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 Those Who Scatter Their Own

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virama

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PostSubject: Those Who Scatter Their Own   Tue Aug 03, 2010 7:09 pm

One week. It’ll all be back to normal in one week, he told himself.

Two days after his escape, and four days after the bombs dropped, James Little Thunder headed north in his stolen truck. While he could have stayed in Sioux Falls, everyone seemed to want to go there. It was the only major city remaining in the state of South Dakota (now that Rapid City had been destroyed). It had most of the comforts people were used to. Most people hadn’t been raised in the shit conditions prevalent on the Res, and would go where they had more likelihood to survive.

James, however, decided that it was best to get out while the getting was good. Even if the system was a bit… disarrayed at the moment, he expected it would be back up soon. An ex-inmate probably wouldn’t get a warm welcome, so it would be best for him to get out of town. They’d surely put warrants out on all the escapees, and things would be back to normal. In the meantime, he would keep moving, hide, and survive. He didn’t need white people or their input. He was a native, damnit. He grew up in the sticks. Damn straight he could handle himself. Things were shit on the Res. He remembered waving the magpies away from corn, and cutting up some cow. He could remember when he and his sisters assisted with canning whatever meager vegetables eked out of the garden, and cleaning out the chicken coop. Of course he could survive for a few days before things went back to normal.

A week tops. That’s all it would take. Things were crazy now, but it would get back to normal.

Though radio signals were hard to come by, the few people he talked with said that the bombs had struck Ellsworth Air Force Base. While South Dakota didn’t have a lot going for it, Ellsworth was a tactical point. James remembered hearing arguments on TV about the pros and cons of keeping the base back in grade school. It seemed like it was always on the chopping block, but it never managed to get closed down. Bombers could fly north and be on the other side of the globe, it was too important to the economics of the area, etc. But the benefit of having it near also ensured the area’s demise. It was close to Rapid City. And Rapid City had just been obliterated, thanks to being only a 15 minute drive from Ellsworth.

All of which meant following I-90 west of the Missouri River was useless at this point. There was, quite literally, nothing left of value in the area. The only things James would find were radiation and an impact crater. That left east, north, or south.

The winds out here came from the west, so going east meant he’d be in the path of whatever got blown that direction. James didn’t know anything about the terrain going south. So the only logical decision he could come to was to head north. Though the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River reservations were just within the fallout radius (making them dangerous to enter), James still knew enough about their general locations to circumnavigate them and maybe head west to more familiar territory. They straddled the North Dakota/South Dakota border. If he was lucky, perhaps he’d find some people who had survived. Even if they weren’t Oglala, they were still native. He doubted that all of his people would have gotten killed.

A week tops.

But did he want things to go back to normal? Things had been shit for him. Hell, he’d been in a jail cell a few days ago. Was he really all that eager to go back to the way things had been?

He stopped the truck outside an alfalfa field, his thoughts dark. He needed to get out, walk a bit. He stepped outside, and got his pack of cigarettes while he was at it. He lit one.

Oglala meant “those who scatter their own”. Sometimes it was translated as “dust scatters”. It was oddly appropriate. Not just from a physical perspective, though that certainly was an eerie coincidence. It was also appropriate from a societal perspective. Pine Ridge was the poorest of all the reservations in the United States. People left, if they could. They scattered. They fled. Left elsewhere to pursue education and employment. Even James, though he’d tried to be a little more upstanding in his youth, had left for other places. His “adventures” had ended up with him getting thrown in jail, but damned if it hadn’t helped him survive. His people had scattered. Perhaps some of them survived?

Though James wasn’t proud of his actions, he hadn’t been the only one who followed this path. The jails were disproportionately full of native folks. That was bad enough, but the Oglala had historically been the surliest of Indians. Wounded Knee? Happened on Pine Ridge. Crazy Horse? Definitely a surly Oglala. Custer found that out the hard way. Red Cloud? Maybe not the surliest of individuals, but he definitely had lots to say about white people: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they kept only one; they promised to take our land, and they did.”

