“Don’t eat the mushrooms,” Darren whispered.
Val nodded, confused.
The group of soldiers-turned-brigand ate their vegetable stew with zeal. Their M.R.E’s had run out, and so they scavenged for tubers, mushrooms, and sometimes insects.
Their faces were dirty. Soap was almost unfindable, and only a handful of people remembered how to make it.
It would have been easy for humankind to move on if literacy was not completely shut down. After the bombs there was a period of unleashed violence and ignorance. The cult of stupidity crushed the intellectuals.
Darren could read, which is why they took him. He did not realize this at first. The young man was promised riches and a powerful role in saving humankind from the devastation it had bestowed upon itself.
But it had been a half-truth. They wanted to sell the medical technology they were after, not help their fellow man like they claimed.
They turned violent, killing any who would stand in their way. The rules shifted. Darren had been punished for asking questions. One of punishments took his eye, and the other a finger. He had developed a hatred for the men, especially the leader: Metzger.
“What did you do?” Val whispered to Darren.
“You’ll see,” Darren mouthed in silence.
‘What the fuck are you two talking about?” Metzger accused.
He had managed to sneak up close without Darren noticing, again. It was a surprising talent for the man, considering how brash and quick-thinking the man was.
Darren hung his head down, “The weather, sir.”
Metzger studied him, leaning closer.
“The fog will come soon,” Val interrupted.
“The fog? How do you know this?” Metzger snorted.
Val had been learning to read, and she did not like the idea of her fellow brigands knowing this.
“I have been learning to read a bit, under Darren’s instruction,” she told him.
The man raised an eyebrow. Darren shot her a glance of pure terror.
“Do you know all the words?” Metzger smiled.
“I know some, but not enough,” she said.
Darren was breathing fast. If Metzger thought for a second that he could kill him, and have him replaced, he would.
“Bah,” Metzger scoffed, and turned away.
As the big man joined the rest of his comrades for more stew, Darren and Val continued.
“Why would you tell him?” Darren asked, as quietly as he could.
“I needed to take attention away from you. What do the mushrooms do?” Val said.
Darren paused, and then gave a small gesture hidden to everyone else. In certain terms it meant “death”.
He had pointed a picture in a book of a mushroom. None of the men could read the word poisonous. This had been his chance.
Val showed no reaction, “Good stew,” she said.