Home > Out of the Wild

Out of the Wild
Author: Jessica Walker

One

 

 

It has been years since the crash, and still I wake every morning with the jarring sense of falling. Christa places her palm on my back for reassurance and I roll over to face her. It’s not yet morning and I can barely make out her features in the moonlight. Her face is fuller and so is her abdomen, but we haven’t said anything to the council yet.

“Go back to sleep Lena,” she whispers, and I flip back to my side, used to following her directions.

I am mad at her and worried for her, but mostly I am determined to save her. It’s the not knowing how that keeps me awake.

There is a rustling in the shelter across the way, and I suspect that Cade is unable to sleep tonight too. I think about crawling out from the familiarity and warmth of the space I share with Christa and clicking my tongue against the roof of my mouth three times. It’s the code we use when the four of us want to sneak out of camp. Only Christa is too tired now and Tanner never leaves her unless Cade or I are there to protect her.

Maybe Cade can hear me thinking because I watch as his silhouette moves from the shelter and down toward the water. Christa groans as I pull away from her and follow him. When I reach the water’s edge I have to skip over three smaller rocks to reach the large curved boulder that rises above the rest. I sit close to Cade so the two of us can whisper. We can’t risk waking any of the others. There are strict rules about men and women being alone together.

Rules that seemed silly—until Christa got sick.

“You shouldn’t be here,” he says, keeping his eyes on the smooth flat surface of the water in front of us.

I don’t care that he wants me to leave. I can’t bear the thought of lying still until the sun rises. So instead, I say what we both know.

“She’s getting noticeably bigger.”

I don’t have to look at Cade to know that his brows are pinched together, and his mouth has formed a tense, firm line. He gets quiet when he can’t quite work something out. Usually I wait him out, but this time I can’t because I know that like me, he doesn’t know where to start.

I trace my hands along the rough edges of the boulder. Below, the water has rubbed it smooth, but on top where we sit, it has the texture of gesso, layered heavily with a palette knife. The uninvited memory of things from before is unsettling. I wrap my arms around my knees, so as not to feel it.

“They never should have—”

“But they did,” I say, cutting him off.

Cade inches away from me on the rock, as if being too close to me is dangerous. I don’t take it personally, even though just a few weeks ago his hand brushed mine in this very spot and neither of us pulled away.

 

 

By morning, Cade and I have decided. We cannot wait for the council to determine what to do about Christa. Every day of waiting is a day closer to the baby coming. After breakfast, before the hunters leave for the day, we will call a meeting.

My hands tremble as I wash the dirt from a basket of roots. I have gotten used to eating all manner of things since the crash, but these roots taste like rubbery dirt, no matter how many times you wash them. I can feel Christa’s eyes studying me, but I don’t turn to answer them. It’s better if she and Tanner don’t know about our plan.

Instead I hand her the basket to carry back to camp and fill the water jug that sits beside her. We used to argue about who had to carry the water and who got to carry the food, but these days I carry the heavy load, even when she argues. She doesn’t argue today, and I get the sense she knows something is coming.

Back at camp I cut the thick roots into half-inch rounds for Christa to boil and mash into the mushy paste we eat when food is scarce. It is late summer and there is plenty of food to be had, but after last year's harsh monsoons we have voted as a group to eat only what we need, saving what we can for later when the rains strand us at camp and it’s too difficult to hunt or fish.

We decide everything as a group. Which is why I am nervous about what Cade and I have to ask the council. If they say no...I can’t allow myself to think about that.

My stomach is too full of butterflies to eat, so I push my portion onto Christa’s plate and wait for everyone to finish. She looks at me funny but doesn’t refuse. It has been a long time since I was around a pregnant woman, but I remember my mother’s joke, “I’m eating for two,” before helping herself to a second serving of ice cream, so I think that Christa needs it more than I do.

Our group has no name, but we have routine, a steady rhythm of motions to start and end each day. There is breakfast, then clean up, hunting and gathering, work around camp for those not able to hunt or gather, dinner, and then the evening.

The evening has always been my favorite part.

The night of the crash, when the sun went down and the couples and families clung to one another, Cade, Tanner, Christa, and I stood shivering, wide eyed and alone.

We had no one on the plane, so we formed our own family. And now, our family was in jeopardy.

When the people return from washing their breakfast plates down at the water, Cade takes his place on the speaking stone at the center of camp. When the others see him they gather around and patiently wait to hear what he has to say. Christa’s eyes grow wide and questioning, but again I ignore them. Choosing to stare at Cade instead.

On the rock in front of us, I study his face. So much has changed since we stood shivering on the beach our first night here. He’s not a teenager anymore, with soft features and a suitcase full of clothing that speaks of privilege. His dark hair has grown down past his ears and curls at the tips. The start of a beard fills in the space below his high cheekbones and around his full lips.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve caught myself staring at those lips, wondering what it would feel like to place a hand on either side of his rough cheeks and pull his mouth toward mine. We don’t do that here though and as always I push the thought away and focus on something I can have, like his eyes, grey and serious. Cade never crosses the line with anything but his eyes. I find them on the rock and watch as he takes a deep breath in through the nose and prepares to say what we called this meeting for.

“What’s going on?” whispers Tanner. He leans over to reach my ear, his great height making it nearly impossible for him to be subtle. Except when he is hunting; somehow when in pursuit of prey he manages to silence his heavy footsteps and long dangling arms. I shrug my shoulders and wait for Cade to begin.

There are thirty two of us in our group. We need seventeen votes, one more than half.

“I have an ask,” says Cade. His eyes are calm and level as he scans the group in front of him.

“Go on,” says Eli. Eli is the oldest in our group. At sixty-five, he has lasted longer than any of the others from his generation. We revere him, but every vote is equal. No one person matters more than another.

“It has been six and a half years since we last attempted to find our way out of the wilderness. In that time, we have lost group members. We have suffered hard seasons. And we have given up things that make us fundamentally human.”

“Speak plainly,” interrupts Carl. Carl is a grouch and not very intelligent. I want to kick him for interrupting Cade, but I don’t because for our ask to be accepted we need to appear stronger and more confident than we are.

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