Dinner that night was the best they had had so far. Trista cut the fish into tiny fillets and fried them in a little flour and oil. She made bread with oil, and it was much softer than the bread she had cooked for them before. With salt and pepper, they enjoyed the fresh fish. Dion ate one fillet and Gaelin and Trista split the other three.
After dinner and clean-up, the sun was falling behind the trees and Trista laid Dion in the bed. Gaelin built the fire as set wood on the side, and moved the table over so that he and Trista could both pull their stools near the fire. Trista finally came and sat down with her nearly completed broom handle. She scraped with a piece of broken crockery while Gaelin spoke.
“After I left, it took me a day and a half to walk to the nearest town, which is called Granite. It is a small town, pretty much just a farming community. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of tourism there, or anything like that. I did most of the travel in the night, since the day was too hot. When I got onto a two-lane highway coming down out of these hills and going toward the town, I was expecting to hitch a ride down to the town. But when a car came along, I hid from it in a near panic. I don’t know why. I did this every time. I tried to rationalize it, but I couldn’t. I’m scared of people now.”
“Are you sure you weren’t just scared of the cars themselves?”
“Yeah. When I got down to the town I was still scared of people just on streets. I walked around the perimeter of the town, and I always had to keep myself from running for cover when anyone would appear.”
“How did you get the pack, and the food and other stuff then? You could have stolen these items, but not if you were too scared to even enter a store.”
“I found one sort of human that I’m not as afraid of, well, besides you.” He gave her a wide grin. “He was a rancher that I met at the feed store. I stopped to pet his horse in the horse trailer…”
He told her about the horse, Blue, and the encounters with Bartimaeus Smith and Julius Drake. “…So I did go and find Drake’s house that evening. I…well, I got dinner, but it was some of the dog’s food that they put out on the porch that night. I hope Drake never finds out, he and his wife are very kind. They would have given me three squares a day and a bed in their house if I had let them. I slept in the hayloft while I was there.”
“The next morning I washed myself with the hose and showed up for breakfast. Now, please understand, I’m still afraid of Drake and his wife, but it isn’t as bad. I think it might be because they are accustomed to working with animals.”
Trista interrupted, “Animals? Are you calling yourself…?”
“Well, it is the closest thing I can compare it to. I feel like a feral animal when I look at a person. They look foreign, their movements threaten me. I’m half expecting them to chase or hurt me. Drake and Penny, his wife, are slightly less scary. And you Trista, I’m not afraid of you at all.” He reached eagerly and took her hand. Trista squeezed his hand, but wouldn’t look at him. She stared into the fire. Gaelin watched the wheels turning in her head, as she came to the same conclusions he had had to come to in the past few days. At least he had had time to work through it on his own. Gaelin continued with his narrative, though he was sure that Trista wasn’t listening as closely.
He told her about how he had spent the day working, mostly alone, once Drake had taught him what needed to be done. It was mostly simple tasks, cleaning and organizing around the farmyard. After lunch, which Gaelin had asked to eat on the porch, Drake turned him over to Penny. So he had helped her weed and water their extensive vegetable garden the entire afternoon. That evening, Drake and Gaelin negotiated the day’s payment. Gaelin had happily accepted twenty dollars for his labor. On one level, he knew that this was far below what he would have earned for the same time in a minimum wage job. On another, he knew that Drake didn’t have a whole lot to spare for a pair of green hands like his.
He had asked Drake if he could trade the twenty dollars for the supplies he now had. The pack was supplied by Drake himself; it was an old military-issue pack from when the big man had been in the Coast Guard. He gave Gaelin the dry foodstuffs, packed by his wife. He went to the town and bought the oil, net, nails, and other things.
Drake recognized that Gaelin would leave the next day to go back to wherever he had come from. He told Gaelin that he would give him a ride as far as he wanted. Gaelin thought about this for a minute, and asked if he could ride in the back of the truck, instead of the cab. Drake responded by saying that he still had the horse trailer hitched up, and that Gaelin could ride with Blue in the horse trailer. At least it would be safer than just the flatbed of the truck.
So in the early morning Gaelin had ridden with Drake up the highway to the end of the gravel road that Gaelin had come from. He was glad then that he had marked it. He used a broom from inside the trailer to tap on the truck until Drake slowed and stopped. They parted ways, and Gaelin spent the rest of the day walking up the gravel road and back along the trail to the cabin, and he had finally arrived in mid-afternoon.
“And here I am now.” The fire burned low, and the light of the quarter moon slipped in through the window. “I think now we know how we are going to be kept here. They made us afraid like animals.”
Trista nodded, “You were unusually brave just to speak to them, much less work with them for a day. I don’t think other people got that far.”
Gaelin shuddered, and his eyes looked haunted in the dim light. “I’m so glad that I’m not afraid of you Trista.”
“Come on, let’s get to bed.” She rose and set her smoothed broom handle against the side of the cabin. She entered the room. Gaelin paused to put one more branch on the fire and bank the other coals. He heard noises like furniture moving in the bedroom. When he entered, he found that Trista had pulled the trundle bed out and was laying Dion in it, covering him with Gaelin’s blanket.
She unbraided her hair casually. Gaelin wanted to touch it; it still had small, shiny highlights. She turned to him and whispered, “We should share the bed now. But not…”
“It’s ok, I understand.” Gaelin sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand. But as they lay down, she drew his arm around her shoulders. He sighed and hugged her, feeling all his troubles melt from his arms down out his body.
Thanks for taking me back. You guys are all I have now.