Saturday, June 27, 2015

There Is A Taste of Thyme-Sweetened Honey

I think this is what the ancients would call a score,” Todd Bolin said to himself, hands on his hips, battered military field coat crusted with crystalline snow. He could see his own shadow stretching toward the object of his quest, cast by the bright sunlight behind him through the open door of the city's utility garage. “I think I will call you Joy. Joy Rider.”

Ms Rider, Joy to her friends, sat alone in the middle of the garage, other machinery farther in the shadows or in other bays. She was bulky and powerful, taller by half again at least than Todd's own six foot four height. The plow on her front gleamed in the sunlight, beneath a light blanket of dust.

“Really? The ancients? From, like, three months ago?” Tim Walter asked, edging into the garage, keeping his eye out behind them for zombies. Some might call them biters, or rioters, or red-eyes – he called them as he saw them. “Not even gonna comment on 'Joy Rider' as a name for a municipal snow plow.”

I know, it's perfect,” Todd said. The younger man, slightly shorter but many shades darker and several measures thinner, made a sarcastic noise only half under his breath. “No, don't thank me. Thank Joy.”

Can you start her up?” Tim asked.

It's not a question I get asked often,” Todd said. “My skill is renowned. But yeah, I think Joy and I can come to a mutually beneficial agreement.”

They swept the garage with their flashlights, finding nothing. The building had been properly locked for some time before the Red Flu Riots; there were few opportunities to use a snowplow in southern Illinois in the late summer and early fall.

Tim climbed into the passenger seat and watched as Todd pretended he was going to hotwire the snowplow.  With a flourish, Todd held up the keys, which had been barely hidden beneath the seat.

"Wow," Tim said.

Todd turned the key in the ignition and the plow made several coughing, grumbling noises and started up, the engine unbearably loud in the small space. The young man instinctively locked his door.

Good call, bad neighborhood these days,” Todd said.

Can you drive it?”

Todd raised his eyebrows and stared at Tim. “Joy and I have come to a mutually beneficial arrangement,” he said firmly.

Time to get back to the others?”

We'll go slow and make sure we're not gathering attention first. Keep an eye out.” Todd pulled a small, ivory colored pendant out from beneath his shirt and kissed it, then tucked it back in and put the machine into drive.

He pictured Eve Aubrey making the face she always made when she was excited and joyful – hands clasped up beneath her beaming face, sometimes accompanied by a little dance. She was always child-like in unguarded happiness.

His hand strayed to touch his Brigit pendant beneath the double layers of tee-shirt under his sturdy coat.

They pulled the plow up just outside the tall, fenced in lot where they'd parked the motor homes. Inside the fence, a travel trailer, two motor homes, and a Ford F-750 tank of a truck hooked up to a reinforced supply trailer formed a rough circle. A sandy-haired boy no more than twelve years old came bolting pell-mell for the gate, followed quickly by a teenage girl still young enough to keep her bright red hair in stubby pigtails.

I got it, Ryan, chill out!” she hissed. “Go back to Marvie.”

“HI TODD! You're back!” Ryan shouted, grabbing the chain link with his hands with a clang. The men in the snowplow quickly looked around to make sure the boy's yelling wasn't bringing any hungry attention.

Ryan, dammit,” Tim began, rolling the window down.

Got it,” Todd said, opening the driver's door and swinging out and down to street level. “Hey, kid, good to see you again, it's been a couple hours. So, Kirsten's going to open the gate, I need you to go make sure Kolby and Galaxie are safetly contained. You know it's too big a job to ask Marvie to do it by herself, and a man's gotta look out for his people, right?”

Ryan nodded importantly and bolted back toward the circle. Kirsten gave Todd about as haggard a look as a fourteen year old could manage, clearly worn out from trying to keep Ryan and little Kolby occupied. The teenager swung the gate open while Tim, now out of the vehicle, stood watch. Todd climbed back in and pulled the plow inside the fence. The other two locked it up behind them, everyone safe inside.

