Zero slowly made his way back towards home. He had stayed out way too long. Lately he found himself staying away from home longer and longer. He claimed it was because no one saw him, but that wasn’t really true. Sure, sometimes he seemed invisible, but most of the time it was just they treated him that way. No one listened to his suggestions. No one even bothered to ask what he thought. Of course, they noticed when he did something ‘wrong’. Especially Jaxes. He always found fault in Zero’s actions. It didn’t help that Jaxes was the son of the chief.
Jaxes’ family had always led their village. It was his great-great…well too many greats to remember grandfather that first gathered the refugees together after the War. It was said the family originated from Brussels. Zero didn’t know where Brussels was, but was sure it had been full of blowhards who thought they knew everything. At least it was if Jaxes was representative of the population. Simply put, Jaxes was an ass. He always criticized Zero, even when it was obvious that Zero was right. So, Zero avoided him at all costs now.
The sun had set hours ago, yet Zero still worried he’d see someone as he entered the small village. So he walked with a slow, methodical pace. Dreading the moment he arrived. It was probably that fear that caused him to hear the scuff of rocks up ahead. He froze, terrified of what it might be. His terror was well regarded.
An Other appeared in the path ahead. An Other! What brought it here? They never came this close to the wasteland. It was said they had drifted down from the wasteland after the firestorms and refused to return. No one knew for sure though. All that was really known was the Others sought out every human they could find. They enslaved those humans, forcing them to work the rest of their lives in misery while the others threatened them with death. Zero’s village was one of the small remaining enclaves of free men.
Zero could barely breathe. The thing was huge, nearly seven feet tall. Its skin was a motley grey and seemed made of scales rather than skin. A course hair covered most of its body. As he stood there, he watched the beast begin to sniff around. It seemed to have caught a whiff of something. It stared right at him.
Zero was so terrified he couldn’t even move to get away. His breath stuck in his throat. He was going to die! He knew it. Suddenly, a guttural bark shattered the night silence. The beast grunted in reply. It took one more sniff, then strangely turned and loped off into the night, towards the bark. Zero was alone again.
Zero couldn’t explain it. Sure, people seemed to ignore him, but he really thought it was only because they hated him. Now he wasn’t so sure. The Other had stared right at him. He was five feet away. The night sky was clear. No way could it have missed seeing him, yet that is what happened.
Then thought returned to Zero. The village! He had to warn them. The Others would enslave them!
Zero ran like the wind. Where just a minute before he hesitated in his return, he now raced through the darkness, worried he’d be too late. As he rounded the last corner and the village came into view, he realized how right he was. The village lay in ruins. Every hut seemed to be torn apart. Debris littered the area. Nothing moved.
Slowly he began to move among the desolation. The Others had missed nothing, it seemed. Not one building remained standing. Here and there, Zero saw a body torn apart. Mostly they were older villagers; ones who wouldn’t be able to work hard, he noted. Sadly, there were a few toddlers among the remains. No one between the age of 6 and 50 remained. Not among the dead. Perhaps some had escaped?
Just as he was about to give up the search, he heard a small gasp. Turning to his left, he felt his breath catch in his throat again. Quickly he rushed over to the old man lying in the tumbled remains.
“Zerosta. You are OK. The Others didn’t get you. I feared the worst when you were gone so long.”
“No grand-papa. They didn’t get me, though one almost did. I don’t know how it missed me. Stay still while I bandage these wounds.”
“There’s no time Zerosta. I don’t think anything can be done to save me. You can save yourself though. The Others will return. I doubt they are just looking for more slaves. They are planning on claiming this area too. You must be gone before they come back. You must go north over the wall.”
“Over the wall?!? That’s insane. No one goes over the wall. That’s certain death. It’s a barren wasteland there.”
“Yes, it’s a wasteland, but hardly barren. Before the War, a powerful nation of men existed. It existed north of the wall. Then the War brought death and destruction. Waves of fire tore through the land, destroying much. Yet I doubt it destroyed everything.”
“No buts. You must go. It has been prophesied. It is said in man’s greatest hour of need, when all seems hopeless, one will arise. He will be the travelling man. He will go north into the wasteland. In doing so, he will change what is. He will end what was. There’s more to it, but that is all you need to know. Shortly after you were born, I realized the prophecy was about you. I can’t tell you how I knew, I just did.”
“You must go into the wasteland. You must find a way to free our people. I know you will. You are the one. Perhaps you will find a clue in that land. It was said that during their time of influence, the world was connected in a way it has never seen before or since. There was something called the World Wide Web. I don’t know what that was, though it makes me think of giant spiders. Never mind that though. Time grows short. Perhaps you will find answers in that ‘web’.”
“How will I know what to look for? Even if I find this web, how will I understand what it says? I can’t do this grand-papa. I want to stay with you. I will make you better.”
“No Zerosta. It’s too late for me. You must go. You must promise me that you will find answers. You are humanity’s only remaining hope. Please say you’ll go.”
As he finished his request, Zero’s grand-papa wheezed out one last gasp and collapsed. Tears welled up in Zero’s eyes as he held the limp body in his arms, crushing it to his chest. He seemed to be trying to urge him back to life with sheer willpower.
Finally, as the sun crested the horizon and a new day began, Zero realized it was hopeless. Nothing would bring life back to the dead. He wiped the remaining tears from his eyes. Then, he reached out reverently and closed his grandfather’s eyes, whispering “I will grand-papa. I promise I will find a way.”
Zero stood and began to move around the village remains, gathering what he could for the journey north. Within an hour he was ready. Resolutely he started out on the path that led to the wall. He never looked back, though before the village was out of sight, tears were once again flowing from his eyes.
This was written for blogophilia on facebook:
Blogophilia 3.4 Topic: “Traveling Man“
(Hard, 2pts): include the ‘web’ (as in world wide web)
(Easy, 1pt): mention Brussells
Final date to post: March 22nd, 2011 GMT midnight
Final date to post ALL GUESSES: March 19th, 2011 GMT midnight
I will say that Colleen provided the topic and that Dahlia provided the picture. Picture guess is these boots were made for walking.