Category Archives: Novella

Unhooked part one

It should be noted a more polished version can be obtained by downloading the free PDF under published works. It also includes a different opening and optimized pacing.

“For Sparta!” A man in the phalanx shouted next to me as the onrushing Persians crashed into our battle line. I suppressed a yawn as I casually swatted aside several Persian soldiers with my shield, and skewered four at once with my lance.

I had dreamed about this before, but a movie about the battle of Thermopylae had been on while I was awake, so I figured I’d recreate some scenes.

“Break ranks.” I say to my fellow soldiers in a conversational tone. The men give great shouts and rush the Persians, scattering them like flies. I decide to use some slow mo and dice up several Persians with my comrades. Then I got tired of using my traditional weapons so I decided to use some good old fashion sith lightning to take them down. Then when that wasn’t enough I tried flying around the battlefield, deflecting arrow volleys with great gusts of wind and calling down meteor strikes on the Persian archers.

Something still didn’t feel right. The enemy was evaporating like water thrown onto lava. My army was singing my praises, and both Spartans and Persians all around the battlefield were kneeling down to worship me as a god. It still didn’t seem right, but thankfully my REM pill was wearing off, and my alarm should be going off any second.

Sure enough, a heavy metal guitar riff sounded in my ears, and I open my eyes. My room is far less extraordinary than the dream I had just come from, and there are no worshippers here. Still, it seems friendlier to me. I like the pictures of my family that I have hung up on the wall. I should probably call my mom. Her four hour wakeful cycle was irregular, so it was hard to get a hold of her. My best bet was to call one of my three siblings that still lived with my parents and leave a message for her.

It was something I’d have to worry about later that night, now I had to get on my laptop and go to work. I, like most of the civilized world, telecommuted. I was IT support for a major company’s website. I logged in, and spent thirty minutes making sure that everything was fine. Everything was fine. I look at the clock and think I still have three and a half hours until I go back to sleep.

My first thought was to go back to sleep, but the current generation REM pill requires four hours of continued consciousness before it can be used again affectively. I start daydreaming about my next lucid dream, and try to plan it out. Trip to Mars? No, I’d founded a martian civilization twice this week already. Recreate some video game battles? That was too similar to what I had just done. Some of those creepy things nobody wanted to admit to doing? I already felt too much shame from last time, and I couldn’t believe I was saying this, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything that I hadn’t already seen and done a dozen times. Nothing new was on the internet or the television. Well, nothing really new, there were reboots, reruns, and adaptations of old ideas, but that wasn’t going to satisfy me today.

Maybe my friends would have some ideas. I call up a couple acquaintances and ask if they want to come over. We’re all on the same wakefulness cycle, so they say sure. Their automated cars would have them over in just a few minutes.

I felt better, friends would surely have some ideas. Within about a thirty second window my two of my friends show up. We all live pretty close and the automated transport is really quite incredible.

“Hey guys, what’s new?” I ask.

All three shrug. “Sandy had a great dream about the great barrier reef.” My friend james tells me. “How’d it go Sandy?”

“I mean anything really new.” I rudely interrupt. “I mean, Sandy I’m sure it was great, but how many times have you been to the great barrier reef?”

“26 Ryan.” She looked a little terse that I had cut her off. Sandy would go on for hours about the reef if you let her. It was her favorite place to dream.

“Look Ryan.” James said. “If we’re not going to talk about dreaming we might as well go.”

“What?” I said rather shocked that my friends would depart so quickly. “But you just got here.” They looked bored at my indignation.

“Well yeah.” Sandy said. “But Ryan just got these new REM pills that you can take for a one hour dream even if you just woke up from your dream cycle.”

“That sounds unhealthy.” I commented.

“And you sound lame.” Sandy shot back. They all stood up.

“If you want to be a party pooper we best be on our way.” James tells me, and they start making for the door. I can’t believe this. They’ve been here two minutes tops, and they’re already leaving. This wasn’t how I had thought this would go.

“But don’t you guys want to talk? Can’t we think of something to do?” James actually laughed at that.

“Ryan we’ll talk to you in the dream, and find something way more interesting to do there.”

“But it won’t be me!” I shouted after them. They didn’t hear me. They had already shut the door.

I just stared at the door for a minute. I couldn’t believe they had dismissed me like that. We normally got on pretty well. We also normally just talked about dreaming, but I had thought our friendship meant more than that.

“I’ll call my family.” I tell myself. Putting word to action I pick up my phone again and call my younger brother Joseph.

“Hey Joseph , this is Ryan, are mom or dad up?” I ask.

“Ryan? What are you doing calling at this hour, we’re all still asleep.” He responds in a groggy voice. “I was having this great dream about a dragon and some flying cars.”

“Sorry Joseph, I know it’s early.” I look out the window and see the sun is high in the sky. “But I was looking for a bit of company, is it alright if I come over and hang out?”

“Why?” He asks.

“I don’t know.” I say. “I just thought it would be fun. I mean people hang out and have parties.”

“Ryan, that’s only in the movies. Normal people just hang out in dreams. Matter of fact, tell you what, I’ll have a nice long adventure with you as soon as I’m back asleep.”

“But it’s not me.” I try and tell him, but he’s hung up. I didn’t even get to ask him to leave a message for mom and dad.

Family wanted to dream, friends wanted to dream, work was already done, and still over three hours left to kill. I get up and start pacing the room. There’s got to be something I could do. There were some online chat rooms I could try. They’re all full of dull people who just want to talk about their last dream, but at least they want to talk.

I sigh and give in, picking up my laptop again and typing in the address in my browser. I’m sitting through an ad by sleep core, manufacturer of the REM pill, when I hear my doorbell ring. At first I don’t recognize it as my doorbell, I haven’t heard it in years, but then it goes off again, and realization strikes me. There’s someone at my door, and they probably want to talk. They probably want to talk about religion, or something they’re selling , but I’ll take anything at this point.

“Coming.” I say, and with a renewed spring in my step I put my laptop and glide to the door. I open and see that there’s no one at the door. That’s strange. I know I heard somebody ring my bell.

I glance around just in time to see some kid dashing around a house in my cul-de-sac. Kids, they must be probably playing some prank. I start to close my door, when I notice that it’s actually pretty nice out. It’s not as nice as a dream would be, but for real world weather this was kind of refreshing.

“Well, there’s nothing to do for another three hours anyway, might as well go for a walk.” And with that I set off down a random sidewalk, taking turns at will. It’s pretty boring at first too. You’ve seen one townhouse you’ve seen them all. No one else is out walking, and there isn’t so much as a dog for company.

