Thursday, December 29, 2022

SL Fiction: Christmas In The Deathlands

By Bixyl Shuftan
It just wasn't his day.

Melvin Cooper poked at the trap. Empty. A few weeks ago, he was getting an occasional rabbit. Now it seems even rats and mice were getting scarce. Fried rat had been unpleasant enough when he first arrived on the Deathlands. Now it seems he was going to have to resort to eating cockroaches soon. And right on Christmas Day too. His smartphone was displaying December 25.

Looking around, snow was still covering patches of the desert ground still in the shade. The good thing about this time of year was it was no longer broiling hot at midday. The flip side was it got more bitterly cold than ever at night. Thankfully he was able to make some shelter from the wind, keeping himself somewhat warm in ragged leftovers of blankets. He recalled the dreams he had of that high-tech city in which for a time he was limited to a "capsule" to sleep in, a space not much bigger than he was. That was luxury compared to all this. Mile after mile of desert and dry grassland, with the occasional wreck, ghost town, and watering hole.


Melvin spun around. A mutant! They varied wildly. Some were almost as smart and reasonable as humans and furs. Most were of limited intelligence and hostile. This one looked almost like a zombie, with skin peeling off part of it's face and several teeth fallen out. It sported a two-handed axe. Probably slow, but very bad news if it got the drop on him.

Where was his weapon? Melvin looked around. He thought he had it in a certain place, but it wasn't there. Dammit!

"Raaaaarrrrr!" The mutant raised it's ax, and rushed forward, faster than Melvin thought it could move. He stumbled out of the way. The mutant continued to charge in a straight line and the ex-burglar was already well out of it's path when it moved past. It wasn't until it had gone twenty feet further before it stopped and turned around, "Raaaaaarrrrrr!"

Melvin still hadn't found his weapon, he looked at a pile of old junk cars. He only had a short time to look before he saw the mutant charging again. Once again, Melvin ran out of the way. Unable to stop, the mutant charged and ran right into the pile. It hit hard enough for the top of the pile to fall on top of it. The mutant was buried.

The former bandit could hardly believe it. With no sign that the mutant was still moving, he decided to see what the toppling of junk had exposed. He noticed the wreckage of a delivery truck that had been in the middle of the pile. Going inside the crumpled cab, there were several smashed packages. But one caught his attention, "Freeze-Dried Meals." He opened the box, and could barely believe it. There were over a dozen foil-packets of dried turkey, ham, potatoes, corn, and cherry pie. Thankfully he saw a thermos, and looking inside, there was water.

Melvin was relieved. At least for now, his food worries were over. He was about to tear into one, then he noticed more movement. Looking over, he saw not a mutant, but ... a child? This looked like a young fox kit.

"Um, hello?" He greeted the boy, at least he thought it was a boy.

"Please," he heard the youngster say. Then there was the gurgle of hunger.

Melvin felt his heart ache. The Deathlands was hardly a place for a kid. Let alone one on his own. He motioned the youth over, followed the instructions on the packet, putting in a little water and shaking it, then handed it to the youth with a plastic spork. But instead he gulped it down from the container.

"Whoah! Take it easy! There's plenty more. What's your name, kiddo?"

"Ar, Arthur."

"Well, pleased to meet you Arthur. My name's Melvin." The ex-burglar fixed a packet of his own, and slowly ate the contents with another spork.

"How you, find?"

"I guess I was lucky. Where's your mom anddad?"

"Mom? Dad?"

"The grownups who take care of you?"

"Uncle Giz. Not know, where."

The two sat there for a while. Melvin tried to talk to the child, but he would say little. Eventually, he decided to start a fire. After he got it going, he thought he saw some movement ...

And then he got knocked backward

"Stay away from him!"

Melvin looked up, and saw himself looking at not the fox kit, but a full grown one, and angry.

"Don't you dare hurt my nephew!"

"Your nephew? Oh, wait! I wasn't trying to hurt him."

"Like hell. You know how many times I've tried to keep him from slavers! I should - "

"No! Uncle, stop!"

The fox looked down, and Arthur was tugging at his pants, looking up with a pleading look in his eyes.

"Arthur! Are you okay?"

"Melvin fed me. Best meal in long time."

"What?" The fox's expression softened.

"I came across some food, he happened to show up, so I shared it."

The fox looked remorseful, "My apologies stranger. Very seldom have I seem a helpful soul around here. Granted things are not as desperate as they were in the past, but this is still not a place known for mercy."

"Apologies accepted. Since you're taking care of him, well, maybe I should give you a share as well."

"You really mean it?'

"Yeah, I do. Merry Christmas."


"It's a holiday where I'm from, on this day."

"I know what it is, but what's so merry about it?"

"We usually celebrated with dinner, giving gifts."

"My Father would tell me tales of Santa Claus kidnapping children to work as slaves, making gas masks and other things."

"Huh?" Melvin blinked, then chuckled, "Nah, Santa doesn't kidnap kids, he brings them gifts. I did hear about some other guy, Krampus, who punishes naughty kids. But they're different."


"Yeah, Santa's evil counterpart. I guess there's been some kind of mixup over the years."

The fox looked intrigued, "I would like to hear more." Then his stomach rumbled.

Melvin chuckled, "I guess the gift-giving starts now." He got another packet and handed it to the fox, "Merry Christmas."

"Thank you, I, think."

"Welcome ... no, you don't eat the powder, you need to mix it with water. I'll show you .."

Before long, the three were sitting by the fire, eating more of the dehydrated food. Melvin thought to himself. This place still sucked. But at least he could take a moment to relax and end the day with a full belly, and he had made some new friends.

Bixyl Shuftan