Authors: N.C. Reed
Billy was awakened the next morning by the constant honking of a car horn. It was unfortunate that it came during a part of his nightmare about the cars along the roadway. He sat bolt upright in his bed, sweating profusely, looking around him in panic.
It took him a minute to realize that he had been dreaming. Then he heard the car horn again and realized that all of it hadn’t been a dream. Someone close by was laying on their car horn. From the sound, Billy thought it was coming from his gate. Frowning at that, he dressed quickly, and hurried down the stairs. Almost as an afterthought, he put on his pistol, and then grabbed his rifle. Calling Rommel, the two started off for the gate.
Billy decided to walk to the gate, being careful to stay out of sight. He didn’t know who was there, or what they might want. After the rough time he’d had the day before, he decided that caution was the order of the day. He would have been cautious anyway, since daddy had taught him that it was better to go slow, and be careful.
An ounce of prevention is far better than any cure, his father had said. When Billy hadn’t understood, his father had explained.
“Think about a car, son. If you don’t keep the oil changed, and the car serviced, what happens?”
“It won’t run, daddy. Something will break.”
“That’s right, son. Something will break. Approach everything like you would a car. Preventive maintenance can keep a car running a long time without trouble. Preventive action in life can keep you from making a mistake that might get you hurt, or even killed. It’s not a crime to be slower than someone else. It isn’t a sign of weakness, either. It’s a sign of a cautious and careful man, who thinks before he acts. Preventive maintenance, son. Always do your preventive maintenance.”
Billy’s parents had recognized early on that Billy had a fascination with automobiles and machinery of almost every kind. He was able to absorb and maintain knowledge about cars, trucks, tractors, and other kinds of moving equipment far easier than most ‘normal’ men, and much more readily than he could grasp most other things. Seeing that, they had developed ways of transferring things Billy needed to learn into automotive terms, things that Billy could not only understand, but would remember.
Billy eased through the woods, rather than going down the drive. He was able to get to a spot not more than twenty-five yards of the gate without being spotted. When he was there, he peered through the trees at the gate.
Mister Silvers’ truck was at the gate, and Mister Silvers himself was leaning on the horn. His son was with him, Billy noted, and felt his anger flash slightly, remembering yesterday.
“We’re wasting our time, dad,” the son said just then. “He ain’t here, or he’s scared to come out. Let’s go home.”
“Shut up,” Jeremiah Silvers said sternly. “He’s probably watchin’ us right now, and no wonder, after what you two did yesterday.” Billy frowned at that. What had the ‘two’ done yesterday, he wondered? Deciding it didn’t matter, Billy stepped out of the woods just as Mister Silvers was about to hit the horn again.
The son saw him first, and his eyes grew overlarge in his head. Seeing Billy with a rifle, the younger Silvers started to raise his own rifle. Billy didn’t hesitate. Long hours of training kicked in automatically, and in less than a second, Toby Silvers was looking down the barrel of Billy’s rifle.
“Stop!” Jeremiah yelled, running to Toby’s side. He pushed the boy’s rifle down, and then smacked him on top of the head.
“You idiot,” his father scolded him. “If he was going to shoot, he would have done it from the trees.” The older Silvers turned to look at Billy.
“Billy, it’s Jeremiah Silvers!” he called.
“I can see that for myself,” Billy replied, his rifle still leveled at Toby Silvers. “What can I do you for, Mister Silvers?”
“Toby and Michelle said you came to the house, yesterday,” Jeremiah called. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine,” Billy assured him. “And I didn’t come to the house, just to the gate, where I was threatened and accused o’ doin’ somethin’ bad to the Widow George, and called the ‘dummy down the road’. I decided we wasn’t bein’ sociable no more, and left.” Billy heard the older man swear again and saw him turn to glare at his son.
“I’m right sorry about that, Billy,” Jeremiah told him. “They’re a mite scared. Try and understand that, and overlook it.”
“I ain’t scared o’ that. . . .” Toby began, only to wilt once more under his father’s glare.
