Billy awoke the next morning with Rommel whining in his face.
“Okay buddy,” Billy mumbled. “I guess you gotta go, too.” Rising from his small bed, Billy stumbled to the door and let Rommel out into the small fenced yard behind the garage. He went to the bathroom, then washed his face and hands. He would have liked a shower, but had to conserve his water. Once he was at the farm, water wouldn’t be a problem, though.
First thing I’m gonna do is take me a long shower. No, he decided, a hot soaking tub bath. Yeah, that’s the ticket. He went to the back door, where Rommel was waiting patiently to be let back in. Billy smiled, ruffing the big dog’s head. Rommel wroffed lightly, and licked Billy’s hand in return.
“We going home today, boy,” Billy told him. Rommel looked at him quizzically, almost as if asking ‘isn’t this home’.
“No, it ain’t,” Billy answered the dog’s supposed question with a smile. “We get to the farm, you’ll have all the room you want to run in. And a big ole bed to sleep on, too,” he added. Wagging his stub of a tail, Rommel seemed to say, ‘suits me’.
Billy began looking through his garage, packing the tools he knew he might need at home. He would lock up when he left, of course, but if there was anyone else still alive, the lock probably wouldn’t stop them.
“Don’t matter, I guess,” he spoke aloud. “I just don’t wanna have to come back.” He loaded his tools and other equipment quickly, wanting to get on his way. For some reason he couldn’t quite grasp, he wanted away from the town. Quick as he could get. He didn’t know why. He just knew that he did.
Soon, he was ready to go. He pulled his truck out of the shop, then hooked it to the trailer. Once it was outside, he called to Rommel. Making one more look through his shop and apartment, he decided he had everything he wanted or needed.
“Let’s go boy!” he whistled. Rommel jumped into the open truck door without hesitation. Billy grinned, and got behind the wheel.
“We gotta get ya some more food, boy,” he grinned, once more rubbing the dog’s large head. “We git that, and me some tater chips and pickles, and we’re outta here.” They pulled to the front of Alberts, and Billy soon had three more carts filled to overflowing with dog food. After a second, he went back and got all the cat food, too. Dog could eat it, he knew. He also decided to get all the little treats and such, since no one else would likely be needing them anymore.
He finally had everything loaded, and looked around him once more.
“Hardware store,” he murmured. He’d forgotten that yesterday in his excitement over finding Rommel. He took four more carts and headed across the street to the hardware store. Once there, he went carefully up and down the aisles, getting the things he knew he’d need. His daddy had always been careful to keep plenty, and Billy knew just what things daddy had said were on the NEED list.
That was list of things that daddy and momma had told him it would be hard to make or find, and just plain hard to do without. He took nails, screws, silicone sealant, glue, a complete set of hand tools, saw blades, the list went on. He finished just as his last cart was full. He tugged the carts over, and managed, barely, to get all of them into the trailer.
At the last minute, he went back. He gathered up as much pipe as he could find, with connectors, fittings, glue, everything he’d need to plumb the house over again. He managed to get that into the back of his truck, but it took some doing.
“We just can’t carry no more, Rommel,” he said at last. Hearing his name, the dog perked up.
“Let’s go,” Billy ordered. Rommel once again leaped into the truck, and Billy set off for home.
It was only a few miles to the farm, taking no longer than thirty minutes to travel. It took longer today. There were cars all along the road. Billy didn’t understand that at first, until he looked down into one as he passed by. There were people in the cars. Dead people. They had driven until they had died, he realized. And that was where they stayed. There was no one to move them. Not anymore.
For some reason, the dead people in the cars scared him more than the prospect of being all alone. Billy didn’t really believe in ghosts, at least he didn’t think he did. Suddenly he was wondering. All these people had died in a horrible manner, and close together. Would that make a difference? Would the town be haunted? The whole world?
He just didn’t know, and not knowing scared him. He unconsciously rubbed the bridge of his nose, right between his eyes, as he felt his head start to ache.
No, no, no, not now! he thought to himself, on the edge of panic. He had too much to do to have one of his headaches. If he took the medicine the doctor had given him, it would knock him out for. . . .
He stomped on the brakes so hard that Rommel lose his footing and fell into the floor board. The massive dog shook himself, and jumped back onto the seat, giving Billy a look that clearly said ‘what was that for?’
My meds! I forgot my meds!
He looked frantically for a way to turn the truck around. Nearly in a panic, he couldn’t focus on where he was, what he needed to do. All he could think about was his meds.
As if sensing that his new person was in danger, Rommel looked around him in confusion, seeking a threat. Seeing none, he looked back to Billy, and suddenly head butted him in the arm. When he didn’t get a response, Rommel repeated the action, and then a third time.
Suddenly Billy looked at the dog, still slightly wide-eyed. Rommel ran his head under Billy’s hand, encouraging him to scratch. Billy did so without thought, rubbing and scratching the giant head for a full five minutes as he calmed down. The motion brought him back to clarity.
“Thanks, boy,” Billy gave the dog’s head a final ruffing. Realizing that the truck was still in gear, he placed in park, easing his now aching foot off the brake pedal. He took a few deep breaths, and then shook his head.
“I gotta keep calm,” he said to himself. “Gotta keep calm,” he repeated three more times. It became almost a mantra as he put the truck back in gear and started down the road. He remembered, now that his panic was gone, that he had a year’s supply of all his medicines at the house. Something else his mom and dad had managed to get for him. He kept buying his prescriptions regularly, adding them to the stocks, and then using the oldest of the stockpiled medicine.
