I don’t know if you have ever had to wear pants covered in explosive diarrhea, and for your sake, I hope to God you haven’t. You know how people say the longer you are around a smell the more you get used to it? Well they (unlike me at this point in time) are full of shit. It was unbearable. I barely slept.
Finally when the morning sun shed some like on my situation I felt comfortable enough to climb down. Again ‘comfortable’ is used loosely. As I stretched myself from my perch, the seat of my pants emitted a sort of cracking sound. I made the awkward transfer to the farthest tree away before climbing down. The smell improved significantly but was still gag reflex worthy now that I only smelt myself, and not three rotting corpses covered in bodily fluids.
I worked my way back to the river breathing through my shirt. My only thought was to wash. I stored my bag and the twelve in a bush. I discarded my shoes and sock on the bank and waded into the water with my atlatl in hand. I got up to my shins before I heard noises. Turning to face the bank, I heard a shot. Straining to hear over the rushing water I froze slightly crouched. A second shot rang out followed by voices. I could only make out a couple words. Someone saying some directions. Twigs and underbrush rustling, getting louder. I knew enough about the end of the world to know common courtesy is among the first things to go out the window to make room for survival. My mind immediately conjured images from “The Road”.
My eyes were drawn to the bush the twelve was hidden in. The voices started again. I had no doubt they were heading toward the river. Laughs carried through the woods. There was no time to make it to the bank and hide. I flopped down into the mud face down and adjusted so I could breathe to the left. I gripped my atlatl in my right hand, with the edge tucked under my shoulder. My bare feet splashed in the rushing water making it hard to hear how close they were.
I didn’t have to wait long before they came out of the bushes, probably twenty feet from where I had camouflaged my bag. I couldn’t see them but I could hear two voices, back and forth. A third cut in, quieter, silencing the others. I knew they had spotted me. I heard a shotgun being pumped. My heart speed up, thumping in the mud. I struggled to control my breathing and resist the urge to take off running. They stepped closer still, obviously these three had learned to never leave anything to chance if they could help it. A lesson that would have saved me from this situation in the first place.
Finally one of them spoke;
“What the fuck is that smell?” closely followed by coughing.
“You sure it isn’t you?”
“Shut up assholes. Jared, check if it’s alive.” This one was obviously the third voice and the leader.
“Nothing that smells like that could possibly be alive.”
“You’re alive aren’t you Jared?”
“Look who’s talking Will.”
“Will one of you just check?” said the leader in a rather annoyed tone.
“I ain’t going near it.”
“Hey boss, what do you want me to do if it is alive?”
“What do we always do?”
For some strange reason I didn’t think they wanted to make friends. I had to clench my jaw to keep from chattering, both from my freezing feet, and from thinking I wasn’t going to live another minute.
A rock hit hard just below my left shoulder blade. My face twitched as I suppressed the pain. After a few more seconds they continued their conversation while moving away. I stayed motionless in the mud for what seemed like an hour after they had gone, calming my breathing.
Finally I crawled to the edge of the water and washed the mud from my face, along with the tears that had formed in my eyes. I pulled my shirt off and tossed it on the bank before tearing off my crusty pants and scrubbing them vigorously in the rushing water. I washed using my shirt then cleaned it and the rest of my clothes. By no means were they Downy fresh, but it was definitively an improvement.
I dried my jeans as best I could by wringing them out then dressed. I stood and looked around before I collected my things from the bush where I’d left them. The weight of the shotgun was comforting in my hands. I took another deep breath and closed my eyes. When I opened them again, I was staring at my bare feet. When I glanced back toward the water, they were nowhere to be found.
“Bastards took my shoes...”