Authors: Thomas A. Watson
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Military
“Can we really do that?” Natalie asked with wide eyes.
“No, boys just try to make us happy,” Jasmine answered.
“Jasmine, when I pulled my saddle off I was thinking, ‘I wish someone would pick that up and move it beside that tree.’ I no sooner thought it than John did it,” she declared.
“He was just being nice,” Jasmine said. Not convinced, Natalie continued brushing her horse. Not hearing Natalie brushing, Jasmine looked up and saw Natalie with her eyes closed like she was thinking. “What are you doing?” Jasmine asked.
“I’m thinking Nathan needs to come over here and hug me like Amanda and Casey,” she whispered, then started brushing her horse again.
Jasmine stopped brushing.
Poor Natalie is jealous,
she thought. “I’m going to say something to Nathan,” she mumbled quietly.
“Hey guys, need some help?” Nathan asked walking up.
Jasmine covered her laugh with a cough. “No, we’re good,” she said as Nathan walked over and hugged Natalie and picked her up.
“You have become quite a cowgirl,” Nathan said as he squeezed her in a tight hug. Jasmine’s horse brush fell out of her hand as her jaw hit her chest. Nathan brushed the hair out of Natalie’s face. “When I wake up, let’s catch some fish,” he offered.
“That will be fun,” Natalie said, wrapping her arms around his neck. Jasmine closed her eyes.
I want Nathan to hug me,
she commanded in her mind.
Nathan put down Natalie and Jasmine’s heart stopped. “Make sure someone stays awake,” Nathan said. He kissed her on top of her head then headed back to camp.
Natalie jumped up and down on her toes at the discovery of her new power. “That’s not fair,” Jasmine mumbled.
Nathan dropped his vest and lay down. He was snoring softly in seconds. The boys became very wary of the girls. They tried to ignore it but they were now convinced they were pawns of the younger ones and Jasmine held them spellbound. Needless to say, Jasmine was grumpy when she told everyone to go to sleep. Even Jasmine was convinced the girls had powers she wanted.
Nathan opened his eyes to giggling and sat up. Amanda, Natalie, and Casey were playing with his tablet. He didn’t see Emma, and fear gripped his heart as he jumped up, looking for her. He spotted her in John’s arms down by the lake. Nathan looked over and saw Jasmine and Tom asleep.
“Girls did you sleep?” Nathan asked looking at the three.
“Yeah,” Amanda replied as they watched the tablet.
Nathan wanted to say something but truthfully he was scared they would humble him further so he just dressed as John walked up. “Emma wanted to go see the lake huh?” Nathan asked.
John froze. “She just walked over wanting me to pick her up.”
“And you just happened to walk to the lake,” Nathan replied, buckling his vest.
John held out Emma like she was plutonium. “I’m going to read something,” he said, forcing Emma into Nathan’s chest.
Nathan took her as John headed off. “Distance doesn’t mean anything,” Nathan said. Nathan looked down at Emma’s face. “I’m onto you now,” he said.
“Waa-waa,” Emma said pointing at the lake.
“Changing the subject isn’t going to help,” Nathan said as Emma leaned over and kissed his cheek. Everyone else called it kissing, Nathan called it open-mouth drooling on his face. Nathan wiped his face. “I guess you’re hungry because I have the urge to fix food yet I’m not hungry,” Nathan said. He looked at his watch and was happy he had slept till four p.m.
Gathering some stuff up Nathan fixed some food and grabbed some collapsible fishing rods. After Emma ate, Nathan really wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat; he walked over to the girls. “Natalie, would you and your friends like to go catch some fish?” Nathan asked.
The girls jumped up and ran over all talking at once. Nathan just smiled and headed to the lake. He just wanted to know which one put it in his head to go fishing. Nathan usually only fished for food. He really didn’t enjoy it, so he knew this was a planted thought.
They had six collapsible rods. Nathan had some fly rods at home and had done some ice fishing but that was just with the guys. To catch fish for food he set trotlines and fish traps. That way he could do other things, it wasn’t until his awakening he now realized why he had brought the fishing rods from the supplies of the gang they’d hit.
