To Be a Porter
rating: +15+x
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It's been raining.

The cold, bitter, winter rain that cascades down in sheets, accompanied by such strong gusts of wind that even the deepest rooted trees shake where they stand. What remains of the highways and mountain roads have flooded, or have been drowned under mountainsides of mud. On the horizon rolls distant thunder, indicating a larger storm is on the way.

Go home, young one the storm calls. It is not safe to be out today.

But the young one does not listen. The calls of the storm are abruptly cut off by the loud mechanical roar of a motorcycle as a figure speeds through the early morning weather. His only obstacles are those caused by nature, as the roads had been cleared of vehicles some time ago.

He is soaked to the bone. He can not feel his hands. He can barely see through the walls of rain surrounding him. But he continues driving. Down the road. Through the trees. Over the hills. He has places to be.

There was a saying from before the war - those who carried the post would not let snow, rain, heat, nor darkness of night prevent them from finishing their rounds. Matt thought of this often. Right now, there was just rain. Water falling from the sky. It was the least of his troubles. If those before the end could handle it, then so could he.

The storm's calls turned into unearthly howls as the wind picked up, Matt's grip on his handlebars tightening as the gusts slammed into him. He almost swerved into a ditch as a shadow ran across the road in front of him. Must of been a deer of some sort, but, whatever. He stepped on the gas - today was important, and he couldn't afford to be slowed down by needless distractions.

Today was important.

Well. No. Scratch that. Every single day was important. Each choice made, each step taken, each arc the day followed was a mark on Matt's character, a representation of what he valued manifested right in the moment in front of him. When the morrow is uncertain, one could not afford to worry about the future, or to dwell on the past. It was his actions, that he took right now in the present, that shaped his chance of surviving through the night. No, not his chances. The chances of those he helped, those he delivered supplies to, those he brought to the end. Those he brought to the end? What?

Matt shook his head. Couldn't get to caught up in his thoughts either, wherever they were coming from. Right now, his only concern was getting to his destination - a cabin up in the mountains, tucked away between the pines. As told by Cat, the one who had given Matt the delivery older, an older gentleman lived there, and Matt had a package with his name on it.

The exit he had been told to take eventually came into view - marked by not a sign, but rather a tall tree that had been struck by lightening, and stuck out like a black hand emerging from the earth - so Matt slowed his motorcycle down and swerved onto the exit ramp. The trees instantly engulfed him, but provided little to no shelter from the rain due to the wind shoving its way through the branches just to batter against Matt. It was times like this he was glad he had modified his bike to be an all terrain vehicle, as the ground had turned to mud and was causing his driving to be extra slow.

"Fuck." The motorcycle had lurched to a stop, embedded deeply in the mud. Looked like Matt hadn't quite modified his vehicle enough yet. Frustrated, he turned his gaze towards the mountains, wanting to know how far away his destination was. Through the haze he could just make out the light of a cabin in the distance. Wasn't too far, he could walk. Matt turned off his motorcycle, threw down the kickstand, and hopped off. He debated covering it with leaves or something, as the bright white and orange paint job was certainly eye catching, but decided not to. Who else would be out on a day like this?

Matt unstrapped the package from the back of the bike. It was a long, rectangular plastic box, but had a significant weight to it. Matt knew there was a weapon inside, but didn't know what kind. He carried it in his arms as he trudged through the underbrush, making his way towards the distant cabin light.

Upon arriving at the cabin, Matt was greeted with the sound of a dog barking. It sounded like a very, very large dog. Matt did like animals - he helped care for a cat back home - but it was unusual for survivors to keep them nowadays. While they did often work as watchers or guards, quite a few had mutated after the war, or were quickly killed by those that did. Those that still lived on the streets were aggressive, starved, or used as bait, not really prime companions to keep as pets.

Despite the dog barking, Matt knocked on the door, tucking the package under one arm. Might've been a stupid move, but hell, the man already knew he was here, and Matt had to collect the other half of the payment. No sense in trying to just leave the package and run off.