I’m about to turn around and head back, when the houses begin to give way to forest. I catch glimpses between the long rows of white monotonous homes, and then more are more, until I see a path going through. I walk to the start of a path, and marvel at one of the trees. I stare at it’s bark, and how it’s truly random. There’s no pre-thought pattern emblazoned on every inch. I pick a crack and follow it all the way up until it gives way to branches, and then leaves. The leaves practically take my breath away.

If I spent an entire dream crafting one tree this finely detailed in my mind I wouldn’t find one half so good. Every single leaf was so subtly different. There was no mental copy pasting that produced the background for elven adventures while I was asleep. Every leaf was a different shape, had different veins, and was connected to a different part of the branch. I counted the veins in one leaf, and tried to found another that matched it. Some were close, but no two were the same. Even if they had the same number, when I reached up and plucked two to compare more closely, the cells were lined up differently.

They felt different too, there was a leathery softness to it, like skin, but rougher and more coarse. I rubbed it between my fingers. This wasn’t how I had imagined they’d feel. I thought they be boring, like paper, but they are beauties. I put the leaves in one of my pockets.

I thought I heard a snickering sound. I turn around quickly, but see nothing. After scanning my surroundings for a moment I brush it off. It was probably the wind blowing through the trees. Besides, I had a whole forest to look at, and I still had about three hours left! Man, the next time I went under, I was going to try and make a forest this beautiful.

I wander around looking at the different trees, trying to guess which are the same species, and how thick they are. If I chopped them up for firewood would they burn? Did you make firewood out of just any tree? I tried to think about climbing them, which would support my weight. How would I get up? I needed to do this more often. Waking research like this made for excellent dreams.

A whispering sound courses through the forest. This time it really is the wind. I stop and close my eyes. The sensation of countless individual little green wings fluttering all around, was breath taking. I literally stopped breathing until the wind passed so I could hear it better. It was as if every single tree was telling me to relax, it would be alright. For several moments afterwards I just stood there taking deep breaths and imagining the sound I had just heard passing through again.

Instead of hearing a blissful gust of wind through the leaves I heard in the distance, but rapidly getting closer, some voices singing. I opened my eyes and saw running through the woods towards me, two men and one woman, all about my age, and sprinting towards me. I bounced up and down on the balls of my feet in anticipation of meeting some people to talk to. I thought it was a bit weird that they were running through the forest, and not on the path. The leaping they did over the logs seemed like an awful lot of work for people not dreaming.

“Haloo!” One of the men shouted at me as he got closer. “Haloo!” The other two shouted to me. They didn’t sound even slightly out of breath. As they got closer I could see they weren’t even sweating.

Taken aback by their exuberance I raised a hand timidly in greeting.

As the lead man rushed passed me he hit me on the shoulder. I stumbled back a step.

“Tag.” He said over his shoulder playfully, without slowing his pace.

I looked at him with a frown. That had been unfriendly of him. I felt another strike to my shoulder and I flailed my arms and took another two steps back.

“Tag.” The second man said as he ran by. I anticipated the girl’s action and as she got close I turned quickly, and almost fell right over. She stopped running, put both of her hands on her knees and laughed. She laughed loud, and for several moments. The other two stopped and jogged back to see what the fuss was about.

“What’s up Jess?” The second man to strike me asked. I felt like I should speak up, as they had all said something to me at least once, and I had remained quiet, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I still felt rather foolish for almost falling over several times.

“This zombie can’t have been unhooked for more than a few days.” She says, wiping away tears of mirth.

“What?” I finally manage to ask. I wanted to ask, what are you people doing? Why did you hit me? How are you all not passed out from exhaustion? What’s unhooked mean? And several other things, but all that came out was ‘what’.

“Don’t worry about it friend.” The leader said. “Jess is just playing with you, how long have you been unhooked?” Jess puts her hands on her hips and winks at me.

“Unhooked?” I asked, not having enough of my mental faculties about me to form longer sentences like ‘what does unhooked mean and why does she think I’ve been unhooked’?

“Oh man Frank he must be fresh. I don’t think he’s run into a pack of free people before.” The man next to the leader says.

“Is that true?” Franks asks me. “Have you ever seen people like us before?” I shake my head. The man whose name I did not yet know gave a whistle.

“Welcome to the club brother.” He says, and stick out his hand. Still very much confused about what’s going on I shake his head, and somewhere in the introductions that followed I discover the as of yet unidentified man is named Thomas, the three of them are all siblings, and I manage to scrape my wits together.

“I still don’t understand what’ going on.” I tell them. “You guys keep using words I don’t understand. What’s unhooked? What are free people? Why did you call me a zombie? Do I smell or something.

“No you don’t smell.” Frank tells me. Thomas and Jess exchange doubtful looks with each other.

“Okay you don’t smell much, but anyway. We called you a zombie because you’re recently unhooked, and we’re all free people because we’ve been unhooked.” I shake my head again.

“Unhooked, that’s the crux of it. What does it mean?” Thomas cracks a sideways grin.

“Isn’t it obvious?” He asks me. “Do you notice how we’ve been running through the woods and we’re not even slightly out of breath? Do you see how there’s no one else about, and you’ve managed to run into not one, but three of us. I know you don’t have a mirror, but do you see how we’re laughing, and smiling, and singing, and everyone else you know just wants to sleep?”

“So you guys spend your wakeful cycle being active, so what? I spend a lot of my dream time running around too.” I retort.

“That’s just it.” Jess says. “Ryan, we don’t dream.” I look at her like she had three noses and had just declared herself the first human mouse.

“Everybody dreams, it’s a natural part of sleep.” Thomas snickers when I use the word natural.

“There’s nothing natural about the way you sleep.” Thomas tells me. I feel a need to punch Thomas. For the first time that day I wish I was asleep so I could cause him some suffering.

“Ryan.” Frank tells me, much more gently than Thomas. “We don’t sleep like you do. We do dream, despite what Jess says.” Jess and Thomas are now narrowing their eyes at Frank. “It’s still a dream guys, just not like what they do.” They backed off a bit, but the comment had offended them. These people were insulted by dreaming. These guys just kept getting weirder. I waited for Frank to continue his thought.

“When we sleep we don’t take any pills. We just lay down, close our eyes, and in about eight hours or so we get up and get on with life. If we dream.” He glanced at Thomas and Jess as if to challenge them. “We don’t control it, it controls us, and when we wake up we quickly forget it.”

“Eight hours!” I exclaimed, my jaw dropping. “How do you guys stay so active? I sleep twenty and I don’t have a fraction of the energy that you have!”

“It’s true.” Frank said. “Stay with us a while and you’ll see. Come one, we’re heading back home, you can follow along.” I didn’t have time to consider his offer as he punched me in the shoulder again.

“Tag.” He said, and the three of them darted away as quickly as they had come.