“I don’t usually hold no grudge,” Billy called, lowering his rifle slightly. “What can I do for you?” he asked again.
“I just wanted to try and clear up this. . .misunderstanding’,” Silvers called back.
“Oh, I understood just fine,” Billy shot back, his anger swelling in spite of his best efforts. “Don’t worry, none. I wasn’t aimin’ on comin’ back.”
“Ever”, he didn’t add, but with the tone of voice he used, it wasn’t necessary.
“Now, Billy,” Silvers called back “ain’t no need to take that route. Your folks asked me to look after you, should anything happen. I’m just trying’ to do like I promised.”
“That’s what I was doin’ yesterday,” Billy told him flatly. “Mamma and Daddy always said I was to make sure you and yours were okay, if anything happened. You and the Widow George, and I did.”
“What about Henri?” Silvers called. “Was she okay?”
“No, she ain’t,” Billy shook his head, his anger replaced by the terror of the day before. “She’s dead. Looks to have been that way a while. I tried to bury her proper, but. . .but she. . ..” Billy trailed off, unsure of how to describe what he had seen. Of if he wanted to, for that matter.
“I can imagine,” Jeremiah Silvers nodded in sympathy. “It was good of you to try, Billy. Whether you could manage or not, it was good of you to go and check on her, and try to do right for her.”
“Just figured it was what my folks would want,” Billy shrugged.
“Billy, we need to work together, now days,” Silvers said. “We need to help look after one another. You’ll need help with your place, and I’ll need help with mine. We can help look after one another too. I don’t know how many folks around besides us has survived. We ain’t seen nobody but you in over a week.”
“I don’t reckon I need to be workin’ with your young’uns, Mister Silvers,” Billy was able to say calmly. “I don’t think that would do at all. They don’t like me at all, and after yesterday the feeling’ is mutual. But you need me to help you, just you, mind, and I’m glad to do it. Just give me a day or two’s notice, and I’ll be along when you need me.” Silvers nodded in understanding.
“That’s right decent of you, Billy, after what happened. And I am sorry about that. I didn’t think to say anything to the kids about our. . .arrangements, if you know what I mean, and I honestly didn’t know you’d be here. I just figured you’d be in town.”
“I was in town,” Billy surprised the older man. “Ain’t no one left there that I could see, so I packed up and came on home. I went back yesterday to get the stuff to bury Widow George. Still ain’t nobody there.”
“You been in town?” Silvers was astonished. “Land sakes, Billy, you could have taken sick!”
“I was in town when everyone else did take sick,” Billy shrugged. “Don’t know why I didn’t, but I never did.”
“Well, I’m glad of that, Billy, I am,” Silvers replied to this news warily. “But what if you’re carrying’ the virus? Just cause it didn’t kill ya don’t mean you ain’t got it in ya somewhere.”
Billy hadn’t thought about that. He didn’t know what to think of it now, anyway. He still didn’t know why he was alive, and everyone else in town was dead.
“Well, we best be gettin’ back,” Silvers said finally. “I just wanted to see how you were faring.”
“You need anything, Mister Silvers?” Billy called. He didn’t know why he did, considering that he was still pretty mad about yesterday.
“Could use some gas,” Silvers shrugged. “Other than that, just a few odds and ends. Ain’t never got too many nails and screws, or lumber for that matter.”
“I’ll see what I can come up with,” Billy told him. He didn’t mention that he was planning a trip into town to gather the things he needed himself. For some reason, he was uneasy. It might have been the younger Silvers presence, he didn’t know. But he knew he didn’t like it, and decided to be cautious. At least until he’d checked under the hood.
“Kind of you,” Silvers waved. “We’ll be seein’ you.” With that the two men got into the truck and headed back down the drive. Billy watched them go, not moving until they were out of sight. He headed back to the house, his mind full of questions he couldn’t answer.
