Billy parked the Ranger in the barn and went straight to the house. He wanted to take a look at The List before he forgot it. He knew he’d remember it again, since it was in his notebook, but he wanted to see it now. The idea that he just might not be all alone in the world had chased away some of his fear, at least for the moment.
Billy almost ran the final few steps, taking the porch steps themselves two at a time. Rommel bounced along behind, sensing that his person was excited. Billy went to his father’s study, and looked at the shelf of notebooks and research material there. He quickly found what he was looking for, and pulled the notebook down. It was dusty, he noted, and felt a momentary twinge at that. His mother would not have approved. He took his notebook out, made a note to dust the house, then put it away and grabbed the large three ring binder from the desk. Sitting in what had been his father’s favorite chair, Billy opened the book.
I have made a list for you of the people you should be able to count on if there is
ever a problem. Being able to count on someone, or trust them, doesn’t mean they
get to know all your business. If they ask something I’ve told you should be kept
secret, you don’t have to lie. Nor should you be rude by saying ‘none of your
business’. Just smile, and say ‘I’m okay for now. I’ll have to let the future take care
Doing this let’s them know that you are okay, and that they don’t need to worry.
One last thing. Remember that hard times sometimes changes people. Just because
someone is on this list, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should automatically
trust them. Think of it as a car problem. You think you know what’s wrong, but until
you check under the hood, you can’t be sure.
Always check under the hood, son.
“Yeah, always check under the hood,” Billy repeated aloud. He could remember that. He took out his notebook again, and added ‘always check under the hood’ to his note about trusting people on the list. Once that was done, he turned to the next page. There was The List. His father had organized the list by distance. The closer someone was to him, the higher on the list. Sure enough, Mister Silvers and Widow George were right there at the top.
The Widow George was first, Mister Silvers and his family second.
Ignoring the rest of the list for now, Billy set the book on the desk, and looked at Rommel.
“Let’s go check on the neighbors, boy.”
Billy eased his truck into the Widow George’s driveway, careful to make sure she had plenty of time to see him coming. As he parked the car, he remembered again how Rommel had spooked the cattle. Turning to the dog, he pointed at him.
“Stay.” Rommel looked at him, almost as if he was hurt Billy noted, but lay down in the seat. Billy ruffed his massive head lightly.
“Good boy.” He got out of his truck, debating on whether or not to take his rifle. He was wearing his pistol all the time, now, and the rifle might spook the elderly woman. He left it laying on the seat.
Walking slowly, looking around him carefully as he went, Billy made his way to the Widow George’s carport door. Her car was still here. He always used the carport door, because the Widow George always used it. She didn’t like people tramping through her living room, she said. Billy respected that. He didn’t like people snooping around his shop. Never had.
He rang the bell, and waited. And waited. Then he waited some more, before ringing the bell again. Nothing. He was about to turn away when he noticed that the interior door was slightly ajar.
Billy froze, not knowing what to do. Should he go inside, and check on Widow George? What is she was dead? What would he do then. What if she was alive? was his next thought. And needed help. What if she needed help he couldn’t give her? She might be hurt, or sick, she might have fallen. . . .
Billy took a deep breath, realizing that he was about to panic.
I can’t just concentrate on what if, he chided himself. I’m panicking over things that might not even be. Gotta keep calm. Check under the hood. He took another deep breath, and opened the door.
The stench was overwhelming. Billy immediately gagged, and ran back out of the house. He ran to the edge of the carport, and stopped, stomach heaving as he tried to get his breath back, and get that stench from his nostrils. Nothing he had encountered in town had prepared him for this.
Gasping for air almost made him panic. The idea of suffocating was actually trying to suffocate him with fear of suffocating. He fought to clear his head as well as his lungs.
Gotta keep calm, gotta keep calm, gotta keep calm. . . .
He felt a bump at his leg, and almost jumped. He looked down to see Rommel looking up at him. When the dog had seen Billy run from the house, he had leapt out the window of the truck to protect his person from whatever was chasing him.
But nothing was chasing me except fear, Billy’s mind registered in slow motion. That realization helped him to finally get his breathing under control. Calm, calm, calm. . . .
“Thanks, Rommel,” he finally managed to say, rubbing the dog’s head. “Good boy.” Rommel’s tail stub wagged as if to say, ‘of course’. Billy looked back at the house, and immediately felt the gag reflex again.
I need to bury the poor soul, I guess, he thought to himself. But I just can’t go back in there, not right now. I’ll come back, maybe, with a mask and gloves, and maybe some Lysol to disinfect. . . . He stopped right there.
What if he wasn’t really immune? What if the virus had killed poor Widow George, and Billy was still alive by pure luck? If he went in there, he might get sick, and die. What if breathing that foul air, even for a second, was all it had took to make him sick? Would he die, now? If he did, would there be anyone left?
