Somebody lost this journal. I think that’s why it’s here. I think that’s why all these things are here. Someone lost them. Maybe that’s why I’m here too. I’m lost. A lost soul. Whoever had this journal before probably won’t mind if I use it. It’s sturdier than papyrus and easier to carry around than a stone tablet and chisel. What would I put in here though? My thoughts? I don’t have much of those anymore. It’s not like my memory’s failing or anything, but the fact that I can’t remember things from before I ended up here isn’t encouraging. Not amnesia. Just holes where people, places, feelings should be. I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.
Scav closed the journal and put it in the rucksack he had slung over his shoulder. The sun looked down at him from the highest point in the sky. Based on the heat, he thought that maybe the sun was in a terrible mood today and had decided to share its misery with everyone else. Some days it was cooler because of the breeze, but there was no breeze today. Maybe it was better that way. No breeze meant no sand, dust or dirt to be kicked up.
Scav adjusted his dirty, brown cloak and scurried to a shadier spot. This part of the yard was less treacherous to navigate so he could move quickly from pile to pile. There weren’t any sounds to be heard for miles around aside from his scurrying. It was good that it was quiet, though. Noise meant danger. Noise meant other scavengers. Or worse, it meant the Beast was near. The mere thought of the Beast sent shivers through Scav’s body. Truth be told he’d never seen enough of the Beast to know what it really looked like. It was far too big. He shook his head and refocused on the task he’d set for himself that morning. He descended through the piles until he reached the sandy bottom of the yard. It took him a short while, but he soon found the path.
Something buzzed in his rucksack. He paused by an outcropping of what used to be a land vehicle and reached in the sack to find the source of the buzzing. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was he was looking for. Any number of things he had collected over the past week might have had buzzing capabilities. He pulled out, to his surprise, an object he had found by the scenty pile just yesterday. Scav called it the scenty pile because it had a most unusual aroma about it that he could only describe as “scenty”. The object was small enough that it fit neatly in his hand, almost as if it had been designed to be held. There were a series of lights on the device that flashed in time with the buzzing. He no idea what the device was for. When he first found it, he thought maybe it’d be a nice decoration to hang in his hab-square.
Scav was greatly excited by this new mystery but at the same time rather annoyed. This was yet another distraction from the task he’d set for himself. He looked the object over carefully. It seemed to be made out of one solid piece of durable material. The natural question to ask was why this thing buzzing. Was it receiving a signal of some kind? Or was it a detector? Ah, too many questions. What he really needed to figure out was what to name it. An idea popped into his head. He took the journal out.
An object from the scenty pile started buzzing just now. I don’t know why. I think I’ll call it the Buzzler. It sounds like a fitting name. I’ll have to figure out what it does later. Time is running short. Actually, it’s not. But I must have a sense of urgency about these things or I’ll never get anything done today.
Scav put the journal and the Buzzler back into his rucksack. It kept buzzing as he continued further into the yard. It felt like he’d walked for ages, but the sun had barely moved from its little hate-perch in the sky. Of course, anything felt longer when hunger was involved. The piles grew more sparse as he neared the edges of the yard. It was risky traveling in an area with very few piles. There was a chance the Beast would spot him, but then no risk, no reward. Scav didn’t remember where he’d heard that saying. Maybe from another scavenger. The risk was definitely worth the reward when it came to the far piles. That’s where the really weird stuff was.
While he was taking yet another break under a sail that he’d rigged into a makeshift tent, Scav heard a noise. The Buzzler was still going off in his rucksack, but it wasn’t that. This was loud. It came from somewhere past the pile ahead of him, the one made of pots and pans. His fingers found their way to the handle of a blade he kept tied to his waist. The noise could have been the cooking pile settling into itself or perhaps another lost object falling from the sky, but Scav had been here too long to chance it.
“Who’s there?” Scav called in a raspy voice. The dry air of the yard had a habit of making one’s voice raspy. Raspy voices were a sign of seniority amongst scavengers, with the raspiest voices belonging to those who’d been here the longest.
Nothing happened for a breath or two. Scav called again just to make sure he’d been heard. Nothing happened again. Perhaps he was alone after all. No sooner had he had the thought, something peeked around the pile in front of him. It startled him and he drew his blade. The figure stared at him with two soft eyes. Neither Scav nor the figure moved.
