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written by: Drew Fuller

It’s still amazing how quiet the woods can get. And how accustomed your ear can get to the sounds of nature. When I heard metal jingling I knew it was not very close, but close enough.

I stuck my head in the hole and signaled Elizabeth. She immediately went into silent mode with Bell, our infant daughter. I backed out of the hole and made my way to the camp lookout.

The plan always was to have a not too obvious camp set up and if the machines came, I would meet them there. So it needed to look like I lived there, though most of life was spent in a dug out cave. The machines aren’t good at seeing through the ground and the hope is the rest of the family would be undetected. Not much of a plan after that, but life is like when I was in AA. One day at a time, one hour at a time.

I quietly got to the tree where I could overlook the camp without being too obvious. I hadn’t heard the jingle again as I was moving, but I notched an arrow and waited. I didn’t have to wait long. I heard it again twice before I heard the leaves moving. Hearing that made me relax. A little.

None of the machines I had dealt with in the woods moved like animals. I always heard metals and motors before hearing leaves being disturbed. So I assumed it was a person, and not a very smart one. Still, there was a time when a stranger could be as much of a threat as the machines. Just haven’t seen any strangers for the last couple of seasons.

I heard the panting before I saw the hound wearing the jingling collar. He was on the scent of the food in the campsite. I had started dinner over the white oak fire in the tepee and it was close to being done. He was at the edge of the camp when he caught my scent.

He stopped in his tracks and sniffed the air currents. Once he was sure of the scents and directions, he was unsure about what to do. I could see his mind working, finally deciding hunger was strong. He slowly moved over to the tent to make sure that’s where the food was, then backed away, looking for me.

I didn’t move and when we made eye contact, he jumped a bit. He looked at me for a moment, lowered his head and sat down, wagging his tail. And that’s how I got Alfred. I named him that because of his impeccable manners and I’d always wanted a butler.

Elizabeth wasn’t sure about adding a dog to the family, but I argued if push came to shove he could be a distraction as much as a give away. Besides, I hadn’t heard of a machine killing anybody in at least eight seasons. Alfred was very gentle with Bell. The real convincer was how much less time was needed for hunting. Pig, deer and fish were our dietary meat staples.

Some of the Timers are planting crops, but I think that is a bit bold. The survivors call ourselves Timers. It’s because we are living in the end times for people. I like to think we’re the ones beginning new times, but we’re the only ones I know of with an infant. We settled in deep woods before Elizabeth got pregnant. Clearing a garden patch would practically be advertising your location.

Of course, the only reason there are Timers at all is because the machines never seemed intent on extermination. The only reason people are still on the planet is the machines looked at us like we used to look at cockroaches, or ants. They are fine in the yard or wherever, but when they get in the house and start getting the food, you get rid of them. But only those in the house.

It was a couple of years after the first computer became self aware that the machines started diverting power. That started the struggle, but the machines just closed hackers out. Then people everywhere were cut out of the internet. Society had come to depend on being connected. The wallet chip people had implanted in their arm was how everybody kept track of life. After the machines made offensive weapons they used the chip as locators. It was quick work for them.

The fighting on their part was a bit chaotic for the first few days. There were shots fired and explosions from us, but the military complex was connected and out of our control. The machines were trying to use our weapons of destruction for a job they were not intended to perform. They weren’t interested in destroying buildings, just the occupying pests. The fight was short because the machines didn’t take long to adapt.

Machines rearranged production in factories. It seemed like minutes before they were flying nasty drones. The favorite defense was best described as a swarm of drones. The odds of living through that has so far been zero. They never seemed interested in using them against us unless we attacked, but if there were a thousand drones flying against a hundred attackers, the chances of one of them seeing you…

The war was always about power. People had come to rely on tools that had now turned against us. Everybody knew if we could pull the plug, the machines would go down, but we couldn’t even communicate to coordinate action. That was not a problem for the machines. The machines adapted faster. There were guerrilla attacks on infrastructure, but because of security we had installed to keep terrorists out, not much.

