Should I?


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It's winter again, snow up to my knees. I arrive at the lodge after a long silent break. I stomp the snow from my boots. The door creaks open. On the hallway shelf lies an empty can, a flare and a worn wolfskin coat. Just as I left it. There's my backpack by the bed, it looks strange somehow. Inside I find something unfamiliar. A handful of acorns, a cookbook, a drawing of a travois and a hastily scribbled map of territories far away. The handwriting isn't mine. Makes me curious. Looks like I'm breathing clouds. I open the stove and start a fire. My hands stop trembling and my mind begin to wander. I'm getting older. Should I undertake another gruesome journey, will it be worth my while? Will it be as hard and rewarding as last time?

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My inquiries tumble up along the chimney and dissolve in the night. The heat catches up. Looks like somebody slept in my bunkbed. I remove my boots and clothes and lie down on the matress. There will be no troublesome thoughts tonight, I'm exhausted. Was that a pling in the distance? I fall into a deep sleep. A wave of heat rolls over my face. Smoke everywhere. I throw myself on the floor, grab the backpack and start crawling. I glimpse my boots, they are melting on the floorboard. I search the floor with my hands. The heat is unbearable. A hissing sound goes off, I see its dim red light. I get up on all fours and leap for the door. The handle works but burns my palm. I throw the door open. The flames make a last sighing lunge for my flesh as I land in the snow.

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My nostrils catch the scent of seaweed as the first sunbeams penetrate the quilt of fog. Looks like my feet are shifting to blue. I find myself panting inbetween a rocky slope and a growling pack of green-eyed wolves. I have no time to think and start descending on the slippery rock. It's steep enough to put some distance between me and my pursuers. Their low key murmur gets quiter with every step. Careful. A red beam of light sweeps through the fog before me. A frantic gurgling creature comes tumbling down fast behind, snapping frenzied at my shivering torso before it flies off a rock and cracks on the ground below. Soon I reach steady ground. I follow the red light hugging myself, I've never been so cold in my life. Feels like I'm walking on my bone knots. I step on asphalt and soon find a wooden bridge. I make out the outline of a narrow tall building before me. I come to think of a middle finger. A nearby howl breaks my line of thought and I hurry towards the foot of the structure. I pray that the door will be open. It's my lucky day. The door slams shut behind me. There's a stove, recycled wood and a stack of newspaper but nothing to light a fire. I stumble up the spiral staircase and find a pair of men's sneakers under a bed. I put them on. They squeeze my feet, best pain I've felt in a long time. I crawl under the covers, teeth chattering. I almost miss the fire of my burning cabin.

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The wind whizzes outside. I don’t fall asleep. A blizzard comes and goes. My feet start to feel like feet again. I should really find some warm clothing. And water. And food, all I can think about is food. I get up and search the building. There is a recycled can and a couple of books. A hatch on the top floor leads to a roof. I find myself standing on top of a lighthouse. The cold air stirs the same fear from last night. The fog has cleared but linger by the mountainside. There is a stranded boat closeby and a large industrial building behind it. A granola bar lays on the floor. It's more leathery than crunchy. I spit over the railing and go back downstairs, pick up my backpack and step outside. I fill the can with snow and climb down the rocks to the frozen ocean. Thank god I wear shoes today. It’s a short climb, I tread on the thick but slippery ice. The walk to the ship is short and uneventful. I crawl through a large hole in its grey hull. Its dim inside and the place is a mess. I find some coal and a large piece of cloth. I rip it in half and wrap them around my nowadays black hands. I crawl back out and find myself facing a bear. An abysmal roar fills my ears.

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I stumble backwards and throw myself back inside. The bear makes a lunge for me and gets stuck in the hull. I run into the darkness and slam a thick metal door behind me. I am getting too old for this kak. Time passes. My eyes get used to the dark, the legs start shaking. I have to sit down. The back of my head touch a hard metal surface. That's a handle and that's a furnace, I hadn't realized. Perhaps I could craft something here, something to defend myself. But not without the proper tools. I sneak up to upper deck and see the bear wandering off towards one of the islands. The wind whips my chest. I climb down and sneak across the ice to the industrial building site, with a piece of coal as weapon of choice. No pursuers in sight. The yard is clothed with the lumber skeletons of skiffs. I try the door to a barack in the yard. Inside is a mess of useless clutter. I trip over bedframes and metal doors and then, a blue rectangle appear on the dark green shelf. Half a box of wooden matches. My life is about to improve a thousandfold. Is that a smile I feel on my numb face? I cross the yard and try the handle on the main building entrance. Lucky me, everything is open during apocalypse hours. I search the building and find a hacksaw and a prybar, they could definitely come in handy. I waste a couple of matches trying to light a fire in a metal barrel on the concrete floor. The third match is a charm. I throw everything I have in there. Books, recycled wood and newspaper. Glad to feel you again, my long lost pal of flames. As my body warms up I pull torches from the fire and boil enough water to last me for days. A strongbox hides behind a trolley in the corner, I break in. Grade A maple syrup, whoever locked you in here must have valued you highly. So do I, you're coming with me. I pull one last torch from the fire and go upstairs to the spacious bedroom. I drink the syrup. And water. Lots of water. My mind races. I throw the glowing torch on the floor, lay down on the bed and fall into a peaceful sleep.

