The neighbors being gone is actually a lot more helpful than I thought it would be. It wasn’t till today that I realized I’d never seen much of Robinson’s house. It’s been so long since I been inside I can’t remember much. Seem’s like nothing’s changed, though, except now it’s Nate, Ted, and Elaina’s house.
They’re a goofy bunch. I didn’t really notice until this morning over breakfast. Ted and Nate cracked jokes and worked off each other like a trained comedy duo. Come see Laurel and Hardy perform live on my front porch. Ted would tell a story about one of his students, and Nate would bring it back to something they did as kids. Their energy was infections. Even Elaina came out of her shell a bit and started laughing along.
“You have a really nice place here, Bill.” Nate said as we were cleaning up after breakfast. We couldn’t run water, but we bagged any leftovers and wiped down plates. We’d wash them in the river later, but for now we set them in a tub by the sink.
“Thanks. We got really lucky we were able to get up here in time.”
“I never would have believed anywhere could be this… normal, nowadays.” Elaina was entertaining Eva, playing cards with her. I think they were playing Crazy Eights. I haven’t taught Eva poker, yet.
“Honestly I didn’t even know how bad it was out there until yesterday.”
“You’ve not had any Scavengers come through here?”
“A few, but I handled them.”
Nate snorted. “I bet you did.”
“The road’s not really busy. Nothing like the highway. A few people come by in the morning, a few people in the evening, but that’s it.”
Ted scratched at his neck. “Makes sense. Most people only travel early in the morning or late in the evening. It’s the only time it’s safe.”
This confused me. “Yeah?”
“Wow you really are sheltered here.” Elaina called from the table. “The Scavengers only come out during the day.”
“Dad, what’s a Scavenger?” Eva didn’t even look up from her hand.
“A bad guy, honey.”
Elaina leaned in over the discard pile. “Really bad guys. You stay away from them, you hear” Eva seemed a bit surprised by the woman’s intensity, but she nodded. “Good.” Elaina leaned back in her chair.
“Why do they only move during the day?”
She shrugged. “laziness, mostly. It’s no hard and fast rule, but they don’t really have a leader or… goals. They mostly do what they want and I think most of them can’t be bothered to get up early or search for anything in the dark.”
I raised an eyebrow, but she hadn’t even looked up from her cards. Nate looked at me and shrugged. He caught it too. She knew a lot about the Scavengers.
“Yeah you don’t wanna get caught on the road during the day. ” Ted continued on blithely. “Nate and I were hiding under a car when you guys came by. Figured it’d be safest to hunker down till nightfall.”
“Well I’m glad you were there.” Elaina looked up from her hand. “Seriously.”
“We’re glad Bill was there.” Ted said with a chuckle. “Not sure we could’ve handled that on our own.”
“What we’re you doing there anyway?” Nate asked.
Anna caught my eye. We hadn’t told them that they were invited to stay longer than the night yet.
“Looking for survivors, trying to get a lay of the land after the thaw. I had no idea there were so many people still walking around.”
“Why were you looking for survivors?” Elaina looked up from her cards again. She doesn’t miss a tick, that one.
I took a breath. That hesitation seemed enough to garner everyone’s attention. “You see that farm out there?”
They nodded slowly.
“Well, we need that to keep eating. But that, plus the water, could make us a target. This much land is hard to keep secure. Figured we could use some help protecting it, plus –”
“What my husband means is,” Anna cut me off. “We have a lot here. More than we need, strictly speaking. We thought we could build something special here. A sanctuary for people trying to rebuild after the… war. Actually we wanted to invite you to stay here as long as you like.”
I nodded. “What she said. It’ll be hard work, and at some point we’ll probably have to deal with scavengers, but…” I thought for a few moments. “It’s a damn sight better than walking around just trying not to die.”
There it was, layed out before them as best we could. It hung in the air like that incense they used to burn at church, almost suffocating.
“You don’t have to stay if you don’t want. We’re not gonna make you. But you have a home here if you’d like.” Eva leaned across the table to Elaina. “If you stay we could play more.”
A smile broke across Elaina’s face, and I released a breath I didn’t know I was holding. She looked at my daughter. “That would be a lot of fun.” Then she looked back at Anna and I. “Where would we stay? No offense, but there’s not a lot of room here.”
