This piece is (admittedly) about a year old. It was published in the anthology “Biohazard 2012” by BeanPods Press of Roswell GA. Offered as incentive Is my contribution
A Quiet Conversation ©2012 Kirby Sanders
Originally published in the anthology Biohazard 2012 via BeanPods Press, Roswell GA
Just after sundown of a November eve –- south of Blackburg. The road through the woods hereabouts gets real close when the sun goes down. Seems like the trees come walking closer to the road and huddle together against the chill.
And a decided chill there was–but an odd chill. Couldn’t tell if it was coming from outside or inside, but I wrote it off as being November in Blackburg. Either way, it was time to find some shelter and build a fire. Take some rest for the night.
There’s a small overhang in the bluff over there–trees bunched real tight at the mouth, blocking the north wind. It’s been a long time since I slept with any roof over my head. That little cave in the escarpment looks pretty inviting.
Fine as the Breathitt House in Atlanta! But this ground has been tramped hard–and I declare that looks like a campfire ring. I’ll be switched. That looks like another fellow in the shadow by the far wall.
Hello the camp! Do you mind if I share your fine accommodation to get myself out of the biter wind? I’d be obliged. Looks like your campfire has gone cold. Let me refresh it and get us a cheery fire to warm our bones.
I take it that your silence is assent.
Gathering firewood, I notice there is abundance at the mouth of the cave. Odd to be so much so near to an occupied place. Perhaps this unfriendly wind is obliging us one small kindness–shaking down dead branches for our fire pit. No matter. In short order we have a presentable flame comforting the enclosure, although it casts no light into my companion’s shadow.
Thank you again, friend. My name’s Pierce. I run –- well ran–Pierce’s hardware in Greenbrier. Down by Fort Smith. I notice my companion has made no move to accept the business card in my outstretched hand and look at the paper dumbly. Stupid thing for a man to be carrying anymore. Since the sickness, there ain’t no Pierce’s Hardware. No Greenbrier either and damned little of Fort Smith, for that matter. I cast the card into the fire.
I’ve been traveling for the last several weeks since the sickness took hold. They say a college girl brought it into Greenbrier. Ellen Jacoby. She come home ill from Georgia State. They say the sickness started from Atlana. Something brought in by a traveler, maybe. Any which way, Ellen took sick and then her momma took sick. Soon enough the sickness was marching through town with a vengeance.
Bodies everywhere. And they were burning the houses to try to stop the spread of the disease. Soon enough, our town looked like hell to me.
My wife took sick first in our house. Mary was a good woman. Kindly. Doc said she probably got the sickness taking food to the Jacoby’s for their grieving — nothing he could do. Nothing anyone could do. First son Ambrose took sick second. He volunteered for the burning crew. Probably got the sickness from one of the infected houses. Or from his momma. Then Anna, then Alton.
I‘ve got their pictures here. But I suspect you don’t care to see them.
Eventually, I was the last one standing. No undertaker would touch my family. Cemetery wouldn’t take them. Buried them in the back yard with my own hands.
I never got too sick. Kept the Hardware open. Folks needed shovels (lots of shovels). They wanted hammers and nails to tighten up the houses–but it didn’t do any good. After a while, I was damned giving stuff away. Nobody had any money. Nothing left to trade. I couldn’t get fresh stock in from anywhere. Time came the shelves were empty and there weren’t any more customers. I shut it down. Not enough town left to warrant my staying. So I left.
But I guess my story ain’t much different than yours, friend. Tell me if you want me to quit telling. I’ve got a can of beans here. I’ll warm them up and set you some over there by your side of the fire.
My companion remained silent.
I passed through Fort Smith. A few folks had occupied the old fort. But they made it very clear that they didn’t want any new friends. Drove my car as far as I could until it ran out of gas. Took another car from a farmhouse after that. I don’t reckon I stole the car. Obvious the folks in the farmhouse were never going to need it again.
I took to scavenging canned goods from the houses I passed by. Didn’t want to hunt game or fish. Figured the animals might have the disease too–but the canned stuff was probably o.k. Didn’t get sick, anyway.
It’s been many a mile and many a day since then. All of the towns I’ve passed through where there was folks alive is very much like Fort Smith. They aren’t taking in strangers, so I just keep moving on. Never thought I’d go from being a comfortable merchant to wanderer in the wasteland.
The fire had warmed the cave to a comfortable state and a bellyful of hot beans was bringing on sleep.
Good night, friend. Thanks for indulging an old man’s story. I look forward to hearing your tale come morning.
Slept the sleep of the righteous until the golden dawn played its light into the little cave. The sunlight brightened my companion’s corner–and even weary eyes could tell he was dead. Very dead. Probably several weeks ago.
Gathering my things and moving on again, I bid my companion adieu.
See you again, my new-found friend–somewhere down the road, I am certain.
I invite you please to consider the anthology for your reading list and enjoy the other works by several co-contributors. Available in paperback, Kindle and B&N Nook formats. Contact publisher at http://www.beanpodspress.com/