"Delaney! Hush. We are fine." The man's voice was muffled from behind the door, but damn, Cat had been right. Just from the voice alone Matt could tell this was a significantly older fellow, had to be in his sixties at least. No one made it past their forties anymore. What was this older man doing alone in the woods?

The door swung open and an American Akita came bolting out, rushing straight up to Matt to sniff him. Matt stumbled back, this dog came up to his chest and could easily knock him over. Something tugged at the back of Matt's mind to draw his weapon in reactionary self defense, but, his arms felt heavy, and a sense of peace was lulling over him. What need did he have to do that? The dog wasn't going to attack him.

"Apologies! Delaney, get in here, now." A hand grabbed the dog by the harness it was wearing and pulled it back. In the doorway stepped the old man. He was tall, broad shouldered, and had brilliantly colored amber eyes. His golden copper hair seemed dusted with streaks of silver. The man was, also, for some reason, wearing a cream colored suit with orange embroidery on it.

"Package. Package from Cat." Matt stammered, trying to find his voice. This weird sensation of false security was pressing on him like a heavy blanket. He swore he could see shimmers in the air, flashes of golden light surrounding the man. Was it just the light reflecting off his motorcycle helmet? Had to be.

"Oh! What a quick delivery. But coming here in a storm? You must be drenched. Please, come in." The man ushered Matt inside, the door closing behind him before Matt could really argue on the subject. "Let me make you some tea and something to eat."

"I- uh- that's appreciated - but I really shouldn't be staying." Matt stepped further into the cabin. It was a simple, open room, with a kitchen area in one corner and a bed tucked into the other. A small table was in the middle, surrounded by a few chairs. Finally, against the far wall was a fireplace, which had a roaring fire in it.

"The storm is only going to get worse throughout the week. You might have a small pocket to get back home, but that won't be for a bit. Please, stay, it wouldn't be right of me to let you go back out there alone. Besides, consider this apart of the payment - a full stomach and some leftovers to take home to your mother."

"My mother-?" Matt was taken aback by the question. He hadn't seen his mother in years-

"Catherine. I assumed she was your mother. Would caretaker be a better term?" The man had found his way over to the kitchen. Matt hadn't heard him walk over.

"Oh! Uh, Cat, yeah, uh, she's taken me in, I guess. Caretaker. Sure." Matt awkwardly stood in the middle of the room. The man gestured towards the table.

"Please, sit, make yourself comfortable. Water needs a moment to boil."

"Right." Unsure of what else to do, Matt walked over to the table and set the package down on it. He then pulled off his helmet and ran his hands through his hair. He was a sweaty mess. He had a small nagging to ready his weapon again, to pull the shotgun off his back and load it, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Why did he feel this way? The man was being nice - too good to be true, sure, maybe - but he wasn't a threat. Matt never assumed anyone was a threat until they proved themself to be so. So why was he so on edge?

"Oh! My apologies, again, I forgot to introduce myself." The man walked over to the table and offered Matt a hand. Matt couldn't help but notice the large scar that seemed to go through his palm, but quickly adverted his gaze as to not be rude. "The name is Elnur, and the dog Delaney. I hope she didn't give you too much of a fright - she took quite an interest in you! Rare for her to do that, she's a bit of a shy one."

"It's alright - I uh, I like dogs." Matt took the man's hand and shook it.

"You must be Matt, right? Catherine told me a bit about you." Elnur walked back over to the front door and let Delaney out. He then went back over to the kitchen, rummaging through drawers and cabinets. "Do you prefer peaches or apricots?"

"Oh I uh, don't think I've ever tried either." Matt paused for a moment. Catherine. Cat. Didn't they have a rule about how much they talked about each other around strangers? Something about safety? His gaze drifted to his helmet. Why was that relevant? Helmet. Helmet kept his head safe.