“Name yourself,” Scav said to the stranger.
There was no response. Scav was scared, but he had the feeling that whatever he was looking at was more scared of him. Maybe he could use that to his advantage. He left the safety of the sail-tent and approached the figure. The figure dashed out of sight. Scav moved quickly. He ran around the pile in the opposite direction. They met on the other side. She was short, maybe half his size, patches of dark colored hair sprouting from between the rags covering her head and face. In fact, raggedy sheets covered her body from head to toe, obscuring most of her features. Most scavengers wore similar attire. It protected them from the harsh elements they were exposed to while living in the yard. She could have been a young girl or a little old lady, it was hard to tell, but either way it was nothing he couldn’t handle. Scav breathed a sigh of relief. He sheathed his blade and knelt to eye level with the stranger.
“Sorry. I thought you might have been a thief. What is your name?” Scav asked. She didn’t respond. She kept looking at Scav, like she recognized him from somewhere. Scav was sure he’d never seen this person in the yard before. “Can you speak?” he asked but still she did not reply. He wondered if maybe she had lost her hearing. He devised a test to see if that was the case. “Hey!” he shouted.
Her hands shot to her ears as she jumped back startled.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” he said apologetically. “I thought you were deaf.”
For a while, neither one of them moved nor spoke. Scav was starting to get irritated by all this. This was just another distraction. He had to get going before it got any later. He heard a noise that sounded like a growl. The girl’s hands moved from her ears to her stomach. Scav sighed and took a piece of yellowed yard-starch from his rucksack and handed it to her. She grabbed it and wolfed it down desperately. She didn’t like the taste of it, but she would have eaten anything just then. Scav decided to offer his waterskin as well. She uncapped it and drank deeply.
He wasn’t sure about what to do with this girl. She looked tired and emaciated, like she’d been barely surviving for a while now. Then again, it wasn’t his concern. He had a task to finish. Besides, he couldn’t take care of her. He had enough trouble taking care of himself.
“Okay, that’s enough water for you,” Scav said, taking back his waterskin. “I have to get going now. Good luck.”
With that, he found the path again and continued on his way. He didn’t notice that the Buzzler had stopped its buzzing. Sometime later, Scav realized that he was being followed. He hadn’t actually seen anyone following him, it was one of those gut feelings. Any scavenger worth his salt knew to trust their guts when it told them something. He jumped onto a pile, this one made of ornate marble pillars, and waited. It wasn’t long before he saw that his gut had been correct. Someone had been following him. It was the girl from earlier. She was moving at a quick pace, trying to keep up with Scav’s movement as best she could. Scav waited until the girl passed him. Then he leapt from the pile and landed right behind her. She yelped and ran to the nearest pile she could find.
“I don’t like it when people follow me. I also don’t like it when I don’t know why people are following me,” Scav said.
The girl poked her head out from behind the pile. She wanted to approach, but seemed hesitant. After a moment or two, she left the pile and walked toward Scav. That’s when he realized she was crying. Scav watched her uncertainly. He wasn’t used to dealing with other people. He scratched his head, confused and irritated.
“Look, I’m sorry if I startled you,” he said. The girl kept sobbing. “Why are you following me?”
The girl dried her face with her sleeve. Scav noticed her face wasn’t weathered or leathery, or weathery, like his was. He quickly put two and two together.
“You’re new here. It all makes sense now! How long have you been here?” he asked. The girl paused. Then she held up two fingers. “Two? Two what? Days? Weeks?” The girl’s eyes got teary and she pointed to her throat while shaking her head. “You lost your voice? You lost your voice!”
Scav pulled the journal out.
I finally figured out what I can use this journal for! I can record my ideas and theories about the yard and how to escape it! Why didn’t I think of this sooner? The girl I met earlier is new here. She lost her voice. It makes my theory that the people who end up here have all lost something sound a lot more plausible. I want to learn more about her. Maybe she can help me piece together my own situation.
The girl waved for Scav’s attention.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
She pointed at the journal and made a writing motion with her hand.
“Hey, I found this journal first. It’s mine now,” Scav said defensively.
The girl became very baffled and then annoyed. She pointed at her throat and then at the journal as if what she was asking for should have been painfully obvious. After a few more gestures, Scav finally caught wise.
