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16 January 2012 @ 02:20 pm
Real LJ Idol: "Bitter Bargains Against Time"  
Bitter Bargains Against Time
real lj idol | week ten | 748 words
Prompt: sticks and stones.

x-x-x-x-x

The forest was cold, even during the day. Back before the world ended, it had been easy to forget just how harsh nature could be.

Sarah knew better now, of course, just as there were other things she'd been forced to remember—things learned from history or even television (God, so hard to think of something so frivolous now). No one had realized just how important that information would become, how crucial it would be to know ways to hunt and survive when you had absolutely nothing. The land's earliest people had learned how to live with nature instead of denying it. That hard-won balance seemed like some kind of mythical genius now…

Cold was the new reality, cold and hunger. Sarah's group kept fires going day and night, and the role of fire-watcher was a luxury they shared in rotation. The rest of the group gathered food and supplies while daylight lasted, sharing their finds when they rejoined. Those who didn't share risked being expelled from the group and forced to form new alliances.

That meant everyone usually hunted and foraged in pairs.

The biggest, immediate danger was other people—other groups that wanted what you had, or worse, the people who'd never gotten along well with anyone, who roamed the world just taking whatever the hell they wanted. That was how groups like Sarah's had gotten pushed farther and farther into the forest, away from the last remaining corners of civilization.

There were rumors of towns that weren't yet utterly destroyed, and of vehicles that could still be driven despite the scarcity of fuel. But most people were too worried about increased radioactive emissions from metal to even think about getting close enough to find out.

It was hard enough just holding onto what little they already had. No one expected to live terribly long, but it was human nature to keep bargaining for a little more time.

The bombs had struck on a Tuesday, but nobody remembered what day it was now. Shockwaves followed on the heels of the explosions, blasting across the earth with the wrath of a biblical flood. Afterwards, the survivors struggled to their feet. With blood singing panic through their bodies and their ears still ringing, all they could think to do was run.

Sarah counted herself among the luckier ones. She'd been fully dressed when she ran, and had happened to be wearing a pair of fishhook-style earrings. Later, she'd used one of the earrings as the hook it resembled. It had lasted four months before a fish got the better of it. She employed the remaining one only sparingly. It was the most valuable thing she had.

They all used sticks as spears and cudgels, wishing for obsidian or something sharper than typical stone. Still, Sarah's group had managed to harvest animal hide to use for windbreaks and to make ties and hunting slings.

All of them knew winter was coming, and their current supplies weren't nearly enough.

Sometimes they heard screams in the night, carried on the wind. They always sounded close enough that Sarah's group posted sentries and slept in shifts. She did her own share of midnight duty gladly, happy to fight for what little of their fate they still controlled after everything that had been taken from them.

As the weather grew bitterer and prey animals harder to find, those outbreaks of danger seemed to be happening more and more often.

Two mornings after the first frost, Joanne and Harry returned to camp early, bringing news of some twenty or so invaders approaching from the south.

"Pack up the camp and take your positions," Rob directed, kicking dirt into the fire. They unfastened and folded the windbreak, hiding it under a clump of bushes and camouflaging it with forest debris. Then everyone gathered weapons and fanned out to the south, prepared to fight.

Sarah hid behind the largest tree she could find, and waited, her pulse thrumming in her neck.

The monuments of the past, built of wood and majestic stone, were the legacy of a civilization forever lost as the world spun toward its slow, tragic end. But Sarah held the components that had built them, the rocks and sticks that were still as valuable as ever.

They were the most basic of tools, but they were tougher and more versatile than hands alone.

Most of all, in the shattered version of the world that remained, they were as good a weapon as any.



If you enjoyed this entry, please vote for it in the block here. Thank you!

 
 
 
cindytsuki_no_bara on January 17th, 2012 03:56 am (UTC)
this is kind of depressing! but all the same, i love a good post-apocalypse.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 17th, 2012 04:46 am (UTC)
They're usually all kind of depressing, but the contrast of sticks and stones coming at the beginning and the end of civilization was too hard to resist.