“Damn straight,” James said, talking to himself. He paced before the truck, stretching his arms.

This was surely a result of whatever white people had done. And now all of west river, all of it, was ruined. He Sapa, the Black Hills? Gone. Shit, Rapid City was right on the border of the Black Hills. The bomb couldn’t have gotten any closer unless it landed smack dab on top of Mato Paha itself. Hell, the whole area was very likely covered in ash or radiation.

My lands are where my dead lie buried. That’s what Crazy Horse had said. James would be hard pressed to find a more literal translation of it than being buried under however many fucking kilotons of shit that got dropped down.

James let out a low whistle, disturbed by the train of his own thoughts. Was he seriously thinking about this event as being predicted by some old dead Indian dudes? Was James seriously considering all of his experiences as training for this? Was he taking any of this shit seriously?

“Whoa there, man. Craaaazy thinking,” he said to himself. “You’re freaking yourself out with this shit.”

He rubbed a hand over his head. Though his hair was braided back in traditional manner (so he could neither comb his fingers through his hair or push his hair back), it was a mannerism he’d picked up from white guys. It was a distraction. His thoughts were pretty damn disturbing, and he was sure it had something to do with isolation. He needed to find more people quick. Otherwise, he’d end up some crazy ass guy running through the fields talking to stray cats as spirit guides for some personal vision quest.

...though the metaphor was appropriate, now that he thought about it. Hanblecheyapi was going out alone, carrying only a few meager possessions, and self-reflecting among the solitude. The older Lakota believed in visions, but guys like James didn’t put much stock in it. James saw it as the effects of starvation and isolation. He’d never really done any of the sacred rites. He was a piss-poor Indian, all things considered. For a portion of his life, he’d been trying to fit in with white people. He’d been taught a lot of things, but he hadn’t used them. His mom had been disappointed in him, though she only expressed it in that quiet, hurt way that made him feel like a douchebag.

But he glanced around the isolated area. Solitude, check. Self-reflection? Check. Input from old dead Indian guys? Double-check.

Welp, it looked like he was officially going insane. In a native way, perhaps, but completely and totally insane. Maybe his mom was looking down on him from wherever the hell it was dead relatives went to.

Or maybe she was just ash, like the rest of them.

“Damnit, James, quit freaking yourself out, man. You going craaaazyyyy,” Little Thunder muttered, rubbing his face with his hands. “You are not on some fucking vision quest. You’re a guy surrounded by alfalfa fields trying to figure out where the hell you need to go. Shit, what you think’s gonna happen next? White Buffalo Woman gonna come out in the middle of the field and tell you ‘Go west’? Shiiit, man. You’re just trying to make sense of a crazy-ass situation, man. Doesn’t mean you gotta get all crazy to understand it. There’s enough insanity in the world.”

He shook his head. Maybe he’d go to Wyoming. Get out of this place for a while. How long did it take for land to become less radioactive anyway? Perhaps he could outlast it. Or maybe he’d keep going until he reached Canada? He didn’t know what he’d do or where he’d go, but he didn’t want to stay where he was.

He glanced down the road. Maybe he should stick to his original plan. Head north, then turn west. That seemed like as good a plan as any.

And he didn’t need some crazy ass vision to tell him that.

James shook his head, trying to rid himself of his thoughts. Yeah, he definitely needed to see some people soon. He was going insane. He should definitely head north. He could hit Fargo or something. Get his little dose of other people, then head back out where no one would bother him.

One week, tops.

He got back into the truck.
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PostSubject: Re: Those Who Scatter Their Own   Tue Aug 03, 2010 9:00 pm

Though James had decided on a direction, it was slow going. When the wind picked up, visibility was poor. Whatever west river South Dakota looked like after the blast, it definitely had enough ash and dust to drift east river. Rather than speeding down country roads, James had to proceed with a bit more caution. He saw a few houses along the way, but didn’t bother stopping. When he was tired, he slept in his truck, covering himself with his jacket. He still expected things to return to normal, and didn’t think to loot every place he saw. Better to just get out, get as far as he could.