He put bobbers on the poles and showed the girls how to catch crickets and bait the hooks. For some reason, he ended up baiting the hooks several times. Soon laughter filled the air as the girls started hauling in the fish. Even Nathan was surprised with the number they caught.
John joined them, smiling. “Can I fish?” he asked.
“There are the poles,” Nathan said, pointing at the ground.
Grabbing a pole John looked back as Nathan caught a cricket and baited his hook. Nathan wasn’t surprised not to have to bait John’s hook again after he’d seen Nathan do it once. “Why aren’t you fishing?” John asked, casting out.
“I don’t really like it, but for some reason I had a desire to take Natalie fishing with the others,” Nathan admitted, trotting over to pull Emma out of the water. She wanted to play with the fish on the stringer.
John looked down at his feet. “Men don’t have a chance, do we?” he asked.
“I’m not going to lie. I used to think so, but now I realize women are superior. I’ve accepted it and will move on,” Nathan vowed.
“Man!” John exclaimed.
Nathan patted John on the back. “If you think about it, it’s for the best. They are kinder and prettier than we are. Besides, if men had that kind of power we would do stupid stuff with it. Like
Nature knew who to give the power to.” Nathan saw John’s pole twitch. “You’re getting a bite, John.”
John looked out at the water and saw his bobber took off across the water. Snatching back the pole he started reeling in. John held up a three-pound bass. Everyone cheered for him as Nathan showed him how to take the hook out. “Nathan, I’m glad one of them wanted you to fish because I never did it before,” John admitted.
“See? That’s what I mean. Nature knew who to give the power to,” Nathan said, taking the fish off and putting it on the stringer.
Not much later, Tom and Jasmine joined them. Holding Emma, Nathan watched the others laugh and haul in the fish. Smiles were everywhere as they enjoyed themselves. As the sun started to set they gathered up their stuff and headed up to camp. They had a large assortment of fish.
“How are we going to clean them?” Natalie asked. Nathan went over to the supply pack and brought back a fish cleaning board and a fillet knife.
“How did you know to bring that?” Jasmine asked.
Nathan handed her Emma. “I’ve cleaned fish in the grass and it sucks. If we were walking I would be cleaning on a log or rock but since we have pack animals, I brought stuff to make life a little simpler,” he explained.
“How are we going to cook them?” she asked.
“Bake and fry,” Nathan said, grabbing a stringer. The girls came over and dumped out several armfuls of Indian potatoes. Nathan looked at the potatoes and most were barely three inches long.
“How about chips?” he offered, clipping a fish on the board. The girls didn’t speak, they just clapped, jumping up and down. “Wash them off and peel them,” Nathan said as he started filleting the fish.
The girls grabbed the potatoes and ran to the lake. “When did they get those?” Jasmine asked.
“I have no idea, I just do as commanded,” Nathan replied, throwing the filets on a towel. Jasmine chuckled as Tom and John came over to watch Nathan.
Nathan motioned them over and demonstrated how to do it. When the first stringer was done he let John do the next. John wasn’t as fast but he soon caught the hang of it. Tom took the last stringer and was soon done. “John and Tom, dig a fire pit and line it with rocks,” Nathan said walking to his pack.
He came back with a small plastic box out of his pack and sat down with a trotline. He tied one end to a water jug and the other to a rock. Then Nathan took pieces of fish guts and baited hooks. “You’re going to catch more fish?” Jasmine asked.
“Free bait! Might as well,” Nathan said, and headed to the lake. He tied the line to a tree and threw the rock out. The trout line followed. The rock splashed in and the water jug settled over it. Washing his hands off in the water Nathan watched the girls head back to camp.
Jasmine followed Nathan, carrying Emma. Secretly she was commanding Nathan to do stuff in her mind, but he wasn’t doing what she wanted. She watched him add spices to filets and wrap them in tin foil. Then he grabbed a cast-iron skillet and a bottle of cooking oil. To her surprise, Nathan answered her before she asked.
“If you can, always keep oil, preferably two bottles, one for fish and the other for everything else. When the oil cools we will filter it back into the bottle,” Nathan said. Jasmine squinted her eyes, thinking,
to see if Nathan would get her some water.
Nathan stood up and she caught her breath. He pulled out a towel and handed it to Amanda, then went back to fixing supper. “Thank you,” Amanda said as she wiped potatoes off her hands.
