Hello everyone, I am excited to announce that my Dystopian novella The Wanted Man is now published! I am posting on here a peek into the story for you all. This is from chapter three. Enjoy!
Ashton sat perched on a large boulder. His knees were drawn up to his chin, and a patch of sunlight warmed his back. Three squirrel skins lay stretched out beside him on the boulder, and several small packages of meat, wrapped in large green leaves, were stuck in the pockets of his cloak. The entrails and other left-overs of the squirrels were piled in the underbrush behind him. No doubt some forest creature would feast tonight, but not nearly to the extent Ashton and his master would.
The day had been strange to Ashton. He hardly remembered hunting the squirrels, and he had shot and cleaned them almost absent-mindedly. His mind was still on the dream he had dreamt that past night. He tried hard to remember the woman’s face he had seen, for above all else, he yearned to see it again. Like his other visions that night, he felt sure that it was a flashback to things that had actually occurred in his life. His attempts were frustrated, though, for he only remembered the most basic details. He would never see the face of his mother outside the realm of his dreams.
His thoughts turned to the words that he had felt whispered to him right before he had fallen asleep again. Those words he could remember clearly, though he didn’t believe them. And now that he had heard the first lines of the song, he despised himself for ever trying to remember its words.
“A righteous God,” he muttered out loud. “I for one can deny that blatant lie. If there were such a god, he would not let me live such a life.” Ashton turned his face to the sky. “If you really do exist, you would have not allowed me to be born with a defect. If you truly have chosen me for more than a life of misery, show me now. Give me a vision of what my other life will be like.”
There was no response, and Ashton laughed out loud. “No visions? No more lines of that foolish song? You are truly a fantasy. ” He turned to gather his squirrel skins and resolved to never again allow himself to think back to the night before. The words he had heard last night were only gibberish his sub-conscious mind had conjured up, nothing more.
A twig snapped, and in one motion Ashton jumped from the boulder and strung an arrow on his crossbow. He listened intently. At first there was nothing more to rouse his suspicion that he was not alone, but then he perceived distant footfalls. Ashton raised his crossbow toward the sound, ready to fire. A slight deer path snaked around the front of the boulder he crouched behind, and as the footfalls grew louder, he guessed that the intruder was on the path. His finger closed on the trigger of his crossbow. The intruder would die before realizing the imminent danger.
He caught a glimpse of a figure between the trees, and it was indeed walking his way. The figure passed one last tree, and Ashton could now see his face. It was a man. He wore a close-cut beard around his lips and chin, though his jaws were shaved, and both his beard and his hair where dark brown—almost black—with gray specks beginning to appear. He looked well kempt and clean, though his clothes were somewhat worn. Ashton had been expecting the exact opposite to the man before him, and his finger wavered and then pulled back from the trigger of his crossbow. The man did not look to be a Ravager, but it was quite possible that he was one of the Elite.
Ashton looked around desperately, wanting to hide. The man was walking steadily straight toward him; the boulder would not conceal him for long. All the while Ashton was torn over what to do. There was no hiding place readily available, but to kill one of the Elite—if the man was so—was forbidden. Ashton knew that last fact from firsthand experience.
The man was now only twenty paces away, and Ashton knew he must do something quick . . . or bear the consequences. It was then that he heard the man mumbling. The intruder was talking in hushed tones and turning his head this way and that, looking up at the tall, green-leaved trees around him. He even stooped and plucked off the edge of a fern that hung over the path, pausing to stare at the small, intricate leaves. As the man drew closer along the deer path, Ashton picked up a few of the words he was saying and realized with surprise that the man was not talking to himself. It was as if the intruder was addressing a second companion who walked beside him. He was now only ten paces away.
His mind finally made up, Ashton stepped out onto the deer path and raised his crossbow. The man looked up abruptly and dropped the piece of fern. “Hold, don’t shoot!” He raised a hand to try and signal Ashton to stop.
Momentarily surprised at the man’s reaction, Ashton resisted the urge to pull the trigger. It was natural instinct for men to duck for cover or brandish their weapons when their lives were about to end by Ashton’s hand, not give him an order. Only one such man had tried, one of the Elite, and Ashton had ended his life instantly. But this man was different. He did not run for cover or brandish his weapon. He didn’t even seem to be afraid.
“Don’t move, or I’ll shoot!” Ashton’s voice made it clear that he was serious.
“I assure you,” the man replied, his intense blue eyes staring up at Ashton’s, “there is no need to pull the trigger.”
“I will determine that for myself.”
The man nodded slowly. “As you wish.”
“Who are you?”
