Wind Walkers: (undecided 2)

Wind Walkers: (undecided 2)

A Chapter by J.A. Marquez

The low whistles of insects livened the flat, dry land. It was an ethereal accompaniment to the twinkling of the stars above. Tension buzzed in every cell of Bethany's tired body. She focused on the precision of her steps, carefully flattening her foot in the smooth trail left behind Gomez. At a not so distant point to the north, a roaring flame cast shadows along the crude brick walls of a sizeable fortress. The otherwise crisp air was thick with the stench of chemical smoke.

"What is that awful smell?" Bethany breathed through a cupped hand.

Gomez shushed her softly, hesitating so that she could match his pace. He leaned down, close enough to her ear so that she could feel the moisture in his breath as he spoke.

"When the Wind Walkers land at a camp, what do they burn?"

Bethany wrinkled her forehead.

"Wood, fallen branches and twigs."

"And why do they burn wood?"

"Because it's readily available. There're always trees where we camp. It keeps us hidden." She explained, misunderstanding his aim.

"Us?" He raised an eyebrow.

"They." Bethany corrected, dropping her head.

"Exactly. Now, do you see many trees here?"

His blatant cheek stung.

"No." She replied curtly.

"The plains and desert tribes burn what they can get their hands on.Their fires aren't just for cooking. Like the Wind Walkers, these ground tribes need protection. The foul smelling fire keeps predators away."

"But what are they burning?"

"Artifacts mostly. Old cooking machines, and other things that were abandoned at the beginning of all of this."

"They smell so awful!"

"It's the chemicals being released by the intense heat. I imagine it's fairly toxic."

"Are we going to die?" Bethany wondered, disturbed by the irony of it.

"No, at least not before we're killed by blood hunters, or some extremist tribe."

A discomforted tingle fizzed in Bethany's stomach. She was beginning to be extremely put off by Gomez's casual approach to greusome death. Her ankles trembled beneath her scant weight, reverberating in her legs and spine.

"Woah, woah woah."

Gomez held out his arms as Bethany's knees gave away.

"I'm sorry." She could hear the embarrassment in her own voice.

Supporting her neck he lowered her to the ground, perching on his toes to examine her.

"Don't be sorry. I forgot how squeamish you are."

"Squeamish?" The word sounded foreign coming from his lips. Bethany's head was swimming.

"You aren't used to life on the crust. You touched down each day, but you've never left that circle of balloons until now." Gomez stroked her forehead, pressing the back of his hand onto her clammy skin. "Life out here isn't pretty. You're gonna have to toughen up if you want to survive."

A surreal haze was sweeping over her.

"I have you to protect me." She grinned at him.

He opened his mouth, most likely to scold her for being foolish, when there was a sharp rustle a few feet away. He spun on his toes and Bethany watched his head sway as he surveyed the shadowy area ahead of him. More movement startled Bethany, and her already fickle heart thudded with definitive anticipation. Something had spotted them, human or otherwise. Her breath fluttered out in compulsive wisps. Gomez steadied himself with his fingers, staying his defensive position. From the corner of her eye, Bethany spotted a lean leg clothed in fitted trousers, at the base of which was a foot sheathed with a leather sandal. Gomez tensed for an instant, then very swiftly relaxed again.

"What do you want, kid?" He whispered gruffly.

It was a child. Bethany rolled to her side, supported on her elbow, and took in the well camoflaged boy. He was thin, but not frail, with wide and ghostly orbs for eyes. His blonde hair mirrored Bethany's but his skin was a warm olive. The clothes he wore were surprisingly well maintained, even fine in quality. Bethany was reminded of the matrimonial cloaks worn during the marriage ceremonies of her former tribe. The sullen boy did not answer.

"Where did you come from?" Gomez attempted again.

The deep hazel eyes drifted to Bethany, and his thin lips parted for a breath. A leather strap dangled from his hand, and at its end was a metal canister. He held it out, the liquid inside sloshing. Gomez stole a glance at Bethany, who was completely abashed.

"She needs water." The boy said, tossing the jar on the ground in front of him.

Gomez approached slowly, staying low. He picked up the canister, opened it and sniffed the liquid. After a pause he dipped a finger into it, and dripped it onto his tongue. A boggled frown stuck on his face, as he handed the water to Bethany. She sat up straighter and drank greedily.

"Hey, hey not all at once." Gomez pulled back his arm.

Quenched sighs filled Bethany's lungs.

"Thank you." She panted, casting the boy a humbled smile. "What's your name?"