“She wanted that,” Jasmine said, shocked.
“What?” Nathan asked.
“Nothing,” Jasmine said, watching the girls cut up the potatoes in slices. She squinted her eyes, studying the girls as Tom just walked over handing them a bowl.
They didn’t ask for that,
“Thank you,” Natalie said as she put the chips in the bowl.
Jasmine spun around narrowing her eyes willing Nathan to stand up and hug her as he worked on the fire. Emma was just looking up at her in bewilderment. After ten minutes and feeling a headache coming, Jasmine went over and helped Nathan.
They were soon eating fish and chips by the glowing embers of the fire. Jasmine sat down beside Nathan and they fed Emma together. Ares and Athena were sure to bark and make sad faces, letting everyone know that they liked fish too. When the food was gone everyone sat back, rubbing their bellies. Of everyone, the dogs were the most miserable since everyone had fed them. Before long, only Nathan and Jasmine were awake.
“Is it always this hot?” Jasmine asked.
“Shit it feels good here compared to Louisiana in the summer,” Nathan told her with a chuckle.
“It’s only May and I know we’ve had days close to a hundred degrees,” Jasmine said.
“Yeah, it really makes you miss air conditioning,” Nathan said, laying Emma down. “I’m going to move back and keep watch. If anyone was close the smell will bring them in.”
“What do you mean?” Jasmine asked.
“Cooking smells like that travel far. I’m sure someone could smell it two maybe three miles away,” Nathan said, buckling up his vest.
“Then why the hell did we do it?” Jasmine demanded.
“We needed it,” Nathan said, and patted her on the shoulder. Nathan grabbed his sleeping bag and mat and walked about twenty yards from camp to sit down by a tree. The girls were on his woobie.
“I don’t need mind control,” Jasmine said, standing up. She cleaned the fish smell off her hands and grabbed her rifle and blanket, heading to Nathan. “You don’t mind if I doze off over here beside you, do you?” she asked.
“No,” Nathan chuckled as he laid his rifle beside him. Jasmine spread out her blanket and took off her vest. “Are you regretting your choice to come along?” Nathan asked as she took off her boots.
“Are you kidding? If I hadn’t joined you I would be dead now, or worse,” she said taking off her ACU top. Nathan gave a goofy grin, staring at her in her t-shirt.
“No, you’re smart,” Nathan said. He was going to add more but stopped when she took off her pants.
“You only gain knowledge from others or from a mistake you made,” she said, folding her pants up.
“Uh-huh,” Nathan agreed. He tried not to stare as she pulled her t-shirt off. He didn’t do a very good job of it.
Jasmine sat down beside him and threw her legs over his as she sat back. “Now tell me, why did you move over here?” she asked.
For a brief second, Nathan forgot. “If someone comes they will see the group first, and I can take them out,” Nathan told her staring at her legs.
Jasmine smiled seeing him stare at her legs. “The horses and dogs will hear and smell them long before they get here, won’t they?” she asked. She moved her legs up, pushing them under Nathan’s hands that were sitting in his lap.
Taking a deep breath, “Ah they should,” Nathan replied in a shaking voice. Nathan didn’t have his gloves on and he could feel how smooth and tone Jasmine’s legs really were. He slowly started to rub them, and thought they were smooth as glass. Once, he would have thought they were smooth as a baby’s butt, but not after Emma.
Jasmine smiled as he rubbed her legs because that’s what she wanted him to do. She hadn’t needed mind control after all.
It was just after five when Nathan carried his sleeping bag back to the group. He picked up Jasmine in her blanket, carried her back to the group, and laid her down on his sleeping bag. He brushed the hair off her neck and she smiled in her sleep. They had talked through the night. Nathan wasn’t going to lie, he gazed. But he knew he had to get closer to camp because Emma would be up soon.
He stood up and stretched, then stopped. “Shit, she can control me when she’s asleep,” he declared. Slowly looking down at Emma he shook his head at Emma. “Damn, that is control.” Ares trotted over to him and lay down.
“You have fun yesterday, boy?” Nathan asked, kneeling down to pet him. Ares panted so Nathan took that as a yes.
