I had a hard time deciding what to do but I eventually found a place to bed down for the night and set up a camp. I spent hours after that with my tablet reading a couple of the books I had downloaded.
When I had been told that I was matched and that it was going to be somewhere in the Outlands I had really focused my downloading on that area of the country and also on different parts of the Wasteland in the hopes that one day I could escape in that direction. I knew that as a Fertile I could be pregnant or have a child by the time I could escape so I knew that having the tools to survive would be important. Primary would be food, water, and shelter.
Shelter was going to have to wait. The weather was such that I could sleep outsides. It was in the 70s during the day and the 40s at night; I could do that all day long. Water was a big deal but I found a little drip coming off of a lichen covered place in a rock wall and I’d seen bigger water in the form of streams but there had been people around them. I put an empty bottle under the drip to catch them and filled my bottles as I thought about the last part of what I needed; food.
The ebooks I was paying the most attention to were the “Edible plants of …” type books. I had a little time before it really got dark and found my first edible food; something called curly dock. It was also supposed to be called wild rhubarb but that meant nothing to me because I’ve never tasted regular rhubarb, or I don’t think I have. All the recipes called for other things to be added to it but basically the leaves were edible raw and that’s how I consumed them.
Well I’ve certainly eaten worse. The leaves had kind of a lemony, bite-me kind of taste. When I first became a street rat I ate a lot of weeds just trying to fill my stomach when I couldn’t find anything in a dumpster. I got a little spoiled at SEPH but I realized if I could continue to find things like curly dock I could certainly survive … assuming I could find small animals that I could hunt.
In the city the two most common small animals were rats and pigeons. Dogs were eaten by some people but dogs creeped me out and I had only eaten dog meat a couple of times. Rats too but if you could catch a couple of rats and you put them in a cage and waited until the inevitable babies were born and you fed the babies the right stuff while they were growing big enough to eat it was like raising chickens, or close anyway. The same thing was true of pigeons. But you had to be able to feed them. I didn’t figure this out by myself but by watching and listening to other street rats and other street people. My plan was to people-watch here and see how they were getting set for the winter and then follow what they did. I would have to be careful but it can be done.
In the morning I got up, packed up camp and headed out with my tablet looking for other edible plants. I found the following plants that tasted half way decent: Canada thistle, lamb’s quarter, dandelion, chickweed, burdock, amaranth, wild spinach, mallow, purslane, and wood sorrel. I considered it a good day but I was almost hungrier after grazing all day than if I had sat under a tree somewhere and done nothing. I was determined to have something more substantial for dinner.
I’d had a couple of squirrels try to get into my backpack where I sat near a rock eating. It had been kinda funny after I got over the irritation with them for startling me. I had kept the area in mind and went back with my sling shot. It took a little bit because that late in the day the tree rats had stopped squirreling around so much but eventually one foolish fellow did let me take a whack at him and I was gratified to find my aim was returning to its previous accuracy. I couldn’t shoot a gun, didn’t have one and had only done it once in my life anyway, but I could pop a squirrel at forty feet with a metal washer.
Tree rats or regular rats, they both skinned and cooked about the same but I have to admit the tree rat tasted better. I threaded the carcass on a stick and roasted it over a small fire. I ate my dinner and then got drowsy. I’d learned to listen to my body and went off to my new camp … which meant climbing up the tree about twenty yards away from where I had cooked. One of the books I had looked over said that there were large cats in the area and I’d already seen that feral dog packs were alive and well in the Wastelands. I wasn’t sure how you protected yourself from a big cat but I figured camping up in a tree had to be better than being a target down on the ground.
I strung a hammock in some top branches and soon was hard asleep still building up my stamina. I woke up right before the sun came up to voices beneath me.
“What do you mean she just disappeared?!”
“I’m sorry Boss, she was here … and there’s the left over from the fire she had to prove it. Someone needs to teach her to hide it better, any real tracker will find it and …”
“Fine, but I don’t need a book on it. I want to know where the girl is.”
“Don’t know Boss. Don’t see no drag marks or blood so doubt she got et by anything. And ours are the only tracks in the dew.”
Looking over the edge of the hammock I tried to see through the branches and the pre-dawn dark. I recognized Carmine’s voice but not the other man’s. I could have easily called out but I decided to wait and find out what they wanted.
“How the bloody freakin’ blue blazes did that girl just vanish?!”
“Don’t know boss,” came the laconic reply of the other man. “But Butcher is gonna birth kittens when he finds out. What’s he so worried for her ‘bout? Seems like she’s doin’ just fine and don’t wanna be found. If she were a boy child no one would be making this much noise.”
Carmine took off his hat and scratched his head and then snorted, “Well she isn’t a boy, she’s a girl. And if Asa wants her … he isn’t going to pay any attention to the blasted tech until we drag her back.”
“What if she don’t wanna come? We … we ain’t talkin’ about bustin’ the rules or nothing are we Boss?”
Putting his hat back on he told the man, “No, if the girl doesn’t want to come I’m not going to force her, not even for Butcher, but I hope she’ll see reason and at least come put Butcher straight. I’ve never seen him this worked up over anything but a machine.”
The man gave a very male laugh. “’Bout time he noticed something besides tech junk. But when some o’ them women back at the settlement find out they ain’t gonna be too happy that he started noticing someone else besides them.”
In disgust Carmine said, “You don’t need to tell me that. I swear if people were this curious why in the Sam Hill didn’t they stop her before she took off out of town?”
I’m not normally a talker. In fact I normally don’t want to have much to do with people period. But some imp got a hold of me and I said down to the men below, “You two make more noise than a tree full of squirrels. Some of us are trying to sleep you know.”
