Hayden could still taste the smoky flesh of the cooked trout caught between his teeth. He’d been walking for a few hours now along the roadside, shaping a stick from a young tree with a knife as he went. The stick was about two feet long and an inch in diameter. He thought it might come in handy later since the moisture in the wood made it a little more resistant to any fire. His hunting knife had a handle made of redwood and a blade, smooth and sharp which came to a point with a hook just behind it. It was his father’s blade and it was his most precious possession. He tucked the stick in behind a strap on his bag and then began to play with the knife as he walked, flipping it over and over in the palm of his hand. He admired the details and the initials “JT” on the rear. He ran his thumb along the jagged edge on the rear.
The asphalt beneath his feet, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the buzzing of the insects around him all faded from existence as he was pulled farther from his consciousness. He snarled as he imagined the things that he would do if he were to ever find the men that took his father from him. With a sudden burst of anger, he slashed and cut at the air releasing a mad yell in the process. He revealed a deep well of pent up hostility from years of losing more than he had ever gained. He took a deep breath and slipped the knife back into its sheath at his hip, then carried on.
As the sun began to set and the moon began to rise, he came upon the edge of a small town. He could see brick buildings of various sizes all lined up in a row, some were shops and some were homes, but all were in need of repairs. A small white grocery store with its windows smashed in left glass and debris across the parking lot. There were cars that had been destroyed or abandoned scattered across the settlement, a few had been completely burnt out. Instinctively he knew well enough to be on alert in areas such as these. Danger could be found in all people, both the living and the sick. There was still enough time for him to quickly scout the village before the setting suns red hues had a chance to disappear. There was no movement, no noise, nothing disturbing except for the rhythmic pounding of his own heartbeat.
He moved with great care down the street and towards the grocery store, observing the chaotic setting as he moved. When he arrived at the front of the store he used the back of his knife to knock off bits of glass at the base of the broken window. He wasn’t looking to cut himself when he climbed inside. He crawled through, tossing his bag in first and then jumping in behind it. The place was a disaster. Most of what the store had once had to offer had been looted from the shelves and pieces of junk and debris were scattered all throughout. He made his way up and down the aisles, methodically assessing if anything useful had been left behind. The howling of a wolf in the distance caused the hairs on his arms to stand on end, but he carried on.
Among the bits of expired and destroyed merchandise, he collected a dusty old bottle of cooking oil that was laying on its side on a high shelf. He placed the bottle in his bag. In the midst of the rest of the junk, he was only lucky enough to find one product that looked remotely edible. It was an old can of ravioli, knocked and dented and hidden beneath the base of a tipped over steel rack. He wasn’t a fan of pasta but in this world, a person doesn’t have the right to be picky.
There was just one more thing that he needed and he couldn’t find it anywhere in the store. However, he had an idea; he went to the back of the store and down a small dark corridor where he was able to find a bathroom. He was running out of light, especially this far away from the windows, and so he had to use his sense of touch to feel his way along the walls. He felt his way around the sink and the toilet and brushed upon a full roll of old toilet tissue. It was old and dirty but it was just what he needed. He threw it in his bag and retreated back the way he came.
The sun had finally set and the moon appeared in full. Hayden leapt back through the smashed-out window and into the empty street. He kneeled on the ground and pulled a tin cup from out of his backpack. He placed the mug on the ground and filled that with his cooking oil. Afterwards, he pulled the stick out from behind the strap on his bag. He sat down cross-legged on the sidewalk and began to wind the toilet paper around the top of the stick. He twisted it as the roll unravelled so that it could be wrapped around the wood like braided rope. When he was finally finished he tucked the loose end in at the top and dipped it into his mug of cooking oil, twisting and turning it until it was thoroughly soaked and dripping.
He emptied the cup, then placed the mug and leftover oil back into his sack before retrieving a pack of matches that he had. He stood up, threw his bag back over his shoulders and lit the match and struck the torch, watching as the flame slowly grew to a blaze. As the fire roared, the torch sizzled and popped casting light and shadows across the street nearby. He once again had light, and it was a good thing too because he still needed to find himself a place to sleep for the night. There was another howl, but it sounded closer this time. He flashed the torch in the direction of the noise but nothing appeared to him. His heart rate increased and he moved quickly with careful determination.
He made his way over to a redbrick home that had a covered porch with white railings on the front. The door was left open and the lock was broken as if it had been kicked in at one point. With his torch in one hand and in his knife in the other, he entered the building in search of a bed. In the hallway of the house, he passed broken pictures of a family that had known better days. He quickly peaked into the adjoining rooms to make sure he was alone and then returned to close the front door. He slid a small table from the hallway up behind it just to give himself some peace of mind. This place would have to do for the night.
From the outside of the building, only the warm glow of his torch could be seen passing by the windows as he moved from room to room. Once he had found just what he’d been looking for, the glow of his torch became a stationary beacon of his refuge. It was stuck inside of an old ceramic vase and left to burn. A lone wolf sat out on the front lawn and it howled. Hayden jumped from his bed and wandered to the window. He could see the contour of a wolf and wondered if the shadowy figure was looking right back at him. After a moment, the wolf took back to its feet and wandered on down the road. With time the flame grew dimmer and the house had faded once again into the darkness of the night. Hayden drifted off to sleep with the dying of that torch and dreamed of the wolf that had wandered outside.
Click here for part III..