And there's something inspiring or hopeful about people who struggle so hard to survive even when the prospects aren't good. It's such a human thing to not give up!
medleymistymedleymisty on January 17th, 2012 04:13 am (UTC)
Oooh. Very well-written and realistic and good use of the prompt. See, risk works out! :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 17th, 2012 04:50 am (UTC)
Thank you! This was such an irresistible way to use the prompt, and I've been hoping to write more original fiction for LJ Idol rather than lots of nonfiction essays.

Thanbks for the encouragement!
basric: basric red butterflybasric on January 17th, 2012 08:02 am (UTC)
A chilling tale, well told.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 17th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
Myrnamyrna_bird on January 17th, 2012 07:15 pm (UTC)
Nice concept: At least some things never change.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 17th, 2012 08:08 pm (UTC)
I liked the idea that while civilization (and how it used those basic building pieces) might have expanded, if it were to suddenly contract, the original value of those pieces would not be lost. They are still valuable as tools, and always will be.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
Andrea Blytheblythe025 on January 17th, 2012 11:35 pm (UTC)
I always love a good post-apoc tale. :)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 18th, 2012 12:57 am (UTC)
I sure didn't plan to be writing one, but this prompt really drove me to it!

Thanks for reading. :)
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Dream Stoneroina_arwen on January 18th, 2012 04:06 am (UTC)
An intriguing tale, although the ending feels a bit abrupt.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 18th, 2012 04:29 am (UTC)
Aw, I'm sorry it came off that way. The whole story really was built around the ending, so that's not what I'd hoped for.

But I appreciate the feedback!
theafayetheafaye on January 18th, 2012 11:02 am (UTC)
I do wonder just how many people would be able to survive in this sort of scenario. I suspect most would turn to predation and try to take what others have built. My husband's been watching a series of post apocalyptic videos and they paint a chilling picture of just how many people are going to die and from what segments of society.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 18th, 2012 06:35 pm (UTC)
I think you're right-- I think most people would be so focused on their own survival that simply taking things from other people would be easier than trying to build something of their own.

We build small tribes to help each other survive better, but larger groups? That seems like something that comes as a luxury of not having to strive quite so hard.

In many ways, an apocalypse is like a giant "Reset" button. Everything you've built (societies as well as cities and structures) gets destroyed, and you return to the basics all over again.

And yet, being human... you know we'd struggle back toward civilation all over again, no matter how long it took.
Danmuchtooarrogant on January 19th, 2012 12:01 am (UTC)
Sorry to come so late to your entry this week.

This was bleak in a lot of ways, but I enjoyed reading about Sarah's group, as well as her individual fight to survive.

Dan
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)
I was worried about writing yet another "here's how bullying affected me" entry that might push the reader over the line (as in, "all this angst, and now it's becoming waaaangst").

But it appears that the bleakness of the setting might be just as offputting! Let's hope this isn't my siren song.

Thanks for reading, and given how long it takes me to make my way through the entries everyone else is speedy by comparison!
(no subject) - muchtooarrogant on January 19th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC) (Expand)
lawchickylawchicky on January 19th, 2012 02:30 am (UTC)
What a sad state of affairs :(
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 06:48 am (UTC)
You're probably much younger than I am, and so didn't grow up with the Cold War threat of Russia and the U.S. bombing the world to bits. The way people would bluster about it, all bravado-- like they'd do it in a heartbeat and damn the consequences-- was really chilling.

Thank goodness that no longer seems likely.

And as awful as that would be, I like the idea that there would still be people who would try to prevail in the aftermath. Stripped of everything, we would make our own tools from nothing and keep on going.

Humans are nothing if not hopeful and incredibly resourceful!
nodressrehersalnodressrehersal on January 19th, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
Reading this makes me realize how totally screwed I'd be in this type of scenario.