"Peaches then, they're my favorite and I think you'll like them too." Elnur pulled out a can opener and could be heard opening cans. "Would you mind opening my package for me? I trust your caretaker did a good job, and I'd like to admire her work, but I don't want to get everything covered in peach juice!" He let out a small chuckle.

"Sure." Matt undid the latches holding the box closed and flipped off the lid. Inside, nestled in cloth, was an antique hunting rifle. Matt had seen Cat work on restoring this. It was a beautiful gun but Matt was astonished it still worked, or why Elnur had decided to hang onto it. It didn't seem like it'd serve much use nowadays.

"My father gave that to me. Made me sad to see it collecting dust on the wall. When I met Catherine on my way into town I thought it was finally time to get it repaired."

"So it's a family heirloom then?" Matt went to touch the chain he was wearing, and the casino chip attached to it.

"Indeed it is. Could still use it to shoot a rabbit or something now, I suppose, but I probably won't. Delaney handles most of that for me." Elnur took the teapot off the stove and poured its contents into two mugs. He then picked them up, along with a bowl of canned peaches, and brought them over to the table. "Please, sit."

Matt found himself sitting in the nearest chair, his hands holding the warm mug of tea that smelled of herbs and spices. His whole body felt heavy again, that sense of peace coming back to him. He stared into the mug, his mind drifting off to somewhere quiet. He could hear Elnur pulling the gun out of the case, examining it, and then the sound of the bolt being pulled back and the chamber opening. A pause. Another noise. Elnur shifting his stance. Matt's gaze remained on the tea.

"Have you ever been hunting, Matt?"

He could hear Elnur's voice move across the room. He took a sip of the tea, his gaze still trained downwards. Why did he feel so tired?

"It was a pastime I did with my father. He would take me out into the woods, and teach me how to hunt in a way that was respectful to nature. What animals to kill, what animals to leave alone, how to use every part of the animal - the rules of the forest, essentially. He was a game warden after all."

Matt could feel a buildup of pressure in his chest, an anxious nagging that he couldn't ignore at all anymore. It was familiar, this weight, and it meant something wasn't right. But what wasn't right? What was going on? All he could hear was Elnur's footsteps right behind him and-

A hand on his shoulder. Suddenly the weight was gone. Matt gasped for air and snapped his gaze around to look at Elnur. He wasn't holding the gun, in fact, it was mounted on the wall behind him, and Elnur was looking at him with a disappointed expression.

"You didn't have a good family life growing up, did you? Nor do you consider your caretaker family." Elnur removed his hand from Matt's shoulder and went back to take a seat across from him.

"I-" Matt tried to speak. What did Elnur know of his home life? Or his relationship to Cat? Wait- fuck- Cat's rule about interaction - he had taken off his helmet! And Elnur knew both their names. Cat would never give out that information and had told Matt to always remain as anonymous as possible. How much shit had he told this man? What was going on?

"You don't have to answer. I apologize. It's invasive of me to pry." Elnur let out a long sigh, gesturing for Matt to keep eating. "Please, eat, it's not poisoned or anything like that. I forget how long ago the war was. You're young. You don't know any different. Haven't known peace since you were born."

"What did you do to me?" Matt snatched his helmet but realized there was no point in putting it back on. Instead he awkwardly placed it in his lap.

"Whenever someone enters this building while I am here, they are reminded of memories they spent in their childhood with their family. Usually this is a comforting thing I offer as a way to relax, to make you feel at ease and have a moment of peace in this hectic world, but, occasionally, I come across those that did not receive a kind childhood. It instead reminds you of emotions I am guessing you would rather forget. I apologize for my ignorance."

"You apologize a lot." Okay. So this old man was anomalous. Mutated during the war perhaps with abilities he didn't have control over. Matt tried to relax a little. Clearly his intentions were good, he didn't mean any harm to Matt. It was just, something that happened.

"So I've been told. Been awhile since I've had visitors, it's something I need to work on." Elnur shrugged slightly. "Regardless, Catherine did a wonderful job with the rifle, do send her my regards, let me get your payment squared away." Elnur pushed himself out of his chair with a grunt and went back over to the kitchen. Matt's gaze drifted towards the window. He could see the rain streaking down and hear the wind howling outside.

