Home > Creative Writing Exercises, Fallen Earth, NaNoWriMo, Writing > FE NaNoWriMo 2010: Installment No. 4

FE NaNoWriMo 2010: Installment No. 4

June 18, 2156

Slept better last night than I have all week, thanks to the painkillers prescribed by Doc Haskins. The infected tooth’s still throbbing, though.

***

For joy. The Rider’s not technically a Rider yet. She’s a courier-in-training, making her second run for the Franklin’s Riders. It’ll be her first trip beyond the Plateau and into the Northfields.

“No need to fret,” she told me. Big smile on her face. “Most new Riders make it through just fine. I haven’t lost a package, so far.”

Unlike me. She didn’t say that, but I heard it in my mind just the same.

Her name is Fern Alastair. She seems ambitious enough, eager and unafraid, and I have to admit that just gives me more reason to worry about this trip. She’s looking forward to the adventure of traveling north to the Upper Plateau and then through the wastes along the road to the Northfields.

I’m almost tempted to take my chances with this crazy infection.

Almost.

“We’ll hit the trail after breakfast,” she said.

***

Waiting for the Rider-in-training to prep my horse.

She says we’ll aim to stop in Watchtower before night falls. Guess I should credit her with more sense now. She’s a nice enough kid, really. It’s just that she IS little more than a kid and I find it very difficult to place my life in the hands of a child who’s never been so far from home before.

I look forward to reaching Watchtower. I’ve got a couple of friends there that I haven’t seen in a good long while. It’d be nice to take some time to catch up, if Fern’s schedule allows.

***

Before dawn, I walked down the main drag through Oilville, listening to the churn and rattle of the pumps. A few merchants looking to score a few extra chips in sales are up before first light, stocking their stalls.

I could smell something savory cooking on the grill in Otis Peet’s place – a salty tang in the air, maybe creeper bacon.

I would have loved a piece, but it would probably be too damned tough to chew with this infected tooth. Best to follow doctor’s orders for the moment: Drink fluids, avoid chewy foods, and rinse with warm salt water every couple of hours.

The big globular refinery tanks rose above the angular buildings that made up the town. A few workers in oil-stained gray jumpsuits hung suspended from rope-and-pulley contraptions, inspecting the structures to make sure they weren’t leaking, in danger of collapse, or on the verge of exploding.

It occurred to me that I wouldn’t want to be in or near Oilville if those tanks ever ignited.

***

Sketched in the left margin: A passable facsimile of the gun Enzo Scarpelli held in the clinic.

Scribbled in the right margin:
LUCKY YOU.

***

Oh, God, help me. She’s a talker.

***

We didn’t make it to Watchtower. Tonight, we’re camped under a big sand-blasted radar dish surrounded by rusty chain link that vibrates in the chill wind that blows up from the prairie.

We’re on a ridge known as Dead Man’s Buttress. The Upper Plateau rises to the north. I figure we can make it to Watchtower sometime around early afternoon tomorrow if Fern stays focused and doesn’t keep chatting with me.

I’ve never been a fan of small talk on good days. Now that my mouth is already in plenty of pain thanks to an infected abscess, I’ve got even less tolerance for it.

I lost track of almost everything she babbled about between Oilville and here, but I think I remember enough to document some highlights.

HER: “Sorry to hear about those Gully Dogs jacking your car and that package. I know all about Enzo Scarpelli. That is NOT a man you want mad at you.”

ME: “You don’t say.”

HER: “Lazlo Planck, he’s another Rider – a real good one, experienced, been on the trails since before the Dam fell, he says he once saw Enzo Scarpelli shank a man in the belly and leave him out next to Dundy Cavern for those oversized scorpions to snack on. The reason why: The fella was a tailor. He made some new pants for Boss Scarpelli, but they were about two sizes too small.”

Later…

HER: “Why’d you become a Traveler?”

ME: “Become? I didn’t become a Traveler. I’ve been one as long as I can remember.”

HER:
“So what do you like about being a Traveler?”

ME: “I like learning to rely on myself, my wits, and my friends.”

HER: “Good thing you’ve got friends, then.”

Later…

HER: “How’d your tooth get messed up?”

ME: “I’ve never been big on oral hygiene.”

HER: “My folks always told me that was a good way to let Mother Nature kill you right off. I never go anywhere without my brush. Floss when I can, too.”

ME: “Ever tried flossing with razor wire?”

HER: “Now, that just sounds dangerous.”

