Thursday, August 29, 2013


Derrick camped at the bottom of the narrow wash, up against a slope that wasn't quite steep enough to prevent someone from scrambling up it if necessary. He lit a fire of dry moss and twigs and kept it small. I hid behind an old fir about 50 yards downwind, breathing the thin wafting smoke that floated over and watching him spoon some vegetable out of an unmarked tin can. His face was a half-moon, only partially lit by the fire.

I shadowed Derrick from out near Astoria. He and a small group of people I didn't recognize tried their hand at fishing off long-abandoned concrete docks. I could have told them it's still a dead zone, and they unsurprisingly came away empty-handed. Can't even scrape meager shellfish from the hulls of rusted, half-sunk ships. Pity, really. Even if you know the outcome and hopelessness squeezes your stomach more than hunger, just threading line into the Pacific makes your mouth water.

When he dumped his line and cut loose heading east, I followed. He meandered at first, trying to supplement the contents of his sack, scavenging burned or collapsing houses, failing at hunting, and eventually turning to foraging. After the second cold and rainy night, he gave up and cut a straight line, shadowing the Columbia for two more days before turning inland. The whole time he didn't come across another person, and he didn't discover my presence.

I knew my orders. But each time I saw him, dirty and helpless scouring the countryside for any handhold, thin and desperate staring blankly into a pathetic fire, I balked. Instead, I slept the cold and eventually misty night behind that fir, woke before sunrise, and continued to follow.

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