Only the Strong Survive

Rick’s net was heavy today and he grunted with the effort of retrieving it from the murky water. He smiled to see the crawfish filling his net to the very top. For once, he felt a sense of pride at having done something for his family.  We’ll have a good meal tonight. 

A chill wind blew across the water and Rick shivered as icy drops splashed onto his face. The net fell to the ground at his feet. He couldn’t wait to show Alley, she’d always loved crawfish.  Of course, that was before she’d contracted the virus. These days she didn’t feel like eating much. Perhaps I can tempt her with a Low Country Boil?

Rick picked up his haul and slung it over his shoulder and came face to face with the business end of a revolver.

His immediate thought was to call for help. “Don’t try anything,” a gravelly voice warned him.

Age spotted hands clutched the gun pointed at Rick’s face. The man was at least 10 years his senior. He had one good eye, the other was a scarred milky ruin. It was hard to stare directly at the man. “Give me the bag,” he gestured with the gun.

“What?”

“You heard me, asshole. Hand over those crawfish.”

“Please sir, my wife has the virus and my son is nearly starving. “

The old man shook his head. There was no sympathy to be had in him, that much was clear. “Not interested in your sob story.”

Rick’s alarm gave way to anger at the strangers’ comment. Frustration had been building in him at his inability to feed his family and help his wife. He couldn’t take it anymore. He didn’t know if the man would shoot but the bag he held represented days of effort and he wasn’t giving it up for anything.

“You’ll have to kill me.” He clenched his jaw preparing for the impact he was sure would happen next. He’d never been shot before.

The stranger shot his revolver into the open sky and birds scattered as the sound reverberated off trees.

The sound would have startled the old Rick, the Rick of two year ago. Prior to the famine he’d only heard gunfire on television, now it was an everyday occurrence.

“That was a warning.”  “You won’t get another,” the stranger promised.

Rick threw the entire net of writhing crustaceans at his would be robber. It caught the man off guard and he instinctively reached out to catch it accidentally releasing his firearm. Rick grabbed the stranger’s gun in an instant and pointed at the man’s head.

“Fuck you!” he screamed at Rick and turned his back to run with his prize in hand.

Rick fired off a shot without thinking and the man’s knee cap exploded. He screamed and fell to the ground still trying to hold onto the crawfish sack.

Rick stood over this attacker feeling several things at once, but none of them was guilt. The decision was made as soon as this person had decided to threaten his family. He fired off two more shots into the stranger’s skull and the screaming stopped. At least his death had been quick, instead of the slow gnawing ache in his stomach that had been slowly killing him. It had driven him to desperate lengths and Rick had to admit to himself that had the situation been reversed he might have done the same. Life was not easy on the marsh, but at least it was possible.

A handful of crawfish had come free of the bag and scattered on the dirt. Rick dusted them off and added them back to his sack. He left the bag unattended for a few moments as he drug what was left of the starving man to the edge of the swamp. A pair of eyes broke the waters surface observing Rick’s progress. Gators weren’t bothered by gunfire either.  With one booted heel Rick kicked the corpse into the water and didn’t look back.

He took off in the direction of home and his waiting family. A splash behind him let Rick know that he wasn’t the only one who would be eating well that night.

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