Casey and her group left today. Thought I’d feel better, but I’m anxious. Her husband, John, said something that’s been bugging me all day.
“You know something, there’s a lot of people travelling the highways by foot up here. We tried to take a shortcut to get away from em, and ended up here. A lot of em are desperate for food and water — you could get a lot of workers just for access to the lake and a roof over your head.”
We had been having breakfast on the porch. First time in a long time we’ve been able to just sit down for breakfast and watch the pink sky shine over the horizon as the sun comes up.
“Not really enough work around here to need labour. We got enough to feed ourselves just fine”
“You might need men though. You know, muscle.”
I think I was offended when he said it. I don’t know if he could tell.
“Look, once it sinks in how bad it really is, people are gonna start claiming territories, gobbling up every bit of land that doesn’t have enough people or power to fight them off. It’s happening in Iron River already. Whole place is run by 3 families, constantly fighting with each other.”
I figured something like this might happen, people claiming land. I was prepared. I’ve got 2 shotguns, 200 shells, A .22 Winchester Repeater with 400 rounds, and, a Glock with 100 rounds. A compound bow with 60 arrows, a fletching kit, and extra broadheads. I can handle sieges and rowdy farmers for years. Maybe 6, 7 outright fights.
I feel a bit better now.
I didn’t think this would happen so quickly, though.
“That’s why we came down your driveway. You’re the only one up this stretch, we figured you might have a claim on the rest of the land.” Casey saved her husband and kept the conversation moving.
“Didn’t even think about it.”
I may have lied a little bit.
“Well you might wanna think about it, before someone else does.”
I didn’t like John.
But he has a point. I liked having nothing around. My back’s against the lake, here, last thing I want is to be surrounded.
“We’ll keep that in mind, then.”
Anna saved me. She launched into questions about their wedding. They were a bit younger than us, that’s for sure. To them, all this was new and exciting even before the war. I guess it still is.
After breakfast, the group left, and Anna and I went back to tending the farm, pulling the weeds and taking care not to tread on the tender green shoots that had sprouted overnight.
I decided I need cigarettes. Anna wasn’t happy about it but dammit, I’ll be lucky if I make it to 65 through all this anyway. She really wasn’t happy when I said that. Besides, I doubt anybody is making cigarettes anymore, so better get while the getting’s good. anyway, it’s a good excuse to see what’s running for a market around here.
So I loaded a cooler with ice and a few slabs of venison to trade, and began the long walk into town.
It took nearly half an hour at a jogger’s pace, and I didn’t get winded till the end of it. I prayed my pack would be lighter on my way home. I finally reached the four corners and a now-defunct stoplight that made up “town”.
The little red post office looked just as dirty as it ever did, though I think there’s plants growing in there now. The hardware store is boarded up. Yet lo and behold, Al Johnson’s Sporting Goods was open for business. Even the neon “Open” sign is still glowing in the window. Some things just never seem to change.
I opened the door, and the little bell chimed the same way it had my whole life.
“Lo, Billy.” All muttered, he was leaning against his counter with his dog curled up at his feet. “Good to see you.”
“You can say that again. It’s great to see the old shop still going. How in the hell are you keeping the lights on?” He even had the minnow tank running, gurgling away next to the bait fridge.
“Geothermal heating and solar panels. A couple years ago I had a couple of big-ass batteries installed along with an upgrade to my solar gear.”
I let out a low whistle. “How’s the shop doing?” I looked around. He seemed to have stock left. Hoodies and T shirts hung on the walls asking me if I’d hugged my porcupine today, the shelves were full of fishing tackle and hunting equipment, even some fresh packs of trading cards winked at me from his counter. How much stock did he have? How much of it sells?
I did notice all the guns had been taken off the walls.
“Not too bad, it’s something for me to do during the day, people bring in stuff to trade, keeps us fed through the winter, you know how it is.”
“I take it cash is no good anymore?”
He gave me a sly smile, and glanced at the cooler on my back. “Not these days, What’ve you got?”
“Venison steaks, couple slabs of ribs.” It was a pretty large store of meat, but more keeps coming through the land. I slid the straps off my shoulder and put the cooler on the counter, flicking the lid open.
Johnson peered in.
“What is it you’re after?”
“Cigarettes, if you got ’em, could always use some more rope. Plus a pen-knife and a whetstone, if you got em.”
“Shit, billy, this’ll get you all that, a box of camels, and a box of matches to boot.”
I laughed. “Hell, I’ll take it. I guess that’s all that’s left of Camel now anyway.”
A thought occurred to me.
“Hey do you have any spare solar stuff?”
His eye twinkled. I think he knew I was going to ask.
“I do, but this aint enough for all that.”
I was never good at this negotiating shit. I’m still not.
“What do you think would be a good price?”
“I heard you had a farm up on your land?”
Damn sheriff. Or John’s big mouth. I bet it was John.
“We’re working on it.”
“Grounds not too good ‘round here, crops are gonna be going scarce real soon. I’d split for a portion of the harvest, after you and your folk have had your share, of course.
I gave it a thought. “I can’t promise that, Al. We don’t even know how the farm’s gonna turn out. I don’t wanna end up stiffing you cause it doesn’t rain.”
Al thought about it. “Tell ya what. Partner up with me. You get this farm going we can sell it out of here and split the take. Whatdya say?”
I thought about it, I really did. Partnering with a trader like Al could make me fairly powerful around here. He’d be a good friend to have, and a worse enemy.
“No thanks, Al. It’s really not that type of farm.”
Al nodded amicably, but I could tell he was disappointed. He took the meat out of the cooler and put them somewhere in the back of his shop.
I smoked my camel on the way back up to my house. It tasted terrible, but a familiar sort of terrible.
Anna was even madder that I’d actually gone through with it and bought cigarettes. I think she’s forgiven me though, I promised not to smoke in the house. It’s not like there will be more once the box is gone.
I gave Evangeline her new knife, and showed her how to sharpen it and whittle with it. I then promptly took it away and told her that, if she needed it, she could ask me for it. At least until she was ten.
I think that got me back in Anna’s good books.
Whoof! Part three done. It’s been a crazy busy week and I almost forgot to put a shoutout at the bottom! Did you guys like it? Let me know in the comments! Check out Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t read them already!
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