Not Even Light, Chapter 3, Part 2 of 2

His eyes opened wide and he started a little twitchy dance. He must not have really believed I’d kill him straight off. “Whoa! Hold on there, brother,” he gasped. “Before you go blowing my head off, you need to know somethin’ I know.”

I said, “I prob’ly don’t, so quit stalling. I already asked what I want to know.”

“You slag me here and you won’t be gettin’ anywhere before dark.”

Old trick, I thought. He wants me to think he’s got friends nearby. “That won’t work. Last chance.”

His hands started shaking a little. “You shoot that thing off here and there’s a lotta violence gonna land on your ass.”

“You sayin’ you got friends around? I don’t think so.”

“No, I got no friends around here. But there’s at least a couple Meeks heading southwest not too far down the path.”

“A lie.”

“No lie. I saw them a few hours ago, turned right around, and backtracked up the trail towards the farms. Thought I’d be safer puttin’ some distance between us.”

That made some sense. Meeks usually avoid concentrations of what they call the unredeemed–meaning everyone who isn’t one of them–and not even a halfwit on his own would chance mixing it up with a number of them. That is, if there really were Meeks and if he weren’t lying. “Meeks or no, I can’t have you trailing me.”

“I won’t, brother. I’ve got my own business, too, and it’s nothin’ to do with you, I swear. Go ahead ‘n’ take my kit. I’m not so far from home that I can’t get by without it for a couple of days. I’ll just go back ‘n’ put another one together. What d’ya say?”

I’m not a killer by nature, but I can do it without hesitation if it’s necessary like slaughtering a goat or swatting a horsefly. I hadn’t yet killed anything smarter than a goat, but I had been trained in the ways of taking out a man. Question was, could I do it now to this fella? Answer was, yes, I sure could, but I decided not to. First off, if he were telling the truth about Meeks being nearby, I wouldn’t want to draw their attention by shooting him down. Second, a quiet application of my knife would mean I’d have to get close enough to do the job, and that was always a last resort. Third, there was something about him that made me think he might not be dangerous and that I could let him live. So I said, “Maybe, but if I decide you’re okay, I’m still gonna take your gun. You can keep your blade and kit. I don’t need ’em.”

I saw relief in his eyes. He pushed out a breath and said, “Thanks, brother.”

“Now, suppose you sit your ass down on that boulder there. I want to know more of what you say you know before I push off.”

He sat and looked up at me. Well, he really looked down the hole in the end of my gun barrel. Then he looked me in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, and gave a little half smile.

“All right, but not to move funny,” I warned. I stepped back a couple meters and lowered the gun, but not all the way. “So, start talking. Where’re you from ‘n’ where’re you going?”

“I’m from west of here. Catfish Farm this side of Old 6 near Big Mud Lake. You hear of it?”

“Sure have. We’ve traded with Catfish plenty of times. I’m just out of White Cedars. Carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbage, beets–stuff like that. Real good honey, too, and some tobacco and weed. Walked out the gate, me, just yesterday.”

“That’s kinda unusual for you dirt farmers, innit? I mean hitting the trails. Where you off to?”

“You first, I think. How’d you come to leave Catfish?”

“We come and go pretty much as we please at Catfish so long’s there’s enough folks to cover the work. Which right now there is. I’ve been visiting some friends at a sister farm up Old 9 south of Hope Bay, but right now I’m headin’ way down south to the old power station the other side of the Niagara River.”

That made my ears prick up like a guard dog’s. “The hell you say. The power station? Nobody goes there. What kinda shit are you talkin’?”

“Truth! I’m going down there. Got my reasons. So, where you headed then?”

“I was thinking of just scouting around and looking things over for a while before I decide.” There were a lot of hamlets and small towns to take my chances in along the footpaths, the old roads, and the waterways. And there were dead cities and their ringtowns to explore, too. There was plenty enough excitement in all that and no need to start poking around as far south as the river.

He brightened up and said, “Hey, look. Why don’t we join up and travel together. You’re green like I am, but smart enough to get the drop on me. I’ve been out here a little longer than you, and you never can tell but we might each know a few things that maybe’ll help us both out. So how ’bout it?”

I cocked my head and gave him a considering look. Maybe he was just trying to talk his way out of getting slagged and left here for the crows, blow fly maggots, and ants, I thought. But he could be on the up and up, too. Or both. I tried to think of what I’d be saying if our positions were reversed. It would be smart to stop talking and either leave his carcass for the scavengers or take his gun and leave him to good or ill luck. But my gut told me he was harmless, and two roading together might live longer than either one alone, so I decided to chance it and see if partnering with him might work out for both of us. “How’s ’bout? Well, let’s see how it goes. I’m gonna fetch your gun while you find that blade of yours over there in the scrub. You put it back where it belongs, and then we’re gonna move off–you first.” I found his gun, slung it over my shoulder, and waited for him to find and sheathe his knife. I gave him the eye and added, “Just don’t give me any reason to regret this.”

“You won’t,” he said. Next thing you know, we were fast-footing it together down the path, and, truth be told, I was more than a little glad for the company.

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