My Story: Find Your Way

“Don’t think I won’t shoot a woman.” How had these become such common words for me? I was just like any other person trying to survive this world; though I suppose after the Last War people don’t expect others to be very friendly or trustworthy. People will do anything to survive.

The Last War was in 2022, and it ravaged our planet. In the years before the war a business man named James Weston controlled many of the economically failing countries of the world; everyone thought he was a savior for helping to keep people alive. But no one knew what his real business was. In the secret world of theft and the black market he was a leader in illegal weapons sales and biological testing for weapons. The very countries he was praised for saving and feeding were full of his experiments.

In 2021 word got out about the testing Weston was doing. Many countries didn’t respond to the out cries to help the controlled civilizations until Weston stopped the illusion of health he had fixed on his subjects and tried to sell his “Bio Soldiers” to the highest bidder. The Bio Soldiers were the people who had survived the horrific transformation from humans to monsters that had no intent. They only lived to eat; they would eat anything or anyone stupid enough to stay in their path. They couldn’t be stopped or controlled. But the Bio Soldiers had a hidden twist. Anyone that did happen to survive the attack was infected with a virus. We call it Mites. If you are bitten by a Bio you start to transform into one of them, but not completely. You become the half breed Mite.

Mites live off the blood of any living organism and have no cares of right or wrong. They seek only pleasures. No one ever survives a Mite attack. And there’s usually no evidence left either.

Once the world knew of the new evils that Weston had created the countries had that had means to fight back tried. In 2022 war was official, though at the time it was called the Bio War. Weston used his Bio Soldiers and the world used any form of biological weapon we could. It was the new kind of war, science against seer will power. Other than the loss of Bio Soldiers, soldiers were not used, only bombs with gases that would do unimaginable horrors.

Gases and chemicals were dropped on cities and the entirety would never be heard of again. People would come to the small settlements that would form in the mountains and deserts with mysterious burns and scars and just being able to describe the bombs falling into their city. Big black orbs falling and embedding themselves into the pavement and with an evil hiss a strange orange chemical spills out. The orange substance is neither liquid nor gas, but it travels on the wind and if it makes contact with you it burns your skin down to the bone. The survivors don’t know how they were able to escape but tell of how they ran from the clouds of liquid fire, not even stopping to turn when they would hear the piecing screams of the ones who could not out run it.

But not even the fire bombs raining down on all of us wasn’t the worst Weston would do. He opened up all his secret labs and released the Bios on us all. Mites started to overrun the lands. Large cities started to crumple down on top of themselves. No one could be safe from everything. Cities that still remained standing built walls trying to block out the Mites, but Weston would send the gases pouring down inside the walls and none would escape. Only those that tried to stay in small groups and on the move could stay alive; we got weapons and learned to use them.

Weston dealt his final blow however on July 3, 2022. Weston had developed a new weapon. He called it an atomic proliferator; a bomb that sent shock waves of steroids throughout the human body and caused the body’s atoms to divide at a super increased speed causing the body to explode. It’s amazing that this weapon didn’t have any aftershocks or effects. It only killed then was no more. Every major city got one of these bombs. One was enough; the bomb could cover a fifty mile radius and didn’t stop until every living thing in that area was dead.

But I suppose we can’t blame everything that’s wrong with our world on Weston. Maybe he knew how people would react, maybe not…When the first signs of war people started to tear each other apart. Religious fanatics said it was the price of our sins and extremists became violent. Many years before the wars of the future were ever even thought of people looked to God and knowledge. A new religion came about called the Illuminist s. A form of Illuminati, but still very deeply seeded into God.

Illuminists were looked down upon from the very beginning. Others believed that mankind was not meant to know all and that if we were to know things God would give us the answer. During the time of the war the extremists decided that the Illuminist s were a problem, a very large problem. They hunted down any Illuminists and if they would not denounce their faith they would be killed. Many died, but then the gases became a savior to them. The extremists were dying out just as quickly as the Illuminists were being exterminated.

Now our world is in ruin. What little people are left fight to just survive, but eventually everything has to end. Weston hides in his tower of industry. He’s the only one left in the world that has technology more advanced than indoor plumbing and house lights. No one bothers to try and fight him now. There’s no point to try. We don’t have weapons more advanced than rifles and shotguns. No one knows how long we’ll be able to survive out on our own, but maybe we’ll be able to stay alive long enough to make some good from this chaos.

I am Morgan. I live in a small settlement in what used to be Arizona called Sunset Valley. It’s been ten years since the war. Sunset is a small place where survivors come to hide. No one really knows it’s here; it’s just a small speck in the dirt.

Chapter 1

“Morgan! Come quick there’s a stranger and he’s survived a Mite attack!” a little girl named Toby tells me as she pulls me from my chair. Toby came to me because she knows I have rules. If anyone comes into Sunset after a Mite attack and they’ve been bitten I kill them. I may only be twenty, but I am not too young to not know danger when I see it. I’ve become a good shot and I know the lands around here, so I’ve become the unofficial guide for these parts.