“You’re supposed to catch us!” Jess called back to me.

How? They were running way too fast for any normal human to catch up. They were almost around the bend in the trail and if I didn’t move quickly they’d be gone. I considered going back home and forgetting this whole ridiculous incedent, but just then the girl looked over her shoulder at me, and something about her pulled me after them.

I started to move towards them, slowly at first. This running they were doing looked dangerous and I didn’t want to leap into it. I increased my pace, and my forward momentum began to allow me to take longer and longer strides. It took more effort than walking, I had to think about constantly pushing myself forward. I was moving quicker, but I was still losing them.

I began to feel warm when I really began to hit my stride. It was almost like small jumps forward. It came naturally to me and I began to hear blood pumping in my ear. It was an exhilarating feeling. I was generating my own breeze now, and it felt just like the one that had swept through before the trio had arrived, only instead of peace this one brought energy. I pumped my arms and began to feel like a warrior. I had been a warrior before, a general, a sniper, a legionnaire, a marine, a Spartan, a jedi, and even a god, but now I really felt like it.

Then I started to have trouble breathing. My breaths had been quickening, and now it seemed like I couldn’t get enough air. I stumbled nearly fell flat on my face as I stopped running and leaned over to combat the sudden onset of my shortness of breath. I took deep breaths, and I had to almost spit the sweat out as it ran down my face. The deep breaths weren’t working. They just weren’t working. Short breaths, that was it, just get air in and out quickly, in and out quickly.

“He’s hyperventilating!” I heard the girl call. They must’ve been on the way back, but I couldn’t look up, my vision was starting to do something funny. “You shouldn’t have tried playing tag right away Frank he can’t take it.” Her voice was close, and I felt a hand on the back of my head, and something was placed in front of my mouth.

“Just keep breathing.” She said in a low encouraging voice, like a mother telling her child that it was going to be okay. “That’s it.” I heard a crinkling sound, and as my vision began to clear I saw a brown paper bag in front of my face. As had happened so many times today I once again was utterly at a loss as to what had happened.

My breathing slowed and I felt like I was getting enough air again. I stood up and took a deep breath again.

“There.” Jess told me. “That’s better.” She pats me on the back. “You just got a little too excited from the run, that’s all.”

“Does that happen every time you run?” I thought it was a stupid question, but Thomas and Frank didn’t say anything sarcastic to me.

“No, not usually.” Jess tells me. “It only typically happens when you haven’t been working out in a while, which, I’m guessing you haven’t.” I didn’t know if I had ever done a workout. I shook my head.

“There you see.” Jess turned to Frank and Thomas. “He hasn’t done anything like this before, so we got to ease him into it. How about we just try keeping you awake for a regular 16 hour rotation first?” the question was directed at me. I had forgotten that they claimed to only sleep eight hours a night, and not control their dreams at all.

“I don’t know how you expect me to recover from being tired by being up for so long. I was planning on going to sleep as soon as I got back to my house.” Jess shook her head at me.

“Nope, wrong answer, you sir are going to come with us and enjoy yourself with some good old fashioned hanging out.” Hanging out, that word comforted me, and I let her take me by the arm and start walking up the path. I had started this day wanting to hang out, and in a very indirect roundabout way it was happening. It was happening with strangers, and odd ones at that, but it was still happening. I guess you got to be careful what you wish for.

On the walk back I noticed that my legs seemed weaker than they had before. I had to limp periodically. I wondered if I had broken something. Maybe they should take me to a hospital.

“That’s normal.” Frank said from beside me. He was watching me walk, and had noticed my limp. “The first time you workout a muscle it typically hurts a lot afterwards. It normally doesn’t take place so quickly, but people don’t normally get as out of shape as you do.” I tried to think quickly to respond that insult, but Jess spoke first.

“Don’t worry, it’ll get better quick. You’ll be running through the forest in no time.” Jess encouraged me.

“I can’t stand all this walking!” Thomas exclaimed.

“No one’s making you.” Frank informed him.

“Good.” Thomas shot back. He bolted forward and to my continued amazement, jumped into the low hanging branches of a nearby tree and swung himself around several branches without even using his legs.

“His arms must be as strong as his legs.” I said.

“Not quite.” Jess told me. “There’s a technique to climbing. Trust me, it looks more difficult than it actually is.”

I found that hard to believe. He flipped out of the tree and I almost swallowed my tongue.

“Do you people do anything normal?” I asked.

“By your definition?” Thomas asked. “Probably not.” Great, I was once again tempted to head back home, but I wasn’t sure I could make it all the way back.

“Here we are.” Jess said. “Home sweet home.” The three of them lived in a town house. That was a pleasant bit of normality. I half expected them to live inside a giant turtle or something with how this day had been going.

Several rushed minutes later they had me sitting around a table with funny little cardboard cutouts that had numbers and symbols on them.

“It’s called hearts.” Frank told me, and the rules seemed about as foreign as everything else had this day, but were easy enough to master. I quickly cleaned up the first few matches, with my opponents only seeming like a round or two from failure.

Then, just as they had with my walk, and my experiment in running, things changed. I started losing, badly. Every single hand they seemed to know what was in my hand. This wasn’t right. I was amazing at card games.

“I play all the time with my friends, and in my dreams, and I always win.” I told them. “Are you guys looking at my hand?”

“No we’re not cheating Ryan.” Thomas told me as he made me take a whopping sixteen points in one hand. I didn’t even have a shot at shooting the moon because Jess had taken a heart on the second trick.

“Your friends are just bad at cards, and you’re bad at imagining what actual strategy is.” I took another three points. I bit my lip

“Give it a minute Ryan.” Frank encouraged. The next hand I also lost badly, taking nearly all the points once again, and Jess decided to comment.

“You know you’ve done the same thing the last three hands. You’re used to getting rid of one suit to try and dump the queen on somebody. You also like hoarding hearts to throw on people’s hands. So when you throw down a club on the first turn we know you’ve ditched your diamonds and probably have lots of club and hearts with one or two spades to cover your queen.”

“You have been looking at my cards.” I threw down my cards and stood up. “Do you guys make a habit out of cheating at games with strangers you’ve just met?” I asked.

“It’s not cheating.” Thomas said flatly. “It’s called pattern recognition. People who are hooked either play with themselves in their own world, or play with friends who wish they were in their own world. Either way, they use the same tricks and never learn because they don’t care. They’re zombies. Pick up your cards man.” These people had a habit of pricking my nerves, and then the next moment calming them. I felt a bit like a baby who yells at the slightest change in temperature because he hasn’t learned to take the pain. I take my seat and shuffle my cards, embarrassed by my outburst, and embarrassed that he was right. I did use the same strategy, I never had a reason to change until now.

