Frigid

Written: 2010

Setting: Post Apocalyptic

The Traveler turned the knob into the world. The instant that the old battered doors opened before him a rush of frigid air rushed into the room, turning his breath into a cold white mist. He gave a slight start at the sudden drop in temperature then brought up his protective mask over his mouth just as he bent down and slung his survival pack over his shoulders; strapped it on and then made sure that his long coat was fastened to his snow pants.

Assured that he wouldn’t freeze to death in the near future, he stepped out into the icy wasteland that had once held life. Once. Those days were long gone now. He turned, looking back at the heap of a shack that had given him shelter for the last few days. He was always loath to leave good cover from the beating rain and constantly falling snow, but as always he didn’t have a choice. He had to move on. His destination for the day wasn’t far, a small hours walk from where he was now, but he had to make it before midday when the harsh snow began falling.

He started forward, pulling his compass from out of a sleeve on his coat with his gloved hand as he started dragging his booted feat through the thick snow. Being used to it by now didn’t make walking through the thick snow any easier. Hopefully he would be able to find a pair of snow shoes one of these days, but it was a hollow hope and he knew it. The chance of finding anything in good repair, not just snow shoes had always been difficult, and the event three months ago had made it nearly impossible. If he was lucky then he might be able to find a custom pair made from some wire, but even those would take some very good luck to find as they would be a very valuable item.

Shrugging off the thoughts he trudged on, the strong ice-filled wind a constant reminder of how much harder it would be to travel without his coat. There had been times where it wasn’t unheard of to travel in lighter clothes in the mornings and evenings, but that was so long ago that he could hardly remember it. He checked his compass again to make sure that he was headed in the right direction. Even more important than his coat was his compass.

Even in the lighter times of weather visibility was bad, and if you were out in the middle of the day then there wasn’t likely to be any visibility at all, and certainly not enough to tell direction if there was. As such working compasses were a very precious commodity, and he was lucky enough to have two working ones. The one he was using now worked perfectly. The other one tended to defer towards West occasionally, but not to any significant amount. He had been given the finicky one as a gift when he was young, but the good one he had found a month ago on a corpse.

He shook his head. There were still parts of that corpse that puzzled him. It was certainly not the first corpse he had seen, it was inevitable that some would succumb to the cold eventually, but those corpses were always frozen and usually had been gone over by other wanderers with a fine tooth comb before he ever saw them. Either that or they hadn’t been found yet by anyone. In that case he helped himself to what he needed and said a short prayer for the dead. He always varied what religion the prayer was from because while wasn’t religious himself he didn’t think that anyone deserved to die that way, and so he hoped that they could find some comfort in whatever afterlife they went on to.

Rarely though he would find a different kind of corpse. It had only happened twice, but he always knew it when he saw it. A person that had been killed not by the cold, but by an object of some sort. He always kept himself well on his guard when he met other wanderers, because he knew that there were those that would survive no matter what the cost, even if that cost was human lives. Those corpses were always picked down to the last scrap of useful material.

The corpse that had the compass on it though had been seemingly mauled by something heavy and then the unconscious, or dead, man had been…eaten. He knew this was impossible; all animals that had ever lived there had long gone extinct and none could survive now if they hadn’t, but nevertheless the corpse had been left with the man’s survival pack and what was left of the clothes he had on when he died.

His survival pack had contained all the necessities of a wanderer; spare clothes, provisions, simple tools and the compass that he used now. The body itself however seemed to have been partially eaten, even care taken to avoid the bones. It would have to be a reasonably intelligent predator to do that if it was an animal. The other possibility, he shivered, and he knew it wasn’t from the cold, was cannibals, but that still didn’t explain why the provisions and the pack hadn’t been taken off of the body. Even cannibals had to protect themselves from the cold.

For the week or so afterward that he remained in the area he became more cautious than usual, picking more concealed places to sleep and take cover from the snow, but nothing ever happened and he never saw anyone, or anything, and so he went back to his usual routine. The mystery still bugged him though and he hoped to get to the bottom of it when he had the chance. For now though, he had to get to his destination. A place to sleep under cover and in relative warmth before midday was a necessity, and he had seen a spot that would work in his scouting session a few days ago.

Suddenly he felt a slight movement through his boot. He immediately dropped, whipping out his knife from the small compartment in his sleeve and stabbing it down towards where he had felt the movement. He heard a faint squeal, and smiled. There was in fact one type of animal that had adapted to life in this area. They called them squirts, but his grandpa had told him that they had been rats or gophers before the disaster. Whatever they used to be, they evolved into cold-resistant rodents ranging from as short as his thumb to as big as his hand. From the sound of it this one was pretty big. He pulled his knife up from out of his boot print and dug a little into the snow.

Yep! This one was almost as big as his hand. It would last him a full day, or two if need be.  He took off his survival pack and put the squirt’s body into one of the pouches he reserved for food. He grimaced; he didn’t have much food left. Hopefully his information was right and there was a settlement ahead. He had never run into more than two or three other people since he started traveling. One of them was nice enough to teach him the elementary bits about surviving out in the cold. He had even found him a survival pack to use. The old man had also told him about a settlement to the West and that he himself was headed for. That man had helped remind him that there was still kindness in the world, even after everything that had happened to him.

He smiled as he stood up, remembering the old man’s kindness. He had barely said two words with anyone else since then, and he missed talking to other people. Sighing, he took a step forward and stopped dead before his boot touched the ground. He stepped back and took a closer look at the snow in front of him. There was a survival pack sticking face up from under the snow. He moved over by it and, gingerly, tried to get it out of the snow, but it wouldn’t budge.

Sighing he began to dig into the snow around it a little, but then he hit back. Someone’s back. He carefully dug around the body, and then flipped it over. It was the old man, but his chest had been…clawed out by something. His chest was such a mess that you could barely tell what it was. His head fell and he felt sadness. The only bright part of his new life had been killed by…by what? His sadness was immediately replaced by adrenaline and fear as he pulled out his knife and frantically started looking around. After 5 minutes of looking at nothing but snow, he finally relaxed a little, but he still kept his knife stuck into the ground beside him while he said his prayer for the man.

The prayer was longer than usual; in fact he sat there for twenty minutes saying every prayer he could remember, but he hoped that wherever the man went it was better than this. Better than this god forsaken world. He jammed his knife back into its slot and walked away. The man deserved better, the least he could do was leave him with the pack that had kept him alive in the wasteland. He turned and walked on as he blinked a tear out of his eye at the corpse vanished into the distance behind his back.

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