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I wake up at forenoon with a dry mouth and an empty stomach. Time to scout the area, prybar in my hand. It's quiet and cool except for the crows croaking in the trees. I find an emergency stim in a booth by the yard and put it in my pocket. The road takes me further, to a broken bridge. It’s a dead end, I'll have to turn back. I scavenge the wharf-like structure one last time and find a black-and-white cap on a corpse. Guess you won't be needing this anymore. I get back out on the ice, clenching the prybar hard as I approach the ship. This time I search it with a lit torch. Nothing. I light another torch from the glows of the old and sneak out towards the road. After several laps on a pretzel hook a hidden path to a tunnel appears. The old torch lits a new one. I pick up each and every piece of coal I can find, til my ankles start creaking. I have a hunch that the coal could become useful further on. Though having my ankles could be useful too. I exit and follow a coastline with a broken road and abandoned houses. I'm in a good mood even though it feels like my stomach is eating itself. I crawl under a fallen tree and see a long and wide quilt of ice by a tranquil coastline. The moonlight illuminates a village in the far distance I think. I walk in the dark, following the asphalt track. Some familiar star signs watch over my journey as the torch fades in my grasp. I forget to light a new one. I discern a small settlement and a gas station with a large sign saying Q Q something. As I get closer I see another sign saying gas. A nearby howl tells me I’m done reading. I make a run for the door and hurry inside. I light the last torch in my possession... I'm not gonna be hungry tonight.

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There is a distinct smell of rubber and oil. I put down my backpack by the door and comb out the shelves. Chocolate bar, beef jerky and tomato soup. I cash out the soup by smashing the can on the till. It makes a loud and satisfying noise. I drink the cold soup in one go. Munching on the solid foods I search the building. Tires. Crates. An inordinate amount of drawers. One of them contains both a hacksaw and a prybar, I guess I could use duplicates. A bottle of cooking oil, don't think I've ever seen this before, but I could use that too. The office space has another door but it's locked. Kidding. It's open, it's the apocalypse. It leads outdoor and I'm not going back out there tonight. The office houses a dirty bed and a barrel. My torch is about to go out so I start a fire and pull a handful of torches. I put them out except the last one, which I throw in the wall and go to bed. I wake up midday, it snows and the wind seem to increase. Not the best time for an excursion but I need to move on for food. Perhaps the village I saw in the distance yesterday will turn out fruitful. I continue on the ice, following the direction of the road. It gives me a good overview of any hostile wildlife, my load is heavy and my sneakers are slippery. A baracks appears by some timberstacks. I should search it. I pass the stacks and feel something knocking me over, hard. My cap flies off and I lie on my back with a wolf clawing and trying to bite me. I parry him successfully on pure instinct. This can't go on forever. I search the ground for the prybar, find it and hit him over the head. And again. It's hard to score a clean hit, he's still at it and I'm losing energy fast. I hit him again. And again. And again. The wolf stumbles backwards, whining ruefully and giving me a query look. Guess he didn't expect resistance. I get up on all fours, teeming. I tumble towards the baracks door, my eyelids feeling like concrete. I throw the door open and giddily pull out the emergency stim. I stumble across the floor, pull the stim from its lid and push it hard through my long johns.

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Someone knocks angrily at the door. No wait. That's my heartbeat. Am I hurt? I look down and feel my torso, bruised but not bleeding. I look around the trailer retslessly, not much besides bunkbeds and shelves. I find a can of peaches and smash it on a bedframe. It bounces off, leaking its precious juice on the floor. I leap forward, pick up the can and drink greedily. It tastes a little funny. There's nothing else in the trailer. My energy vaporizes in a heartbeat, I'm run-down. A snowstorm whips the trailer, soothing me. I lie down and fall asleep instantly. I wake up to a red sky, feeling stable but fragile. There's no way I would survive another attack today. Still, I must find food or I will get worse. I sneak out and see a blood trail in the snow leading past a condemned house. I can't break in and risk the noise. I go the opposite direction, out on the ice. Further out a wolf tramps around aimlessly. Has he spotted me? I sweep my gaze along the coast. I can see the cabins clearly now, they're as real as the wind. That's the end station for me tonight. I pass a green fishing hut that provides me a sewing kit. Useful but inedible. I look back, no pursuers. Four cabins stand by the water, one of them shattered. Crows circle above them. I enter the area crouching, seems safe. The insides of the cabins are very spartan. All I find is a piece of charcoal in a trash can, a pair of sport socks and a sad old tin of sardines. I make a fire in the snow, if only coal was edible. Reishi and rose hip tea relieves my hunger a little. I hesitatingly try the sardines. Hope I don't get poisoned from this. 

