Billy was awakened the next morning by the constant honking of a car horn. It was unfortunate that it came during a part of his nightmare about the cars along the roadway.
He sat bolt upright in his bed, sweating profusely, looking around him in panic.
It took him a minute to realize that he had been dreaming. Then he heard the car horn again, and realized that all of it hadn’t been a dream. Someone close by was laying on their car horn. From the sound, Billy thought it was coming from his gate. Frowning at that, he dressed quickly, and hurried down the stairs. Almost as an afterthought, he put on his pistol, and then grabbed his rifle. Calling Rommel, the two started off for the gate.
Billy decided to walk to the gate, being careful to stay out of sight. He didn’t know who was there, or what they might want. After the rough time he’d had the day before, he decided that caution was the order of the day. He would have been cautious anyway, since daddy had taught him that it was better to go slow, and be careful.
An ounce of prevention is far better than any cure, his father had said. When Billy hadn’t understood, his father had explained.
Think about a car, son. If you don’t keep the oil changed, and the car serviced, what happens?
It won’t run, daddy. Something will break.
That’s right, son. Something will break. Approach everything like you would a car. Preventive maintenance can keep a car running a long time without trouble. Preventive action in life can keep you from making a mistake that might get you hurt, or even killed. It’s not a crime to be slower than someone else. It isn’t a sign of weakness, either. It’s a sign of a cautious and careful man, who thinks before he acts. Preventive maintenance, son. Always do your preventive maintenance.
Billy’s parents had recognized early on that Billy had a fascination with automobiles and machinery of almost every kind. He was able to absorb and maintain knowledge about cars, trucks, tractors, and other kinds of moving equipment far easier than most ‘normal’ men. And much more readily than he could grasp most other things. Seeing that, they had developed ways of transferring things Billy needed to learn into automotive terms. Things that Billy could not only understand, but would remember.
Billy eased through the woods, rather than going down the drive. He was able to get to a spot not more than twenty-five yards of the gate without being spotted. When he was there, he peered through the trees at the gate.
Mister Silvers’ truck was at the gate, and Mister Silvers himself was leaning on the horn. His son was with him, Billy noted, and felt his anger flash slightly, remembering yesterday.
“We’re wasting our time, dad,” the son said just then. “He ain’t here, or he’s scared to come out. Let’s go home.”
“Shut up,” Jeremiah Silvers said sternly. “He’s probably watchin’ us right now. And no wonder, after what you two did yesterday.” Billy frowned at that. What had the ‘two’ done yesterday, he wondered? Deciding it didn’t matter, Billy stepped out of the woods just as Mister Silvers was about to hit the horn again.
The son saw him first, and his eyes grew overlarge in his head. Seeing Billy with a rifle, the younger Silvers started to raise his own rifle. Billy didn’t hesitate. Long hours of training kicked in automatically, and in less than a second, Toby Silvers was looking down the barrel of Billy’s rifle.
“Stop!” Jeremiah yelled, running to Toby’s side. He pushed the boy’s rifle down, and then smacked him on top of the head.
“You idiot,” his father scolded him. “If he was going to shoot, he would have done it from the trees.” The older Silvers turned to look at Billy.
“Billy, it’s Jeremiah Silvers!” he called.
“I can see that for myself,” Billy replied, his rifle still leveled at Toby Silvers. “What can I do you for, Mister Silvers?”
“Toby and Hannah said you came to the house, yesterday,” Jeremiah called. “I wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“I’m fine,” Billy assured him. “And I didn’t come to the house, just to the gate. Where I was threatened, accused o’ doin’ somethin’ bad to the Widow George, and called the ‘dummy down the road’. Decided we wasn’t bein’ sociable no more, and left.” Billy heard the older man swear again, and saw him turn to glare at his son.
“I’m right sorry about that, Billy,” Jeremiah told him. “They’re a mite scared. Try and understand that, and overlook it.”
“I ain’t scared o’ that. . . .” Toby began, only to wilt once more under his father’s glare.
“I don’t usually hold no grudge,” Billy called, lowering his rifle slightly. “What can I do for you?” he asked again.
“I just wanted to try and clear up this. . .misunderstandin’,” Silvers called back.
“Oh, I understood just fine,” Billy shot back, his anger swelling in spite of his best efforts. “Don’t worry, none. I wasn’t aimin’ on comin’ back.” Ever, he didn’t add, but with the tone of voice he used, it wasn’t necessary.
“Now Billy,” Silvers called back, “ain’t no need to take that route. Your folks asked me to look after you, should anything happen. I’m just tryin’ to do like I promised.”