Pulling out his heat tabs and stove, Nathan started some water boiling, then dug out the tin foil-wrapped fish. “Nafan,” he heard. Looking up he saw Emma sitting up with her blond hair sticking up everywhere.
“Hey, doodle bug,” Nathan said, walking over picking her up. Emma rubbed her face and he hugged her. He grabbed his shaving kit and walked to the boiling water. He sat down and pulled out Emma’s toothbrush, not remembering when he even started to keep it there.
One thing Nathan loved about her, she liked it when you brushed her teeth. Seeing her toothbrush, Emma gave him that weird smile, exposing her teeth. “I’m not complaining about that smile when I brush your teeth, but it still freaks me out,” he said as he brushed.
Emma didn’t know how to spit so she just tilted her head forward, letting the toothpaste drip out.
She rinsed out her mouth with water and did it again, letting it drip out.
It wasn’t long before everyone was up, smelling food. Once everyone was dressed and fed they all sat down, looking at Nathan. “Let’s pull up the trotline and get the fish cleaned. Today we are going to practice setting traps,” Nathan said.
“We’re staying here all day?” Amanda asked.
“Yes. I want the horses rested up,” Nathan said, putting Emma’s boots on. He didn’t know why he did. Someone was always carrying her.
“Nathan,” Amanda whined.
“Amanda, don’t. We are also going to practice moving and reacting to gunfire. It’s a rest day but also a learning day,” he said, standing up.
Amanda jumped up. “Well, that’s different then,” she decided.
Nathan replayed the conversation and couldn’t figure out if he should be mad, so he let it go. They followed him down to the lake and helped pull in the full trotline of fish and Nathan looked at John. “This is why I like this method: I was resting when these were caught,” he said, and John nodded. John had had a blast fishing, but if this was how Nathan liked to do it, so be it. He just hoped the girls made Nathan want to fish some more.
They all continued into the woods, where Nathan showed them where to put up snares and other traps. It wasn’t long till they had a rabbit and a deer in a snare. Everyone was shocked when Amanda pulled out the .22 and shot the deer between the eyes, dropping it in its tracks.
“How did you know to do that?” John asked.
Cautiously walking over, Amanda poked the deer with the suppressor at the end of the barrel. “Nathan said if you shoot something between the eyes, it stops. Anywhere else and you have to wait,” she answered.
“When did I say that?” Nathan asked.
“After you shot the first bunny,” Amanda said.
Vaguely, Nathan remembered talking about shot placement that night. “You remember everything I say?” Nathan asked, taking the snare off the doe.
“What, I shouldn’t?” Amanda accused.
“Yes you should but you aren’t even writing it down,” he said, then started dragging the deer back.
“I will if it makes you feel better,” Amanda offered, walking beside him.
“What grade were you in?” John asked.
“Eighth,” Amanda said. “Lee Preparatory School,” she added, somewhat quietly.
“That explains it,” Nathan said, smiling. “My firecracker is smart.” Amanda smiled and started bouncing as she walked.
Explaining what he was doing, Nathan hung the deer up and showed everyone how to skin it and cut it up. He made Amanda show everyone how to skin the rabbit. She did and only changed colors once. When they were finished Nathan showed them how to make a smoker in the woods. “It’s not as good as a real one, but it will work,” Nathan explained then started a fire hanging the strips of deer, fish and rabbit on sticks over the fire.
The rest of the afternoon he showed them how to move under gunfire. He would yell out where the fire was coming from and watch how they reacted. As the sun set he surveyed them proudly. After everyone ate and Emma fell asleep, they were shocked that Nathan made them get up and learn how to fight at night. He didn’t stop until dawn.
After breakfast, they dropped. Nathan smiled and took Emma with him to check the horses. Seeing a few chipped hooves, Nathan grabbed a file and went to work. Emma just made it challenging. At noon he woke Jasmine and Natalie and told them to start wrapping the smoked meat up.
When he lay down to get some sleep Nathan wasn’t surprised when little Emma climbed up on his chest and fell asleep. He rubbed her back and soon joined her.
Nathan felt someone tapping his shoulder. “Emma, go to sleep,” he mumbled.
“Nathan, it’s time to go,” John said.
