Chapter 3 - An Answer: Part 1
Here we are again with the third chapter in my silly fantasy story.
This third chapter wound up running quite a bit longer than expected, but that’s not a bad problem to have. It means I’ve already got a good chunk of the next chapter covered, and maybe even the one after that. The story is getting more complicated now, so I did a lot of work behind the scenes with my notes so I can keep all of this straight going forward.
Most importantly I’m still enjoying it, and I still want to see where this journey ends.
“It looks like Montreal is going to be the last port of call for this boat.” Simon announced.
They had made it up to Lake Ontario after a couple of weeks of slow going on the Mohawk River. Partly to conserve fuel and to not put too much stress on the boat’s engines, but also because they needed to manually operate every single lock between Albany and Lake Ontario. And there were a lot of locks. A few had required temporarily abandoning the boat to lead a horde away. There had also been a lot of Taylor Swift. Somehow they had made it through all that.
“Why’s that?” Amoc asked Simon.
“Rapids.” Simon replied, matter of fact. “Things get narrow and rocky beyond Ottawa to the west, according to the charts.”
Simon was consulting his iPad’s navigation app. It was one of his few personal belongings from before the apocalypse. Working tech was becoming increasingly scarce. Especially working tech with complete maps of North America. Keeping it going away from the steady solar and diesel power available on the boat was going to be difficult, but there wasn’t much choice. The tech that the world had depended on before the apocalypse had wiped out nearly everything that could operate without power or Internet.
“We could maybe go a bit further up the St. Lawrence, but that doesn’t really get us a whole lot closer to where you want to go.” Simon continued. “I’m way out of my comfort zone up here, there’s no Coast Guard to come rescue us if we get in trouble, so I’d prefer Montreal, and see if we can find ourselves a working truck to go north by road.”
“Lot more risk of running into hordes that way.” Amoc stated the obvious.
“Yeah, but I don’t see that we have much choice. Would be even more risky to do it on foot. I can’t fly a plane, can you?”
Amoc had thought about going after his pilot’s license for several years, but kept putting it off. He was possibly regretting that decision now. Not that he’d trust a plane that had been down for a year or more at this point.
“Outside of Flight Sim? No.”
“By land it is, then.” Simon made the decision. “We secure the boat in Montreal, find a working vehicle, or get one working… I should be able to fix minor issues; dead batteries are going to be the biggest issue I think. Then we get the hell out of town and make for this Logan Demers friend of yours.”
Amoc had known Logan since they were both teenagers. French Canadian, Shifter, off-the-grid survivalist type. He had given Amoc the ‘city wolf’ moniker a long time ago. Amoc’s family business kept Logan supplied with solar panels and batteries for his compound in rural Quebec, and Logan had taught Amoc a lot about surviving off the land. It also was beautiful unspoiled wilderness, where a Garou could really stretch his legs. Amoc had spent a lot of time up there during their younger days, but that had become more difficult as he was expected to take on more responsibility with the business. But he still managed to get up there once a year, no matter how busy things were at work.
All of that was an ironic set of facts that Logan never missed a chance to remind Amoc of. Garou were supposed to be the big, scary monsters that lived in the wilds and hunted humans mercilessly… the truth was that wolf-type Shifters like Logan had done more to drive those myths than Garou, given their changed forms were more animal/human hybrids. The ‘wolfmen’ of legend were all Shifters, given they were more sympathetic to humans, and less likely to kill witnesses. Garou… were rarely so merciful.
“That okay with you?” Simon asked.
“Yeah.” Amoc had been lost in thought. “Like you said, not really any other choice.”
“Something you want to share with the crew?” Simon asked, motioning around to their presumably non-existent crew. “Wondering if the risk is worth it?”
Must have been lost in thought longer than I thought. Guess it’s time to get this aired out in the open. Simon’s going to meet the first real part of my past soon. I have no idea how Logan’s going to react to Simon knowing what he knows.
“If anyone’s still alive in all this, it’s Logan.” Amoc began. “His compound is as remote as any place I’ve ever been. He probably didn’t even know the apocalypse had happened for a couple of weeks, depending on when he had last made contact with civilization. That’s not it.”
Kind of dreading this, aren’t I? I’ve avoided telling Simon much about my past, which has been easy since he’s mostly interested in my world in general. Can’t avoid it forever, just get it out there.
“Logan’s known me for a long time.” Amoc continued. “He’s one of the few people I could share everything with, before the world went to hell. A lot of those things I’ve not told you about yet. Just… keep in mind that’s my past. We don’t live in that world anymore.”
“Right… to be honest I haven’t asked because I don’t really want to know.” Simon admitted.
And if I’m honest, I don’t really want you to know either. But thinking I can control that forever isn’t realistic.
“How have the dreams been?” Amoc asked, changing the subject.
“The same. I keep seeing the first moments like I was there, and it always feels just as real.”
Ever since the music store event in Albany, Simon had been having recurring dreams of the first moments of the apocalypse. Different locations every time, like he was there. It definitely meant something, but Amoc had no idea what.
