Authors: N.C. Reed
“Why couldn’t I empty it into the tank at the farm?” he thought suddenly. Well, there wasn’t no reason, not really. He could just pump it out of the tank and into his own.
“Then I could refill it and take that to Mister Silvers”, he decided.
“Not that I owe him nothin’, I guess,” he added out loud. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get over his mad, and there was just something about those two kids that outright bothered him. It wasn’t their insults, either. Billy had a pretty good sense of when he could trust people or not, and right now, he just didn’t think he could trust those two.
“But I reckon that ain’t the issue, today,” he decided. He went and unhitched the trailer, and pulled his truck over to the shop. It took him half an hour to wrestle the large empty tank onto his truck and secure it. He stopped at last, winded. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he took a pull from the water jug he’d brought with him. The cool water helped him recover from the effort. He set a bowl for Rommel on the ground and filled it, calling the big dog over. Rommel readily drank the water.
Meanwhile, Billy pulled the truck over to the pump. He started to insert the pump into the tank, then shook his head.
“No power, no pump,” he chastised himself. He knew Mister Traywick had a generator and went to start it. The small generator was right where Billy remember it being, set far back into the shop in a corner. Billy checked the fuel and the oil, grateful to find both okay. He started the generator and flipped the switch on the wall that activated the pumps.
It took a while to fill the tank. Once it was topped off, Billy filled the truck tanks to the top. With that took care of, he pulled his truck back to the trailer and hitched it to the truck once more. Easing onto the street, Billy headed for his next stop.
He’d just been to the Co-Op yesterday, but he preferred not to think about that right now. He pulled around to the loading gate and got out, with Rommel trailing right along with him. The feral cats that lived here, taking advantage of the natural draw of a feed store to mice, yowled and hissed at Rommel, and Billy didn’t try to stop him chasing the cats. He wouldn’t catch them, he knew.
While Rommel entertained himself, Billy set about loading all the things on his list. It was a long, hard and dirty job, but Billy didn’t mind. The mind numbing labor helped him forget the horrors of the last few days. He worked steadily, stopping twice briefly to rest and drink water. It took two hours, but he managed to get everything on his list. The long trailer was over half full, and that half was crammed to the roof.
Once finished with his list, Billy walked through the store, looking around carefully. He picked up a chainsaw, with extra chains and oil, which he placed in the bed of his truck. He also took the time to look up the parts he would need, should the saw break down. He added a set of tires for his truck and for the Ranger as well. Various odds and ends were added as he walked, always trying to think of how he could use each item he found. He walked to the Carhart selection and picked out three pairs of insulated coveralls in his size, and four pairs of rugged pants as well. Six shirts and a heavy jacket finished his shopping.
He loaded his plunder up and called Rommel, who came running at once. The two of them got into the truck, headed this time to the hardware store. Once there Billy quickly gathered several tubs of nails and screws for Mister Silvers, things he’d left or overlooked on the day he’d left town. Billy wouldn’t need them, he figured, and he had told Mister Silvers he’d see what he could do.
Billy looked in the back of the store this time, and found something he’d never thought about…a tiller. He could use it. He would need to plant a garden and since his father had owned a tractor, he’d never bothered with a tiller. Billy didn’t plan on farming like his father had. With no one to sell to, he didn’t see the point, and he wasn’t that good a farmer anyway, he admitted.
Once he was finished, Billy looked into the lumber shed. There was a pretty good selection for a small town hardware store, and Billy picked through things fairly carefully. He loaded some wood for himself, in case he needed to make any repairs, or add on to anything, and then finished the trailer off with wood for Mister Silvers.
Next stop was the auto parts store. Billy took his time here, making sure he looked up each and every part he might need for his truck, the Ranger, and even the tractor, though he figured he probably wouldn’t use it. Better to have and not need, his daddy had always said.
Satisfied that there was nothing else here that he needed, Billy headed for the pharmacy next. He had a list of his meds, and went through the pharmacy very carefully, making sure that the stuff he took from there matched the words on his bottles exactly. As he walked out, he went down the aisles and took the things he needed to make a very good first aid kit. His parents had one, but he hadn’t kept it up to date like they had, since he hadn’t lived every day at the farm. He knew he should have, and frowned to himself at what his parents would have said about that.
