“Well look who we have here, did you guys find a nice little hole to climb in.” Velvet says.
“You could say that.” Fiona say smiling slightly taking a seat next to Velvet.
“I would ask what is for breakfast but I know the answer.” I say taking a set around the fire, “Hey Theodore, can you tell me about Denver, the city is.”
“Untouched.” Fiona cuts in.
“I don’t know, I just remember it was one of the rebel’s strongholds.” Theodore says, “Other than that, I have no clue as to why it was not nuked.”
“Strange, but I guess it really doesn’t matter, what we need to focus on now is getting the supplies we need.” Velvet says, “Then getting out of these mountains.” As much as I would hate to admit it, Velvet is right; the truth behind Denver can wait.
“Ok, we head into the city, find what we need, take a couple of days to rest, then head back out.” I say, “Does anyone have any questions.”
“We should check out some of the local department stores, they should have what we are looking for.” Theodore says.
“What the heck is a department store?” I ask.
“Think the market in Haven.” Theodore says, “And just like in Haven, it’s mostly crap, but you can find some things worth picking up.”
“I think we had those back in Haven, we called them Connivance Centers.” Velvet says, “Definitely crap.”
Heading into the city the bitter cold stings as we once again leave the safety of our camp, we don’t. The city is quite small compared to that of Eden, but here there is only beauty, there is no hiding evil behind all the lights and glamour like one finds back in Eden. We spend several hours plowing through the snow before we come to a stop. Before us stands a tall building, a few stories high, the white building material of which the structure is constructed of almost seems to blend against the snow. The tall glass entrance way stands the test of time; large unidentifiable markings that once represented the stores name barely exist. The door are shut tight, taking the butt of my rifle I smash the window, there is a rush of stale air mixing with the fresh cold mountain air. We stand silently a moment before heading in; once again I remove my flash light. Everything is untouched, this place, this city has been abandoned. What drove these people away, what horror worse than a nuclear bomb could have done this, “Everything is here, as if, one day everyone just left.” I say.
“This place would have been a gold mine to the Wasters back in Haven.” Theodore says, “Seeing everything untouched like this give me the creeps.”
“I agree with gramps over here, let’s get what we need and get out.” Velvet says.
“I ain’t your gramps, kid.”! Theodore says, Velvet shoots him an accepting smile, she knows he is tough, and he only proves it more every day.
“Let’s split up.” I say, “No one do anything stupid, and stay out of the elevators.” The building is massive, several floors or various items, Theodore was right. When I was back in Haven this place would have got me enough creds to last several lifetimes, now most of the stuff is junk. After several minutes Velvets voice can be heard throughout the place, heading towards I run, but take my time. Being as there is no urgency in her calls, as I approach Velvet stands surrounded by several thousand coats, all look warm and inviting, and “Looks like you found something.” I say stopping to examine a rack of jackets. Moments later the others arrive, Theodore is pushing a car filled with equipment for outdoors travel, well that is what I am assuming it is.
“There is so many of them.” Fiona says.
“They are so fluffy.” Velvet says holding several jackets against her face.
“Ok, let’s take what we need and keep searching.” I say. Before long we are all outfitted with for cold weather travel, Fiona had managed to locate several backpacks, placing supplies into them I think back to the many times I prepared to enter the Wastes, how I would have sold my arm for a fraction of the equipment we have now.
“Try not to pack too much; we still have a long trip ahead of us.” Fiona says.
“Is there any other places we should check before heading back to camp?” I ask.
“Nothing else comes to mind.” Fiona says, “Maybe we should head back, see what we can think of overnight.” Truth is no one likes the idea of being out in the city over night, this place give off a strange vibe. There is a feeling in the back of my neck, a feeling that something horrible happened here long ago. Heading back to camp the sun is starting to set, the city seems to give off a hunted aura as we work our way back. Several times we are startled by the sounds of small creatures passing as shadows in the darkness. Holding my rifle tight in my hands I scan the darkness before me, something is coming.