“Toby, you shouldn’t be here for this,” I say as he leads me to the general store where a crowd has formed.

“I know, but I want to see you at work!” Toby is my shadow sometimes, my apprentice at times. But she shouldn’t be seeing me killing someone sick when she’s only eight years old.

“Toby,” I say looking down at her.

“Can I just watch for a little while? I’ll leave before anything bad happens,” she pleads.

“Okay,” I sigh. The sawed off shotgun felt heavy in the leather holster that was strapped to my leg. Toby was like a little sister to me. She was practically family for me, the only family I had now. She beamed with happiness as we stepped into the store.

Townspeople were gathered into the small store whispering together. They all turned and looked at us as Toby and I walked in. They made way for me as I stepped up to the counter. I could hear whispers like, “Oh thank goodness Morgan’s here,” and, “She’ll have to kill him.”

On the counter lay a young man. He was tall with light hair and was covered in blood. Most of the blood was dry like he had been covered in it for more than a day. He looked tired, but still human.

“Morgan, this man was found a little ways outside of town unconscious. He has a few scrapes wounds, but I haven’t found bite marks and he’s not changing,” Dr. Price said walking up to me.

“Thanks, Doc. Has he said anything?” I ask the old man.

“He just keeps saying he’s fine and how he has to get to the Tower. I think he might be in shock or have heat stroke,” Dr. Price explains.

“Okay,” I say walking over to the counter. “What’s your name?” I ask the man.

“Ryan,” he says. “Listen, you seem to be in charge here, so I’ll tell you now that I am fine. I managed to out run the Mites and I didn’t get hurt that bad,” he says quickly.

“You can’t out run Mites on foot,” I say looking down at him. I can see him looking over me and probably wondering how a woman came to be in charge here. “I am Morgan. You might as well get comfortable, because you’re not going anywhere for a couple of days. At least until we’re sure you’re not going to change into a Mite,” I explain to him.

“What? No, I can’t stay here. I have to keep moving. No one is safe,” he protests sitting up.

“Don’t worry, we’re safe here. We just want to make sure you’re not infected or if there’s anything we need to worry about from you. No one’s ever survived a Mite attack,” I smile. “When we’re satisfied that you’re not a danger you can leave or if you wish you can stay here.”

“Where will he stay, Morgan?” Dupree, the store owner asked.

“Well I take it you’d like to have a clear and clean store still Dupree, so I’ll take him. Plus that way if there’s any trouble I’ll be close by,” I say looking up at the store owner. Dupree was an older man and used to be an extremist. He didn’t like people and he didn’t feel he should hide that fact. Dupree knew I wouldn’t allow him to be an extremist here when so many people came from so many different lifestyles to this place where we depended on each other. If a person could pull their own weight they were welcome.

I was expecting Ryan to continue arguing about how he couldn’t stay here, but he didn’t argue anymore. He looked down at the floor and jumped down from the counter. “Okay, where is it that you’re putting me?”

“You’re just going to be staying in my spare room,” I explain. “We don’t exactly have a jail cell we can put you in, but if you start showing some bad signs we can lock you in. But hopefully you won’t get sick,” I say leading him out of the store with Toby trailing after us.

“So, Mites are an illness?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say looking back at him in disbelief. “Where have you been, under a rock?”

“You could say that I suppose,” he mumbled. He didn’t say anything more as he followed me through the small town. I lived in an old abandoned church, one of the few buildings left standing here when we first found the small ghost town. “So where do you live? I don’t see any more houses,” Ryan commented. Toby giggled behind us.

“She lives right there silly,” she said running ahead of us. She loved the old bell tower and all the pictures that still hung on the walls. She slept here most nights. She was more my daughter than anyone else’s. We had saved her from Mites five years ago, but she was an orphan. Folks here took care of her best they could, but she chose me to be her guardian.

“Wait, you live in a church?” he asked in disbelief. “So this town is religious?”

“Yes, I live in what used to be a church,” I reply. “And people in this town can be whatever they choice to be as long as they’re civil and don’t cause each other harm.”

“So you don’t have a preacher or anything here?” he asks looking up at me.

“We haven’t had much need for a religious man in our days here,” I smirked as I unlock the old rust door.

“We all need God in our lives these days,” Ryan replied looking down. “So, people can be whatever they wish in this town and not be harmed for it or ridiculed?”

“That’s right,” I whisper. He’s an Illuminist … “We take care of each other here and if people can’t be civilized we vote and the problem is expelled.”

“You sound like you’ve taken charge of this place quite well,” he said turning and looking hard at me.

“I didn’t just take charge, if that’s what you mean. I just knew the ways of this place when hell started raining down on us,” I snap.

“Well what are you Morgan? Self-pronounced leader or something else?”

“I am just a person trying to survive in this world,” I say looking over as Toby runs from door to the stair way leading to the tower. “I may not have much to live for, but it’s enough for me.”