“Should I be worried?”
“No.” Amoc replied, firmly. “Dreams can’t take over or hurt you like stepping through The Veil. The walls were thin in Albany, which I’m sure is why it bled over in a waking state. Unless we go back there, I don’t think it’ll happen again.”
“Good.” Simon sounded relieved.
I’m not sure you should be trusting me as much as you do with this. I sure hope Logan knows where I can find a Guide. I could really use their help right now. Could have used it a year ago, if I had been thinking more clearly. What a waste. It took far too long to realize we had been doing it all wrong. This may not be the right way either, but at least I’m trying something different now.
Montreal was definitely not like Albany. The horde was here; Amoc had already caught their stench in the air a mile out. This would be an outing for the war form. He hadn’t used it since leaving New York City, and the thought brought back unpleasant memories.
This is different now. You’re fighting with your brain, using your rage as a tool in your arsenal. Tactics combined with muscle, claws and blade… and the occasional cargo container door. Things that weren’t possible before now are becoming so obvious. Not having to hide what I am… it’s changed how I think about things. It’s kind of scary… but it’s also kind of fucking metal. It’s just a shame we didn’t get here before so many Garou died.
“So, the usual plan?” Simon asked as they looked to the Montreal shoreline not far off now.
The ‘usual plan’ was to start by finding the horde, or hordes as the case may be, assessing their numbers, and figuring out how that affected where they wanted to go. From there, they would figure out if the horde needed to be pulled away and if there were any features of the city that could be exploited to control it. Then take a good guess on how much time they had to carry out the task list, and prioritize it based on what would fit in that window.
They had worked on the plan during the weeks on the Mohawk River, and got a good pair of practice runs with smaller hordes in Utica and Rome. Those had gone reasonably well, and some issues had been ironed out. Montreal was far larger a city, though, and the horde or hordes would be proportionately larger. This would be a true test. Amoc felt like they were ready.
“Yep.” Amoc replied. “Except I’m using the war form for this. Montreal’s a much bigger city, I don’t want to take the risk.”
“Right.” Simon seemed to realize the weight of the situation. “We’re not just practicing this time. This is for real. There’s stuff we need to do that’s going to limit our options.”
“Exactly. Much more likely we’ll have to fight the horde.”
“I’ve got an idea for a first move on that.” Simon was looking at his iPad “There.”
They had anchored the boat in a large open area of the river off the southern bank of Montreal the previous night, with the plan to start scouting the city at first light. The sun was now rising. Amoc was working on filling a backpack they had customized to fit him in war form. He stopped to come over and look at what Simon was pointing to. It was a channel cut into the southeastern side of the city, and it appeared to head to a commercial dock area.
“Hear me out on this.” Simon began. “We enter this channel, and then we start blasting away with the horn for a few seconds. That should draw any horde within miles, and by the time they get there we’ll be gone. We keep going to the other end and secure the boat at the docks. The channel is about 4-5 miles long. Could buy enough breathing room and put the horde where we want them in one go.”
It wasn’t the craziest plan they had ever come up with. It could work. Amoc nodded a silent approval.
“We’ll definitely be violating the channel’s speed limit in order to be gone before the horde locks on to us… but I don’t think anyone’s really going to care.” Simon concluded.
“After that?” Amoc asked.
Simon switched to another app that was focused on road maps. He made an open gesture to the map.
“Take your pick.” Simon resumed. “There’s dozens of parking lots in the area. We should be able to find something we can get running there. Ideally diesel, so we’re not working with bad fuel. I’d like a manual transmission too, but, well… that may be a difficult combo to find.”
Simon again indicated a point of interest on the map; it appeared to be an auto mechanic.
“If at all possible I’d like to stop here for basic supplies for the road. Between what we’ve got in rations and your ability to hunt, I’m not too worried about food, but I have boat parts, not car parts. After that we make for Route 40 and get out of the city.”
“In and out as fast as we can, don’t give the horde time to find us.” Amoc surmised the gist of Simon’s plan.
“That’s the idea.” Simon confirmed. “We have pretty much everything we need for the trip thanks to Utica. The boat’s low on fuel, but I have no idea when we’ll be coming back to it, so that’s just as well.”
“Highway to Hell.”
“Huh?” Simon didn’t know that one.
“AC/DC.” Amoc explained. “One band I’ve not introduced you to yet.”
“Oh right. Anyway, comments/concerns… other than music selections for the trip?”
“Traffic jams.” Amoc ventured. “Saw plenty of highways packed with cars trying to get out of the cities. Bridges might be impassable.”
“Good point.” Simon conceded. “Worst case, we come back to the boat, and then circle around to the north end of the city. Less options up there, but that would put us on the main landmass of Quebec. We’ll figure it out from there.”
“And if it’s just a few cars blocking something, I’ll be able to handle that. I think that’s it.” Amoc said after a moment’s thought. “You ready to do this?”
“Yeah. Soon as you’re changed, we go full throttle into that canal.”