Luckily my cards had landed face down and we can continue without a re-deal. I examine my hand closely and make my move, getting rid of all of my diamonds. I take 9 points, but Jess takes 15, for the first time since we started playing, I wasn’t losing the worst.

“What now Thomas!” I shout.

“Two points.” Thomas says, holding up the two hearts he had taken during the game.

“Well, yeah, but Jess has 15!” I exclaim.

“You didn’t even change your strategy.” Thomas says exasperated.

“No, but I didn’t have to, all of you were expecting me to change, that’s what let me dump the queen on Jess!” Thomas didn’t have anything to say to that. I felt a rush. They had laid down a challenge and I had won! When was the last time that had happened? All of dream challenges I knew I could win, and I had never taken on something in real life I couldn’t win.

“Deal faster.” I encourage Thomas. “I am totally gonna own you guys this round.”

“Let’s see you put your money where your moth is big guy.” Jess taunts.

Three hours later I begin to feel drowsy.

“It’s been great guys, but I gotta head back home. It’s past my bedtime.” There’s a moment of silence.

“You really gonna hook man?” Thomas asks me.

“Well yeah, how else are you gonna sleep?” I ask him back.

“By waiting twelve more hours.” Franks tells me. “Come on, we’ve seen this before, when Thomas unhooked it was the same thing. You need to get a regular sleep cycle going, and you can’t do that with the pill. Besides.” He lifts the cards. “In your dreams, this isn’t a game, and can you honestly tell me that you get this excited about cards? Come one, when was the last time you did anything this normal in a dream?” He had me there.

“I don’t know.” I say reluctantly.

“Tell you what.” Thomas says. “I’ve got a spare REM pill sitting around here for just such an occasion. Let’s make a bet. I’ll arm wrestle you. If you win, we give you the pill and take you home, no questions asked. I win, we take you somewhere that’ll really wake you up.” Thomas puts the pill on the table.

I could just go home and take my own pill. It was sort of a bad bet, and I think I could find this place again tomorrow. I had found some friends who be willing to hangout whenever. I didn’t need to stay up.

“You know Ryan.” Frank tells me. “Another big difference between dreams and here. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, things don’t always go according to plan. If you’re going to be awake you’re going to have to take chances.”

I place my arm on the table. Thomas grins and locks my hand in a grip while Frank counts backwards from three. It’s no contest, Thomas pins my arm in a heartbeat.

“Hah!” He exclaims. “Don’t you remember me swinging from the trees? I’ve got arm strength for days.” I smirk, grab his hand again, and pull him across the table. Frank and Jess are so shocked they don’t move.

“I lift free weights while I work on my laptop and watch TV.” I tell him. “I may not run fast but I can lift weights plenty well.” Frank is silently laughing and Thomas looks like he had heard his own mother swear profusely.

“Now where’s this place where you really wake me up?”

“It’s a lake.” Thomas tells me. “People swim in it.” He adds patronizingly.

“I know that.” I say. “I’ve just never been in one before.”

“First time for everything.” Frank says, and runs into the water, taking a dive when he’s a few feet out. Thomas and Jess rush out too.

“Come on chicken the water’s fine.” I put one foot in the water and discover it most certainly is not fine. I shiver as my foot feels possibly the coldest it has ever felt. How on earth did they stand it?

“You can’t just put one foot in.” Frank tells me playfully, now treading water several yards out. “You gotta rush in all at once or you’ll take all day.” My foot begins to feel warm again, so I put another in and discover the water is still just as cold. Frank, Thomas, and Jess all shout a mixture of encouragement and jeers as I slowly wade out, taking a minute to pause when it reaches my waste. It takes me three whole minutes to get chest deep. During those three minutes I keep staring at the dark muddy water in front of me.

Anything at all could be in the water. I could barely see six inches. A shark could swim by and take out my leg before I saw anything. Or more mundanely there could be broken glass, or some kind of flesh eating bacteria. I reasoned to myself that my three friends were here, so it couldn’t be that bad, but my imagination kept painting pictures of tentacles shooting out of the water and triangular fins racing towards. This wasn’t a dream anymore.

Something large and strong grabbed me and forced me under the water. I didn’t have time to take a breath and I hit the water screaming. I hoped my friends had heard me. I didn’t know if it was some strange water monster or a serial killer, but I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe. I was dying. You couldn’t live long without breathing. I had to get air. I was on my back and flailed my arms in the water trying to push myself up, but the grip stayed strong.

I kicked my legs, trying to find some purchase on the lake floor, and still nothing. My legs must’ve been too tired from before. I was still screaming, and almost out of air now. I started to cough and inhale water. There was water in my lungs and it hurt. It stung and made me cough more, which made me inhale even more water. I was almost out of air, and tried one last swing with my arm, this time aimed at my attacked. It worked, the grip released and I shot to the surface gasping for air and coughing out water.

I felt like I had inhaled half the lake, and I couldn’t seem to breathe properly. Every time I inhaled it made the water in my lungs hurt, so I coughed some out, but then I needed to breathe again. It was brutal process.

“Are you okay Ryan?” Thomas asked from behind me. Then it clicked, eyes red from being underwater, clutching at my chest and drying desperately to breathe I rounded on my attacker.

“You.” I coughed out, and then had to take several breaths to get some more water out of my lungs. “You, why did you.” I coughed violently again. Frank and Jess were by my side. Why weren’t they saying something to Thomas. Why hadn’t they helped me. I must’ve been under for two minutes. He almost killed me.

“Are you okay?” I coughed some more, my lungs were almost clear.

“I’ve been punched, mocked, humiliated, torn up my leg muscles, almost passed out trying to run, kept awake past my bedtime, and now almost drowned in some dark dirty lake, and you ask me if I’m okay?” I get the last bit of water out of my lungs, and I take my first breath that doesn’t hurt. It feels so good I take another and another. I minute ago the only thing I wanted in the whole world was to breathe, and now I could. Nobody could stop me greedily sucking in as much air as I could. I just wanted to stand here and breath for at least ten minutes.

“Yes.” I tell Ryan. “I’m okay.” I return to my breathing, and Frank puts a hand on my shoulder.

“Why are you okay Ryan? You almost drowned just now.” This felt rehearsed but I didn’t care. All I cared about was that no strange lake monster was holding me under, and the air flowed cleanly in and out of my lungs.

“Because a few hours ago I was a Spartan god of lightning mowing down thousands of Persians with ease, and it was the dullest thing I’ve ever done. Now, I’m just breathing and having the time of my life.”

Frank patted me on the back. “Welcome to the real world Ryan. You can die here, but it’s the only place you can really live.”

