The Cold to Come – Austin L. Wiggins

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The noon sun beat down on the city of rubble and ash and dirt. Color had long vanished from the buildings due to the constant baking of the sun, and a perpetual grey monochrome conquered the entire city. If it weren’t for the footsteps of the fifteen person caravan the city would have been enveloped in a perfect, human-less silence. Having no regard for the peace nature had restored to the land, the caravan headed into the city.

The caravan itself carried a diverse group of people; so diverse, in fact, that some of them were injured or maimed to the point that they were unable to walk. Those were the people who limped, rolled, or moved by some other painful means at the back of the caravan. The other ten were healthy but frail. Their rib-cages popped through their thin shirts and their eyes were sunken into their skulls. They didn’t ride on horses, but rather pushed rickety shopping carts or pulled wagons.

The caravan stopped at the first intact building, an old apartment complex. The stairs leading to other floors were crumbled into a pile in front of the main entrance, so the fifteen of them sought shelter in the only four rooms accessible on the first floor. The five injured shared a single room. They would all take refuge from the murderous heat until sundown. Then, they would either set out again or stay where they were depending on weather conditions.

The hours passed in silence. The crew had known each other for so long they no longer had anything to say to one another. Being in each other’s presence was enough to bring peace. Jeb, as he was called, was in the room next to the injured with the leaders of the caravan.

“We’ve got to do something,” said the tall brown leader of the caravan.

“There’s nothing we can do,” said another darker man.

Jeb interrupted the leaders, “If we’re so desperate, let me settle the problem.” He showed his crooked yellow teeth as he said this and played with a rusting metal handgun.

“Has it really become this dire?”

“I think it has,” said the leader of the caravan. He faced Jeb and said, “Make it discreet.”

Jeb giggled and shot to his feet. After grabbing his pack and hat, he left the room and knocked on the door of the injured. A man with a major limp opened the door. “Yeah?”

“Boss says we got to go on patrol.”

The man looked shocked, as did the others who had overheard what Jeb said. But they couldn’t complain, it was orders right from the leader. The crew of six ventured into the waning heat of the desert. One of the injured had to be brought along on a wagon. Jeb took them back the way they came and into the harsh wasteland. When he was far enough into the desert Jeb yelled, “Take off your clothes and don’t move, or I’ll shoot you.”

The man in the wagon laughed, but it ended abruptly as Jeb put a bullet in the man’s head. “Take off your clothes, give me your gear, or I’ll shoot you.”

 

The leaders were continuing their council. The world was silent again save for them, and then they heard the first gunshot ring out. “Did we make the right decision?” asked the leader.

“Killing them gives us a few more days to find food. Killing them brings the rest of us a bit of hope. And Jeb won’t even feel bad about it anyway. A win-win situation I’d say.”

After a few moments four more loud concussions permeated the desert and silence was restored. The wind blew ever so slightly, causing the wind to howl within the open windows. The sun was setting, lending its space to the bitter cold to come.

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