Valhalla

Valhalla by Newton Thornburg Read Free Book Online

Book: Valhalla by Newton Thornburg Read Free Book Online
Authors: Newton Thornburg
Tags: Sci-Fi, post apocalyptic, Dystopian
the ground rose up in a layered limestone bluff sixty or seventy feet in height and heavily wooded on top, mostly with cedar. Looking downstream, he could see almost a mile, to another wooded ridge that ran in a broad easterly arc, ultimately joining the bluff directly across from him. It all looked wild, a natural home for deer and other game.
    He got the twenty-two pistol out of his backpack and gave it to Eddie. “In case anything comes up while I’m gone,” he told him.
    Eddie spun the cylinder, grinning like a kid with a toy. “Eddie Gardner, desperado,” he said.
    Jagger asked what was happening and Eve told him.
    “Beautiful,” he sneered. “We’d be safer with the thing in my hands.”
    Stone finished checking his rifle and swung into the backpack. Eve was watching him.
    “I wouldn’t think you’d want to carry all that,” she said. “If you’re coming back.”
    “It’s my life support system. Where I go, it goes.”
    “You don’t exactly trust us, do you?”
    He was about to protest the accusation but her level gaze stopped him. “I guess not,” he admitted. “Not yet, anyway.”
    “I can’t say I blame you.”
    “Sweet nothings,” Jagger said. “The cooing of lovebirds.”
    Eve made a face. “Oh, bullshit, Jag. Will you come off it!”
    Eddie asked Stone how long he would be gone and he said a few hours, possibly three or four. And he told them not to move on to some other place while he was gone but to stay right there at the bend, because he wasn’t a woodsman and wouldn’t be able to find them.
    “We’ll be here,” Eve said.
    Stone left then, crossing the creek at a rocky ford a few hundred yards from the bend. He found a way up the bluff and started through the woods on top, surprised at its thickness. For October, the day was unusually hot and uncomfortable. Flies buzzed him as if it were still midsummer and spiderwebs wafted on every breeze, catching on his face and in his hair. Though he moved in a zigzag pattern, he failed to find a path through the woods and had to pick his way, slowly, trying to be as quiet as he could. Above the trees he saw an occasional hawk or vulture stunting in the cobalt sky, as if in challenge to his markmanship, which he knew would have been inadequate to the task. Rather, he wanted to sight a deer or rabbit, preferably stationary, because he did not like the idea of wasting a shot, a bullet he might never be able to replace. Also he was leery of having any strangers—locals or Mau Mau—hear the shot and decide that they had to have the gun that had fired it. As a result, he made a very cautious hunter, and a very unsuccessful one too, at least for the first hour.
    But finally, around the middle of the afternoon, his luck changed and he saw about a hundred feet ahead of himsome sort of creature clinging to a tree trunk like a koala bear in one of the old Quantas commercials, a cuddly ball of dark brown fur staring at him through a pair of raisinlike eyes. He quickly lifted the thirty-thirty and fired, blowing the creature out of the hedge tree like a clay pigeon out of the sky. Only as he approached his kill did he realize what it was—a groundhog, looking up at him with the same bland gaze as before, as if it were unaware that the lower half of its body had been mangled. Stone’s gorge rose and his first impulse was to run from the animal, to leave its all too bloody reality behind him. But his stomach growled a contrary message, and he stayed. He was not even sure that groundhog was edible, but he saw no reason not to find out. Using some twine, he hung the animal from a limb to let it bleed dry while he went on to reconnoiter the area. He imagined that the vultures, among other creatures, would soon be after it; but hanging as it did from the tree, he doubted that they would be able to get the necessary footing for any prolonged or effective feeding. Then too, he reasoned that when he returned he might well find something feeding on it that

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