“Oh. You want to use the journal to communicate with me. I guess that’s okay. Just don’t read what I’ve written. That stuff’s private,” he said.
Scav handed the journal and his inker utensil to the girl. She scribbled some things down and handed the journal back.
I don’t know where I am. Can you help me? It read.
“Help you? What do you need help with?” Scav asked.
She took the journal back.
I want to go home.
“I see. You’re on your own there. I’ve been trying to get home for months now,” Scav replied. Her face changed from shock to sadness to deep despair very quickly. Scav felt bad for her, but he there wasn’t much he could do. Everyone went through this the first time they ended up in the yard. The girl cleaned her face with her sleeve and scribbled furiously in the journal.
I don’t care how long it takes! I want to go home! I have to go home! You have to help me! Please help me. I’ll do anything.
It was a little hard to read, but Scav got the jist of it. He mulled this over for a minute. He wanted to leave her here. Would that be the right thing to do, he wondered? Would the old Scav have left her here? What difference did it make. He couldn’t even remember the old Scav. Too many questions. He sighed.
“Life is tough here in the yard. It’s hard enough taking care of myself. I can’t take care of you too. Keep up, learn fast, and don’t slow me down. Think you can do that?” Scav asked. The girl nodded. “What’s your name?”
The girl pointed to her sleeve. Embroidered on the tattered garment was a name.
The girl nodded. Scav thought the name was pretty strange, but it was easy to say so he didn’t complain. He got his things together and told Staryl to get ready to move. An hour later, they were within sight of the far piles. Around these parts, known as the edges, the piles became less frequent and the sky was readily visible as they continued on the path. It wasn’t like the inner yard, where the piles could tower for miles in the air. Here, an unwary scavenger could be picked off by a hunter or worse the Beast could find them. It was very risky being here. Even more so for Scav now that he had a tagalong.
Staryl kept her eyes peeled for signs of danger, though her search was more paranoia than learned awareness. Scav moved quickly down the path, sometimes cutting between the piles to see if Staryl could keep up. To his surprise, she was rather nimble. They kept going until they reached a pile that marked the end of the path. The pile was made of old household appliances. Toasters, freezerators, radiation units, sewage containers, and more. Beyond that the nearest pile, made up of broken cleaning implements, was several legs away. Scav decided to call it the cleany pile.
“The far piles,” Scav said as he pointed ahead. Past several hundred legs of sand and lonely piles was a mound of shiny, bright, weird things from worlds that Scav could scarcely imagine.
Why are we going to the far piles? Staryl wrote.
“We? I’m going and you’re following. Anyway, there’s some neat stuff there that I can sell at the market,” said Scav.
What kind of stuff?
“I don’t know. Weapons, food, alien artifacts. Weird stuff,” Scav replied, scanning the horizon for hunters.
What are you doing now?
“Quit asking so many questions! Sheesh, you’re worse than I am!” Scav shouted.
Staryl shrunk back. She didn’t like being yelled at. Scav noticed this. Maybe he could use that to his advantage.
“On my signal, we run to that pile over there,” Scav said as he pointed. “Ready? Go!”
Scav took off running at top speed. He reached the other pile in seconds flat. He turned and saw Staryl hadn’t moved.
“Hey! Get over here!” he shouted.
Staryl looked left and right, as if she were at a crosswalk, and then ran to the cleany pile. Once again, Scav was impressed by how fast her little legs could carry her.
“Next time we go at the same time. Got it?” he said. Staryl nodded. “Good. Once more. And go!”
They took off at the same time. Scav made it to the next pile first but Staryl was a close second. Scav was getting ready to go for the next pile when Staryl tugged on his cloak.
“What is it?” he asked. Staryl pointed to the journal.
Why are we running?
“Now that actually is a good question. Look up there,” Scav said, pointing to a pile made out of furniture.
Perched on the uppermost regions of the pile were large bird-like creatures. They were both feathery and scaly, or scalery as Scav liked to say. They had large curved beaks and wickedly sharp talons. Staryl hadn’t noticed them until now and she gasped when she saw them. She turned to the journal but Scav stopped her.
“I know what you’re going to ask. ‘What are those things?’ right? They’re called wessels. Nasty things. They’ll snatch up scavengers faster than a… something that’s fast. I don’t know any good analogies.”
