I am participating in the Age of Pandora fitness program from darebee.com. These posts are a fictional representation of the workouts that I do each day. I list my actual workout in parentheses at relevant points.
Previously in this story...
(Though in the story I traveled to the camp yesterday, in the program they don't have me do the related workout until today: 36 half-jacks)
Half-frozen dew covered the ground when I awoke the next morning. The light still had the pale gray tint of dawn as I sat up and brushed off the handful of coin-shaped leaves that had fallen on my blanket during the night; my breath clouded briefly in the quiet air. Occasionally a bird chirped from above, but otherwise the forest was completely still. For the first time since I could remember - the first time since yesterday - I actually felt at peace.
But I knew it wouldn't last for long.
With I sigh I stood (stiffly - my limbs were still protesting yesterday's activity) and took fresh stock of the little campsite I'd stumbled upon. The twisting, tangled buckthorn all around had formed a dome about five paces wide; if I reached up I could touch the "ceiling" from the center of the dome, while the entrance to the dome was low enough that I had to crouch to get in and out. From the outside, the camp was almost entirely obscured by leaves and branches. About 25 yards away gurgled a small creek, cutting a narrow trench through the moist and leaf-strewn earth. This was, I decided, as good a place as any to stay for now.
In the canvas backpack I found a dense, chewy bar of nuts, oats, and fruit wrapped in thin leather. As I munched my breakfast, I had the feeling that I'd eaten almost identical breakfasts many times before, but I couldn't recall any specific instances. Was this going to be my life from now on - running from monsters and a constant sense of deja vu?
If I dwelled on that possibility for too long I'd probably go mad, so I distracted myself with improving my new home. Using a flexible wire saw I also found in the backpack, I reinforced one section of the dome with fallen branches, then wove smaller, flexible sticks throughout to further solidify that section; now I had a rain shelter of sorts to keep my bedroll dry. Then, after some thought, I decided to use the large knife I'd found to sharpen the ends of some branches the thickness of my arm. About ten yards away from camp, I stuck them in the ground at an angle, facing out. It probably wasn't going to stop anything big, but it was better than nothing. (Three sets of: 2 push-ups, 20 scissor chops, 20 scissors, 2 push-ups, 20 side arm raises, 20 raised arm circles)
Reinforcing my camp took up the entire morning, and while the soreness in my muscles had subsided as I worked, I welcomed the chance to sit down and rest. By this point the sun was just reaching its zenith, and it had warmed up enough that I'd stripped down to only a thin henley, the sleeves pushed up past my elbows, and my baggy trousers held up by a battered leather belt. Before eating lunch, I decided to take full stock of my food stores: two more of those nut bars, a can of black beans, a half-dozen large strips of some kind of jerky, two bruised apples, and a large canteen of water. This would last me, what, another day or two? Three or, if I was careful? At least I could get fresh water from the stream.
Running a hand through my short-cropped hair, which by now was damp with sweat, I examined the red and white label on the black beans. It was unremarkable, and while the brand name seemed vaguely familiar, so did everything else I encountered around here. In other words, it didn't provide any clues. I set the can down and grabbed a piece of jerky to munch on as I unfolded the large map.
"PANDORA" was written across the top in large, black letters. That probably wasn't the name of the stranger; Pandora was a woman's name, historically - and then I stopped short, wondering where that bit of knowledge had come from. I carefully tugged on that thread of memory to see where it would lead. Pandora... from ancient myth... she was given a box and told not to open it, but her curiosity overtook her and so, of course, she peeked inside. A host of evils came out, causing all the misery and strife of society. Was the insect monster that killed my savior one of Pandora's evils? Part of me knew that was taking the story too literally; the other part of me wasn't so sure.
On one side of the map was a symbol with "The ARC" written beneath. The symbol vaguely resembled the large facility I'd just come from. "So if I came from there, and I went east..." I muttered, tracing my finger along the paper, "then I think I'm somewhere around here." I used the stub of a pencil I found tucked in the map's creases to mark where I approximated my camp to be. Translating the hand-drawn landmarks to the mountain ranges surrounding me was a challenge at best, and who knew how accurate the distances were.
I turned my attention to some of the other symbols on the map. Two were labeled "Agora." I didn't know what the word meant, but I recognized that it was Greek - as was the Pandora myth, I realized. Did that have any relevance, or was it just that the guy who made this map spoke Greek? The only way to find out, I decided, was to go to one of these Agoras and see what they actually were.