They exited the lock at the entrance to the channel, and as soon as they were clear Simon ran the throttle all the way up. He began blasting the horn, which made Amoc wince. One of the few drawbacks of heightened senses. The sun was fully above the horizon now, and he was in war form. A feeling of wrongness Amoc hadn’t felt since New York came back. Being in war form during the day was a sure way to be discovered. The instinct was easier to shut down.
They got up to full speed and Simon stopped using the horn. The channel definitely wasn’t meant for this speed; their wake was climbing the walls behind them. After a minute or two the scent of the horde began receding. Their plan seemed to be working. The first lock came up quickly, and they began a well-practiced routine. It felt like it took twice as long as usual. The next four locks between them and their destination went the same, and the horde seemed to be keeping their distance.
Amoc caught another scent in the air for a moment that was… human? It came and went; it was extremely faint. They had yet to encounter any living people other than the crazy man in Albany, but they had been in very rural parts for some time now. Montreal was a large city. It was more likely someone could be surviving here. The scent vanished again.
“Throw the ropes.” Simon ordered Amoc as they approached their target dock.
Speed was of the essence. They had no way to know how long their distraction would keep the horde at the other end of the channel. Amoc tossed a line to a mooring point and pulled the boat in: a much easier task in war form. Simon immediately shut the engines down. Lines secured, Amoc picked up the custom backpack and put it on. He also picked up his sword; more unpleasant memories came back to him.
It’s a tool. A tool to be used in defense of the living. Where it’s been and what it was used for in the past doesn’t matter anymore.
After a couple of minutes Simon came outside with his own pack and picked up the wheelbarrow. Everything they thought they might need was coming with them, the rest to be left behind on the boat. They disembarked as Amoc placed the gangway down. As they climbed the walkway to the plaza above, Simon stopped for a moment to regard the boat.
“Thank you.” Simon said very quietly towards the boat, before resuming up the walkway.
The boat had been with Simon long before Amoc had arrived in his life, and was a large part of why Simon was still alive today; Amoc understood the sentiment. They proceeded in silence towards the nearest parking garage. No words were needed now, they both knew what they needed to do, and making too much sound would only serve to attract any nearby undead that hadn’t been drawn away. There were a number of vehicles in the street, but none fit their short list of top picks.
As they neared the first garage, the human scent was coming and going again, impossible to ignore now. Was someone following them? If so, they were very good at not being seen; it was not easy to hide from a Garou. As they went inside, Amoc ducking for the low clearance, he motioned for Simon to step out of sight.
“We’re being followed.” Amoc said, as quietly as the war form would allow.
“Unead?” Simon whispered the question.
Amoc shook his head in a silent no.
Affirmative nod this time. Simon gave him an incredulous expression. Amoc felt he knew the meaning: who would be crazy enough to follow them? Someone who had survived this long in a major city, maybe. But those were thoughts they didn’t have the luxury of exploring right now. Staying alert and proceeding with the plan was the only option.
They began walking the rows of the garage. A couple levels up, Simon turned to Amoc making an excited gesture pointing towards a far row of parking spaces. Amoc moved up and spotted the source of Simon’s excitement. It was an older Dodge truck, Amoc guessed maybe early 2000’s. He didn’t know enough about cars to venture more than that.
“Automatic.” Simon whispered. “But otherwise, jackpot. Let me check it real quick.”
Simon opened the hood and began checking fluids. Amoc caught the human scent again. Female? Had to be in the garage now if he was getting enough for that. He turned away from the truck and focused on it, and tried to hear anything beyond Simon’s work behind him. The human was very, very good at not being seen.
“Hey.” Simon called to Amoc in a loud whisper. “This thing is good, let’s load up and go.”
Amoc took off the pack and put it in the bed. Simon was placing a jumper pack on the truck’s battery. They were about to ‘go loud’ as Simon had called it, and they needed to be moving the moment this phase of their plan began. He paused again as he thought he heard something in the direction of their exit. Something hitting a car door?
“What?” Simon asked, whispering again.
“They’re close.” Amoc replied, surveying the parked cars.
Several tense moments of silence followed, then Simon called out.
“Who’s out there?” Simon asked at a normal volume.
It sounded deafening in the garage. Simon was taking a big risk. Amoc’s instincts were making themselves known again, telling him to deal with this threat.
You don’t know it’s a threat. You’re a Garou, they’re human. The horde is your only risk. Let them make the first move.
A figure stepped out from behind a car several rows down. Feminine in stature, lean and haggard, with deep bags under their eyes. It looked like they hadn’t slept in a week. Their clothes were surprisingly clean, though. Possibly why Amoc had such a difficult time picking up their scent.
“What the hell is he?” The human’s voice was as haggard as they looked, and carried a French accent.
They pointed directly at Amoc. The question was meant for Simon. It was definitely not how Amoc had expected this interaction to begin.
“A friend.” Simon replied without hesitation. “He’s my friend. We’re just… we’re just two survivors, like you, trying to make it out of the city.”
“I’ve seen his kind, among the undead.” The woman stated.
