Authors: N.C. Reed
“Maybe if we split up. . . .” Rhonda started.
“No,” Billy’s reply was flat, and final. “We stick together or we go home. Period.” Rhonda looked at him strangely at that, but nodded.
The two of them reached the first house, took a deep breath, and got started.
“I think that’s the last one, Billy,” Rhonda told him softly. She was looking at the 4473's from her father’s shop, and each one had the telltale mark she’d used to signify that they had checked the address. It was well after dark. They had hurried through the afternoon, wanting to get done and get home, for good.
Now it seemed they could do so.
“All right,” Billy nodded, almost smiling. “Let’s get this stuff loaded and get outta here. I always loved this town, but nowadays it gives me the willies.”
Rhonda nodded. She had lived here for two months alone. She knew all about that feeling.
It was the work of only a few minutes to finish loading, and then Billy had the truck running, heater working full blast. It was cold now that the sun had gone down. Rhonda huddled next to the vent, grateful for the heat.
“We’re not coming back,” Billy told her, still looking out the windshield at the ghost town they’d called home once. “Is there anything else you want? Now’s the time to get it.”
“No, Billy,” Rhonda shook her head. “I brought everything that meant anything with me when I came. I’m ready to go home.”
Home. Billy was inordinately pleased to hear her call the farm home for some reason. Putting the truck into gear, he started them both toward home.
The next week was a whirlwind for Billy and Rhonda. The two spent almost every spare minute listing and separating the goods they had recovered from town. Fortunately the large farm house had plenty of room because it seemed that everything that Rhonda touched was something that ‘didn’t need to be outside’.
Cloth, consumer goods, boxes, Billy just shook his head as the list grew and grew. Finally he pulled up short.
“I’d better start moving our stuff out here,” he told her calmly. Rhonda looked at him in confusion.
“At this rate, we’re gonna be livin’ in the barn,” he pointed out. Rhonda flushed a bit, looking at the ground.
“I’m sorry, Billy. There’s just so much stuff that can be damaged leaving it out here, that’s all. I promise I’ll cut it down.”
“It ain’t that I’m fussin’,” Billy told her. “But there has got to be a tipping’ point here, and we’re beyond it already, way I’m lookin’ at it. It’s a big house, sure, but it ain’t that big. There’s gotta be a way to keep this stuff safe, out here, or in the back shed. Plastic tubs, I can build wooden boxes, something.”
“Tubs would work,” Rhonda chewed on her bottom lip for a minute. “How many do we have?”
“I don’t know. We did use a lot of ’em for the ammunition and some other stuff, and I know we can’t take that stuff out. But what we can do is this—we got both these trailers and we got two more outside. We ain’t never gonna need more than two at the time, cause we can’t pull more than that, ever. I say we store that stuff in the same trailers we brought it here on. I think two of them will fit in here, with a little room to spare. We just keep ’em locked in here.” Rhonda brightened at once.
“That’s a great idea, Billy!” she enthused. “You’re very smart.”
“No, I ain’t,” Billy muttered. Rhonda frowned again.
“Yes, you are,” she insisted. “I know you may not know everything there is to know, but who does? And right now? In the situation we find ourselves in this very minute? You’re very smart for this kind of thing.” She paused, then rushed on.
“I’m glad you found me and asked me to come here, Billy Todd.” He looked at her for a minute, then grinned.
With the new plan in place, it was easier to work. By the end of the week, everything had been counted, tagged, and placed into a trailer. In the end, very little had to be taken into the house, after all. Rhonda did insist that all the cloth be taken in, and Billy agreed it was necessary. He had a good supply of moth balls, but as far as he knew, no one was making them anymore. At least in the house, the cloth would have a better chance of surviving.
Box after box of detergent, soap, candles, wax and wicks, were left outside. The same went for hygiene supplies, paper goods, pencils, and so on. There were so many items that Billy couldn’t keep them straight, or he didn’t figure he could, so he didn’t bother trying. That’s what lists were for, he figured.
Two salvaged refrigerators, which Billy had cleaned liberally with bleach, were pressed into service to hold OTC meds in, the two thinking that the colder temperatures would extend their lifespan. All the prescription meds were kept in the house, in cool, dry places.
The guns were another matter.
“We can’t keep everything here,” Billy told Rhonda. “In fact, I figure we need to start caching this stuff, at least some of it anyway. In case we have to hit the road. Guns, ammo, water filters, first-aid kit, clothes and such. Maybe some long term food, too.”