“That’s what I was doin’ yesterday,” Billy told him flatly. “Momma and Daddy always said I was to make sure you and yours were okay, if anything happened. You and the Widow George. And I did.”
“What about Henri?” Silvers called. “Was she okay?”
“No, she ain’t,” Billy shook his head, his anger replaced by the terror of the day before.“She’s dead. Looks to have been that way a while. I tried to bury her proper, but. . .but she. . ..” Billy trailed off, unsure of how to describe what he had seen. Of if he wanted to, for that matter.
“I can imagine,” Jeremiah Silvers nodded in sympathy. “It was good of you to try, Billy. Whether you could manage or not, it was good of you to go and check on her, and try to do right for her.”
“Just figured it was what my folks would want,” Billy shrugged.
“Billy, we need to work together, now days,” Silvers said. “We need to help look after one another. You’ll need help with your place, and I’ll need help with mine. We can help look after one another too. I don’t know how many folks around besides us has survived. We ain’t seen nobody but you in over a week.”
“I don’t reckon I need to be workin’ with your young’uns, Mister Silvers,” Billy was able to say calmly. “I don’t think that would do at all. They don’t like me at all, and after yesterday, the feelin’ is mutual. But you need me to help you, just you, mind, and I’m glad to do it. Just give me a day or two’s notice, and I’ll be along when you need me.” Silvers nodded in understanding.
“That’s right decent of you, Billy, after what happened. And I am sorry about that. I didn’t think to say anything to the kids about our. . .arrangements, if you know what I mean. And I honestly didn’t know you’d be here. I just figured you’d be in town.”
“I was in town,” Billy surprised the older man. “Ain’t no one left there, that I could see. So I packed up and came on home. I went back yesterday, to get the stuff to bury Widow George. Still ain’t nobody there.”
“You been in town?” Silvers was astonished. “Land sakes, Billy, you could have taken sick!”
“I was in town when everyone else did take sick,” Billy shrugged. “Don’t know why I didn’t, but I never did.”
“Well, I’m glad of that, Billy, I am,” Silvers replied to this news warily. “But what if you’re carryin’ the virus? Just cause it didn’t kill ya don’t mean you ain’t got it in ya somewhere.”
Billy hadn’t thought about that. He didn’t know what to think of it now, anyway. He still didn’t know why he was alive, and everyone else in town was dead.
“Well, we best be gettin’ back,” Silvers said finally. “I just wanted to see how you were faring.”
“You need anything, Mister Silvers?” Billy called. He didn’t know why he did, considering that he was still pretty mad about yesterday.
“Could use some gas,” Silvers shrugged. “Other than that, just a few odds and ends. Ain’t never got too many nails and screws, or lumber for that matter.”
“I’ll see what I can come up with,” Billy told him. He didn’t mention that he was planning a trip into town to gather the things he needed himself. For some reason, he was uneasy. It might have been the younger Silvers presence, he didn’t know. But he knew he didn’t like it, and decided to be cautious. At least until he’d checked under the hood.
“Kind of you,” Silvers waved. “We’ll be seein’ you.” With that the two men got into the truck and headed back down the drive. Billy watched them go, not moving until they were out of sight. He headed back to the house, his mind full of questions he couldn’t answer.
This would need some thinking on. He took out his notebook an scribbled a hasty note to himself;
Don’t know can I trust Silvers yet. No I can’t trust his kids. Ain’t seen his wife. He needs gas, and lumber, screws and nails. See what I can do. Keep eye on them kids. Can’t see under the hood.
He put his notebook back in his pocket. Something was still nagging at him, something he had meant to do, before the terror of Widow George’s house. Something he’d thought of in a fleeting moment while in town. He chewed his lip slightly as he walked, trying to remember. Finally he shrugged.
“If it was important, it’ll come to me,” he murmured. Meanwhile, he had work to do.
It was still early in the day. Not even nine o’clock. He decided to see if he could get his P L A N for town together, and go on in. Something was telling him not to wait. He didn’t know why that was, he just knew it was. There was some reason he needed to hurry a bit.
He sat on the front porch with his breakfast, the last of his fresh fruit for now. The orchards on the farm would give him apples, pears and peaches soon enough, but Billy figured these two oranges were the last he’d ever see, barring a miracle. Oranges wouldn’t grow here for some reason. Daddy had said it was because the winters were too cold, and Billy figured his daddy knew. Whatever the reason, he took his time, and enjoyed the oranges, with some dry toast, a couple of scrambled eggs, and some lemonade.