But after the first week, he decided he might want to start thinking ahead.

In the early days after the blast, gas was easy to come by. A lot of the small towns that James passed didn’t have a very big population. Many residents had left for bigger cities (and possibly got killed in the explosions), or retreated to more isolated areas out on a farm somewhere. A surly-looking Indian guy holding a rifle probably didn’t seem like the type the few remaining townies cared to mess with. While a few watchful eyes followed him as he refueled, he didn’t make any effort to approach or attack other people and no one made any attempts to bother him. The situation hadn’t gotten desperate enough yet, though things were likely to change.

Fearing shortage, but not willing to admit to himself that things might not return to normal, James collected all the empty gas cans he could, and filled them up at the next stop. He felt a little paranoid about carrying that much fuel (What if they exploded? What if people took offense?), but he supposed that it was better than running out. He’d be in some isolated areas. He didn’t have any other shelter at the moment, so it was critical that he kept the vehicle running.

One month, tops. That’s all it will take.

Government vehicles would be out soon, and everything would be back to normal. James just had to hold out until then. That’s all. He didn’t need the government anyway. He lasted just fine on his canned food, looted cigarettes, and beer. He’d make it. Until then, he’d loot a little bit. The further north Little Thunder got, the more isolated things became. Some towns were abandoned entirely.

Enderlin, North Dakota was one of the places that he stopped that was vacant.

Save for some stray animals, James found no signs of life. Some of the strays seemed to be former pets, and they milled around the man as if expecting him to take care of them. They weren’t like the packs of dogs that plagued the reservation (these lacked the insouciance of rez dogs), but their presence was familiar to the man. The wagging tails and nudges were signs of life among the emptiness. He needed that. He gave one a careless pat on the head before returning his gaze to the empty town.

“Hey!” he called out. “Anyone out here?”

No answer. Not a gunshot, not a voice. Nothing.

He got back in his truck, driving through the oddly silent streets. No one came out to meet him. No one bothered to point a gun in his direction, or shift curtains to watch him warily. It was the middle of summer, and the town was silent. A bit of ash had settled on the street, or collected in drifts. Only his footprints, the prints of the dogs, and the passing of deer, disturbed the light, smooth surface of the ash.

It was unsettling.

James began breaking into houses. He found a hammer in an unlocked shed, and broke some windows to get in. Some houses were simply unlocked. Though he looked for any survivors, it was clear that no one was around. But there was no sign where they went. He found a radio, but it didn’t work. He found a flashlight, and it did work. The town hall had a map of the state. And James’ eyes went to Grand Forks Air Force Base, 135 miles north of Enderlin.

James felt a cold sense of dread. Had they bombed that? Was that why everyone had disappeared? Was he exposed to radiation? Was he going to die? Was all his hair going to fall out and his insides bleed out? What did radiation to do a person anyway?

A thought then occurred to him. The animals had remained. If something was going to happen, surely the animals would have sensed something, right? They were rumored to have some kind of sixth sense about that sort of shit, right? They weren’t fucking Giger counters or anything, but they would flee if the area was dangerous. Like… rats on a ship. Not that James had any knowledge of that, having come from a completely landlocked state.

The man looked down at the stray dog at his side.

It flattened its ears back and wagged its tail at him, shimmying its rear in its enthusiasm. It obviously wasn’t in pain or distress. It was pretty clear that the dog wasn’t telling him to get on the road and get out of here. It seemed scrawny, sure, and its hair was matted. But it seemed mostly healthy. It wasn’t much of a spirit guide, but it was pretty hard to believe the place reeked of radiation with this stupid dog squirming in place. It had been here longer than James had, so things should be fine. The way James figured it, if there were dangerous levels of radiation, he would be unlikely to find anything alive, even if these animals were too stupid to leave.