Another war-born? They were rare before the apocalypse, that can’t be a coincidence.
“It hunts me now.” The person continued. “I won’t survive it much longer.”
Fuck. The undead war-born had probably been hunting us back in New York City. A war-born running purely on instinct would be driven to hunt endlessly. It explains why their clothes are so clean, they must have figured out that removing scent was important.
“I’m dead if I stay.” The human was now on the verge of pleading. “This is why I risk this. If I show myself, the worst you can do is end my life. But I hope… that maybe you can help me escape it.”
There was an undead war-born on their trail now. They needed to move, now. This woman was a wildcard, but clearly capable if she had managed to stay alive with one on her tail. They should try to help her. This was what he had been working towards with Simon; it was time to make good on it.
“We should help.” Amoc said, turning to Simon.
The woman flinched at Amoc’s voice, but didn’t otherwise move.
“Then we need to all go, now.” Simon stated what Amoc was already thinking.
They drove out of the garage, the truck’s diesel engine clattering away. Amoc was in a somewhat undignified position in the bed, but there was definitely no changing back to human form now. Not until they were out of the city and he was sure there was no undead war-born trailing them. Simon drove, and their new companion took the passenger seat.
The surface streets weren’t too crowded with cars, and they were able to make good time to the auto mechanic’s shop.
“What’s your name?” Simon asked their passenger.
“Jade.” Simon repeated. “Would love to get to know you, but that’s going to have to wait.
If Jade offered any reply, Amoc didn’t hear it.
They arrived at the shop after a short, tense drive. Amoc immediately got out of the bed and it lurched up, no longer being burdened by his weight. Simon then backed the truck up to a bay door and got out, heading straight for the front door. He tried it; it was locked. Simon put down his backpack and pulled out what Amoc had learned was a set of lockpicking keys. Amoc strode over and shoved the door open.
“No time for that.”
“Right.” Simon said, putting his pack back on.
Amoc returned to watching the area around the shop. Jade exited the truck to enter the shop as well, not taking her eyes off Amoc until inside. She was wary, but likely had come to the same conclusion Simon had early on: the fact he wasn’t trying to kill her was good enough for now.
The scent of the horde was getting stronger. Slowly, but it was coming. The truck was noisy, but like the boat it wasn’t likely going to draw them directly. More likely the horde had just lost interest in the channel opening and were slowly working their way back through the city. Amoc was more concerned about the undead war-born that was out there.
Simon raised the bay door after a minute, and placed a plastic tub of automotive things Amoc couldn’t identify into the bed. He went back inside. The clock was ticking, but they also needed to ensure their transportation would survive the trek. Amoc paced the parking lot in front of the shop. There was nothing for him to do except wait, as he would only be the metaphorical bull in a china shop inside.
Time passed, and the horde’s scent wasn’t waning. Simon seemed to be taking forever inside the shop.
“How much...” Amoc’s call to Simon was cut off by a crash of glass and a shout from inside the shop.
“Amoc!” Simon yelled from inside.
Amoc sprinted through the open bay door just in time to see Simon and Jade dive out of the path of a charging undead war-born. Her hunter had found them, and Amoc hadn’t heard it coming. He also realized he had stupidly left his sword in the bed of the truck. There was no time to go back for it, and no time to second guess his mistakes; the war-born was getting back up after it had gone crashing into a set of tool cabinets. Amoc charged it, driving a shoulder into it right as it was getting back up, sending both of them crashing through the wall.
Amoc now had the undead Garou’s full attention. It quickly righted itself and charged at him. Amoc shifted his stance as low as possible and took the charge, leveraging the war-born’s force to throw it over onto its back. The ground shuddered with the weight of the impact. This time he didn’t give it a chance to right itself, bringing a knee down into its skull. Amoc heard bones crack, but nothing gave. It seemed an undead Garou was just as hard to kill as a living one.
Amoc shifted his knee to the war-born’s neck as it tried to get back up, leaning into it. He pinned the arm that was trying to claw him, and was mostly succeeding in keeping it from getting up, though it was still managing to claw at him with its one free arm. It wouldn’t stay down for long.
I’m sorry brother. You didn’t deserve this.
Amoc braced himself with one arm on the war-born’s shoulder, and with the other gripped the base of its skull, digging claws into rotting flesh. He pulled with all of his strength.
A loud pop, and the undead war-born stopped moving.
Amoc stood, and the war-born remained motionless on the ground. Simon and Jade were watching from the other side of the hole in the wall. Simon had his machete out, as if he would have been able to assist in this fight.
“Wow.” Simon finally said, after silence returned to the shop.
They had made a hell of a lot of noise in that fight. The horde had noticed. Amoc could hear it coming now.
“We’re out of time.” Amoc stated.
That snapped Simon back into motion. He pointed at a small toolbox and told Jade to pick it up. Jade did so, while Simon picked up another plastic tub he had filled with parts.
