From the Blood of the Wolf Ch. 01byLL_Timber©
Chapter One -- Never the Same
Everything was gone. I stared into the dying fire, reflecting upon the events of today. I had hoped naively that we had only freak outbreak in Yale...but the binoculars didn't lie when we spied Woodland from a clear cut. Buildings burning, cars parked in the middle of the streets and the infected...no longer the intelligent creatures they once were but shells, most of them badly injured, being driven on in the most instinctual of ways by the virus. Zombies. The stories of past never got them right. They weren't dead...they were dying, and the virus wouldn't let them fall...until it was just physically impossible for them to move. Most of the infected finally died of infection, dehydration and blood loss.
I glanced around the fire to my four companions, my brother, two cousins and one of the cousin's friend. Their eyes seemed to be focused on the dancing flames of the fire, but I knew that wasn't the case. The camp fire was a good place to rest weary eyes while their minds recapped on the day, just as mine had done. My brother, Keith, looked up at me. I knew what he was thinking as we always had a somewhat of a twin connection. His eyes were saying, "now what?" I frowned in response.
The sky was brilliant shades of oranges, pinks, purples and blues as the long day was coming to an end....which meant the black of night was coming soon. "Okay, so we need to set up watches. It's about 11 hours till morning, so each of us will need to watch for 2.5 hours each." The group lifted their heads and listened to me. "Who wants first watch?"
"I will", said my cousin Ben's friend, Mitch. I nodded at him. I didn't know him very well, but the fact that he was volunteering for first watch after such a long day helped ease my ever powerful distrust of all new people.
"I'll take second", Keith raised his hand without looking up. "I don't sleep much anyway."
I nodded at Keith. I had the same problem with sleep. "Good. Alright, Ben, you'll go after him, then me and then Claire..."
"I can't, Anna!" Claire said, cutting me off. "You know I don't know anything about guns."
I stared hard at her. I wasn't about to give her watch anyway. She had always been the baby of us four and always a source of frustration for me. "I know you don't, which is why I said 2.5 hours instead of 2...but tomorrow, you are learning how to use a gun." Irritation was rising in my voice. I couldn't help it. "The time of you acting like a baby is over, Claire. Tomorrow, you will grow up, you understand me?" As if being beautiful, blonde and the youngest was going to get her out of responsibilities. I wanted to say that, but I held myself back.
Claire nodded slowly, staring at her feet. I saw a lone tear slide from her eye to her cheek. Totally a Claire move.
I grabbed my pack and unfastened my sleeping bag. My eyes flicked over to Mitch, who was getting comfortable against a Douglas Fir, a sawed-off pump action was resting in his arms. I went over to him and knelt down. He looked up at me. Big green eyes. "If you start having problems holding your eyes open, come wake me", I said quietly.
He grinned. "Get some sleep, Anna", Mitch said, patting my booted foot. He had a strong face, with a goatee that was darker in color than his blond hair. Probably 20 or 21, like me. I wondered for a second how Ben and Mitch could be friends. He didn't seem as introverted as Ben.
"Good night then." I went back to my sleeping bag, took off my boots and climbed in. I tried to come up with a plan for the next day and fell asleep.
It was still black outside when Ben woke me at 4am. "Anything happen?"
Ben handed me the shotgun and a box of shells. "No, but the wolves were really carrying on." He crawled over to his sleeping bag, which was next to mine.
"Okay, get some sleep." I made my way over to the tree that Mitch had set up against and sat down. The wolves. Ordinarily, there weren't wolves in southwest Washington, but it was something that we were used to. As it turned out, an animal psychologist had moved to Yale and set up his place to study wolves when Keith was a sophomore and I was a senior in High School. The wolves were secured in a pen, but nothing could contain their longing howls.
I thought back to one day, while we were waiting for the school bus, Keith and I had walked up to the pens that the wolves were in. I loved wolves, thought they were so beautiful, but this was the closest I had ever been to them. Some wagged their tails, some just stared, and others backed away from us with their ears flattened. None of them growled or barred their teeth...they just watched us. I couldn't help to feel sorry for them. It was obvious that most of them were once wild. Surely they missed their homes, running free with their packs.
As I sat up against the tree, thinking of the wolves, I had an idea. It would be good to have a dog with us. Surely one of the domesticated, tail-waggers would follow us if freed, and their ears could catch more sound than ours. Perhaps we could even stay at the wolf compound for a few days. I knew that there was an orchard, a large garden, chickens and goats on the farm next door. As if on que, the wolves began their last chorus of the night.
A light mist began to fall through the dense forest as the night gave way to morning. I glanced at the feeble fire that had managed to keep going through the night and hoped that it would make it until I was done boiling a pot of water for our instant coffee.
I heard a footstep behind me and turned quickly. It was Mitch. "Good morning", he smiled at me as he knelt at the fire.