“No one move, there, get ready.” I say bringing my rifle up, ready to fire. My eyes narrow like razors as the creature lunges forward. Out of the darkness leaps a Waste dog, only it’s not, the body is covered in a thick hair, unlike the normal spots here and there. There is not time, my body reacts the shot echoes through the streets, the creature falling feet away. Several more can be heard fleeing in the distance. Inching forwards I push the lifeless animal with my foot, “What is it?
“It’s a wolf.” Theodore says kneeling besides it, “It’s not mutated.”
“Can we eat it?” Velvet asks, everyone turning their attention to her.
“Only if you carry it back to camp.” I say. Though to be honest I think anyone would be willing to lug the thing back for a taste of fresh meat, Velvet doesn’t argue. The trip back moves quickly. Everyone is excited about the day’s events, it was a good day. Once back inside the building it doesn’t take Velvet and Theodore long before they wolf is prepared and on the fire. Fiona and I have spent the time bringing beds down by the fire; tonight we will all get a warm comfortable sleep.
“Ok, it’s ready.” Velvet says. Everyone is eager, once around the fire we all greedily dig into the stew. There is plenty of meat left over and with the freezing temperatures outside it will keep for days.
“We the amount of food we have, we should probably sit tight for a few days.” I say, “Who know what else we can find.”
“Not a bad idea, the kid here could probably use the extra rest.” Theodore says motioning towards Velvet.
“Kid, I will show you who are a kid, gramps.” Velvet says. It is good to sit like this, before the threat of the Brotherhood was always loaming over our heads, not we are free. There is no one chasing us, no one out to kill us, I could stay in these mountains forever. However, there are too many people back in Eden dependent on me; I still have a mission to finish. Perhaps once this is done, when I am finally free to live my life once again, here in the mountains is where I will find a home. My eyes shift to Fiona, will she come with me. Noticing, Fiona shits her attention to me and smiles, I don’t have to worry about that, I know she will.
The night goes by without any incidents, the warmth of the fire and our new clothing eases us to sleep, by the time the morning sun rises I feel fully rested for the first time in a month. The others still sleep, moving to the fire I poke it several times before tossing on a few more pieces of wood. Soon the fire is blazing again, the heat is amazing. Extending my hands I let the fire gently kiss them making them warm to the touch. Fiona must have awoken while I was stoking the fire, it is strange. She always seems to wake soon after me, to find me, as if we are instinctively seeking moments for ourselves. Her hands are cold as she places them on my shoulders, she stands behind me. Placing my hands upon hers I can feel the exchange of warmth, “Hey Riley, back in Eden when I said that I loved you.” Fiona says, “It was just that I thought I was going to die.”
“It’s ok; you don’t have anything to be ashamed about.” I say, “Truth is, I feel the same way.”
“Oh, well in that case why didn’t you tell me?” Fiona asks punching me in the arm.
“Sorry we were busy running for our lives, didn’t come up.” I say.
“Oh really, didn’t come up.” Fiona says, “You know I learned something’s about you from Cara.” A wicked smile appears across Fiona’s face, what she could have possible learned, and then it hits me.
“Don’t do it.” I say as Fiona lunges forwards, I knew Cara learning I was ticklish would come back to haunt me, “Stop.” I say between uncontrollable laughter. Several minutes of unrelenting assault continue, “Stop it, please, ok I love you.”
“That is so cute.” Velvet says, “It’s like I am a proud parent watching the kids play by the fire.” Fiona rises from the grand, her face is bright red.
“Velvet I am going to kick.” Fiona is cut off by the sound of the outer door flying open. In the door way stands a man dressed in animal furs, his eyes focus on us. As quickly as he appears he is gone. Velvet in an attempt to escape Fiona’s wrath takes chase only to return several moments later.
“I lost him, he was fast.” Velvet says.
“Where did he come from?” I ask.
“I have no idea; do you think he was using this place before we got here?” Velvet asks. There are several possibilities, all we know for now is we are not alone.