“This will have to do.” Simon concluded. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Amoc sat back down in bed of the truck, and the suspension lowered under his weight. Simon floored the throttle and they left the shop in a cloud of diesel smoke. Amoc’s vision lingered on the motionless form of a dead Garou. They turned a corner, and it fell out of sight.
Getting out of the city was tense, especially for the few minutes Amoc had to work as a living bulldozer to clear Pont Olivier-Charbonneau. After that it wasn’t long before they were in the rural outskirts of Montreal, and the horde was no longer in pursuit. They could finally stop and take a breath, and they did so at a small town called La Tuque.
Simon had attempted some small talk with Jade on the route north, though Jade hadn’t offered much in the way of response. Simon certainly hadn’t been so quiet during their first meeting, but humans processed extreme circumstances in different ways. Garou did too, Amoc supposed, though those circumstances were definitely not the same ones humans faced. Or at least, they weren’t before the apocalypse.
Amoc was getting tired of the awkward position in the truck’s bed, and opted to revert to human form, given all immediate threats seemed to have been left behind in Montreal. Garou had no qualms about nudity in any form, no matter what gender was watching or if they even knew the person watching, but Jade opted not to observe once she was informed of what was about to happen. Amoc wasn’t sure if that was due to prudishness or something else. Humans that had witnessed the transformation… tended not to have had a choice in the matter. Or a choice in what happened next, so Amoc didn’t have much of a sample pool of human reactions to the change.
“Does it hurt?” Jade asked, once Amoc had fully dressed.
While she didn’t see it, she definitely would have heard the transformation. Amoc assumed that was the question’s source.
“Yes.” was Amoc’s simple response. “But it’s… just something that’s necessary, I guess. Familiar. I honestly don’t really even think about it, I’ve been through it so many times.”
He extended a hand.
“Amoc. Or William, if you prefer my human name.”
Jade took Amoc’s hand and shook it, somewhat cautiously. It would be a while before there was more trust.
“There’s a lot behind that you’re going to have to get caught up on.” Simon attempted to explain.
“Loup garou?” Jade stated the old French name as a question.
“Yes.” Amoc again was straightforward with his response. “Werewolf in English.”
“How did you know that?” Simon asked Jade.
“It’s a very old Francish legend.” Jade replied.
“Literally translated it means ‘wolf werewolf’.” Amoc explained. “The term’s over fifteen hundred years old, but no one’s quite sure how far it goes back. Even we aren’t.”
“Guess I never asked.” Simon admitted.
“Etymology didn’t really seem to be your thing.” Amoc quipped.
“I’m sorry we had to meet like that.” Amoc returned his attention to Jade. “You caught us at not the best time, though I have to say you managed to avoid my notice quite effectively.”
“Yes, hiding from the horde was how I stayed alive.” Jade explained. “And how I stayed away from that undead loup garou, but it was relentless. I haven’t slept for five days. When I saw you come in by boat. I thought I might be hallucinating… especially when I saw you.”
Jade pointed at Amoc, and he could definitely understand that.
“I thought, ‘I’ll be dead soon anyway, what’s the worst that can happen?’, and decided to follow you. I’m still not sure I’m not hallucinating all of this, but what does it matter now that I’m out of the city?”
It was as good an explanation as any, though Amoc did have one question.
“Why didn’t you try to get out?”
“I didn’t need to.” Jade explained. “I was doing fine, and the city has more resources than the country. Then the loup garou came a week ago… and it was no longer possible. Every time I would start moving, it would find me.”
“Shit.” Was Simon’s eloquent response.
“I owe you, for my life.” Jade continued. “I hope I can repay that debt somehow. But now… now if I don’t sleep I’m going to fall down.”
“I saw a sign for a hotel a few streets that way.” Simon offered, pointing north along the road. “Probably dirty, but beds are beds. Looks like no hordes through here in a while either.”
“No scent either.” Amoc confirmed. “I think we can risk the night here. Sunset is only a few hours off anyway, and we’ve got another ten to twelve hours of driving ahead of us.”
“Is it still that far?” Simon asked.
“I told you, it’s as remote as anywhere I’ve been.” Amoc replied. “And that was driving time before the apocalypse, who knows now.”
“What is this place you’re going to?” Jade asked.
Amoc realized she hadn’t been informed of that part of their plan.
“A compound, a friend of mine, lives way out in the middle of nowhere.” Amoc explained. “We’re hoping… I’m hoping he’s still alive in all this. Logan is his name. If anyone survived all this, he did.”
“And if not, he’s a great hunter.” Simon was referring to Amoc. “So we can probably start our own survivalist compound.”
“It’s better than being alone.” Jade concluded.
Yeah, a lot of that going around these days.
They proceeded down the road and found the hotel. The rooms were indeed dusty, and there was some evidence of horde damage, but nothing serious. They set up in a pair of linked rooms on the second floor. Simon opted to use the day’s remaining light to change the truck’s oil, while Amoc went across the road to a gas station to siphon some diesel out of the tanks. Jade immediately fell asleep in the hotel room.
