Lying on his stomach, Hayden lifted his head up from his bunched up old sweater and yawned. Through crusty eyes, he looked around the old warehouse where he slept and noticed the dust particles floating through the beams of sunlight shining in through the windows. It had to be a nice day outside for there to be so much light. The air was warm and dry. He kicked off his old raggedy sleeping bag and stood up for a stretch, arching his back and pushing his arms out in either direction forcefully enough that he was almost daring his body to split into two. His shaggy brown hair was a matted and knotted mess, but it suited well his dirty face and its fine features. He was only fourteen years old, but a hard life on his own had aged him rapidly. He was a young man in his own right.
Hayden grabbed his old plastic milk jug full of water and wet his cracked lips. He collected his belongings and stuffed his old blue hiking pack full. The water jug was tied tightly to a strap on the front of the bag where one of the plastic clips had broken off long ago. Underneath the jug was an old green tarp rolled up and secured by two straps that remained intact. He threw the heavy sack over his slender, strong shoulders and made his way to an exit door at the side of the building. As the door creaked open, he peered outside and the light hit him in the face with such intensity that he had to raise his right hand to shield his eyes. It was beautiful outside. There were a few puffy white clouds floating slowly in an endlessly blue sky and all was silent except for the sounds of a few singing birds and the humming of cicadas in the distance.
A road ran past the front of the warehouse and an abandoned storefront down the road. The road trailed along the edge of a large green hill with forests down below and a quiet river gently flowing through the valley. It had been a while since he had eaten and he could feel the knots in his stomach demanding more of his time and attention. He thought he might have some success with fishing down by the river. If he was fortunate enough to catch anything it could be just what he needed to carry on his journey for a few more days.
Hayden pushed through the brush and tree branches on his way down to the river. The vegetation and twigs crunched under his feet and the air was thick with the scent of fresh pine needles. When he finally reached an opening at the bottom of the hill, the full warmth of the sun was upon him. He liked to believe that this was a sign from the universe of good things to come. He trod carefully across the earth with the land becoming softer and muddier the closer that he came to the river. The calming sounds of water gently flowing became clearer as he approached.
He threw his bag down near a fallen tree covered in moss and took a look at the river. The water was crystal clear and looked as if it ran a few feet deep in the centre. The silhouettes of a few swimming fish could be seen plodding through the dark spots. He grabbed a reel of fishing line from out of his pack that had a hook, weight and float already attached. Then he darted to the fallen log looking for some moist bark that he could peel back and secured himself a fat grub to use for bait. He perched himself on top of a large rock on the edge of the river and cast his line to the waters.
There he sat silently soaking in the sun, waiting for a tug on his line and in a meditative state he ruminated on all that had happened in the past few years. He reflected upon the chaos in the cities when the disease began and all of the spontaneous acts of murder and violence that broke out across the country. He remembered the panic that set in among the population, the camps and settlements that were set up by the government, the stresses of those first few months hoping that life might ever return to normal. Vividly, he could recall his father sneaking him out of their camp after a particularly bad and unexpected outbreak within the control zone. He remembered the danger of their journey and the solace that they had found in a small hunting cabin far away from civilization, the calm of living off the land and taking just what they needed from the earth around them. He contemplated all of the wisdom his father had instilled upon him from his many years as a soldier and a survivalist. He also recalled painfully the fear that he had felt when a group of dirty looking brutes showed up outside of their small cabin in the woods demanding their supplies and the nauseous feeling he had felt as he hid beneath the floorboards when that gunshot rang out. Nausea returned to him. He tried not to think about this any longer.
He only had two choices in this life anymore; to survive or to surrender to it, and he had promised his father before he died that he would never surrender.
He turned his attention back to his fishing line when he felt it pull. Hayden gave a quick jerk and stood up with excitement. His heart rate increased and he began to reel in the fish eagerly by wrapping the line around the palm of his hand. The fish struggled on the end of the line and it took some patience to avoid losing his catch by breaking it, but he was eventually able to extract it from the waters. It was a small speckled trout, a few pounds in weight, a good size for a filling lunch. The universe was looking out for him today and he was grateful. Just the faint remanence of a smirk flashed upon his lips and then quickly disappeared as he strung the fish up for safekeeping on the back of his bag. He collected his belongings and set off to make a fire nearby.
A feeling of hope came over him as he treaded carefully back towards the woods with the sun on his back and the wind in his hair.
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