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I don't sleep well. My clothes stink of smoke and by dusk I'm ravenous. I light a fire. Not running short on matches in a while. But water is running out so I boil enough for the day, prepare reishi tea and pull a couple of torches from the fire. I button the top button of the shirt and walk up to the road with a lit torch. Look to the right. Look to the left. I freeze. Further down the road a bear strolls across. He doesn't notice me. I can't linger by the cabins and I can't follow the road... I clench the bloody prybar and head up the hill instead. It's quiet and the snow is not too deep but with my heavy backpack it's a tardy climb. It's freezing even with the burning torch, I must find something to cover my head. I sip the tea, relieving the cold a little. A frozen watercourse appears. I forget about the road and follow the frosty path. Cattails grow along the ice, I pick them up and follow the trail uphill. I pick up some stones while I'm at it, today seem to be leg day anyway. I spot an isolated cabin, shelter from the wind. It's open for business. The windows have iceberg blue curtains. They really seem to be in fashion around here. I rip them apart and start sewing. Now I have a fashionable hat to wear on the icy cattailwalk. I munch on the cat tail heads and lay down on the bed, awaiting the milder afternoon weather. I head out, following the river furher uphill. More cattails, more coal, more cold. At the top of the road awaits a decision. Should I seek shelter in the trailer to the right or in the tunnel to the left?

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I choose the tunnel and follow the railroad track leading inside. It should be warmer there. It's not. The tunnel is short and takes me to a ramshackle bridge, below it a hairraising deep ravine. I hesitate for a moment. Turn back to the trailer? And do what, starve to death? I'm cooling down fast from the wind. Lets get going. I take a deep breath and tread the bridge. Slow and steady does it. I reach a part where the track has collapsed, leaving merely one rail intact. I did take a circus class once as a kid. Will it make the difference between life and death today? Focus. I go one step at a time, holding my red-and-blue prybar in front of my body as a balance pole. That's ridiculous. I make it to a relatively safe spot and rest there. Ahead awaits another one-railed balance act. I step on the rail, walking slowly. Would this be a good time to juggle the prybars? My heart races as a gust of wind pulls at my body. I lean forward and increase the pace. Faster. And faster. And on the last step towards the intact rail I trip and land on my side with a thud. I'm bruised and rueful but not bleeding out on a rock below. I'm never crossing that bridge again. Ever. The tracks go on and on. Through a tunnel. Over another bridge. My teeth perform a rhytmic chattering, a duet of the jaws if you will. It's quite catchy. My mind drift to a concert I saw in... a red wagon appears on my right. I should search it. It's locked up tight. I turn around and glimpse a cave entrance in a beautiful winter garden. Mushrooms grow on treestumps. Sticks lie waiting to warm me up. Paradisiac if you will. I stone the owners of the cave, two paradise rabbits, make a fire in the cave and cook their meat. If this is paradise, then who am I? The rabbit meat is the best meal I've had since... since I can't recall. Is that a tear on my frosty cheek? Enough of that. If I can't find warm clothing I'll have to make my own. I unpack the hacksaw and carve out the rabbits' hides and guts while the sun sets bloodred in the west.

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Harvesting bunnies is a slow and tough job. No sign of predators despite the smell. Should I stay in the cave tonight? And sleep where, on the rocks? No. I pick up my backpack and pull a thick burning branch from the fire. Just around the corner, a deceased roe deer awaits me. I light another campfire and throw a piece of coal in it. It flames up fancily from the wind. I meticulously remove the deer hide for clothing. The guts too. I scrape a little meat from the bones and barbeque it. It's not much but leastways I'm not starving tonight. I look down on my hands. Blood, grease and filth, I'm a walking target. The wind decreases. All I hear is the fire sparking and a creaking metallic sound nearby. The meat is ready. I grab a torch and move towards the sound. A tilted red freight train car lay in the snow. I stand on it and discern a ravine below. A frosty treetrunk constitute a wodden bridge across it. I say goodbye to the mountain island and cross the treetrunk on its slippery bark. Solid ground. What can I except here? I sweep the torch before me. From the corner of my eye I glimpse the silhouette of yet another rabbit. I decide to leave him be. He'll be alone in paradise from now on, a punishment worse than death? He disappears in the dark. Hardened slices of birch bark lay on the grund. They might provide some nutrition, I pick up a handful. The mountainside leads me to a cave with an expired deer doormat. I repeat the fire and harvest the doormat. A little meat for tonight and most of it for tomorrow. I'm ketogenic diet incarnate. The cave holds nothing of value. Supposedly I could stand safe by the fire all night, exhausting my coal supply. The thought of a lighter backpack does excite me. But I would be dead tired by dawn. I pick up the hides and guts from today's harvest and leave them to dry inside the cave. I boil some water and wash my hands and forearms thoroughly. I grab another relay torch for the fire race and set out to find shelter for the night.

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Railroad tracks lead me through a foggy passage. I distinguish a trailer to my left and a huge fenced-in structure to my right. The trailer is open. Inside my nostrils pick up the distinct smell of wet fabric. I drop my backpack on the floor, lock the door and lie down on the closest bed, dog-tired. The bed smells kind of musty but it'll do. I open my eyes. Daylight greets me. It's a foggy morning outside. Birds are chirping. I imagine I hear galloping hooves in the distance. What surprises will the enormous building hold? It seems even bigger from the inside. I light a torch . It's a power plant. And a gift basket. I find an oil lamp, a cooking pot, snacks and a pair of trailboots in excellent condition. Goodbye sneakers. Forever. I should be happy, yet I feel bored. A door leads to the back of the power plant. Below is a ravine. Through it a frozen stream is paved. Rabbits play there. I tell myself their existence is a capital offence. I chase them down, stone them and tie them by the ears on my belt. It's time to get back before it gets dark. The wind increases, shrieking in my ears. The power plant door is shut. Damn, seems not everything is open during the apocalypse after all. A ledge leads to the other side of the ravine. Seems like my best option. I walk carefully. Though unpleasant, it's nothing compared to the broken railroad bridge spectacle from yesterday. I reach the other side and find a broken window. I use the prybar to sweep away the remaining window shards attached to the frame. I climb inside the plant and move towards the main entrance. I find tools I missed on my previous search. Another prybar, a cooking skillet and a blue box of magic matches. And. A book about archery. Hmm, there’s an idea. I harvest the rabbits and thereby cleanse them from their guilt. I leave their no longer culpable guts and hides to dry by the main entrance. One day they shall be part of an impeccable hat.