Ryan watched as Toby ran up the spiral staircase. “Is she your daughter?”

“No, she’s not related to me at all,” I sigh as I take off my shotgun and set it on a small table by the door. I could feel a hollow pain inside. He doesn’t know.

“Then why does she…” he trailed off looking for the right words.

“Follow me around like a puppy?” I laughed. “Because I let her. She’s my apprentice of sort,” I smile. “I saved Toby from Mites five years back, she was only three years old. For some reason she only trusted me and only wants to be with me. So I let her stay and she’s learning all that I know,” I explain.

“But you wish she was your own,” he says watching me.

“At times it would make things easier, but I can’t imagine trying to raise or even bring children into this world the way it is now,” I mumble. “No, Toby’s really the only family I got, so I am happy.”

“So you’re truly happy with the life you have here?” he asks in disbelief.

“Well, it may not be much of a life, but its life none the less and it’s better to being living and have what you need than to not,” I explain leading him down the long dark hallway to where he would be staying.

“But compared to life before this if you could go back wouldn’t you?”

“I don’t remember much from the world before this,” I admitted. “I was young when the war first started and that was ten years ago,” I mumbled as I took the large ring of keys from my pocket and looked for the right one.

“How old are you?” He sounded shocked to find out I was so young.

“To tell the truth I don’t remember exactly. Records were burned in the old fires. Best I can tell you is I am around twenty,” I explain looking up from the lock.

“You don’t even know how old you really are?” he asked sounding horrified.

“Nope, and that doesn’t stop me from taking charge,” I say sensing his unasked question.

“But surely there are those here who would rather have an older person take control,” he sounded worried that there really was a great threat of danger here.

“No, not really,” I reply. “I know this area the best and I’ve lived here the longest. Sure Dupree may think he runs this town with his store, but due to his past everyone is more likely to follow and trust me more than they ever would him,” I say pushing the old door open.

Ryan follows me into the old room. It was an old storage room, but I had collected tables and chairs and blankets to satisfy as a bed. “What do you mean his past?”

“Dupree use to be an extremist. No one knows how active he was, but we try to leave that in the past.”

“Dupree was an extremist? Like hunting Illuminist s extremist?” he sounded worried.

“Yeah,” I answered like it was nothing. It was nothing now, but the things that had been done could never be undone. “But such acts aren’t allowed here,” I mumble as I unfolded the blankets on top of the make sift bed.

“This all seems rather routine for you,” Ryan said almost sounding concerned.

“Well after ten years or so you get use to most of what you see. But sometimes that’s best,” I reply looking up. “It’s better to be accustomed with this life than let things surprise you.”

“Thank you for letting me stay here.”

“Well what other choice did we have? We don’t have a jail and if Dupree and half the town had their way you would have been shot on sight,” I laughed.

“Why?” he asked sounding shocked and scared.

“No one has ever survived a Mite attack, that’s why everyone is so scared.”

“Why? Why are they scared? What hasn’t anyone ever survived?”

“You’re serious? You really don’t know about this?” He stared at me blankly for a moment. He looked like he was lost. How could someone live ten years after the war and not know about the world as it is now? “Mites are parasites that used to be human. They were the victims of the Bios once.”

“The Bios?” he asked. How could he not even know about Bios?

“The Biological Soldiers? How do you not know about the Bios?” I say looking at him in amazement. “Where have you been for these ten years?”

“I know what the Biological Soldiers. I’ve just never them referred to as Bios,” he tries to explain.

“But where have you been? You didn’t even know about Mites and you probably don’t even realize that most people can’t reproduce anymore.”

“What? How?” he asked looking shocked.

“The chemical bombs,” I said frowning. “Anyone who had direct contact with the chemicals has a large chance of being sterile and if they can manage to get pregnant there’s an even larger chance that the baby will be deformed or not even reach labor. So children are now treasured items.”

“My God,” he gasped. “But Toby, she’s still young. She could be okay. She could be the key!”

“The key to what?” I ask with premature anger coating my voice. “The key to rebuilding what? The human society and the terrible world so that we can bomb it with liquid fire and gases again? No, I will not put Toby through that!” I said sternly.

“But she could help us restart this planet. Restart it the way it should be,” he started.

“Oh and how is that?”

“’When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’”

“How does that apply to Toby? You are suggesting she help rebuild the human race,” I ask a little astounded by the bible verse he quoted.

“She is a child that is pure. She will grow up some day and put away childish things and help to save this world,” he smiled.

“You don’t know that,” I whispered walking to the door.

“But I hope for it,” I heard him mumble as I shut the door behind me.

It was quiet that night. I had Toby stay with old Ms. Masters, an old friend of mine from before the war started. I knew that if Ryan changed into a Mite it would be a loud and violent thing. Toby didn’t need to see or hear that.

