She stood looking out at the dying land. The environment had suffered millennia of poisoning. The earth, air and water. Decades ago people had been aware and had tried to halt the depletion of the earth. It seemed all but too late now.
Zenith Sutton was nineteen, average height. She had a strong, lean body and long strawberry blond hair. She had blue eyes that still held a glint despite the harshness of her life.
She was clad in leather leggings and a brown tunic shirt. She was wearing a necklace she had fashioned from things she had found on her hunting/gathering treks. There were some old keys and teeth from a poor hungry mountain lion who met his fate at the end of her spear. There were three shiny coins she learned were called pennies.
She had decided she was going to leave Hawks End to go in search of… something. Food, a lush land that had been untouched, not poisoned yet. She would know when she found it.
She had heard of such a place in fables around the fire. As she had grown older she had become convinced that such a place did not exist. She had decided that it was only told to children to give them hope.
Still, she held a tiny glimmer of hope in her heart.
She continued to walk in the dim evening light. Her people had come decades ago to the forest to live as naturally as they could. Fleeing the modern, technological world she had only heard about. She had only heard of computers, televisions and telephones. These things poisoned the world, she had been taught.
Deep in her heart she knew there was a better place out there. She hated to leave her family, but she had to do something.
She sighed and hoisted the two rabbits she had caught over her shoulder.
Walking down the dusty road she was greeted by Vittoria. “ Hi Zenith. Wow! Great catch today! Maybe soon I could come hunting with you.”
Zenith smiled and touched her face. “Sure kid, very soon”
Vittoria was a sweet child. She was a wiry, freckle faced, spunky six year old. Sadly she had been orphaned a couple of years ago. Zenith’s parents had taken her in and she had become a sister to Zenith.
Vittoria ran ahead to announce her arrival. “Jeena, Zenith is home and she has dinner!”
“Oh good,” said Jeena, smiling when she saw her daughter enter.
Zenith smiled back at her mother and kissed her on the cheek before handing over the rabbits.
Zenith reached into her pouch and pulled out some leaves and roots.
“Oh salad too!“ Her mother clapped her hands together.
“ I found this is for you.” Zenith reached into her bag and pulled out a silver coin. Vittoria’s eyes grew wide.
”Oh wow! Thank you, Zenith.” And she ran to get a book. She came back a moment later. She looked at it carefully and checked it against a picture in the book. “It is a quarter,” she exclaimed proudly.
Zenith smiled. “Could you go tell Jack to start the fire for dinner please”
“Sure.” She grabbed up the book and coin and ran off.
Her mother looked at her proudly. “She adores you”
“I am very fond of her too.” Replied Zenith. “That makes it all the more difficult to tell you what I need to say.”
Her mother put the leaves and dandelion roots into a small wooden bowl and looked into Zenith’s eyes.
“What is it, love?“
“I have decided to leave… at least just for a while”
“Things are getting tougher… I am having to go farther to hunt, and find clean water." She took a deep breath and decided to just say it. “I am going to try to find Eden.”
“Zenith, no one even knows IF Eden even exists! I cannot allow it!”
“I know I can find it, Father has some old basic maps. And he has taught me every survival skill I could need. I can take care of myself.”
Jack came in with Vittoria on his shoulders. “The fire is going.”
He saw the look on their faces and knew whatever they were discussing was serious. He bent down and looked at Vittoria.
“Vittoria why don’t you go see if Astrid would like to play for a while before dinner”
“Okay. I’ll show her my quarter” she smiled and ran off to find her friend.
“So what is going on? Judging by the tension in the air it must be serious.”
“Your daughter wants to go off to look for Eden.” She said throwing her hands up.
Jack looked at Zenith. “Really?” he asked
Zenith sighed. “I just want better for us. You both MUST realize how much harder it is to find food and clean water. Dad you have taught me every survival skill. You have a basic idea which direction to go. I know I can find it. I will find it then come and get you all and we can move there and have a better life.”
Jack looked thoughtful for a moment.
“Why don’t we talk about this more after dinner”?
“Jack, you're not going to let her go!”
“I think we should give it some thought. We need to discuss everything, after dinner and after Vittoria goes to bed.”
Jeena, still not on board with it, decided to wait and voice her objections later. She busied herself skinning and preparing the rabbits for the fire.
Dinner was quiet and Vittoria could sense something was going on.
Zenith was even more resolute when she heard Vittoria’s stomach growl as she tucked her in to bed. She could not help but notice how tiny and frail Vittoria was.
She was determined to find a better place.
She returned to the fire. Her parents sat there grim faced. She noted their shallow cheekbones and increasingly loose fitting clothing.
She sat down. Looked to her father’s blue eyes - the same blue as hers. He smiled at her. “I am proud of you for wanting to do this, but I am not sure this is a good idea.”
“I know it is not a good idea,” interrupted her mother.
Zenith looked at them “Believe me I have given this a lot of thought, I believe in my heart there is a piece of land that is still healthy. Where there is plenty of fruit and animals to hunt and clean water.“ She said excitedly.
Jack looked at Jeena “We really won’t last much longer here.”
Jeena was near tears. “I know. I just… she’s our baby, I don’t want her to go alone. What if something happens to her?”
“Yes she is our daughter, but she is a woman and I have faith in her.” He smiled and put a hand on Zenith’s leg.
“Well then, I should go with her.” Said Jeena wringing her hands.
“Mother I will be fine. The people need you here. You have the most medical experience. Plus Vittoria needs you here to look after her.”
“Then your Father should go with you.”
“Dad needs to be here. It is almost harvest and the community needs him. He needs to continue schooling the children here. Besides He needs to hunt and gather for you and Vittoria while I am away. “
The harvest would be far from plentiful, as the soil was poor and the sun harsh. They had to cover the pitiful gardens with a leaf canopy to shield it from the harsh sun.
“You are needed here. Dad is needed here. I cannot stay here and let us…. I just put Vittoria to bed with her stomach growling." She whispered intently. “I can do this, I will be fine”
Jeena thought quietly. Vittoria was like a daughter to her, she knew she needed her.
“Plus I can go much faster if I go on my own, please Mom.”
Jack looked at Jeena “What if we have a meeting with the elders, see what they think of the idea?”
After a moment of thought her mother said, “I suppose."
“Could you meet with them tomorrow? I would like to leave as soon as possible.”
He looked into her waiting face. “I will talk to them first thing.”
Zenith was filled with something she had not felt in a long time… hope. And she had a genuine smile that she felt spread from inside of her.
Her father also took notice of this.