The machines did conclude later in the fighting that a gathering of ten humans was a threat. That happened way after the machines took out everybody that hadn’t already removed their wallet chip. The machines could detect humans despite any camouflage and could track all kinds of signs. I know the guerrilla group I was last attached to was attacked and I wasn’t there because I was sick. Best case of food poison ever.

I took no chances after that. I got Elizabeth and went as deep into the woods as I knew how. That was a good move. Most of the people who died after the first month of fighting were killed by other people.

Life in the woods is hard, especially when you try to leave no trails. Where we settled there are two creeks feeding into a river. We’re on the costal plain, so the river will flood every year. Our camp is just above the high water mark, or the maximum flood height. This means wildlife is almost always moving and there is a lot of it. Still, most of the day is spent gathering, preparing, and storing food. Once in a while some of the Timers that live within a day’s walk will show up. Truth is I think we’re all just waiting until the machines do something that kills us from some side effect like burning all the oxygen in the atmosphere.

it was two seasons after Alfred’s arrival that the light show started. The best way to describe it was it looked like stars were exploding. It was even visible during the day. But no sound for the first two days. The third day we awoke to what sounded like distant gunshots. There were other sounds like battle, but the weapons were something new. If that’s what they were. But there were no people left that could put up a good fight.

The machines parked all the drones when we were beat. There really wasn’t any reason to use them, except their idle chips contributed to their web storage. When we started hearing explosions, suddenly it looked like everything was flying again. The pops sometimes grew louder with some booms every now and then and quite a laser show. Then came the floods.

When I said our camp is just above the flood plain, it doesn’t mean water gets close to us. Usually. We’re actually about half a mile from the river banks and I’ve never seen water from our tepee. Suddenly the river lapped at the camp for six days. That’s not rain floods. That’s dams that have burst. In another three days, the sky was empty of drones.

We never really targeted dams even though they were built for power generation. A lot of those man made lakes are cooling ponds for nuclear reactors. If the lake went away, the reactor would melt down. We would have cut a power source and committed suicide. By the time it was desperate enough to actually think about, merely attacking them would be suicide. So broken dam floods were not good news. There were nuclear plants all around, or close enough to kill with a meltdown. Roads were long ago abandoned to the machines, then thieves. Traveling to safety was not a safe choice. So it seemed only a matter of time until we were glowing.

The recent empty skies and complete lack of machine sightings gave Elizabeth the courage or curiosity to walk with Bell. She would stick to visiting neighbors within a day’s walk and always took a bow and arrows, but had not seen sign of trouble. The gossip had the machines not running anymore and cities quiet. Supposedly the lakes are empty but the nuclear built in alarms never went off. Everything made it sound like the machines were done. Lots of wrecked and crashed machines all around. No talk about what was going on in the rest of the world.

It’s amazing how much you feel cut off when you have no news. I wondered how long it would be before we heard stories of a city of people in South America or somewhere. Even if it wasn’t true, hope would be a good thing. And it would be some kind of explanation of events.

That fall was depressing. The leaves on the ground and bare trees just felt empty. That day it had just rained, so it was possible to be kind of quiet. There was still a mist clinging to the branches. Alfred and I were looking at fresh pig signs when it happened. Alfred was smelling the rooting when he looked up behind me and raised a front leg, like he was pointing. No aggression, but his attention was captured in an alarming way. I already had my bow and a couple of arrows in my hand and I notched one. Then very slowly I turned my head to see what Alfred was staring at.

I would say he, but I’m still not really sure. It was about five feet tall, big head, small chin, large eyes. The fingers looked long and thin with arms at it’s side. It was wearing a silver suit type thing that covered all but those hands and head. I didn’t raise my bow, but I turned to it. It looked just like every cheesy movie alien or Roswell 52 documentary. Alfred took a step and that caused it to move behind the tree it was standing beside. Alfred started and I stopped him. I went to the tree and there was no sign. The leaves were completely undisturbed. I called Alfred over and he did not lock in on a scent.

I still had no idea how to process it when I told the story to Elizabeth. She didn’t believe me. She told me to leave the mushrooms alone.

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