I just sat in my room listening all night. I never did sleep much but I wanted to be sure to hear if something did happen. No one knows what happens when someone changes into a Mite. I doubt it’s an enjoyable experience.

What could he mean? Toby could save us all. She’s just a little girl. She is still so small and helpless. I can’t let her be put into harm’s way just because some guys found in the desert thinks she can save the human race because she’s “pure”. I don’t even know if she’s been exposed to the chemical bombs before…”

Chapter 2

Toby

There’s a small black dot in the sky. It keeps getting bigger. The ball falls and crashes through the roof of a building across the street from my house. I can hear a sound coming from it. It sounds like a snake. The house is filling with an orange cloud and the people are running outside from it screaming. I see one of them fall on the ground screaming for someone to help them. The mist is starting to creep towards my house. I hear someone screaming.

“Toby, Toby, it’s okay. It was just a dream,” Ms. Masters whispers.

“I want to go back to Morgan’s!” I cry.

“But it’s still very early in the morning Toby. She might not be awake,” Ms. Masters frowned.

“She’ll be awake! And even if she isn’t, she won’t mind!” I cried.

“Ok Toby,” Ms. Masters sighed. “Do you want me to walk with you?”

“No, I’ll be okay!” I say running for the door. It isn’t far to Morgan’s. I can be there in a few seconds.

Morgan will keep me safe. I know she will. Even from the bad dreams and monsters.

I can see the building and there are a few lights on. She’s awake! I run through the front door and down the hall to her room. The door is open and she’s sitting on her bed reading.

“Toby, what are you doing back so early?” she asks looking up from her book. There’s a small spark in her eyes like she wasn’t sure it was me at first.

“I had a bad dream,” I frown walking into the room.

“Oh, I am sorry honey,” she says helping me into her high bed. “Do you want to tell me about it?”

“There was this black circle thing that fell from the sky. It fell into a house and made this sound that scared everyone.”

“What kind of sound?” I could feel Morgan’s eyes studying my face.

“It sounded like a snake. It hissed,” I explain.

“Then what happened?” she asked her eyes still on me.

“This orange stuff started filling up the house and the people inside were screaming and started to run outside. One of them fell and was crying for someone to help them,” I say my voice quivering.

“Was that all of your dream?”

“Yes, there was someone screaming though,” I reply, “at the end.”

“Where was this happening?” Morgan asked her voice very steady. I could see her mind working and trying to force herself to stay calm.

“I don’t know. It wasn’t here. I didn’t recognize any of the buildings,” I say. “What’s wrong Morgan?”

“Nothing darling,” she smiles. “Are you still tired? It is really early.”

“A little I guess,” I answer rubbing my eyes. Morgan’s bed was always so warm and comfy.

“Well why don’t you try to fall asleep and I’ll go start looking around for something for you to eat when you wake up,” she smiles.

She starts to get out of the bed but I stop her. “Can you just stay until I fall asleep?”

“Okay love,” she smiles as she lies back down and puts her arm around my shoulders.

I wonder what she has on her mind…I won’t ask her though. She gets mad when I ask her things she doesn’t want to tell me. I wonder if it had to do with the strange man…

I can feel my eyes starting to fall as Morgan’s warmth over takes me…

Chapter 3

Toby had finally fallen back asleep and I managed to slip out from under her head. Could her dream mean that before she came to us she had been exposed to the chemical bombs? She didn’t have any odd scars that I knew of that are common from the bombs.

I walked into the area I had made into a kitchen. I had found an old stove top oven here and a sink. I had moved an old refrigerator from one of the old houses that were abandoned. We had to be careful what we ate. If the grains or animal we killed had been exposed to some of the toxins of the bombs it would poison us. Toby and I had our own little garden behind my home that we kept hidden and a strict eye on.

I decided to make Toby some corn cakes for breakfast. I went to the storage closet where I kept the corn meal and other supplies hidden. If everyone knew about our garden we’d be feeding far too many to survive. I may be the unofficial leader around here but I won’t be trying to feed the whole village by myself. I encourage everyone to try and be self-sufficient.

I opened the barrel of corn meal and brought out the cup full. “Oh dear…we’re going to have to grind more corn soon,” I said aloud looking at the almost empty barrel.

“You have corn?” I heard someone ask. I dropped the cup of corn meal and flew across the room while grabbing the blade hidden at my back. It was Ryan. I had him pinned to the wall with the blade at his throat.

“Whoa! It’s just me!” he gasped as a bead of sweat raced down his check.

“How’d you get out of your room?” I asked sternly. “I locked you in.”

“I stole your keys,” he said holding up my keys. They shook in his hand.

I glared at him and snatched the keys away from him as I let him off the wall. He’d scared me pretty well. I am only used to Toby’s quiet, hurried steps and he didn’t make a sound coming down the hall. “Sorry,” I mumbled sheathing the knife again.

“Are you always on guard like that?”

“If you want to survive here you have to be,” I said picking up the cup of corn meal again.

