My world was cold. All of it. I left my home, against my family’s advice, to find a warmer place. They told me, ‘Louie, you’re not going to find anything.’ They were right if they were talking about a warmer place. I didn’t find it. I walked and walked, but it was winter everywhere. I did, however, find other things.
I don’t know where all the people went. I didn’t see as many people out there as all of the empty houses suggested there were once. Many of the houses were wonderful, but nobody could live in them. They were too far from other things needed to survive. The houses that were in good locations were in terrible shape for reasons known too long ago to matter to me. Anyway, I walked for days without seeing anyone.
One day months later, I was tired of walking and finding nothing. I stopped for a couple of hours to build a shelter with blocks of snow I cut out of the ground with my hunting knife. It was bitterly cold that day, so I made a small fire inside of the shelter in the evening to warm it up a little before going to sleep. The glow of the shelter in the dark night must have been inviting to someone looking at it from the outside.
The next morning, I woke up to either a boy or a young woman and a dog sleeping with me in my shelter. I could only tell it was a person because he or she was facing away from me. No matter, I was surprised to say the least. I learned why the person was not afraid to crawl into a shelter with someone: when I reached over to wake the person, the dog swiftly put himself between us and threatened me with a low growl. I reached for my knife, but I did not need it. The person, a boy, rolled over to face me and asked his dog, Charles, to stand down.
I asked the boy why he was in my shelter. He said he was cold and didn’t know how to build one for himself. He said that he and Charles had been following me for a few days. After watching me, they decided it would be safe to meet me. He said his name was Clarence.
After that, they stayed with me. Clarence, the boy, and Charles, the dog, were good hunters. The dog’s powerful sense of smell was especially helpful for finding our prey. One thing people learned to do since the world had gone cold was to share with each other. So, I ate better since the pair joined me in my travels. I showed the boy how to make shelters and shared a few other things I knew.
I didn’t count the days we spent walking together looking for that unknown warmer place, but it was a significant amount. We got to know each other well. The boy had to fend for himself for so long that he was too mature for his age. For that reason, I wasn’t like a father or a big brother to him despite the difference in our ages. So, we were friends.
One day, the three of us saw a shelter growing larger than we expected as we approached it. We got as close as we could to estimate that the shelter was large enough for 10 people. Most people in our world had been softened and made friendly by the never-ending winter, but not all. We had to be cautious. Even Charles had enough sense not to bark or run off.
We watched the shelter from a distance to see what we might be dealing with. We saw a couple of older men exit the shelter. Then, we saw a couple of older women. After a while, they were called in by a woman who seemed to suddenly spawn two miniature versions that ran away from her legs and had to be chased down. Seeing children was a good sign, but we couldn’t be hasty – especially after a man stepped out of the shelter to join the older men.
As Clarence and I discussed taking the long way around to avoid the shelter and being seen, we heard someone behind us ask; ‘Why are you watching us?’ We turned to find that the question came from a young girl about Clarence’s age who was armed with a spear that was pointed at us. The abilities of people who survived in this world were not to be underestimated, so we took the girl and her spear seriously. She took turns pointing the spear at us as our minds calculated whether fight or flight would be more likely to get us out of this situation. When I noticed Charles was not growling, I relaxed a little and asked the girl to take us to her father. She seemed relieved too and led us to the shelter, but she didn’t lower the spear.
The shelter belonged to a family group. The way their social system worked, I had to explain our situation to all of them. My task of explaining why we were watching them would have been simpler if the two children had not been pestering Charles the entire time I tried to speak. I think the family was more convinced that we were good people by Charles’s not biting the children than by any part of my explanation. They invited us to stay with them until we were ready to continue our journey.
After a couple of days, I decided to continue my search without Clarence. The family had watched quietly as Clarence and the girl, Olivia, hunted together. The young pair thought of nothing, but the task, and got along wonderfully as friends. Her father, however, looked sideways at me once in a way I could tell he was thinking about his family’s future. Another good hunter would add to the group’s safety and security. They were good people and I could not deny my friend basic and psychological needs for a good life.
I planned to talk to everyone involved one at a time until there was agreement. First, I tried to speak to the father privately about taking in Clarence. Naturally, everyone gathered around us to hear what I had to say. Instead of the series of conversations I planned, we had a single open discussion. I expected Clarence to protest and erupt with strong adolescent feelings of betrayal and abandonment, but the look on his face said he hoped the family would accept him. They did.
The father asked me to stay out of kindness. I knew if I did, I would disrupt the harmony of the group. The next day, I left without Clarence. Out of everyone there, I believe my heart was the heaviest. After me, Charles may have been saddest to break up our trio. I would like to think that Charles grew to like me best and left with me for that reason. The truth is more likely that he was tired of the little kids pulling on his ears.