*off to find some basic reading about survival skills*
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 06:53 am (UTC)
See the comment above-- I'll bet you remember that era all too well.

One of the most important skills, really, is making fires. I had a seventh-grade teacher who somehow managed to work into the curriculum the building of fires in the school basement. The various allowed methods showed that bow & drill or flint rocks worked well. Rubbing sticks together, not so much.

We used to joke that he was a pyromaniac, but it wasn't entirely a joke. You know? :0
jacq22jacq22 on January 19th, 2012 08:59 am (UTC)
A very barren and bleak outlook,. Although sure I would not survive. Excellent'
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I think our own varied skills/lack in this department is one of the things that would prompt people to band together. You might not be good at making fire or hunting meat, but you might have planning skills or creative skills that would help the larger group, and if you were trustworthy, well... very valuable. Strength in numbers! It's all mutually beneficial.
jeyhawkjeyhawk on January 19th, 2012 09:02 am (UTC)
This was lovely. I have such a soft spot for apocalypse fic. <3
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I find that I do too, nowadays. What happened? Is it the appeal of creative survival? The sense that somehow, we will prevail, no matter what?

But I've kind of gotten hooked on it!
(no subject) - jeyhawk on January 19th, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC) (Expand)
ArmagedDanhosticle_fifer on January 19th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
This was excellent! Good take on the prompt, and an fresh, immersive glimpse into the now-sometimes-stale post-apocalypse setting. Much as I enjoyed Road Warrior, it's cool that this went for more of a "By The Waters of Babylon" approach.

The earring detail was brilliant.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 07:17 pm (UTC)
Boy, I'm so glad to hear that someone liked this instead of being caught up in the "despair" of a post-apocalyptic setting!

I haven't ever used this kind of setting before, but the prompt really drove this-- the whole idea of humanity moving from nothing to majesty back to nothing again, and finding that those simple "building blocks" are still there and still useful in a different way was immensely appealing.

We overlook the "unexpected" and "outdated" uses of things so easily, but creativity is one of mankind's most powerful gifts.

Add that to the will to survive, and you can crawl back from almost anything.

Thanks for your comments-- very encouraging!
A Karmic Sandbox: Wookie Snowfacekarmasoup on January 19th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
In the great frozen tundra of the north american midwest, I have a very good idea for the FEEL of this today, as it is -20° here today, with a wind at 12MPH and a humidity of 65%, but no snow, or even cloud cover... nothing to stop the sheer cold. Days like this, you pray for snow, because the layer of precipitation between you and the atmosphere will blanket the warmth of the city down. By Sunday it will be a 30°, a full 50 degree difference... you will likely see people out in shirt sleeves at that point, it might as well be summer. It's amazing what you take for granted. But, we do it every year.

I really like the opening of this world you've created... it's interesting enough to tempt me to want more. Don't know if the prompts will allow for it, but there's definite potential there.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
Hoo, boy-- you're in an even colder area than Illinois, where I lived for three years.

I remember so many winter days with 0-5 degree highs, where on a 25-degree day you'd take your coat off outside because it was so comparatively warm. So yeah-- that 30-degree weather is going to be balmy. \o/

Ooh, I hadn't thought about expanding this into other entries. I've seen a few other Idolers doing that, and I've enjoyed their installments quite a bit.

Of course, I have to survive this round of the voting in order to even think about that. *bites nails*

I'm glad this has that much appeal to you, and thanks for saying so!

Your icon of that poor dog makes me shiver. Though being a dog, it was probably happy to get outside for a limited amount of time!

(no subject) - karmasoup on January 19th, 2012 08:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 08:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 19th, 2012 08:40 pm (UTC)
You know, the zombie-infested apocalypse stories are the only ones I'm seeing anymore, too. Which was fun at first (well, not as much fun as Pride And Prejudice And Zombies), but still...

Zombies aren't the only excuse for an apocalypse! There are many more likely ones, too.

I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

Thanks for reading and commenting!