Short Story – Halfway to the Haven
I had some writer’s block slowing my writing for a few weeks. I was working on this one and just didn’t really know where it was going. I forced myself to push on and just figure it out.
About halfway through, I had an “a-ha” moment where I finally realized what I was writing. Then I had to go back and make some massive changes on the opening. Eventually, I came up with this.
I can’t deny there is more to this story. I expect a lot of readers are going to have questions and I do have answers to a lot of them. I left a lot of stuff intentionally vague because I think it is more interesting if the reader comes up with their own ideas about certain parts of the story.
If you do read any of my writing – thanks! I’m always interested in your feedback and thoughts about my writing.
Ten days after it began, the blizzard finally loosened it’s grip on the mountain.
Natalie’s tent poles jutted just a few inches above the new fallen snow. Nearby, the tents of her companions were similarly buried.
For the first few days, they tried to stay in contact via radio. A realization they needed to conserve power meant the last seven days had been silent but for the hourly roll call to make sure everyone was still alive, alert, and normal.
Five days ago, all ten still answered. That was when Harry lost it and announced he was going down to the village to get help.
Everyone tried to remind him that they had climbed the mountain because there was no help to be found in the village below. They needed to wait it out so they could press on to the haven. Most of all, they needed to make sure the villagers didn’t know where to find them.
Nothing would convince Harry to abandon his plan. The cold and the hunger eventually resulted in a psychotic break from which he would never return. As he started down the mountain, Natalie heard a shot. She didn’t know which one of her companions stopped him. She only knew she was grateful they made a decision she was trying to avoid.
A short while later, Billie and George stopped answering. At the time, the storm was so severe, there was no way anyone could go outside to check on them. During a break in the weather, Nicholas had climbed out to search for them. He finally located signs of their equipment two hundred feet below the ledge on which they were camped. It appeared the snow beneath had given way.
Nicholas tried to climb down to make sure they were dead. He never came back.
Natalie continued to answer the each roll call as their party dwindled from ten to six to three. Only once did she wonder if death on the mountain would be better than death in the civilized world below. Then she thought about seeing her husband’s skin removed from his body while he was still alive. She remembered watching someone who had been set on fire burn to ashes and scream in pain until there was almost nothing left.
She remembered the extremes to which the humans had gone to find those who were different. They killed millions of their own just trying to find people like her. Once the humans had realized her people existed, the only haven left was in the mountains.
If you could reach it.
She climbed out of her tent and looked around. Harry lay on the ground about one hundred feet away. A bullet had pierced his heart with the precision required to ensure it wouldn’t start beating again.
Laura and Bert were alive, their minds still intact because they had brought enough food to wait out the storm.
Kyle and Val were frozen but that didn’t mean they were dead. Bert shot both of them in the head. Just to be sure.
The humans weren’t wrong to be afraid. Natalie’s people were dangerous when they were hungry. Even to their own kind. And if they went feral, you certainly didn’t want them to know your weak spot. The spot that would kill you.
One of the requirements of joining this unit was everyone had to reveal their weakness. If you went feral, everyone had to know how to kill you. On the other hand, if you went feral, you knew how to kill everyone else.
To humans, the weak spots gave the appearance of immortality. In truth, it just made Natalie’s people extremely difficult to kill unless you got lucky. Once the humans figured out they could be killed, they decided the best option was to completely destroy the body. Maybe they found the right spot early. Maybe it took a long time. It usually took a long time.
Walt’s tent had been torn to pieces and he was nowhere to be found. Days of wind and snowfall had removed any possibility of tracking him. But the odds were he was close.
“Damn it,” Laura said, “Walter’s gone. We gotta find him or…”
“I know,” Natalie agreed.
Before they found Walt, though, they had to check on Billie, George and Nicholas. If any of those three were still alive, Walter wouldn’t be their only problem.
Nicholas wasn’t a risk. They found his body about a hundred feet below their ledge. His head had been severed when he landed on a sharp outcropping of rock. Natalie found the head and bagged it. If they could reach the haven, the head would need to be destroyed. Without a body, though, it wasn’t an immediate danger.
Walt had found Bille and George and they were in bad shape. The fall had broken them too much to move but it hadn’t killed them. He’d torn the arms from Billie’s torso and clawed out George’s eyes. Then he had eaten as much of their remains as he could.
