This story is by LJ Newlin and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As the morning mist rolled over the lake, Dalton could see the fish jumping out of the water, seeking gnats. He didn’t mind fishing, in fact, he found it rather relaxing. As he stood at the end of the rickety dock, Ol’Red came alongside him and sat to his left.
“Hey, boy, where you been? Out chasing rabbits? Sure wish you’d bring one home. I’m getting tired of eating fish and my snares aren’t catching fowl nor hare.” He patted the old bloodhound on his head.
Red was a pup when his family first came to Nana’s and Papop’s summer home. His dad had every intention of training Red to be a search and rescue dog for his work.
Then there was that trip into town that changed everything. Jimmy Anderson, of the general store, said a meteor had hit south of Mississippi in the Gulf.
“People are dropping like flies. It’s all over the news.” Jimmy’s eyes were wild with fear as he regaled stories to Papop. “Stock up now while you can. Get as much ammo as you can carry for your deer rifle, I doubt I’ll get any more supplies when these run out.”
Pops thanked him and bought out all his ammo and as many canned goods as we could haul.
That was ten years ago. Dalton had turned seven that July, now nearing his seventeenth birthday he was the only one left. First Papop, then Nana, his little sister Lily, his mom, and finally his dad. His dad did his best to show him how to survive, hunting, fishing and even planting a vegetable garden.
Initially, the deer and rabbits destroyed his garden, but they were scarce these days. Just as well, he was down to his last few boxes of ammo and wasn’t sure if it was any good. Lately, the wolves sounded closer, and he thought it was best to save it.
Dalton whipped the pole over his head and released the line. The baited hook and bobber sailed out over the water. Several yards out, it splashed into the calm waters. Retrieving a book, tucked into the tackle box, he sat down to read. It was a well-worn copy of, ‘The Foundation Trilogy.’ Red sprawled out, to his left, soaking up the morning sun.
Periodically, he would peer up from his book to see the bobber riding a gentle current. A squirrel barked from a nearby oak tree that used to hold a wonderful tire swing. A frayed length of rope still dangled from a lower branch. On the other side of the tree were the remains of a Jon boat. A violent storm had whipped through the valley and a large branch broke off, landing atop his prized fishing boat. Dalton wanted to replace it but all his grandfather’s tools were electric. That civilized convenience disappeared a few months before his father died.
Ol’Red’s head perked up and his nose sniffed at the air. A low throated growl emanated from him. A growl, usually reserved for predatory animals, such as bears, wolves, and the occasional wild boar.
“Come on boy.” Dalton stuck his fishing pole into a knothole in the deck, tucked his book under his arm and ran for the front door. He tied Red to the railing and waited with his hunting rifle at the ready. Within moments, the bloodhound started barking. Whatever was out there, it was getting closer.
Out of the corner of his right eye, he saw movement, coming down what was once a tree-lined road, now barely a path. Red strained on his rope, barking so loud that Dalton found it hard to think. Then questions started hounding him. What if it was a human? Could he actually kill another human being? Would his ammo even fire? Just as he honed downed on the sight, a large dark shadowy figure stepped out into the sunlight. There stood a majestic bull moose staring back at them. Then a female with two shy calves stepped out of the darkness to feed on the grassland. The little family scene provoked a deep longing for human companionship.
“Come on Red, back up here. Let’s leave them alone.”
Isolated in the Minnesota wilderness, with his own lake, was about the loneliest thing he could think of. He had hiked into town and traveled out twenty miles in every direction, not a single living soul. Early on he found some chickens, crated them, and brought them home. For about a year, he had fresh eggs each morning but without a rooster, there were no baby chicks. The cycle of life ended. Dalton wondered if he was the last living person. If it wasn’t for Red, he wasn’t sure he could go on.
Early the next morning, while laying in bed, Dalton remembered the old wooden chests in the attic. Walking down the hallway he came to a square cutout with a latch, in the ceiling. Dragging a chair out of his room, he stood on it and pulled. A ladder dropped down and he climbed up. Once upstairs, he rediscovered a forgotten chest full of old hand tools, including a sharpening stone for his blunted ax. Now, he had what he needed to build his boat. In his grandfather’s library, he found a whole section of woodworking, even one dedicated to building rowboats. Finally, he had a goal, a purpose.
That night, he heard a cacophony of howling wolves in the distance. He decided to keep Red on a leash and at his side at all times, along with his loaded rifle. As Dalton delimbed the tree he felled, Red growled. He looked up and saw a flicker of movement from the trees. Picking up his rifle, he sighted through the scope. The magnified image allowed Dalton to discern the furtive shadow of a wolf about fifty feet away. The wolf showed no fear, baring his fangs as it steeled his position to attack. More movement from his left, fearing more wolves he took a quick look over his shoulder and saw an armed man, with a smaller person behind him.
Which was the greater threat? Dalton didn’t know but the wolf was ready to attack. He focused on the wolf and pulled the trigger.
Hurriedly, he ejected the bad shell and tried again. This time it fired.
He saw a puff of dust erupt from the wolf’s fur. It didn’t go down and it started running straight for him, to rip out his throat.
Flustered, Dalton tried to eject the spent cartridge, but short-stroked the action, causing a jam.
A loud boom sounded from his left. The wolf piled up in a headlong heap, stopping just a few feet away from Dalton. There was no more movement from the beast, but the long fangs were still bared.
Dalton felt his heart racing as he eased the bolt home, chambering a round, while he studied the armed man.
The man pumped a fresh shell into his shotgun, evaluating Dalton, then lowered his muzzle.
“Buckshot. Does the job, but I had to wait until it was closer,” the man offered as explanation.
Dalton breathed a sigh of relief and his body relaxed.
The man continued, “Wolf meat’s tough and stringy, but it beats starving. I’d be happy to butcher it for you if we can get a share of the meat. Dang-it, pardon me, it’s been so long, I forgot my manners. I’m Gunny and that wee bit is my granddaughter, Em.”
Gunny extended his sinewy arm and calloused hand. Dalton surprised himself by how fast he extended his, in response. “Dalton, I’m glad to meet you.”
The men shook hands, each seeing a dim reflection of themselves in the other.
“Em and me, we’ve been traveling for a long time looking for another living soul. For a couple of days, we saw smoke coming from this direction. So, we thought we’d take a chance.”
Dalton looked at Em. She appeared close to his age, with an innocent, yet mature face. And a pretty one, at that. She shyly stole a glance at Dalton, making his eyes dart back to Gunny. They both blushed.
Dalton said, “I’ve been here for ten years… I think. I haven’t seen another living soul in the last eight.” His voice quavered as a tear ran down his cheek. “The loneliness…”
“I know, the last ten has been hard on these old bones, too. You’ve had that hound and I, Em, but it sure would be nice to work this out together.”
“Gunny, you and Em can stay as long as you want. I know Red will like that too.”
Dalton looked at Gunny, then Em, “It’s kinda like starting all over, isn’t it? A new Eden?”
“A new Eden… Yeah, that fits,” Gunny agreed. A fish jumped out of the water, Gunny smiled, “Oh, and fishing too!”