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Aberrant: Dead Rising - The Old Ways


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The white-tailed buck jumped at a sudden noise. It was the vesper hour, that haunting time that falls between night and day, when the nocturnal dangers of the world were just turning in, and those of the daylight hours had not yet awoken. Or at least, that was how it used to be.

The buck had learned during the past several months that there no longer was a 'safest hour' of the day. The dead creatures never rested, and they were always hungry. Nervous even before the plague, the white-tailed deer who had survived this long after it were paranoid to an almost insane degree. The dead things that now wandered the world were slow and gave up the chase quickly, but they never slept and they never grew tired, and there were so many of them.

The noise grew louder, and one of the dead stepped out of the trees thirty yards away. Immediately, the buck turned to run, realizing too late that there was another sound approaching. A soft *twang* - barely audible - followed by an even softer whistling noise. The buck leapt high in the air, but it was only a reflex, a knee-jerk reaction of sorts that came too late and accomplished far too little. When it came down from its leap, its legs crumpled underneath it and it crashed heavily to the ground with a feathered arrow piercing its heart. It did not get back up again.


Walker stepped out from some the trees he'd been hiding amongst and began to make his way towards the deer, ignoring the zombie that had changed targets and was now shuffling slowly in his direction. Arriving at the buck, he squatted next to it and pulled out a small knife, and then began to worry the arrow out of its side. The arrow could be used to take down another deer later on.

After a few moments, just as Walker managed to get the arrow extracted from his kill, the shuffling of the approaching zombie began to grow much louder and now its soft moans could be heard easily as well. Walker looked up from his work to see the zombie some twelve feet from him and coming closer with each dragging step. He set the arrow down to one side and adjusted the grip on his knife, but made no other movements, either to run or attack. Instead he simply watched the zombie approach, and as he did his breathing stopped first, then his heart and with it his pulse. One corpse watched another's approach.

The zombie's pace suddenly slackened, but it continued to approach. It reached the buck on the opposite side from Walker and collapsed heavily to its knees, its rotting hands reaching out hesitantly, almost like those of a shy lover. It bent down further and brought its blackened face, with its sunken cheeks and decayed nose to within centimeters of the dead animal's fir, sniffing and moaning at whatever it found there a disturbingly sensual manner. But in the end it lost interest in the buck. Zombies hate the flesh of the dead.

Instead, it pawed its way over the buck's ribs and leaned in very close to Walker, sniffing and moaning at him in the same way it had done with the buck. Walker did not so much as twitch as a muscle. If it were possible, the dead man across from him almost looked confused. Walker could almost see the thoughts in its head, wondering what had happened to the living flesh it had sensed right in front of it only seconds ago - save that zombies had no thoughts in their heads, and this creature was only suffering from a momentary lack of purpose which it would no doubt overcome any minute now.

And sure enough, it lost interest in the corpse of John Walker, just as it had that of the buck, and turned away. Slowly, ponderously, it regained its feet and slowly, ponderously, it turned and began to shuffle off in a new direction.

Walker watched it go for a long moment and then turned his attentions back to the white-tail. Standing up in one sudden and eerily smooth motion, he grabbed the animal by the antlers and began to drag it to a nearby tree, with the intention of hanging the animal so that he could bleed and gut it.

He had a class to teach today, and this buck was going to be the lesson.

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The sun was nearly two finger-widths over the horizon before Walker made it back to the refuge with the buck dragging behind him on a makeshift 'travois' made of branches and that mysterious silken cord he never seemed to run out of. Most folks within Fox's Refuge would just be waking up at this hour, but many had already been up and about for hours now, and amongst them were the guards at the gate. Seeing Walker approach, they opened the gate up without a word and let him in, giving him (and the buck) no few looks of curiosity as he passed them by with little more than a nod.

As he was making his way into the camp proper, he saw one of Ger's men approaching (he had no idea if the man had any official position within the Refuge or not, only that he'd seen him in Ger's company a number of times and was obviously someone with some degree of responsibility around here). "Hey there, Walker", he said as he intercepted and fell in alongside of the strange super, "Jules asked me to find you. She's got that group you're supposed t'be teaching gathered together over by the cattle pens, and wanted you to know."

Walker simply nodded and muttered, "Thanks."

