real lj idol | week ten | 748 words
Prompt: sticks and stones.
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.
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