“Why? There are people around, places to hide, you’re safe here,” he stated.

“Oh, are we now?” I asked coyly. “Sometimes that’s what you have to worry about, other people.”

“You don’t trust anyone do you?” he mumbled.

“Why would I?” I said absently as I continued gathering things.

“You have to trust people sometime,” Ryan said. “And God.”

“Now why would I do that? People did all of this and God didn’t do anything to stop it,” I say angrily.

“Morgan, just because people do bad things doesn’t mean you should blame God,” Ryan said taking a few steps towards me. “God is always there for us, even when we don’t believe in him.”

“Oh I believe in him, I just don’t believe he cares what happens anymore,” I snapped back. “When Weston started dropping chemicals and bombs on us who tried to help and save us?” I asked sternly. Ryan just stared looking afraid of what might happen to him if he stayed here any longer. “No one,” I continued after a few minutes. “God didn’t try to save us. He didn’t even try to warn us or give us hints of how to survive. He has forsaken us,” I whisper.

“No he hasn’t,” Ryan whispered back. I could tell he was trying to be the strong man who somehow got the lost woman back on track, but the shakes in his voice and his constant eyeing of me made it hard to not just laugh at him. I think he was just more worried of what I’d do if he pissed me off.

“How do you know?” I ask looking up at him.

“Because he made this place, he made somewhere safe for us to come. We can start a new life here,” said taking steps towards me. “We can reunite people and start life over again for the human race.” His voice was growing soft and tender and his hands were almost reaching for me. I didn’t like the slow steps he kept advancing towards me with. He wasn’t paying attention to what weapons I had anymore. He was just focused on me.

I reached for the knife at my back again, slowly this time. He kept advancing towards me, slowly but surely. He was staring at my face reading it. I made sure to look weak and fragile. Ryan was only inches from me now. He was breathing slowly and was reaching his arms out for me now. I closed my eyes and bowed my head a little towards him.

With a quick flick I had my knife at his stomach. He froze instantly, eyes wide. “I suggest if you want to stay fully intact,” I say tapping him with my knife,” you listen real good to this. This settlement is not here to repopulate the earth. The few that you met yesterday are the few that stays here for who knows why. And whatever you’re planning for Toby, I’d stop that plan. There is no way in hell I’d let her ever be alone with you.” I say pushing him back and walking past him.

“Oh, and if you ever try anything like that again I will kill you,” I say turning to face him again. His face was pale and wet with sweat. I could see his hands shaking and his legs on the verge of giving way. “Now get out of my kitchen,” I ordered him. He quickly walked out of the room as I continued making Toby’s breakfast.

Chapter 4

“So, is he safe to be around?” Dr. Price asks me as I walk into the store.

“I think so…,” I mumble looking at what ammunition Dupree had.

“What do you mean? Is he infected or not?” Dr. Price pushed.

“He’s not infected, but he’s poisonous to be around,” I say looking up at him.

“What do you mean?” Dr. Price was always the concerned father figure of the settlement.

“I am not sure what he’s planning yet, but he’s up to something. I know he is,” I say sternly. “I just have a bad feeling about him.”

“Well what do you suppose we should do about him? Is he a threat to Sunset?”

“I don’t know. But I do think he should leave very soon. He’s got some weird idea that people should start trying to repopulate the earth or something like that.”
“Well what’s wrong with that Morgan?”

“He doesn’t mean it Doc. I wouldn’t mind his idealism if he actually meant it. He’s just trying to score,” I sigh. “It’s a shame too. We need people who want to just improve humanity.”

“I see. I agree with you. He needs to leave,” Doc said looking down. “I was hoping he would stay though. He seemed like such a good kid.”

“He’s not a kid Doc, I think he knows exactly what he’s doing,” I say turning back to the ammunition.

“So how are you going to get him to leave? He seems quite content being here,” I could hear stress in his voice.

“What makes you say that?” I ask looking up at him. He was looking outside the window. Ryan was walking around looking at all the buildings and any people that were out.

I dropped the ammunition and head for the back door. “Morgan, what are you doing?” Doc asked.

“Oh you know me Doc. I am going hunting,” I wink.

“Don’t hurt him too bad honey,” he laughed.

The back door led to a small alley that ran in between most of the main buildings in Sunset. It was easy to hide or sneak around the settlement. You just had to keep a good eye on your mark. That was the hardest part, trying to look around corners without being seen.

Ryan was only a few yards from my hiding spot. I could hear him talking to one of the young teenager girls, sounded like young Becky Barns. The poor girl would fall for anything. She’d had a string of “lovers” throughout her life and just as many failed pregnancies.

“How can you be so sure everything will be okay with so many people dying and now that everything is so hard now? I can’t imagine trying to raise a child in these times now,” she whispered.

“That’s because you think you’re alone,” I heard Ryan breathe into her ear.

“Aren’t I though?” she mumbled. “I have no family.”