Opening his eyes, Nathan was shocked to see it was dusk. “Man, was I out hard.” Nathan said getting up and looked for Emma. He spotted her chasing Ares. Then it dawned on him that he was always looking for her. “I wonder if I can put a GPS tracker on her,” Nathan wondered out loud.
“What?” John asked.
Letting out a yawn, Nathan shook his head. “Never mind,” he said. John left him as he started packing his stuff up. When he put on his pack Nathan wanted to start cussing, as the damn thing was trying to take him to his knees. Picking Emma’s sling off the ground he slung it over his head. Emma let out a squeal and run at him when she saw that.
Nathan picked her up and set her in it. “One day you are going to have to carry me like that,” Nathan said. Emma babbled back at him and Nathan really wanted to know what she was saying. He walked the area with the others, making sure everything was put away and all trash buried, then he climbed up on Smoke. Smoke acted like Nathan had done when he put his pack on.
Making sure the others were mounted up, Nathan guided the group along the shore till they came to a small road that only an ATV could use. It was dark when he turned them onto a logging road. They rode in silence since the soldiers Nathan had interrogated had told him the government was tracking the public broadcast bands that their radios used. Everyone had them on but would only use them in an emergency.
At midnight Nathan stopped them by a small stream. Everyone climbed off and stretched as the horses drank. Jasmine passed out some jerky and the group ate as Nathan looked at the map by starlight. “We are making good time,” he said, shoving a piece of jerky in his mouth.
“I thought we were,” John said. “It just seems that we are always going northwest, rather than going north, then turning west, then turning south, then heading west. We are just going.”
“Yeah, all the roads we are on through the forest generally head northwest,” Nathan said.
“You haven’t used a compass. How do you know which way is north?” Tom asked John.
Looking up at the night sky, John pointed. “That’s the north star,” he explained. “Use the end of the big dipper, go straight to the little dipper at the end and that’s it.”
“That’s so cool,” Tom said, amazed.
“Think we will have any problems in this national forest?” Jasmine asked.
“I hope not. I’m not in the mood to go cross-country here,” Nathan said, making sure Emma wasn’t in the way when he climbed up on his saddle. Jasmine watched him move the sling with Emma around till it was comfortable. She was willing to bet, the comfort was for Emma not for Nathan.
She was tempted to ask again but just climbed up on her horse. “When do we get out of Arkansas?” she asked.
“Tomorrow,” Amanda answered, climbing on her horse.
Jasmine fought not to snap at Amanda as Nathan trotted over on Smoke. “What is it, Jasmine?” Nathan asked.
“I added up what we have for food. Twenty days,” she said. Nathan nodded. “I went over our route and if we can keep our average at forty miles a day, we can be there in thirty days,” she informed him.
“You’re right. But we didn’t see the National Guard here rebelling and getting caught up in things,” Nathan said. “Keep you goal in mind but your focus on the here and now.” Jasmine fell in with the rest as Nathan led them on.
Off to the north they heard pops of gunfire. Coming from the end of the group, John rode up to Nathan. “What kind of gun was that?” he asked.
“Rifle, a big one. Civilian automatic, probably .30-06 about five miles away,” Nathan answered. Satisfied, John reined in his horse, waiting for the others to pass.
Jasmine fell back with him. “What was that about?” she asked.
“Just wanted to see if it was military,” he said.
“He knew?” Jasmine asked in shock.
John scoffed, “Yeah.”
Not able to take it, Jasmine trotted up to Nathan. “You mean you can tell what kind of gun is shooting from the sound?” she asked, not convinced.
“It’s not that hard. Once you’ve heard them it’s easy,” he said.
“Really?” she asked unconvinced.
She rode beside him in silence until off to the southwest they heard more gunfire. “What was that, Jasmine?” Nathan asked.
“Shit, I don’t know,” she admitted.
“Hear that pop-pop?” he asked. “That is an AR or M-4 platform like yours.”
Jasmine closed her eyes and heard it again. Then another gun shot in the same direction. “It’s two of them,” she said.
“Very good,” Nathan said, taking a drink of water. Smiling, she rode beside him and asked about each gunshot they heard.
The sporadic gunfire continued in the distance, day and night. That was one of the new norms in this new world.