“Well there, Travis, it could be loony all right,” he answered, “but it sure beats fish farming, dunnit?”
I had to agree with him. Apparently we shared the same opinion of farm life. “So you couldn’t think of anything else to look into? I mean, you’re probably not going to live through a meet-up with Flies supposin’ there are any around…or Meeks who definitely are.”
“I’m going to survive, all right. I’m going to do my best, anyway,” he said nodding firmly. “Question now is, where are you going? At least I know where I’m going.”
He had me there. It had been a little unnerving to leave the farm behind without knowing exactly where I was going. I didn’t have much more than a vague idea of wandering around close to the ground for a while, checking out my chances here and there in the hamlets and towns, or maybe even joining up with some resurrectionists to stock up on trading goodies. “Right now I don’t have a clear notion,” I said. But Dunc’d got my curiosity going. “Anyhow, what’ve you been hearing at Catfish about Flies and Meeks?”
“Well, traders comin’ through from down south say that they heard from some rovers who’d heard that Flies’ve been seen up and down the Niagara River gorge.”
Traders and rovers are big on gab, but it’s mostly hearsay, and a pile of compost is worth a hell of a lot more than their jabber. “Anything else? What about Meeks?”
“I’ll tell you what else. Traders say the Meeks are real restless and on the move. There aren’t that many right nearby, but they’ve been comin’ up in numbers from way down south of the river and scouting the region. I told ya that a couple of them are down there ahead of us on this path.”
We’d heard pretty much the same story at White Cedars when a northbound troop of resurrectionists had stopped by on their way back from digging a big site the other side of Georgie Bay. They’d jawed about the deals they’d strike with the carts full of fine junk they’d dug out of an old landfill and a couple of undisturbed cemeteries they’d stumbled across, and they’d traded us some well-preserved hand tools for fresh produce and tobacco.
The night before they left we’d sat around the council circle behind the plow sheds and the stables and swapped jokes and stories. That’s when they said they’d heard of lots of Meeks spread over a greater area than usual, poking around for reasons unknown, but it was probably not a good thing that they were. Didn’t bother the resurrectionists any, though. Their troop was full of true heavies and well-armed. We laughed it off like just another fairytale, but they got sore about that and there was almost a fight until a couple more bottles of potato vodka were brought out and passed around. Everyone calmed down, and we began to believe their story about Meeks a little more, but not much. So traders at Catfish and resurrectionists at White Cedars were telling similar stories. There might be something to it after all, but I wasn’t convinced it was something I’d want to be sticking my nose into any more than I’d want to stick a finger into one of those big gray papery wasp nests you find hanging in the trees around the farm.
Nevertheless, Dunc had got me thinking. It might not be so bad to have more direction and company on my trek than I’d first thought. Two guns are, after all, better than one. “If your traders got their story right, then I guess it wouldn’t hurt any to pair up and run a ways together.”
Dunc flashed a broad grin and put out his hand for a shake. “We’ll do okay–you’ll see,” he said as I shook his hand, but I didn’t share his optimism. There was no point in telling him that, though, and we didn’t waste any more time chattering. Since I’d decided to trust Dunc, I let him sling his gun over his shoulder and told him to take the lead down the path. Despite his having let me get the drop on him, I noticed that he was fairly well-schooled in how to walk a trail even if a little short on other woods skills. Whenever we came to a bend in the path, he’d crouch and move off into the undergrowth in the bend to emerge quietly further up along where the path straightened out again. Smart. You never know what’s around a bend, so you always cut it off. I know how bad it sounds, and I’m ashamed to admit it now, but at the time it did feel good having someone taking the lead along the path as he’d be the one to run into trouble first. Of course that was before Dunc and I become fast friends during all the trouble waiting for us ahead.
We jog-walked along scout-style for a couple hours, pausing only now and then to take a sip from our refilled canteens or to have a good listen and look-around. So far, no Meeks or anyone else had appeared, and we expected to get to a secure stopping place in good shape.
It’d gotten awful muggy, and I felt as though I was wading through the heavy air trapped under the treetops. Though I wanted us to get to safety as fast as we could, I decided to call a stop. Even though he’d been watering himself properly, Dunc was beginning to pant away, and I knew he’d keel over if we didn’t rest up. I wasn’t feeling too good myself either, so I pished him, and when he looked back over his shoulder, I motioned him off the path. We moved off to a small clearing in the middle of a tangle and had a swig.
“It’s a right sticky bastard today, innit?” Dunc took off his boonie and mopped the sweat off his forehead with it.
I nodded. “Don’t think it’s going to cool off much for the night, either.”
“Almost wish I was back at Catfish. Least there I could strip off and take a dip.”
“Well, you aren’t, and you start dreaming about stuff that isn’t going to happen, you’re gonna lose any sharpness you got.”
“Right, right. I’ll save it for my dreams. How much farther ya thinking we should go today?”
“Depends on how fast we leg it, but I figure we can make it to a hidey-hole I’ve got in mind just north of Wiretown and set up before sundown.”
“I’ve been doing pretty good so far sleeping rough, but we’re getting pretty far from home, and who knows who or what we’re gonna run into,” Dunc said. “How safe you figure we’re gonna be in your hidey-hole?”
“Well, that depends on lots of things, dunnit. With Meeks running around, we’re not going to be completely safe anywhere at all.” I spread my map out again and pointed to a shelter marked with a star not too far off. “Now this here site’s a really good one, and we can get to it without trying hard. It’s real defendable and not too far off the road. But if somebody’s squatting there, we’re outta luck unless it’s a small party of friendlies that’ll make room for us. If not, we just wind up under the trees somewhere else. Depends, see?”
“Yep. So we better push on then?”
“After you,” I replied, and off we slogged. Lucky us, I thought as we approached the shelter and found it unoccupied. Lucky us, I thought again as we settled in for a good night’s snooze. I wouldn’t think we were so lucky the next day, not so lucky at all.