Eggs he would have, he figured. The farm had a dozen chickens, for just that reason. He had made sure the coop was secure as soon as he got home. He hadn’t been giving them laying mash, so there weren’t so many eggs, and he knew not to eat the ones that had been laid while he hadn’t been here on the farm. He had disposed of them, and would now gather his eggs every morning.
He figured next year he’d let one or two brood, and then he’d have fresh chickens. He could eat the older ones as the younger ones started laying eggs.
As soon as he was done with his breakfast, Billy took out is notebook again. He looked over his notes so he’d remember what he’d thought about yeste. . . .
Suddenly he remembered that nagging thought. He hastily turned to a new page, and made another note for himself.
Need to keep a journal. Get some notebooks and pencils, pens, in town. I need to write down stuff that I do, and stuff that happens, so I don’t forget.
Satisfied that he had finally remembered that nagging thought, he turned to his list for town. It took him over an hour of hard thinking, and not a little of going and looking for stuff, before he thought the list was finished. He looked at the list, feeling another nagging thought. There was something he had meant to add. What was it? Oh, yeah.
Remember to look around. Never know what you might find that will come in handy later on. Another lesson his daddy and his momma had taught him. Sometimes just looking will make you realize something you forgot. Sometimes, when working on a car, Billy would get that same odd nagging, like he’d missed something. When that happened, he would stop and study the car carefully, until he found the problem. Once he had left the oil pan plug out of Mister Jamieson’s truck, and had been about to pour the new oil into the engine. Boy, that would have made a mess. Billy had learned to trust those nagging pressures he sometimes felt. They had kept him from making mistakes more than once.
Finally satisfied with his list, Billy gathered his things, and called Rommel, who had been running around the yard, chasing and barking at squirrels.
“What would you do if you caught one?” Billy asked, laughing. “You ain’t a huntin’ dog, Rommel. That squirrel might wind up treein’ you.” Rommel looked mildly offended at the tone, almost as if he could understand what Billy was saying.
“C’mon, then,” he called again, opening the truck door. His hurt feelings forgotten at the prospect of a truck ride, Rommel ran to the truck and jumped in. Together the two of them headed into town.
Somehow, the trip into town was easier today. Billy didn’t know if he was just getting used to seeing all the cars with dead people in them, or if he was learning to ignore it. Either way, he was grateful.
His first stop in town this time was Mister Traywick’s. Billy attached the largest U-Haul trailer on the lot to his truck. He opened his notebook to check the trailer off the list, and saw his note to himself to look around. Putting the notebook away, he started looking around.
Inside Mister Traywicks car bay, Billy found a ag-tank, like farmer owners used to carry fuel to their tractors in the field. This was a large one, and would hold two hundred gallons. Billy looked at it, wondering. If he put that thing in his truck, and filled it up, how would he get it unloaded? It would be too heavy, full.
Why couldn’t I empty it into the tank at the farm? he thought suddenly. Well, there wasn’t no reason, not really. He could just pump it out of the tank and into his own.
Then I could refill it and take that to Mister Silvers, he decided.
“Not that I owe him nothin’, I guess,” he added out loud. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get over his mad. And there was just something about those two kids that outright bothered him. It wasn’t their insults, either. Billy had a pretty good sense of when he could trust people or not. And right now, he just didn’t think he could trust those two.
“But I reckon that ain’t the issue, today,” he decided. He went and unhitched the trailer, and pulled his truck over to the shop. It took him half an hour to wrestle the large empty tank onto his truck, and secure it. He stopped at last, winded. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he took a pull from the water jug he’d brought with him. The cool water helped him recover from the effort. He set a bowl for Rommel on the ground and filled it, calling the big dog over. Rommel readily drank the water.
Meanwhile, Billy pulled the truck over to the pump. He started to insert the pump into the tank, then shook his head.
“No power, no pump,” he chastised himself. He knew Mister Traywick had a generator, and went to start it. The small generator was right where Billy remember it being, set far back into the shop, in a corner. Billy checked the fuel and the oil, grateful to find both okay. He started the generator, and flipped the switch on the wall that activated the pumps.
It took a while to fill the tank. Once it was topped off, Billy filled the truck tanks to the top. With that took care of, he pulled his truck back to the trailer, and hitched it to the truck once more. Easing onto the street, Billy headed for his next stop.
He’d just been to the Co-Op yesterday, but he preferred not to think about that right now. He pulled around to the loading gate, and got out, with Rommel trailing right along with him. The feral cats that lived here, taking advantage of the natural draw of a feed store to mice, yowled and hissed at Rommel, and Billy didn’t try to stop him chasing the cats. He wouldn’t catch them, he knew.