Do they eat people?
“Oh yes. That’s why we have to be quick about this,” said Scav.
They ran to the next pile, this one made of lawn decorations. The far piles were only a few more piles away now, but the piles were getting further apart and the wessels were starting to look at them with hungry eyes.
“On my mark,” Scav started to say. Staryl tugged on his cloak.
I don’t want to go again, she wrote.
“We’re almost there,” Scav said.
Those things are going to get us.
“Don’t worry about them right now. Worry when they start screeching. That’s when they’re getting ready to hunt. Now let’s go.”
Staryl shook her head. She pleaded him with her eyes to wait a bit longer. Scav scratched his head. Then he had an idea.
“Do you like that journal?” he asked. Staryl was confused by the question, it seemed to come out of left field, but she nodded her head anyway. “How about a race to the pile over there? If you win, you keep it. If I win, I keep it. Sound fair?”
Staryl puckered her lips, an odd habit of hers when she was deep in thought. Finally, she nodded and put the journal under her garments for safe keeping. Scav couldn’t help but notice the grin slowly working its way up her face.
“We’ll start when… this can hits the ground,” Scav said as he reached for the pile of cans they were hiding behind. He found a little tin can marked “anchovies” and tossed it as far and as high as he could. The world crawled to a standstill as the two watched the can spin in the air. They got into ready positions. The sun glinted off the can’s shiny surface once or twice as it spun. Then the can hit the ground and they were off.
Scav was out in front at first. On the open sandy ground, he had the advantage in speed. He could hear Staryl’s feet pitter pattering behind him as he ran. He used the sound as a gauge to measure the distance between them. He would stay ahead of her for most of the race, then when they got close to the pile he would feign exhaustion and let her get ahead. He figured she needed the journal more than he did. It was a small pink thing with glitter so it wasn’t meant for him anyway. Plus her victory might keep her mind off the dangers of the yard while he searched the far piles for loot. Scav wondered where this sudden burst of good samaritanism had come from.
Scav felt a whoosh of air above his head. A large form appeared and very quickly snatched Staryl by the arms.
“Staryl!” he screamed. “My journal!” he screamed even louder.
That’s when he noticed that someone was on the wessel’s back. It was a skinny man wearing a red hood and jacket. He wasn’t just on it. He was riding it. It was a wessel rider! The first Scav had ever seen, though he’d heard plenty about them. The wessel screeched and flew back toward the yard. Scav started into a full sprint. The wessel beat its wings as it tried to gain altitude but with a rider and a struggling captive it wasn’t able to get too high before Scav grabbed the wessel’s tail feathers. The wessel screeched in pain. The rider spat in frustration and commanded his wessel to shake the scavenger off.
Scav pulled himself up until he reached the rider’s harness. The rider unsheathed his spear and tried to swat the scavenger off, but with the wessel shaking them back and forth it was a vain effort. The rider kicked the wessel into high gear, flying higher and higher. Scav panicked. He had to get the rider before…
The wessel dived. Scav felt the beast’s tail feathers coming loose. He pulled himself down and grabbed the rider’s harness. He took his blade out and tried stabbing red cloaked bastard but the rider leaned forward and kicked Scav away. Scav lost his grip and began falling away from the wessel. The rider pulled the reigns to get the wessel to level off but Staryl’s nicely timed pluck of some belly feathers caused it to veer wildly. Scav fell atop the rider. The giant wessel could not stay in the air with the excess weight. Desperate, it dropped its mute cargo and rolled through the air to get the interloper off its back. Scav held on to the rider for dear life while the rider swatted at Scav to no avail. The two spun through the air a few times before the wessel clipped its wing on a pile made of sharp things.
The wessel dropped almost instantly, its airworthiness now completely gone. Scav bailed just in time to avoid the rider’s unsavory fate of being tied to a falling wessel as it spun into one, two then three piles of hard, sharp and pointy things respectively. Scav landed hard on his shoulder, his rucksack landed somewhere nearby. He wasn’t sure how long he laid there. His vision blurred and unblurred several times before he finally regained his faculties. He looked around. He was in the far piles now, every pile made of exotic trinkets and bobbles. There; a broken spaceship. And there, a pile made of gemstones that changed color as one looked at them.
