Terri and the Wall [Flash Fiction]
It started with a wall.
“This will be a great wall. A necessary wall. A wall of democracy to keep out Those We Don’t Like.”
It started with a wall, and it ended with something called ‘Nuclear Winter.’ Between wall and winter were other, lesser-known things. Riots. Depressions. Uprisings. Coups. Tweets. Most Merrykans knew only that the wall was supposed to save them. Knew only that the wall had been their downfall.
As Terri Fox sat forlornly by the side of the dust-devilled road, she contemplated the wall towering over her. Further towards Westcoast, encampments had sprung up around it, thousands of Merrykans living in its shade. But she’d always found something sinister and cold about its unnatural height and pock-marked surface. Not to mention the strange symbols painted on it in swathes of red and green and blue. A language, some said. A message from the ancestors. A warning to build no more walls. A warning they’d all taken literally.
Movement from down the road caught her eye. Two powerful horses pulled one of the old-fashioned wagons… a bright yellow schoolbuswagon. It, too, bore strange markings on its sides, but the green flag fluttering in the breeze atop it allayed Terri’s niggling concern. It had been months since a trader from Westcoast had come this way.
The wagon rumbled to a stop and an elderly, weather-lined face peered out from the large front hole of the schoolbuswagon. The man gripping the reins pulled off his eyeglasses, wiped them on his shirt sleeve, and squinted down at Terri.
“Hey there, youngun,” he said. “Whatcha doin’ out here all by your lonesome?”
Terri gestured to the base of the wall, to the horse tethered to a sturdy tree. The horse, spotting its kin pulling the schoolbuswagon, let out a whinny of greeting. The trader’s horses merely snorted and chomped impatiently on their bits. One stamped its hoof, sending up a small mushroom of dust.
“My horse cast its shoe a mile back, and picked up a stone that’s made her lame.”
The old man tutted and shook his head. “Is it far, to your home? Mayhaps you could walk your horse back?”
Terri shook her head. “I’m not going home. I’m on a pilgrimage.”
The way the sun shone against the man’s eyeglasses made his eyes appear to twinkle. A trick of the light. “Oh? And where are you going, if you don’t mind me askin’?”
The question Terri had been dreading. The question she’d avoided answering by travelling at night, to avoid meeting other people in spite of the risk posed by noctural wilduns. Stories told of a time when wilduns had lived with people, even shared their homes. But that had been before Winter.
People tended to look at Terri like she was crazy, when she told them about her pilgrimage. The old man would be no different.
“I’m heading to Eastcoast,” she admitted. “Months ago, a traveller passed through my village, and told tale of a prophet who’ll be speaking on the eve of midsummer. I hoped to be there before then, but now it seems I won’t get there at all.”
“A prophet, eh?” His voice laughed as the sun continued to make his eyes look twinkly behind the small glass panes. “Well well. A prophet. Tell you what, I’m heading to Eastcoast myself. Why don’t you travel with me? You can shoot a bangstick, yes?”
Terri reached out to the travel-bag on the ground by her knee. Pulling back the raincover, she revealed the bangstick which lay atop her other belongings.
“Aye, I can shoot.”
“Then I’ll make you a fair deal. Hitch your horse to my wagon until the next village, and ride beside me. You shoot any wildun or triber on sight, and I’ll give you passage to your gathering.”
Twin shivers of excitement and dread rippled down her sight. Dread, because she’d never shot a triber before. Only seen the feral men and women—those who shunned village life in favour of roaming the lands and preying on others—from a distance. Excitement, because she wouldn’t miss the prophet after all. Her months of preparation would be worth it.
She sprang up from her tree-stump seat, strapped her bangstick across her shoulder, and tossed her bag into the wagon. At the back of the yellow thing was a metal hoop, which she tethered her horse securely to. At the next village, she would either trade for a shoe, or trade the horse for more supplies.
As she passed the coloured markings on the side of the schoolbuswagon, she stopped and ran her fingers across them, tracing their sinuous shapes. These markings were different to the ones on the wall. Less fuzzy around the edges. Less random in their placement. There was a uniformity to them that suggested great care and attention.
“Do you like them?” the trader asked.
Terri nodded and looked up to him. “What are they?”
“When I was young, my grandpap told me these markings were the name of the prophet.”
Quick as a viper, Terri snatched her hand back. She’d heard myths that markings could have power. Of ancient boxes that spoke in dead voices. That out in the Mexiwastes were abandoned settlements overflowing with dangerous artifacts of times long-gone. But never had she met anybody who could make sense of the markings, or who’d heard ancient speakingboxes talk.
“What do the markings say?” she asked.
The trader smiled and leant down to offer his hand. “They say, Long Live The Wendig.“
Today’s Chuck Wendig Friday Flash Fiction prompt is:
“Write a piece of story which revolves around travel woes of some kind.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this story!