copyright 2012 by Katherine Gilks
“Why are you still following me?”
The man’s voice was a mixture of frustration and amusement, and he kept himself from looking back toward the woman walking behind him. He was quite confident that she could have overtaken him on the road if it were not for the wagon that she was lugging. For the past five days, he had grown steadily used to her being with him. They had reached a tacit understanding that they would travel together, and he had just this morning decided to put some of his gear into her already-full wagon. Nonetheless, he still found it odd that she had picked him – out of all people – to accompany in a state of wandering. Her sudden appearance had reminded him of his sister, and he had to put off thinking of either woman to keep himself from crying. It was impossible for him to ignore the woman behind him, however, because even when they wandered for hours in silence, her footsteps and the wagon made copious amounts of noise. His own footsteps echoed on the pavement or in the mud, and he understood why the woman preferred to talk. It was what might have been referred to as “mindless womanly chatter” in other times, but it was far preferable to silence.
“Because you are familiar,” the woman answered, sounding just as frustrated with his question as he had sounded asking it. “There is hardly anybody left that I know now. I know you and I can trust you.”
“Can you trust me?”
Though he hardly more than quickly glanced back at her, she could see a faint smile on his face. It was a sorry attempt at a roguish grin, but after five days of walking, she accepted any display of emotion as welcome.
“I can trust you as much as I can trust anyone else!” She grinned back, though he did not turn around again. “You are the only person that I know around here who didn’t run away or who doesn’t have family nearby to go to.”
Further to that, he was a handsome son-of-a-she-dog, if she did think so herself – the kind of man who only grew more handsome from a lack of a shave or shower. That he had not abandoned her in the past five days also endeared her to him. She was nothing if useless on such a journey – all that she felt that she could contribute to their partnership was her pulling the wagon, which freed up the man’s arms to wield any of the weapons that he carried.
“How do you know that I’m not trying to get rid of you and steal that wagon all to myself?” His tone was almost teasing now, though there was still an edge of seriousness to it.
“Then you would have to pull it all by yourself!”
“Well, I could toss half of that stuff out of it, which would make it lighter – “
“But no less unwieldy!” she replied indignantly. “And you’d only fill it up again. And you know this stuff isn’t junk!”
“Tell me again why you decided to bring along your prayerbooks and stuff?”
“They’re important to me! Just like my photographs and my notebook – and none of this stuff takes up more room than that big bag you’ve got in here.”
“Is that why you decided to bring a wagon?”
“Well, I filled it with all sorts of necessary things!”
“Still, those books could be replaced by food-bars.”
“Right, another box of food-bars! I’m a Christian and I believe there are more important things in life than food-bars – and if you recall, I brought along six boxes!”
The man conceded her point to that, thinking that his survival kit had been rather measly when compared with her wagon. Were it not for his weaponry and ammunition, he would have felt himself useless. The woman had even thought to bring soap and disinfectant on a journey that would hardly end cleanly. He secretly hoped that if either of them were killed, it would be him first so that she could ensure that he was properly disposed. She was right in trusting him not to steal her supplies – he had no desire to lug the wagon alone, but he would be dead before he let anyone else access it.
“Where are we planning to go?” the woman asked, noting a sign stating ‘FOOD & FUEL AHEAD’. “Should we go that way?”
Noting the sign himself, the man stopped and backed into her.
“A place like that is bound to have people holed up at it. They might shoot us first.”
“Though it does have a Big Coffee logo on it.”
“So it’d be the first place people would flock to.”
“Well, we haven’t run into anyone since Thursday.”
“All the better to save ammunition.” The man did not want to appear afraid, but he had yet to actually kill anyone with the otherwise impressive array of weapons that he carried.
“Well, it’s getting late, according to my watch, anyway.” The sky consisted of steadily darkening shades of grey. “Unless we’re going to camp under the Food and Fuel sign?”
The man scanned the horizon.
“At least one of the houses in that subdivision over there is bound to be unoccupied,” the woman further pointed out. “We could try to camp in one of their yards. Or we could be polite and knock on a door in hopes of getting shelter…”
“Who’s offering shelter nowadays? Times like this I actually do wish I had a car.”
“Yeah, well, so do I, but there isn’t much chance of that now, so can we just plough forward somewhere? You’re the one who’s worried about being spotted!”
“I like your idea. Let’s go toward the houses.”
“Right, my idea – so if it goes wrong, it’s my fault.”
“Of course!” Another wry smile briefly crossed his face.
She could not help but smile briefly back at him.
end of Part I