“Pleased to meet you. Is there coffee?” Why bother to reiterate my name? She knew it. Get to the point. Simple. Clear. Direct.
“Instant.” Tracy replied to me without missing a beat. Cool.
“Better than being raped by goats.” I gave her my trademark smirk, and bent over to pick up my pistol.
“You’ve been raped by goats? Did it scar you for life?” Her tone was flat, so I couldn’t be sure if she was serious until I stood up.
“Not as much as being fleeced by a herd of sheep.”
Push a pun until it breaks, and you’ll know how serious someone is. That is one of my personal laws of the universe; it even works on occasion. She must have been serious as hell: she ignored it.
“My aunt and uncle were right about you.” She told me, sliding her blade back into the wooden scabbard in her belt.
“Really?” I was legitimately curious to hear more. “What did they say?”
“That you’re smart, cocky, and a complete jackass.” She related with a smile. “They also said that you’d be the guy to call if they were in trouble.”
I nodded. Truly, I’ve always been aware that my sense of humor was a social hurdle I’d yet to saw up for kindling… didn’t give me any reason to change, but I wasn’t unaware. I turned, spotted the giant can of instant coffee, and excused myself from the conversation so I could attend to my caffeine addiction.
Moments later, I was making one of the most disgusting beverages in creation: cold instant coffee. Screw it. I need to feed my monkey, just like any other addict, and at least this drug is socially acceptable.
“Does that taste as nasty as it looks?” Tracy asked me, from over my shoulder. Either she moved very quietly, or I was completely off my feed.
“Yes.” I tried not to show how much her stealth bothered me. “It tastes awful.”
“What?” I hate it when people give you unspecific noises by way of acknowledgment.
“You’re either a serious caffeine addict, or a masochist. I was trying to decide which one would be more interesting.” She smiled at me.
“Yes. You are related to Shirley. This is only more proof.” I downed the rest of the cold mess, and considered my next move towards completing my breakfast.
“I started heating up the squirrel stew that was on the fire,” she said, “in case you’re hungry.”
Marvin had altered the kitchen in the early days of the emergency. He’d added a second steel sink near the far wall, and a vent hood that went directly outside. The sink’s drainpipe had been altered to accept a foot-pump bellows, so the intensity of the fire in the basin could be regulated. That way they could keep a fire, coals, or whatever, going all the time.
Sure enough, I spied the pot on the grate, and thanked Tracy from the bottom of my heart. While squirrel stew wasn’t my favorite dish, it beat the hell out of going hungry. Truth be told, we were pretty lucky, suburban wildlife was plentiful.
My friend Scott, over in Fairfax, often ate goose. There were flocks of them near his place thanks to the insane development of the 1990’s. A lot of man-made lakes were created around shopping centers and condo developments as “water features”. Canadian geese, migrating to and fro, decided that they could spend all year in Fairfax. Food was thick on the ground, and the temperatures were comparatively mild.
Why bother with arduous travel, when you could get it all in one place?
The hunters who supplied our local trading economy usually brought in rabbit, squirrel, fox, and deer. A family across the way, near the hardware store/treasure house, raised goats. Other families nearby grew veggies. There was plenty to eat, if you expanded your mind, and traded well.
A side benefit of the ongoing apocalypse: people were losing weight. The obesity epidemic was being replaced by work-toned physiques… or people who couldn’t rub two sticks together, and just gave up. Most communities didn’t have room for people who just threw up their hands and couldn’t cope. The “do-nothings” were usually ejected by force, and ended up dead or dying.
There was a time I saw as many bodies of zombie victims as suicide. It didn’t take long for the curve to swing back to zombie attacks, though.
I mused on all of these things as the stew came up to bubbling from the sustained simmer it had been enjoying all night. The veggies had given up their shape long ago, but I could still make out the occasional chunk of potato in the pot. Damned strong potato!
Tracy and I sat quietly, eating our breakfast in the kitchen, while the horse gave me funny looks. I tried to ignore the big guy—he was clearly male—and consider my reconnoitering plan for the morning. I couldn’t do it.
“Tracy, why does the horse keep looking at me like I’m a patch of grass?”
“Galen is sensitive.” It was a terse reply, but a reply none-the-less.
“He’s not really fond of men with long hair. I guess he’s deciding whether he’ll get in trouble if he nips you, or tries to make you more presentable.” She looked up her horse with a critical eye. I imagine she was trying to read his mind.
“More presentable?” What was the animal going to do, whip out some scissors after giving me a shampoo and blow-dry?
Tracy looked at me, and gave me one of those utterly meaningful, and completely meaningless “Mona Lisa” smiles.
“He’s bitten my hair off before. That’s when I take the hint and trim it a little. He’s very particular.” She said, twirling a lock of her hair around her index finger.
I looked at her. I looked at the horse. Nice horse. Pretty horse.
I grabbed my hair, and stuffed it down the collar of my shirt. The nice horse turned back to the pan of water.
“You’re quick. Most people don’t come up with a solution that fast.” She complimented me, and slurped another spoonful of stew.
“Did I just pass some kind of test I wasn’t aware of signing up for?”
“Yes, Frank. You did. Good job. Finish your stew before it grows hair.”