marriage in the woods

Strange encounter

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 20 May 2023



The complex chemistry that makes a man settle down and want to start a family, mostly a lust for a particular woman and the stipulations of pregnancy just didn’t play out the hand I’d been dealt so far in life. I’d never had a steady girlfriend in my early years and the erasure of most of mankind and my solitary life in the woods put a stop to such amorous dreams forever.

The sexual trysts that followed were chance events more than attractions of the heart. It wasn’t that my heart was cold, I did love Beth and all the rest. It was my body that was cold. Our luxury hotel in Detroit, for all its perks, was still freezing by night and cuddling under the covers was the alternative to shivering under them, the only alternative. Even Amira understood this and May and June in our tent expeditions. It was body warmth. The act of making a baby was one small step in this cozy situation and the only unequivocally good deed on a planet that desperately needed repopulation. But now for some unknown reason I wanted to travel alone. Perhaps I’d had too much sex.

What is it in a man that makes him wander, to trade the comforts of a warm nest for distant and dangerous unknowns? There is a real yearning for this in some people’s souls. I think it’s in our genes and springs from the habit that for hundreds of thousands of years, through countless generations, that’s all we did was wander, always in search of fresh game and a better place. I remember reading of an old philosopher being rowed across the Thames by a boy of ten, a poor boy of no education whose lot in life was probably to row forever. The sage asked the boy what he would give to know about Jason and the Argonauts, the first sailors to set out in a small boat to cross the ocean. The boy replied: “I would give all I have.” The philosopher was pleased with this response and tipped him well, pleased with the boy’s desire for knowledge and the allure of the unknown. It wasn’t connivance on the boy’s part, he could tell that the response came straight from the heart and that this desire lies hidden like a seed deep in our imaginations. I watered and fed mine obsessively and there was nothing like the flames of a campfire and being alone in the deep woods to feed it even more.

I did take Dora with me. She was all the company I needed and the best traveling companion in the world, talkative when I asked her to be and quiet when I didn’t. She was also my guide by day and my protector at night with her sensors. Another thing that emboldened me to make this journey was that I had considerably sharpened my gun-slinging abilities by constant practice over the last two years. I could draw in a second and hit any target dead on. I wore my holster so much it felt a part of me and my gun an extension of my hand. I knew I wouldn’t encounter another human being with such an antiquated talent so I felt safe for any surprise encounter.

At Dora’s suggestion I made my way up the coastal highway. There were plenty of small towns along the way and streams and rivers to fish. The ocean too provided fish, if you knew how to catch them, and shellfish too. Dora was my encyclopedia in that art. But my staples were the cans I found in stores. Some contents had rotted over the years. But many soups, meats and vegetables were fine. You could tell by the smell. Jars of pickles or anything stored in vinegar or oil, like sardines, seemed likely to last a century. Food was my least concern.

In Crescent city I found I found signs of human scavenging, empty cans on the floor of a grocery store. I circled the area for a week but found no other clues. This could have happened during the lull period, after the mass extinction and before the drones. So I gave up and continued heading north.

My wandering finally paid off. There was a town called Brookings some thirty miles north of there, and on a public bench in a little park I came across a decrepit old man drinking from a bottle in the middle of the day.

“Why, you look like a cowboy.” He hailed me as my horse sauntered up to him.

‘And you look like a tramp’ I thought to myself but held it back. His clothes were slovenly and his long gray hair a tangled mess. I dismounted and sat beside him. He reeked of liquor and even piss. I had come across the proverbial town drunk. I acted like it was any Sunday afternoon from ten years earlier and a casual conversation in the park, not my utter astonishment at finding such a relic alive in these present times. How was it, I thought, that the best and smartest of us had all perished and this one invalid made it through?

“Good day, sir. You don’t mind if I sit here and rest a few minutes. I’ve had a long ride.”

“Not at all, be my guest. You can see I’m not busy and I haven’t had anyone to talk to in a month.”

“Are there other people around here? That’s why I’m riding through. I’m looking for others to possibly join up with. I’ve been alone awhile.”

He eyed me up and down with a questioning look and then handed me his bottle. I knew this was a test so I took a big swig of his whisky and mentioned how good it was.

“Sure mister. I can help you out. But first, my name’s Pete. What’s yours?

“Oh I’m sorry. My name’s Sam”

“Hey, I used to have a good pal named Sam, a swell fellow to drink hooch with. Me and him lived through that bomb attack when nearly everyone else hiding in the woods was killed. You see, no one would come near this town, not after everyone in it disappeared. They thought it was haunted or something. But we was sitting right over there across the street in that liquor store, living it up. But he died a few years ago after the others did come back to town, starving, while we were sitting on the mother load of food the whole time. The grocery store is still half full of it.”

“So there are other people who made it through?”

“Ya, but you’d better sit here on this bench with me a few minutes. There’s some things you should know about them before you go running off to join them, for your own good.”

Now my heart sank. Here we go again, another set of people so twisted by the holocaust that they’re unapproachable, impossible to live with. Was everyone who survived a freak or social outcast, like the one I was sitting next to? I asked him to go on, thanking him for giving me a ‘head’s up’.

“Well you can see that I’m sitting here alone Sam, and glad of it. That should tell you something. These people are strange. They’re back in the woods right now like they do every summer, hiding, but hiding from what? Nothing. They’re fools and I would rather sleep in a bed than on the cold ground. And besides, there aint no liquor stores in the woods. So every summer we part ways. They’ll come back when it gets cold. Even then I don’t have much to do with them. Just thought I’d tell you. But you can always hang out with me, Sam. What a coincidence, another Sam!”

He clapped me on the back as he said this.

I felt a sigh of relief though. These people might not be deviant at all and their distancing themselves from him, if anything, was a good sign. They were probably camped near some river full of salmon this time of year, enjoying the much better diet of berries and fish, better than his canned herring.

I sat there a minute in silence as if considering his proposition, to butter him up for more information.

“Sounds like these people are to be avoided. Do you know where they are, and how many are there?” I took another swig of his hooch.

This got me just the particulars I wanted. There were thirteen of them, three men, four women and six children, all different ages. They were some five miles inland, in a campground. He knew because, as he put it, he made the mistake of going there with them the first year they met, a mistake never to be repeated. I stayed on that bench with him the whole afternoon for more facts. He was a fountain of unconnected particulars, interrupted only by two trips across the street to the liquor store, another fountain. I spent the night in the boarding house where he stayed, two doors down. Before he awoke I was gone.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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