What follows is a work of complete fiction.
This series will be a story describing the experiences of a fictional man in a completely fictional world that will include detailed and explicit descriptions of mutually agreeable, unforced and deeply loving and respectful sexual acts between that man and other people who are often mistaken for, and may even claim to be, pubescent boys, but who are all in actuality very short people who are all over the age of 18.
If this is not the type of story you would enjoy, please stop reading now.
If there is any reason legal or otherwise why you should not read such a story, please stop reading now.
If you are the type of person who has any difficulty whatsoever separating fantasy from reality, please stop reading now.
Although the people in this story are all over 18, they are often mistakenly thought to be young boys, so I will word this next bit as though they actually were: The events depicted in these stories have not happened, and will not ever happen. No one should ever attempt to replicate them in any way in real life. These events are a work of fantasy for the enjoyment of those with a healthy mind who have no problem keeping them in the realm of imagination. I have never attempted, nor would I attempt, any such acts myself and as such I am likely to get some details completely wrong. One thing I am certain of is that in real life, young boys would NOT appreciate this sort of thing being done to them and they are INCAPABLE of giving informed consent to allow these things to be done to them. If you ever even consider attempting these acts in real life then you are extremely sick and should immediately seek help. If you ever contact me and in any way and imply that you are even considering trying these things in real life I WILL contact the authorities. Please keep that in mind.
That said if you are still reading I do hope you enjoy the story.
This story is the property of the author and may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any way without my express, written consent. Nifty.org has my express consent.
No gophers were harmed in the writing of this tale.
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Alone. It's a word that only ever had good connotations for me in the past. I use the word more lately than I ever could have imagined I would, and I really do not care for it anymore. I rise once again alone with nothing to look forward to but another lonely day in this fucked up lonely world, all alone. I am as alone as any lonely loner has ever been in the long lonely history of this stupid lonely universe.
The air is a little crisper this morning. Looking out across the prairie is like looking across a rippling sea of gold. Soon the crops will be ready for harvest. Too bad there's no one left to give a shit. I could sure go for a nice fresh bagel. All that wheat and there are none of the requisite people left to process it into something I can use. No farmers, no millers, no bakers, no grocers, and none of the people in between who keep the machinery of civilization running.
For me the ripening grain is simply another reminder that I really need to get it in gear and head further south before winter sets in. I don't know why I paused here so long. I guess it was the open spaces and the abundance of game. There's certainly no shortage of food for anyone with the skills to catch, kill and prepare it. I could certainly survive a winter here but it would be much harder than necessary. I need to move on to someplace warmer. I've just been so lonely I haven't been able to get motivated to do much of anything.
I haven't seen a living soul in almost half a year. There is no one to talk to, no one to make me laugh or cry or think or feel, no one at all. All my life I've been a loner, but this has gotten truly extreme. I never hated people. I simply treasured my privacy. Like most treasures though, it loses its value when there is an over abundance. Privacy these days has the value of dirt. No matter where I turn there's more of it.
Not much of anything has true value anymore since I'm so "rich". By squatter's rights I guess I could say that this whole prairie is mine. All of the crops, all the trees I can see, the animals that live here, the dirt underneath them, the air they breathe, the clouds in the sky, the mountains off in the distance and the ocean beyond that are all mine.
"I here by lay claim to the whole fucking world!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Anyone who disputes that can come over here and we'll have words! That's right, you just come over here right now! Please!?! God damn it!!!"
I could shout till my lungs fly out in shreds but only the gophers will ever hear. I would give my left testicle for a single conversation with another human being.
It's been 138 days since the plague started, or at least since I first realized what was happening. Nobody seemed to know why or where it started. There was no warning. It didn't even seem terribly alarming at first. Everyone just started getting sick. In the beginning it seemed like nothing more than a flu that was highly contagious and took a long time to build up to anything serious. Long enough that most people at first just kept going to work or school, to tea with the ladies or to the country club. They drove or flew to their business or vacation destinations. They lived their daily lives and in so doing passed the virus to everyone they met who went on about their lives passing it along further. Soon it had spread to every corner.