Scav stood slowly and carefully. His arm was shooting pain signals all through his body. He hoped he hadn’t broken it. The rucksack was buzzing. He hobbled over to it and slung it over his other shoulder. Reaching into the sack, he pulled out the Buzzler. Just like before it was lighting up with colors that changed in time with the buzzing. Only this time there was something different. A window screen had appeared on the surface where there was none before. He used his thumb to wipe the grit off the screen in order to get a better look and as he did this, the Buzzler changed yet again. Hidden ports opened all across its surface and the screen lit up revealing a menu of sorts.
Scav was stunned. This was the first time he’d ever found anything like this in the yard. The menu had several symbols and pictures in it, most he didn’t recognize. Except for one. The face of Staryl looked back at him from the Buzzler. Granted, it was a simplified, miniaturized version of Staryl’s face but he recognized it all the same. What was she doing in the Buzzler? For that matter, where was Staryl? She hadn’t landed anywhere close by. Curiosity getting the better of him, Scav decided to press the Staryl icon to see what would happen. The menu disappeared and what looked like an aerial map of the area appeared in its place. According to the map, Staryl was currently several legs to the south. Scav hurried in that direction as quickly as he could.
He found her lying on the ground. As he approached, the Buzzler’s buzzing became less pronounced until finally it disappeared all together once he was standing right next to her. He put the device back in the rucksack for safekeeping. He poked Staryl’s side with his foot. Her head moved slightly.
“Are you alive?” Scav asked. He found it very painful to speak. Maybe he’d cracked a few ribs too. There was no telling with a fall like that.
Staryl turned her head to look up at the scavenger. She was scratched and bruised and very shaken, but otherwise seemed okay. Scav held his good hand out and helped Staryl to her feet. She took a second to look herself over. Then she pulled the journal out of its hiding place and wrote in it. She wrote for a long time. Scav decided he didn’t want to read whatever it was she was writing at that moment and instead went back to the original reason he’d come here. The far piles were always a little different whenever Scav came here. The piles were sometimes taller, sometimes shorter, but the contents never ceased to amaze.
He went up to one pile and dug into it, his inquiring mind overcoming his pain for a brief moment. He pulled out a device that was long and thin. It was metallic and shiny and made the faintest ringing sound as he held it, like the echoes of a tuning fork long since struck. It didn’t look like a weapon of any sort. He whacked the pile with it as hard as he could. It made a loud cracking sound as blue sparks shot from the tip of it to the nearest metal object in the pile. Scav decided he liked this one and put it in the rucksack, tip pointing down.
He reached into the pile again and pulled out what looked like a crystal butterfly. It’d been a long time since he’d seen a flesh and blood butterfly, but he found artificial ones all the time. This particular specimen couldn’t have been just an ordinary decoration, not if it was in the far pile. He shook it, tossed it in the air, blew on it, but nothing he did gave a response. Its function eluded him, but it looked valuable so he put it in the sack anyway. He got a tap on his injured shoulder, which made him cringe. He turned to see Staryl had finished her writing but had stuck the book back underneath her clothes.
“Yes?” he asked. She pointed north and beckoned Scav to follow her.
The girl and the scavenger walked for a minute or two before coming upon a clearing. Staryl made a few gestures, indicating she had seen this area from the air. In the center of the clearing, half buried beneath the sand, was a marble platform of some kind. In the center of the platform, lay a massive white orb, opaque in consistency. The orb was lodged halfway into the platform. Scav could tell it was an orb and not half an orb because he could see the rest of the marble platform through the orb itself. Staryl could tell by the look on Scav’s face that he’d never seen this place before.
“This is incredible! What could this possibly be for?” Scav wondered aloud. “Not as a recliner, certainly. Maybe as a seat? Oh, but it would be so uncomfortable to sit on something like this. Could it have some other hidden utility? But what? Maybe it’s a storage unit of some kind. There might be a way to open the orb in the center if I just…”
“Don’t touch that!” someone yelled.
Scav and Staryl both turned to see the wessel rider enter the clearing. He looked even worse than Scav and Staryl combined, but he was still somehow able to stand. The rider had a spear in one hand. His other hand clutched a bloody spot near his ribs.
“You?” Scav managed to say through his surprise.
