NOTE: Before Anyone asks, this is NOT an "environmentalist" or "green" story. My last name may be "Gore", but please do not assume that this is a story all for Global Warming warning and all that crap. This is just a short story that came into my head one day during History class while watching clips from old Western movies. Nothing more.
The country was the United States of America, the year was long forgotten, the month January, the day was the nineteenth. The fiftieth anniversary of the day the world's oil supply finally ran dry. From the beginning of the century, the world's use of oil – whether domestic or imported – skyrocketed, unimpeded by the warnings shouted out by World Leaders, Green Groups and even Mother Nature herself- hurricanes that were so destructive that a "6" had to be added to the category scale, thunderstorms that started fires even when they were raging over the most hydrated lands, earthquakes which inched closer to ten on the Richter scale each decade. Port cities in most nations, even the most powerful of the powerful, were wiped away as the sea level began to rise. Cities that lay on fault lines or on unstable plates were rebuilt until it wasn't worth the cost of rebuilding anymore, and then the coasts of every continent were becoming modern Ghost Towns.
Populations began to shrink- nations that once had hundreds of millions shrank to a single million, and those with less, unless extremely inland, had few at all.
Many species of animal, insect, plant, microbe, too numerous to name, went extinct.
Others moved to where they had never once been able to live before.
It was now warming in Russia.
Australia and Argentina had to worry every winter.
California was now an island off the northwest coast of the United States, and Florida would soon follow in the southeast.
Hawaii was now a sea on a map. Places such as the Florida Keys and Outer Banks were only memories.
With the fall of the oil industry, technology also began to become rare. The blood of the factories, the fossil fuels that were burned to produce simple gadgets, were also gone, and none were to be made for millions of years to come. Cars were obsolete, scraps of metal that lay in the streets. Trucks lay in wasted heaps where they once transported goods. Trains were salvaged, however, by returning to their original propulsion: steam. Ships were also usable when converted to use of a similar engine. However, aircraft save for Ultra-lights (which were converted to steam, as well) and hang-gliders were now just as useless as automobiles. In the United States, they, along with any other sort of unusable vehicle, were piled onto trains and boats and shipped off to be abandoned in the Midwest, left to rot, to decay, to rust back into their natural form, and to be whisked away by the wind.
Advancements such as Satellites, however, were still operational. Their signals could be read by new televisions, new radios, and communication was still very, very real. Computers would need decades to adapt, but there was hope for their eventual return.
Cities, like their creator, the automobile, began to crumble, struck down by the death of an industry and by the storms and quakes mentioned before. The tallest of buildings were no longer inhabited, being deemed too dangerous due to the increased torrents. The streets were still paved. The lights at every intersection were no longer in use and were torn down. Parking lots were destroyed.
However, unlike cities and nations and a few other species, humans found a way to survive. They looked away from their past lives and focused on finding a new way to survive. A clever man, Rhodes King the First, in what was once Virginia, took a look at where the planes and cars were rusting; the Midwest, the west, the wild, untamed American west, once again uninhabited and unrestricted. He turned to the men and woman in the moderately sized town he resided, and preached a plan.
They were in a state half rural, half industrial. There were farms to produce the food and raise the livestock, and they were the leaders in redesigning the railroads and an active investor in redesigning sea vessels. How would his citizens travel, though? He scoffed at a meeting and gave a simple answer. Horses.
They were, after all, a rural state. There were breeders all around the northwest border. The torn up former parking lots could be turned into small corrals to hold the equine while their masters were doing business.
That was a mere twenty years later.
One by one, year after year, each colt and filly was auctioned off. Each man and woman was given a small plot of land (there were many casualties due to the horrific weather conditions, but just as many survivors, and those survivors were given the departeds' land) a western saddle, a bridle, pads, feed and a brush or two and told how to take care of their new companion or companions. After decades of hardship, suffering and torture as they watched the world they knew slip away, there was finally a ray of hope.
