Title: By the Stream
Author: limbinda
Written: October 11, 2001
Rating: PG
Classification: post colonization
Category: post colonization
Archiving: email me first
Spoiler warning: Yeah, I guess I need Existence here.
Feedback: I'll rain love and praise on you for a good, bad, or otherwise email. tatersnbutter@yahoo.com
Disclaimer: William and Scully belong to the man who had something good once (and who now is determined to spoil it).

Summary: Something lies hidden in the woods.

Trudging through the forest that night, I expected little more than a routine check. My group was asleep and I felt listless just sitting at the campsite, gun propped at my side. The rifle was more for comfort than practical use, a simple bullet inflicted only minor injury to earth's newer inhabitants. It took less than a year for their presence to overwhelm humanity and the few immune, those like myself, lived forever sleeping with one eye open.

I stumbled on a patch of roots and glanced up at the trees. A clouded sky peeked through the clumps of pine needles and leaves, and below that, ferns brushed against my pants. I rose tallest of my group and finding something to wear when you're 6'9", in the wake of an apocalypse, turned out trying. Even the jeans I wore showed some ankle. Highwaters or not, however, they were best available and I didn't care too much. I was used to it.

Heading down a graded slope, I noticed a rustling. It penetrated the chirping of crickets and the occasional breeze that disturbed my surroundings. At first, I thought it might be an animal and I raised my weapon, halfway prepared to face whatever lay ahead. Stepping lightly, I reminded myself to take shallow breaths and forged on. The hill continued downward and ended at a stream. Ahead, the disturbance raised and I realized it was wheezing. Something was struggling to breathe, its gasps loud enough for me to hear. As I approached the water, I turned my head every which way. Only the shapes of firs, and the overcast above, peered back at me. I returned my attention to the brook. The water appeared black in the shadowed light, but milky highlights glanced over it every few moments as it traveled onward to the river.

Continuing a few paces, I balanced myself on the mossy rocks, careful that my stiff boots didn't catch and cause me a broken leg. Even the slightest wounds proved fatal now. Nearby, the struggling creature grew more desperate, and I cringed at how choked it sounded.

A patch of bushes lined a small ledge and I traced around them, halting. Sprawled on the other side was a woman, her hair splayed out in a crown around her face. I noted a grayness to her skin and a black stain that spread across her tee-shirt. At first I was a bit hesitant, ready to bolt. Where there were injured there were attackers, but I fought my rising panic.

Quickly, I knelt beside her and watched the strangers eyes shoot open. Despite her predicament, she managed to struggle wildly towards the bushes. I forced her to meet my eyes and she seemed to relax at my human features, though a hint of mistrust lingered. The reflective blue of her eyes sent my hands into an unsteady tremor. This woman, for all I saw of them now, was striking.

"It's okay," I whispered, "I can help you."

She shook her head.

"My name is Sam, I'm traveling with a few people towards the north."

Her concentration wavered, and the woman's lips tightened, mostly from pain. "There," she struggled to raise a hand and a trail of blood followed, trickling from the corner of her mouth.

I held the stranger still. "M'am, please, stay here, I'll get my friends." Twisting my head back towards the camp I returned my attention quickly.

"No," She pleaded, her hand pointed to a large tree farther up the hill. "There!"

I raised enough courage to lift her shirt and winced. Deep gouges, the mark of a visitor's claw, dug through her chest. The wounds were inflamed at the edges, but obvioulsy not fresh. I sighed, but still planned to warn my companions. She felt my arm, catching the edge of my coat. I noticed how copper this woman's hair appeared next to her waxen face.

"Is there someone up there?" I asked in a whisper.

She moved her head in affirmative, And her body trembled beneath my touch. Raising to my feet, I jogged up the hill halfway killing myself on the thick undergrowth. The tree she pointed out was old growth, the thick bark stripped in places. I lowered my head to the ground and gasped. Huddled in a patch of ladyfingers, a small boy watched me, his head craning to get a complete eyeful.

"Hello," I said, leaning down to examine the child. He appeared healthy, his dark hair matted. Peering up, the child's eyes studied me with a familiar skepticism. I strained to see a resemblance to the woman but found little. "Can you tell me your name?" I asked. The only experience I claimed with children were my nieces in San Francisco, five years prior.

"William," he whispered back. "Where's Momma?"

A pain grew behind my eyes and I stole a glance back at the stream.

"Here, lets go see her all right?" I offered my hand and after a moment of thought, he returned his small one. Leading the boy down the hill, we stopped at the bushes and I realized the wheezing had quieted. William yanked himself from my grasp and kneeled at his mother's side, touching her hair and cheek. Surprisingly, her eyes opened lazily and she smiled.

"Momma?" The boy's face brightened. He kept grazing his hands across her body, knowing something was wrong.

I met her gaze one last time and a message passed between us.

"William," I called, He looked back at me confused. The sky above cast soft light on his round features. "You're gonna come with me now, I have some friends I want you to meet."

"Is Momma gonna come?" he switched his attention back to her, the stare I just recently spoke with shone dull now.

I choked on my words. "I'm sorry, she can't come with us, but she told me to take you with me."

"Will we come back an' see her," William pleaded. He played with his wool coat and I noticed one of his sneakers was untied.

"Maybe, now we have to go get some sleep. Its very late."

He remained still, but after a few moments stood up, still watching the unmoving form of his mother. "I'll come back Momma," I heard him whisper. Once again I offered my hand and he obliged, following me back up towards where my brother James and the three other men slept. I felt numb, knowing the reality of what happened would hit very soon now.

Andrew was leaning on a tree, his own rifle held tightly at my return. The first second I met his angry gaze, I sunk in posture a little, but was relieved to see the man's hostility disappear at the sight of my new companion. William's arm stretched to reach my grasp. "It's my turn to keep watch," Andy said without comment. It was an unspoken acceptance between us. In this chaotic time, the only chance we stand depends on William. For children like him to grow in the loss and rebuild our next generation.

The End

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