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There are no beds in the power plant. Another night in the musty trailer then. I wake up by sunrise, healthy but restless. I browse the book about archery. Shooting technique. Wow, there's more to think about than I'd guessed. Hunting. Yeah, with time and practice I could learn how to hunt with a bow. Crafting. Sure, I love to learn. Mounted archery. Now that's not happening. So. The bow should be easier to craft than the arrows. I'll need some metal and a forge where I can craft arrowheads. I pack the archery book and pick up some coal and metal scraps from the power plant. My hands are still greasy from the bunnyslaughter. I wash them in the snow and grab my lucky prybar. I walk along the railroad tracks. Is it colder than before or has the recent comfort softened me? An empty trainwagon appears. Its metal gate squeaks open. Empty. In the distance I discern a wolf on the tracks. I look down on my red-and-black checked shirt. His claws would rip through me in a second. Then I'd have no intestines. I'll need my intestines. I sneak down a slope and cross a river. Where did I hear that the bowels are so long that they can reach all the way around... A deer startles me. I instinctively swing the crowbar at him. He dodges, makes a graceful u-turn and galopps uphill towards the mountain. A wolf appears by the foot of the mountain, jumps him and bites him in the throat. The deer falls. I rush toward them shouting and throw a rock at the wolf. I clench the crowbar harder, preparing for the counterattack. But he runs off whining. The deer is dead. Sorry buddy, I didn't mean to do this to you. I would harvest your meat but this isn't exactly friendly territory. I move on and reach a stream branch leading to a large frozen lake. The wind whips across the ice. I hug myself, shivering. A structure appears by the shore. A two-storied wodden cabin with droves of snow on the roof. It looks inviting. I walk through the palish reed, picking up stones. A Canadian flag waves at me on the porch. I salute it and stomp the snow from my trail boots. The interior of the building feels homely. There are paintings, a stove, an armchair, a crafting table, enough cans to last a lifetime and some herbal tea. In a corner I find kitchen accessories. On the floor large Yukon gold potatoes. Seem fresh enough to me. I find a bedroll under the stairs. Terrific, I can finally become a caveman. This house really is something. Carpets and curtains and a moose skull on the wall. I drop my backpack and start walking up the stairs, admiring the high ceiling, the windows and the well-placed corpse. The f…?!

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I stumble backwards. It's a man. His pale eyes stare into the void. I poke him with my blood-stained prybar. His limbs are stiff as a firelog. He crackles when I search his pockets. There is a brown leather wallet with a driver's license. Daniel Cloutier, permitted to drive both a motorcycle and a car with a trailer. State of Saskatchewan. What you doing out here boy? What was it that got you in the end? The cold? The hunger? The loneliness? I put the wallet back in his pocket. The body collapses on the floor. Not so homey after all. I'm out of food and low on winter clothing, I should keep moving. See ya Danny. I make a cup of coffee and step outside, warming my hands with the steaming cup. The railroad tracks run next to the house. With the sun in my eyes, they seem to go on forever. I follow the tracks and spot something inbetween the trees down the slope. I deviate from the tracks and go deeper into the woods. The snow creaks under my boots. I find nothing but a hovel with a stove. I turn to walk back. A wolf lurks behind the trees. I can't go back that way. I turn and run uphill, spilling half my coffe. I catch my breath on the crest and drink the warm beverage. I'm warming up but the wolf is still stalking me. I walk along the mountain ridge. In the valley below stands a wooden cabin on a rocky island surrounded by a lake of smooth powder. I rush down the slope and find an adjacent barn. I search it. A heavy hammer stretches out to meet my hand. I could use this to make arrowheads in the forge. Should I return to the stranded ship? No way, I'm not crossing the godforsaken bridge again. I glance over my shoulder. My pursuer is gone. Too bad, I was looking forward to anoint the hammer. I take a deep breath and walk up to the cabin on the rock. It's truly beautiful here. Two rabbits play on the slope. They dart around together in the snow in an elevated dance, the sun graciously lighting up their pale winter stage. I cook them in the cabin.

