Thomas stopped at the top of the foothill he was currently cresting. The sun was setting behind the mountains behind him and he wanted to find some high ground. It had been a long journey through those mountains and tonight he would rest. His old legs were weary from this trip. His stomach growled, as it had his whole life. Sometimes he was lucky and it just ached from hunger, but these were the good days. Most of his life his, the pain was closer to starvation. Thomas settled inside a well hidden area. Bushes to one his front and trees to his back. Over the bushes he could look over the foothills and into the prairie ahead. He worried less about raiders from the mountains. He crossed them, he knew few others would choose that path. Raiders always picked easy transport routes to sit focus on, most people would prefer save the energy by not passing through these areas. The truth is he hadn’t seen a human in a very long time, let alone raiders. He set up his camp and started the fire to cook the remainder of the fish he had caught in the morning.
As Thomas sat in front of the fire he reflected as he often did. He remembered the elders from his island calling the world here post-apocalyptic, when he was a child. Now it was just the world he lived in. No one was left who saw the world before the Great Change. The day the skies burned. His mother was pregnant with him when the Great Change occurred. His early life was filled with disease, starvation and death. The sun couldn’t properly feed the plants and few could survive. Those on the island were sure that they were some of the few left to survive the Great Change. The world from before had been rendered mostly barren and without life. The elders talked about The Prophecy often. That Prophecy was why Thomas had left the island for the great land to his east. The Prophecy had always been hokey to him as a child. However later in his life it became important.
The Prophecy spoke of a great death that would come to the island and take many of its people. It said, as many died of violent illness there would be no new generation to take their place. Only a small group of able-bodied would survive and this was the sign from the Invisible One that it was time to go find others. To travel in different directions and discover humans long since forgotten to them to save the future of their people. Until the death began, no islanders would be permitted to leave, the world was not safe.
As a child, Thomas had been like every other islander. They all got jobs from a young age. As soon as the children could do the labour they began work. Some built boats. Some made clothes. Some cooked and hunted. The boat builders would likely never use them, they were there to fulfill The Prophecy. For those who survived to make it to the forgotten lands. The boats were simple. They were made of the local trees, they had a small sleeping compartment, a main deck for the sails and a hold for as much food as they could grow and pack on. The farmers rotated stocks for the boats, so they would be ready for the prophecy.
Thomas had been a farmer with his family. His father had taught him how to survive off the land. He had grown up laughing at his fathers belief in the Prophecy. It was hard enough to find food let alone waste time on old stories. Thomas knew he would grow up and die of old age or hunger on the island like those around him were doing. His Uncle was a fabulous fisherman. He taught him all the tricks and Thomas used to love using his free time hunting octopus in the reef with his uncle.
As it turned out, Thomas shouldn’t have laughed so much, but he also had been good to learn fishing. It started with the many miscarriages and then a stop to pregnancy altogether. Thomas was not a young man when it started. He was 50 years old and had mostly forgotten The Prophecy as he didn’t attend the religious gatherings. His son was awaiting the birth of his first child, but his wife was one of the first women to use a child. Within only a few months, no new births happened and almost all pregnancies had ended in children lost or stillborn. Next the young and old started falling ill. The illness took them within weeks. Thomas still devastated from the loss of his unborn grandson, was driven to the brink as his son fell ill, and then his son’s wife. Both would pass along, no ceremony to see them off. Too many were losing their lives. Soon the bodies started to outnumber the living. The elders started to talk about the prophecy. Those who were sick could not take the rations anymore and would be left to die, some would take their own lives before they got sick. It was easier not to wait. After 2 years, the death stopped and the village was down to only ten healthy men left. All the women had passed. All of the men remaining. Thomas was the oldest of the able-bodied men remaining. The remaining elders told those men it was time to fulfill the prophecy. So the few left loaded on to boats, with almost no food loaded and headed off in different directions to the forgotten lands.
Thomas had been sent due east, he set sail, a skill he would learn on the ocean, and headed where he was told. He wasn’t sure the Prophecy was any more than a silly story, still, but he didn’t want to die on that island if there was any chance he would survive. He knew making into land was not even likely but death at sea would at least let him see something new and he loved fishing, so what a way to go. If one of them made the forgotten lands it would be beating the odds. For weeks and months he sailed the ocean, fishing for food and repairing the boat with the supplies he had packed. He lost count of the days, weeks and months. He had no idea how long he had been at sea. He had learned to convert the salt water with his supplies early but had to actually start burning pieces of the boat near the end of his crossing. He would go as many days as he could without food and water. He could sea his bones through his skin. Certain many times he would die, but never did.
One day Thomas awoke to a dark line off in the distance, he would spend the day focused on that line as he sailed, a good wind was speeding up his journey. After a couple of days he neared the line that had clearly been land now for a few days. As he got close he could make out some of the old world buildings. He had seen them on his island, but they had mostly been destroyed on their side of the island, seen as part of what had brought on the Great Change, something the Invisible One had not approved of and chose to have changed. Thomas made land fall in the old world city. He didn’t waste time securing his boat, it was in pretty rough shape and would not survive another crossing. He also did not think he would ever be going back.