I packed my newfound possessions, tying my bedroll to the outside of the backpack and tucking my knife (and its sheath) into my belt. Map in hand, I struck out towards the closer of the two Agoras, called Agora Canis - "Dog". (Ran 550 meters)
The journey took longer than the map implied, although that was probably because I got turned around at a few points and had to regain my bearings. Eventually I came across a cracked, crumbling road that seemed to lead in the direction I wanted to go, and my journey became much easier - no more clambering over boulders and fallen trees. As I hiked down the road, I saw ahead of me several tidy plumes of smoke. They didn't seem like the result of a wildfire; they were too orderly. They were from campfires... and where there were campfires, there were people.
My stride faltered. On the one hand, the only person I'd encountered so far had saved my life. On the other hand, someone had stuck me in that glass coffin and wiped my brain. I paused in the middle of the road, staring at the white smoke.
"Anyone making campfires out here," I said aloud, "probably has more in common with the guy who saved me than with whoever mind-wiped me." Satisfied, I continued down the road. After a few more minutes' walk, I rounded a curve and finally saw Agora Canis.
It was a decent-sized settlement, maybe a hundred yards wide, adjacent to the old road. A mixture of timber, rusted metal sheeting, and rough-hewn stone formed a tall protective wall with a front gate; the smoke came from within the enclosure. Atop the wall, over the gate, stood a man and a woman. They'd already spotted me and were watching me intently; I could see the glint of glass in the sun as the woman raised a pair of binoculars to her face. Since there was no point in trying to hide, I steeled my nerves and strode towards the gate.
"Looking for supplies?" the man asked when I was close enough.
"Uh, yeah," I replied. Supplies were among the many things I was searching for.
"What's you're name?"
I hesitated. "...I don't know," I finally admitted, my voice cracking a bit.
The man glanced at the woman, then back down at you. "You don't know?"
"No. My head got messed up somehow. I can't remember anything." My throat tightened and I could feel tears welling in my eyes. Acknowledging it to myself was one thing, but this was the first time I was saying it aloud. I couldn't remember who I was. My brain was broken. "The guy who was helping me out, he... he died."
The man and woman exchanged another look, their eyebrows raised. The woman asked, "The guy who helped you - the guy who died - what was his name?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. But he saved my life. And he left me this map." It was close enough to the truth, anyway. "This placed is marked on it. Agora Canis."
That was apparently enough to satisfy the man and woman - I guess they were guards - so the woman looked over her shoulder to someone down in the enclosure and hollered, "Open 'er up!"
The gate rattled aside, and I stepped through the thick, ramshackle fortification. Inside the Agora was an open yard of dirt and crumbling pavement, dotted with a few tents and lean-tos, and at the center of which stood the remains of a one-story brown brick building. Though it had obviously gone through years of makeshift repairs, its origins as a solid, professional structure were still apparent. An old rest stop, I thought, and then shook my head. These phrases and ideas kept buzzing around my head, heedless of what was most convenient for me.
A handful of people milled outside the building, accompanied by an equal number of dogs. Almost all of the people were busy repairing or creating something; one was scraping fur from a deer hide stretched over a wooden frame, another was chopping up root vegetables and throwing them into a battered pot hanging over a cooking fire. They looked up at my approach; I could feel the silent appraisal in their gaze, and hoped that they didn't find me lacking. One of the dogs barked once, cautiously.
The person who opened the gate - a slim middle-aged man with copper skin and silver flecks in his dark hair - approached me with his hand outstretched in greeting. A brown-and-white dog with floppy ears and a friendly face followed close at his heels. "Don't remember your name, huh?" he said as we shook. His grip was firm and warm. "Well, I'm Ricardo, anyway. What should we call you? We can't just say 'hey you.'"
"I... uh..." I wracked my brain for a suitable name. "Phoenix. You can call me Phoenix."
Ricardo grinned. "You have a flair for the dramatic, Phoenix." Cocking his hands on his hips, he looked me up and down. "So you need some supplies, then? Food, clothes that fit you, a tent maybe? Nothing more than you can carry, I presume." When I nodded, he continued, "Since I've never seen you before, I'm gonna assume you don't know how things work around here. If you have something to trade, great. If you can help out with a task in exchange for our supplies, that works too. If you're too sick or hurt to pitch in, no problem, we'll still help you, but we trust you'll make it up to us when you can. Make sense?"
I nodded again. This was obviously not the first time he'd delivered this spiel. "I don't really have anything to trade."