Young and old, everyone got it. It did not seem to skip over anyone. I don't recall ever hearing of a disease with a one hundred percent rate of transmission before. It was so perfect a virus that I've found myself wondering sometimes whether it might have been engineered.
I should say it was "almost" perfect. The strange thing was that while the old just kept slowly getting sicker and sicker until they finally died, some of the young seemed to stabilize and even improve. I shouldn't really say the "old" were dying. Anyone beyond puberty sickened more and more until they inevitably succumbed. Too weak to cough out any more phlegm they drowned in their own secretions. It seemed as if somehow the lethality of the virus was linked to sexual maturity. The further past puberty you were, the harder you were hit.
Of those who had not yet reached puberty, the youngest died simply due to neglect. Their parents or guardians, older siblings, uncles and aunts, doctors, nurses and neighbors were all dying or dead and there was no one left to care for them and help them through the illness. Those who couldn't feed themselves or figure out how to get water eventually died even if they were on the mend from the sickness. Those old enough to find ways to care for themselves stayed sick for a good while, and then started to get better.
I know all of this simply from what I was able to glean from the progressively more urgent, desperate, and eventually intermittent and broken up transmissions over the radio before the broadcasts finally stopped altogether.
I had just started a solo three week camping and fishing trip at a remote trophy lake in northern Canada when it all began. Although I'm an American born and bred, Canada's rugged northern countryside has always been my favorite place to rough it. A few times each year I take a leave from my work, close up my home in Nevada, and escape the desert to go and enjoy the wonders of the Canadian landscape. I've become quite familiar over the years with the province of Alberta. I love the range of vistas it has to offer from thick forests to green hills, and sweeping prairies to majestic mountains. I've enjoyed camping and fishing nearly every bit of water this province has to offer from the northern great lakes to the small mountain streams in the Rockies. The particular lake I chose this year is very far north, too small to fly into very safely, and nearly inaccessible even on land without the right equipment so I had it to myself.
I always bring a wind-up rechargeable radio with me when I camp and I normally listen to it for a bit each night before I go to sleep. The things I started to hear were alarming, but I wasn't about to go back to civilization and see it all play out with my own eyes. Once the truth of what was happening became obvious I packed everything up and started heading even further north. My truck was a heavy duty four wheel drive with a winch, a snorkel on the engine to get through washouts and a huge spare fuel tank filled to capacity in the bed. It would take me a long way through rough country before I would have to abandon it and continue on foot.
I figured the further north I went the less likely it would be that I would encounter anyone else. That, of course, was priority one. No contact with anyone. Not for fuel, food or comfort. My whole life I've been close to nature so survival in the wilderness would be no major challenge for me. My father was a cold, distant, hard-boiled asshole who wouldn't give me the time of day, except when he took me camping. The one thing he passed on to me for which I am now more grateful than ever, was a love of nature and the skills to get along in it on my own with the minimum of tools.
Maybe if I could stay away from the population long enough the virus would die out along with all of the hosts who carried it and I might have a chance. A chance for "what" exactly I could not say, but the survival instinct was all that was driving me. Deal with today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.
I made it quite a long way before I finally started showing symptoms. I was nuts to think I could somehow avoid it. I probably had already picked up the virus back in the city before I headed out on my first spring camping trip of the year. Maybe I should have stayed right where I was back at the lake. For all I know the virus might be airborne and carry over long distances so maybe I picked it up while I passed near towns on my way northward. I had acted somewhat out of panic but in hind sight maybe staying put would have been the best choice. What's done is done I suppose and there was no point dwelling on it or second guessing past decisions.
It was hard to break the momentum I'd built up so I just kept going for as long as I could until I realized it was pointless to run anymore. At 38 I was well into sexual maturity, physically anyway though emotionally might be another story, and I was doomed. There was no where, and no need, to run anymore.
The constant coughing was starting to drain the last of my energy. When it became too hard to move and even breathe I simply got settled in to a nice quiet spot under a tree next to a wide slow river and covered myself with my sleeping bag to get ready for the final sleep.