The absurdity of turning to stray dogs for knowledge finally dawned on James. He let out a short laugh.

“Some Indian I am,” he said to himself, and gave the dog a pat on the head. He switched to Lakota. “You my spirit animal, huh? Thought I’d be talking to cats instead.

The dog whined happily at being patted, though obviously it didn’t get the joke. Then again, it wouldn’t have gotten the humor anyway, even if James would have said it in English.

Satisfied that he wasn’t going to die a horrible radiation death, Little Thunder spent a while looking over information in the town hall. Though Grand Forks AFB had once housed missiles and acted as a refueling station, it had long since been gutted and turned into a support base. Minot Air Force Base, 260 miles away, was the one with the missiles and bombers. It was likely that had gotten bombed. The ash, it seemed, was probably from there.

James considered heading up toward Grand Forks to see what was happening. Perhaps he’d be able to see other evacuees. Maybe they had some more information about what the hell had happened, who was behind the attacks, or whether things had gone back to normal.

But for now, perhaps he’d stay and sleep in a real bed. Though the power was out, there was still running water. Given all the resources available in the town hall, it didn’t take a lot to flip a switch and turn on the municipal power grid. With the power on, the pumps and purification went online. For the first time in several days, James had warm water for bathing, potable water for drinking, and could sleep in a bed.

Yeah, that seemed like a good idea. He’d go there eventually, but for now, he’d stay on and see what he could collect from the town.

One month and everything will be back to normal, he told himself, though it was getting harder to believe it.

------------

James ended up staying a while in Enderlin. He told himself he was just looking things over and collecting supplies, but the truth was he hoped to meet some people, even if he wasn’t ready to head toward larger towns just yet. This place seemed to have been abandoned, but not carelessly. Things had been packed away. In the town hall, records had been boxed up. The firetruck appeared to be readied. Yet there was a distinct aura of abandonment about the place. Still, his stay was beneficial. A dairy on the edge of town had a bunch of cows that were being neglected. James killed a couple, put out what little feed remained, and set others free. The grass was covered with ash, so there wasn’t much he could do about them, but they had a better chance out in a field than they did in a pen. Besides, it was another thing he could hunt. Given the amount of meat a cow had (even a scrawny one), he’d be eating pretty well for a while.

It was also in Enderlin that he killed his first deer in years. He’d woken up early, and was looking out the window just in time to see a bunch of deer traipsing down the street of the abandoned town. It hadn’t taken any great skill to grab his gun and shoot one. It was also pretty convenient that it was in town, since it would have been a pain to haul it back alone.

James propped the deer on its back and began his field dressing, making the initial cut from just above the genitals up to the rib cage.

“I’m an Indian outlaw,” he sang under his breath as he cut. “Half Cherokee and Choctaw. My baby, she’s a Chippewa. She’s a one of a kind…”

Though he didn’t exactly feel like an expert vocalist, he needed to disturb the silence. While the dogs provided a sign of life, it was rough on him to not hear anyone else. No other input. Nothing but the creak of houses, or the sound of what few birds remained, or the noises of the dogs. Still, the song was ridiculous coming from James’ lips. For one, he was Lakota. Cherokees and Choctaws were in completely different parts of the country. Plus, it was a stupid song, period. A Tim McGraw song. A country singer sang it. So in essence, a native guy was singing what a white cowboy-wannabe wrote about being native.

It was a special kind of irony. It appealed to James’ sense of humor.

He turned to the pack of dogs that thumped their tails happily at the prospect of meat. He imagined they appreciated the presence of humans as well. A lot of them had collars and tags around their necks, so they weren’t entirely feral. They’d just been left behind.