It wasn’t trust yet. She clearly was barely holding it together, and really had no choice but to crash. She’s still deep in that survival state, and us saving her life is just step one on that road to coming out of it. It took Simon a while to fully trust me, and I still can’t say if that trust is fully deserved yet. I’m trying to make sure it is. Trying to make it so he doesn’t have to live in that perpetual state of fight or flight decision making, but that’s hard when we’re constantly in motion. I sure hope Logan is up there. I need that stability as much as I’m trying to provide some stability for Simon, and now Jade as well.
“You good?” Simon asked Amoc as he came back and put the full cans of diesel in the truck bed. “Need to do any hunting?”
The changes had taken some energy, but it hadn’t been anything like New York City. He hadn’t needed to regenerate from several major battles with the horde. He was good, barring any other major events.
“Nah, I’m fine.” Amoc replied. “Just try to avoid drawing any hordes into town tonight.”
“Well shit. I was just thinking about blasting some Taylor Swift on the truck’s stereo.”
“Kidding!” Simon laughed.
Amoc finally went to check out the inside of the hotel, and it was like stepping back in time. Most rooms still had tube TVs; the few with LCD TVs looked to be the earliest models. Wood paneling on the walls looked like it hadn’t been changed since the ‘80’s. Rural Canada was like this pretty consistently in his experience, always 10-20 years behind the cities. The people that lived in these places often liked it that way. Now it was all permanently frozen in time, along with the rest of the world.
The beds were dusty, but still comfortable. No power or running water, of course. Amoc realized what an amazing little pocket of civilization Simon’s boat had been. Hot water showers, an oven and stove, lights and heating… and the electricity to run it all. At the cost of a distressingly large amount of diesel fuel. It wasn’t a permanent plan, both he and Simon recognized that fact. Eventually they’d run out of fuel and parts to scavenge from other boats, probably at a very inopportune time. They had to take a shot at something with a real possibility of a long-term plan, and this trip to hopefully find Logan alive was the best option they had.
Night fell to the total darkness and silence that Amoc had never been able to fully get used to. This far inland there was also no noise of running water; something that Amoc realized he had become accustomed to during their weeks on various rivers. Amoc went out on the hotel’s upper walkway to find Simon also standing outside.
“Can’t really sleep, you?” Amoc asked Simon.
A howl was heard, some distance away. Close enough that even Simon should have been able to hear it.
“Friend of yours?” Simon asked.
“Just a wolf.” Amoc offered. “Good sign there’s no horde nearby. They’ve been reclaiming territory now that people are gone, but they stay clear of hordes.”
“I was joking, but that’s good to know.” Simon replied.
“I figured.” Amoc was in a contemplative mood tonight, not rising to Simon’s usual jokes. “Just stay clear of them and they’ll stay clear of you.”
“Advice for life.” Simon quipped.
“I don’t know what the world is going to be like ten years from now.” Amoc mused, after a few quiet moments of introspection. “But I’m trying to use what I am to make it a better place. I have that to offer, and I wish that I had realized it sooner. We were just… so stuck in the old ways of thinking.”
“Hey man, that I can understand.” Simon cut in to offer. “We’re all going through the apocalypse for the first time. You’re no different than me on that count.”
“Hah, true enough.” Amoc conceded that point to Simon. “In any case, it’s clear there are more people alive out there. If Jade survived Montreal for a year, then I know Logan is up there, and probably has a few people still with him. People kind of came and went from his place… not everyone’s cut out for that kind of lifestyle. There were probably a few there when this all went down… maybe more if they had the sense to find someone that knows how to live off the grid. There have to be others out there like Jade and Logan.”
“Where are you going with this?” Simon was genuinely curious about his musing now.
“I don’t know.” Amoc wasn’t sure himself. “I feel like I’m more free now to actually do things that matter beyond my own world. I want to do something with that. I want to fight for the living still left in this world, but I don’t know how to do that. We’re so scattered now, the few of us left. We may be the last if we don’t figure that out.”
“Shit...” Simon, eloquent as ever.
“Yeah. I hope Logan sees it too. I hope he’s still alive up there and willing to help me figure this out.”
“Well if he isn’t on any of those counts, I’m in.” Simon offered. “However long we’ve got left on this planet, traveling with you has been a hell of a lot better than my year alone. I’m here for the long haul. Also because I’m not done introducing you to pop music’s greatest artists.”
Amoc genuinely laughed.
“Don’t ever change, Simon.”
The night passed without incident, Amoc and Simon both managing to get some sleep after securing their conjoined rooms. It had been a cold night, as they were getting quite far north now, and it was getting quite deep into Fall. It was October 15th according to Simon’s iPad, assuming it still had accurate time. Jade was awake, sitting and reading a book in front of the room’s window. She looked up when Amoc wandered by on the way to the door.
“Bon matin” Jade said to Amoc.
Amoc paused to regard Jade. She seemed to be in a much better mood this morning, but he supposed actually getting sleep after several days without it was bound to improve anyone’s mood.
“My French is pretty bad.” Amoc admitted. “Bonjour.”