His arm shot up, kinked at the elbow and he rubbed the back of his neck.

"Theo."

Gomez took a drink before handing the canteen back. Theo clutched it, fidgetting anxiously with the strap.

"Did you come from that tribe, Theo?" Gomez interrogated, eyeballing the boy.

For a moment it seemed that he was going to affirm their suspicions, but he swiftly shook his head.

"No...at least, not anymore."

Bethany perked up.

"Were you exiled?" She asked nosily.

Theo's ghostly stare penetrated her thoughts. He silently communicated his misfortune with a single glance.

"Are you alone?" Gomez broke in.

Theo nodded, dropping his gaze. Gomez turned to Bethany, searching her. She pursed her lips, kneeling in the dirt.

"How long ago did this happen?" He asked the boy.

"Yesterday." Theo murmered, fingering the strap on his canteen.

"What would make anyone cast out a child?" Bethany scoffed.

Theo fidgeted, inching slightly closer to the pair of infidels.

"Mom said it's 'cause I'm not pure like the others."

"Pure?" Gomez chimed in.

"You know," He squirmed. "it wasn't her fault."

Recognition registered in Gomez's eyes. The boy was a b*****d, whose mother had been raped by an outsider. Bethany's jaw gaped, taking in the peculiar looking child.

"They sent you away for having mixed blood?" She wondered.

"Well, yesterday was my thirteenth birthday. Boys are grown at thirteen."

"They forced you out so you wouldn't contaminate the gene pool." Gomez finished the thought, unable to hide his disgust.

Theo crossed his arms, squeezing what little fat there was. Bethany empathized with him; felt his fear of being alone.

"You poor thing." She cooed.

He shot her a reproachful glare.

"I'm able to fend for myself." He retorted. "Mom taught me how to survive."

She frowned, pleading with her eyes for Gomez to offer the boy help. His gaze remained hard, unsympathetic to the situation.

"We're exiles, too." She related, hoping to win Theo's trust.

"I know." He said matter-of-factly.

Gomez smirked.

"What gave us away?"

Tension buzzed between the two in an unspoken stand off. Bethany felt a need to intervene.

"Theo, you can come with us to the white coast, if you want."

Gomez clenched his jaw, and narrowed his eyes.

"He said he can take care of himself. Let him be."

Exasperated, Bethany stood and placed her hands on her hips.

"In that case, why don't we just go our separate ways as well? I wouldn't want to hold you back."

Annoyance smeared his face.

"Don't be ridiculous."

"Don't be selfish."

"Please, I'll just go." Theo interrupted, already backing away from the quarreling pair.

Bethany dropped her hands and sighed.

"Don't go." Gomez forfieted. "You can come with us, but you carry your own weight. I already have someone to look after."

She swallowed her pride for Theo's sake. She couldn't stand the thought of him alone on the open plains.

"You won't even know I'm here." He agreed.

Gomez looked at his companions, confirming that they were satisfied.

"Now, if everyone is happy, can we please get moving? We've been here way too long as it is."

Bethany stood, looking down on Theo at her full height. He fell in line behind her as she followed Gomez further into the dry land.

"Theo," He called back over his shoulder. "is there a way to get to the river without drawing attention to ourselves?"

"We can pass by the camp on the back side. They only gaurd the front, since the walls are too high to climb."

"And if they see us?"

"It depends on who sees." He explained. "Most of them wouldn't care, but there are a few guys in there who might stir up trouble"

"How do we know you aren't leading us into a trap?"

Theo stopped.

"I could ask you the same thing."

"Enough." Bethany mediated. "Theo, lead the way to the river. What do we have to lose at this point?"

Both of them were silent. Theo slinked by her and turned them in the direction of the camp. As they walked, the deep glow of the fire burned hotter and brighter. Sweat formed on Bethany's body, streaking her skin as it ran down her neck and arms. Her throat cracked, parched from the intense dry air.

"How do you stand this heat?" She rasped.

"I don't know." He shrugged. "I'm used to it, I guess."

The distinct sound of crackling flame popped in the air, replacing the spring songs of the crickets. As they neared the walls, Bethany could see that they were reinforced with barbed wire, preventing any attempts at scaling them. From beyond the cement and mortar she could hear chatter.

"How many people live in there?" She whispered.

"About ninety something. They're purists, so anyone who isn't like them is kicked out at adulthood."

"There have been others before you?"

"Lots. There was a kid last year who was thrown out for having brown eyes instead of hazel. They think they're the perfect race or something."