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The cabin holds a crowbar and a magnifying glass. I won't have to waste matches from now on. I wrap the magnifying glass in a piece of cloth and put it in my backpack. I wake up before dawn. The lean rabbit meat didn't satiate me for long, I'm ravenous. I boil a kettle of water and harvest the rabbit hides and guts. I leave them to dry on the wooden floor. I open the door and throw their leftovers by the stairs. A godless, marauding bear loiters around the area. I make a long detour by the mountainside and find a railway tunnel. It leads me to a frozen marsh. I walk along the tracks, looking left and right, the cold air gnawing at my upper body. I warm up in a freight train car and continue along the tracks with a warm cup of reishi tea in my hand. No buildings in sight. Except. In the far distane I spot a small village with several houses. I set course for them. Cattails in the reeds. Just what I need. I go further into the marsh, sipping on my tea while it's hot. More cattails, I follow the trail. A dense fog lays down around me. I'm terribly lost. I walk from island to island, my torch cutting through the fog. Have I been here before? There are cat tail heads on the ground. The ice cracks below me. Will it hold? I run across the ice. I have discovered the mainland. I am greeted by the mainland mayor, a charging timberwolf. I throw a torch at him and miss. He runs off surprised. I pick up the torch. Another wolf charges from behind. I turn and award him my burning torch in his forehead. He decides to seek company elsewhere.

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The wolves disappear in the fog. I retrieve the torch, holding it close to my shivering torso. I follow the shoreline, gliding smoothly through the fog like a canoe. I find the village. Expect it's not a village but two dilapidated houses by an equally dilapidated bridge. Is this it? My backpack suddenly feels heavier. I carry on walking. Another ramshackle building appears in the fog. Though behind it stands a somewhat intact wooden structure. I rush to it. It has a craft bench, some drawers, wooden crates, a furnace and a bed on a loft. This is what I've been looking for. Well, not a house without a door, proper walls and a roof, though the apocalypse has made me less fastidious. No, this is the kind of forge I've been looking for. This is where I will craft pioneering metallic wondertools. I light the furnace with the torch and gather all the coal and metal I can find. I browse the archery book. Crafting section. Arrowheads. I finecomb the location while the furnace heats up slowly. I find a prybar in a drawer. Lucky me, I was just about to wear out the other four. I aquire a collection of cold dog food. Great. Like I said, less fastidious. I walk around the building. No rabbits around here? I miss their paradisical sinfulness. The furnace is burning hot. I craft a few arrowheads. They're not pretty and a bit blunt. I make more of them. Better but not good. I break down the wooden crates for fuel. It's hammertime. Behold me, Thor MacKenzie. Wielder of hammers. Destroyer of worlds. And crates. Was that a howl? I stop and look around panting and soaked in sweat. It's pitch dark and nearly silent, except for the furnace's gentle humming. I snort. I should save some strength for tomorrow and take a manshower. I leave my clothes to dry and rub my sore limbs thoroughly with snow. I dry up by the furnace, drink a full bottle of water and eat dog food. I crawl into bed in my birthday suit. The melody of the crackling fireplace lulls me to sleep. A metallic bang wakes me up. I sit up instantly. Right, that's burning wood falling over inside a metallic chamber. It's a beautiful sunny day. Nothing but marsh and mountains as far as I can see. Oh well, no excursions for me today anyway. I grab a handful of cattail stalks to chew on and add more fuel to the fire. I craft another set of arrowheads. I'm getting the hang of this. I craft a defensive weapon that resembles a hatchet. I cool it in the snow before raising it in the air, feeling its handle. Its fairly well-balanced, though the edge is a bit blunted. I chop at the wall. Wooden chips rain down on the ground. It'll do. Heck, I wonder if I'll ruin the pelt if I throw it on rabbits. I craft a smaller, sharper tool as well. I poke the tip gently. Hope I can stab through a wolfpelt with this. It's pitch dark again. Manshower. Dry up. Water. Dog food. Striptease.

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Another night in the loft passes. I pack my pioneering metallic wondertools and prepare birch bark tea. I unfold the scribled map of a territory far away and sit by the furnace as the embers slowly goes out. There is a mediocre drawing of a destroyed railway with an arrow pointing to an aircraft. I've passed the bridge for sure, but not the plane. Though it shouldn't be too hard to spot... A gust of wind makes me shiver. I'm burning daylight. Since there are no proper clothes in the apocalyptic world I'll sew my own apparel. I will head back to the tunnel and pick up the dried hides and guts. I light a torch by the furnace and traipse along the mountainside, nibbling on bulrush stalks. The legs feel strong, the arms less so. The sun sinks in the sky. Wolves appear in the marsh. I hurry past a bend by the mountainside and step out on the ice. It breaks immediately. I pant as the icy water closes around my body. Luckily it's shallow. I pull the hammer from my belt and crush the ice before me, dragging my feet towards the shore. I pull myself up on the ground, feeling twice as heavy as before. The woods are nearby. I light a fire sheltered behind a yellow pine. I throw a piece of coal in the fire, the flames snort joyfully at me. I sit down, a total fatigue overpowers me. Better get going before I fall asleep in the snow and kill myself. I make coffee in the thermos, dry up a bit and move on. Afternoon turns into night. I walk, drink more coffee and stop to make a new fire. Walk. Drink. Fire. Repeat. I dawdle through the tunnel. Along the railroad tracks, the sky cracking up in green and purple. I reach the house by the shore, with the maple leaf flag swaying silently in the night. I drop the soggy backpack in the hallway and hang my clothes and boots to dry. I drag my feet up the stairs. Oh, hey Danny. Is this what got you?

