After the Apocalypse
Chapter 53: A Brisk Hike

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

The pair marched in silence for a time, the bitter wind and the biting cold leaving them with little energy to spare in idle conversation. Though they were together, each was lost in thought. Dave was straining, trying to catch a glimpse of the second tripod, which he believed must exist. He cursed himself for not having brought a compass or even some tools for their trip, even though there'd been no way he could have known what they would find. A walk back to the truck now was out of the question; they'd have to find shelter from the wind soon, or there'd be hell to pay.

Joe's thoughts were, if anything, darker. He had been pondering Steve's actions in the back of his mind all night. He knew the veteran Winter Camper as well as anyone, perhaps better than any of them save Steve himself realized. He could tell that something was bothering him, but in the urgency of their departure, he hadn't found time to ask. He knew that Steve was blaming himself for something, probably the whole predicament, but there had seemed to be something more. He'd detected a faint hint of anger, and perhaps regret, when Steve talked about seeing strangers.

That was it, he suddenly realized. There must have been something about the strangers, something that had happened to make Steve fear them. There was no way Steve would have walked away and left people scavenging for scraps when he could have offered them the shelter of the camp and the will of its inhabitants. It wasn't in his nature to watch someone else suffer. They'd often joked about Steve needing to develop more apathy towards things, but they both knew he hadn't. If there was any force more powerful than guilt in Steve's makeup, it was compassion.

For him to have left those people in town, there must have been something about them that scared him. Joe felt a chill roll down his spine and it wasn't from the cold. If Steve hadn't thought he could bring the other survivors back to camp, where all the Winter Campers would be there to back him up, something about them must have really terrified him.

"I think that's it!"

Dave's sudden shout broke Joe of his reverie. He looked up to see him pointing towards a squat building; atop the roof, barely visible in the storm, was what might have been a second tripod.

"Wow, good call Dave. Let's check it out, rig it up and get out of Dodge."

"Okay."

They walked with renewed vigor towards the building. As they approached, Joe suddenly felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise.

"Just a minute," he said. "I've got a bad feeling about this."

"Okay," said Dave. "What's wrong?"

"I don't know," said Joe. "I can't quite put my finger on it. Let's go once around it from this range, then move closer."

The two began trudging to their left and eventually circled the entire building. After perusing it from all four sides, Joe still felt uneasy, but there was nothing to justify his concern.

"Let's do this one fast."

"Okay," said Dave, "it should be easier, it'll probably be just like the other one."

"I hope so," muttered Joe under his breath. "But something seems wrong."

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