“All my friends call me Bear Claw,” he sang to the dogs’ rapt attention, affecting a drawl for their benefit. “The village chieftain is my paw-paw. He gets his orders from my maw-maw. She makes him walk the line.”

The dogs didn’t seem to care about his singing or his drawl, but they gleefully accepted whatever scraps James cared to throw at them.

He shook his head in amusement and turned back to his meat preparations. The dogs went back to waiting like dogs.

It took a full day to cut up the deer and prepare it for moving. It wasn’t easy butchering an animal, and it wasn’t something James regularly did. However, he managed to get things into a manageable size before the sun set. They weren’t the nice clean cuts butchers made, but they’d suffice for his needs. He was likely going to ground it up and turn it into sausage anyway. Summer sausage would keep without refrigeration. His mom had made sausage during the autumn. And by James’ reckoning of time, it was starting to get toward autumn. The irony was that he was using a German recipe. He was needing to borrow from white people just to do something his people had probably accomplished by themselves for centuries.

Then again, Red Cloud had also said, “Getting the goodness of light-skinned society ... Learn to live among them, learn their education, their language - all the goodness.”

“Whatever, old man,” James muttered to himself, still preparing the deer. The old guy had meant it as a way to become self-sufficient, surely. Not to become their buddies. All of these problems were undoubtedly directly related to the actions of white people. James couldn’t see how living among them would help him any.

It took him several days to smoke all the meat he’d collected, pack it away in salvaged coolers, and wash away the mess. He’d stolen a meat grinder from one of the other houses, and turned a lot of the meat into sausage. He sometimes made Hamburger Helper with ground venison. For several days, he switched between beef and venison, using whatever he could loot from the local grocery store and individual houses to throw into the mix. He was lucky to have found a house with a bunch of canned tomatoes. Venison chili was pretty good. He also popped some vitamins he’d found in the abandoned town. Life was relatively pleasant, all things considered. He was actually eating healthier than he’d been before this whole mess. Before, he’d had to worry about whether he could afford to pay for food. Now, all he had to do was take it. He still drank and smoked, but less. He had other things to do, and he simply couldn’t spend his time passed out.

But though he could prepare meat just fine, the skin of the deer was a complete mess. James didn’t know how to tan it. It took a trip to the local town library to find a resource. His first attempts at following instructions were simply terrible. He’d left the skin sitting for too long, and by the time he started gathering ingredients, it was a nasty mess. He ended up throwing the skin to the dogs. Still, James stole the library book as a reference for future attempts. It wasn’t like anyone would fine him for it. He found a certain irony in being some kind of library Indian, but he had to admit the book was useful. Though he didn’t anticipate needing to rely on skins for clothing, some small part of him hated the fact that a big skin was getting wasted simply because he didn’t know enough to handle it. He considered it a personal challenge to turn the next one into something useful. And he considered turning cowskins into something useful as well. He couldn’t figure out what just yet, but surely something would come up. His forbears hadn’t used thinsulate, after all. Besides, it would be a useful skill.

Thanks to his research, his next attempts at preparing skins turned out a bit better. Though the stiffness and patchiness of the hair would have been mocked by anyone who knew better, the skins were useable. Maybe they’d come in handy in the coming months. Looted clothing wouldn’t last forever. It rotted, or it wore out, or something. There would come a time when James couldn’t rely on what he found. And it wouldn’t be too long before winter set in.

At the thought of winter, James’ face set into a scowl. Winter here would be harsh. He knew that well enough. It’d be even worse given the ash and cloud cover. Plants here wouldn’t be able to grow given the conditions, and unless he wanted to find grow lamps and seeds, he’d be low on food. He didn’t know how long the power grid would stay on. He had meat, sure, but he could still be malnourished. Was he seriously planning to stay here? Maybe he should find someplace where it wouldn’t be as harsh. Closer to the coast? Something with a full-year growing season? Some place with better looting? Hell, maybe he should find some kind of community. He had food, but he would lack ammunition eventually. He simply couldn’t do everything alone. Surviving here was a full time job as it was.

