Ray Black lay his pack down, and splashed warm water on his face. His horse was already drinking, no doubt enjoying the liquid as it smoothly went down its dry throat. Placing his container in the river, he pulled it out and began enjoying his own refreshing portion of the Wildbank River's fresh water, thankful for the blessing. The desert was a cruel place.
It was not always like this. Back when Ray was a child, Haven was a beautiful world filled with lush forests, crystal clear lakes, dazzling oceans, and breath-taking mountains. Peace was universal, crime in the well-designed urban areas was non-existent, and prosperity seemed to come without effort. After the Great War, everything changed. Everything.
Now, it was hunt or be hunted. The world was filled with outlaws, gangs, and cowboys, and you were no safer inside a town than you were out in the barrens. Haven was now one mega desert, at the center of which was the Dead Barrens, of which Ray now found himself in the center of. That was why the growth of small vegetation alongside the Wildbank River, one of the last known bastions of uncontaminated fresh water, was all the more surprising to him. Flora was like the diamonds of old, rare and hard to come by, and apart from his memories of pre-Great War Haven, when he was just a child, he could not remember the last time he saw a living green organism in front of his eyes.
Ray Black lived the life of a cowboy, travelling from town to town, buying from this one, selling to that, and making himself some currency in the process. There were no more huge urban centers or cities, just tiny dusty towns, usually run by a gang, scattered across the wastelands. Everything had been obliterated, and human life had become nearly extinct. It was almost 30 years now, or in the calendar of the almost primitive human race that remained, AD (After Destruction) 30. He had been travelling like this for the past 20 odd years, and as he lay by the banks of the river, he was ready to give it all up. This was no way to live. Life had become too hard, too depressing. Life was not worth it anymore.
The Dead Barrens was an unforgiving place, and with the sun setting, he had to prepare for the perils of the night. Usually, he would hunch up next to his horse, and hold his shotgun tight throughout the night, but tonight, he could at least be able to cozy up under one of the taller trees near the bank. The light grass under him cushioned up the ground a little bit, as well, and for the first time, he actually looked forward to putting his head down for some rest. He was days away from the last town he visited, and he had no idea where he was going next. He heard rumors in town about a river to the south, so that is exactly where he headed, with some food and water to last him about a week's time. The Wildbank River, they called it. In these times, this was as close to paradise as one could get on Haven.
Ray woke up to the sound of leaves swaying in the wind, a completely unfamiliar sound and feeling to him. Confused at first, his memory came back to him and remembered falling asleep on the shores of the Wildbank River next to his trusty horse. Around certain towns, you could still see a few motors running, some on two wheels, some on four, but Ray preferred the company of a live animal through his treks in the Great Barrens. Besides, there was no way a car or motor could handle the rough terrain found here, not by a long shot. Good old Rusty could, however, and he made a great head rest some nights when the ground was too hard to sleep on.
After he had cleaned himself off a little bit and taken a bite of the little food he had left, Ray sat next to his trusty friend and started to think of his next move. The last town he had left behind, Frontier, was supposedly the last known human settlement north of the river, not that these settlements ever communicated with each other. For a while after the Great War, every small settlement thought themselves to be the only, before cowboys like Ray started braving the desert. Even now, however, things were not much better; news about other settlements was very scarce, and was always restricted to the closest ones to the said town. In Frontier, however, very few had been as far south as the river, and no one had been across it. When he mentioned to the folks there that he intended to see what the river looked like, most told him to he must be looking for a death wish, and for the most part, they were not far off.
He had lost all his family in the Great War as a child, saved only because his school had a bunker which he was in at the time the space missiles were launched, obliterating more than 99% of life on Haven. Cities disappeared in a matter of seconds, rubble crushed beneath the surface, and human life was lost in the billions. Animals, vegetation, all was gone - almost nothing remained. In the years after the Great War, the world became a mortifying desert, and all the technology and advancement by humankind was blown away with the rest of the world. It was in this dark, lifeless world that Ray learned to fight for himself all alone, becoming a cowboy trader. All alone. Nothing to live for, nothing to die for. Every day he lived with the pain of a lost family, and every day he hoped he would join them. When he decided to head down to see the river for himself, perhaps he wanted to write himself a death wish.
He did not want to go anywhere else. Every town was more depressing and lawless than the next, filled with gangsters and posers, all look to steal and collect. The gang that ran Frontier, for example, levied a tax on all visitors, not only its own citizens, and demanded additional payment for the "protection" they were offering during the night. Funnily enough, it was those same protectors that caused trouble, drunk and belligerent during the early hours of the night. Ray was sick and tired of it all, having to work and travel so he could find himself something to eat. At least here, by the banks of the river, he could get his own food, by doing what the coastal settlements called fishing. He was taught how to by an old man during his early teenage years in a town by the sea called Blessing, although there they had built floating objects called boats to head into the ocean. Here, however, Ray just had to find himself a solid branch from a nearby tree, a worm or two from the grass under his feet, and hope the river had some fish in it ready to be eaten.
It did not take him long to get all the necessary ingredients for a fishing pole, and using a rope he had on him to attach the worm to, he cast it into the river and waited. About a minute in, he felt a sharp tug, and began reeling in the rope. To his amazement, at the end of the rope, which he had attached a sharp curved bark to which the worm was inserted, was a fish! It was about 2 feet long, and was going to serve as one heck of a lunch. The even better part was that old Rusty seemed to be enjoying the grass, having been munching on it since they arrived yesterday afternoon. Using a lighter he had acquired a few months back in a trade, Ray began cooking the fish, enjoying perhaps the best meal of his life.
Ray Black had quite enjoyed the last couple of days by the river, as he fished away his afternoons and sat by the warm fire cooking and relaxing during the hard desert nights. He even found an apple tree not far from his resting site during a morning walk with Rusty, and ran into a small herd of wild cows that had seemingly also called the river shores home. He had began constructing a small shack of his own, and as soon as he was done, he was going to gather up some fish, and head north to Frontier to sell them for a small solar powered generator that was on offer last time he was there. While he was there, he was also going to get some electrical supplies so he could have some light on during the night inside his new shack.
The truth was, he had not felt this alive since coming out of the bunker that fateful day as a child. For once, he did not have to trade or sell anything to survive, with the river providing all the fish he could eat, and the apple tree providing the dessert. This was the most comfortable, and happiest, Ray had been for as long as he can remember. This was to be his new home.
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