“The neighbor’s houses are empty.” I said. I’d already thought about this. “They never made it up. At this point I don’t think they’re gonna.”
“Neighbors?” Ted looked pensive. “How many houses are there.”
“Bout six on that side, heading out to town,” I said, pointing to the west. “And eight that way, up to the peninsula.” I jerked my thumb behind me.
“You want us to squat?” Nate asked.
I shrugged. “Better you than a Scavenger.” I could tell it wasn’t quite what they wanted to hear, but it was the truth. The old rules didn’t really apply anymore.
“How many are empty?”
“All of em.” I said. “Take your pick.”
“Why don’t we go take a look at the places, and it’ll give us some time to think about it.” I liked Nate. He always seemed to come up with a practical idea.
I agreed to show them around. I’m not usually very tricky, but I was quite proud of this one. To try and give them another reason to stay, I lead them down to the beach. Sure, it might be a shorter walk to trudge through the woods, but going down to the beach, and then back up the neighbor’s stairs, was a much more appealing walk.
The view can’t be beat.
Water as far as the eye can see. There are a few islands spotting the seascape, popping out like green tufts of hair out of the gray surface. Early in the morning the water is flat as a mirror. Mist is still rising off the lake. The sun hasn’t quite broken through the clouds yet. The gray stillness of it all is punctuated only by the soft crunch of the sand beneath our feet, and the mournful cry of a loon somewhere in the distance, looking for it’s lover. The gasps came almost on cue.
I ignored them, though, and powered on. Walking silently down the beach and turning up the stairs to the Robinson’s. Everyone fell back a few steps, though, trying to steal a few last glances at Lake Superior.
But soon the view was hidden behind the trees again as we climbed up to the house. When we reached it, I busted us in.
“This place is nice.” Ted commented as we walked inside. It is nice, if a bit outdated. Despite its meticulously-kept appearance (courtesy, no doubt, of Mrs. Robinson) the green carpeting and wood-panel wainscoting on the walls just reminded me of an old golf club from the 70’s. Knowing Mr. Robinson, that was probably on purpose.
“Look at that.” Elaina had turned around to look back at the water. It was something to look at. The north wall of the kitchen was mostly a window, and it extended all the way into the living room, with a sliding glass door going out to the porch. From the window, you could see over the trees out onto the water. Miles upon miles of pristine lake. The clouds were starting to break, the breeze was starting to blow, and the sun was beginning to shine down onto the rippling surface of the water. It was breathtaking.
I walked up next to her slowly, trying not to break the spell. She was mesmerized, her hand clasped over her mouth as she stared out into the great blue yonder. You didn’t get this view from my house.
“It’s really something else.”
She didn’t say anything. She was engrossed in the moment.
“There’s three bedrooms and a couple bathrooms, though I doubt those are any good now.” Nate came back from a hallway I hadn’t even realized he’d gone down. “This place could be perfect.”
Elaina and I turned around to face Ted and Nate.
“I’m pretty much sold.” Ted said. “We’ve got nothing to lose and…” he gestured at the view. “this to gain.”
“Can we both stay here?” Nat looked at me.
I shrugged. “I don’t care. Do what you want.”
“Hell yeah!” Ted held up a hand and Nate slapped it with gusto. “Roomies!”
Elaina and I both snorted.
“Do you guys think I could stay here too?” Elaina asked. “I’d rather not be all by myself out here.”
They stopped a second. I don’t think they were expecting the question, but they didn’t take any time to think about it.
“Hell yeah!” Ted said again. “The more the merrier!”
Elaina broke into a wide smile. Ear to ear. It was the biggest one I’d ever seen on her.
So I have neighbors again. And friends, I guess. That’s… new… but also normal. It’s a good feeling, and they’re a good bunch. No matter what happens I think it’ll be good for all of us to have each other.
I hope it lasts.
Whew. Really sorry this took so long guys, I hope you like it! I’m back on track now and don’t plan on taking any more time off from the schedule till this story’s done. I’ve not been doing nothing, though, I’ve been doing a lot of plotting for The Gates of Eden. I’ve got a good idea where it’s going now, and I’m really excited to see where it takes me.
Hope you enjoy the ride! Happy Easter and Happy Reading!