Continued from Delirium Jane: Part II
I slip in through the front door of the house that I share with a Kendra, Lewis and Sam. In the beginning it had been a bit awkward, three random strangers assigned to a house simply because they happened to arrive at the same time. Lewis had been convinced that he had died and gone to heaven. He couldn’t believe how lucky he had been to be assigned to live with three women, all under forty. But the novelty wore off as he learned the dangers of women in close confines and his fantasy of an orgy with him at the center was replaced by a delicate dance around hormones and mollification. With time he did manage to pair up with Sam, allowing Kendra and me to lower are guards and ease into the communal life style.
“Hey Jane, I got an extra pub chit today. You wanna go down to the center?” Kendra says, looking up from her book in the waning daylight of the living room.
“Cameron brought it in for me. I think his dad is trying to get into my pants.”
“Or Cam is.”
“He’s only fourteen.”
I blink at my roommate; as smart as she is, she can be a bit dense. Kendra is one of the useful people. She had been a high school teacher. Not one of those “my-career-as-an-artist-didn’t-pan out-so-I’m-going-to-teach-history-or-something” teachers. She is brilliant, well rounded, and has a real knack for explaining complicated things simply. Teaching is her gift and the community rewards her well for her skills, usually with extra rations which she graciously shares with me.
“Sure, let me get cleaned up.”
I stop at my room on the second floor for a change of clothes before I head to the bathroom. I strip out of my coveralls and do a quick sniff test. I had showered the day before and today had not been particularly grueling, so I settle for washing my face and cleaning the grime from my hands.
That’s one of the things we have had to get used to; the useful people, somehow, keep us flush with running water but we have all learned the hard way how valuable and sacred it is. We have grown to respect and conserve it. We have learned not to take the twist of a knob for granted. Well, some of us accept that running water a luxury. Those that haven’t quite learned that lesson are policed closely by their roommates and the fear of running out.
“Thank God for apples,” I say as Kendra places a mug of cider on the table in front of me.
“I was always more of a wine drinker,” she says.
“Shoulda’ been in California when the dead decided to not stay dead.”
“I heard Kirk is working on building a still. He’s gonna make some potato vodka.”
“Waste of spuds if you ask me. I only ever drank vodka with a mixer and apple juice is the only juice we have. Might as well just drink cider.”
“I was thinking we might mash up some tomatoes and make Bloody Marys.”
“I would kill for a Bloody Mary. Even a crappy one, you know those pre-mixed ones?” I say, trying not to drool at the thought.
“He was going to grow some hops for beer, but the Captain shot him down. Told him our grain was too valuable as flour to be use as wort.”
I take a sip of my cider. It is a bit sweet for my tastes but I’ll take what I can get. “We’re lucky the Captain lets Kirk make cider.”
“He’s playing with a mead recipe. He says he could make that year round, because honey stores well.”
“You’ve been talking to Kirk a lot lately, haven’t you?” I say with a wink.
Her cheeks flush and she avoids my comment by taking a drink.
Some people reminisce about clothing; others lament the loss of the flat screen TV and cable. Kendra and I, we dream of alcohol. Beer. Wine. Whiskey. Rum. It doesn’t matter. I had only ever been a social drinker and a moderate one at that, but I missed it. Perhaps it was the loss of the option that I mourn.
“If they ever opened up the apprentice program to adults, that’s what I would want to do,” I say.
“I’d want to apprentice under Kirk.”
“Ladies, mind if I join you?”
I look up from my drink to see a short broadly built man with shaggy red hair and a neatly trimmed beard. I smile at the stranger and motion to the empty chair.
“New in town?” Kendra asks. The question comes from habit, after years of making small talk. It’s obvious he’s new to town; take a population of two hundred subtract women, children, and taken monogamous men and you’ll have a tendency to notice a new face.
“Just passing through, name’s Skip,” he says.
“Jane. I didn’t know there was a convoy in town.” I glance around the quiet, dimly lit pub that had been a senior activity room in an earlier life; there is a poker game in progress and a teenage boy flirting with an older woman at a corner table. Next to the bar, another stranger was working a small group of men.
We aren’t the only survivor community. There are pockets of them around, some larger and more sophisticated than others. Mussel Ridge is one of the larger and more organized towns in the area and so we periodically get convoys passing through looking to trade and share information and resources. People don’t travel much these days, but when they do it is heavily armed and with great fanfare. The last time a major convoy passed came through, the Captain ordered it a holiday and cancelled all non-essential work.
“No convoy. Just passing through.”
I raise an eyebrow and take another sip of my cider. “Alone?”
“Me and my mate.” He nods toward the stranger at the bar.
“Mate? Are you British? I don’t hear an accent,” Kendra asks.
Skip laughs and shakes his head. “He’s my first mate.”
“I’m from the coast. I have been living in a community like this in Rockland.”
“Rockland has been secured?” I ask and lean forward, eager to hear more news of the outside world.
“Not exactly. We’ve secured Port Clyde and when we are organized and feeling lucky we make supply runs into Rockland.”
“So the coast is bad?”
“It was the peak of the tourist season when the virus hit, plus people were fleeing from New York and Boston to their summer homes. The coast is crawling with brain-deads.”
“Is there any other type of tourist?” I smirk.
“I heard Lobster Fest was in progress,” Kendra comments.
“The coastal towns are a mess. Their populations were swollen from seasonal residents, but Rockland had an additional 70,000 people in town for the Festival.”
I shake my head. “So stupid. They should have cancelled. There had already been reports and warnings at that point.”
“Meh, no one expected it. It all happened so fast. Outbreaks are for the cities, not rural Maine. If it hadn’t been for the influx of visitors from out of state, things could have turned out different.”
With the thought lingering and painting alternate realities in my mind, I down the last of my cider.
“Want a re-fill,” Skip asks.
“That was my last chit.”
“I brought my own.” He pulls a silver flask from his jacket pocket. “Jameson. The real deal.”
Kendra and I stare at him wide eyed. No one just carries around liquor with them. It is too valuable; only broken out for special occasions or as a bargaining chip.
He takes our silence as consent and pours some whiskey into our empty glasses.
“So you were telling us about being a pirate?”
Skip leans back in his chair. “Our leader has approved my request to take one of the Rockland windjammers and set up trade. Graham, my first mate, and I are looking for crew. We need a dozen hardy souls to sail the coast, set up trade routes and relations, witness the devastation, and maybe even cross the pond to see how Europe fared.”
“So . . . why are you here? You’re a long way from the coast,” I ask.
“It’s harder than you’d think to get people to leave secured communities.”
“Sounds like suicide if you ask me. There are crazies out there. Real militant fanatics. Pull into the wrong harbor and you’ll wind up with your ship stolen and throats slit,” Kendra says.
“Bright ray of sunshine, you are,” Skip says.
“And I’m not even going to start on the horde of rotten corpses just waiting for you to fuck up.”
“So you ladies can see my predicament.”
Continue with Delirium Jane: Part IV