“I would like to know a little bit more about who’s questioning me before I answer that.”
“You are not in a position to set the rules.” Ashton stepped forward. He was now only ten feet away from the mysterious intruder, and the man had to squint upwards to meet his stare. Though the man was not nearly as short as Garret, he was still no match for Ashton’s height.
“Tell me, who are you?”
“I am a man who finds it easier to speak when he does not have a crossbow pointed at his chest. That much you may know of me for certain,” the intruder replied. There was a hint of a smile on his face, and Ashton wondered how a man could be smiling when his death was so imminent.
“I don’t plan on putting it down, if that is what you were thinking. Who were you talking to?”
“Come now, I have told you a little about myself; now it is time for me to learn a little about you, my friend. I thought I heard a voice either laughing or yelling at someone a little while ago. Are there more of you around?”
Ashton was tiring of the stranger dancing around his questions and longed just to be done with him, and yet something about the man attracted him. He still kept his finger on the trigger, but he allowed his hand to go lax. “I am not your friend,” he grumbled sourly. “Now answer my question.”
The stranger held up his hands. “Fair enough. You answer my first question, and I will gladly give you an answer to your second.”
“I was talking and laughing at a god who doesn’t exist.”
“Ah, then it proves that my answer to your second question is one and the same. I too was talking to God, only I believe He exists, for I find it pretty pointless to talk to someone who isn’t there to hear me.”
“You believe there’s a god?” Ashton was unable to hide the scorn in his voice.
“How can you?” Ashton’s voice was loud. “If there is a god, why is there so much death in the world?”
“Then again, if there is no God, why is there any good in the world?” the stranger countered.
Ashton did not have an immediate answer, for he had never thought of that before. “You are a fool. I see little good about this world.”
The man tilted his head to the side. “Oh, really? I admit that the human race has pretty much abandoned what is good, but look around you, at the green trees and underbrush, at the way the golden sunlight filters through the trees. I was just marveling at the beauty of our forest before you surprised me, actually. If all that we see came about by random chance, why is there any beauty? Wouldn’t everything be jumbled and disorderly?”
Ashton‘s mind raced to counter this man’s crazy argument, but deep down he had to admit that the man had a point. Just that last evening Ashton had stopped at the edge of the river, marveling at the beauty around him. “I have had enough of this pointless talk,” he said finally. “I should kill you.”
“And yet the fact that you have not yet pulled the trigger testifies to the fact that there is good in this world.” The stranger was not a bit afraid. “My friend, our God has buried within every man a sense of right and wrong, and though men will try to ignore it, it remains.”
“I decide what is right and wrong, of that both my master and I are certain. I will let you live—if you leave now.”
“I can help you find the God you search for; I can offer you a chance at a better life!” the man exclaimed, suddenly urgent. His intense eyes were fixed on Ashton’s face, waiting for his answer.
“Leave. My trigger finger is getting restless.”
“The man nodded silently and dropped his gaze to the deer path. He made to pass Ashton, who stepped aside while keeping his crossbow trained on him. The stranger passed, but before he had disappeared behind a bend in the path, he turned to face Ashton once more. “I have some business to conduct with a comrade just outside our forest,” he said. “I will pass by here at the same time two days from now. Meet me at your squirrel-hide-bedecked boulder there, and I would love to talk more with you.”
There was a distinct thud as a feathered shaft slammed into the tree behind him, just above his head. “If you enter my master’s domain again, I will kill you,” Ashton replied, his voice tense.
The mysterious intruder disappeared behind the bend in the path without another word.
Ashton waited several minutes, then lowered his crossbow. He returned to his boulder, snatched up the hides of the squirrels which were still somewhat sticky with blood, and tramped off into the forest. Inwardly he was fuming that he had not finished the stranger when he had the chance, but there was something more lurking behind his anger, a feeling that he couldn’t shake.
He stopped before he reached his master’s abode. Once again Ashton was conflicted over what to report to Garret that night. Part of him wanted to spew out on listening ears all the resentment building inside him, but the other half warned that his master would not appreciate the fact that he had allowed a stranger to pass through their domain and live. Of course, he could just tell Garret that he had shot the man after his foolish talk, but his master would see through his lie. No, he must try to hide this encounter. And this time he would not fail, for there would be much more serious repercussions than killing a few squirrels the next day to make up for his mistake.
Sheesh, Ashton thought, beginning to stride forward again, what is my life coming to? Feeding squirrels, conversing with fools, even lying to my master—what is wrong with me?
He didn’t know it at the time, but all were signs of a conflict that was gathering force within him. The battle for his mind had begun.