“I suppose this means it’s unlikely I was hallucinating.” Jade began. “And that I really am in the company of a loup garou and… he is human, Simon?”
“As human as they come.” Simon offered from the other room, apparently awake now as well.
“I wasn’t sure what I would wake up to, after yesterday. Two people I don’t know, letting my guard down and going to sleep…”
“We’re not like that.” Amoc quickly cut in, realizing where Jade was going.
She was a woman alone with two strangers she had just met. Stories that start like that often don't end well.
“I hoped so.” Jade resumed. “I continue to do so.”
“He would rip me into a dozen pieces if I tried anything.” Simon offered from the joining door’s opening, and then quickly backpedaled. “Not that I ever would. That kind of dumb shit is for the movies. We survivors have to look out for each other.”
“Smooth.” Amoc commented on Simon’s verbal fumbling.
Jade looked at the two of them as if she was trying to figure out just what their comedy duo routine was supposed to be. Amoc understood that. He wasn’t quite sure what their dynamic really was some days. Not boring, that was certain.
“I need to pee.” Was Amoc’s blunt statement as he opened the door to exit the room.
The truck was as they had left it. Amoc still couldn’t get any hint of a horde on the air, though it was possible some wolves had been through during the night. Those were good signs that there was likely to be little activity on the road ahead. The undead did tend to stick to cities, but there were a few unpredictable roaming hordes; those had likely been the demise of small towns like this, as they simply wouldn’t have had the resources to defend against a horde of ten thousand or more undead. Towns like this had survived for weeks or even months after the big cities fell, but so far Amoc hadn’t found any still among the living a year on from the dead rising.
After relieving bladders and consuming a breakfast of dried rations, they piled into the truck and headed north. Amoc took turns driving with Simon, and Jade seemed content to read. Northern Quebec didn’t offer the kind of landscape most people probably thought of when imagining rural Canada. It was rugged and rocky, with evergreens covering much of the land. Beautiful in its own way, Amoc thought. It was some of the most unspoiled land in the world, and it kept him coming back this way every year. He was definitely a city wolf, but out here just felt… right. Now it might become home.
The road was generally easy going, with only a few cars occasionally blocking the way. They were far beyond any major population centers at this point, so whatever had happened up here had been small compared to down south. Amoc idly wondered just what had happened in areas so remote. Had they tried to head south to the cities? Had they escaped further north? The cause for the fall of major cities was fairly easy to guess; what happened in these remote places was harder to figure.
Their last brush with any form of civilization would be at Lake Saint-Jean, where they stopped to stretch, get more diesel, and eat another meal of rations before carrying on. As with so many places Amoc had been, no signs of the living were found.
How many of the living are still left in the world I wonder? In a year’s time I’ve seen twenty, maybe thirty living humans? Have I just been really stupidly unlucky with the path I’ve chosen to travel? Or have I just been really wrong about how the undead came to be? Is there any way left to know for sure? Does it even matter?
The dirt roads got rougher the further north they went, and after some time they were going entirely by Amoc’s memory on unmarked paths. At this time of year and this far north, the days were relatively short, and it wasn’t long before they were running out of daylight. They were well and truly beyond any civilization at this point, and Amoc realized he hadn’t really given much thought to where and how they might stop if they needed more time to reach Logan’s compound. He figured they were still at least two hours away, and it would be deep into full darkness by the time they got there.
They decided to press on with Amoc at the wheel, as he knew the route and was the best equipped to see at night. Amoc almost missed a glint of white reflecting in the darkness, and slammed on the brakes jolting Simon and Jade forward.
“What?” Simon asked.
“Saw something on the trail.” Amoc reported. “Wait in the truck.”
Amoc exited the truck and walked to the front to inspect what he had seen. It was a nylon string, strung tight between two trees about six inches off the ground.
A trip wire. We’ve got to be close. Logan uses these as early warning systems to alert him of… Amoc realized that Logan had never really told him what he used these for.
Amoc traced the string back to its end and found the transmitter.
Do I trip it on purpose? Probably should. He’ll hear the truck coming, he’ll realize it’s not the undead. Better than trying to sneak up on the compound.
Amoc pulled on the string. It pulled the trigger out of the transmitter… and nothing happened. The status light that Logan had shown him should start blinking when it was triggered failed to turn on.
Fuck. That’s not a good sign.
“Amoc?” Simon called from inside the truck.
“Trip line early warning system.” Amoc explained. “I tripped it on purpose… but it didn’t turn on.”
“Whoa, you want to warn us next time?” Simon reasonably asked. “Could have been a claymore or something.”
“You played too much Call of Duty.” Amoc shot back. “Logan wouldn’t use explosives or anything dangerous. It’s just a simple radio beacon. Except it’s dead.”
“That’s… not great is it?” Simon asked. “How far out are we?”
“No, and another twenty, thirty minutes I think.”
Jade looked profoundly uncomfortable with the situation, but didn’t offer any input. Amoc wasn’t feeling great about the situation himself. They were hours from anything, and their first sign of Logan was a dead beacon. Amoc got back in the truck and they continued driving down the path.
