Waste Not

“Well now, lucky we found you,” she said. “I wandered away from my companions, upstream somewhere. I don’t suppose you could get me down?” “Have you down in no time, one of the kiddies has gone for an axe.”
Steve Dean's Short Story Waste Not

The idea for this little gem came to me when I heard one of my neighbours shouting. This was a shout of information being provided rather than anything confrontational. Being a creative writer, that short burst of words immediately sparked images in my mind and delivered the seed of a story which quickly grew into what you’re about to read.

So, I present to you a fantasy short story entitled ‘Waste Not’ from the saying ‘waste not, want not’. In other words, if you don’t waste something now, you won’t ‘want’ or miss it in the future. All will be revealed if you read on.

* * *

Martus had managed to get himself lost. He’d stepped away from the camp for a few moments, drawn by the sound of running water. After drinking and washing his face in the cold river, he’d set off back through the trees towards where he thought his travelling companions were located, gathered around the small campfire. He should, he supposed, have called out and followed the sound of their replies. As this wasn’t the first time he’d got lost he was too prideful to admit he’d done it again. He wanted to get back to camp without their help. Now, he was back at the river, but in a different location.

The forest was thick and mostly trackless, the trees close together, their canopies casting deep shadows even when the sun was shining brightly above. It was impossible for a horse to get through here, never mind a wagon, so they’d had to walk and carry everything they needed on their backs. Of course, his backpack was sitting near the fire where he’d left it. He wondered if the others would bother searching for him, or just take his stuff and divide it among themselves.

Martus stared at the river and tried to remember which way the water had been flowing when he’d had a drink. It was coming from his right and heading left. So, he needed to head upstream and find the place he’d been before and then, pride be damned, shout for help.

A while later he still hadn’t found the camp, or any sign of anyone else. He shouted, his voice barely penetrating the dense forest. He tried again, as loudly and as long as he could. There was no reply, no sound at all except his breathing and the flow of the river. Martus sat on a rock and calmed himself. It was early morning, so there was plenty of daylight left. The forest was quite safe for a person, so he’d been told. There were no wolves, not many animals at all, except birds and squirrels.

Martus stood and began to follow the river downstream. He’d obviously gone too far upstream and missed the camp. The river, he reasoned, was the one constant in all this. As long as he stayed close to it he would eventually find his companions. Time passed; he’d stopped twice to drink from the river, so it must have been later afternoon. He sighed deeply and cursed himself for a fool. This time he was well and truly lost. He needed to find a farm or something and get himself to safety. Well, he thought, people needed water, so if he stuck to the river, he would find someone who could help him.

He was so lost in his thoughts he nearly missed seeing the figure disappearing between the trees ahead. They were small, possibly a child, with a mop of red hair.

“Hello! I’m lost, can you help me?” he shouted loudly.

The figure stopped, looked at him and then gestured him closer. She was revealed as a small woman now he could see her better. She gestured to him again.

“It’s very good of you to help, I got separated from my…”

Something snapped under his foot, there was a swishing noise and he was dragged off his feet and up into the air, his back slamming into a stout tree. When his vision settled he saw the woman standing a few paces away, smiling. She had a dirty face but her teeth were white. Her clothing was old and patched and passably clean. Her red hair was wild and long, reaching to her waist. 

“Well now, lucky we found you,” she said.

Martus didn’t feel so lucky, but he had to take what good fortune he could get.

“I wandered away from my companions, upstream somewhere. I don’t suppose you could get me down?”

“Have you down in no time, one of the kiddies has gone for an axe.”

“Is there a village nearby?” he asked, compelled to speak into the silence.

“No village, just the one house. Me and my kiddies. How many of you then, and what brings you here?”

“Six of us. One of our company found a copper mine, right out in the forest.”

“Over near Red Pond? That’s days away. You are lost.”

“Yes, it seems to be something I’m good at,” Martus said bitterly.

“You’re no miner.”

“I’m a surveyor, we were looking for the best place to build a road for the mine.”

“A road? Hmm, could be useful.”

Another figure appeared from around a tree, silent as a fox. He was a child of about ten, with the same red hair as his mother. He was carrying a heavy wood axe. The woman took it and smiled. She hefted it with obvious familiarity and approached Martus.

“I’m not sure you’re going to be able to reach from there,” Martus said as she raised the axe.

The woman took a step closer then shouted, “food’s here!” and swung the blade towards Martus.

By the time the words registered in his head it had been detached from his neck, the axe biting into the trunk behind him. It was with some surprise that Martus found himself looking up at his own body gushing blood all over the forest floor. He felt no pain, only a strange numbness. Intending to call for help, he tried to take a breath, then cursed himself for a fool. As his vision faded he saw his body being lowered to the ground and then lifted by several children of various ages, all with red hair. The last thing Martus heard as his life faded away was the woman talking to one of the children.

“Grab the head, the brain will make a nice soup.”

His last thought, already breaking up as it formed, was sardonic. “Yes, it will.”


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