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The Choice in the Mountains

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I looked down on the little town I had grown up in with a cocktail of emotions. Compassion, loathing, regret, longing, fear. All in extremes. It had been two months since I had been able to hunt or scavenge, and supplies were thin. The cold white snow, which blocked all but one exit, was the least of my concern. I was better off with no exits. As the sun flitted below the horizon, I saw fires off in the valley below and muttered to myself, “Raiders.”

It wasn’t the raiders that bothered me. It was the fire. Why couldn’t they get it through their heads that a hot meal is not worth getting the beasts’ attentions? I thought they would have learned their lesson when they were chased off last winter. Well, hopefully some of them survive, and lead them away. I headed off to bed after boarding up the window that had been uncovered.

The next day they were gone again. They had slaughtered most of the raiders, but not enough to stay here. This was my chance. I unboarded the window and clambered out carrying a green plastic wagon whose wheels were soundless thanks to my last drops of oil. I learned the hard way not to use shopping carts. The first spring after they had wiped out the town, I was running low on supplies, so I tried to go on my first run. I brought a shotgun to protect me and a shopping cart to store stuff. I managed to get a whole five yards before seven of them descended on me. I hit the first one point blank; the second shot missed. I had loaded five rounds into the shotgun, and I knew I wouldn’t have time to reload. As soon as I heard the telltale click of the hammer hitting an empty chamber, I turned to run. Behind me, to my chagrin, I discovered that the one I had hit point blank didn’t even have broken skin.

I sprinted into my house and slammed the door behind me. They must have been toying with me. I have seen them catch men on horseback. They prowled around my house for at least a month after that. Since then, I’ve learned. Guns do nothing to them. Shotguns can barely stun them. The only things I know can kill them are very impractical, such as a lot of fire, explosions, etc.

I made my way down the mountain to the slaughter below. I collected the food and supplies that the raiders had left behind. When I was finished, I looked disapprovingly at the small pile of sustenance. I realized there wasn’t going to be enough to last till spring, and I was lucky to benefit from this horrible thing once a year. I piled a dozen bodies on the cart, and headed back up to my house.

Depressed, I began to reminisce about how all this had come to be. The war had started 30 years back. I was only 10 at the time, and didn’t understand the implications of the headlines, and posts about it. My father had been drafted and went off to fight on my 12th birthday, promising to be back by my 17th. I was 15 when the news reached my mom that his body had been ID’d. She was distraught by the news and locked herself in her room for days on end. She left me with her sister as she slowly killed herself with grief. I was sent into a spiraling despair that almost equated my mother’s. By the time I was 18, we had lost. Everyone had. The final battle raged only two hours, but it was by far the most devastating. The Capital of the country we were fighting against was about to be taken. The leader was so insanely desperate, he gave a truly mad command.

Mutually assured destruction. He cried for the nuclear warheads to be launched. We retaliated with our own of course, but that didn’t matter. Almost every major city was reduced to an irradiated rubble. Millions died in the initial bombardment. Billions died of the resulting food shortages, civil unrest, lawlessness, and fallout in the months to come. The soot, ash, and smoke from the fires drifted into the sky, blotting out the sun in a nuclear winter.

The worst was yet to come for my quiet town. As food ran short, people got desperate. They started widening their definition of “food”. First we turned to our beloved pets, with tears in our eyes we tried to slit their throats as painlessly as possible. We hunted the region around the mountain, but the rewards of that venture couldn’t feed us. We were doomed.

They knew of the myths, but they thought they were just that, myths. They consumed the flesh of their friends, neighbors, and even family. They became in their desperation to survive, wendigos. Ten percent of us tread that path at first. They discovered a new hunger. Twenty percent more died to the first of them. The survivors learned to keep them out, but food became even more of a problem. We were trapped in our houses for months, and most, knowing the horrors that lay for them when they did, out of desperation, joined them.

Now I’m the only one left. The only one who hasn’t succumbed or died. Now as my food supplies are non-existent, and I haven’t eaten in a week, I’m left to this terrible decision. Do I die a man, or live a beast? Do I stay and starve, or join them and feast?