As Youth Wanders

Art by:  Zac Retz

Art by: Zac Retz

“Aw, c’mon, you dorks, let’s see what it found.” Says Rob. His drone beeps and boops, the arrow on its screen pointing the way.

“I don’t know,” says Gary. “I told my mom I wouldn’t be out too long. It’s already been an hour.” Pushes his glasses back up his nose. “I’ve only got enough water for myself.”

“We all brought our own water,” says Sarah. “You’re always worried about it.”

Gary scoffs. “The human body is more than fifty-percent water, yeah I’m worried about it.” Sarah rolls her eyes.

“I want to see where it’s taking us,” says Dustin. “Coach canceled practice tomorrow so I’ve got all night. My mom doesn’t care how long I stay out.”

“Guess your the only one that hasn’t voted, Lee.” Rob says.

Lee shrugs, staring at the dilapidated windmills in the distance. “My dad said they used to grind oats into flour. This whole area used to be farmla—”

Dustin claps a hand on Lee’s back. “Ha, whatever. Farms? Who cares? Do you want to follow Rob’s drone or not?”

“Okay,” Lee says. “I’ll go with you guys.”

“And girl,” Sarah says.

“I meant no disrespect, Sarah.”

“Ah, I’m just messin’ with you, Lee. I know what you meant.”

As the friends continue Dustin and Rob make a game of throwing rocks, seeing who can throw their’s farther. Dustin chides Rob, says he’s cheating by taking extra steps before each throw. They squabble until Sarah steps in and helps them define a set of rules.

“You get any new books for your birthday, Lee?” Gary asks.

“You kidding? I haven’t seen a new book in the last four years. I’ve read that copy of The Hobbit my dad gave me a dozen times—at least. What about you?”

Gary shakes his head. “No. My parents say they’re more rare every day.”

Art by:  Zac Retz

Art by: Zac Retz

They cross rolling hills that flatten and give way to fields. A thin winding stream borders the old farmland. On the other side sits a forest. The friends find a bridge. Dustin jumps the water, dares the others to follow his lead. They all decline.

“How long was it searching?” Gary asks.

“Three days,” says Rob. “It shouldn’t be taking us too far. I’m pretty sure I set the max distance to one hour.”

“We’ve been walking more than an hour already, Rob.” Sarah says. “You ever been in these woods before? Anyone?” The others shake their heads. “Huh, I have. Once. My mom and I were riding our quad. Followed the stream from town and wandered into the forest a bit. Didn’t go too deep, stayed at the edge.” She lifts her chin following the trunk of one of the bigger trees. “I wonder how old they are.”

“Old as your mom,” says Dustin. Rob laughs, Lee snickers, Gary tells him to leave her alone. Dustin blows a raspberry.

“I don’t know, guys. It wants us to keep going,” says Rob. “What do you think?”

“Check how much farther,” Gary says. “If it isn’t much let’s see.”

“Yeah,” Sarah agrees. “But not too far, no more than another half hour.”

“Hey, look over there.” Lee’s pointing through a gap in the trees. “You think that’s where it’s taking us?”

The friends make their way to the old home, all its windows long gone. The front door hangs off its hinges at an awkward angle. A squirrel bounds out from under the foundation, hops onto the porch, watches the friends for a moment, then disappears through a hole in a wall.

Rob taps the side of his drone, “This isn’t it. It wants us to go a bit more.”

Dustin groans. “How much more? I didn’t bring anything to eat or drink.”

“Another half mile,” says Rob. “Says it should be about twenty minutes.”

“You can have some of my water, Dustin,” Lee says. “I have a whole bag full of nut-mix too, if you’re hungry.”

Art by:  Zac Retz

Art by: Zac Retz

The forest ends where the concrete begins. Shops and buildings that haven’t seen use in decades. Cars that haven’t moved since the last Big One.

“Why did it take us here? Who cares about a dumb old city?” Sarah scoffs.

“Hey, come on. It’s kind of neat,” says Gary. "All this old stuff. I want to look around a bit.”

“Hang on,” Rob says. “I don’t think it’s the city it's leading us to.” The others wait. “It’s still pointing, ah…Oh, there, that way. Maybe that building?”

They follow the drone to a half destroyed shop. The crumbled side looks as if one of the Big One’s fingers poked right through it. Inside the still intact section they find sealed cabinets. Solid plexiglass coasted in grime to keep the contents safe. The friends wipe smears in the dust and gasp at what they see.

“Holy shit,” Lee plants palms on man-made glass. “They have Tolkien books. My dad told me about these, The Lord of the Rings, but he never said anything about the…The Sim…Simerli…What the heck is that word?”

The others’ jaws hang open. A book store full of preserved books. They gasp and point, Look over here, they’ve got…Holy shit, I can’t believe it, a copy of…Over here, hey, hey, guys—and Sarah—a complete collection of…Hey, there’s comics too! That gets all of their attention. Comics? The most sought after type of book of all.

“I wish we could thank your drone somehow, Rob,” Sarah says. “What’d you tell it to look for?”

Rob shakes his head trying to remember. “I’ve told it to look for books dozens of times, but it never found any—”

“No wonder,” says Gary. “They’re pretty hard to see behind all this dust.”

“I think I told it to look for…Oh yeah, I remember. I told it to look for toys.”

“Toys?” Dustin’s brows furrow. “And it found books? How’d that happen?”

“I think it found toys too,” Lee says pointing at the drone.

The little drone bobs in place, it’s arrow flashing points to a shelf with an assortment of figures. “I guess so,” Rob says. “Good work, drone. You found what I asked for, and something way better.”