Chapter 20:

Sheltering from the Storm, Part 2


Two days after splitting off from Rico and Mia, Caleb and Hope were still on the lookout for the location Rico had pointed out to them on the map. Though Caleb's map was fairly accurate by his estimation, it was largely a quick sketch, so even he wasn't totally familiar with what was located at the area Rico had circled. Even so, he had little else to rely on. The days were getting colder, and it wouldn't be long before snow started falling.

“Are you sure we want to be spending time on this?” Hope asked doubtfully. “Maybe Mia was wrong. Maybe we could make it down to warmer areas before the storm came in.”

“Don't underestimate the snow,” Caleb retorted as he continued to trudge through wet soil and mud. “Even if your nanomachines are waterproof and rustproof, the cold can still slow them down, causing your body's functionality to weaken.”

“Fine. How much further, then?”

Caleb looked at the map once again. “It shouldn't be far. Just over this hill.”

The two trudged up the hill, taking care to avoid slipping on the wet mud. When they reached the top, Caleb took out his map and compared it to the view he was looking at. He soon found the area in question and pointed it out to Hope.

“Look over there. That has to be what Rico was talking about.”

He was pointing to a large clearing deep inside the forest about a few acres large. A clearing that large could not possibly have occurred naturally, and sure enough, Caleb could spy remnants of what must have been a village from before the mass exodus. The two descended from the hill and made their way to the clearing, where they could take in the village proper.

As it had been hundreds of years since likely anyone had ever lived in this village, much of the buildings were either destitute or completely collapsed. Nature had taken hold in the time since the village was abandoned, and vines, plants, and trees burst through the paved walkways and streets, making the ground uneven.

“We're going to take shelter here?” Hope said incredulously. “You're kidding, right?”

“We still have some time before the snowfall sets in,” Caleb replied, ignoring Hope's disapproval. “Let's find a good foundation and fix it up before it gets too cold.”

Hope sighed, but she followed Caleb as he went around inspecting the few houses that were still left standing. It took some time, but they eventually found a nice hut that hadn't been too eroded by time. There was a hole in the roof, and the wood floors had rotted from water damage and age, but it was still a sight better than the other options they had available.

Once their decision was made, Caleb and Hope went about dismantling whatever they could use from the other ruined houses. Caleb had never built a house before, but that didn't matter; construction knowledge was downloaded into Hope's information banks, and her skills alone were enough to fix up and fortify the house. Before night fell, Hope and Caleb had built sufficient shelter to weather the coming snow.

“It's not going to keep out the cold all that well without insulation,” Hope remarked. “I'm also worried about the weight of the snow possibly collapsing the fixes I've made.”

“Let's not worry about that right now,” Caleb declared. “Right now, gathering food and supplies is more important.”

Caleb had brought a considerable amount of food and water with him when he had heard that he'd be going to Alaska for exactly this sort of reason. Hope had chided him for being overly cautious, but to his credit that cautiousness was saving him now. Of course, he had used most of it up on the way here, and while restocking at the occasional relay tower and the occasional hunt allowed him to keep his supplies from running out, he didn't know if he had enough food to last the coming blizzard. Better to err on the side of caution, after all.

That would have to wait until tomorrow, however. For now, Caleb and Hope entered the house and prepared to spend their first night sheltering from the harsh winter. The house had a fireplace that had mostly survived the erosion of time; Caleb quickly built a fire there with the firewood he had remaining and ate a quick dinner of dried meat and nuts. Hope, meanwhile, took out their sleeping bags and the two wrapped them around each other like blankets as they did their best to keep themselves warm.

Time passed as the two tried to sleep while ignoring the growing cold. Eventually it was morning again, and the two awoke having hardly slept at all. Caleb took a step outside and noticed a light layer of snow on the ground, maybe a couple inches deep. “Looks like the snow's beginning to fall,” Caleb observed. “Let's make preparations while we still can.”

After sending Hope off to find extra firewood and other necessities, Caleb took his makeshift bow and ventured into the forest himself. He still had some salt left, so he wanted to try and catch some game so that he could make some preserved meat. If he managed to catch a deer, he could also use the fur to keep him and Hope warm during especially cold nights.

First, though, he'd have to find one. Thankfully, the snowfall was quite deep, meaning that any animals wandering around would leave prints behind for him to track. Sure enough, a short search led him to his first quarry, a trio of deer grazing around some tall grass. Caleb crouched down and took aim at one of the larger ones. He carefully aimed at the deer's chest and loosed his arrow, hitting it in the heart. The deer collapsed, causing the others to run off.

Caleb ran up to the deer and checked to make sure it was dead. Once he'd confirmed that, he took a look at the size. It was a bit too large for him to take the whole thing back on his own, so he'd need Hope's help to lug it back. He took out a whistle and blew three short bursts, then waited. He repeated this until Hope arrived about ten minutes later.

“If you couldn't carry it back on your own, why'd you pick such a big deer to shoot?” Hope complained as she lifted up the animal's back haunches.

“But with this, we've got a lot of meat to last us the winter,” Caleb argued. “Plus, I got it without having to use too many arrows, which is a good thing.”

After another ten minutes of trudging through the snow, Caleb and Hope finally made it back to the village. Once the carcass was inside the house, Hope left to continue scavenging for supplies while Caleb set to work dressing and cutting up the deer. He had been taught to do this many times before, and by now a task like this was fairly simple to him.

After several hours of tough work, the deer had been skinned, dressed, and its meat cut up into smaller portions. Caleb frowned. It didn't look as if he had enough salt on hand to preserve all of the meat, so he would have to figure out some other way to keep it from spoiling. Thankfully, the house happened to have an underground cellar with some plastic containers left behind. If he cleaned it out and stored the meat in one of the containers, it could probably keep for a little while. If he melted the snow into water and let it freeze up overnight, he could use the resulting ice to keep the meat as cold as possible.

By this time, Hope had returned with enough firewood to last them a few weeks, as well as a sizable bag full of berries and nuts. Caleb stored away the meat as best as he could, then looked at the leftover deer skin. If he cut it in half, he and Hope could have a little more warmth once the blizzard rolled in. It wasn't much, but the warmer they could keep themselves, the better.

The two of them holed in for the night once more and started another fire. As they did, Caleb noticed as a light snow began to fall from the sky.

“Look at that,” Caleb said as he pointed it out to Hope. “It's snowing again.”

“I've had enough of snow,” Hope said with an expression that almost resembled a grimace. “It's the reason we're having to waste our time here at all.”

“Seeing it on the ground is different from seeing it come down from the sky,” Caleb said as he watched the snow flutter down. “When I can watch it come down like this, I almost don't mind being snowed in.”

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