This was from a writing prompt about quests. This protagonist is a rather practical sort, but in a post-apocalyptic world, don’t you kind of have to be?

What skill do you think you could bring to a post-apocalyptic setting? I have an assortment of random facts that might be useful. Maybe!

Image from WikiMedia, public domain

So, hello, stranger. You want to join the village? Be safe? Let me tell you how it works. You have to complete a quest. 

On your sixteenth birthday if you’d been born there, or after you’d rested up for a week if you’d come from outside–that’s you–you have to go outside the barricades. Sometimes they’d give newcomers longer if they were injured. But only if you had something they wanted. Otherwise, they’d refuse to let you in, or kick you back out even if you made it past the gates.

You’re not injured, so you’ll be going out tomorrow morning.

What quest, you ask?  Scavenging for basic supplies. Edible food, or safe-enough-to-use medicine. The village council will give you a list of things they need. Really need, and say, go find these. Quest through the burned out, broken rubble. Keep an eye out for the feral dogs and cats, and especially the escaped zoo animals. The crocodiles are doing well in the river, and the lions will eat you if they catch you.

And, of course, always keep an eye and an ear—or maybe both—out for the roving bands of humans. The broken in heart and spirit, who’ve decided to be even worse than the lions that will at least kill you quickly.

This village, which I stumbled on when I was an underfed thirteen—and started a debate that continued for days, about whether I should be sent out in a week, or three years—they try to be kind.

Obviously I was tough enough to survive out there, but rules were rules for a reason, so they settled on my sixteenth birthday. No skin off my back. I was happy to accept that almost three years of safety. And you better believe I ate as well as I could.

Since I knew what was coming, I kept up my skills with short little forays in small groups. Mostly with other teenagers and at least one adult. The village doesn’t send their teens out blind, they aren’t wasteful.

It wasn’t so bad, gathering and hunting nearby. We kept quiet and hid way more than we fought anything, and we stayed clear of any known dangerous areas. 

And on my birthday, I took the small pack and the well-wishes they offered, and I walked alone into the hellscape that had been my life from ten to thirteen. 

Up until two months before I found the village, I’d had company—my older brother–and that had helped, but not as much as the stout walls, barbed wire, lookout towers, and hidey holes did.

I’d noticed that the teens got a longer list than the strangers—but I didn’t need it. I’d found a stash I knew they’d want, three days of hard travel from the village.

I’d move fast, but careful, and stuff my pack full. Then I’d come back to plenty of praise. See, we had food, or nearly enough, from carefully tended gardens and scavenging.

That was the only reason the village welcomed newcomers at all. It had started out as a small group of survivors seven years ago, and they knew enough to know they needed more people–both for the next generations, and for all the hard work that needed doing.

But what they didn’t have much of was variety. 

So the gone to seed urban garden I’d found on a rooftop was my ticket to staying. I could’ve told them about it years before, but obviously I didn’t. Instead I gathered up fruit and vegetables with precious seeds, and you should’ve seen the council’s faces.

And now I’m part of the council, and everyone gets to enjoy my harvest. I went back with a group later, and everyone was impressed at my lucky find.

Lied? Yes, I lied. If you pay attention, you know that the world isn’t really fair. I seized my advantage.

You should, too.

About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

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