"Morning. Get any sleep?"
"A bit." He ran his fingers through his thick blond hair and scratched his disappearing goatee. The rest of his facial hair was catching up with it quickly. "Thought I heard wolves last night though".
I smiled at him to which he cocked his head and smiled back. "This is the first time I've seen you smile since it all broke loose."
Our eyes locked for a moment before I started explaining. "You did hear wolves. That's where we are going today."
"Is that a good idea?" Mitch perched one eyebrow higher than the other in a quizzical look.
"They are in pens. And there is a farm next door to them. Maybe we can stay there for a few days as we figure out what next to do." I left out the part of letting the wolves go. He didn't need to know right now. None of them had to know right now.
He nodded. "So what's the deal with you four?"
"What do you mean", I said as I pulled the boiling water from the now extinguished fire. Should be at least hot enough for coffee.
"I can tell that you've always been the leader of the pack."
Me. Leader of the pack. I shook my head to myself. "I guess." I could feel Mitch's eyes on me as I scooped coffee granules into my camp cup and poured water over them.
"You were going to Clark, right?" He meant Clark College down in Vancouver.
"Yeah. I am..." I stopped myself. "I was almost ready to transfer to the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland."
"Art?" Mitch said in almost disbelief, grinning. "Seriously?"
I frowned his reaction. "Yeah, graphic and web design is what I was studying... why?"
Mitch let out a quiet laugh. "Art AND computers...I didn't take you for an artistic nerd", he smiled.
I puffed up like an angry little toad and gave him the stink eye. "Yeah? And if I had to guess from you being built like an ox, I'd say you were majoring in shop." His smile faded as he looked at me hard. I was reminded that I need to work on controlling my mouth. It was always getting me into trouble or hurting feelings.
Mitch swallowed and looked to the ground. "Unlike you, I can't afford college. I have to work in the woods with Ben." By saying 'work in the woods', Mitch meant he was a logger. Very dangerous work for very little pay. It was the job of most young men in the Valley that came from poor families. It was either log or join the military.
My mind stewed over possible apologies as we sat in silence. I sipped the bitter instant coffee. "I'm sorry Mitch."
His eyes stayed on the ground. "For what", he shrugged.
Honestly, I knew I had no reason to have snapped at him. I just didn't like the feeble, helpless, geeky stereotype of people associated with art and computers. I watched Mitch as he continued staring into the forest floor. He was just trying to be friendly, even a bit flirty, I thought, with the conversation. God, I suck. "I'm sorry for snapping."
"Don't worry about it." He stood, his t-shirt raised to reveal the lower half of his muscular abdomen as he stretched his hands over his head, and went to pack his backpack. He didn't look at me again. Looks like I had finished/ruined our conversation effectively.
About that time, everyone else woke up. Without much sound, we packed our packs as well.
The mist gave way to a drizzle. I put my water-proof hat on over my braided hair and looked up at the sky. As the droplets fell on my face, I felt a little better. I loved the rain.
After everyone was ready, I explained where we were going and we set off down the hill to the valley.
We found Highway 503 and followed it. I figured it would be about 20 miles to our destination. We could follow this road most of the way to the wolves as the majority of the route would be along mountains rising quickly to our left and a drop off to the Lewis River to our right. The infected would have to either come from behind us or in front of us...if there were any along this road.
We trekked for about 10 hours before we decided to stop for the day.. It was pretty uneventful, having come upon just one pack of infected. We hid from them as they passed us by, heading in the opposite direction as us. We would have put them down, but we knew that gun fire would only draw more of them. How I wished I had my bow.
I considered the place at which we were stopping the entrance to Yale Valley. It was a turn-out on the right side of the road that was used mainly as a view point for tourists. It looked out over the valley with a view of Lake Merwin and Wolverton Mountain. So beautiful. As it was like the rest of the route, straight up hill on the left of the road and straight down hill on the right, we would be some what safe here, even if out in the open. At least here, we were able to set up tents to keep us out of the rain while we slept.
Ben and Mitch gathered wood for a fire and Keith, Claire and I went over gun handling. Actually, it was more Keith than me. I didn't want to run the risk of offending another member of our party, even if she was annoying as hell.
As we sat around the fire that evening, Keith brought out his deck of cards. To me, it was almost a joke...those cards. Every time we went on a trip when we were younger, he had the deck of cards. It was like he didn't even want to wait until we were bored to play with them either. It seemed trip equated cards to him. I smiled.
Poker was the game of the night. We were using chores and the remaining luxury treats to bet with. Fire wood gathering, setting up tents, I even had some Jack's Links jerky left in my pack; so I bet it. I lost the jerky in that hand, but won the next, where the pot was trading early morning look-out, a half of a Twixx, a twenty dollar bill (which was pretty much useless), and a little more than a shot of Vodka (all that was remaining in Keith's flask). Keith watched me as I hid the vodka in my pack. I shot him a dirty look because I knew he was trying to think of a way to get it back. I made a mental note to remind Keith that we may need it later, not as booze, but as an anesthetic.