While Rommel entertained himself, Billy set about loading all the things on his list. It was a long, hard and dirty job, but Billy didn’t mind. The mind numbing labor helped him forget the horrors of the last few days. He worked steadily, stopping twice briefly to rest and drink water. It took two hours, but he managed to get everything on his list. The long trailer was over half full, and that half was crammed to the roof.
Once finished with his list, Billy walked through the store, looking around carefully. He picked up a chainsaw, with extra chains and oil, which he placed in the bed of his truck. He also took the time to look up the parts he would need, should the saw break down. He added a set of tires for his truck, and for the Ranger as well. Various odds and ends were added as he walked, always trying to think of how he could use each item he found. He walked to the Carhart selection and picked out three pair of insulated coveralls in his size, and four pair of rugged pants as well. Six shirts and a heavy jacket finished his shopping.
He loaded his plunder up and called Rommel, who came running at once. The two of them got into the truck, headed this time to the hardware store. Once there, Billy quickly gathered several tubs of nails and screws for Mister Silvers, things he’d left or overlooked on the day he’d left town. Billy wouldn’t need them, he figured, and he had told Mister Silvers he’d see what he could do.
Billy looked in the back of the store this time, and found something he’d never thought about. A tiller. He could use it. He would need to plant a garden, and since his father had owned a tractor, he’d never bothered with a tiller. Billy didn’t plan on farming like his father had. With no one to sell to, he didn’t see the point. And he wasn’t that good a farmer, anyway, he admitted.
Once he was finished, Billy looked into the lumber shed. There was a pretty good selection for a small town hardware store, and Billy picked through things fairly carefully. He loaded some wood for himself, in case he needed to make any repairs, or add on to anything, and then finished the trailer off with wood for Mister Silvers.
Next stop was the auto parts store. Billy took his time here, making sure he looked up each and every part he might need for his truck, the Ranger, and even the tractor, though he figured he probably wouldn’t use it. Better to have and not need, his daddy had always said.
Satisfied that there was nothing else here that he needed, Billy headed for the pharmacy next. He had a list of his meds, and went through the pharmacy very carefully, making sure that the stuff he took from there matched the words on his bottles exactly. As he walked out, he went down the aisles and took the things he needed to make a very good first aid kit. His parents had one, but he hadn’t kept it up to date like they had, since he hadn’t lived everyday at the farm. He knew he should have, and frowned to himself at what his parents would have said about that.
While he wouldn’t have thought it when making his plans, his last stop took the longest. Maybe it was because he was tired, but going through the library looking for books that would help him took longer than he thought it rightly should have. But, he admitted, it was worth it, looking at one book he’d found. In it was everything he needed to know about taking care of Rommel. With this, he could go to the vets office, and get everything he needed to give Rommel his shots, and make sure he was healthy.
Billy made that his actual last stop. He wished he hadn’t.
He was glad he’d left Rommel in the truck. Billy had never thought about Doc Danvers having had animals in his office. Once more Billy was assailed by the stench of rotting flesh, and he wondered if he would ever be free of it. He couldn’t run away, this time, however. He chose not to look for the animals, knowing they would be in the cages in back of the building. Instead he went straight to the treatment room, and carefully read from the book he’d found, taking everything he’d need to see to Rommel’s health. He had gotten medicines for the cattle and horses from the Co-Op.
In hindsight, he realized that he could probably have gotten Rommel’s meds there too, but he hadn’t known what they were. He wished he had known. It would have spared him being in here, with the stench.
Billy felt a moment of sadness, and twinge of guilt. He should have thought about that, that animals might have been here. He could have come and let them go. But he hadn’t. Tears filled his eyes at the thought that these poor animals had died for lack of care, food and water, when he was just across town, hiding. He dropped his head for a moment, as the guilt threatened to overwhelm him.
But how could I have known that no one would think to let them out? he thought after a minute. I wasn’t responsible for them. It wasn’t my responsibility to care for them. And I didn’t know they were here.
Straightening up, he put the thoughts of guilt and sadness away.
So long as the problem’s in the barn, son, leave it there. Don’t bring it into the house. That’s what daddy had said. When Billy hadn’t understood, daddy had tried again.
When you stop work for the day, son, don’t bring car problems home with you, even if you’re staying in your apartment right there in your shop. As long as the problem is in the shop, it has no place in your home. Billy had understood that. Don’t bring trouble on your own house.
With that thought, and the memory of his Father’s voice comforting him, Billy lifted his head, and left.
He wanted to get home before dark. He still had a lot of work to do.