There was no one left to mourn the loss of me, not that anyone would have. There was no denying I was sad that my life had to end, and I certainly felt sadness for the loss of mankind, yet there was a small part of me that felt a certain satisfaction that the good old earth managed to shake itself free of the festering runaway infection that humanity was becoming. We had been poisoning our planet. Killing it, and now it was getting back at us. Now it would have a chance to heal itself and become something better than it could ever possibly have been as long as the human race was allowed to continue on its destructive path. The world had a proper balance before humans rose up and it would gain that balance back again with our passing.
Those were the bleak, morbid thoughts that had been running through my mind as I closed my eyes for what should have been the last time. Imagine my surprise when I woke up some time later with a bad hacking cough and a three day headache.
There was water right at hand and I had plenty of smoked fish left for nourishment to bring myself back around. Now I was feeling better and left wondering what exactly had happened. Had I caught the super bug and somehow miraculously survived? None of the radio broadcasts had ever once mentioned anyone of adult age surviving so it seems unlikely. The broadcasts had never started up again though I had checked, and still do check regularly, so it's doubtful there were many, if any, other adult survivors.
The thought struck me that I might have simply caught the regular old common flu and got over it like healthy people normally would do. That was a bit frightening because it meant I was still at risk. On the other hand, it's possible that I might have some genetic anomaly that allowed me to survive the bug and gain immunity.
I had no way of knowing why I was alive, but one thing I did know for certain was that I should probably get moving if I wanted to stay that way. I had made it quite a long way north and if I wanted to stay ahead of the changing seasons and the brutal winter this extreme northern region would experience, I had to start heading south again.
It would be a long journey. I would continue to skirt civilization, or what was left of it, for as long as possible. There was no point acquiring vehicles along the way really. That would require moving too close to the disease and anyone who might be left carrying it. I had to move at a steady pace, but there was no need yet to rush. I have to give the virus as much time as possible to burn itself out.
I really don't know if I'm immune. If nothing else there must still be some children left alive. I have to stay away from them. I don't know if they are carrying the virus. If I don't have immunity they might well be the death of me. I know whichever kids I could reach could certainly use my help but if they make me sick and I die there wouldn't be a hell of a lot I could do for them anyhow. They'll just have to fend for themselves. The strong ones should be able to make it.
Even though they are out of sight and out of mind I still can't shake the guilt I feel at thinking of those kids wandering around out there on their own in a world full of death, scared, and not knowing what they should do. I wish there were some safe way I could at least warn them to start heading south and spread the word to anyone else they meet to do the same but I just can't risk getting that close. It's probably not going to occur to little kids to worry about what a Canadian winter would be like with no running water, heat or electricity. It's too far in the future and they've never experienced that kind of hardship before so they have no idea what they're in for. I wish them luck. They'll need it.
So here I stand, almost five months later, in the middle of a field, alone. I've been slowly making my way south all this time and have made it to the southern Alberta prairies. I had decided to head toward the Rocky Mountains, cut through them and then head south into Washington, through Idaho and further down to California. My initial thought had been to make my way over to Nevada and home, but what would be the point of that? There would be no one left there that I know who would still be alive and my home and belongings were certainly worthless to me now. The desert would not be the ideal place to settle in for whatever sort of life I had left. Not without running water or electricity at hand. I would simply go to southern California and then decide what to do next.
What a shitty life I'm struggling to save. As lonely as anyone could be yet my main priority remains going out of my way to avoid human contact.
The mountains were in view now though still small on the horizon.
It seemed following the Rockies would be the best way to move southward while avoiding any major cities but I would like to get to the other side of them. I'll need to use the fresh water coming down from the mountains for drinking. With all of the rotting corpses in the cities leeching God knows what into the ground water, I need to stay near sources that are fresh and clean. Later, when the rotting is done, it should be safe enough to move into the cities and start scavenging the wealth of bottled water and canned food, batteries, tools, shelter and whatever else I might find there. Life will be easier then, but I need to give it time. I'm not sure how long exactly it will take but the stench floating off some of the larger towns I passed some time back makes me want to wait for as long as I can, even if it is already safe.