The man I didn’t know jerked his head up and after getting over being startled started laughing like I’d made a good joke. Carmine was a lot slower to look up and I could tell he was about ready to strangle me. “Do you know how long we’ve been looking for you?”
“No. Why? Does someone think I stole something?”
Carmine was not in the mood. “Gurl, get your butt down here right now. I ought to paddle you so you can’t sit proper for a week.”
I was tempted to say make me and he must have realized his comments had been counterproductive because he added, “Asa Butcher is a mess and we can’t get a lick of work out of him. What did you do to the man?”
“Nothing. I haven’t got the foggiest why he’s so bent.”
“Well, come back to the settlement so he’ll get his head out of his backside. I’ve got real work to do and it doesn’t include hunting up a sassy mouthed street rat that don’t have the manners to at least say good bye so people won’t worry about her.”
For lack of anything better to do that day I folded the hammock and came down but I had to get my dig in. “Aw Carmine, I didn’t know you cared.”
Carmine looked like he had tasted the same alumroot I had the previous day. The other man said, “My, my. You do like to poke the bear doncha. Names Porter, Bill Porter.”
I nodded and said, “People call me Gurl.”
“That’s what I heard,” he said with a grin. “Best get on back to the horses before Jake thinks somethings done happen to us.”
I stopped. “What do you mean horses?”
Carmine snapped, “Horses as in four legged animals that we ride. But we’re riding horses, you Missy can ride the pack mule.”
“I prefer to walk.”
“And I prefer that my work not get interrupted by flibberty jibbets like you but since I don’t get what I want you don’t get what you want. Now move it before I toss you on and tie you down.”
Actually riding turned out to not be too bad except I didn’t understand why they had to be quite so tall. It was a long way down from saddle to ground and with every step it felt like I was going to fall off. The ride was long enough that I got tender in spots too, even worse than the few times I’d ridden a bicycle in the city.
We came to the city by a different route so I didn’t have to run the gauntlet of main street but Carmine had radio’d ahead and when we got to the corral and stable where the horses lived Asa was there waiting.
“What were you thinking?! Just walk off, not even say good bye! Coulda been killed a million different ways … or worse! You ever think maybe I wasn’t done with you?!!”
Thinking that a dunk in the trough would cool him off I nearly dumped him in. Instead for some strange reason the same imp that got into me earlier in the day was still riding my shoulders. “One, what I think is none of your business. Two, I was left standing in the middle of the street so I figured you were done with me. Three, I’ve been living on my own for ten years and have lived to tell the tale. Four, why the heck would you care if I took a diver and bought it anyway? And five did you ever think maybe I was done with you?!”
Asa’s mouth was just kind of flapping in the wind but no sound was coming out. About that time Rosie skipped over and said, “Aw, don’t be mad because he’s acting like a guy, he was worried about you. Daddy was too but Uncle Carmine said they were both crazy and that more than like instead of a cougar eating you you’d have it for dinner. Where’d you sleep? What did you eat? Did you see a cougar? Was it fun?”
I don’t know what it is about Rosie but she just kind of drains the mad off of you. I told her, “Asa’s crazy and how am I supposed to know what crazy people think? As for where I slept, the first night was between two big rocks and last night I slept in a tree which seems to have irked Carmine for some reason.” I heard Porter cough to cover a laugh. “And as for what I ate, lots of weeds and stuff except for dinner last night I ate squirrel. I was going to try fishing today but got side tracked because apparently Asa is too distracted to fix something he is supposed to be fixing.”
She nodded, “Oh he is. After you left he tried to fix one of the engines and kept busting his knuckles and banging his head on stuff then got real mad and threw a hammer and swore he wouldn’t fix anything else til you was found. Uncle Gil sent Uncle Carmine to hunt you down.”
Asa was still trying to come off angry and righteous but the red creeping into his face told me he was embarrassed. I looked twice and then a third time to make sure I was seeing it. He finally snapped, “What are you looking at?”
“I don’t know. You’re the one that’s acting weird. So … anyway you’ve seen I wasn’t devoured by a mountain lion, bear, or tore apart by coyotes and that I’m not lying in a ditch some place starving to death. You satisfied?”
Before Asa could answer a woman bustled onto the scene and said, “I hope he is. He’s been going crazy and as a result Rob and Gill have been driving me crazy asking fool questions about why females do certain things when they know it will get their menfolk in a knot.”
I gave a horrified squawk. “I don’t have menfolk. I’m not even sure I want menfolk … ever. And what did I ever do to make anyone believe that Asa was anything more than … well … whatever he is? Ask him why men are so bizarre. I met him less than a week ago and he’s acting like he’s my long lost brother or something.”
The woman whom I presumed was Rosie’s mother and later found out I was right said, “Well, put that way I can see your point. I tell you what, come let Rob look at you ear so he’ll shut up about it and stay for dinner and let us thank you properly for saving Rosie.”
Nice people drive me batty. They make up their minds to do something for you and getting away is like trying to pull a bunch of hitchhikers off of your shoe laces. Carmine saved my pride though by saying, “Aw, might as well get it over with Gurl. They’re the type that will just keep on at you and the longer you put it off the more they want to be in your business. Besides I promised myself I was gonna see you do some shooting with that sling shot of yours and after lunch is as good a time as any.”
Even after all of that it was Rosie’s pleading eyes and her heartfelt, “Please!” that did me in. I don’t know when I turned into such a soft touch. The only excuse I have is that telling Rosie no would be like pulling the wings off a butterfly and I was hard, but not that hard anymore apparently.