It should have been enough to bring him back. To restore some lucidity. Unless he was one of those who simply never came back.
“What are we going to do, Nat,” Laura asked, “where do you think he went?”
“We know he won’t go back to the village,” Natalie reasoned, “even feral he would remember how they tried to kill us there. So we’ve got to assume he’ll head for the haven. That means we’ve got to find him before he gets there.”
“Won’t they just kill him when he gets there?”
“You know the rules,” Bert reminded her, “We let a feral reach the gateway of the haven and there’s no sanctuary for us. Let’s pack up and move on. Worst case scenario is he’s got a couple days on us. That would be bad.”
As Bert spoke, he checked his pistol. Natalie was certain it was Bert who fired the shot that stopped Harry.
Before the humans had discovered what he was, Bert had been a soldier. All of them were just normal people living normal – if extremely long – lives. Laura had been a travel agent. Natalie was an accountant. Walter had been a chef. Now they were all refugees from a world that seemed focused on eradicating all evidence of their existence.
They gathered supplies from all of the campsites. With only three of them left, there was enough food to last until they reached the haven. Assuming they could find Walt. He was probably nearby. If he was still feral, he’d know the best place to find food.
As they packed up their tents, Natalie listened for the heavy, choked breathing she knew she would hear if Walter was near. A feral almost sounded like they were gargling blood.
Those who had gone feral and returned described it as a hunger that was so completely overwhelming, their throats were almost clogged with drool. They had to fill themselves to the point of pain in order to slake the desire for raw, bloody meat.
Bert cocked his gun.
Natalie looked up to see Walt leaping from a ledge above them. Bert fired three rounds but they only struck Walt in the chest. That didn’t even slow him down.
Walter landed and sprang onto Bert. He was pretty far gone but not so far he didn’t recognize his most important target was someone with combat experience. Bert pulled out his knife but Walt was fast enough to avoid the initial thrust. With precision, he dug his nails deeply into Bert’s armpit and it was over. The attack was so fast, Bert collapsed without a cry of pain.
He may have been feral, but he was still more humane than the humans.
Walt turned to Laura and Natalie next. Now that Bert was gone, he moved more slowly, almost as if he was playing with his food.
“Maybe if we let him eat Bert, he’ll come back to us,” Laura whispered.
“No. Look at his eyes, Laura. He’s not coming back from this. He likes it too much.”
Walt smiled a jagged toothed grin that showed he understood her just enough to agree. Then he sprang at Laura, whose clumsy response to his attack almost surely was going to get her killed.
At least it would have had Natalie not wrapped her arm around his neck and used her other arm to pry his jaw open. With a strength Walt would not have assumed she had, she wrenched his neck towards her face. He stared at her, struggling against power he’d never experienced.
She reached her fingers into his mouth, pulled out his tongue and bit it off. Blood sprayed from his mouth onto her face and the snow at her feet. He flailed wildly as the strength left his body. When he had no muscle control left, his body fell over the ledge and landed in the rocks next to the bodies of Billie and George.
Laura looked at Natalie. “How did…? I thought you were an accountant.”
Natalie found a towel so she could wipe the blood off of her face.
“You know some of us are hunters. Bred to stop the feral before they can do lasting harm to our people.”
“I’ve thought hunters were a myth.”
“As long as everyone think it’s a myth, nobody will see us coming.”
“If you are supposed to stop them before it’s too late, how did the humans find out about us?”
“A hunter went feral.”
“I know. It isn’t supposed to be possible.”
“Did they catch..?”
“What do we do, Nat?”
“First, I’m going to get you to the haven. Then I’m going to find her.”
“After all the humans have done to us, I don’t really care what she does to them.”
“Yeah – I get that. But she knows where the haven is. Hunters are hard to kill, Laura. What if she finds the haven? It’s the only home we have left. We have to protect it.”
Laura looked at Natalie and sighed. She crouched down over Bert’s body and took his pistol and knife.
“I guess,” she said, “we should figure out how to get down from this mountain.”
Natalie shook her head, “you don’t have the skills…”
“Doesn’t matter, Nat. Until we stop her, none of us is safe, right? Someone should have your back and it might as well be me. Let’s get going.”