"Well." He gave me another once-over. "You look to be in pretty good shape, so I've got a few jobs that you could help out with. I have a message I need delivered to Camp Raza, so you could run it to them. Or you could head over to Bunker 201 with a couple of my guys and help them repair their wall. Or you can head out and kill me a deer; we're running low on fresh meat."
I had no idea where (or what) Camp Raza was, so that was out of the question. Nor did I know where Bunker 201 was; besides, while everyone seemed friendly enough so far, I wasn't entirely keen on striking out to an unknown location with several strangers. "I can get you a deer," I said.
Ricardo nodded. "All right then. I'll lend you a spear and one of my dogs for the job. Come with me." He led me to the central building, where he gave me a spear with a shaft a bit thinner than my wrist and about as long as I was tall, topped with a thick, chipped shard of blue glass about the length of my hand. Ricardo then called over a large, lanky dog with fluffy red fur and alert, triangular ears. "This is Rosa," he said, giving her an affectionate pat on the shoulders. "She'll help you run down a deer. Just tell her what you want her to do, and she'll do it. Rosa," he said in demonstration, "go with Phoenix." He pointed at me, and Rosa's gaze followed his gesture. After a moment's consideration, she walked over and waited patiently by my side.
Huh. "...All right then." I hefted the spear over my shoulder. "Come on, Rosa." We headed out the gate, which rattled closed behind us. Rosa looked up at me expectantly, and I said, "Find a deer, Rosa. Uh, track. Track, Rosa." What grammar should I use with a dog? Regardless of whether I was using the right syntax, Rosa seemed to understand; sticking her nose to the ground, she started off through the scrub and trees at a trot, and I hurried to keep up with her. (30 half-jacks)
The sun was skimming the peaks of the mountains, casting massive shadows, when Rosa suddenly let out a baying howl and took off through the forest. As I sprinted after her, I caught a glimpse of a gray-brown blur ahead as a deer - a doe, it looked like - fled in terror from us. In a matter of seconds both the deer and Rosa were out of sight, but I could still hear Rosa's incessant, excited baying. I followed the sounds of the chase, scrambling over boulders and weaving between tree trunks.
Eventually, the tenor of Rosa's barks shifted - higher pitched, more frequent, more frantic. I picked up my pace, my lungs burning; the commotion grew louder, and soon I caught up with Rosa, who had cornered the small doe against a tall shelf of rock. The doe trembled and stumbled with fear, bleeding from many small nips that Rosa had inflicted upon her during the chase. Barking all the time, Rosa darted first one way, then the other, predicting the doe's next move and keeping her from escaping.
I paused to catch my breath and adjusted my grip on the spear. How was I supposed to go about this? I didn't want the doe to suffer any more than she already had. The poor thing... she was obviously terrified. She had just spent the last hour or more running for her life, and now she was backed against a wall with no escape, just as I had been a mere day before - no. No no no. I quickly suppressed the thought. Right under the front leg, I said to myself. That's about where the heart is. That's the fastest way. I hoped I was right.
Cautiously I approached the doe, but by this point she was too exhausted to attempt any evasion. I leveled the spear, aimed as best I could, and thrust forward. There was almost no resistance as the sharp point plunged into her; the doe let out a strangled cry and jolted forward, then fell, ripping the spear from my hands. I collapsed in a heap and watched as the doe breathed once, twice, three times... and then no more.
I burst into uncontrollable sobbing. This was, I had absolutely no doubt, the first time I had ever killed anything. (Four sets of: 100 punches from Horse pose)
Rosa sidled up next to me and leaned against me as I sobbed, attempting to comfort me with her warmth and her softness. I threw my arms around her in a desperate hug, which she tolerated with the patience of a saint. By the time I'd regained a semblance of composure, the sun had disappeared behind the mountains entirely, and the sky was rapidly turning deep violet. I stood, brushed the twigs and leaves from my pants, and walked over to the corpse of the deer. Crouching by her head, I placed my hand on her still-warm neck and said, "I'm really, really sorry. I need food and supplies. You'll be put to good use, I promise." With a swift tug I pulled the spear out of her chest.
After a bit of an awkward struggle, I managed to hoist the doe over my shoulders in a fireman's carry, her legs dangling over either shoulder. I looked at Rosa, then up at the dark sky. Soon it would be completely night, and I had no idea how far afield we'd strayed from the Agora during the hunt. But I did not want to spend the night in the forest. Not tonight. "Rosa, let's go home."
Rosa wagged her tail once, then started off at a sedate trot down the slope of the mountain, checking over her shoulder to make sure I could keep up. Together we began the hike into the deepening night. (30 half-jacks)