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Page closed her eyes and tipped her head back letting the sun warm her face. The sudden drop in temperature before the fall would have her cursing. Now however, a cold snap was a reprieve from the rippers in the east and meant safe travel for everyone out on the road.

Considering the house they planned to stay had been vandalized by someone, the group moved on to meet Theo at the Spring Gulch settlement. Page was a little shocked at how much ground they were covering. They had left the castle only three days ago and Ty said they would reach the settlement soon.

‘Mom, look.’ Kidd said and she opened her eyes. Off in the distance she could see a wall made of something dark silver colored. ‘What is it?’

‘That’s the settlement.’ Ty said. ‘We reached it sooner than I thought we would. They used some kind of steel paneling from the local hardware store. It took some serious work which is Corbin’s biggest issue with moving the settlement.’ Page nodded understanding. She could not even begin to imagine the effort it took to get those plates into place without being torn up by rippers. ‘We may have a problem.’ Ty said frowning. ‘I don’t think we will be able to fit your wagon through the doors. They have a couple of shed doors as an entrance.’

‘I am not leaving the wagon outside.’ Page said. ‘I spotted some houses in the woods a little ways back. We can camp there if we need too.’

‘Wow.’ Kidd said starring at her wide eyed. ‘You saw houses and didn’t go raid them?’ Page chuckled giving the boy a playful shove.

‘I am not that bad.’ Kidd looked at her, and then at the back of the wagon which was packed with items. ‘Oh shut up.’ she giggled and the boy smiled.

‘It’s okay mom.’ He said ‘The more you get, the more we have to trade for good stuff. Ty says they have a tackle shop in this settlement.’

‘Whoa!’ Page called pulling on the reigns. Elly and Buck came to a stop and Page looked to Ty. ‘They have a tackle shop?’

‘Yes.’ He said confused. ‘It was in the section they made into a settlement. There is a hardware store too.’ Page shook her head and put the wagon’s break on. She got up and went into the back of the wagon. Digging through the pile of supplies, she pulled out the large pull cart.

‘Give me a few hours.’ She said before hopping down and heading into the woods.

‘Where is she going?’ She heard Ty ask.

‘To get enough to trade for fishing gear.’ Kidd giggled. ‘The bastard destroyed all of ours.’ Kidd was not wrong about that. The fishing rod and tackle they had lost hurt them the most these last weeks. The river was right there and just begging to be fished in.

With any luck, the houses she spotted would have something worth trading for four full fishing outfits. If not, she still had a lock box full of silver and gold coins to fall back on.

The house she had spotted just before she had closed her eyes to take in the sun was not as big as she hoped. There was a second one across the street however, and a third one down the road a little ways. Between the three, she was sure she would find something good. Ty had told her this settlement’s people were lucky enough to have not just a hardware store, and a pharmacy, but now they have a fishing place too. She was not sure what she could get them that they did not already have. Mentally going over the small stash they had in the cart, the only thing they really had was a big stash of household cleaning products and toiletries.

The first house she ran across was empty. It had a large for sale sign in the front yard. The second was a little more helpful. She cleaned out some of the closets and took a large amount of tools. It was the third house that had the biggest payout however. Not only did she find a massive amount of jewelry, she found guns and ammo. In the kitchen Page found another pantry full of homemade and store bought canned food. They did not need anymore, but a lot of it was pie filling. Every settlement they traded with, loved pie filling and canned fruits. The small closet upstairs by the bathroom yielded several bottles of vitamins and a hand full of first aid supplies. A gas chainsaw and a few other tools where the last thing she could add to her cart without over loading it.

The walk back to the wagon was not a pleasant one. The cart was far heavier then she had intended to load it and the wheels were not great for unpaved terrain. She needed to get to that survival store Woody had told her about. She was sure a survivalist store would have a cart with a harness like her old one. As soon as she cleared the woods, Ty jumped down from the back of the wagon and jogged over to help.

‘A chainsaw?’ He chuckled ‘Really?’

‘You never know.’ Page said smiling. ‘Kidd tell him about that guy by the Clark Fork settlement.’

‘He gave us all his wears for a waffle iron I found in an old house.’ The boy announced.

‘Seriously?’ Ty asked confused. Page nodded

‘It was his favorite food before the fall.’ She shrugged. ‘It’s like stakes with me. You guys thought I was nuts for eating one every night for dinner. Before the fall.’ She shook her head. ‘I loved a good stake. I gave them up a year before the fall to try to lose some weight. Then when shit hit the fan, I never thought I would have one again.’ She motioned to her cart. ‘Everyone has something. Waffles, stakes, or even strawberry jam.’ She smiled to Kidd when he giggled. The boy has a serious weakness for strawberry jam. ‘Our job is to find that something and bring it to them.’ Ty nodded

‘Okay,’ he said helping her load the items in the cart onto the wagon. ‘I think I get it. Just do me a favor. If you see any cans of oranges on your travels, keep me in mind.’ Page grinned and climbed into the wagon. She went to their stash of food. She pulled out a can of mandarin oranges and tossed them to Ty. He caught them one handed and looked at the label. His eyes lit up and grinned to her. ‘Have I told you lately I love you?’