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I'm alive. Clothes, boots and backpack dry by the small stove. Midday passes. My mind is weary and my legs and arms are sore. But I feel remarkably pleased. Just a short haul to the power plant. Then I'll have some proper R&R. I go up the stairs and gently sit Daniel up, leaning him against the wall. Take care buddy. I dress, consume cat tail stalks and light a torch. Onwards to the power plant. The sky is dovetail gray, the wind is elsewhere. I reach the river. Hey there rabbit, you're a sight for sore eyes. I stone him and pick him up looking deep into his wet eyes. I crack his neck. It makes a rewarding sound. I put him in my backpack and pick up some sticks while I sit on my knees. I spot something else among the trees. A deceased deep-frozen deer with majestic antlers lies in the snow, his rib cage exposed. It's a saddening sight. However, now that you're dead, could I borrow your antlers for a weapon? The horns shriek when I saw. The blade breaks. Another time then. I make a fire and harvest the deer by knife. Works like a charm. I cook the meat expectantly, looking forward to a roasted venison after days on the cat tail and dog food diet. The meat sizzles and smokes. A ring of pale grass appear around the campfire. The venison is tough and tasteless. I can't afford to throw it away so I put the meat and hide in the backpack, hang the guts on the belt and move on. The intestines flap against my jeans, soiling them. It's better than soiling everything else in the backpack. I follow the mountainside. Two wolves approach. I put a hand on the belt. Strangle them out with the guts? Probably not. I drop the backpack and walk towards them. I clench my blunted hatchet in one hand and the torch in the other. Let them come. The first wolf charges. I let him close and throw down the torch on his face. He runs off whimpering. The second wolf leaps forward. I swing the hatchet and fall on my side. We both miss. Where is the hatchet? There is the torch. The wolf regroups. I plow through the snow on my knees and reach out for the burning torch, turn around and see him going for my legs.

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I throw the torch in his eye as he plunges into me, rolling over my body. Looking behind me I see him running away. I let out a victory roar and crawl up. I hope your whiskers burn off you weaklings. The hatchet shines in the snow. I pick it up and go to the power plant. I stretch out the fresh guts and hides on the floor beside the older ones. The dried intestines feel rubbery. I could use them now. My ribs hurt. Am I harmed? I lift up the shirt. Bruised but not torn. I pick up hides, guts and saplings from the nearby cave and add them to the pile in the hallway. I'd like to craft but I should take stock of my inventory first. It's turning into quite a collection. I sort tools, items, cooking ingredients and edibles in the metal lockers in an orderly fashion. I welcome the moment of order to my messy life. Now, what to do with my five prybars? I line up the steel blue collection on the hallway desk. Since you have all worked so hard to find me you deserve a unique name and purpose. Behold Crow, bender of car trunks. Raven, slayer of wolves. Magpie, butcher of lockers. Jimmy, balance pole of iron. Gemma, the icebreaker queen. I mark their individuality with a spray can and put them away. All except Magpie. What's next? Right, winter clothing. I gather the dried rabbit pelts and rubbery guts and pull out the knife. Time to craft an impeccable hat. The pipes rattle. Hours go by. The rabbit hat gently hugs my skull. I remain smiling as the sun sets, you should see me now Danny. I browse the archery book with first daylight. Crafting. Bow. I decide to make the body of the bow from of a bendable maple sapling and the arrows from birch. Guts for the bowstring. I craft the bow and one somewhat straight arrow. Time to shoot my first arrow ever. Archery book. Shooting technique. I breathe in and aim for the wooden pallet. I breathe out and release. It hits the floor. I try again. Same result. What's missing here? Archery book. Crafting. Of course, fletchings! I make wheatpaste from flour and water and glue crow feathers to the arrow. Fire. The arrow stands straight and proud on the pallet. Splendid. Though, I'm short on feathers. There is enough feathers for a few more but I'll have to find more to perfect all arrows. Onwards to carcasses and corpses then.

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I better be on the lookout for both dead and living things. Finding feathers is high on the agenda but hunting game should be the top priority. So I can sew more warm clothes from hides and rely less on canned foods and cat tail stalks. Though it will require a major transformation for my part. From a metaldragging, scurrying traveler to a stalking hunter. Since deer seem to be extinct in this area I have to try my luck elsewhere. But where? I've seen where the railroad leads, both ways, and it's not to game. Should I explore the lake with the fishing cabins? It's a short walk. Though I'm not too keen on traversing the ice again after the recent debacle. Hmm. What about the ravine behind the power plant then? A stream rarely leads to nowhere. If rabbits can live unthreatened and sinful there, before my arrival at least, I have a good shot at finding bigger game around. That's settled then. I'll go first thing in the morning. I prepare the rucksack, wire up the noisiest tools and crawl into bed. Wonder what tomorrow has in store for me. A blizzard? A herd of slow deer? Or bloodthirsty timberwolves? I close my eyes. I rise at sun-up. I line up the prybar collection on the desk. Who to bring? I choose you Crow, bender of car trunks. It's a frigid winter morning. Goose bumps pop up along my arms. My head remains warm. I go down to the frozen river. Bunnies. Wicked, unsuspecting bunnies. I chase them into a cave and stone them. The sweet sound of their cracking necks echo in the stone hall. I exclaim a victorious howl. Great acoustics in here. I imagine a white grand piano on the cave floor. A dressed up pianist with his back to me. Playing a soothing accompaniment. A faceless violinist at his side, gently plucking her strings. An unknown creature howls back at me from a distance. Not the time to linger. I exit the cave and find a path. Another frozen stream. Another cave entrance. I ignite a torch and enter. It's a whole cave system. I wander around warily, picking up coal amongst the rocks. Freezing at the occasional cracking sound. I see the sky. An exit. I put down the backpack and light a campfire. I sit down, leaning against the rock wall. I cleanse the rabbits in the purgatory flames. They taste delicious. I lie down on the bedroll. That's right, I'm a caveman now.

