It was four days before the ground was dry enough for Billy to decide he could be out, working. He had unloaded the truck and trailer, leaving only what he planned to give Mister Silvers. He had also drained the truck tank into the farm tank, emptying it so he could refill it for Mister Silvers. He frowned to himself at the thought of having the deal with the Silvers’ kids again, but Mister Silvers was okay, so far as Billy knew.
He’d just have to make allowances, and be careful.
Billy and Rommel climbed into the truck just as the sun was peeping over the trees. Billy wanted to be in and out of town as soon as possible. He had a short list of things he still needed, things he had forgotten. Once he got those things, and refilled the truck tank, he didn’t want to go back into town again if he could help it.
Billy frowned again. During the self-imposed isolation during the rain, and the mud, Billy was reminded of how alone he was. When he had his shop, there were always people coming and going, and he had the whole town to roam in, visiting and talking. He knew who his friends were, and who to leave alone.
Now, the only living people he knew were the Silvers and their rotten kids. Sighing, he shook his head.
Just have to get used to it, I reckon, he told himself. Be awful lonely, though. He looked at Rommel.
“Reckon you’re the only friend I got, anymore, boy,” he smiled, ruffing the dog’s large head. Glad for the attention, Rommel leaned into the contact.
“Let’s get this done.”
Filling the tank took the longest, Billy decided, so he did that first. He was tempted to wander about and get the things he still needed while the pump was working, but decided against it. Leaving that pump running was an invitation to disaster, and even Billy knew that. He’d also wondered why so many ‘smart’ people would leave such things unattended. If he, Billy, was supposed to be dumb, and he knew better, then they certainly should.
It was thoughts like these that kept Billy from thinking he was dumb. He might not know everything, and he might not be as smart as some, but he knew what he knew, and that was enough. His momma and daddy had made sure he wasn’t ‘dumb’. They had worked with him all his life, finding ways to educate him, teach him things, and make sure he could care for himself. Thanks to them, Billy wasn’t dependant on anyone else.
When the tank was finally full, Billy topped off the truck tanks again, just to be sure, then secured the pump, and the generator.
Might need what’s left, one day, he told himself.
His next stop was the library again. He walked the aisles more carefully, this time, finding instructional books that he could use to help make himself more comfortable, and more prepared, in the new world he found himself living in. The next stop was the pharmacy, again.
Billy had read a great deal while waiting for the rain and the mud to go. He had a list of drugs that might be needed, and he hurriedly took them from the shelves. He also added to his stocks of bandages and OTC meds. When these were gone, there probably wouldn’t be any more. Braces, splints, hygiene supplies, his list was better organized this time. He also added ‘feminine’ supplies to his cache, having read that they would be in demand. The only women he knew of were Mrs. Silvers and her. . .daughter. He’d give some to them, and store the rest. Might be handy at some point.
He also took every roll of toilet paper and paper towels he could find in town, placing them in the trailer. He’d have to unload what he wanted before he went to Mister Silvers. No sense in letting them know anything about what he had.
Next came the Co-Op. Billy hadn’t thought about the animal medicines the Co-Op kept the last time he was here. He wasn’t ever going back to the vets office, could he help it. His reading had given him a better list of things he needed for his animals, however, and he decided that he should get what he could from the Co-Op while he was here.
As he moved about town, Billy noticed something he’d never really seen in Cedar Bend.
Rats. Lots and lots of them. Rats were something Billy had never thought of, and now he wished he had. Where had they came from? Why were they here, now?
The answer presented itself when he saw a pile of the things feasting on a corpse lying on the sidewalk.
They’re eating the dead people!
Billy stopped in the street right there, horrified at the sight. He could suddenly see himself, in his mind’s eye, being consumed by the rats. He sat there for several minutes, just staring, that scene playing over and over again in his mind.
Rommel’s barking finally brought him out of his trance, and Billy shook his head as if to throw the horrible thought out of it completely.
“I ain’t gettin’ eat by rats,” he said to the air around him. “Ain’t gonna happen. I’m gettin’ what else I need, and I’m gettin’. Ain’t coming back here, ever.”
With that he went quickly to the Co-Op. He ordered Rommel to stay in the truck. He didn’t want the dog chasing after the rats, and getting bit.
Billy worked as quick as he could, grabbing everything in his carefully prepared list. He also picked up what ammunition the Co-Op had, mostly hunting rounds. At the last minute he went looking for rat poison. He found it, and took all the Co-Op had.
“That’s it,” he told himself, loading the last of his things. Whatever he didn’t have, it wasn’t worth staying any longer, or coming back for. More than almost anything he’d seen since the sickness started, the rats scared Billy. Rats carried disease. Everyone knew that, including Billy. Rats made people sick. Made people die. Then they ate the people.
Billy hadn’t know that last. He’d never once imagined rats in such large number in a place like Cedar Bend, either. What looked like thousands. Enough to over run the town in just two weeks.
What would they look like in two months? Two years?
That thought scared Billy even more, as the idea of rats invading his farm, over running his home, killing him and Rommel, and all the animals, almost overwhelmed him.
“Gotta keep calm,” Billy whispered to himself. “Calm, calm, calm. Can’t stop now. Might not start again. Can’t let the rats get me.” Ironically, the fear of the rats, which had caused his panic, now helped him overcome it. His fear of what could happen to him if he froze made him move past the paralyzing panic that so often disabled him.