In all the time James stayed in Enderlin, there was no sign of anyone returning. No one had passed through. No one had come to check on the cattle. While it was true that Enderlin was pretty damn isolated, he worried about the lack of people. Had anyone else survived? Surely he couldn’t be the only one left. Surely people would be interested in checking up on their homes. It just seemed odd that no one had come back.

It was the disappearance of the dogs that made up his mind, though it had been the cow corpse that showed the first hint that something was off. It had been… gnawed on. By something much larger than it. The cows were on the edge of town, so it wasn’t something James regularly thought to check on. And while he’d heard odd noises in the night, he expected it was the dogs getting hungry. Packs of feral dogs attacking a cow made much more sense than a strange large beast that attacked something as big as cattle.

But then the dogs themselves started disappearing.

James had gotten used to the pack of strays that hung around the yard. Reservation dogs were often the same way. Plus, these dogs always knew when it was time to eat, and it was more enjoyable watching them bicker with each other than it would be for him to eat alone. He had plenty of meat, he’d leave out some food for the pack. He’d developed a certain fondness for the stupid animals. Plus, he felt safer knowing that he had watchdogs, even if no one was around.

The first one to go was the dog James had dubbed “Brownie”. It wasn’t a very creative name. The dog was brown. It had been one of the stupider dogs. It was unfortunate but no surprise that it didn’t show up for meals one day. But the other dogs had a more… fearful attitude after Brownie disappeared. They seemed jumpier. More on edge. They hid more often, and flinched when James spoke. It was odd, and there was no clear explanation for it. Perhaps some kind of wildcat?

By the time James decided to do something about it, a couple more cows had showed up chewed, and the dog pack was down to three. He figured he’d have a better chance of catching the predator by watching the cattle, so he appropriated the house nearest the dairy and watched the field. He stayed awake that night, keeping an eye out through the window of the back door. He pulled a chair nearby, kept his gun loaded and in hand, and waited.

And that’s when he saw the bat. Or what appeared to be a bat, though it was much larger than anything he’d seen.

It swooped down on leathery wings and attacked a struggling cow. The cow, scrawny due to the sparse feed available, had been easy prey. Cows had been bred for docility and stupidity over generations. Whatever primal instincts it might have had were likely long gone. The bat-like animal chomped down on the struggling animal, leaving bits and pieces everywhere. The dogs, what few remained, came to devour the scraps. They kept their eyes wary, however, and cringed at sounds James couldn’t hear. The bat, intent on its own meal, didn’t bother with the scavenging dogs.

But the other bats did.

If James had known anything about bats, he might have known that they often hunted in the same general area. Though bigger than normal, bat behavior hadn’t changed too dramatically… yet. If he knew anything about bats, perhaps he might have considered tracking them to their den and getting rid of them there. However, James didn’t know anything about bats. The only thing he knew was that his dogs were getting eaten by some crazy-ass animals that shouldn’t exist, and the pained whimpers of the dogs set him off.

“Get away from there!” he yelled, charging out of the door. Damn stupid dogs. They should have known better…

Those dogs had been the only friends he’d had for some time, and now something was chomping down on them like it was nothing. James began firing his gun at the bats. One of them flew off, scared by the sudden pain lancing its leathery wing. Others just swarmed around. James simply didn’t have enough ammo to kill them all, and he couldn’t stop to reload. His movement had drawn the attention of the bats, and they began swarming in his direction. In the end, he had to concede defeat and retreat back into the house. He closed the door behind him.

Resting his back against the wall, he sat in the darkness for a while. He didn’t know how long it took, but the beat of leathery wings on the door finally ended and no whimpers could be heard. He didn’t move from where he sat until morning light streamed in through the glass window.

In the morning, he buried what little remained of the dogs, loaded up the supplies he’d collected, and began heading toward Grand Forks, North Dakota.
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