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A Rotting Eden
300 years after the Apocalypse came and went, the survivors join wandering gangs called Tribes in a bid for survival in a world without nations. This is the story of one man's struggle in one of the last remaining cities on Earth.
        Team Eight comprised of Aramis, Mickey Shift, Jimmy Styles, Lenny Dukes, and José Olé. The guys were on the roster today to look for any sort of edible foliage out in the streets of the city. To the untrained eye, a dandelion was just a weed. A yellow flower growing between the cracks of the concrete. But to members of Gang Green---Hell's Harvesters---dandelions were a source of life and luxury. Not many people could see a dandelion and see leaves that could be used in a salad high in vitamins A, C, K, potassium, calcium, iron and manganese. Or that the petals could be used to make wine. Or that the roots, when ground, dried and roasted, could make a drink that tasted just like coffee---only without the caffeine.

"What's on today's list, Jim?" Aramis asked, tossing a currently empty burlap sack over his shoulder and holding it by the string. Jimmy Styles was a newcomer to Gang Green. He was barely 17, and with the looks to match. He was some kind of Irish, with light brown hair and a set of eyes to match. He had freckles, and was a tall, lanky kid with an odd affinity for the color orange. Aramis had never seen someone who loved the color orange so much. Jimmy Styles wore orange whenever he could. Stuck out like a sore thumb, but that was helpful, really, now that they were deep in the Archevite Forest.

"Lessee," Jimmy mumbled, retrieving the hand-scribbled note from his back pocket. "We're supposed ta get milkweed, nast... nastur..."

"Nasturtium," Mickey interrupted.

"Nasturtium," Jimmy continued, "Wild mustard, fairy ring mushrooms, and chanterelles, and two things from space aliens who flew to earth on unicorns fartin' rainbows all the way from Jupiter."

Aramis, Mickey, Lenny and José stopped in their tracks.

"The ********] José asked, snatching the list from Jimmy and looking it over himself. After reading through the list, he let out a good-natured laugh and handed it over to Lenny, who, in turn, began laughing, too. The note was passed around while Jimmy's cheeks grew red with embarrassment.

"What?!" the boy asked. "There ain't no way we're finding chicken and steak in the woods!!"

"It's shorthand for 'chicken of the woods,' pendejo!" José laughed, slapping Jimmy on his back. "That's a mushroom that looks like a gallina turn't around backwards." Aramis laughed at the fairly accurate description. Chicken of the woods actually did look like the ruffled, grayish feathers of a hen's behind. But that's what made it so recognizable. Unfortunately, the list that Jimmy held was more of a wishlist. A list of things that would, really, be nice if they could get, but it wasn't entirely expected that they come home with any of it. And for the most part, Team Eight knew it. This was more or less a fool's errand, a way to get them out of the Tribe's headquarters while more important things were going down. Most of the men were sent away to forage; winter was approaching, and they would have to gather large mounts of edible nuts, roots and other foliage to supplement an already drastically shortened growing season. Most of the women, however, stayed behind---not because they were unfit to forage, but because they were planning bigger things and needed a strong support base. A change in management, if you will.

It was dangerous, going into the woods like this. Relatively unarmed. The Archevite Forest was full of animals, many of them sick from radiation fallout and mad with famine. Animals that might have once had the instinct to run from humankind would attack, else they starve to death. These men were without guns or any long-range projectile weapons, really. Most guns were in the hands of The Black Boot Brigade, and coming across one meant a fairly expensive trade-off or theft. For the most part, members of Gang Green were armed with, literally, your garden-variety horticulture tools: hand-rakes, sharpened to fine, dangerous points. Pruners, dangerously dulled with frequent use and not much maintenance. Triangle-tipped, metallic weeders that resembled spears. Viciously barbed shovels with jagged, spiked teeth at their borders. Hand-sickles, kept close on the belt of every man and woman in Gang Green. Very often, these gardening tools became weapons at a moment's notice. Whether they were weapons in a defensive or offensive manner, however, was usually up to the temperament of Tribe member using them.

Some of the items on their fool's errand of a list are actually found. Mick's bag is stuffed with chunks of chicken-of-the-woods, Aramis has filled his bag with as many fairy ring mushrooms as he could find, and Lenny Dukes actually managed to find a nice slab of beefsteak mushroom about as thick as his palm as just as wide. The five were hunched over, scouring the area where Lenny found the mushroom, hoping to be lucky enough to spot some more within the same radius when Lenny suddenly lifts his head. "Didja hear that?" he half-whispered, his eyes trained upwards and scanning the skeletal claws of bare tree branches above them. "Hear wha--" Mickey began, but was cut off immediately with a reprimanding Shhh! from Lenny. The men all froze in place, listening for whatever it was that Lenny heard, even if they didn't know what it was.

"I don't hear anything," Aramis concluded, shrugging his shoulders and hunching over again to continue his quest when again Lenny interrupted him with a Shhhh! And there it was again. A faint rustle, the snapping of a twig underneath a foot. Or a paw. To the left! Every man's head turns towards the source of the sound. At first, they see nothing. Only the everlasting amber and burgundy hues of the forest leaves, covering the semi-frozen earth. The occasional thin evergreen breaking up an otherwise continuous ragged slashes of deciduous trees against a gray autumn sky. The occasional gray boulder. But then---what was that? The unnatural glint of glass.

