Out of the Badlands: Part 16:
Faustus made us stay a distance from the house for several hours, even as night came on. I thought the whole thing was a little bit over-cautious, but in the end I deferred to his wisdom: if there was someone already living in the house, we would be better off like the spider that gently plucks another spider’s web, asking permission. If someone were there, they were as likely to be dangerous as they were to be friendly. We saw no movement or activity around the house or grounds, however. No sounds of animals greeted our ears, no smoke rose into the evening sky, no lights flared in the windows. It was, as he eventually conceded, a dead building. Still, we approached it carefully, leaving Bobby and Boomer with the cart and investigating it carefully before taking possession for the night.
The sheep went into a pen, with water, some precious grain brought from our house—we hoped to load up on more—and a generous portion of hay dug from the local hay bales, bad on the outside, but tolerable quality inside, even after all this time.
We checked the cistern, found it full and reasonably clean, and had quick showers that felt like heaven after the long hot walk. Faustus unloaded the hobo stove, which he insisted was worth the several pounds of extra weight, and we began to boil water for dinner. He was right, of course, as usual. We could poke every sort of small bit of wood and scrubby brush into it, and it produced almost no smoke. I was too tired to investigate the house, except to verify that the bedrooms were unoccupied of deceased persons (they were) and to find a box of instant rice in a cupboard, which we called a very welcome and special addition to our dinner. Who’d have ever thought?
Before we could go to sleep, we had to search the bedroom thoroughly for poisonous denizens, from spiders to snakes. They’d had a long time to settle in, and we turfed out a few. By ‘turfed out’, I mean killed with extreme prejudice. With Boomer tied on the porch to do the night watch, we tucked ourselves into bed and slept the sleep of the righteous.
Daylight showed that the house was well worth the walk. While Faustus milked the ewe and fed Bobby, I investigated the house in detail. We mined it for jars of lentils more precious than diamonds, dry rolled oats, powdered milk, chickpeas, salt, jars of spices, tea—okay, it was stale, but I hadn’t had tea in a long time—and even coffee, long past its prime but still worth bringing for the sake of the smell alone. We raided the closets for shirts, the kitchen for knives, the linen closet for blankets, and every bathroom and the laundry for soaps and shampoos. The garage and sheds yielded tools and tarps. By the time we had the cart loaded up to start for home, it was clear that one of us was going to have to push from behind while the other walked in front to lead the sheep, and we wound up packing things on our backs, too. I felt like a pirate, yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, after a successful capture of fat prey ship.
“What do you say,” Faustus said as, him pushing and me pulling, we got the cart settled into a mile-eating pace of about two miles an hour, “if we go home, unload this, and start making plans to make another trip? An exploratory trip beyond town. We’ll look for other survivors.”
I considered. “It would take more planning than this trip, but I suppose so. How do you plan for every contingency? Wild dogs, crazy humans? What will we do if something attacks the sheep, for instance?”
“Well, the cart can be pushed.” This might have gone without saying, since he was pushing as we talked.
“And if something happens to the ewe?”
“He won’t starve. We’ve got this powdered milk, plus he can probably have anything we eat, as long as it’s mashed up enough.”
“Fair enough. I’m game.”
“Good. I figure we can travel for a week or two before we need to turn around, especially if we can replenish in houses along the way.”
I began making plans as I walked along, after that. This test trip had gone very well so far. If we made it home with no incidents, why wouldn’t we be able to make a longer trip and do as well?
We trudged homeward with the sun baking down on us.