“Perhaps, but there’s always God. He’ll never forsake you. And I know a sweet girl like you could have no problem finding a man who will take care of you.”

“Poor girl, I can’t believe she’s listening to this. I hope she doesn’t fall for this.”

“Well, I wouldn’t know about that,” I hear her giggle.

“Oh lord,” I mumble.

“And who would you be spying on now?”

I jump and grab for the blade at my back. A hand catches mine mid swing.

“Slow down there. I don’t need you trying to hack off another limb of mine,” a man whispers. “It’s only me,” he says spinning me around in front of him.

“Ha, you always were the only person who could sneak up on me, Jesse,” I say smiling up at the tall dark haired man next to me.

“It’s a gift,” he laughs. “So, who are you watching?”

“You’ve been out too long,” I laugh. “While you were out someone found a straggler. Said he was attacked by Mites. I’ve been watching him since then to see if he turns, but he hasn’t. All he’s done is accomplished pissing me off,” I mumble glancing around the corner and seeing Ryan turning away with Becky.

“Oh? And what could he have done to piss you off?” Jesse smiles.

“He has some repopulate the Earth notion. He’s hitting on any female that still could have a chance baring children,” I explain turning back to him.

“Well he sounds like he needs to get out of Sunset,” Jesse says sternly.

“Yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking,” I saying looking down. Jesse was my favorite person in Sunset. He’d been here just as long as I had, but he liked to go out into the desert on his own. He didn’t like all the drama that could happen in Sunset. I knew he’d agree with me. Plus Jesse was always slightly protective of me.

“Do you need help getting him to take the hint?” Jesse asks his face very serious.

“Sure, you can stay for dinner if you like too,” I smile. “Toby will be happy you’re back.”

“I am sure she will be happy to see me. I am happy I am back. It’s been too long,” he whispers.

“Just be nice and don’t hurt the schemer,” I laugh.

“No promises,” he smiles taking my hand and leading me out of the alley.

“Jesse!” Toby screamed running out of the house when she saw us walking back from the settlement.

“Ah! There’s my little hunter,” Jesse smiled hugging her.

“You’ve been gone for so long!” she sighed. “Did you bring me back anything?” she said squirming in his arms.

“I did actually,” he smiled. “You’re going to like this too,” he says to me.

“Oh?” I smile.

“Yeah,” he says digging in his bag. He brings out an old leather bound book. He opens it and pulls out a small pink flower.

“Oh! It’s so pretty!” Toby gushes. “What kind of flower is it?” she asks.

“It’s called a Morning Glory,” I say. “Where did you find this?” I say looking up at Jesse.

“On the Northern rim,” he explains bringing out a map. “See right here.” He points to an area miles north of the settlement, where Canada once was.

“How did you get that far north?” I ask in amazement.

“Mostly walked,” he says. “That’s why I’ve been gone so long.”

Toby ran off to take the flower inside and left Jesse and I alone outside. “How did you get up north? North of here is no man’s land,” I ask him.

“Very carefully,” he laughed. “Most of it is still no man’s land, but if you travel cautiously you can get through. We should really try to move people up north. I don’t know if it’s because of the cold weather but for some reason once you’re past no man’s land the landscape is still beautiful and great for a settlement. It’s like the land has healed itself,” he explains.

“Wow. That’s amazing. I wonder if it could happen here…” I mumble.

“Well not everyone would make it,” Jesse frowns. “It’s dangerous going up there and we’d have to find some old town or start a totally new settlement.”

“Well we have a while to think about that,” I smile. “It’s not like we have to get out of Sunset very quickly.”

“Yes that’s true, but I think we probably should try and make a trip up there so you can see it and tell me what you think,” he explains with a smile.

“I think Toby would like that,” I smile back. “Oh Jesse, you know I can’t do this now…”

“I am sure she would,” he mumbles looking down.

“How long will you be staying for this time?” I mumble the question.

“I am staying for a while this time. I don’t have anywhere I need or want to go so I’ll just be staying around Sunset for a while,” he explains.

“Well you know you’re always welcome to stay here,” I smile motioning to the big building I called my home.

“I know,” he smiled. “I am glad you’re so generous. I know you like you’re privacy.”

“Oh you don’t have to worry about that. You’re like family Jesse,” I smile.

“Yeah,” he says looking down. “So shall we get rid of that creep out of your town?”

“Oh, it’s not my town,” I smile. “Thanks for helping with this by the way.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ve done so much for me this is the least I could do for you. And plus it sounds like you really need this guy out of here.”

“But I am sure I wouldn’t have any trouble handling this on my own,” I wink.

“Yeah but I can’t let you have all the fun now can I?” he smiled.

Chapter 5

Jesse

“Morgan always was too tough for her own good,” Jesse thought as he followed her into her home. “If only she would let people help her. But she never has trusted others…” The house was warm with the smell of something cooking, it smelled like a roast. “Why is her house always so warm and inviting for me? Everyone else sees her as a tough leader who shouldn’t be messed with, but she’s so much more…”

“So are you going to be staying here in your old room?” Morgan asked.