“Welcome aboard.” Thomas high fives me. I still feel like killing him, but that can wait a minute. Jess gives me a hug.

“You’re off the hook.” She tells me, but I barely hear. When she touches me it’s like an electric shock goes through me. I can’t move, and I am suddenly intensely aware of the fact that she’s a girl. She doesn’t seem to notice, but Frank and Thomas do. Thomas mouths ‘should we’ at Frank, and Frank holds up a hand as if to say ‘wait a moment’.

Jess lets go and dives off into some nearby reeds. Frank and Thomas follow, I move to join them and while Jess’ head is under water Thomas asks. “Get a new hook did you Ryan? Doesn’t feel like that in a dream does it?” I suddenly find the courage to bury my head under the water.

“For Use in the Apocaypse” Novella version

Hey all, just wrapped this up. If you read the short version I’d reread the first two sentences(changed a tiny detail), and then skip down to the first bold line, that’s where the story continues from before.

Trips to the city were dangerous. Old relics of the time, almost 18 years ago, from before the world apart could be found, but the finding was dangerous. Some of the relics might be worth the risk. Old guns were useful, and some books were still in good shape if you could find one with something helpful in it.

Thom did not view them worth the risk, he stayed on his farm and kept largely to himself. He planted. He reaped. He lived. Thom’s parents hadn’t survived the downfall. They had left him on this farm when he was barely old enough to remember, and then they had abandoned him. Until one day his shovel struck something metal. He got curious and dug it out.

It’s one of those time capsules! On the side of it is written ‘For Use in the Apocalypse’. Someone must’ve stashed something useful inside it. Thom runs back to his cabin to grab to knife to pry it open. As he dashes back he wonders what could be inside.

There had been rumors of ruggedized electronics with instructions on how to rebuild modern society. No one had found one of those, so Thom didn’t get his hopes up. It wasn’t likely that he would be so lucky, but the thing was big enough for a pistol, or maybe a chemical book that had useful recipes like gunpowder or dynamite. He would even settle for an agricultural book about crop rotation or what native plants were edible.

As he opened the capsule he found that it was filled with letters. Letters, who would leave letters? Maybe they had blueprints or something on them. Thom reached for a bright blue one and opened it, thankful that he had traded with someone early on for reading lessons.

“Thom, we know that you would reach for the blue one first. It was always your favorite color, and you no doubt think it contains a blueprint. If you’re reading this then your mother and I are dead, and we want to take this first letter to apologize. We wish we could’ve stayed and helped you grow into a fine young man, but we have to try one last time to save a little piece of this world, for you. Things have gotten bad, but we believe there is one last trick we can try to fix things. It’s too dangerous to bring you, and it’s a long shot. If you’re reading this, clearly it didn’t work, and you are now an orphan. Always know that we loved you, and that we have faith that you would survive. If you’re reading this clearly we were right. There isn’t much time so we’ll just say one last time that we love you, and that the rest of these letters contain plans for basic blacksmithing, gun smithing, medieval farming techniques, and other skills you’ll need. Love, your parents.”

I held in my hands the tools of civilization, perhaps not a modern one, but more than the scraps I had for myself, and those scraps had been wearing out. The bows my parents had left me were losing their strength. The arrows were broken, and all the farming tools had rusted almost to the point of uselessness.

The slow economic crash had left all the stores stripped bare. There hadn’t been any great war or plague that had wiped out most of humanity, it had been dwindling resources. It was useless to try and loot some of the old ruins, a decade of slowly deteriorating infrastructure had picked clean the stores.

I hadn’t had any plans for long term survival until now, and here before me was the key to lasting another thirty years. The only problem was, these plans required not just a teammate, but a whole village to make them work. As I sorted through the blacksmith plans it became obvious someone would have to dedicate most of their working hours to this. Something I couldn’t manage between farming, hunting, foraging, and doing what little I could to maintain my cabin and equipment. There would need to be a village to make this happen.

The trouble was, I hadn’t spoken to anyone in years. Whenever I came into contact with another human we just pointed our weapons at each other and slowly backed away. I didn’t think anyone had roommates, much less a whole family or group of friends living together. We had all been strong independent survivors, and people had tried to take advantage of our resources. We knew that other people usually only came to you when they wanted something, so we kept to ourselves.

Now, I had something I wanted to give, to work on together. I wanted to give knowledge and get someone to help me build something. The trouble was, going to get them to believe me.

I knew generally where my neighbors were. We kept very wide spaces between each other to avoid running into each other, but we knew where to find each other. I had stalked through the forest like I was hunting a deer, and found my first neighbor stalking right back.

We both saw each other at the same time. He was a middle age man, probably ten years older than me, and instantly drew his bow when he saw me. My hand went for my own bow, even though I had left it behind, and I tried to play it off as raising my hands to show him I meant no harm.

As he had drawn his bow he had started backing away. I had run into him a couple times before, and this had been the procedure. Draw bow, back away, walk a mile in the opposite direction as soon as you can’t see them anymore.

This time I took a step forward. He glanced at his arrow. It hurt your fingers to hold a bow drawn, especially one meant to hunt larger game like deer, and he normally would’ve started letting some slack back into the bowstring, but I was making him nervous. His fingers started to shake a little with the effort of keeping the string taught.

As I walked toward him I became nervous as well, we weren’t really closing the gap, and I wondered if his fingers would get just a little too tired, and let go. You had to have good aim to survive this long, and those arrows looked sharp.

“I didn’t bring any weapons.” I call to him to try and get him to stop. “Look me over, you can see that I’m not carrying anything.” He didn’t slack out his bow, but he did stop walking.

“Back.” He guessed, indicating where he thought I had a weapon. I didn’t have a weapon on my back, and turned around slowly to show him. There was an open exposed feeling as I showed him my back. He could shoot me any time, it was like jumping off a high die and hoping that you would survive hitting the water.

“Boot.” He called out again, letting a little slack into the string. This guy was really paranoid, but I took off both boots and showed the insides to him.

“Shirt.” Was his next guess in this game of hide and go seek. Thankfully it was still warm, so I had no issue losing my shirt to prove a point. He lowered the bow, but kept the arrow on the line as he gave me a thorough look over.

As he looked at me I wondered what it might be like to get hit with an arrow. Those things could knock you off your feet, I had seen what it could to large deer. Would it be like getting puched? Would there be a stabbing pain? Would my body be so shocked I wouldn’t feel anything at all.

“Hands on head.” He said. I obliged. This man sounded like he might’ve worked in law enforcement before, that could be useful. If he didn’t put an arrow or three into me first.

“What?” He asked. It was a question that would require a lot of explanation.

“I’ve got plans for a blacksmith, and I need help.” It was a short explanation, but it felt odd using more words in that one sentence than the man with the bow had used in his whole interrogation.