"But that's unreasonable." Bethany objected.

Gomez kept quiet, following Theo closely. They slipped by the wide walls undetected, and Theo veered west. After a time the trickling of water gurgled in their ears, coaxing them forward. The brush thickened, and the ground became rocky. Bethany hopped over the cool pebbles until her bare feet were chilled by the fresh mountain stream. She dropped to her knees and splashed her face and neck.

"We'll have to boil the water before drinking it." Theo pointed out.

"We don't have time to build a fire." Gomez argued.

"Then let's drink what's in the canteen, fill it with fresh water, and boil it in the morning." Bethany suggested.

Theo unscrewed the lid and handed the canister to Gomez. He sipped slowly, holding each drop on his tongue for as long as he could before swallowing. Bethany watched impatiently, her eyes wide with thirst. When he passed it her way she gulped until she was breathless.

"Here." She gasped, handing the bottle back to Theo.

He drained it with restraint, savoring the quenching drops. Then he knelt at the river's edge and dipped the bottle in. It bubbled and sloshed as it filled, then spilled over with the icy water.

"We should stay close to the river." He recommended.

"Within view of other tribes?" Gomez retorted. "Isn't that a little conspicuous?"

"Stealth isn't exactly an option here."

"No, but staying out of the way and out of sight should be our priority."

"We could pass through the ruins." The boy spoke with a hollow tone.

Gomez hardened his gaze, the muscles in his jaw tightened.

"There isn't any other way?"

"Either we face the tribes or we face the blood hunters."

Bethany was at a loss.

"I'm sorry, where are we going?"

"The kid wants us to use the old roads. There would be shelter, and cover but the towns are overrun by blood hunters. We'd be serving ourselves up on a silver platter."

"If we go through the ruins, there might be blood hunters. If we stay here, we will eventually be taken prisoner by another tribe." Said Theo.

"We can fight off humans." Gomez argued.

Theo crossed his arms and took a step toward him.

"You really think you can take out a dozen men on your own, maybe even more?"

"I can manage." He snapped.

Tense quiet charged the air between them. The dry ground crackled beneath their heels as they shifted almost imperceptibly.

"How bad is the blood hunter situation...in the ruins?" Bethany interjected.

Theo dropped his arms to his side, the edge in his cracking voice fading.

"From what I've heard the blood hunters still thrive in the towns."

"There are more places to hide." Gomez added.

"That's my point." Said Theo, "If there is shelter for them, then there's shelter for us."

"It's too risky. They are way more dense in the towns. They could be hiding anywhere, we might be safe in daylight, but the second it gets dark we're a free meal."

"We'll find shelter before it gets dark."

"Where?" Gomez chuckled. "In the shadowy buildings, where those things are waiting?"

"In well lit buildings with lots of windows." He returned. "We can even use the rooftops to check the roads before we head out each morning."

Gomez frowned, but had nothing more to say.

"We'll have access to water and materials." He continued. "And we'll have an easier time navigating with paved roads."

Offering an apologetic glance at Gomez, Bethany cleared her throat.

"I-I think," she stammered, "Theo may be right. If we avoid the blood hunters, and only move in the daytime, the ruins might be safer."

Gomez held her gaze, contemplating. His dark eyes seemed to hold an entire world of secrets.

"You don't know what's out there." He murmered. "Neither of you do."

"But we do know what's out here." Bethany returned.

He fidgeted, appearing unsure how to properly weigh the decision.

"Well," Theo spoke up. "I'm going through the ruins, with or without you two."

He started to hike back up the rocky bank. Bethany lingered by Gomez, hoping he would decide to follow their new companion's advice. Gomez stirred, and started up the incline after Theo.

"You'll never make it alone." He grumbled, catching up to the boy. "I guess we're going through the ruins, then."

A shiver of excitement shot through Bethany.

"I've never been in a city." She piped in.

"Don't get to excited." Gomez returned, all sign of amusement stripped from his tone. "If we don't take every precaution we can, this may be the last city you ever see."


© 2015 J.A. Marquez


Author's Note

J.A. Marquez
All constructive criticisms are welcomed. This is definitely not the final version of this chapter.

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Added on May 29, 2015
Last Updated on June 17, 2015
Tags: dystopia, fiction, adventure, coming of age


Author

J.A. Marquez
J.A. Marquez

South Lake Tahoe, CA



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If you want to know who I am, read my stories. Many are works in progress, and many are just a few sentences, but each one is a piece of my soul. more..

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Unbroken Unbroken

A Story by J.A. Marquez