Survival: The Outcasts
“Did you hear that? Did you hear what she said about us?”
“Yes, too old to be of assistance.”
“Not going to be adding anything to the team.”
The outcasts huddled together whispering. Her words betrayed her as a bigot, someone who would leave them behind, when she felt they couldn’t keep up, when they no longer could contribute. War and time had taught them that survival was dependent on never placing your fate into the hands of those who did not value your existence.
They looked at each other and smiled with missing teeth. The grime and filth of outliving so many clung to their faces, settling into wrinkles formed from years of existing on the edge of hunger making their bodies appear older than they were. They knew their appearance worked to their advantage, making people constantly underestimate them.
“Where do we start with the wall?” They heard one from their group pipe up, trying to prove his worth to that girl Leila.
“Pssssss...Be quiet. Get over here.”
“I was just...”
“Pitching in? But didn’t you hear her? It doesn’t matter. She has already singled us out as worthless to the survival of those they’ve selected.”
“But, Bryan, the Marine...I trust him. I was a Marine, my father and grandfather...”
“Those were different times.”
“But Semper Fidelis, Esprit de Corps. We’d never...he’d never…”
“Maybe, we’ll see. Talks a good game. But the girl, Leila.”
Each eye met the direct glaze of every other. In the silence, a pact was made.
The group hunched together as one, heads down, calmly pounding rumble into dust as they had been instructed, slowly, rhythmically. Watching and waiting was what they did best. They had, over the last ten years, watched so many younger than themselves leap to action, itching for a fight, running toward battle, dying foolishly.
They sat in place, pounding, and pounding, together like the drums heard over distant mountains when this land was young, before the internet. These outcasts, remembered the ways of the twentieth century and the lost technologies learned as children from their parents and grandparents. Able to understand the meanings of the winds and clouds.
Versed in listening to the untouched universe revealed in the stars at night and the still visibly swirling dots of satellites endlessly circling the scarred planet. They, the oldest survivors, not by chance but skill. And they pounded and pounded.
“Hey, you over there, could you keep it down?” It was Leila. “I’m trying to think over here. You guys probably don’t understand but we need to build strong teams. Bryan will be returning, and he’ll be expecting a plan. He’s counting on me. I need weapon builders not more damn piles of dust! There is a fight coming and we need to arm and train. You guys better just plan to die hiding behind that wall...so could you keep it down?” Her voice dropped to a mutter, “You useless old pieces of shit, dragging down the whole team, I’ll have to tell Bryan it’s time for you all tooo—”
Two hands came up around neck choking her silent and then others came up working, to twist her head off like a chicken. One of the others, who took great personal pleasure, possessing a knife, rushed in and ended the struggle with a quick stab piercing deep. They hung the carcass upside down and drained the warm blood out into the large pounded vessel they had made together. In the passing of it amongst them all, they drink their nourishing fill.
The butchering was quick and expert with strips of flesh set away to lie hidden in the sun to dry. That night, a fire was built, and a spit arranged so when the rest of the team came back from their duties they were surprised.
Felix, smiled at the site of fresh cooked meat, “What have you guys been up to? Did you scare up some game.”
“Come eat with us. Enjoy. It is not much. Just a bit of French cooking we learned to do from back in the day.”
Felix sat down across from John and Monique. He had no appetite for food as he was tired, so he passed on the cooked meat. Instead, he had a cup of water and joined in the heated conversations. Everyone was laughing and rubbing their bellies, burping to the unexpected feast served to them; their enticement was obviously shown in their actions and on their faces since they hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a decade, which was quite the truth.
Across from him sat Jacob. They smiled at each other, and the glimmer in Jacob’s eyes sent an unspoken message to Felix. Hope hid everywhere, even in the ruins of the past, filled with rubble and ash.
Monique and John looked at each other in disgust; yet laughed in selfless remorse over eating human flesh.
Monique muttered soundlessly as she took another bite of cooked flesh, thinking, Who is going to save you now? No one, that’s who.