"Hey mister, wait!!! Please!!!"
What the hell? I was so deep inside my head that I somehow didn't notice the kid or his faint little voice as it drifted towards me from behind. I turned and there he was, run-hopping through the long wheat waving his arms, occasionally disappearing as he fell into the tall grasses, then popping back up again with a desperate look as though he might lose me.
He couldn't be more than 9 or 10 years old though it was hard to judge from this distance. The grain was almost up to his armpits and he was having a hard time getting through it. He was very thin, dirty and deeply tanned from exposure. He had dark, long, tangled hair and fine features. Underneath the layers of filth he was probably cute as a button, but all I could see was a walking death sentence.
I suddenly felt as though I were starting to fall down a rabbit hole of blind panic. I began scrambling backward mumbling "S-stay away! STAY AWAY!" and making warding motions in front of me like he was some diseased, slathering monster come shambling forth from the bowels of hell. I tripped over something and fell flat on my butt with a grunt, biting my tongue. He was going to reach me!
With the taste of blood in my mouth, I launched myself up, turned, and started running for my life. My head was spinning with fear. I was terrified and didn't know what else to do but run. I made it so far! I was so careful! How could this be happening? Run, damn it!
I tripped again. This time my foot rolled on a rock and I twisted my ankle. The pain shooting up through my leg became the center of my attention for a moment. My addled mind wanted to focus on something else. Something it could solve. I started to look around for something to use as a crutch and began to think about how I might determine if the bone was broken and how to set it if it was. Then I heard the shuffling sounds of the grain being flattened and realized the kid was still coming.
"Where did you go?? I can't see you!!!" he shouted desperately.
My head rattled off several thoughts in staccato... What did I do to deserve this? Where did he come from? Why the hell is he after me? Doesn't he know he's killing me?!
I started pulling myself backwards along the ground, flattening a trough through the wheat field, trying desperately to get away from him as he tried to locate me again.
"Please, wait mister! What's wrong? Can't you wait? I need help!" and then his shouts gave way to sobs. "Please!"
He popped out of the field into the end of the trail of grasses crushed by my mad backwards scramble. He saw me still trying to get away from him and all at once he seemed to give up. He sat down on the ground and he began to cry in earnest.
Something snapped inside me and as inappropriate as it might be, after a stunned moment of silence, I started to laugh. I couldn't help it. The absurdity of the situation had come crashing in on me all at once. He's a little boy. I'm a six foot five inch, solidly built, almost stereotypical image of a rugged, outdoorsy, adult red-blooded American male. My head was suddenly filled with the image of me scrambling away from this harmless little kid like he was Satan himself come to claim my soul. I am almost positive I had even heard myself screaming like a teenage girl in a slasher movie at one point. It was beyond absurd. My brain didn't know how to process all this and had decided that the best course of action was to laugh.
His sobs completely defused the situation and brought me back down to earth. I could see how ludicrous my reaction was. All at once the reality of the situation clicked into place. I came to the realization that if in fact he was going to infect me, it was likely already done since he's only a few feet away now. It's not his fault. He's just a little kid and can't possibly know the danger he is to me. Even if he hadn't infected me yet, there was no way I could just leave him here crying and helpless.
I was never big on kids, I got that from my dad, but I am not heartless. All of the other kids in the world might be out of sight and mind, but this one was right here in front of me and obviously in desperate need. If he was even half as lonely as I've been... There was simply no way I could walk away and still live with myself. I should at least try to help the little guy out as my last act of humanity.
The boy's crying had given way to sniffling. He looked at me sullenly as he wiped the last tears from his eyes and the snot from his nose.
"Why are you laughing? Are you crazy mister? Are you gonna leave me all alone out here?" he whined.
The boy started to take short, hiccupy breaths. The sob engine was starting to tick over again. I had to say something.
I waved my hand in apology, "No, I'm sorry little guy."