“And get that girl away from there. Who knows what’ll happen if she gets too close,” the rider said with labored breath. He was obviously in a lot of pain.
“Don’t take another step,” Scav said as he drew his blade. The rider stopped. Then he chuckled.
“You’re the strangest scavenger I’ve ever met. Your kind don’t protect people they hardly know. No one’s ever knocked me off my ride either,” said the rider.
“I could just be protecting myself,” Scav said.
“Yeah, you chased after a girl you just met so you could protect yourself. Right,” the rider replied.
“How do you know we just met?” Scav asked.
“I’ve been tracking this girl for a day and a half now. I wasn’t, aaahhh shoot. I wasn’t sure how I was going to nab her, but then you showed up and led her right to the edges. I figured you were just an opportunist. Thought you’d leave *cough*. Oh man. Thought you’d leave her as bait for the wessels so you could get to the far piles or something.”
The rider spit out a bloody tooth and wiped his mouth. Scav tried wrapping his head around what the man was telling him.
“So… why were you tracking her?” he asked.
“Probably for the same reason you were. I saw the detector you were carrying. Same as mine.”
“You must have pretty good eyes to have seen my Buzzler from whatever height you were flying at,” Scav noted.
“I had binoculars. Wait, what’s a Buzzler?” the rider asked.
“Let’s assume we don’t have the same reasons for tracking her. Why do you want her?” Scav asked. The rider smiled. He had a feeling that the scavenger had no clue who or what the girl was.
“Because she’s a very valuable commodity. If you go right now I’ll let you live but if you get on my bad side I’m going to make you beg for death,” said the rider.
Scav got really nervous. Either the rider was badass enough to make a boast like that despite his state or it was nothing more than a boast and he was on his last legs. Either way, Scav didn’t want to find out. They could outrun him. But where would they go? The answer was nowhere. They had nowhere to go. This was the end of the line when it came to the yard. There was no way they’d survive another trip back across the edges in his state. Not without a rest. Scav decided to hell with it all. He’d gone this far hadn’t he?
“I don’t like that attitude. Maybe I should remind you why I’m the first to knock the rider from his mount,” he said as he started to hobble forward.
“Bring it,” the rider spat.
“I’m gonna,” Scav shot back.
“I’m right here,” the rider retorted.
“I’m coming. It’s gonna hurt, buddy,” Scav said.
“Go ahead, bro,” the rider taunted.
“I’m going to,” Scav replied.
“I’m going to.”
“What, are you scared?” the rider asked.
“I’ll show you how scared I am in a second,” said Scav.
“I bet,” said the rider.
“You’re not gonna like this,” said Scav.
“I’m waiting,” said the rider.
“Wait no longer because here it comes,” said Scav.
“Oh my God! Would both of you please shut up!” Staryl screamed.
The rider and Scav both stopped in their tracks. Staryl’s face became one of shock when she realized she had her voice back.
“Did you just speak?” Scav asked.
The ground shook. Piles left and right toppled and soon the shaking became so great that the rider, Scav and then Staryl fell to the ground. In a panic they crawled away from the tumbling piles and toward the marble platform.
“It’s coming!” screamed the rider.
“What is?” Scav asked.
“You know what!” the rider replied.
The sky grew dark. Scav froze. He looked up as if his head were on autopilot. There, flying high above them, head scraping the clouds, was the Beast. Its body blotted out the sun and the resulting corona blocked out the rest of its features so it almost looked like a dark angel descending from reverse heaven. Its massive wings stretched across the sky. Scav wanted to look away but the hideous nature of the thing kept his eyes locked on it despite the most primal terror it instilled in him. The winds picked up immensely as the beast’s wings pushed against the very atmosphere to keep itself aloft. Its voice was deep and reverberated through the air and ground alike as it came in for a landing.
Scav shouted for Staryl to get close. The rider dropped his spear and pulled something from his pocket. They were all on the platform now. In the tumult of the scene, they barely had time to register the fact that the orb was now glowing and the platform’s simple marble was now lined with the angular writing of a lost language. The Beast had completely eclipsed the sky now, its wings seemed to touch the horizons. The moment of impact was imminent. In his last few seconds of consciousness, all Scav could remember seeing was the feet of the Beast as it landed. Feet so large they could level cities.