Out of the Badlands: Part 2:10
For dinner, we had a very special meal of canned chili, which Faustus had brought back with him, and little white flour tortillas—or what would have been if I’d ever made tortillas before—but which mostly looked like giant amoebas with pseudopods blobbing out at the edges, baked on a griddle. We ate them anyway. It had been too long since I’d had anything made from flour. The chili didn’t appeal to me. I thought it should, but it didn’t, so I made do with the tortillas.
Sitting around the dining table like civilized people, we ate, and Faustus told us his story.
“If we had phones, I’d have called the house a couple dozen times. I’m sorry it took me so long, but I really wanted to bring back some chooks.” He took a tortilla and tore it in half, using it to scoop chili even though we had spoons.
“I found the barrow first. It was like a blessing straight out of heaven. I could carry so much in it, and when I found bicycle tires in reasonably good shape, I put them in the barrow and kept going. The first place didn’t have any chooks, though there were good things in the kitchen. And instant coffee! So I loaded up. The second place had that rooster and a bunch of hens. There were some half-grown chicks, too, but I couldn’t catch them no matter what I did. When they’re small like that, they can really fly.
“The rooster came at me repeatedly. Vicious son of a bitch, he is.” He rolled his arms so we could see healing gashes that looked like defensive wounds. “The good side of that is, he’ll keep the hens plenty safe. The bad side is, we’ll have to keep him penned up, and take our lives in our hands trying to collect the eggs. I’ll try to make something that lets us reach in from outside.”
“I’ll be glad to help,” Kurt offered.
Faustus nodded. “So I went to work making those little cages. It wasn’t enough being able to catch them—I had to be able to bring them back here without hurting them or that rooster getting loose and hurting me. It wouldn’t do us any good to have hens without a rooster. No rooster, you’ll still get eggs but they won’t hatch, predators may get the hens, and after the first year or two, you won’t even get many eggs.”
“We’ll figure something out to keep him penned up. I was hoping we could let them forage, but not at the risk of life and limb.”
“So, after some trial and error, I eventually figured out how to make those cages. Then I had to catch them, which meant waiting until full dark and getting up into the rafters of their barn, and—yeah. Here I am.”
“We’re glad you’re back,” Sheila said. “Not just because of the chooks, either.”
“So what happened while I was gone?”
This, of course, was the thing I didn’t really want to talk about, but of course he saw Kurt and Sheila glance at each other, and he repeated himself. “What happened while I was gone? Tanya?” Once the question had been asked like that, I couldn’t very well just shrug it off with an airy, “Oh, nothing!”
“We, ah…had some intruders. They’re dead now.”
“You know. City boys, here to round up some females and take them back to the harem.” I met his eyes steadily.
“Was it bad?”
“Bad enough,” I said. “It was a lot worse for them. Sheila saved my life. And then Kurt came along a couple of days later.”
Faustus surveyed us all carefully. I suspected I was going to be questioned more thoroughly in the privacy of our bedroom later, but all he said at the moment was, “What did you do with the bodies?”
“We dragged them out as far as we could and left them for the scavengers. We haven’t seen anyone else. Boomer would have barked. We’ve spent the last few days developing that little water-seep. Or rather, Kurt and Sheila have. I’ve stayed here watching Bobby.” I took up a tortilla, which was more like a flat cracker now that it had grown cold, and bit into it. As functional methods of ending my commentary went, it worked.
Faustus cleared his throat. “So, all’s well that ends well, I guess. You’re alive, and they’re not. That’s my favorite kind of ending.” He spooned more chili into his bowl. I’d opened all six cans of the stuff for our celebratory feast, and without refrigeration, there was no reason for him not to eat as much as he wanted.
Kurt offered, even though Faustus hadn’t asked, “I asked if I could live here. I’m sleeping out in the hay. I’ve been trying to make myself useful. The dog eventually stopped growling at me.”
Faustus grunted. “That’s good. He’s a good judge of people.”
I interrupted. “Did you see any other dogs around while you were out? I’d love if we could get a female and have pups. We don’t know how old Boomer is, after all.”
“Saw one—female, too. She’d had pups, which you could tell from the way her belly skin hung loose—but I couldn’t get near enough to her to catch her. She was around one of the homesteads. I can go back again with food and try to lure her in.”
“It’d be worth it.”
He nodded. “Before the monsoon comes. I don’t want to hike in that. But tomorrow, we need to pen up those chickens, and then I’ll have to get the wheels on the new cart and see if we can get the new wethers to pull it.”
Bobby began to get fussy, so Sheila got up from the table with him, and Kurt rose too.
“No rest for the weary. Or the wicked. Or even you,” I said.
“Guilty on all counts. Kurt, you said you’ll help me with a chicken pen. You up for it now?”
“Yes, I am.”
“All right. As soon as I’m done eating.”