Thomas wandered in and out of the buildings, half expecting to find a thriving culture of people who had forgotten his islands. A people who would take him in and help him regain his strength. Maybe a new place to call home. But he didn’t find anyone, he found remains and was even able to find things to eat within the homes. Most of it was probably not good but anything that didn’t make him pull back, repulsed, when he did the sniff test, he took as food. He wondered through this giant old world city, looking and scavenging. The roads, and buildings were overtaken by vegetation. They were all crumbling, some seemed to have been very heavily in an unnatural way, and others looked like the years had just taken their toll. He stayed in the city for 2 weeks, gathering supplies and building his strength. He built a small pack that he could load a small tent to and as much food as he could carry. He found a small backpack in a house that amazed him. The bag was made to hold water and two straws came from the straps for him to drink out of. Better than any other canteen he had ever seen, he constructed his pack around this canteen backpack and started making his way out-of-town. It was very hot in this city and he decided to head north first. He would have to find food anywhere he could a long the road, by hunting and scavenging.
The trip started off quietly. He had not seen any signs of human life since arriving at this land and he wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. He followed the ocean on his way north thinking this was the best. He finally crossed into a large city with the ocean to his left and a great bay to his right. The city was built into hills. He decided to stay for a while. Again he gathered and built strength for weeks. He stayed here longer and contemplated if maybe it wasn’t worth it. He didn’t like the heat, it made him feel he need to drink too much of the pressure water he made from the ocean each day, he trusted the ocean water most. But he knew as he headed north he risked the winters that would certainly lead to his death.
After two months in the city he had finally moved to a house on the far north side. He liked it, and had settled it into a home. At this point he was feeling to old to carry on the quest. The house was near his favourite discovery. A large bridge crossed over where the ocean entered the land. It was rusting but looked like it had always been red. Large wires seemed to be used to support the platform. Many had broken and the bridge was no longer sitting flat, it twisted and bowed. But it was a marvel to Thomas.
One morning Thomas awoke to loud noises. It was not animals of the area, he had grown accustomed to the limited amount of wildlife around and the noises they made. It sounded like the great celebrations the elders used to hold. He knew right away they were humans. He moved to his window to see them and determine if they were friend or foe. His heart raced with a combination of excitement and fear. Finally he might have found humans, his search over. But as he peered out the window he noticed they all carried large spears. They were breaking into houses quickly going through them and coming out. One of them stayed in the street waiting for the five others to go through houses. They would bring him supplies for his cart where they found them. Thomas watched them for hours. Finally they stopped to eat. He realized these were the raiders of the prophecy. The ones who would take from him and then take his life.
For two weeks Thomas moved from house to house avoiding the raiders, not wanting to leave his new-found home. But they had backed him into a corner and it was time to leave. He usually only travelled by day for fear of the animals he couldn’t see, who he knew could see him in the dark. But he needed that cover to avoid the raiders. As darkness set in he snaked his way through the streets, avoiding any open areas, and decided to cross the bridge he had so long looked at. The raiders were confident in their group and safety. He knew this and didn’t fear them catching him. He was easy to escape the city and headed north. He would travel for a very long time before taking a break, skipping cities to separate him from the raiders.
He would stumble across many other raiders on his way and even witnessed a group of raiders killing another group. He still hadn’t found another set of humans who weren’t hostile. The raiders spoke a language he didn’t recognize and their quickness to violence didn’t make him want to try to open communication lines. So he travelled quietly. The Prophecy said he would find his people in a peaceful settlement, the raiders were neither settled or peaceful. So he travelled. As he headed north he started building up clothing to keep him warm. He wondered off the coast line to find the caves in the mountains. He moved in and out of caves quietly, ensuring they were free of other occupants. He ran into animals sometimes, when it worked out he killed the animals for food, but some creatures were too large to make it worth trying the fight and he would escape quietly.
As Thomas sat at beside his fire in the foothills he realized he had been travelling on the land for well over a year maybe as much as two. Factoring in his time at the ocean and the two years on the island filled with death, he figured he must be nearing 55 years old. He hadn’t celebrated his birthday since he was 50, before the first miscarriages started. He sat there that night thinking about how far he came, and for the first time he thought he might find some people. He thought if he had survived it this long he must be meant to find people and carry on the traditions of his people.
Thomas let the fire burn out. He would sleep in tomorrow maybe even take a day or two at this site to relax. It seemed it was spring time, there was run-off he had used to fill his canteen. The temperatures were warming lately. He could use a break from travel and this seemed a safe place. He took the foil he had found in the cities and wrapped the hot coals in it. He got into his makeshift sleeping bag and surrounded it with the hot coals, that would keep him warm overnight.
Thomas drifted off to sleep, thinking of the elders from the island and all the stories of the Invisible One that his father had shared with him. He rolled over the story of the prophecy in his mind. He remembered the end of the prophecy with a smile. Many would leave but only one would ever find a new people and send his descendants back to the island to find the relics of the elders. He smiled because he realized that night he was the one. He would send back the people he found and he would teach him the way of the island. Those were the last thoughts to enter Thomas’ mind as he drifted to sleep…