“Where?” He asked. He had taken the arrow of the string, and put it on his back quiver. I felt a moment of relief, until he drew his knife. Well, it was progress. At least he didn’t have his ranged weapon out anymore.

“I’ve hid them a few hundred yards from here.” The man nodded and took a few steps toward me, assuming I would led him to them. He had assumed wrong.

“Give me your knife and I’ll take you to them.” I said. He stopped walking, but he didn’t draw an arrow.

“Why?” He asked. I sincerely hoped if we started working together he would develop larger sentence structure.

“Because I need to know I can trust you.” I told him. This wasn’t just some resource trade. This was about forming a team, and if we were going to be on a team, there had to be trust. He looked at the knife in his hand.

“Could shoot you.” He said, but he still didn’t reach for his weapon, and his construction of a semi-intelligent sentence gave me hope for working with him.

“You could, and you could steal my gear and my plans. But I can see the rust on your knife from here, do you think my gear is in better condition? In a few years both of our sets of equipment will fall apart, and you’ll need these plans to make new ones.” He picked at the rust on his blade. I continued. “I’ve already looked over the plans. They need a group of people working together to make them work. If you’re going to want to still be breathing in a few years, you’ll need me.” He walked over to me as I said this, and when I finished he was close enough to take my life with the knife. I forced myself to look at his eyes and not the knife. Even if my peripheral vision told me that the blade was still in his hand, and still pointed towards me.

“You go prison?” He asks me when I’m done.

“What prison?” I asked, wondering if he proposing a supply raid on a local prison. It would be useless. Any prison would be picked completely clean of supplies.

“Incarcerated, serve time.” He asked again. This guy wanted to know if I had been to prison? That was a very strange question to ask someone after civilization had fallen.

“You a cop?” I asked. I saw the knife twitch out of the corner of my eye.

“Yes.” He replied. The knife was still twitching.

“I never got so much as a speeding ticket.” I replied. He didn’t need to know I was never really old enough to commit a crime. I saw the knife flip in his hand so that the hilt was pointing towards me. I looked down and took it.

“Thanks.” I said. He gave a sweeping gesture with his hand that said ‘lead the way’. My first friend, and he was practically mute. I suddenly wished I knew sign language.

After retrieving the capsule, which I had hidden in a patch of thorns, he pointed back where we had first met and asked. “Food?” I was touched. My plan had been to take them to his house to look over, and he had freely invited me into his residence for a free meal.

“Yes.” I said, beginning to slip into his habit of speaking in one word sentences. I slipped the knife into my belt and proffered the capsule to him.

“Here.” I said, he nodded, took the capsule, and then turned to walk towards his cabin. It was an odd trip back. I spent most of it trying to think of conversations to have.

“Nice trees.” I offered. He nodded and said nothing. Of course the trees were nice, we’d both been staring at them for almost two decades.

“Favorite berry?” I asked.

“Blackberries.” He responded, and then said nothing more.

“I like the wild straw berries myself.” I prompted. “There’s a nice patch by my house.” He nodded.

“How much?” He asked. I had to think about that one. Was he offering a trade? Blackberries for strawberries?

“I think one strawberry is worth about two blackberries.” I responded. It was an odd time to be trading, but I guess that’s what these meetings were usually about on the rare occasion that they happened.

“No.” He responded. “I’m asking how much do you think you get in strawberries every year. I’m trying to calculate how many people would be required to sustain a smithy and in order to do that I need to know about how much each person can contribute. So let me ask a more direct question, how much excess food do you obtain each year, and about what percent of your time do you spend obtaining it.” Wow, you just needed to find the right subject I guess.

We spent the rest of the trip back talking shop. He was quite prolific on the subject. His highly detailed descriptions of his crop rotation, bird migration patterns, wild berry preservation techniques, and numerous other practical matters were quite passionate. Whenever I tried to change the subject to something more casual like what he did with his spare time he merely shrugged. I tried to get him to talk about any books he had scavenged, they were all manuals or guides of some kind. I myself had a large fantasy collection, but he didn’t care to hear about it. Which was a shame, I was missing the last book in the Lord of the Rings and had hoped that he possessed a copy.

After attempting to get him to talk about any hobbies he had or musical instruments he used to play I gave up focused on the practical matters of how we were going to go about making a village.

We stepped into a corn field, over the top of which I could just see a log cabin, much like mine, with a pillar of smoke rising from its chimney.

He gestured again and said. “Welcome.” Followed by. “Watch your step, don’t squash the corn.” It was my turn to nod as we walked through a narrow path that worked its way through the tall stalks.

I was in awe for a few moments. Corn, my diet consisted of potatoes, berries, and wild game. I never tried to grow plants besides potatoes because I thought it was too risky. My mouth was open as I stared at the green leaves and the golden fruit they hid. I reached out and touched a piece, and it gave me the shivers. He had mentioned corn was a part of his crop rotation, but hearing that and seeing it were two entirely different things.

“Crap a few. We’ll have corn and deer for dinner.” I nodded and plucked four ears before we entered his cabin. Like me, he only had one chair at his table, and a modest fireplace. That was about it. There were a few stacks of supplies laying around. He lived very simply.

“I guess I’ll have to bring over my own chair some time.” I joked. He nodded.

“Yup, that’ll be good. We’ll be working closely, and communal living will allow for more efficient use of team resources.” He said. This guy really was all business.

I made myself a seat out of a chest that he said he stored his books in, and spread out the letters on the table. He took the ears, set a pot of water over the fire that was smoldering in his fireplace, and went outside to get something.

It wasn’t long before we were eating deer and corn stew, which wasn’t bad at all really, and discussing our plans for the future. First we went through the letters, opening them carefully one by one, and discussing the supplies and time required for each thing the letters explained us how to create.

We didn’t have any paper or anything to write with, so we both just had to memorize them as we go. It was a lengthy process. We had to recite the whole list to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything as soon as we added anything to it. It took us the rest of the day to get through the letters and memorize everything we need.

As the light became too dim for me to read I began to pull the letters into a pile.

“What are you doing?” He asked.

“Getting ready for bed.” I responded. “It’s getting too dark to read so I figured we’d make a fresh start tomorrow. He gave me a sly smile and said.

“Open the chest you’re sitting on.” I looked quizzically at him but complied. Inside were several dozen candles.

“Something I learned as kid.” He explained. I was impressed. I lit one in the still smoldering fire of the fireplace and set it on the table.

Having memorized the list of supplies we would need, and having discussed how much excess food we each produced we began to discuss what we would need in order to setup this village. There would need to be at least two people who were primarily dedicated to non-food-production tasks. One of them would be a blacksmith, and the other would be a seamstress, all the other tasks could be completed in our spare time. We calculated that for every dedicated person there would need to be two non-dedicated persons.