I chuckled one last time, shaking my head.
"Really, I wasn't laughing at you, I was laughing at me. You had me running scared. Maybe I am a bit crazy, I've been wandering alone for a long time, but I promise I'm not dangerous and I'm not going anywhere. I will not leave you. I'll help you if I can. Don't worry any more."
Now the flood gates opened for real. The boy started crying so hard I was momentarily scared and wondering what was wrong with him. His face had turned up to the sky and he was literally wailing at the top of his lungs. A steady stream of tears was furrowing canals from the edges of his eyes back towards his ears through the layers of grime on his face. This was the sound of the deepest despair imaginable and it was breaking my heart.
It had to be the weight of all that has happened to him in the last five months being released all at once. Poor kid. He didn't deserve any of this shit. He probably doesn't understand any of it. He's far too young to figure it out and no one has been around to explain it to him. How long has he been alone? How did he manage to survive? What all has he seen? The relief of finally finding someone else, let alone an adult who could lift all that weight off him and take charge, has to be a bit overwhelming.
I crawled over to him on hands and knees, then sat in front of him and put my hand on his shoulder and gave him the odd "there, there" and "you're OK now" while I waited for him to get it all out of his system.
It took some time, but the wailing turned to crying, the crying to occasional sobs, then finally back to sniffling and nose wiping.
"Feel better now?" I asked.
He nodded, "I think so, are you really gonna help me?"
I nodded back, "Sure, however I can," I said, "We'll help each other. How did you find me out here, kid?"
"I was just walking, looking for a farm and some food," he explained, "I heard you yelling something about the world being yours. You even swore. You're not supposed to say swear words. I'm so glad you yelled. I didn't see you out here. I wouldn't even know you were here if you didn't yell. I came to see if you would help me."
I nodded in understanding, "What's your name? People usually start with names. I don't want to just call you `kid'. My name is Jake."
He just looked at me for a bit like he wasn't sure if he should give it up. Most likely, now that he was settling down, the years of warnings about being careful of strangers were starting to take effect. He was sizing me up as best he could. Desperate as he was he still needed to know if he could trust me.
"You don't have to tell me," I said, "I think I'll just call you Gopher for now."
"Gopher? Why would you call me that?"
"Oh, just because when I was yelling those things earlier, I thought that only the gophers would ever hear me. Well, you heard me," I said, "Also you're small, sort of tan colored, and covered in dust just like most of the gophers around here."
He gave a weak crooked smile and shrugged, "I guess that makes me a gopher. Why were you scared?"
"You said I had you running scared. I'm just a kid. Are you chicken?"
I chuckled, "No, not usually, but you have to admit you're pretty scary. Those clothes are filthy and torn. You're all skinny and dirty. Your hair is long and shaggy and you're covered in dust. You even smell pretty bad to be honest. You're like a miniature hobo. I've had a fear of hobos since I was a kid and I ran into one in a dark alley once and he..." I stopped short. "Anyhow, there you were, waving your arms and coming right at me."
He looked at me quizzically.
I smiled, "I'm just kidding around. It's not important why I was scared. I'm OK now."
"If you're scared of hobos, you really are chicken!" he joked.
Now he's coming around.
"Well, everyone has something they have an irrational fear of. For some people it's spiders or bats, or maybe high places. Mine is hobos. I guess technically we're both hobos now, so there's no point being scared of them anymore."
He nodded and asked, "What's `eerashnul' mean?"
I chuckled. Here's a typical kid. Brain is always processing everything that comes at it and what ever does not compute bounces right back at you as a question. I guess I'll need to get used to this.
"'Irrational' in this case just means something that makes no real sense but happens anyway, like a grown man being scared of hobos and little kids."
He laughed briefly and then became serious and reflective for a moment. "I guess my irrational fear is dead people."
"No", I said, "some fears are rational, something that does make sense. That's one of them. They can't get up and hurt you or anything like that but for health reasons they are dangerous. You need to stay away from them."
"Can they make me sick like they were?" he asked.