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Snowflakes land gently on my face. I wipe the beard with the back of my hand. The freezing air gnaws on my skin. I put on the red mittens. This is a whole new level of cold. I'm at the foot of a hill. I glimpse a hunting tower on the top. It's a steep climb. I struggle up the hill. My lungs hurt. I reach the crest breathless. I throw off my backpack and drop in the snow, breathing into the mittens. A minute passes. And another. I'm sweating. Should've thought about that. Better get a move on then. I go up the hunting tower. A book about archery awaits me on the floor. The cover looks kind of artsy. Not the time to browse it though. I put it in the backpack and turn around to leave. My heart skips a beat. A deceased man sits in the corner, collapsed against the wall. I exhale. Friend of yours Danny? A gust of wind stings my skin. Time for fire or shelter. Something stands out amongst the trees. It's another corpse in the snow. Looks like he died harvesting a deer. All this death. Is this hell then? I sit in the snow and collect the crow feathers. The wind increases. I look up. Is someone watching me? A brown bunny hops towards the woods. I hurriedly collect a few stones. Be a brother and share your pelt with a weary traveller will you? Aim. Throw. Miss. The rabbit skids in the snow and runs off between the pine trees. I chase after him but my backpack is heavy and my lungs burn. A wolf lunges from behind a tree. His jaws catch the rabbit by the spine, tearing and shaking it. The struggle is short. Throw a torch and claim the bunny? Wait, where's my torch. I've put it in the backpack. Dumb move. The wolf's teeth sink deeper into the flesh. Throw a stone and claim the bunny? Too late. The hide will be ruined by now. I take a detour around them, acknowledging that my silent hunter ability has room for improvements. I glimpse an antenna stretching towards the sky. It's not far. The snowflakes start to hit me sideways in the eyes. I find an oversized antenna and a fenced-in square structure by a vantage point. Looking down I see a road and...and...  is that a fence? Can't see much in this weather. Civilization nearby at least. I'll take another look when the weather clears, but for now I'll explore the building. I try the handle. I'm in a nerdbox. Wires and gadgets and buttons. I press them all. The surprising response of a crackling human voice doesn't happen. There's a bedroom. A calender from 2004 hangs on the wall. Doesn't matter. I wouldn't be able to tell today's date anyway. I search the shelves and drawers. A tin of sardines. Bingo. Its best before-date looks promising but then again, who knows. What else? A dusty can of soda, a coffee tin and a small arms handbook. If only there were guns around. I pull out a drawer. My pupils grow larger. A dark green, furled piece of cloth. I hold it up, unfurling it. I put it on, sinking into the down. I have a ski jacket. I am the king.

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A blizzard ravages. I prepare tea. I mend clothes. I drum on pots and cans. I dance from room to room, shaking the coffee tin rhythmically. Crow the crowbar breaks into a metal locker. It's not his thing but he makes an exception. We're celebrating after all. A jacket has found its way to us. I pull up the zipper and tap it gently. I'm never leaving your side. The blizzard passes. I can see clearly from the viewpoint now. A large, alluring two-story farmhouse awaits me in a white open field. Behind it the golden fireball sinks into a carmine sea of clouds. I roll the backpack down the mountainside and follow closely, sledding on my rear. That saved me some time. The field is wider than it seemed from above. The snow much deeper. I feel like Dante's Satan, plowing through the waist-high snow. I reach the farmhouse and walk a lap around it. I open the cellar door. Pipes, wooden chairs and washing machines. Among the clutter lie potatoes, carrots and a book about fishing. Is there a lake around here? I walk up the stairs. The kitchen is well-equipped. Another cooking pot to add to my rhythm section. And plenty of food in the pantry. The match sizzles. The stove burns. The water boils and the potatoes soften. Meanwhile I explore the building. Room to room. Torch to torch. A cotton toque here. A spraycan there. Lots of books to burn. I turn the water taps in the bathrooms. The pipes are dry. The office room upstairs is a mess. But something peeks out from under the bed. I get down on the floor and pull out a Mackinaw jacket. Victorious. Again. I go downstairs and sit by the stove, happily munching on the evening meal. Clothes and food. Without firing a single arrow. I pull a torch from the stove and go back upstairs to the bedroom. I throw the burning torch on the carpet and drop into the soft mattress.