While he wouldn’t have thought it when making his plans, his last stop took the longest. Maybe it was because he was tired, but going through the library looking for books that would help him took longer than he thought it rightly should have. But, he admitted, it was worth it, looking at one book he’d found. In it was everything he needed to know about taking care of Rommel. With this, he could go to the vet’s office and get everything he needed to give Rommel his shots and make sure he was healthy.
Billy made that his actual last stop. He wished he hadn’t.
He was glad he’d left Rommel in the truck. Billy had never thought about Doc Danvers having had animals in his office. Once more Billy was assailed by the stench of rotting flesh, and he wondered if he would ever be free of it. He couldn’t run away, this time, however. He chose not to look for the animals, knowing they would be in the cages in back of the building. Instead he went straight to the treatment room, and carefully read from the book he’d found, taking everything he’d need to see to Rommel’s health. He had gotten medicines for the cattle and horses from the Co-Op.
In hindsight, he realized that he could probably have gotten Rommel’s meds there too, but he hadn’t known what they were. He wished he had known. It would have spared him being in here, with the stench.
Billy felt a moment of sadness, and twinge of guilt. He should have thought about that, that animals might have been here. He could have come and let them go, but he hadn’t. Tears filled his eyes at the thought that these poor animals had died for lack of care, food and water, when he was just across town, hiding. He dropped his head for a moment, as the guilt threatened to overwhelm him.
“But how could I have known that no one would think to let them out?” he thought after a minute. “I wasn’t responsible for them. It wasn’t my responsibility to care for them, and I didn’t know they were here.”
Straightening up, he put the thoughts of guilt and sadness away.
“So long as the problem’s in the barn, son, leave it there. Don’t bring it into the house.” That’s what daddy had said. When Billy hadn’t understood, daddy had tried again.
“When you stop work for the day, son, don’t bring car problems home with you, even if you’re staying in your apartment right there in your shop. As long as the problem is in the shop, it has no place in your home.” Billy had understood that. Don’t bring trouble on your own house.
With that thought, and the memory of his Father’s voice comforting him, Billy lifted his head, and left.
He wanted to get home before dark. He still had a lot of work to do.
It was nearly dark when Billy finally pulled into his yard. Between the fuel tank, the trailer, and the stuff in the bed of his truck, it had been a slow trip. Billy’s truck was plenty strong enough to pull the load, but it was difficult to stop, and to keep steady. Fortunately Billy had always been a good driver. His father had taught him to drive on the farm, and he had taken to it with relish.
Billy opened the barn doors, then backed the trailer into the barn. He decided at the last minute to leave the entire rig there for the night. He was tired, and dirty, and hungry. Closing and securing the barn door, Billy went to the house.
He didn’t realize how tired he was until after a hot shower and a quick meal. He could barely keep his eyes open.
Deciding that unloading the truck and trailer could wait, Billy went to bed.
The next morning Billy arose to the sound of thunder. As he lay motionless in the bed, he could hear rain pounding on the tin roof of the farm house. The sound made him drowsy. He was almost back to sleep when he felt a thud on his belly. Looking down, he saw Rommel staring intently at him.
“Awright,” Billy grumbled, throwing the covers off. He went to the front door and opened it. Rommel walked out onto the porch, stopping at the sight of the rain. He paused, and looked back at Billy expectantly.
“Oh for. . .c’mon,” Billy grumbled again and led the dog to the back door. He opened the door that led out onto the patio. The roof covered not only the patio, but all of the area immediately behind the house, so the ground there was relatively dry. Rommel went out quickly and did his business, then hurried back in at crack of a nearby lightning strike and the follow up roll of thunder.
“Happy now?” Billy asked him. As if in reply Rommel trotted over to his empty food bowl and looked at Billy expectantly. Again.
“You sure are bossy this mornin’,” Billy mumbled, pouring the bowl full of food. As soon as he had touched the sack of feed, Rommel’s tail stub was wagging frantically. Billy couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the dog.
With Rommel attended to, Billy did something he almost never did.
He went back to bed.
The sound of rain hitting the roof soon lulled him back to sleep.
The rain lasted for three days. Hard at times, gentle at others, it continued without ever stopping completely. For the first day, Billy stayed in the house. He read some, he made notes to himself, and he rested.
