It wouldn’t stay that way for long.
I found a cutaway bank and crawled under it. The bank gave me cover and made it hard to see me should someone draw close yet provided me an unhindered view of my surroundings save from my immediate left.
It took no time for me to get comfortable in the cool earth. Sleep tugged at my eyes, and I drifted off to sleep. The crack of a branch woke me.
I blinked and focused my eyes. Darkness had fell while I slept. A flashlight cut through the darkness.
“Shh. I know you are tired kiddo. We’ve got to find a place to hunker down for the night. There’s a cutaway bank up ahead.”
The light shifted left and then right. When it passed my resting place, I slid out and disappeared into the shadows. From a bush, I watched an old man, I approximated his age to be near 70, lead a young woman to the cutaway bank. He knelt and shined the light at the bank.
“It’s clear darling. We’ll hunker down here for the night.”
“But pawpaw, there’s no way we’re going to make it to Colorado on foot. Your heart can’t take…”
“Shh, child. One thing at a time. We’ll run into somebody who can help us.”
I leaned against a tree trunk and considered the options. “If I leave now, no one will see me. But, if they’re headed to Colorado, we could travel together. There’s safety in numbers.”
Daylight broke around 0600, and I waited until the old man crawled out from under the bank. He looked around and stretched. He sat on a stump and lay the shotgun across his lap.
I stepped into view. He jerked the shotgun up and aimed it at my chest.
“I don’t want no trouble, old man.”
“How long you been here, boy?”
“I saw you and your granddaughter come in last night. I could have killed you both at any time. Let that sink in.”
“What’s your name, boy?”
“People call me, Denny.”
“I’m Ray. You’re not from these parts, are you?”
“Come on in and have a seat. We ain’t got much, but we’ll share with you.”
“I appreciate it.”
The old man pulled out some bread and honey. His granddaughter slid from under the bank and stared at me.
“Paw, who is this?”
“Sarah, this is Denny. He was here first.”
We sat around in a half-circle and ate. While we filled our tummies with the Lord’s bounty, that which hadn’t been irradiated, we made small talk.
“Where are you headed, Denny?”
“Sir, I’m headed to Colorado to get my children.”
“We’re going to Colorado too,” Sarah said. Paw nodded and shoved some honey-drenched bread into his mouth.
“That we are,” he choked out. “You interested in going together?”
I squeezed a light dash of honey on the edge of my bread and considered it again.
“Depends on where you’re headed. I’m going as far as Colorado Springs, unless my ex-wife and children have moved on somewhere else.”
“We heard over the CB that this commune of survivors was sticking it out high in the Rocky Mountains. They got fresh air, unpolluted water, and enough food to last several winters.”
“Sounds too good to be true,” I said.
“Well, it beats trying to make it on your own, I reckon.”
“Yeah, Paw, I reckon it does. I’ll travel with you as far as the Springs. If I can’t find my children, then I may try to catch up with you.”
“That sounds fine, Denny. What’s your travel pattern like?”
“Oh, I’ve gone during the day, but I ran into trouble not to far from here. Thought I might strike out at night.”
The old man nodded, and I could tell he was thinking by his furrowed brow and the way his eyes shined with deep thought.
“It is easier to trip, fall, and injury yourself badly at night.”
“True, but there’s less chance of traffic.”
Sarah sat quietly listening to us chat. “Plus, you could stumble upon trouble at night as well,” she interjected.
Ray mulled it over while he tied up his bread and screwed the cap on his honey.
“Either way, trouble is bound to happen-whether we go searching for it or not.”
His words made sense to me. I shrugged and nodded in agreement.
“What kind of trouble did you run into, Denny?”
“Some heavily armed scoundrels robbed this old man and woman, then shot them on their knees.”
“I killed them.”
Sarah gasped lightly. Ray nodded his head and wiped at the sweat on his brow.
“The world was a bad place before all this happened. It got worse because of all the attacks. Folks are frantic, worried, overly aggressive…”
“Not these folks, Ray. They killed those old-timers because they enjoyed it.”
“Then you did the right thing, son.”
“We can’t sit here,” Sarah whispered. “Someone might find us.”
Ray looked at me and I nodded. We picked up our gear and headed out toward the unknown.