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Chapter 1: The Insomniac, Part I
I’d just stepped down from the pharmacy stoop when Junior Reece slid his truck to a stop on the loose snow across the way. Junior was of fighting age, but he only had his right arm and was serving his country in a different way. Never slowed his driving though.
His engine stammered to a halt in front of Mr. McKelvie’s Bakery, and he was soon sauntering at me. I’d been on some down time, as was the nature of the business, and I’d just spent twenty minutes listening to an elderly gent who’d managed to box in one of Gordon Public School’s Marms between the baked goods and the crotch powders. Her bad luck, but mine too as she was also blocking the book rack, my only source in town, this being ’43, and I having hollowed out the library by spring of ’41. In the end I had to give him an accidental shoulder and held the gap while Mrs. Stanislaw made a break for it.
The pickings had been slim, and in all honesty the whole town was feeling a little mean. So I was actually glad when Junior said:
“Able and Schwerdtfeger got a long distance call, you need to get back to the farm.”
The phone was a bit of an extravagance given that everyone else in the county was waiting for peace and line men. Unfortunately, it was also pretty useless. Government operation or not we were on the same switch board as everyone else in town, and the ladies who ran it were chatty hens. Mail and couriers were generally where details came from.
“Did they say what it was about?” I asked as we started back to his truck.
“Able said to hurry and get packed for five nights in the cold, cold bed you’ll be carrying.”
I pressed Junior for more details on the way home, and when it became obvious he didn’t have anything more to give up, we both lapsed into silence. Junior never really talked of his own accord, although he’d match you word for word.
Leaving town and paved roads behind, we eventually slid into the long sloping double rut that was the farm’s drive. There were ten of us in residence then, with another ten living in houses within driving distance. You couldn’t see much of the buildings from the road, except the humblest side of the Van Der Veens’ place when the foliage was off the trees. The Van Der Veens were the folks who ran the 300 acres of land we used as buffer from outside interest, and in exchange they got to keep whatever profits they turned on the wheat. Neither they nor their son could say more than “Hello” in English at that point, but Junior, who’s story in town was that he was their farm hand, could swear up a storm in nine languages.
I was hoping everyone would be home when I got there, and I found Apple Juice eating a sandwich over the sink. Tom was at the table.
“It’s going to be that exciting huh?” I’d hoped they’d be around but it smelled of a low key vigil.
Welcome home kisses were exchanged and AJ offered me half of her ham and pickle.
“Something seems to have done in a family of five up north. No damage to them, no thrashing or anything… and nothing that looks like an outbreak.” Tom, was speaking as the voice of doom, but still trying to ease my mind at the same time. I hate virii. He had paused, but after a little cough he continued: “Seems to have been pretty quick though, they all went at the breakfast table.”
They talked off some of their anxiety, and then tried to talk off some of mine. I think I even brought up the idea of moving, although the idea was wiped out before I made it back. All too soon my duffel was packed and I was following the snow bank along the drive, as the sun dropped behind the trees. I was just starting to hope that the dark might force us to wait till morning when I saw Junior finishing a smoke on the porch wearing that goofy leather cap he’d pull on every time they’d let him fly.
A sure sign we were in a rush, but then again, they only bothered to call me when it was. I pushed inside to see Able and Schwerdtfeger.