‘You can pay me for those later.’ She chuckled giving him a wink.

‘So gross.’ Kidd sighed and looked to Ty. ‘I like oranges too, but I really love strawberry jam. We took all the jars from Mr. Macaroy’s house.’

‘I saw them.’ Ty chuckled. ‘I was wondering what you guys were going to do with them.’

‘Those have been Kidd’s breakfast since we left the Macaroy house.’ Page told him putting the new items into their trade pile. ‘If not on toast, then on oatmeal, or flat bread. Whatever he thinks, I will let him get away with.’ She smiled remembering something and looked to Kidd. ‘Remember that last morning at the house?’ He giggled nodding. Page looked to Ty smiling.  ‘I caught him trying to make a sandwich with the jam and two full sized chocolate bars he found. Thank god I stopped him. They were turning white and would have probably made him sick.’ Ty shook his head and smiled to the boy.

‘I don’t know, if the chocolate wasn’t bad,’ the man started. ‘I am sure it would have been amazing.’ Kidd nodded his agreement. Page climbed out of the wagon and went to the horses who were grazing.

‘Come on babies.’ Page cooed. ‘Rest time is over. Just a short walk and hopefully we all can rest for a couple of weeks.’ She led them back to the wagon and Kidd rushed over to help her hook the two back up. After double checking their harness, Page did a walk around the wagon. Seeing no damage, she helped Kidd into the wagon before climbing up herself.

As they neared the settlement, Page spotted snipers on the walls and the door Ty had told them about. It was small and even if they unhooked the horses, she was positive there was no getting the wagon inside. The empty house she had found would make a good camp. There was a massive fireplace in the living room and they could hang blankets and furs on the two doors leading into it to keep the heat in. ‘Whoa babies’ Page called and the two horses came to a stop. Dogg squeezed between her and Kidd with his front legs on the seat. He barked up at the people on the wall. ‘Easy boy.’ Page soothed putting an arm around the dog. ‘They won’t bother us.’

The doors opened and a scowling man with thick black hair and a massive mustache came out holding a homemade spear. It looked like a kitchen knife tied to the top of a broom handle.

‘Keep that dog quiet.’ He hissed. ‘This is ripper territory.’

‘We know.’ Page said. ‘The rippers are terrified of dogs and horses. They won’t come near them.’ She motioned off to the right where she felt the worst of the pressure. The man looked and paled taking a step back. His fear turned to confusion and Page looked. There were three pale bodies hunkering behind a tree. They darted forward, but never made it more than a foot before backing off. Dogg snarled and before Page could stop him, he leapt from the wagon and tore off barking at the rippers. They squealed and ran into the woods.’ Kidd whistled and the dog came back panting and seeming pleased with himself. The man’s eyes had widened in surprise.

‘You’re a trader.’ He said. ‘What do you want for the dog?’ Page shook her head.

‘He isn’t mine to trade,’ she told him ‘and my son sure as hell won’t give him up.’

‘He’s my dog.’ Kidd said annoyed. The man sighed disappointed and looked up to the top of the wall.

‘Open the big gate Arron.’ He called. The man up top pulled something and the wall the shed doors were attached to slid open. She wondered if they were on well oiled tracks because it made almost no noise. Once the gap was large enough for her to drive into, the man motioned them forward.

Page drove the horses through the opening and got a good look at the settlement. It looked like they had fenced in an entire shopping section of the little town’s main street.

‘I’m Corbin Goody.’ The man said smiling to Page ‘The town’s mayor. We all know who you are. Page and Kidd Gallagher. I all most did not believe Ty when he told me he was leaving to meet you. Most of us were convinced Mouth made you up for morale.’

‘No,’ Page said frowning ‘unfortunately the little shit doesn't make stuff up. I just wish he would find someone else to talk about on the radio.’ Ty gave her a sad smile.

‘At the rate you two are going,’ he told her ‘I doubt that will happen any time soon.’ She nodded not liking it at all.

‘We have trade.’ She told Corbin. ‘Do you have a place we can set up?’

‘Can I ask you some advice first?’ Corbin said and Page looked to him confused. He shrugged. ‘You have been out in the mess since the start.’He motioned around them. ‘We have security here and it is a good place to live. Well, it was until spring. Damn rippers are all over out there. My friend Theo says we should move to the safe zone, but I want to try to lure Red here.’ Page shook her head.

‘Behemoths have set boundaries on their territories.’ She told him. Page then told him about Romeo and Ulysses. ‘This place is less than ideal. Sure you have good solid walls, but all I am seeing is a lot of blacktop and sidewalks with almost no soil to plant in.’ Corbin was frowning annoyed and Page just shrugged. ‘If you don’t like the answer, don’t ask the question.’