There's someone here! At least, that's what Aramis wants to say, but he's unable to do it since the cold barrel of the rifle against the base of his skull causes him to lose all motor control. And just like that, they're surrounded, his tiny group, by a Tribe he's often heard of but never seen before: The Taiga Tribe.

Long ago, the city of Golgotha had quite the sizable Russian population, living along what was once known as Brighton Beach. They were a tight-knight group, often clinging to the customs and the language of the old country country even if they'd been citizens of the States for years. After the Cataclysm, many Russians living in Brighton Beach did what came naturally to them---they turned inward, leaning on each other for support. And by looking out only for each other, they survived where many other Tribes bled out or assimilated into larger groups. Stories of their tenacity, their hunger for survival, their willingness to return to the woods and self-sufficiency away from the cities where Gang Green gave handouts earned them many admirers. But though the story seemed dipped in gold, there was certainly ugliness underneath---the Taiga, for example, were not known to take prisoners.

Mickey Shift then did what came naturally to him. Immediately, the dark-haired man dropped to his knees and threw his hands in the air, palms forward to show that he was defenseless, and began to beg for his life. There were several of these Taiga, each now pressing their guns to the backs of Team Eight's heads and forcing them onto their knees. They were dressed in heavy furs coats to ward off cold and retain warmth. The men often wore full beards to act as further protection from the harsh winters. Animal pelts hung from their shoulders and belts, likely a way to display status and skill. The women were rumored to be just as tough, hunting with men, setting traps, skinning and cleaning game. Contact with the Taiga by any other Tribe was rare, and often the result of inauspicious circumstance. The man with the rifle at Aramis' head barks something in the pidgin Russian common to the Taiga---an odd mix of an obscure Russian dialect flecked with the occasional English, French or even Swahili loan word that Aramis swore was intentionally constructed just to make communication between the Taiga and other citizens of Golgotha impossible. After all, language was the gateway to mutual understanding and cooperation. The Taiga didn't want cooperation. They were doing just fine without the so-called "public assistance" of the Main Four. Aramis and the rest of Team Eight have trespassed on Taiga territory. They would have to pay.

Aramis stands, frozen, unable to decipher what it is the man wants. Again, the muzzle of the gun is shoved into the hollow at the base of his spine, and he feels his temper begin to rise---a dangerous reaction, considering the circumstance. He yells a great multitude of ways to explain that he doesn't understand what the Taiga wants, he doesn't understand what the Taiga is saying, but his captor either understands none of his words or pretends not to. The tension begins to crest, and angry voices begin to join the chorus: Mickey pleading for his life, the Taiga man in his incomprehensible blather and Aramis' rising rage are joined by the pleas of Jimmy, José and Lenny. The other Taiga join in, too, some obviously, by their body language, urging the rest to keep quiet. But despite their efforts, the stressful situation boils over.

A single shot rings out, causing Aramis to squeeze his eyes shut and only pray that his eyes will open ever again. And when they do, he sees Mickey Shift hunched over but unharmed, the Tagia leaning away and staring in horror to their right. When Aramis turns his head to meet their gaze, the lifeless body of young Jimmy Styles, the young boy of barely 17, lay face-down in the soft bed of leaves beneath him. A large, hideous red wound sullies the otherwise neat red hair at the back of his skull. A gun, still smouldering with heat, trembles in the hands of a young Taiga with eyes wide in terror and shock. But before Aramis, before Mickey or Lenny or José have time to drink it in, a new threat reveals itself. The accidental gunshot, the incoherent yelling, has alerted some of the local fauna to their presence. A large brown bear comes shambling around a hill, its curiosity turning to hunger at the smell of blood.

The Taiga at his back says something that, even with their language barrier, Aramis understands: run! The Taiga take off, some firing their weapons at the bear, and most shots either hitting the animal in glancing blows or missing altogether. In any other situation, this may have been the wrong move. But the bear was clearly emaciated, and he sets upon Jimmy's body with a savagery that makes Lenny retch in disgust. "Come on," José says softly, rising to his feet and urging Lenny to do the same. He keeps his voice low, not wanting to distract the beast as it gorges itself on Jimmy's soft flesh. "Come on!" Mick needs little convincing. He stands up and begins to sprint back in the direction of the city, wanting to put as much distance between himself and the bear as possible. But Aramis goes numb. He feels as if his legs are encased in cement, and it takes several tense seconds of both José and Lenny's pleas and rough shoving to get him to move, to stumble, and to finally run away from the grizzly scene before them.

Team Eight, minus Jimmy Styles, makes it out of the Archevite Forest. But they do not allow themselves to grieve. Hours later, when they return home with their meager gains for the day, someone asks where Jimmy went. "We lost him," is all the reply that can be offered, and all it elicits in response is a simple understanding nod of the head from most who ask. These things happen, it seems to say. That's too bad. It's hardly the send-off young Jimmy Styles deserves, but unfortunately, it's all he will get. Because this is Golgotha: The Place of the Skull. Life is cheap, and you're expected to accept it and move on.
But Aramis doesn't move on. He carries it with him, every death ever witnessed, and his shoulders bend with the weight. And every day he grows more and more bitter at the world he lives in. He wonders, sometimes, how much more he's willing to take.

Bleeding Apocalypse
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  • User Comments: [2]
    You drive me crazy with your unfinishednessdess.

    comment Sir Schmerz · Community Member · Wed Nov 30, 2011 @ 08:15pm
    Well, I know someone who could cheer him up? <w<

    comment Sir Schmerz · Community Member · Fri Dec 16, 2011 @ 11:15pm
    User Comments: [2]

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