“Yeah, unless there’s another room you wanted to put me in.” “Why did I say that? Why didn’t I just say yes?” “So where is this punk you need out of here?”

“Probably over at little Becky Barns, that’s who he was snuggling up to in town,” she says her voice showing hints of annoyance. “We need him out of here. I can just tell he’s going to be trouble.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll have him out before morning,” I say reassuringly with a smile.

“I hope so…,” she mumbles. I could tell she was thinking about something else, worrying about it.

“She’s always thinking or worrying about something. I wish I could just make life easier for her…” “So when’s dinner?”

“Soon,” she smiles.

I follow her into the kitchen and watch as she takes out her roast from the old fashioned oven she salvaged. It smells delicious. “She always was such an amazing cook.” “What are you thinking about?” I ask seeing her eyes flashing like they do when she’s not paying attention to what she was doing.

“Nothing really,” she laughs. “Just wondering what I am going to do about Ryan.”

“Is that the schemer’s name?”

“Oh yes. I never did tell you his name did I?” she smiles.

“No, you hadn’t,” I chuckle. “What do you mean what to do about Ryan?”

“What to do with him if he won’t leave. What if he pulls the whole he won’t leave because he has nowhere else to go?”

“You can’t worry about him Morgan. You have to worry about the people in your town,” I say leaning against a table. “She is always so compassionate about other people. Even if they don’t deserve it…”

“It’s not my town,” she smiles as she cuts into the roast. A small strand of her long brown hair fell down into her face. I stood and walked over to her and swept back the stray hair. “Kiss her. Come on. Just kiss her.” I look down at the roast instead. “It looks done,” I mumble. “Coward.”

“I think you’re right,” She smiles. “Here try some,” she says grabbing some of the meat in her hand. She holds out her hand for me to take the meat but I don’t take it. I look into her large blue eyes and smile. I take her hand in mine and bring it to my mouth. The meat was tender and juicy; perfect. Her eyes were on me; they were filled with surprise and anticipation.

“Perfect,” I smile kissing her hand. I hear her breath catch and feel her arm starting to lower.

“Good,” she blushes. “I had better go find Toby,” she mumbled.

“I’ll go get her,” I smile as I walk out of the room. “So, was that good or bad? I don’t seem to be in trouble…”

Chapter 6

I stood over the oven watching Jesse leaving the room. “Ah! What was that?! I just stood there! He kissed my hand and I just stood there!” I leaned over the oven trying to gather my thoughts. “No, don’t get swept up in this. You can’t have distractions like this. Jesse isn’t a luxury you can afford right now…You have so much to do right now…You can’t let yourself get so drawn up in this,” I thought to myself. “Don’t over analyze this.”

“What’s for dinner Morgan?” Toby asked as she came in the room with Jesse.

“Roast and tatters,” I smiled at Toby. “You’re favorite.”

“Oh!” Her eyes got big as she looked at the feast before her on the table.

“But you have to eat some veggies, Toby,” I say sternly sitting down next to her.

“Ah man!”

“Oh don’t worry Toby,” Jesse smiled. “Morgan’s a great cook. Her veggies are delicious,” he winked looking up at me from across the table.

“Here have some carrots,” I smile. “He always was good with Toby.”

“Jesse, what was it like where to went?” Toby asked between mouthfuls.

“It was really beautiful. Maybe you can see it someday,” he smiled looking up at me.

“Maybe,” I mumble. “Calm down girl…don’t get so excited. Slow down your breathing,” I think as a feel my heart starting to race.

“Morgan, can we go camping in the dead forest?” Toby asked excitedly. The dead forest was a huge forest of dead desert trees and bushes that had been killed from the chemical bombs surrounding my house.

“Oh, the dead forest huh?” I smiled. “I don’t see why not.”

“Yea!” she squealed. “You and Jesse can tell stories and stuff!”

“Ghost stories?” Jesse asked coyly.

“Yeah!”

“I don’t know about that Toby. We might scare you,” he smiled.

“No, you won’t!” she cried. “I am not a little kid anymore,” she beamed.

“Oh? How old are you now Toby?” he chuckled.

“I am eight and a half,” she smiled.

“Oh well, I guess we had better go camping and tell stories. Don’t we Morgan?” he winked.

“Of course,” I smiled.

We grabbed some sleeping bags and blankets before we started our short hike behind my house. We liked to go away into the forest about a mile or more so that we wouldn’t be bothered by anyone. Jesse and I walked slowly carrying the supplies as Toby ran ahead looking for good spots to camp.

“So, how have things been since I left?” Jesse asked.

“Oh nothing much,” I smiled. “Nothing more than that creep Ryan coming into our little world. I wonder if he ever came back to the house,” I mumbled.