I quit after that hand because, you know, it's good to quit while your ahead. I watched the four play several more hands. Occasionally, I would look at Mitch. Never once did he glance at me. He had buttoned up the flannel shirt over his t-shirt. The hiking shorts he was wearing revealed that his legs were pretty pale, but I knew it was because loggers all wore long pants to work in. I tried to ignore the fact that Mitch was pretty hot. Perfect smile, strong shoulders, fantastic muscular legs... 'Knock it off, Anna', I thought. I shook my head and looked up towards the sky. The rain had stopped somewhere around 3 that afternoon, but I could not see the stars. I imagined it would rain again tonight.
Mitch had first watch again. I tried sleeping, but as being the next to watch, I knew I would only have to get up in two and a half hours. Forced sleep never comes. I laid there, wishing I was at home, curled up on the sofa with a beer and a movie. A BEER! I remember that I had one last Sam Adams in my pack. Oh man, it seemed like a fantasy to actually have one now! I quietly dug it out of my backpack and opened it. I quickly looked around. No one had noticed. Time to see if I could make amends with Mitch. I went over to him and sat down. "Hey", I said.
He turned his head slightly then went back to staring into the black night. "Hey."
"I brought a peace offering", I said and held up the lone beer. His big green eyes focus on the bottle in my hand and I saw a ever-so-slight smile come to his lips.
"The last one?"
"The one and only. I figured we could share and you could call me a nerdy hippie all that you wanted to."
Mitch turned his eyes to me. They stared into mine, made a quick look over my face then went back to my eyes. "You think I'm still upset", he stated. Right to the point. I normally appreciated directness, but this made me uncomfortable.
I blinked a few times. His eyes never left mine. "Yes...aren't you?" I managed to ask.
He smiled and I felt a wave of relief wash over me. "No. Your words stung a bit...but they are just words."
"Then why have you..." I started. "I haven't seen you look at me once today...and you've been pretty quiet."
Mitch's eyes now felt like he was trying to see past mine into my brain. I glanced away uncomfortably. His hand reached out and his fingers touched my hand as he slowly slid the warm bottle of beer from my grasp. His fingers dragged along my skin for a moment before he pulled his hand away. Was he trying to make me more uncomfortable? While I enjoyed his touch, it made me feel...scared...vulnerable. My eyes went back to his face and he was smiling. Mitch put the bottle to his lips and took a slow pull. He closed his eyes, "mmmmm", and handed the bottle back to me. "I sorta spent today thinking about all of this. How things just won't be the same, you know?"
I nodded and took a drink of the ale. Despite being warm, the beer was like heaven. I handed it back to Mitch. "If everything was the same, and we had finished the hike and made it back to our cars...what would you be doing right now?"
He laughed quietly. "I would hope this very same thing."
'Sitting outside, watching for zombies?' I wondered. "What do you mean?"
Mitch laughed again and had another drink from the beer. "Uh, well, once we reached the cars...", he started as he passed the beer back to me. "I had planned on...asking you out to dinner with me".
I froze. Was he serious? "Uh...like on...a date?" I heard my words and felt like an idiot as they came out of my mouth, but it was too late to stop them.
"Uh, yeah..." he looked at me. "Like on a date." Mitch waited a moment, as if he was letting the words sink in. "What would you have said...if I asked?"
My stomach felt as if it had turned upside down. I was never good with guys...once I knew that they had a thing for me. I wanted to get up and run away. I knew my pupils must have been the size of my entire iris at that point. The woods actually seemed bright. "uh..." I tried.
"It's okay", Mitch said.
"But..." I didn't want him to think my silence meant no! My head snapped around towards his face.
He had a kind smile on his lips. Mitch took the bottle from my hand and set it on the ground. Now that my hand was free, he took it in both of his hands. My hand seemed small in his. "What if's aren't always meant to be answered."
I wanted to look up at his face, but my head seemed to weigh tons. My eyes were frozen to our hands. I watched as he gently rubbed the back of my hand with his fingers. His hands were warm and rough, yet tender. After what seemed like an eternity, I was able to look at him. "I would have said yes." Oh, crap! Did I just say that? What the hell is wrong with me today?!
He smiled and picked the beer back up. "To what ifs, Anna." His left hand never left my right. Mitch took a drink of the beer and handed it back to me. He sat there for a moment, then leaned towards me and kissed my forehead. "I'll see you in the morning, beautiful."
Mitch went off to his tent, leaving me to rehash our conversation while finishing off the beer and stood my watch. I wondered what the next day would bring. The beer was gone in two swallows.