John leaned his old twelve gauge against the wagon and knelt down behind the worn steel clad wheel to study the land, scan the horizon. It looked placid enough, but John had learned that looks could be deceiving. He remained motionless for the better part of an hour and saw no one, no activity or sign of others.
Feeling confident that he was alone, he stood and ambled to the back of the wagon to relieve himself. Turning to collect his piece when he finished he froze. Two men and two women stood mutely arrayed by the wagon wheel, where had had crouched earlier. The tallest man cradled John’s old scatter gun in the crook of his arm. The two studied each other through squinted eyes.
The tall man stood probably six feet six. He was thin and weathered; his hair was the color of the yellow grasses in which he stood. He wore a pressed white dress shirt beneath a faded, dusty black overcoat that had brown leather shoulders. His baggy black trousers rippled with the breeze.
With his free hand the man pushed his flat, broad brimmed hat back from his forehead. The fading light illuminated his eyes and he stared at John through, a pale shade of blue.
The man spoke, “What are your intentions here, Brother?” the man asked. “Who are you? And, from whence do you hail?”
“Uhm, I’m John, John Patmos. I come from the other side of those mountains.” He pointed vaguely towards the horizon and waited; watching them, trying to read their faces, “I’ve been wandering and searching, seemingly for years. You’re the first people I have seen since the Apocalypse. I wonder if perhaps you could tell me what has happened here. Maybe spare some water, and some food.”
The tall man glanced at the woman standing crookedly to his right. She wore a simple white dress that shone in the sunlight. Her blonde hair formed a halo around her head. She nodded, turned and began to walk away.
“You call it ‘Apocalypse’,” the man said. “Why do you call it such, and how were you able to survive if it were so?”
“I’m not sure,” John said, “it seemed appropriate to call it that. The carnage was fierce.”
The tall man thumbed the lever on John’s gun, broke it open and removed the two cartridges that had been ready for use. He turned the weapon and handed it back to John.
“I’ll thank you not to be reloading this piece while you are here.” he intoned. “Come with us.”
The tall man led the way and John followed two steps behind cradling his fowling piece like a lover. The others fell in about six steps behind. “My name is Daniel,” the tall man said, “behind you are Hezekiah and Ruth. Adina has gone ahead to alert the others that we are bringing you back.”
John could think of nothing to say and so remained silent; walking until the group melted into the tree line and the ground began a slow rise. They climbed for no more than ten minutes before entering a clearing. In the center several small shacks had been erected. Vegetables had been planted around the perimeter. Fifty yards of open space lay between, making the settlement easily defendable against a modest attack. A crowd of about twenty people stood at the edge of the settlement and vigilantly watched John approach. John saw Adina standing apart from the others.
All eyes were on John until Daniel spoke up, “Stand easy, brothers and sisters. This man is named John and I believe that he means us no harm. He brings news from beyond the mountains. He has agreed to recount for us, the end of the world.” Daniel reached beneath the folds of his coat and removed a lupara that had been concealed there. He handed the vicious firearm to Adina and she wordlessly carried it into a nearby shack, where she faded at the doorway into the darkness within. Daniel turned and smiled at John.
“Apologies, Brother, but you have yet to earn my trust.”
John steeled his jaw and stared at Daniel.
“Am I a guest or a prisoner here, Daniel?” he asked.
“That remains to be seen, Brother. Come, sit, and enjoy a modest meal. It isn’t much but we will gladly share it with you.”
From above the trees rang the echo of a loud screech. Adina appeared and guided John to safety.
This wore me out. I don’t think it’s my best work but I’m going to submit it anyway.
Happy to see The Mutant 750 back!