“That’s a good idea,” Rhonda nodded. “How do we hide it? And keep it safe? Dry?”
“With this,” Billy told her, holding up a piece of six inch plastic pipe cut four foot long. There was a cap on one end already. “We put our stuff in these, cap the other end, and bury them, along with maybe a saw blade, or something along them lines, so we can cut it open. Can use five gallon buckets too, if we seal the lids.”
“I’d never have thought of that,” Rhonda shook her head. “See? I told you that you were smart!”
“Just stuff my dad taught me, or I read in his notes,” Billy murmured, shaking his head lightly.
“Well, you still know it now,” Rhonda said flatly. “We’ll get that done. I’m anxious to go see this trade day! I want to know what people are trading, and what for. I bet a lot of them are using gold and silver now, too,” she added. Billy looked at her.
“I’d bet on it,” she nodded firmly. “Folks won’t want paper money no more, since there ain’t really no government behind it now. They’ll either want to barter, or take PM’s. Precious metals,” she added, when Billy frowned at the term.
“Well, that’ll be okay,” he nodded. She looked at him.
“You have any? Gold and silver coins, I mean?”
“I might,” Billy tried to evade the direct question.
“I have some,” Rhonda surprised him. “Daddy kept it all the time. He dealt in coins a little, on the side. Kinda like he pawned stuff, once in a while. I got a good bit.”
“I might have a good bit, too,” Billy finally told her. “Ain’t never had no need for it. But I reckon if some folks will take it, then we can use it.”
“We really don’t need anything, Billy,” Rhonda shrugged. “But that ain’t no reason not to be trading. My daddy always said there was no such thing as a bad trade day, just bad trades.” Billy nodded. He liked the way that sounded.
“Well, we can head over to the Silvers’,” Billy told her. “See what Mister Silvers found out about Franklin? It ain’t that far, I guess. We can go there, check it out.”
“You think we can?” Rhonda asked. “I mean, that it’ll be safe?”
“I reckon it will,” was all Billy said.
Michelle Silvers surprised them both by running to hug Rhonda as soon as they arrived. The two had decided to walk through the woods to the Silvers’ place, leaving Rommel and Dottie to guard the farm, so to speak.
“Oh my God, Rhonda! I am so glad to see you!” Michelle almost squealed. “Where have you been? What have you been doing?”
“I been livin’,” Rhonda shrugged, not overly impressed with the contact. “Billy came to town one day, and there I was. So he up and asked me to come out to his farm, and here I am.”
“You’re staying with him?” Michelle was almost aghast. “You can’t do that! You have to move in here! We’ll go and get your things right now!” Billy frowned at that, but said nothing. He didn’t want Rhonda to leave, but she was grown, and could make up her own mind. The two had talked on the way over, and decided that they wouldn’t share the things they’d done, or collected, however.
“Michelle, I’m not moving in here,” Rhonda told her, laughing the suggestion off. “I’m settled in perfectly well at Billy’s, thank you very much. But it’s great to have another girl to talk to,” she added, trying not to bring Michelle down too much. She didn’t really like Shelly Silvers, but then that was going around these days. In fact, no one had ever really liked her before the world had more or less ended.
“Why, that’s ridiculous,” Shelly told her. “You can’t possibly stay over there with. . .with him,” she changed her words slightly when a dangerous light appeared in Rhonda’s eyes.
“I can and will,” Rhonda told her flatly. “Anyway, we came over to say hi, and talk to your folks. They about?”
“They’re at the barn right now,” she pointed. “I’m sure they’ll be glad to see you and insist, insist, that you come here to live,” she added, her nose raising slightly.
“Shelly,” Rhonda smiled sweetly, “I’m all grown up, and haired over. Nobody insists to me. Not anymore. Understand?” Shelly frowned at Rhonda’s words, but nodded.
“Well, come on, anyway. They’ll at least want the two of you to stay for dinner.”
“Hello, Billy!” Mister Silvers called, when he saw the trio coming. “Who’s that stray you found?” he added, laughing.
“I heard that, you old fuddy!” Rhonda called back, laughing. “I ain’t no stray. I was perfectly fine, but Billy was worried to death over me, and made me come stay with him!” Billy was about to object when he heard Emma Silvers speak.
“Good for you, Billy,” the older woman nodded firmly. “Folks got to cling together nowadays, and you two will be good for each other.”