This would need some thinking on. He took out his notebook an scribbled a hasty note to himself;
“Don’t know can I trust Silvers yet. Know I can’t trust his kids. Ain’t seen his wife. He needs gas, and lumber, screws and nails. See what I can do. Keep eye on them kids. Can’t see under the hood.”
He put his notebook back in his pocket. Something was still nagging at him, something he had meant to do, before the terror of Widow George’s house. Something he’d thought of in a fleeting moment while in town. He chewed his lip slightly as he walked, trying to remember. Finally he shrugged.
“If it was important, it’ll come to me,” he murmured. Meanwhile, he had work to do.
It was still early in the day. Not even nine o’clock. He decided to see if he could get his P L A N for town together, and go on in. Something was telling him not to wait. He didn’t know why that was, he just knew it was. There was some reason he needed to hurry a bit.
He sat on the front porch with his breakfast, the last of his fresh fruit for now. The orchards on the farm would give him apples, pears and peaches soon enough, but Billy figured these two oranges were the last he’d ever see, barring a miracle. Oranges wouldn’t grow here for some reason. Daddy had said it was because the winters were too cold, and Billy figured his daddy knew. Whatever the reason, he took his time, and enjoyed the oranges with some dry toast, a couple of scrambled eggs, and some lemonade.
Eggs he would have, he figured. The farm had a dozen chickens, for just that reason. He had made sure the coop was secure as soon as he got home. He hadn’t been giving them laying mash, so there weren’t so many eggs, and he knew not to eat the ones that had been laid while he hadn’t been here on the farm. He had disposed of them, and would now gather his eggs every morning.
He figured next year he’d let one or two brood, and then he’d have fresh chickens. He could eat the older ones as the younger ones started laying eggs.
As soon as he was done with his breakfast, Billy took out is notebook again. He looked over his notes so he’d remember what he’d thought about yeste. . . .
Suddenly he remembered that nagging thought. He hastily turned to a new page, and made another note for himself.
“Need to keep a journal. Get some notebooks and pencils, pens, in town. I need to write down stuff that I do, and stuff that happens, so I don’t forget.”
Satisfied that he had finally remembered that nagging thought, he turned to his list for town. It took him over an hour of hard thinking, and not a little of going and looking for stuff, before he thought the list was finished. He looked at the list, feeling another nagging thought. There was something he had meant to add. What was it? Oh, yeah.
Remember to look around. Never know what you might find that will come in handy later on. Another lesson his daddy and his mamma had taught him. Sometimes just looking will make you realize something you forgot. Sometimes, when working on a car, Billy would get that same odd nagging, like he’d missed something. When that happened, he would stop and study the car carefully, until he found the problem. Once he had left the oil pan plug out of Mister Jamieson’s truck and had been about to pour the new oil into the engine. Boy that would have made a mess. Billy had learned to trust those nagging pressures he sometimes felt. They had kept him from making mistakes more than once.
Finally satisfied with his list, Billy gathered his things, and called Rommel, who had been running around the yard, chasing and barking at squirrels.
“What would you do if you caught one?” Billy asked, laughing. “You ain’t a huntin’ dog, Rommel. That squirrel might wind up treeing’ you.” Rommel looked mildly offended at the tone, almost as if he could understand what Billy was saying.
“C’mon, then,” he called again, opening the truck door. His hurt feelings forgotten at the prospect of a truck ride, Rommel ran to the truck and jumped in. Together the two of them headed into town.
Somehow, the trip into town was easier today. Billy didn’t know if he was just getting used to seeing the cars with dead people in them, or if he was learning to ignore it. Either way, he was grateful.
His first stop in town this time was Mister Traywick’s. Billy attached the largest U-Haul trailer on the lot to his truck. He opened his notebook to check the trailer off the list, and saw his note to himself to look around. Putting the notebook away, he started looking around.
Inside Mister Traywick's car bay, Billy found a truck tank like those used by farm owners to carry fuel to their tractors in the field. This was a large one, and would hold two hundred gallons. Billy looked at it, wondering. If he put that thing in his truck, and filled it up, how would he get it unloaded? It would be too heavy, full.