Later…

HER: “If you could get out of the Grand Canyon Province and go anywhere, where would you go?”

ME: “Are you going too?”

HER: “What? No. It’s just hypothetical. Everyone knows we can’t get past the death zones. But if you could – let’s say someone gave you a special suit with enough air to get you out to the rest of the world – where would you go?”

ME: “Home.”

HER: “That doesn’t count. Home’s inside the Province. I’m talking about outside, in the Big Desolation. Y’know, Seattle? Chicago? Paris? Orlando? Sydney? Beijing?”

Later…

HER: “I’m not looking for a boyfriend.”

ME:
“Uh…”

HER: “It’s not that you aren’t attractive. I guess you’re okay. It’s just…well, the hygiene thing. I’m a stickler.”

ME: “Ah…”

HER: “Don’t feel bad. I’m sure you’ll find someone.”

ME: “Uh-huh.”

HER: “It’s okay if you want to cry. I won’t tell.”

ME:
“Erm…”

***

Sketched in the bottom margin: Two stick figures. One looks male. He also looks angry. He’s stabbing another stick figure, one with curly hair and a Rider’s hat. Little dark blood drops fly up from the falling female.

***

Taking first watch while Fern gets a couple of hours of sleep. Mercifully, it’s quiet. It would be overstating things to say I hate this woman. I don’t. She’s just very annoying with constant exposure and a dwindling supply of painkillers.

No matter what she seems to think, I’m not a nasty slob who never cleans his teeth. I do, every chance that I get! I hate how my mouth feels when I go too long without brushing and rinsing.

I don’t like shirking on hygiene. Not one little bit. If I could brush my teeth and rinse my mouth right here, right now, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Trouble is, my brush and baking soda were in the kit nabbed by the Gully Dogs. I think I heard a stream gurgling not too far from here, though. If the water’s not glowing, it’ll serve.

***

What the hell was I thinking?

Now I doubt I’ll ever hear the end of this.

***

I found the stream about thirty yards southeast of our campsite on the ridge. The water smelled clean enough to drink. It didn’t glow. I tapped my tongue with a wet thumb. Tasted fresh enough.

It had been weeks since the last time I found a stream that was clean enough and fresh enough to drink from. Most of the time, I settled for pump water that smelled like rotten eggs or drank from old drainage ponds favored by the double-headed deer that roamed the prairie.

I cupped my hands, dipped them into the water, splashed my face. That felt good. Repeated the action, then slurped the chilly fluid into my mouth, where it splashed against the raw nerves of the abscessed tooth. That didn’t feel so good.

“OW!” Then I heard the grumbling, and it wasn’t my stomach.

Across the stream, in the shadows, a pair of glowing crimson eyes opened slowly. I decided that it wouldn’t be in my best interest to wait and see what it was, because it sounded big and nasty. I turned and ran back to the northwest. I might have screamed. It probably sounded like a shrieking girl. I didn’t care.

I was halfway up the ridge, scared as hell to look over my shoulder for fear of tripping on a rock, when I saw Fern waiting at the top, rifle ready. She fired off three quick shots. I felt the beast’s breath on my back as it roared in pain from the impacts. At the top, I spun to watch the shaggy black blight wolf tumble back down the slope.

“Told you to stay close,” she said, cradling the rifle in her arms.

“Didn’t go far,” I replied. “Just down to the stream.”

“Obviously too far,” she snapped.

I frowned. “Obviously.”

***

She’s taking over my shift on watch. I don’t feel much like sleeping, though. I’m too troubled by how utterly incompetent and useless I feel.

I can’t even make a simple package delivery to Depot 66 without losing the box to the Gully Dogs. The GULLY DOGS!

And now I’m on the trail to Picus Ridge with a little girl who’s clearly got a much better survival instinct and knack for the wastes than I’ve ever known.

Truth is, the sad fact of it all, I could’ve gotten both of us killed by that blight wolf. Would’ve, if Fern hadn’t been wary for trouble and ready with that rifle. She was in the right place at the right time. She saved us both.

I didn’t thank her. I should. Maybe I will sometime.

Right now, though, I just don’t feel like saying anything. Best to keep my mouth shut. They say you might be silent and look foolish, but open your yap and prove it’s true.

I’ll go with silence for the time being. Seems safer. Smarter.

***

Sketched along the top margin: Metal box with the lid open and a big, growly, fang-filled mutant wolf head popping out of it.

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