The man nodded back a little nervously. After a brief awkward silence as the two men continued trudging onwards, he looked back at the buck Walker was dragging and asked uncomfortably, "so, uh... you need any help with that?"


"Oh. Ok, then." Another moment of awkward silence. "Whelp! Guess I oughta be going, then. See ya around, Walker!"

"See ya." The four-armed man waved, and continued on his way towards the cattle pens on the other side of the Refuge.


A few minutes later, Jules, and the small group she'd handpicked for this morning's 'class', saw Walker come around the corner of one of the ramshackle buildings that dotted the place with a full-grown, white-tailed buck dragging along behind him. Before the Plague had struck a sight like this would have been extremely unusual, but in the months since the plague it hadn't become any more common, strange as that might seem upon reflection. Folks had been too busy trying to find some place where they could safely close their eyes for more than five minutes without fear of a zombie shambling over and gnawing on their ankle to take the time to go out on lengthy hunting expiditions. Easier to just raid the closest convenience store.

Walker stolidly dragged his heavy load right up to where the gathered 'students' were standing, and stopped, dropping the travois behind him. He turned and looked at the five people standing expectantly before him. Walker had specified that the first class (he still had trouble thinking of it that way) would have to be a small group, comprised of only a few individuals who were eager to learn what Walker had to teach. Between his speaking problems, and the fact that the closest thing to teaching experience he had was working as an outdoor guide (not really the same thing at all), he knew that a larger group would have been entirely impossible for him to properly manage or control - let alone teach.

"Good morning, class", said Walker, humor evident in his voice, despite his rasping whisper. "This morning, we're going to learn how to skin and clean this-" he pointed at the buck, "-and later this afternoon, we'll learn to make soap out of the messy leftovers, so that we can clean ourselves off. And believe me, you're going to need the soap by the time we're done."

Walker stopped there though, mostly so that he could give his throat a break from so much talking. He looked at Jules and rasped, "But first; Jules? Anything you wanna say? Introductions? Questions?" He looked at her with his strange eyes, and waited expectantly.

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Jules blinked, then flipped her ponytail over her shoulder and stood a little straighter. "Yeah, sure." She hadn't really, but Walker needed a break. "So much has been lost, and human has been reduced to picking at the remains of it's former glory. Walker is going to show us how to change that. In time, we'll be the ones making clothes when the Walmarts have been picked clean and finding food when the cans of beans and tuna are gone. We'll be the ones that others will come to when they need things that have been provided to us by machines, that our ancestors once provided for themselves." She grinned. "We're the new artisan class, starting today."

She was a little embarrassed - where had all those words come from? She hid it as best she could as she turned back to Walker and nodded. "We're ready when you are, Teach."

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Walker nodded back, and immediately got to it. It was slow going and tedious at first, mostly due to his damaged voice, but he managed, and so did they.

First on the agenda was the skinning of the buck. This was a relatively straightforward affair that was done more or less the way that most people would assume, but (as with most things) the devil was in the details. So Walker demonstrated (mostly through actions, with the occasional word of explanation thrown in) how to start with the inside of the deer's legs and work from there.

He showed them how to hang the buck after sawing off the legs below the joint, and how and where to make the cuts in the hide to ease the peeling off of the hide. Sometime in the near future he would bring in a kill that hadn't been bled or gutted yet, and show them how that was handled, since it was not only one of the easiest parts of the process to mess up, it was the messiest, smelliest, and all around grossest part of the process to mess up. But not today.

Once the deer was 'caped', he had them cut off the buck's head, and then showed them how to scrape and clean the inside of the hide. Once that was done he showed them how to fold it, and then they set it to one side. It would need to be treated soon, but Walker would take care of that later. Today's lesson was on how to put the various parts of the buck's insides to good use. The meat's use was obvious, but there was more hanging off of the deer's carcass than just food to consume.

During the night before, Walker had gathered the wood and kindling necessary and had piled them in a firepit that had a barbecue spit set up over it. Now he showed them how to get the kindling lit, using a fireboard and spindle. It was a very basic method of fire-starting, and not necessary or even practical if there was any other method available, but it was still good to know how to do it for those times when there wasn't another method available.