He hadn’t realized how tired he was. He had slept off and on for most of the day. Usually just for a half hour or so at the time, once for almost two hours. He had fixed a light lunch, having forgone breakfast to return to bed. Supper was also just a light meal, as Billy didn’t have much of an appetite.
He tried to stay busy, though. Idle time was Billy’s biggest problem, he knew. If he didn’t keep busy at something, then his mind would wander and latch onto some imagined problem, possibly one he couldn’t let go of, and he couldn’t afford that.
He had placed notes all over the house to remind him that he had to focus. This was something he’d learned from his folks, as they tried to help him get his business started. He had notes to help organize his supplies, keep his books, tend to his daily chores.
He spent part of the rain filled first day making a list of all the things he should check on each day and another for things that needed checking at least twice a week. He then made one more for weekly items that needed looking after. The lists were part of the instructions left in the many notebooks his parents had assembled for him in the event he found himself alone, just like now.
Billy knew he wasn’t ‘dumb’, his parents had taken great pains to ensure that, but he was aware of his limitations, and his weaknesses. His parents had taken steps to ensure that as well. His father had translated that into car jargon, as he did most other things.
If you know your car is burning or leaking oil, you keep a check on it, right? Add oil when the car needs it. When you know that your clutch is slipping, and you can’t get it fixed right away, you baby it, until you can fix it. So, when you know something will cause you problems, you baby it. Never approach it head on, like dumping the clutch under a load. Never run the engine’s RPM so high that losing some oil will hurt it.
When you know what your weakness is, just like the clutch, or the oil leak, you can work around that weakness.
One of Billy’s weaknesses was remembering things. So he made notes. He made lists.
Check PV cells and batteries
Check fuel tank
Check house for leaks
Check water pump on well
And on and on. Billy wrote out four copies of each list. One for the front door, one for the back door, one for the barn, and one for the truck. He would always have a list somewhere nearby, reminding him of things that needed to be done.
Billy went to bed that night, satisfied that he’d done a good day’s work.
When Billy awoke the next morning, the rain was falling heavy again. He sighed, torn between being frustrated and a little bit glad. He was frustrated because he knew there was a lot he needed to do, and the rain really kept him from doing that.
But he was a little bit glad because he really wanted to take the day off. The day before had been a wakeup call for how tired he had been.
He decided that he would remain indoors. He could let the eggs go one day, he figured, and the cattle had grass and hay available to them, as did the horses. His truck and trailer were locked securely in the barn so they were in no danger.
Yep, he’d just rest today, and take it easy. Billy loved to read. Despite his struggles in school at times, he’d always been a good reader. Billy found that he could get lost in a book. Almost as if the book drew him in, and took him away to wherever the book led. It had been a great escape during tough times when he as younger.
He walked to the study and browsed for a few minutes. His mother and father had, over the years, amassed a large library for farm folks. His mother had always watched for good books for sale at the town library, and at yard sales.
He came across one of his father’s older books, called the Ranger Handbook. Billy wasn’t sure what it was about, but it looked interesting, and it felt right. Billy trusted that intuition in almost everything, and saw no reason not to trust it now. He took the book down, settled into his father’s old chair, and started reading.
At first he found the going difficult. The book was very detailed, and often the writing was so technical that Billy just couldn’t get it. But as he continued to read, the book began to flow to him much better. The instructions began to simplify, and accompanying diagrams and drawing helped him better understand what he was reading.
By the time he was a fourth of the way through it, Billy found himself immersed into the book. So engrossed was he that he didn’t realize how long he’d been reading until Rommel came to him, insistently wanting ‘out’. Looking at the clock on the wall, Billy realized he had been reading for over three hours. It was nearly lunch time.
“Wow, boy. Sorry about that,” he told the dog, laying the book aside, and rising. He took Rommel to the back door and let him out, then decided he’d fix a light lunch. Rommel was finished by the time Billy had mixed some tuna, so he let the big dog back inside, fixed himself two sandwiches and a glass of water, and continued to read over lunch.
Billy realized that his father must have read this book. There were notes in many of the margins, and some of those notes were addressed to him. To Billy.
The notes explained several items in the book in terms that Billy found easier to read and retain. Facts began to squirrel themselves away in his mind, mingling with other things his father had taught him over the years. Tactical solutions to problems he encountered. Ideas to improve his security at the farm. Billy began scratching notes to himself as he read, making sure to take note of the most important things. Or at least, what his father seemed to have thought were the most important things.