“Emmaline, don’t go tryin’ to do no matchmakin’,” Jeremiah warned, making both Billy and Rhonda blush and Michelle snort in amusement.
“And just what’s so funny about that?” Emma Silvers demanded. Michelle wisely made no reply, just looked at the ground. “You two gonna stay for supper?” she all but demanded.
“Long as we can get back ‘fore dark, ma’am,” Billy agreed, after looking at Rhonda, and getting her nod. “We walked over here, through the woods. Decided it’d be best to get a good trail blazed and started. Be smarter’n usin’ the roads all the time.”
“Good idea, son,” Jeremiah nodded. “Fine idea, in fact. Less attention we draw to ourselves, better off we are.” Billy caught Jeremiah’s eye, and nodded.
“Why’nt you two girls help Emma get supper ready while Billy and I take a last look at this fool horse. Won’t be a bit,” Jeremiah spoke easily, and caught his wife’s eye. She nodded.
“Come along, ladies,” she smiled. “I am getting hungry and Lord knows, Michelle, your brother is always hungry.”
“I don’t see how,” the girl replied. “He don’t do nothing.”
“Pot and kettle, dear,” Emma gave her a look. “Pot and kettle.” As the three went out of ear shot, Jeremiah turned to Billy.
“You been monitoring your radio lately, son?” he asked.
“Not the last few days, to speak of,” Billy admitted. “Been working’ to get Rhonda settled and tryin’ to keep up my chores. Did hear a bit a couple weeks ago that bothered me a might. About raiders hittin’ a place, killing’ some folk.” Silvers nodded.
“Bit more o’ that going’ now,” the older man told him quietly. “Been several families hit on one level or another. From gas siphoned to stock going missing to outright killing’ and burning’. One group in particular seems to be might well organized, no longer’n things has been like they are.”
“Anywhere around here?” Billy asked, leaning against a fence post, adjusting his rifle.
“Not right on top of us, no,” Jeremiah shook his head. “But they’ve been within a hundred miles of us in the last week or so. Hit a little settlement down Beaver Lodge way six days ago. Know where that is?”
“‘Bout to the interstate?” Billy asked.
“That’s it,” Jeremiah nodded. “Had about twenty folks set up down that way, trying to make a go of it. They had some cattle, and were planning on harvesting as much of the corn crop around there as they were able. Been a boring winter food wise, but they’d have stayed fed.”
“Would have?” Billy asked.
“All dead and gone, save a handful. Five people left, one o’ them hurt bad two more just little ’uns. They’re in a right bad way, to hear it on the radio. Less mouths to feed, but almost no hands to do the work. They asked that bunch at Franklin to give a hand, but they aren’t much better off for manpower. Afraid to leave their own places for fear they’d get hit while too many was gone.”
“Anyone offer to help?” Billy wanted to know.
“Three fellas offered to come help get corn up and gather the stock. Help the survivors get better hid, and ready for the winter best they can. Want food and gas as payment.”
“Reckon food’s about the new money, right now,” Billy said quietly. “You folks set okay?” he asked.
“We’ll get by, don’t nothin’ bad befall us,” Jeremiah said carefully. Billy grinned.
“Yeah, us too. I hadn’t planned on feeding’ two people, but I was set to do it, anyway, thanks to the Lord.”
“How’d that come to be, anyhow?” Silvers smiled. The two had just told each other the same thing without telling each other anything. They would help each other if needed.
“Well, I went to town. . . .”
“. . .and that’s when I realized who I was talking’ to,” Rhonda finished up. Emma shook her head.
“That boy is a plumb caution, he is,” she laughed. “He’s a good boy, Rhonda Higgins.”
“You ain’t got to tell me, Mrs. Silvers,” Rhonda grinned sheepishly.
“Are you two actually talking about Billy Todd?” Michelle looked incredulous. Rhonda turned flinty green eyes on her ‘friend’.
“We are,” she said quietly.
“Billy Todd’s a fine young man, missy,” Emma told her daughter flatly. “Pity that you can’t recognize things like that. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone like him to take care of you. You certainly aren’t able to take care of yourself, or at least you aren’t very willing.”
“I can too take care of myself!” Michelle shot back.
“When was the last time you built a fire, or brought in fire wood, or cooked a meal?” Emma challenged. “Can you make bread, Michelle? Kill a chicken, clean and cook it?”
“You and daddy do all that!” Michelle protested.
“And what, pray tell, are you going to do when we’re gone?” her mother asked calmly.
“What?” Michelle was brought up short by the question.