“No, before we left no one was walking around on the streets. I think everyone was going to stay in tonight. It’s like they expect something bad to happen if they come out,” he chuckled.

“Oh no, that’s just how everyone’s been since the Mite attack. You know how people get when something happens,” I smiled.

“Well aren’t you afraid that Mites might be in the forest?”

“No, but that’s why I don’t leave without weapons,” I say patting the gun on my hip.

“But you don’t use guns much,” he says eyeing me. “I know you, you prefer knifes.”

“Yes, I do,” I laugh looking down at the old dead roots.

“Why is that?” he asks holding a limb back for me.

“Knifes are simple,” I smile. “You can never run out of ammo and you’re only limited by lack of imagination. In reality knifes are a lot easier and a lot more interesting than guns.”

“How?” he asked sounding interested.

“You never hear someone saying how a person was killed so artfully by being shot in the chest. Using a knife lets you get closer to the person. It’s like having sex, you know more about them after it’s done,” I chuckle.

“That’s…so…maniacal!” he says hesitantly.

“Sorry, that might sound really weird and horrible, but it’s true.”

“Morgan! Is this place good?” Toby called to me from a small clearing.

“Yeah, that looks fine Toby,” I smiled. She was learning very quickly how to judge anything from nature to people. She’d soon be able to take over for me if she wanted, maybe in a few years.

“She’s a good kid Morgan. You’ve done great raising her,” Jesse smiled reading my expression.

“I didn’t raise her,” I smiled. “I just taught her how to survive.”

“Why don’t you take credit for anything you’ve done?” he asked irritated.

“What do you mean?” I ask surprised.

“You say you didn’t raise Toby and you don’t say you’re in charge of the settlement, but you did raise her like she was your own and you are in charge of the settlement,” he says looking over to Toby and then back at me.

“Perhaps, but I am really not in charge of the settlement,” I frown.

“Of course you are. You’re the only one here that can control what happens,” he says smiling at me. “You’re like god here!”

“Don’t compare me to god,” I mumbled. “I haven’t forgotten everyone here and what needs to be done here.”

“When was the last time so called you ‘mommy’?” he asked smugly.

“When she’s half asleep,” I mumbled annoyed. He knew I didn’t like it when he brought up the fact that when Toby wasn’t thinking she would call me mommy or mom. I looked over to Toby and watched as she started to make up her little bed for the night. “I should go gather some fire wood,” I said walking away from Jesse. “Could you watch Toby?” I ask looking over my shoulder at him.

“Yeah, no problem,” he smiled walking over to help her.

I liked going off on my own on simple tasks like this. Sometimes it’s just nice to get away and think sometimes.

“I can’t be distracted right now. I have to think of the settlement and getting Ryan out of here. You can’t let your interests come before everyone else’s…You have to make sure things are safe for everyone, especially Toby. I can’t let her down. She’s counting on me more than anyone to keep everyone safe…” I thought as I walked to a tree and broke off large limbs for the fire. It got cold at night; I had to make sure we had enough wood that we wouldn’t get too cold.

“Why is Jesse back so suddenly now too? He’s been gone for almost a year and now he’s back…And now suddenly he’s acting like there could possibly be something between us. I told him when I took Toby in four years ago I couldn’t get distracted. What is he thinking?” I thought moving on to another tree. I turned around to head back to the clearing. “Wow Toby must have taken us out at least two miles. She always did love coming out here,” I smiled. “She’s growing up so fast too…,” I frowned.

Chapter 7

“Morgan tell me a story,” Toby asked when I got back to the camp. She was sitting in the little nest of blankets next to Jesse.

“A story?” I smile. “What kind of story?”

“A true story,” she smiled. True stories were her favorite; she didn’t realize they really were true.

“A true story,” I smiled. “Hmmmm…, maybe Jesse has a true story he’d like to tell us,” I smile turning to him.

“No, I like your stories better Morgan,” he smiles with Toby.

“My stories?” I say smirking at Jesse. “But we haven’t seen you in months, Jesse. I think you could have a lot of interesting stories about up north,” I say grinning.

“Actually you’d be surprised,” he chuckled. “Come on Morgan tell us a story about something.”

“Well, what should I tell a story about?”

“Tell me about before the war,” Toby said bouncing a little in her nest.

“Before the war, alright,” I sigh thinking to myself. “What should I tell you about from before the war?”

“What was it like? Did it look like this? Were there a lot of people?” Toby asked quickly.

“Ha-ha, okay let’s see,” I chuckled. “Back before the war everything was very different. Just here in Sunset it was so pretty. It was still a desert, but there were living plants. This forest was once a living forest. The trees and bushes would give off beans and berries. During the summer it would be so hot, but towards the end of the day it would start to cool off and the sun would start to set and it would be perfect,” I smiled looking over at Jesse. “There weren’t many people out here to begin with, so Sunset was ideal for the settlement. That’s how we were able to build around the old town and survive here,” I said watching her eyes get big.

“What was it like when you were growing up?”

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