He paid extra close attention to those notes, knowing that his father had made them for him. As he read those notes, Billy began to think about the things he’d done the last few days. Now, looking back, he could see that he hadn’t been nearly as careful as he should have been. He’d gone into more than one place without his rifle. He wasn’t carrying extra ammunition for the rifle or his pistol. He wasn’t carrying his shoulder bag, but rather leaving it in his truck.
“I got to pay more attention”, he told himself, shaking his head. “Stupid, stupid mistakes. Mistakes that could get me hurt, or killed. I need to be more careful.”
As these thoughts started bouncing around in his head, Billy started re-thinking everything he’d done in the last few days. Was someone watching? Had they seen him? Did they know him? Know where he lived? Every question just brought up more questions, and with them more uncertainty. He had thought, at least some of the time, that he might be the only person left alive anywhere around. Thinking that had made him careless.
“I knew better. I know better. Dumb, dumb, dumb!”
Billy was starting to get what his mother had called ‘worked up’. His mind was racing, playing over all the mistakes he had made, the things he had done wrong, the chances he had taken, all in an endless loop. Finally he couldn’t stand it anymore, and he stood up. He paced all over the house, walking back and forth. He didn’t know how long he did that.
Rommel followed Billy every step of the way. He could tell that his person was upset, but the dog could see no threat. This wasn’t the first time his person had become like this, even when there was nothing to be afraid of. Rommel was becoming used to it, but he still didn’t like it. Finally, after a long time, (thirty minutes is a long time in doggy time) Rommel had had enough.
Billy stopped in his tracks, jolted from the circle his mind was thinking in. Startled, he looked at the dog, who was simply looking back at him. Billy stared at him blankly for several seconds, then grinned.
“Thanks, boy,” he said, rubbing the big dog’s head. Rommel leaned into his hand, encouraging Billy to scratch between his ears.
“Sorry about that,” Billy told him. “Sometimes I get that way,” he shrugged. Rommel licked him then, as if to say ‘apology accepted’.
“C’mon. I’ll get ya a treat. Seems I owe ya one, don’t I?”
Billy woke up on the third day with rain still hitting the roof. It didn’t matter, he decided. He had work to do. He rose quickly and dressed. He let Rommel take care of his business, then left the dog in the house while he ventured outside. There was no sense in letting him get all muddy, he decided.
Firstly, he gathered the eggs and threw out some mash for the chickens. He hadn’t been out yesterday, so there were several eggs. The chickens were glad to have the mash, it seemed, running everywhere trying to get as much of it as possible.
“Bad as Rommel,” Billy muttered. Despite his raincoat he was already soaked, and his mood was equally bad.
Next he checked on the horses. They weren’t in the stalls, and weren’t all that hungry, though the sound of grain hitting the covered trough did convince them to amble over and check it out.
With that out of the way, he walked down to the cow pasture, where the cows were staring to amble about as they were inclined. All looked healthy and whole, so he didn’t bother them further. He made sure they still had plenty of hay in the pole barn, and decided to call it a day. He wasn’t going to bother with the truck and trailer in the rain, he decided. He might slip and fall.
Billy knew he had made a lot of mistakes. He’d spent a long time the day before with those mistakes, those errors, playing through his mind again and again. He walked back toward the house, trying to clear his mind of that loop, and replace it with how he would make sure not to be so careless in the future.
It was four days before the ground was dry enough for Billy to decide he could be out, working. He had unloaded the truck and trailer, leaving only what he planned to give Mister Silvers. He had also drained the truck tank into the farm tank, emptying it so he could refill it for Mister Silvers. He frowned to himself at the thought of having the deal with the Silvers’ kids again, but Mister Silvers was okay, so far as Billy knew.
He’d just have to make allowances, and be careful.
Billy and Rommel climbed into the truck just as the sun was peeping over the trees. Billy wanted to be in and out of town as soon as possible. He had a short list of things he still needed, things he had forgotten. Once he got those things, and refilled the truck tank, he didn’t want to go back into town again if he could help it.
Billy frowned again. During the self-imposed isolation during the rain, and the mud, Billy was reminded of how alone he was. When he had his shop, there were always people coming and going, and he had the whole town to roam in, visiting and talking. He knew who his friends were, and who to leave alone.