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Title: "The Right Road"

Author: Darkover

Rating: T, just to be on the safe side. There are only a few mild swear words, but there is mention of both rape and cannibalism.

Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to either the book "The Road," by Cormac McCarthy, or to the movie of the same title. I was only intrigued by the characters, and as I am not making any money off of this, nor am I trying to infringe on copyright, please do not sue me.

Summary: A story of why the Veteran and his family adopted the Boy.

~ooo0ooo~

We followed the man and the boy because they were the first people we had seen in some time who weren't trying to kill anyone, but mostly because Molly, my wife, was worried about the kid. Granted, you don't see children very often any more. Left up to Molly, we would have approached the boy while he was still with the man, but I vetoed that. The boy might be with the man willingly, and he might not. It could be that they were father and son. It could be that the kid was the man's captive, and that the man was keeping the boy so he could rape him, or keeping the kid in order to fatten him up and eat him later. Horrors such as that are almost commonplace now.

Molly insisted that if the boy was in thrall to the man in some way, then that was all the more reason why we should help him. He was just a child, after all, and there aren't too many children left in this world. I understand that, but our children come first, I told her. Jimmy shadowed the boy for a few days, thinking that if he ever found the kid alone, he might approach and talk with him a little, find out what the relationship was between the boy and the man, and if they would try to harm us or not. That wasn't my idea, and I was not happy when I found out Jimmy had taken that risk, especially when he admitted that the boy had spotted him, and the man came up too quick behind the boy for Jimmy to risk making contact with him. So Jimmy did a quick fade. My son is good at that—he has to be. I taught him myself. If the man had tried to hurt anyone in my family, I would have killed him, but sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. In other words, if we see people and we're not sure if they're going to be trouble or not, we usually avoid them.

But they didn't seem like too much of a threat, so we shadowed them for a few days. I was leaning more and more toward the idea that they were just people like us—a father and a son who weren't looking for trouble, just trying to survive. But belief isn't proof, and I told Molly that before I would risk her, the kids, or even the dog, I wanted to be damn sure the man and the boy weren't going to be any danger to our family. Molly saw the sense in this, and she even scolded Jimmy for sneaking off on his own to have a look at the boy. "That's dangerous," she told him. Jimmy gave her a look of utter disbelief, and I knew what he was thinking; it's dangerous just to be alive. But he didn't answer back; all he said was, "Yes, Mom." Maybe there is something in his mother's insistence on observing the amenities after all.

Molly has always insisted it is not enough to survive; we have to stay human, too. She has always made it a practice for us to say grace before eating—whatever and whenever we eat. We don't have "meals" as such very often, since the catastrophe. When the world we knew was first wiped out, and she told me that she still wanted us to continue to pray and to give thanks for our food, my reaction was, "You're out of your mind!" But maybe it's like the story about the Englishman who always dressed for dinner, even when he was living in a jungle. It may be bizarre, but it serves a purpose. There are times when I think my wife's ideas are crazy, but if they're harmless, I go along with them. I'm the one who protects and defends us, but she is the glue that holds us together. If that means observing some customs that I think are useless, what the hell. Not only are all of us still alive, but we haven't turned on each other, and I can't say that about a hell of a lot of other people.

We haven't starved yet, either. While most of the time I use the rifle to take down the two-legged type of predator, I'm a more than able hunter, and a good trapper, even if most of the meat we eat is rabbit, squirrel, or rat. There are precious few animals around, but there are some, and no matter what happens, rats always survive. I have learned that there are three species that seem capable of surviving damn near anything: rats, roaches, and humans. I hope that isn't some kind of a judgment on the human race.

We might have approached the man and the boy sooner, but the man seemed to be ill. We couldn't be sure what was wrong with him, but if he had anything that was contagious, I wasn't going to take the risk of passing it on to my family. Molly agreed to wait provided we gave the kid a chance to join us if he seemed healthy. And there wasn't a damn thing we could do for the man, anyway.

When more than a day had passed since we'd seen the man, and the boy was alone on the beach, we figured something had happened to the man. I told my family to stay put, and I approached the kid. He seemed a little weirded out, but maybe that was normal under the circumstances, especially since one of the things he asked me was whether or not we eat our children. Maybe the kid hasn't been quite as sheltered as I thought.

Molly was as happy as if we'd found a hoard of canned goods. Happier, I think. As much as she's seen, as much as we've all survived, and she still has this incredible capacity for love and compassion. The kid reminds me a bit of her—I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it was because I could tell he wanted to cry, meaning he wasn't dead inside, but at the same time, he was tough enough to contain it. That combination of softness and strength. He is going to fit in with us, I think. Jimmy was eying the kid with a combination of wariness and curiosity. Sarah was looking at him wide-eyed, as if he were some kind of exotic creature. Which I guess he is; as I said, there aren't too many children around anymore. Not many families, either, but we've survived.

And we will continue to do so—all of us. I think that's what the kid meant by "carrying the fire." In a world like this, sometimes family is the only thing that will keep you warm.

Author's Note: Recently I saw the movie version of "The Road" for the first time. I watched it because Viggo Mortensen was in it. Once I saw the movie, I had to read the book. It was the movie, particularly its ending, that served as inspiration for this story, but this is one of those rare instances when book and movie are almost identical. BTW, reviews would be greatly appreciated.