The United States had slipped into what was known as "The Modern West".
That was Rhodes' plan all along. He saw the potential in the combination of man and beast. The two would need to work together in order to survive. He was always a man of a certain mind, one who never truly enjoyed the thought a three hour commute to a job only half an hour from his home. He was one who enjoyed taking the metro whenever he had the chance. Those who once laughed at him now begged to him.
However, like anything, his ambition did not come without unforeseen circumstances. The world was slowly returning to primitive means of transportation, which also meant that the primitive ways of law enforcement was inching its way back. But crime was still very, very modern. Instead of using poisons and chemicals to make murders looks like suicides like the century before, men and women would draw modern revolvers and shotguns in the streets. The hospitals, also greatly lacking due to the new era of less technology, were swarmed with the wounded and dying due to gunshot wounds, stab wounds or scrapes and cuts consistent with being run over by a horse.
Instead of taking a car for a joyride, a man would pillage another's home and take his horse when he was done. The citizens were still new to owning their companions, and thus could not tell their chestnut stallion from another.
Rhodes did his best in the town he was silently elected to watch over. He ensured that the area he was in control of, his domain, was as peaceful as he could make it, a pleasant place to live. For a good while, that's what it was: A modern old west town, the only difference between it and its 19th century counterparts being the structure of the buildings themselves. There were no saloons run by outlaws of corner stores owned by the sheriff. Each little store, restaurant or pub was run by a manager that wasn't afraid to take charge of his building, unafraid to throw a man waving a revolver through a window. The building was the owner's place, and inside the four walls, every man had to follow the manager's laws. Anyone who did not was sent out at the drop of a hat.
The United States was blessed with the preservation of the train. There were still railroads, albeit a great deal of tracks were destroyed due to the rising sea level. Those which were left, however, were perfectly preserved. Supplies and travelers were taken cross country, north to south, or just around the bend.
There were also wanderers. Most stayed near the towns they had been born into or where they'd resided just before the climate changes. Some took to a nomadic life, trading their RV for a stallion and their family for either a close friend or the sound of silence.
It was the fifth state he had crossed since he'd started. For a while, he'd settled down near the great lakes, but that bored him after a time. Now he was crossing his way into the northernmost point of Virginia. Right away he was looking at more of a city than he'd seen since he left Ohio. Virginia had always been a productive area, he'd read. So close to Washington D.C., there were many jobs available for government positions….before "the crash." Now those buildings weren't for employment; they were shelter. The parking lots, whether above or below ground, were now corrals.
Put his horse in a corral? Not likely. Jackal sent a grin down at his bay mare. He'd had her since she was a filly. His mother, inspired by Rhodes King, started a similar program back in the west. He, being her son, was the first to get a horse.
That wouldn't do him much good here. The people of Virginia wouldn't care for the work of his family. So, best not mention it. He was Jackal Reeves, a wanderer, the new guy in town. His mount – his 'friend' – was Sonnet. She was a bright blood bay mare with a single white sock on her front right leg and a star on her forehead. Her eyes were as brown as Jackal's own.
He looked into the water of the Potomac as he and Sonnet walked side by side across a small bridge. He was in normal attire for the times- a brown windbreaker jacket, somehow in good condition, black jeans with dusty spots, a set of recreational boots and underneath the jacket a deep blue short-sleeve shirt. Nothing unusual; from his vantage point, he could see a few others with a similar look.
It was the dead of night, a Cheshire moon looking down at them, a few wayward stars shining.
Sonnet gave a nicker. Jackal looked up, hearing the hoof beats just as Sonnet warned him. There were three men on small quarter horses and, judging by the glint, each one had a small hand revolver.
Jackal hissed a stream of curses under his breath and pulled Sonnet to a stop. "Get ready for a chase," he whispered, slightly frustrated yet somewhat eager. He'd heard of the "bandits" which preyed on travelers like him. He'd love to give them a hard time. He had no money, nothing valuable; just the clothes on his back, a couple hundred dollars in his coat, his name and his mare.