Once the fire was going good and strong, he had his 'class' carefully carve the meat off of the deer, and even more carefully shave off any morsels of fat that clung to the muscle tissue. Once the fat had been gathered, and cut into little pieces, he asked for a vulunteer. That person he set to watching the fat as it cooked in a pot hung from the spit, with a quantity of water to add as needed to keep the fat from sticking, making sure the student understood to stir frequently. The rest of the class were given the task of preparing the deer meat.

There was so much of it that most of it would have to be set aside for drying and smoking, which Walker would teach each of them to do as the class progressed. For now he simply had them set it aside and concentrate on the choicer cuts they would be using for lunch.

An experienced group of people could have done everything they'd done up to this point in an hour or less, but Walker had deliberately slowed the pace of things. He did this both so that he could ensure they absorbed as much information as possible, and so that they would wrap up this portion of things right around lunch time. As he had expected, the fat finished rendering shortly before those preparing the meat were finished, and he had the student watching it set it to one side to harden. He was a little concerned over how little there was, but upon reflection he realized that they didn't each need a full-sized bar of homemade soap to clean up at the end of the day. A nugget of soap should be enough for a single washing, and anyway, the point was simply to show them how it was done, not go into the soap-making business.

Once the grease was out of the way, he set his new class to cooking their choices of meats. He gave them a handful of tips and tricks on how to cook meat over an open fire, but otherwise he left them to it. A skilled cook he was not, and if they would need to find another teacher if they wished to master any aspect of the culinary arts.

The students all gathered around the fire and talked amongst themselves as they cooked their cuts of deer meat. After Walker had assured himself that none of them were in any immediate danger of burning themselves, or setting the Reguge on fire, he left them to it turned to Jules.

"So", he asked, "was this what you had in mind?"

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"Exactly," she said, beaming at him. She had some blood smeared over her cheek, but it didn't look wrong on her, just a sign of her dedication to getting into the lesson. She certainly wasn't the only one splattered in blood. "Some of the things you were talking about... I remember hearing my Grandmother talking about them. They came back, when you jogged my memory." She shook her head. "I wish I'd just paid attention in the first place. You think you don't need to know, but you really do."

She glanced at him. "Why do you know this stuff? You were doing this before the virus right?"

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"Sure", Walker answered, "Years before."

He paused for a moment and considered, before continuing. "Guess I like Nature more than cities. Liked hunting. Didn't like wasting, didn't like stuffed trophies. So I learned how to not waste."

He kept a critical eye on the fire while he whispered, especially on the ashes gathering beneath it. He seemed satisfied with what he saw there.

"Learned basics in military. Was a SEAL. After that, I learned the rest on my own. Still got lots to learn, though."

Finally, Walker turned his unblinking carapace eyes away from the fire and looked at Jules. He asked, "What did you do before the virus?"

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Jules' smile fled. She looked away from him, to the fire.

Click to reveal.. (Flashback)
"Ben, Sami! Wash your hands and get ready for dinner!" Her kids shouted back, the house muffling their words. They hadn't sounded affirmative, and Jules prepared herself for a fight. "I mean it!" she shouted after, but there was no change in the sounds coming from the living room.

Dan looked at her. "Need me to round them up?"

"Why can't they just listen to me?" Jules growled. "You shouldn't have to be the heavy all the time."

"I don't mind," he said, moving the bills he'd been going through off to the side so she could set the table. "What are you plans for the rest of the night?" He grinned coyly at her. "I was thinking you needed seducing, after class."

"Sorry, have to take a rain check. Twenty billion things to do," Jules hissed, staring at the list on the fridge. "Bake cupcakes for Ben's class, get Sami to the doctor's for a check-up, and I told Old Mira I'd bring some bread for her, since she broke her leg. Then there's the classes tonight - I'll have to bring the kids since Jackie backed out on me." She sighed and propped her cheek on her hand, gazing across the table at her husband. "I need to be six women to get all this done, Dan."

He took her hand and smiled. "You do do too much, hon," he said softly, brushing hair back from her face. "You should slow down."

"Someone has to do it," she sighed, then smiled. "That's my job. I'm Mom."

"SuperMom," Dan agreed, leaning forward to kiss her.

"I was a mother," Jules said, crossing her arms and looking sad. "And a wife."

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