Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 56

Mr. Svenson said, "They want your story before they'll go any further than this bit of wood."

Carefully I told him, "I'm not looking for charity Mr. Svenson.  I honestly didn't think that there would be anyone here and so I'm not expecting help.  Like I told Mr. Owen, that comes with all sorts of strings ... expectations and that sort of thing.  I had to work long and hard not to turn into some kind of protected girl that had to ... er ..."

Mr. Svenson sighed and stroked his beard.  "I can imagine what that 'er' means.  Have a young woman in camp that ... has had a problem with 'er' herself.  About Jolene's age."

Jolene was Mr. Owen's step daughter and was about Toddie's age, or how old he would have been.  I nodded.  Trying not to sound ridiculous but mature at the same time I told him, "A lot of that going on in the world right now."

"Humph," he answered.  "A lot of that going on in the world before, just wasn't out in the open like it is nowadays.  Some of the things I've seen in the ports of call I made over my life ..."  He trailed off shaking his head.  "But you're getting me off track Little Bit.  Seems like we're going to have to make an exchange here.  You tell me your story and I'll tell you how things stand around here."

I nodded.  "Well I suppose the only way to tell it is if I start at the beginning."  And I did with that first day and carried on up until finding Singing Waters occupied.  It was all the truth that I told him, just not all of the truth."

Mr. Svenson gave me a shrewd look and said, "I'm thinking you've left quite a bit out."

I shrugged and told him, "Nothing that will bring any harm to anyone.  Just ... there are things that ... that ... don't need to be brought up.  They happened.  I lived.  You got my story from me.  I just don't want to wring out every drop of blood all over again."

He nodded and allowed, "Probably the way it is going to have to be.  It'd be better if you could talk to someone to help but if you've already got a scab growing over it, no sense in picking at it all over again and making a mess."

After a quiet moment while the old man thought I asked, "Was it bad here?"

He shook his head.  "Not at first.  Not too many people live this far north year round, at least nothing like you'd find in the cities.  When supplies got scarce a lot of the folks that did live here let the government talk them into heading to them refugee camps ... safety in numbers, food, heat, lots of reasons, or maybe excuses depending on how you look at them.  Reckon a lot of people are sorry about that.  On the other hand, all they would have done up here was starve.  People just didn't put back like they used to.  If Ava and I hadn't come up to camp and brought the summer's supplies with us the family would have been in tough shape.  Owen's bunch was smart and brought everything they could but not all the boys and their families were so thoughtful.  And some of 'em, like my namesake Joe, brought friends that have been as much a hindrance as they have been a help.  It was a few months into it that we started getting people up this way.  Unfortunately a lot of the people that came out this way didn't have a clue how to survive off the land, hunt, or anything else for that matter including take care of the waste they created.  It was inevitable the Disease would crop up.  It took the first winter to finally whittle the infecteds down to where we weren't baricaded in camp most of the time.  Lost a lot over the winter months as well ... cold, starvation, cabin fever.  Some ain't equipped mentally to live thisaway for any length of time.  Vacation is a whole 'nother kettle of fish from living like this full time.  Since the spring groups have melded together and what is here is likely to stay here except for the odd small group of 'em that want to go 'salvaging' like Mad Max or go to see what the government is giving away for free."

I could have told him the government wasn't giving away anything for free but I was still stuck on something he had mentioned.  "Joe?  He's the youngest of the brothers isn't he?  The one you always called Hard Head?"

"Sure is.  Boy turned 30 a few months back and still ain't no closer to being a man than he was when he turned 20.  You'd think with all that is going on he'd ... well ..."  He stopped and shook his head.

Carefully I asked, "Joe ... wouldn't happen to have a friend named ... John would he?"  I was quiet and looking at my feet.

Mr. Svenson acted like he was stretching out muscles and bones that were too old to be sitting on cold front stoops and said, "Need to work out this rhumatizz.  Come walk with your ol' story teller."

He called over to Mr. Owen that he was going to show me the nearby creek that I could get water from if I broke the ice on it and we took off slowly through the trees.  After we had gone several yards he asked in a very different voice that had an edge of hardness to it, "How you come to know such a thing about Joe and John."

"The ... the wind carried some voices up to the cabin the first night I was here.  I heard the name John ... and some things he said ... but not the name of the other though I know he's one of the brothers because he called Owen and Carter that."

"And what did this wind carry to you that makes you so fidgety?"

Deciding it was time I told him, "John mentioned a thing that I think you should know for sure and maybe Owen if you think so ... only I'm not too sure I want it known where it comes from in case ... well, just in case they want to shoot the messenger."

"And that is?"

"This John didn't seem too happy with his position in the camp, didn't like how ... how the girls were kept away from him and some of the other men ... and ... and how maybe one day there would be more of them than there was the family and that they wouldn't be the ones being kicked out ... like some guy named Gary had been."

Mr. Svenson stopped and like some older men do seemed to be trying to get ahold of his temper since it would be impolite to say the kind of things they'd like to say before someone they considered little more than a girl child.  His mouth worked and I could see his hands working into fists inside his mittens.  Finally he said, "Well now, that's something all right."

I heard a twig snap and spun with my bat raised.  A man stepped from behind a bush and said, "You're fast but you'd never make it if I'd been out to shoot you."

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