“I’ve run into four other neighbors besides you.” I said. “That makes six in total right there.” He nodded.

“I’ve run into three others besides you.” He replied. I ticked off on my fingers the people I had been sharing this patch of woods with.

“I’ve seen the girl whose a bit younger than me. There’s the old man with the long beard, the dude who just turns and bolts as soon as he sees you, and the really short man.” The cop had been holding up three fingers, and had ticked off one when I mentioned the girl.

“I’ve seen the girl too, an older woman who carries a crossbow, and a middle aged man with a slight limp.” So we had someone in common.

“So since we’ve both seen her we should go persuade the girl first, and then work from there. My vote would be for the guy who just bolts next. He sounds the least threatening.” The cop licked his fingers and then snuffed out the candle with his fingers.

“Sounds like a plan.” He concluded. “I don’t have beds so you’ll just have to curl up in a corner with a book or something.”

“A book? You haven’t scavenged any pillows or anything?”  It was hard to tell in the dark, but I think he shrugged.

“I don’t mind.” That was lovely, I was going to have to swing by my place at some point to pick up a few things if I was going to stay here on a long term basis. He propped up the chest against the door to keep any animals from coming. The lock had long since rusted off.

I expected him to say goodnight or something about nice to finally talk with another human being, but he just rolled himself up in a jacket that was laying around and nodded off.

It had been a good day. I hadn’t been shot. I was sleeping under a roof with another human being, and we had made plans on the next step. We, it felt really good to say we. Now there were two.

Upon waking I found that the cop had made some more of that delicious deer and corn stew. He was eating quietly while looking over the blacksmith plans. I stared at the bowl that was meant for me for a minute. I had forgotten how good it felt to have someone cook for you.

Normally a meal meant stoking the fire and adding fuel, waiting for that to heat up. Then you added the water to boil, while the water boiled you cut up whatever you had scavenged that day, and meat if you had gotten lucky and made a kill that day. That was to say nothing of the fact that eating at all meant your food stores had been depleted a little bit. This meal required no effort on my part, and didn’t deplete my stores at all. To say nothing of the fact that someone made it because they valued me enough to deem me worthy of a bit of their food stores.

I knew better than to say anything as I took my time eating and looking over the plans.

“Ready?” He asked. I cleaned up my bowl and put it by the fireplace.

“Ready.” I said. He picked up his bow and arrow, and I slipped my knife into my belt.

“We should ditch these when we get close to her land.” I said. He agreed and we set out. On the way over I couldn’t think of anything practical to talk about, so I just admired the landscape.

I was enjoying the new landscape. I was boxed in on five sides by neighbors, so I made sure never to venture further than a few miles from my house, and knew ever rock, river, and tree as if it was written on my eyelids.

A couple times I stopped to marvel at some new plant that I hadn’t seen before. Different colored flowers in particular amazed me as I had only seen blue and yellow ones in my part of the woods, and here there were red ones.

When I picked one up to smell it and inspect it closer, the cop gave me a sideways suspicious look.

“I know it’s useless.” I told him, knowing what was on his mind. “But I’ve never seen one before, and we are going to meet someone new. Maybe it will make for a good peace offering.” Cop didn’t respond to this. He just turned his head and kept walking. I plucked a few and then ran a bit to catch up.

“You think she’ll be as talkative as you?” I asked my friend. He gave me a sly look and before he could respond I heard a thunk and he fell backwards.

I was confused for a moment, until I saw the arrow sticking out of his shoulder. Something primitive in my brain kicked in and I dropped to the ground. I was afraid, then I thought to myself. Wait a minute, we hadn’t done anything wrong. In a moment of enraged stupidity I stood back up and turned in the direction I thought the arrow had come.

“What are you doing!” I shouted. I saw the girl, she was about thirty yards off and had knocked another arrow and was drawing a bead on me. When she heard me indignantly shout at her she lowered her bow.

“Sorry!” She shouted back, shouldering her bow and now jogging over to help.

“This could get infected you know!” She was hanging her head and running over as fast as she could.

“Sorry, sorry, I’d never seen two people in a group before, and I thought maybe you were a gang or something. Sorry.” She was wringing her hands.

“What kind of gang walks around with their weapons holstered, and only brings one bow?” I demanded. She shuffled her feet.

“Sorry.” She said again.

“Help.” The cop said. “You know, whenever you’re done talking.”

“Right.” The girl said, kneeling beside him. “Sorry. Do you have any water on you?” She asked me as she looked at the wound.

“No.” I said, intrigued by how quickly she had taken to seeing to his wound.

“That’ll be a problem. How far is it to your house from here?” She asked. I could see the arrow had gone straight through the upper part of the shoulder. “Let me see your knife.” She added before I could response.

“About two miles from here.” I told her. She cut off the part of his shirt around the wound, then cut off a strip from her sleeve and pushed into onto the wound. The cop, to his credit, didn’t even wince. It was probably not the first time he had experienced such a wound.

“I’m only about a mile and half. We’ll have to get him to my place. Can you walk?” She asked the cop.

“Yes.” He responded. “I don’t usually use my shoulders for walking.” The girl winced at the silliness of her question.

“Sorry, I thought maybe you were in shock or lost blood or something.” The cop stood up.

“I’ve lost way more blood than this before. Which way?” He asked. The girl stood up and for a second tried to prop up the cop so he couldn’t walk, but he just stared at her until she apologized again, and we set off.

“Sorry, I’m really not used to seeing people. I guess this is why I haven’t made any friends yet.”

“Yeah.” I responded dryly. “Flesh wounds are not a form of greeting I’m familiar with.”

“It’s alright.” The cop said before the girl could apologize again. “I nearly shot him when I first met him. If there were two men armed men coming at me I’d probably shoot first and ask questions later.”

“Thank you.” The girl said, and tried to hug the cop. She wrapped her arms around me, but he just looked at her like he had forgotten what a hug was. After several seconds had passed she let go in a painfully slow way. I wanted to say something to berate her about shooting my friend, but as I hadn’t been shot myself, and my friend had already forgiven her I couldn’t very well say anything.

As we walked on she tried valiantly several times to make amends with the cop by starting a couple of casual conversations about the weather or how did he like the flowers that were in bloom right now. When she discovered that he stuck to one word sentences when he felt the conversation wasn’t important she came to walk by me instead.

“So how did you two meet?” She asked me. She had quite gotten over the shame of having shot a man and her eyes were wide and sparkling at the prospect of having two people to talk to. Well maybe just one and a half people to talk to.

