Everything feels like a threat now. Ever since Sheriff Brown came through here, I’ve been giving myself whiplash trying to follow every snapping twig, every rustling leaf, and every creaking tree. It feels like my first deployment again — everything and everyone is a threat, and you can’t tell a piece of garbage on the side of the road from a bomb with your name on it.
At least then we had cigarettes to deal with the nerves.
Damned if I’m just gonna sit around and wait, though. I spent today fortifying the land around the house. I dragged logs around to reinforce the fence, and laid traps where someone might try and jump it. There’s not too many animal traps that I’m not using, but running around this forest as a kid made me an old hand at snares, pit traps, and deadfalls — and I got plenty of rope.
I took Evangeline with me. Anna wasn’t happy about it, but she’s gotta know exactly
where they all are. Best way to ensure that was to have her help me.
I tell you, though, I’ve never been prouder of my little girl. She wasn’t scared at all, and her little fingers took to the knot-tying quicker than I did when I was her age. I even showed her how to whittle the trigger sticks I needed. She loved it, shaving away at twigs, carefully and methodically, with a knife the size of my hand.
Man, I wish I could teach her this stuff during better times, though I suppose there’s no use dwelling on it. Tomorrow I gotta look around and see if I can find an old pen-knife around here for her. She’s a bit young, but if this is our life now, she’s gonna need to know how to use it.
We found a rabbit in one of my traps. She didn’t like that so much. I told her what my dad told me when he first took me hunting. This kind of thing is natural. Humans, at our core, are animals, and we need to eat animals to survive. If it wasn’t us, probably a fox or an eagle would have gotten it. It’s part of the natural cycle of life, neither bad nor good, it just is.
“Like Lion King?”
Yeah. Like Lion King. Just call me Mufasa.
I taught her how to pray over the kill the way the indians used to, thanking it for its life, with which we will sustain our lives. She seemed to feel a bit better after that, my little angel.
The stew was delicious. Damned if I know how Anna does it. Every time I try to cook it just ended up tasting like chicken. Anna says that’s why she doesn’t let me cook.
That’s probably smart.
But I feel a bit better now than I did this morning. Less anxious anyway. Maybe tonight I’ll get some sleep.
I was right to put up those traps. We had company today.
Nothing sinister, they came this afternoon, while we were tending to the farm. Stupid me was caught completely off guard. If they hadn’t shouted ahead they could have snuck right up to us. I didn’t even have my gun.
“Angel, go inside.”
“But I wanna meet the people.”
“Right now.” I used my best “dad” voice: a little drill sefeant, a little of my old man. I don’t like using it, but when I do, it works. Without another word she went inside. Sheriff Brown was one thing, but I don’t even know these people. I flicked open the clasp on my hunting knife.
“Hey! Hello there!” a young-looking blonde woman called out. There were three men with her. They were dirty, sunburnt, and thin, but didn’t look like a threat. The woman’s long, fraying hair was tied back with a bandana above an angular, dirt-covered face. THe man next to her was shorter, and seemed to have a bit more meat on his bones — enough to retain some of the boyish features around his cheeks. The man behind him, though, was gaunt. His tall, thin frame didn’t seem to be weathering the winter well. His long, shaggy hair kind of made him look like a hippy. In stark contrast, however, was the man next to him. He was short, balding, with a huge beard he’d clearly been growing for much longer than the war. In front of him he carried a belly that even the harsh winter couldn’t stop.
“That’s far enough.” I held out a hand.
The group stopped. My heart was pounding in my ears and my adrenaline was flowing. I was a soldier again, scanning the perimeter for enemy combatants.
Anna put her hand on my arm.
“Who are you?” She called out.
“My name’s Casey!” the blonde woman called back. “This is John, my husband,” She pointed to the shorter man next to her. “And that’s Mike, and Evan.” She indicated to the tall man and the fat man in turn. “We’re headed towards the soo, but we’ve run out of food, we we’re hoping you could lend us some?” She looked around at her friends, “and maybe someplace safe to stay the night?”
“We should help them.” Anna squeezed my arm. I looked down at her big, brown eyes.
“Stay here for now,” I called back to the group. “We’ll talk about it… If any of you move, you’ll be shot.”
It was an empty threat, but they didn’t know that. I think.
Anna and I moved away from them, towards the house. To their credit, the newcomers waited patiently.
“We should help them.” Anna repeated. “We have extra food, and space enough.”
“We don’t even know them. They could be anybody or anything, who knows why their even here.”
“You’re being paranoid. Look at them, they’ve been travelling and it looks like they’ve had a hard go of it.”
“The world’s ending, everybody’s had a hard go of it.”
She gave me that look, the one that makes me feel like I’m being an obstinate eight-year old. No wonder she was such a good teacher, really. I can’t imagine what that look did to actual eight year olds.
“Bill, we can’t just leave them when we can help.”
“We can and we should, look –” I shuffled about a bit to make sure the group couldn’t see us arguing. “If word gets out that we have enough food and supplies to be giving them away, there might be more people coming for handouts. And if we run out of food to hand out, the desperate will just take it. We shouldn’t be building a reputation for charity.”
She stared me in the eyes. “Yes, we should.”
You know, I’m stubborn, but Anna could stare down God if she thought it was the right thing to do. I didn’t stand a chance.
“Fine. They can stay one night, but in the shed. I don’t want them in the house with Eva.” I thought for another moment. “And they have to help with the farm.”
Anna smiled. Man, that smile does something weird to me. My whole body feels warm, and light.
She ran off to tell the group what we decided. She seemed almost as excited as they were. Casey picked her up in a bear hug I didn’t think the thin woman was capable of.
To be fair, they seem an alright bunch. All three men took to working on the farm without hesitation, while Casey and Anna brought water up from the lake and worked on dinner together. Evangeline loved the company. Evan, in particular, seemed to get along well with her.
Casey told me later that he had a sister around her age who died when Detroit went up in smoke.
All four were old friends, raised on the same street in Madison Heights. They had been camping in Wisconsin when the bombs went off, and managed to hole up in a hotel over the winter. Once the snow had thawed and the temperature went up, they decided to head east. Mike’s uncle had a house by the Soo, and they decided to walk the whole way.
According to them, they weren’t the only ones on the road. They’d passed maybe a hundred in only a few days walking from Wisconsin. Everyone hungry, no one really sure what is safe to eat or drink. Money in the outside world is useless now, and they hadn’t eaten since they left.
I know we’re doing the right thing, but I can’t shake a bad feeling. If I learned anything in the war, it’s that doing the right thing doesn’t always keep you alive.
So, here’s the second part! What do you guys think? Sorry this went up a bit late today, I’ve had a really busy week. Will try and get next week’s edition up before 12!
Check out Part One Here