7 Months Ago pt. 2
In the morning, David awoke to the thickest Mannah fog he’d ever seen in his life. In the first few moments of opening his eyes, he could hardly make out the people near him in the small clearing where they’d slept. The boys had treated and fed David well but he slept more warily than he had any other night since he’d left New Dorf. Apparently, not warily enough.
“Look at this thing!” A girl David had never seen was holding Jaspeada up, unsheathed, in front of a small group of other young teens. She began waving the dagger around as if she were cutting magical figure eights in the fog. The others drew closer to have a better look while they rewarded her with “Ooh”s and “Wow!”s. David was just shaking the fog out of his mind when a commanding voice came out of the alien mist.
“You’re not playing with our guest’s things are you?” Jake was awake and approaching David with a steaming bowl in hand. The Mannah swirled around him as if escorting him through the fog. At the sound of Jake’s rebuke, the adolescent girl resheathed Jaspeada and dropped her near David’s waking body before the group scattered into the fog.
Jake placed a small bowl of cold wet grains next to David. The former resident of New Dorf pulled himself into a sitting position, took the bowl, and began eating with his fingers. It would be well after David finished his second bowl that he would wonder why the cold grains were steaming.
The meal was delicious. David expected the grains to be somewhat crunchy, like hard-baked grains left in water overnight. Instead, they were firm enough to grab but melted in his mouth. The cereal had a buttery taste with more than a hint of sweetness. Soon after David had begun, he finished the entire bowl in moments. Jake returned just as he was finishing, and David could see that the young man was wearing a bright red vest.
“We’ll be moving before the fog has lifted,” Jake began, “so you’ll wanna pack up if you’re coming with us.”
“Where are you going?”
“There’s a caravan coming through the south passes west of here.” Jake smirked mischievously, “We’ll need to grab some items from them.”
“You guys are bandits…,” David began accusingly, “that’s why that guy was after you.”
“That’s how I take care of these guys,” Jake said waving his arm in a wide fan. David looked around but saw only invisible voices coming out of the mist. “We get jobs, we complete ‘em, and we get to keep little things on the side.”
“Jobs?” David expressed sarcastically, “You mean you rob merchants and poor ‘ol travelers.”
Jake held up his hands, causing swirls of tiny orange and purple aliens to dance in the air, “We get our jobs from wealthy citizens who cut us in on the profit. They work with us because we don’t harm anyone too much and leave people with enough stuff to make a profit. Trust me, the folks we get jobs from consider themselves more important than the folks we rob. Keeping these contracts with them keeps us safe. How many lawmen you think they’d send after us if we were out here on our own?”
After a moment of thought, David said, “So what are you guys? …a bunch of fugitives?”
“Some of us, yes. Some of us were abandoned without a home. Some of us just don’t want the stuffy hypocrisy of city life. Whatever. For us it’s freedom. I’m the one that they look up to, so it’s my job to make sure they’re taken care of.”
“And it doesn’t bother you that some rich snobs are taking advantage of you all. That they’re basically holding your lives for ransom so you can commit their crimes? How is that freedom?”
Jake plopped down on the thick grass next to David with a heavy sigh, “There’s really not a lot for us out here, David. For pretty much all of us, this is better than what we would’ve been facing. I mean, you’re here in the middle of nowhere, right? Why? Where did you come from?”
David sat silent for a moment, remembering the family members that he had lost. Jake watched him as he pondered what might have happened if he’d stayed in New Dorf. Finally, David said, “I might’ve had a good life. …If I’d stayed… It… It just wasn’t my home anymore.” As he stared off into the distance, he noticed that he could begin to see across the clearing. Shapes of busy people were coming into view like ghosts materializing from the mists. “My whole family is gone.” He continued, “The place that I called home… that’s not what it was anymore.”
A few moments passed before Jake broke the silence, “That’s what I try to offer, David. A home for the restless and a family for people like me. I don’t so much care ‘bout what those pompous rich snobs want. I just want to take care of my family and keep them safe.” He stood to leave but turned to David first, “If you want something like that, I’ll welcome you, David. Even though you’re a lizard man.” He smirked and walked away.
. . . . . .
Hours and many miles later, David discovered that the group Jake was referring to was many more than those that had saved him from that strange man on the hill. There were at least thirty teens and preteens that they’d joined up with. He also discovered that the red vest Jake wore was seen as a sign of leadership to the group. When he asked Jake about this later, the leader said that it was just a coincidence that no one else had joined the group with a red vest. The group didn’t live in one place but had very well concealed “camps” over a large expanse of territory. Using various routes, Jake’s group had access to every path anyone could use to get to the nearby cities.
Of all the things David was discovering, he was most surprised by how little he wanted to see the surrounding townships. Even realizing that he could access so many of the great cities he’d heard about in books and lessons, he felt no pull to discover them now that they were finally accessible. Perhaps it was because he saw no real chance that life in them would be any better for him. Jake’s group welcomed David like they had so many lost boys and girls, and he was given every provision he could need. Jaspeada and Stever’s spear were the only things that really belonged to him; the group shared everything else.
So despite all the stories of his youth, and how he and Elise would imagine themselves in those places, David avoided the big cities. He felt valuable for how he could improve the group’s makeshift tents and shelters. His strength and use of the spear, however, made him invaluable in the group’s commissioned raids. David made friends easily within the group and Jake assigned him a few sparring buddies. These little groups of three or four did everything together: eating, sleeping, scouting, and keeping watch. The not-so-final surprise came when, within a matter of weeks, David began to feel like he had a family again.
Special Author’s Note
Jake’s group began to grow on me in this chapter, even though I still didn’t really know anything about them. From the sound of things, the group is comprised almost entirely of adolescents. That raises a lot of questions that I would eventually think it was important not to answer. David is experiencing a life reset that I think a lot of people will be able to relate to.
I grew up in a family that traveled often. I experienced many dramatic life resets but many of them were through the aid of literature. Learning about different walks of life – fictional and non-fictional – helped me to imagine myself in situations that altered the way I interpreted reality itself. Of all the chapters in this story, I feel like I can relate to this one most intimately.