Everyone” was a grand total of seven folks and one tiny dog. One Todd Bolin, traveler heading for the family he was separated from; one little old lady, Marvelle Jones and her Yorkie mix, Galaxie; one toddler, Kolby Dowling and his big sister Kirsten; one unmedicated preteen with ADHD, Ryan Michael Crombey, who made a point of introducing himself earnestly with all three of his names; two young men, both all that remained of their own folks, Tim Walter and Lewis Pentillion. All gathered up a couple at a time, except for the young men who joined the group one at a time, by Todd after he'd left his parent's farmhouse to go back to Minnesota and find – and protect – his family.

Lewis stood on top of the supply trailer, shotgun at rest over his arm. He gave the two returning men a nod, unlit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. Though it was chilly and icy snow frosted the ground and buildings around them, Lewis wore only an AC/DC tee shirt covered by an insulated flannel shirt, grubby jeans, and cowboy boots.

Ho, the Mullet guard!” Todd saluted as he, Tim, and Kirsten passed back into the circle of recreational vehicles.

Hey, smartass,” Lewis grumbled.

That mullet has grown more majestic in the time we've been gone,” Todd said. “Any more majestic and a bald eagle's gonna land on your head.”

Fuckin' right,” Lewis said. The cigarette moved to the other side of his mouth. “All quiet here.”

I made chili,” Marvie said, poking at a kettle suspended above their campfire, set in a small hole dug into the gravel of the parking lot. The fenced in area they'd camped in for the last night had once been a storage lot of some sort; the building attached had burned some weeks ago. Enough of a wall stood yet on the fenced in side to offer enough safety that young Ryan, baby Kolby, and dainty Galaxie could be allowed some freedom to play inside the circle.

It smells heavenly,” Tim sighed. “Smells like home.”

Smells like Hoosier fucks,” Lewis said. “Smells like something that might make them wanna climb a fence and have a bowl.”

Lewis,” Marvie chided, looking over her glasses at him, small brown face disapproving. “They're not Hoosiers.” After pinning him with her most stern face, she broke into a charming, naughty grin. “They're not THAT bad. They just eat people.” She giggled, covering her mouth. Galaxie danced around at her feet, delighted by her owner's mirth.

All right, let's eat up fast and store the food for the night,” Todd said, with a nod of agreement at Lewis. “If we have it put away by the gloaming, less for the red-eyed people eaters to come looking for.”

Where's the gloaming?” Ryan asked, confused. “Is it packed away?”

For the moment, kid,” Todd said, grinning. “Just for the moment.

He just means when it starts to get dark. Gloaming is a time, not a place,” Tim said, exasperated.

Says you,” Todd said.

Boys!” Marvie said stoutly. “Let's eat, shall we? And plot out what we mean to do tomorrow? Tim, you still got that map, right?”

I do, Miss Marvelle. Of course.”

Well, set down then. Let's eat. You heard me, Ryan Micheal Crombey. Set.”

I think we'll leave my trailer behind,” Todd said, regretfully, as they pored over the map much later in Marvie's motorhome. Kirsten and Kolby were asleep on a pull out sofa against one wall and Ryan was sleeping in a full sized bunk above the driver's area.

Thank goodness,” Tim said solemnly. “It's old, hideous, and not in great shape.”

"Not all 'at different from Todd, actually," Lewis said.

Yeah,” Todd said, quietly, letting the insult pass untopped. Eve would have loved that motor home, though – turquoise, chrome and white, still fitted with the vintage turquoise appliances inside. He'd found it in a backyard as they'd driven past, him in the Ford, Marvie and the kids in her Winnebago, and Tim and Lewis in the Airstream, being pulled however improbably by the Winnebago. Todd had pulled the convoy to a halt so they could investigate, then take, the motor home. Lewis had been happy to take over driving the Ford so Todd could drive the 1964 Travco. “But the snowplow is more important. I can drive it up front, and keep the roads clear for all of us. Only gonna be more snow as we get more northerly.”

Minnefuckingsota,” Lewis grumbled.

Language,” Marvie said, absentmindedly.

Sorry, ma'am,” the rough young man said dutifully.

There's a Fort there with people in it,” Todd said. “We can be safe there. I know someone there.”

He sounded so very sure, the others had no doubts to express. And he was sure, if only because if he'd lost the little family he'd left behind the way he'd lost his parents, he was certain he'd lose his mind.

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