“About the same as we did.” I told her. “Yesterday I was walking through the woods, he saw me. I took a minute to convince him I wasn’t going to stab him in the back, and then we set off for his cabin.”

“So you two just met?” She asked. “That’s exciting. It’s like everyone’s getting together. Gosh, that’s wonderful. Are we going to meet more people? Oooh, if we meet someone with a guitar or something we could have a dance! I love dancing, don’t you? Do you have a guitar?” Her speech was now coming fast and furious and I had to blink a few times to let all that she had said sink in. The parts of my brain that processed spoken words had not been used this much ever, and it lagged for a few seconds.

“Um, yes we are going to meet more people, at least three more people. I think I might like dancing, and no I don’t have a guitar.” She practically bounced when I said we were going to meet new people.

“Can sing.” The cop said.

“That’s marvelous!” She said, actually making a small jump in the air. “We’re going to have a whole village. It’ll be like in a book or something! Which three people are we going to meet? Have you met anyone else? I’ve only met about six other people. They’ve been pretty nice. They didn’t shoot me or anything.” She looked over her shoulder at the cop. “Sorry.” She turned back to me, and kept talking before I could get a word in. “Where are we going to make the village? We should have it by a river. River’s are nice you can fall asleep to the sound of running water. You ever fallen asleep by water? It makes for a frightfully good night’s sleep even if it means you have to sleep in the open.”

The cop, having heard some logistical details being mentioned, took this moment to enter meaningfully into the conversation.

“We had not finalized any discussion about the ultimate location of the village. We had determined we should all live close together, if not in one house, and that perhaps my current residence would make for an ideal location as it is very near to a water supply, which, as you so elegantly put it, is necessary. Although I find it’s more useful for drinking from than to listening to.” The girl fell into step beside the cop now.

They began to babble endlessly about the village plans. The girl in a child-like state of wonder detailed all the wonderful parties we would have, and how we could make all the houses in the village in a nice circle, just like where she had grown up. The cop nonchalantly detailed his plans for clearing the woods and planting new crops, as well as his idea for a possible irrigation system,

The two got on remarkably well. I would’ve thought the cop would be irritated by the girl’s rapidly jumping from one subject to the next, and I the girl should’ve found his slow deliberate and to the point way of talking boring. On the contrary, the cop seemed to be energized by someone who was so eager to listen to him talk, and the girl was excited to have someone to tell all of her ideas to.

The two balanced each other. The cop seemed to value the more social touch of the girl. She turned the village into a series of homes, rather than a place where we all slept. The girl in turn valued the cop’s plans to keep their stomachs full, and their homes warm. They made quite the pair.

I myself just enjoyed listening. I didn’t have to take part in the conversation at all. The two carried on for the entire walk to the girl’s place. I was relieved to not have to think about topics, or try and steer the conversation in a direction that the other person would find amiable. I remember hearing that parent’s calmed their children down at night by just talking to them sometimes, or reading a story. It made a good deal of sense now. Just hearing other voices talking in positive tones made me feel like I belonged with these people.

When we arrived at the log cabin I was surprised to find that the girl had no visible crops planted.

“No crops?” The cop asked.

“Nope.” She said. “I don’t need to eat a lot so I just scavenge what I need form the woods and go hunting once in a while to mix things up.” She opened the cabin door and ushered the two of us in.

I was surprised to see that unlike myself and the cop, the girl had four chairs at her table.

“Come in, sit down, and I’ll have you all fixed up in a moment.” She patted the cop on her shoulder and bounced over to the fireplace to put on some boiling water.

She stuck the knife in the hot water to sterilize it, and went to a chest she had nearby to take out some old strips of cloth to sterilize them too.

“I’ve got some grain alcohol up on that shelf, would you fetch it for me…..” She paused looking funny at me. “Sorry, I’m afraid I haven’t caught your name.”

“Name?” I realized I had been thinking about these two people as ‘cop’ and ‘girl’ and this was not the polite way to speak to humans.

“Oh right, I’m Thom, and this is um.” I had started to introduce the cop hoping at some point last night he had mentioned his name and if I started to introduce him it would come to me.

“Johnathan” The cop told the girl.

“Right, Jonathan and Thom, nice to meet you, I’m Lily. Now Thom there’s some grain alcohol on that shelf. Would you be a dear and grab it for me?” Lily asked me.

“Of course.” I said

“Thank you Thom.” She said, and then took the sterilized knife and cloth from the now boiling water, and put the knife directly on the fire for a few seconds before walking over to Johnathon.

“Now Johnathan, can I call you John?” The cop nodded. “Now John, as I’m sure you know, this is going to hurt. Would you like something to bite down on?” The cop valiantly shook his head and tilted his head to give Lily better access to the wound.

“Right.” Lily said, and then pushed the red hot flat of the knife into the wound Thom frowned and grunted loudly, making a new noise every time Lily worked the knife to get at a different part of the wound.

“Alcohol.” Lily said. I handed her the bottle and she poured some on the wound. John grunted again, and Lily layered on some of the sterile pieces of cloth to finish the job.

“Now then, if I had my sewing kit I’d have stitched you up, but I lost that years ago.” She put her hands on her hips and examined her work. “Still, that’ll do nicely. So where’s the capsule?” She asked me.

“What?” I asked. I had lost my appetite watching Lily work on the wound, and didn’t expect this change of topic.

“The capsule, the thing with all the instructions on building a village silly.” She said.

“Oh, right.” I said unslinging the thing from my shoulder. I had strapped it on when we had left John’s cabin and had quite forgotten about it as soon as he got shot.

“Here, let me lay it out on the table.” We cleared away the improvised medical supplies and used our shirts to dry up the blood and water that had accumulated on the table. That night was another night of planning and laughing. John had brought some candles so we continued late into the night, talking about the future, who we would go see next. Making dinner was the highlight of the evening as we all pitched in and used different techniques we had learned throughout our years.

As we lay along one wall of the cabin for the night Lily once again demonstrated her difference from John and decided to stay awake and talk for a bit.

“Do you remember being put to bed by your parents?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I said. “I actually thought about that on the way over here. They would just sit up and talk in the same room as me. It was comforting just knowing that they were there, and that everything was fine.”

“I know what you mean?” She said. She was talking slower now. Much less trying to fit everything into one sentence as possible, and much more just taking your time and enjoying the conversation. “My parent’s would sing me to sleep.”

“Oh yeah?” I responded. “What would they sing to you?”

“A bit of everything, but the one song they would sing all the time was an old 90s tune about not losing your way. Would you like to hear it?” She asked.

“I sure would.” I told her. As she sung me to sleep my thoughts turned to the letters, and what my parent’s had told me. I was following their directions, and it was kind of like they were around. My last thought before I drifted off was ‘Now we are three’.