"Not exactly, no. You probably already were sick, weren't you?"
He nodded, "but not like them. I got better."
I wasn't sure how much a kid this age would know about diseases but I thought I should try to put his mind at ease on the subject.
"They, and you, had a virus," I explained, "It's like a tiny bug that makes you sick. When your body beats a virus, it learns forever how to destroy it and becomes safe from it. You can't get sick from that virus again so don't worry about that, OK?"
He nodded, "Were you sick?"
"Yes, but I'm not really sure if I was sick like them, and you. I got better but I might not be safe."
I didn't want to go so far as to tell him that I thought he himself might be killing me just by being here in front of me.
He shook his head and said, "If you were sick when everyone else was you must have had the same thing. You got better. Just like me. You said I'm safe now. Why do you think you aren't safe?"
The simple wisdom of a child somehow cut right through the lingering fear I'd been carrying all this time. Why could I not simply have gotten sick from the virus, and then gotten over it? Of all the countless diseases ravaging humanity in the past there were always people who were immune. Perhaps I was immune to this one. If I was, then it would follow that there must also be other adults out there like me.
"You're probably right, Gopher. I shouldn't think about it too much. I was sick along with everyone else. I got better, just like you. I must be safe, just like you," I agreed.
"My name is Wade," he said, "but I like when you call me Gopher."
"Gopher it is then. I'll save `Wade' for when I mean business." I winked.
He smiled, "You seem OK. I don't think you're crazy after all. Are you hurt bad?" he pointed at my ankle that I'd been subconsciously rubbing at.
I looked it over more closely. There was no swelling at all and no discoloration and the pain had mostly subsided. Not even a sprain. I'd have to take it easy on it at first just to be sure but it would be fine.
"Naw, I'm good now," I said, "You hungry?"
"Oh God, yes! What do you have?"
"I've got rabbit jerky, some smoked fish, carrots and potatoes I dug up from the garden of a farm a ways back. I'll cook us up some stew later maybe but we'll need fresh meat."
I dug some of the rabbit jerky out of my backpack and handed it to him. "Chew on this for now, I think you'll like it."
He looked at it suspiciously for a moment, but his hunger overrode any hesitation and he tore a chunk off with his teeth and started to chew. He smiled after a moment and looked up at me.
"Hey, this tastes really good!" he said, "I never thought I'd like eating a bunny."
I smiled back at him, "You'll be eating lots of things you aren't used to, but I promise you'll like most of them. If there's anything you don't like, we'll find something else. You'd be amazed how much there is to eat out here. It's all fresh and of course very healthy for you."
He turned his attention back to his jerky, and then I saw him shiver a bit from the morning chill. He was wearing only a t-shirt and jeans with no jacket. He'd been sweating from the hard run to catch me and now the chill air on his damp skin was making him cold.
"Hey Gopher, I have a wind breaker rolled up in my pack, you want to put it on to warm up?"
He shook his head, "No, I'll be fine."
The chill reminded me of my decision to start heading south again. Now that I had a small charge to care for the sense of urgency increased.
"Hey little guy, you think we could start walking for a while? It would warm you up, and we need to start marching south before winter sets in."
He looked a bit puzzled, "Winter? It's been so hot every day. Why are you worried about winter?"
"Winter is still a few months away, but it will take us a long time to get where I want to go and we need to press on a bit every day from now on," I explained.
"Where do you want to go?" he asked.
"I haven't quite decided exactly," I replied, "but we'll start by going to southern California. We'll stay near the coast at first, then we'll play it by ear and see if we have all we need there or if we need to move further south or more inland. We'll want to be comfortable through the winter is the main thing."
"If it's so far and we need to get there fast, can't we just drive?" he asked.
"If ever we decide we're not going fast enough and we might be in trouble, then we can drive. There'll be plenty of time to decide when it's time to stop walking and take a vehicle," I said, "but do you remember what I said about dead people being dangerous?"
He nodded, and shuddered again.