“We can always go back and get the medicine after we get settled,” he told Rommel. The dog looked at him, head cocked to the side, then wagged his stump of a tail, as if saying ‘sounds good to me’.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. Billy eased onto the small road that led to the farmhouse, stopping half-a-mile off the main road to open the gate. He drove through, locked the gate behind him, and then drove the truck and trailer the rest of the way up to the house.
As the truck pulled in front of the two story white frame house, Billy looked it over carefully. He hadn’t been here in almost three weeks. The fact that the gate had still been locked was a good sign, but he was always careful. Daddy had taught him that.
He and Rommel got out, the dog sniffing the air. Billy watched him for a moment. The dog didn’t react to anything, so Billy decided to go on inside. He led the dog up the steps to the porch, and unlocked the front door. Rommel hesitated slightly, but when Billy walked in, the big dog followed.
After checking the house, both Billy and Rommel were satisfied that all was well. Billy checked to make sure that the power from the PV cells was still working, and then checked the batteries in the basement. The charge meter was right where it was supposed to be. Happy with that, Billy headed back upstairs.
He got back in the truck, and backed the rig to the barn. Rommel ran alongside, barking furiously, as if worried he was being left behind.
“Relax, buddy,” Billy laughed. “I ain’t goin’ anywhere without ya.” For some reason this seemed to appease the dog, and he trotted alongside the rest of the way, quietly. It took a while, but Billy got everything squared away where it belonged. He put half the food away in the ‘hole’ as he thought of it, checking on the batteries there as well, just as his father had taught him. Finding everything there to be okay, he secured the barn, and once more got into the truck.
He drove to a smaller barn well behind the house, where he off loaded the other half of his supplies, including the other half of the dog food he’d gotten from Albert’s. His father had taught him never to put all of his eggs in one basket, and practiced what he preached. Fully half of the stores that Billy’s parents had amassed were in a much smaller ‘hole’, beneath this barn. While it didn’t have it’s own PV system, a line ran from the house to allow a lighted interior.
“I’m glad that’s done,” Billy said to himself, wiping sweat from his brow. Doing so made him aware of his odor.
“I stink, Rommel!” he said with a laugh. “I need a bath worse’n you did!” Again, Rommel looked at his person, head cocked to the side. He’d heard his name, but no command, so his confusion was understandable.
“You’re the only one I got to talk to, now, boy,” Billy explained to him. “Better get used to it. Now I aim to have a bath, and then I’m gonna cook the both of us a good steak!”
The steak had been good, Billy decided. He’d used a marinade that his mother had taught him to make, one that she had said really brought out the flavors of beef. Rommel had seemed to enjoy it too.
“How’d you like that, boy,” he asked, grinning at the enormous dog. “Good stuff, yeah?” Rommel wagged his stump of a tail in agreement. Or at least what Billy decided to take as agreement.
Billy cleaned the dishes, and the table, making sure that all was where it was supposed to be. Something his mother had taught him. If you put things back where they belong, you won’t have to look for them next time you need them.
Billy walked out onto the front porch after that, taking a seat in his favorite rocker. Rommel followed, and sat down beside him. Billy absently scratched the big dog’s head as he looked out over the farm.
The cattle looked good, he thought. There was good grazing this time of year, and the vet had been out to see them just three months ago. Billy didn’t figure there’d be another visit from the vet anytime soon. He’d have to do what he could. He knew the cattle were important, as were the horses. There were eleven cows, one bull, and four horses on the farm. Billy knew them all by name. They were good animals.
He decided that tomorrow he’d get the Ranger out, and ride over the farm. He needed to check the fences. And the water holes. Had to keep them clean, his father had taught him. Billy didn’t mind hard work. He’d always enjoyed it, in fact. It seemed to help him keep his mind centered.
Billy knew he had to be careful, now that he was all alone. The people who had helped him since his parents had died were gone, now. Of course, so were the ones who often caused him problems, too.
His spell earlier in the day, with the medicine, scared him more, now, as he looked back on it. If Rommel hadn’t been there, and snapped him out of the mess he’d been in, Billy knew he would probably be still sitting there. Frozen. Unable to make a decision.
When Billy was calm, and not under stress, it was easy for him to see where his shortcomings were. He could see things clearly, then. But if panic ever gripped him, or if he ever felt like he’d made a wrong move, or a bad decision, it could cripple him for hours. With things like they were now, he couldn’t let that happen. He might not have the time to recover.
Frowning, Billy sat further back, easing the rocking chair into motion. He would need a plan. For everything. His parents had taught him that making a plan was a good way to make sure that everything that needed to be done, got done. He needed a plan for making sure that he didn’t have any more episodes like on the road today.
So long as he made his decisions carefully, like his momma and daddy had taught him, he shouldn’t have any panic attacks. If he was sure of his plan, then he would know he had made the right choice, even when it felt like he hadn’t.
“I need a plan,” he said aloud. “Yeah, that’s what I need. I need a plan.”
He took the small notebook he always carried with him from his pocket. Something else he’d learned from his parents. You don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. You don’t write it down, you won’t remember it. It didn’t happen.
“Plan,” he mumbled to himself again. He wrote PLAN in large letters atop the first empty page, then sat back, rocking and thinking.
This might take a while.