Look around, young one. Truly look. There is more than meets the eye.

Something pulled Matt's gaze back over to the kitchen. Elnur was moving the teapot to a back burner on the stove. A gas stove. A gas stove required propane - how did he have propane? And why was he spending it on tea of all things? His gaze darted to the ceiling lights. There were electric lights, it wasn't just the fire in the fireplace providing light. Okay, benefit of the doubt, maybe there were solar panels and a battery outside, or a generator of some sort, but something was telling Matt there wasn't. His gaze went back to Elnur. He could see those golden flashes from earlier again, but this time they were concentrated around his neck and head. Matt peered closer.

Impostor.

The storm caused a tree branch to slam into the side of the house. Matt could hear Elnur sigh as he went back to the front door, letting a very angry looking Delaney in. The wind slammed the door shut before Elnur could close it.

"A word of advice, Matt." Matt snapped his attention back to Elnur. He was in the middle of loading cans of food and spare cloth into the box the gun had been in. "Listen to the world around you. There are lessons to be taught, voices to be heard, things to be seen, in the nature we find ourselves surrounded in. Sometimes, the world has a way of telling us things, and it be best you listen."

"The world seems to be in a bit of a hellstate right now." Matt turned his gaze to the peaches again. Might as well eat them. "I don't think nature would be too happy with us, given all we've done."

"There are those that argue that what happened after the war was nature's way of reclaiming what is rightfully hers. But unlike others I am inclined to say she went too far. It's, a delicate balance."

"I think mostly everyone would agree she went too far, there's barely anyone left as it is."

"Right. You're right. Other people, yes, they would all agree." Elnur cleared his throat and slid the box across the table to Matt. "No rush, please, finish eating and take your time, but your payment is here if you want to confirm it."

Matt nodded, wolfing down a few more of the peaches before scanning through the box. Cans of food, spare clothes, a handful of credits - yep, all accounted for. Oh, and even some tins of cat food. Had he owned a cat at one point?

"Again, I'm really sorry about earlier, I do hope I can make it up to you at some point." Elnur gestured at the tins Matt was looking at. "Delaney flipped out when she met Catherine, she only does that when there are cats nearby. Y'know, silly dog things. I made the assumption you owned a cat."

"We do, a kitten, yes." Matt finished his food and chugged down the tea. As nice as Elnur was, he was ready to leave. Cat would be worried about him if he didn't get back soon, and Matt wasn't that concerned about the storm. He closed the box before pulling on his helmet and getting up, tucking the box under his arm.

"Well, I hope the lil one enjoys it." Elnur walked Matt towards the door. "The storm should quiet down here for a little soon, before picking back up this evening. I wish you safe travels."

"Thank you. It was good doing business with you."

"And you as well."

Matt stepped outside once Elnur opened the door. He waved goodbye before hurriedly making his way down the muddied path towards his bike. To his surprise, he found it sitting in the middle of a small clearing, wet but completely clean of mud. Had Elnur moved it? He turned to look back over his shoulder only to find he couldn't see the cabin anymore. No light peered through the haze of rain and bustling tree branches. Taking a few hesitant steps forward, Matt peered into the brush, but nope. Nothing. Was the cabin gone? He swore he had seen the light from this point on his way here. He took another few steps forward. No cabin. What the hell? So an anomalous old man and an anomalous old cabin? No, whatever, Matt was done with this weird stuff for today. He turned back towards his bike, strapped down the box, and hopped on.

Ridiculous old one and its mimicry.

The wind picked up again as Matt veered onto the highway, howling in his ears despite his helmet. His thoughts wandered back to what Elnur had said. Listen to the world around him. Hmm. Wonder what there was to hear out there. Whatever, he'd figure it out eventually. For now, it was raining, and he wasn't going to let that stop him from getting home in time for dinner.

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