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Nothing but straw bales as far as the eyes can see. Snowflakes whip my eyeballs. I squeeze the hatchet handle. I shouldn't get too comfortable. I have food for a few days, that's all good. But if I can kill a deer there will have enough venison for a whole week. I shiver. Even a jacket king can freeze sometimes. I wouldn't mind a pair of fur mittens. Any godforsaken rabbits around? I pick up a handful of stones and put them in my pocket. I follow an ice-paved stream, the wind whistling in my ears. I wouldn't hear a wolf it it snuck up behind me. The stream divides at the foot of a mountain. A shack on the shore looks ready to throw in the towel. I look around, nibbling on a raw carrot. Nothing but sticks and stones. A crooked path behind the shack leads me up the mountain. I wonder what awaits me at the top. A deer perhaps? I haven't seen a single animal today. I attach the hatchet to my belt and grab the maple bow. I reach a cave. Shelter from the wind. A green rucksack leans against the cave wall. I open it. A smile spreads across my face. A full box of salted wheat crackers. I taste them. Not too fresh. I turn the box over. Wheat flour. Could've gussed that. Thiamine mononitrate. Couldn't have guessed that. Folic acid. Soybean. Palm oil. Salt. Baking soda. Wow... and I was so proud of the wheatpaste I made the other day. But then these guys come along, playing a whole different ballgame. I have much to learn. I leave the cave, munching on a passable cracker. A red and white piece of metal towers up behind a snow embankment. Is that what I think it is? Could that be the aircraft the map was pointing me towards? I bite into another cracker and urgently climb the embankment. I spit out the dough. The slope below is strewn with human corpses. The bodies are intact, but their owners are long gone. So this really is hell then? When could this have happened? The wolves and bears have yet to find them. I walk down the slope and loot the corpses. Reluctantly... Planeparts, severed trees, briefcase and hand luggage lie in the snow.... and efficiently. Worn wool socks. Another pair of thermal underwear. A midnight blue hoodie. I pick up a briefcase and walk uphill to the plane tail. I light a campfire and sit on the briefcase, warming my hands. I look out over the scene. I cook reishi tea and pour it in the thermos. I stare at a female corpse by the planetail. She lies in a pool of blood. I look back in the fire and throw up in the flames. The flame flickers. A carrot and wheat puree flow from the corner of my mouth. Is this the coveted territory? I unfold the scribbled map. The airplane in the drawing is intact. The airplane before me is not. Useless piece of paper. I scrunch it and raise my arm to throw it in the fire. I hesitate. I throw the scrunched map in the backpack instead. I get up and walk down the slope. The sun warms my face. When did it stop snowing? I turn my face to the sky, eyes closed, and exhale. I investigate the plane cabin resting at the bottom of the slope. It's interior is fairly intact. And empty. I exit the plane by the side door. Though my mind lingers.

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I find myself by a hunting tower. How did I get here? I look back at the tracks in the snow. The plane tail peeks out from behind the milkwhite hill. My stomach rumbles. I turn my head. The birchwood here is thin. A cluster of young saplings catch my eye. Arrow material, time to put the hatchet to use. Chopping is remarkably slow with the blunted blade. I cut harder, grunting. From the corner of my eye I see movement. The noise has attracted company. So much for silent hunting. I hack away hastily at the remaining saplings and put them inside my jacket. The wolf drives me towards the mountainside. I'm not letting you so much as scratch my newfound jackets. A rope hangs from the cliff face. I look up at the ledge. It's not that far. I fumblingly attach the hatchet to my belt, grab the rope and start pulling myself up. The distance to the ground increases. I fail to get a good grip with the boots and my shoulders burn with each pull. The wolf sits down in the snow below me. I'm too heavy. I won't make it. I start sliding down. He gets up on all fours, barking. I slide downwards. Here we go. I quickly let go of one hand, in the same motion I loose the hatchet from the belt and drop it. Right in his forehead. He flinches. Looks up at me silently. There's sincere surprise in his eyes. I lose my grip. He backs up, cowering. I land on my feet, sinking kneep-deep in the snow. The wolf limps off wobbling. That didn't work out. Where to now? Something glimmers by a fallen tree. I take a closer look. A metal hatch here? I turn the wheel.

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The heavy locking device clinks. I climb down the ladder. Discolored cardboard boxes, scratched metal shelves and a dirty mattress. I've seen less depressing graveyards. I sit on the backpack and craft another arrow. I feel warm again but my shoulders ache. I'm tender. Do I have a fever coming? I can't get stuck in here with a fever. I leave the water and firewood in the bunker. Crow, bender of cartrunks, you stay here and guard my stash. The sun is sinking. The air is calm. This will require all of my strength. I grab the rope again and pull myself up. Slow and steady. The boots slide. The shoulders burn. But I make it in one go. I lie down by the ledge, massaging my shoulders. Will they ever trust me again? A path appears between the mountains. I'm going straight into the wild now. Will there be deer at this altitude? I need pick up sticks along the path. It ends in an open landscape. I hug myself shivering. Cedar tree. Fir tree. Snow. And a sudden pang of regret. Why didn't I stay in the farmhouse? I could have slept in a queen sized bed again tonight. Instead I plow through the snow. The moon is my headlamp now. Two dark figures appear among the trees. I fail to tolerate their existence. I pick up a stone and raise my arm. They run off in immediately. That's a first. I follow slowly but lose them in the dark. No wait, there's one. I aim. And he's off. Come on. Give me a free throw at least will you. Is this a special, more easily spooked breed of bunnies? Focus. There's the other. I throw and miss. He sets off. I waddle through the snow. The diabolical fur ball is faster than he looks. He hops over a slope. I follow. Now that's a perfect picture.

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