“Wood smoke.” Amoc stated after several more minutes of driving.
“How can you smell anything over this truck?” Simon asked.
“I just can.”
A few more minutes passed, and then a dim light crept out of the woods. It grew brighter as they got closer.
“Someone’s definitely up there.” Simon stated the obvious.
Amoc kept a steady speed. He started hearing voices, shouts that he could make out over the clatter of the truck’s motor. Whomever was up there had to have either heard the truck or seen their headlights.
“We’ve been spotted.” It was Amoc’s turn to state the obvious. “Whatever happens, we’re just three survivors. My name is William Savage. Got it?”
“Got it.” Simon confirmed.
“Yes.” Jade also acknowledged.
Amoc’s memory hadn’t failed him. The main house, Logan’s house, came into range of the truck’s headlights. There were half a dozen people on the porch, some of them armed, but nothing being pointed at them. The porch was too backlit to tell if any of them were Logan. He stopped the truck at what felt like a respectful distance and turned the engine off.
“Wait in here.” Amoc ordered Simon and Jade, and proceeded to exit the truck.
Almost as soon as Amoc stepped out, he was blinded by a powerful flashlight.
“Incroyable!” A French accented voice exclaimed.
I know that voice!
The flashlight was lowered and he could see again. Logan Demers came down the house’s stairs two at a time, looking exactly as if nothing had changed in the last year. He covered the distance to Amoc in a few long strides and embraced him in a bear hug, which Amoc returned. The reality of finding Logan alive hit him in that embrace. All the pain of the last year, losing everyone he knew… except Logan. Logan was still alive.
Do not cry. Do not cry. For fuck’s sake do not cry.
“You are the last thing I expected to see come out of the woods tonight.” Logan began, still hugging him. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again!”
Logan’s voice faltered on that last part. He clearly was fighting his own battle. He finally released the hug and they stood there, oblivious to the onlookers on both sides.
“Why?” Amoc shot back. “I’m only a couple months late for my annual trip up here.”
Logan grabbed him for a hug again before releasing him a second time, but this time he had to quickly wipe away some tears. Logan loved him like a brother, and while Amoc didn’t show it as extravagantly as Logan, he felt the same way.
“I found one of your trip wires, but the beacon didn’t turn on when I set it off on purpose, I was afraid you hadn’t made it.”
“Bah, garbage, those things.” Logan explained. “They keep failing. Completely useless. But you should know some little undead apocalypse wouldn’t get me. How did you make it here?”
“I had help.” Amoc motioned to the truck behind him. “Come on out you two.”
Simon and Jade excited the truck.
“Simon, Jade.” Amoc introduced his two traveling companions in turn. “Logan.”
“Bonjour.” From Jade.
“Hi.” Simon’s usual eloquence.
Logan gave Amoc a questioning glance, then greeted them both. Amoc knew what he was probably thinking. That question was coming, but he wasn’t going to ask it in front of a bunch of humans.
“This is William.” Logan addressed the people gathered on the porch. “He’s a very old friend of mine.”
Amoc had his answer. The old ways die hard it seems. Logan hadn’t revealed himself to these other people, and that conversation was going to be a hard one. Amoc’s presence here was going to upset things.
“Well let’s not stand out here in the cold all night.” Logan stated, motioning towards the house. “Come inside.”
There were six other people on the porch. Amoc didn’t get any unusual signals from any of them, so they were all human. Logan introduced them in turn.
“This isn’t everyone, we have a number of people out on supply runs and long hunting trips.”
“Out here, overnight?” Amoc asked.
“We’ve become quite good at avoiding the odd roaming horde up here.” Logan explained. “Winter is still the cruel mistress of the North, and still more dangerous than that occasional threat, so we are now preparing for it.”
They proceeded inside Logan’s house. The temperature was indeed much warmer inside, with a strong fire going inside the hearth. Much like Logan, it looked as if nothing had changed. The house was not at all ostentatious, just rugged and utilitarian. Designed to survive the harsh Winters of northern Canada while providing modest comfort, and nothing more.
“You must tell me everything that’s happened, but I won’t force you to do so tonight.” Logan stated his request, likely knowing Amoc couldn’t say what the real story was, until they had a private conversation. “You look exhausted, and it’s late, so that can wait until the morning. You know where the bedrooms are, go.”
Amoc did. The house had been built to accommodate a large number of unrelated people, so there was a long upstairs hallway lined with small, but private bedrooms. Amoc often felt it was like one of those old Western saloons, with rooms for rent upstairs. He showed Simon and Jade to a couple of available rooms, as well as the toilet and shower. There was hot running water, courtesy of the systems Amoc’s business had given Logan some years back.
If this is home now, I could get used to this. First I need to have that talk with Logan, but that’s a problem for tomorrow’s Amoc. Tonight’s Amoc is just going to get some sleep.
Amoc fell asleep for the first time since the apocalypse started feeling that the world had improved a little bit.