Spending long days and weeks wandering the irradiated wastes that used to be my homeland, accompanied only by a faithful dog, sometimes I wish I could stay away from human habitation forever. Everywhere I turn I see evidence of how flawed we are – and I don’t just mean the devastation we wrought on nature itself. Raiders pillaging everything in sight, regular people making hard choices, the remnants of our once “progressive” and “gilded” society burned out all around us.

 It would be easier to leave the past behind if I didn’t see it everywhere I looked, and honestly the hardest-hitting reminders are the few good people who still exist, trying to hold on to any shred of decency and civilization they can.

I met an older woman today caring for her son who had been hooked on Jet. Having used the stuff once or twice to escape disaster, I know it’s no fun. Can’t imagine being hooked on the stuff, but seeing this place, I understand the appeal. She ran a small trading post, not much more than four walls and some empty shelves, and local youths were giving her problems.

They weren’t raiders, yet, but they sure adopted all the social trappings – bravado, threats, undeserved violence for the barest of slights. Apparently her son had taken the last of their stash and they arrived to collect and take revenge. Armed with just a baseball bat and a home-made pipe gun, she was clearly outmatched.

I was so very tempted to keep on walking, to take my dog and continue into the wastes, not getting involved. Getting involved is what gets you killed, and I’m not looking to die any time soon; certainly not at the hands of some drugged-up teenager. What stopped me was the sound of her son’s sobbing. This twenty-something, high as a kite, with no clue or sense about him, protected by the only family he had, outnumbered and overwhelmed.

Their confidence shook when I dropped the first one. It turned to panic when the second went down. They didn’t know where, who, or what I was, only that I had sent two of them to the great beyond with as many shots. They could have dropped their guns, they could have run away. If they had, I would have left, my point made. I wouldn’t have gotten involved further. Instead, they started shooting.

Poor decision.

The three remaining toughs didn’t know where I was, or that their little zip pistols couldn’t hope to match the range of my prewar sniper rifle. Down they went, never knowing who bested them. I like to think they knew why they died, but I try not to focus on that too much.

The woman running the store was relieved to see me, and even bought most of the thugs’ possessions off of me for far more than they were worth, as a gesture of thanks. She asked if I were a mother. I changed the subject.

Even kindness can hurt, I suppose.

I marked her store’s location on my map and started again on my journey, wishing her well with her son.