"Well, we need to stay away from them for as long as possible. Wherever there are cars, there will be lots of dead people. In order to avoid them, we need to walk for as long as we can, and stay away from towns and even roads. It's really not hard once you get used to it. You'll see."
He shrugged as though he still didn't understand the logic, but was willing to acquiesce and walk if that's what I wanted.
We started immediately. He was struggling to get through the thick grain for a while then he looked back, slowed down and fell in behind me.
"Is it OK if I follow in your footsteps?" he asked, "It's hard for me to walk in this field, you're crushing some of the grass and if I stay behind you it's easier."
"Sure bud, whatever works," I said.
I reflected for a while on what he'd just said about following in my footsteps. Being a loner and not being interested in women and having had a less than stellar relationship with my own father, it had never occurred to me that there might ever be any child who would ever follow in my footsteps. Of course Wade hadn't meant it in that particular context, but there it is. The world can be such a strange place, even after it ends.
The rest of the morning and most of the afternoon were spent walking. For the most part we were silent. I was curious to ask Wade how he managed to survive this long but I knew that would lead to a discussion of all of the terrible things that must have happened to him and I didn't want to dredge that up just yet. I should give him time to process our meeting and let him give up information at his own pace.
Around noon he mentioned that he was really hungry still.
"I'm sorry Wade, I should have realized you'd want more," I said, "Please don't be afraid to speak up when you want something. There's no shortage of food out here. We don't need to ration. Don't assume I'll know what you need, OK?"
I smiled and offered him both rabbit jerky and some strips of pickerel fish I had smoked. He tasted a small corner of the fish and took the rest.
"This tastes even better than the rabbit." He said as he stuffed more into his mouth.
I stood and waited for him to finish while I started chewing the jerky.
He looked up and said, "We can keep walking while I eat."
Wow, what a little trooper. He hasn't complained one bit about all the walking and he's the one wanting to get going again. I liked this.
We marched on until we reached a creek and followed it southward some more until the early evening. I chose a good spot for us to set up camp for the night near a stand of trees next to a bend in the creek, and we stopped.
The rest of that day was spent catching some gophers for stew. Wade was not impressed with the idea of eating his namesake but had already gotten hungry enough again to go along with anything. I showed him a simple technique of tying his shoelaces together to make a long string, looping one end into a snare, placing the loop a couple of inches down in a gopher hole, then lying flat and waiting for the gopher to stick his head up so he could yank them out. Once he got the hang of it I could see he was having a blast. He'd whoop and laugh every time he got one.
He was enjoying the hunt so I left him to it while I started to set up camp, built a fire, and set some water to boiling for the stew. I enjoy cooking when I camp and I still had some herbs in baggies that I had brought with me on my trip so long ago. I was using them sparingly to make them last until it was safe to get some more. Some basil and bay leaves along with the cut up potatoes, carrots, a bit of salt and pepper, and the fresh meat would make for a savory stew. The kid probably hasn't had a hot meal in ages.
As the evening wore on I became more impressed with the boy. After I skinned the gophers and cut out the useable meat to throw into the pot, he helped me to finished setting up camp while we waited for the stew. He was doing everything he could to help out without having to be nagged or cajoled. Even when I gave him unpleasant things to do, like earlier when I showed him how to stomp on a gopher's head to kill it quickly and painlessly, he would make a face showing how he felt about the suggestion, but would steel himself and go ahead and do as he was asked. He seemed to watch my every move for cues on what he should do next.
What little experience I'd had with kids in the past suggested to me that they were mostly spoiled, lazy and insolent. Perhaps I'd only ever been seeing them through my father's eyes. This boy was certainly none of those things. He was a keeper. He was going to be great to have along as company. In the end I realized I was nothing but thankful that he'd heard me and chased me down. It almost scared me a little to think how close I'd come to continuing alone given how much better it felt to have company. If I hadn't lost it and shouted out so loudly... Anyhow, it was clear now that the long journey south was not only going to be easier with him along to help, it might actually even be fun.
By the time the sun was setting and we'd had our meal, exhaustion set in and we both passed out on the grass and slept like we hadn't slept in ages.