‘Keep going Page.’ Theo said joining them. He was limping but other wise looked unhurt.

‘Well,’ she sighed ‘From a trader’s standpoint, if Theo wasn’t here, we never would have stopped if we didn’t have Dogg or the horses. You saw those rippers. They would not have stopped at the woods if not for the animals.’ She looked around shaking her head at the living conditions. People where crammed tightly into the buildings with little space to move and possibly no privacy. ‘If you move into the safe zone you will still need a wall, but you will have space, room to plant, build privet homes, even raise live stock. I guarantee your quality of life will increase ten fold.’ She shrugged ‘That is just my opinion.’ She looked to Corbin. ‘It’s up to you to decide if your people's safety and happiness are worth sacrificing for a wall.’ He was silent, and then motioned down the road.

‘We trade in front of the hardware store.’ Page nodded and gave Theo a hand up into the wagon. Kidd gave him is seat. Once Theo was comfortable, he gave her a one armed hug.

‘It’s good to see you girl.’ He said smiling. ‘You gave half the continent a hell of a scare.’ Page just shook her head and signaled the horse’s forward.

In front of the hardware store, there was a half circle of plastic folding tables set up. People were standing by at a good distance to see what they had. Page, Kidd, and Ty worked to unload the trade items.

‘Not that.’ Page said seeing Kidd grab the lock box. ‘I am saving that.’ He nodded putting it back under the seat. Once everything was set up, Page looked for Corbin. He was leaning against the building deep in thought.

‘Mayor,’ Ty called and he looked up. ‘It’s custom for the mayor to get the first trade for the town.’ Corbin sighed nodding. He went to the tables and looked over the items. He looked to Page.

‘Do you plan to stay?’ She shook her head.

‘I found a place in the safe zone.’ She told him. ‘We will stay there until the migrations are over.’

‘I will be going with them.’ Theo said. ‘I can't keep Charger cooped up in here much longer.’ Corbin nodded sighing.

‘All right, give us the guns and ammo, along with that cache of seeds there, and I will let you have unlimited access to whatever you want from the bait shop.’ Page looked to him surprised and he smiled. ‘Theo said you and your boy loved to fish. We don’t have river access here, so it's all going to waste sitting in there.’

‘That's a deal then.’ Page chuckled shaking his hand. He took the items he wanted and backed off so the others could trade. The citizens of the settlement had little to trade, but Page took the hit. Everything they were looking for was a necessity, and she did not have the heart to tell them no. They could get more easy enough. Especially since they were going back to those three houses. There had been more she wanted to get, but ran out of room in her cart.

Once everyone was satisfied, Page looked over what was left. The chainsaw had no takers, and only a few canned goods went ignored. Ty helped her put the leftovers back in the wagon. Corbin joined them frowning thoughtful.

‘If this was your settlement,’ he started ‘how would you go about moving it without losing anyone.’Page sighed and looked to him.

‘You will lose people Corbin.’ She said. ‘This area is so infested; it will be an absolute miracle if you don't.’ His face fell and she felt bad, but Page refused to sugar coat this for him. He needed to understand what kind of trouble he was in. She motioned to the east. ‘The swarm to the east is massive. The second your people open that gate and the sound of a large move reaches them, it will be a ripper buffet. If it were me, I would put a ban on any noise in the settlement for a week. That’s why the rippers are not leaving you alone. I heard this settlement before we left the safe zone. After about a week, I would send out all non essentials to the safe zone after making a noise distraction a good distance from the settlement.’

‘A what?’ Corbin asked confused.

‘A noise distraction.’ Ty said ‘It’s something loud and continuous that will draw the rippers from your area and make it safe for people to leave the settlement. Any time you do one; contact Mouth so he can alert the settlements and any travelers on the road.’ Ty looked to Page. ‘It’s also a damn good idea.’ Page shrugged and looked back to Corbin.

‘When you’re ready to move all your stuff out, make sure it is between ten and four pm on a clear day.’ She told him ‘Rippers can not tolerate direct sun. It burns their skin to a crisp. Use another noise distraction.’ She shook her head looking around. ‘You’re only going to be able to do one trip out with your things.’ She looked to Ty. ‘We planned to be in the area anyway. If we help, we can probably get most of their stuff on the wagon. Having Dogg and the horses around will keep the rippers away.’ Ty nodded his agreement. Page looked around and found Kidd watching from the back of the wagon. ‘Are you comfortable driving the wagon on your own?’

‘I think so.’ He said worried ‘Why?’

‘They will need two noise distractions.’ Page sighed ‘who else do you know who can get in and out of a ripper infested area?’

‘No.’ Ty said paling. ‘You don’t have to do that. We can think of something else.’ Page shrugged.

‘Okay, what’s your idea?’ She said. He opened his mouth, closed it, than sighed nodding.

‘I have an idea.’ Kidd said grinning. ‘Do we have any gasoline?’

Submitted: February 05, 2016

© Copyright 2021 CJones. All rights reserved.


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