He moved quickly to the door of his truck, and jumped inside.
“We’re outta here, boy,” he told Rommel, firing the engine. “And we ain’t coming back.”
Billy stopped once more at the Silvers’ gate. He wasn’t happy about being here, but he meant to keep his word.
He had unloaded his own supplies at home, before coming here. Billy was more determined than ever that the Silvers, especially their kids, not know what he had, or where it was. There was something about those two that just didn’t set well with him. He couldn’t see under the hood, where they were concerned.
Billy honked his horn three times, waited a minute, and then honked it again. He almost hoped no one would come to the gate. He could go home, safe in the knowledge that he’d tried.
He waited for ten minutes, according to his watch, with no response. Just as he was getting ready to leave, Mister Silvers’ truck came bouncing down the drive. Mister Silvers was alone, Billy was relieved to see, as he stepped out of his truck.
“Afternoon, Mister Silvers,” Billy called.
“Hello Billy!” Silvers called back, walking to the gate. “What brings you out?”
“Got some stuff for you,” Billy told him. “What you asked for, and a little more. And some gas,” he added, pointing to the truck tank. Silvers just stared.
“Where’d you get all that?” he asked.
“Town,” Billy shrugged. “You said you had need, so I went and got this stuff for you.”
“Billy, you hadn’t oughta be doin’ that,” the older man said softly.
“Won’t no more,” Billy assured him. “Scared me. Towns full o’ rats. Great big ones. I ain’t never going back again. Probably won’t never leave my farm again, to be honest. I ain’t been so scared anytime I can remember.”
“I was afraid o’ that,” Silvers nodded. “I’d read it could happen, but I just. . .I guess I just didn’t want to believe it.” The older man looked much older for a minute, then shook it off.
“Billy, I can’t thank you enough for doing this for us,” he extended his hand. “Come on up, and I’ll get it unloaded.” Billy got back in his truck as Silvers opened the gate. Billy waited for him to close it, then followed the older man’s truck up the drive.
He’d been here, before, of course, but Billy was impressed with Mr. Silvers’ place. Good strong house, two barns, equipment shed. All laid out well, and in good repair. Slivers led him to one of the barns. As the older man opened the doors, Billy backed his trailer up to where the doorway opened into the barn.
“Stay,” Billy ordered Rommel. He left the windows low enough that Rommel wouldn’t get hot, but not low enough the dog could get out. He grabbed his gloves and exited the truck.
“There’s lumber, screws and nails, and some rat poison,” Billy told him. “Few other things, as well, and some stuff for your women folk. What I could find,” he added. Silvers looked at him with affection.
“That’s right. . .that’s very thoughtful of you, Billy.”
“Trying to help,” Billy shrugged.
“What’s going on?” Billy turned to see the Silvers’ children, trailed by their mother, walking toward them. Toby and his sister looked like they wanted to kill him. Mrs. Silvers didn’t.
“Ma’am,” he nodded to Mrs. Silvers, who smiled warmly.
“Hello, Billy,” she said kindly. “I’m glad to see you well.”
“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” Billy nodded. “Good to see you, too.”
“What is all this, doofus?” the daughter asked in disdain. Billy saw red almost instantly, but it was Mr. Silvers who replied.
“You know what? Just for that, you two can unload all this by yourself,” he ordered.
“I ain’t said nothin’!” Toby exclaimed.
“You did the other day, and me tellin’ ya to keep quiet, now get on with it!” Silvers ordered.
“Thanks a lot, Shelly!” Toby growled.
“It’s Michelle, not Shelly!” the girl shot back.
“It’ll be ‘cold’ and ‘hungry’ you don’t get to work,” Silvers interrupted. “Now get working.”
The two teens grumbled, but went to work. They hadn’t been working long before there was a delighted shriek from the trailer, and Shelly came out with a large box of feminine napkins.
“Are these for us?” she asked, her voice much nicer than before.
“And this?” Toby asked, trailing her with a large box of toilet paper.
“It’s all for you,” Billy nodded. “For all of you, I mean,” he added.
“Thank you, Billy Todd,” Mrs. Silvers said earnestly. “I’m afraid we were caught short by all this.”
“Well, there’s a good bit in the trailer,” Billy assured her. “All I could find, anyway.”
There was less grumbling now as the two teenagers went about unloading the trailer. Billy helped, wanting to get home before dark. Billy fished out a small box that he handed to Mr. Silver.
“Twenty-two long rifle, and four-ten shot shells,” he told the older man. “Found’em at the Co-Op. Though you might could use’em. Ain’t got no need for’em, myself.”
“Thanks son,” Silvers looked at the ammunition. “Body can’t have too much hunting ammunition.” Billy nodded, and checked the trailer.
“Well, that looks like it,” he announced. “I’m gonna head home, Mr. Silver. Ma’am,” this to Mrs. Silver, “was good to see you again.”
“Won’t you stay for supper?” Mrs. Silvers asked.
“Would ma’am, but it’s been a long day. And I got chores still to see to at home. Maybe another time.”
Billy piled into his truck and followed Mr. Silver to the gate. Waving back to the older man as he hit the road, Billy went straight home. Parking the truck in the barn, and locking it, Billy led Rommel inside. It had been along day. He decided to take a quick shower, fix a bite to eat, and then go through some of the books he’d gotten.
And try not to think about the rats.