He wouldn't let them have Sonnet, if that's what it came to.
"A northern boy!" One of the men yelled, a thick southern drawl pulling at his words. He rushed his grey gelding right at Jackal, moving behind him to block the bridge. "A might fine lookin' horse he's got, as well."
A man on a buckskin horse and another on a palomino stayed well in front of Jackal. They were trying to make a sort of triangle trap to keep him from being able to mount and escape. They must not have done this often, Jackal thought. He'd encountered more dangerous thieves back in Ohio…and they had been children.
"Look," Jackal said. "I don't have anything worth taking. My mare's out of the question."
"Got nerve, does 'e?" The rider on the buckskin muttered under his breath.
Jackal grinned. He saw how he could have fun with these three. Maybe harass them a bit before taking off into the woods, knowing that Sonnet would find him by morning. Before he could come up with a plan, he heard the sound of two more horses. He grit his teeth. He could outsmart three obvious rednecks, but five was pushing it, no matter how clueless they were.
As the last two approached, the riders on the palomino and buckskin moved to the side of Jackal, leaving a clean escape route in front of him. They weren't friends with whoever was coming.
The other two horses had been walking leisurely through the woods. Their riders hadn't even noticed the confrontation. However, as soon as Jackal laid eyes on the new duo, one of the horses reared and took off in Jackal's direction. The redneck's eyes widened - all three of them - and the quickly started to turn towards the bridge.
The newcomer had the bridge blocked before the three were even close.
"Dammit..." The rider on the grey gelding, the one closest to the bridge, hissed. His horse was nose-to-nose with the newcomer's blue roan. The gelding took a few quick steps back, looking as terrified as his rider.
"Foreman, Stewart, Roger."
"Junior," The buckskin rider, Stewart, snarled.
"Hush!" Roger, on the palomino, said, almost sounding frightened.
"Rhodes, how'd'you do?" The rider on the grey, Foreman, said quickly.
"Up until now, rather well." Rhodes was quite calm. He narrowed his eyes at the tree. With every step his chestnut stallion took forward, the three rednecks took one back; all the while, the three made sure to avoid the rider on the blue roan.
"Get along now," Rhodes snapped. With a motion of his head, the blue roan sidestepped three times, opening up the bridge. "We don't need sorry bastards like you all running off newcomers!"
The three were gone faster than Rhodes could give the word. Except for Foreman, the group looked almost terrified of Rhodes.
Rhodes turned to look at Jackal. "We apologize for those three," He said as the blue roan made it's way over, still facing towards the bridge. "We'll escort you into town out of courtesy." He wasn't offering. Whether Jackal wanted it or not - he wasn't too fond of the idea - he was going to be escorted. He gave a respectful nod and mounted Sonnet. They traveled in a straight line- Rhodes in the lead, Jackal in center, and the blue roan rider at the rear.
As they got closer to the town he'd seen from a distance, Jackal gave his two acquaintances a look-over. Rhodes, the man the bandits had addressed, looked quite calm. His hair was a light brown and long enough for a short, Revolutionary War-like ponytail. He was in a tattered leather jacket, light brown, and classic bluejeans. Jackal thought he spied a red shirt under the jacket.
Was this the son of Rhodes King I? Or was the name a coincidence? Perhaps a mother inspired by the man's work named her son for him...
He couldn't get a good look at the rider behind him without it being conspicuous. From what he'd seen during the confrontation, the rider was in thick black jeans and a 1990s style black, baggy hoodie. They had the hood up, making it impossible for Jackal to see anything more.
"Mind saying where yer from?" Jackal tilted his head when he heard Rhodes' slight southern accent.
Rhodes raised a brow and looked back at him. "No wonder yer on a mare," he replied. "No offense, but, 'round here, you want a gelding or stallion. Mares 'r for children, usually. "
Jackal nodded in response. He was fine sticking with Sonnet.