#WritePhoto: Over the Mountain

This week's #WritePhoto picture worked for my on-going saga of the Scots rebels and the alien invaders, so we have another installment. For those who haven't read the others, you can find the story in pieces: Parts I to III, Part IV, Part V, Part VIPart VII, and Part VIII. Or you can go with the simple summary: the castle's defenders have defeated and driven off the aliens with a combination of water balloons and dungball bombs, which required a lot of clean-up. Now they are faced with the necessity of moving on to find others equally unwilling to serve the alien masters, which involves getting the whole crew up and over the mountains to the sea, without the use of machines or technology.

The #WritePhoto challenge is a weekly bloghop challenge where KL Caley posts a photo on Thursday and you have until Tuesday to write and post a story. I got started on this one and can't seem to let go! Visit the challenge page to join in or to see what others do with the prompt. 


Photo by KL Caley

Part IX: Over the Mountain


This was what he most feared: his people scattered for miles on the mountain trail as each found his, her, or its—in the case of the animals—own pace and manner of climbing. And they’d left the 21st Century behind months ago—there would be no texts or calls to keep the group together.


On the other hand, being scattered, they were likely safe from attack by the Bugs, who liked to use their weapons from the air, on crowds of people they could kill at once. Without any technology in use among their bunch, the Bugs couldn’t find them anyway. No, the question was how many of them might end up lost, if they wouldn’t keep to the path.


James Campbell put on a burst of speed to try to catch the leaders of the column. That hurt. They’d been inside the castle for two months or more, and his exercise had been limited to trips up and down the stairs of the tower and walls. More than a desk job, but not the level of fitness he’d been used to before the blasted aliens came and took over the Earth.


He caught up to Claire Campbell, herself out of breath as she drove a handful of sheep down to the path from where they had wandered, perhaps in search of grass or just because sheep were that way.


“Claire! How many are we going to lose here on the mountain?”


“Sheep or clansfolk, Chief?” She grinned as she replied, so maybe she didn’t think things were so bad. “I have the kids and anyone not carrying too much of a load out trying to keep the sheep more or less moving in the right direction. They’re harder to herd than I expected. I thought sheep always just blindly followed their leader.”


“These are Scots sheep, girl, and highlanders at that. No one up here blindly follows a leader.” He laughed. “I need a runner to find whoever’s in front and have them find a good spot for us to regroup and eat a meal.”


“Will!” Claire called to a boy, perhaps twelve or thirteen years old, who was pushing a pair of reluctant woolies back to the path. “Will! Leave them with me! The chief needs you.”


The boy came loping over. From his expression, he was having the time of his life, and not feeling the effects of climbing the mountain.


“What’s up, Chief?”


Cheeky youngster. Heaven help him keep the boy cheeky and no slave to the Bugs. “Will, run ahead to—is Rory up front, Claire?” She nodded and he went on, “Run up to Rory and have him start finding a camp. Then gather any of the youngsters who aren’t with the animals and have them try herding our people back to the trail.”


“Got it, Chief.”


The boy galloped off up the trail, passing his slower elders with happy leaps onto rocks, despite the modest pack the boy carried—his school bag, of course, stuffed with whatever he’d thought essential. Best not to ask exactly what the children carried, though he hoped each had a bit of food and water.


“I have to try to get these sheep back with the main herd,” Claire said. “Maybe this time they’ll stick. What are you going to do?”


“Drop back and gather any of our scattered people I can.” And help Gertrude MacDonald with her load, if he could find a way to do so. Surely the old woman couldn’t manage that pack all day up this trail.


That was how the morning went. James kind of missed his old fitness watch, because he figured he must have covered ten miles over the mountain, while the column moved ahead by far fewer. It would have been interesting to know. Of course, the older children covered still more, chasing sheep. Gertrude MacDonald took care to waste no steps, but showed no signs of flagging.


The sun was well past noon when the last of the group found the lunch camp. Claire and Rory had settled the animals to graze in a meadow while they built a fire and cooked up a pot of soup for lunch.


When everyone was eating, James did a head count. Thank goodness, the numbers added up. “Did we lose any animals?” he asked Rory.


“I don’t think so. We were short a couple, but I’ve seen some come out of the gorse and rejoin the herd. And we’ve got Susie and her little sister leading the milk cow—don’t want to risk losing that one.”


He continued circulating, asking how people were doing. Did the ones pulling carts need to switch off, or lighten their loads? Was anyone struggling to keep up?


This was a tough bunch. No one admitted to needing help, and no one had lagged so badly he had to insist.


But the mountain. Was that snow on the summit? It was September. So far their time “camping” in the castle had been in the warm months, though not always dry. Now they were on the move and it was fall. If this weather didn’t hold, they could be in trouble.


He fretted until Angus and Archie cornered him and made him sit down and eat. Come to think of it, his feet hurt, and food tasted mighty good.


After a moment he realized someone had sat down beside him. He glanced up from his soup. Gertrude. Of course. She spoke quietly.


“We’ll be fine as long as you get us up and over the mountain today. I can’t promise the weather will hold through tomorrow.”


He glanced up at the long, sloping path still ahead of them and sighed, accepted the advice. “Okay, folks! Five minutes! We’ll wash the dishes in camp tonight.” He drank down his own soup as quickly as he could, snatched a bun from the supply baked before they left the castle, and watched the line moving out.


They would make it. They had to.





©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2023
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