Who would take care of Rommel? Who would feed the horses and the cows? Billy’s only thought at the idea of his own death was who would care for the things he left behind. He had no idea how odd, how very rare, that was. He fought off the re-emerging panic attack, breathing deep, clean air as he moved toward his truck.
I’m sorry Widow George, I just can’t take the chance, he thought to himself. As if she might hear him. He looked at Rommel, walking right by his side.
“We can’t take the chance, boy,” he explained. “Let’s go and see if Mister Silvers is alive.”
*** *** *** *** ***
Billy felt his dread building as he approached Mister Silver’s farm. His experience at the Widow George’s house had not yet left him, and probably wouldn’t for while. There was nothing he could do for her, though, and he was smart enough to recognize that. So he was doing the only thing he could do, under the circumstances.
He turned onto the small road that led to Mister Silver’s house, only to find that the gate was closed and locked. Was that a good sign? Billy didn’t know. He did know that he wouldn’t trespass. He thought about leaving a note for Mister Silvers, but decided against it. He didn’t know who might read it. He wasn’t sure he wasn’t the only one left alive, but he wasn’t sure he was, either.
Billy didn’t want any trouble. Not from anywhere. He decided that he’d check on Mister Silvers and his family another time. He started back for his truck.
“Stop where you are!” he heard someone shout. Billy turned to see where the voice had come from.
“I said stop!” the voice called again, this time more frantic. Billy thought the voice was coming from his left hand side, from inside the woods along the roadway to Mister Silvers.
“It’s just me, Billy Todd!” Billy called out. “I wanted to see if Mister Silvers was okay!”
“Oh great, the dummy from down the road,” he heard a female voice full of scorn from the other side of the drive. Billy frowned at that. That wasn’t really called for, was it? He was just being neighborly, trying to check up on people.
“We don’t have whatever it is you need, so get moving!” the female voice shouted.
“I don’t need anything,” Billy replied, puzzled. “I was just tryin’ to see if Mister Silvers and his family were okay. I checked on the Widow George, and then. . . .”
“What about the Widow George?” the male voice called. “What did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Billy was starting to get mad, now. “I went to check on her, just like I was here. Only. . .only she wasn’t okay,” he finished, his voice dropping some, and his anger abating as he thought about what he’d experienced at the George house.
“You take her things?” the female voice demanded. “Kill her for them, maybe?” That was it.
“You know what?” Billy shouted. “I don’t seem to care no more if you’re okay or not. I came up here hopin’ to find out I wasn’t the only person left alive in the world. Now, I wish I was.” With that he started back to his truck, stomping the whole way.
“We didn’t say you could leave!” the female voice shrilled.
“Last time I checked, I don’t need your permission,” he yelled back. He grabbed the door, and got into the truck. He did something then he’d never done before. He slammed the truck into gear, and spun his tires in anger as he peeled out, heading back home. He could still hear the two voices yelling, but he was so mad now that he wouldn’t have stopped if they had stepped in front of him.
Well, I guess I can cross Old Man Silvers off the list, too.
He just couldn’t understand. He would be glad to see someone he knew. True, he might not just invite them in for tea, but he wouldn’t be rude to them. He was pretty sure, now, that he had been dealing with Mister Silvers’ son and daughter. They had no call to be so rude, or so mean. The very idea that he would hurt Widow George!
If Billy had one failing, it was his anger. Billy was slow to anger. He always had been. His mother had told him that even as a baby he had never really been fussy, and rarely cried out. He was even tempered, almost to a fault. But that even temper and slow boiling point had a drawback.
When Billy got mad, he was mad all over. And he didn’t, as a rule, get over it. Ever.
And right now, Billy was mad.
“Dummy from down the road, huh?” Billy said to himself. “Accusing me of doing something bad to Widow George! Of all the things! I’ve known that kind old woman my whole life!” Rommel looked at his person in confusion, but read Billy’s anger correctly and sat still and silent on the seat beside him.
Billy was so mad that he drove right passed his driveway. He was half way to town before he realized it, too. He slowed his truck, and tried to simmer down. A few deep breaths and he began to center himself again. Now he was starting to get angry at himself for getting angry in the first place. Which reminded him why he was mad in the first place. Which made him mad all over again.
“I got to quit thinkin’ on this,” he murmured to himself. “I can’t get mad. I can’t stay mad. I got too much to do.” He looked at Rommel.
“I have known Widow George my whole life, you know,” he said to the dog. “I can’t leave her there like that. It ain’t Christian. Momma an Daddy wouldn’t like me to do that. I gotta take care of her.” Having said it aloud, Billy knew what he had to do.
“I guess we’ll go into town, boy,” he said finally. “Since we’re already half way there anyway. I’ll get what I need for the Widow George, and the stuff on my list, and then we’ll go and bury her proper. I can’t do no less than that for someone who was so nice to me all my life.”