Estimated reading time: 4 minutes —
Sarah perched up on the rooftop.
Night time was the perfect cover. Her eyes wandered the horizon, all the way up to her small half-hidden cabin on the hillside slope, way past the lighthouse where the wreck of a ship danced to the rhythm of an incoming tide.
She had never liked this town with its people as narrow-minded as the town’s main and only street. After her mother died, she pretty much kept to herself.
This had been a prosperous town once. A successful company found an unusual substance while mining for titanium. In contact with the air, it produced a particularly high amount of energy with a low level of toxicity. This drew many people in, those who believed they were contributing to a better world and those whose greed made them think of profit only.
A strong scent of food brought Sarah back to the present. The cook had opened the kitchen of the café. She could smell the garlic and butter in the sizzling pan. He loved garlic. A man of few words and an excessive love for butchering knives, Carver was in charge of preparing the meals for all the town residents every day. He knew exactly how many. Six.
Sarah jumped from the rooftop to the floor and walked towards the restaurant. Part of the street had collapsed and now there was a step fit for giants where before the street ran smoothly. The usual suspects were gathered in the café.
“Oh, look who decided to join us today,” said Faulkner. “This is quite the honor! Don’t you think guys?”
The others frowned and mumbled. No one really liked the former helicopter pilot. He was overconfident, arrogant and he considered himself quite the ladies type.
“Have a seat,” he said while pulling the chair next to him.
She walked past Faulkner and sat on one of the stools by the counter, her back against the window. Palmer, the gravedigger, snickered; his mouth half open showing the gap of a missing tooth, an obscene tongue dangling through his lips while he touched that ring of his.
She tried to stay away from these guys as much as possible, but she had decided never to be caught off-guard again, so she would now and then drop by for their meals to check on any developments.
“Sarah, you should come over one of these days. I have a new book for you to read.” Andrews, the theater manager, seemed like a good guy. He was pleasant, always respectful and, of course, hated by all the others. He had a knack for finding books. Where, Sarah didn’t know, although she suspected he raided abandoned homes and stole their books favoring the most bizarre topics. The others stole the guns first, then the food, then pretty much anything else.
The town had been in quarantine for a long time. Products were scarce. It was impossible to grow or graze anything. The ground was dead. The water took a strange tone of gray and no one dared fish anything for decades. The authorities would provide them with food and water every three months; a crate per person was dropped by an airplane. They had all decided to keep the canned stuff in a warehouse by the café and Carver made sure it lasted for three months.
All, but Sarah. She kept her crate tucked away in a secret crevice in the floor of her hut. She cooked her own meals too. What she received was more than enough for her to eat well and still have something to trade with the rest of them, when needed.
“Thank you, Mr. Andrews, I’ll drop by the theater one of these days,” said Sarah, although she didn’t have the slightest intention of doing so.
“Ok, let’s eat!” Faulkner banged his fork and knife on the table, displaying a huge smile. “Let’s eat!”
Carver grabbed the pot from the stove and placed it on a rack next to the counter. He looked around and covered the pot with a lid.
“Hey, hey, we are hungry, Carver,” protested Palmer. He was always hungry. His work didn’t seem to interfere with his joy of eating well and profusely.
“Someone go get Adams,” grumbled Carver. “It’s always the same thing. I’m sick of him. You know the rule. We eat when we are all present. No exceptions. And a rule is a rule. Why would we decide to have this rule and then break it all the time? Then, everyone complains that the food is not enough and this one ate too much and that one too little and that is annoying.”
“Wow, what a speech! He probably overslept. Calm down,” replied Beck.
Carver slowly walked towards the former bus driver. He got so close that for a second Beck thought the cook was going to hit him.
“Beck, shut up and go get Adams.”
“I’m not one of the apprentices you used to terrorize with your silences and scary looks and flying knives and…” The bus driver shook his hands in the air hysterically. “I’m not afraid of you. I am afraid of the stuff in the road…”
Sarah perked up her ears.
“What stuff in the road?” asked Andrews.
“Faulkner has seen it too,” he replied hastily, pointing to the pilot. Everyone looked at the back corner of the room where he was sitting.
“I have seen nothing. Let’s eat.”
“You told me you saw it too…” Beck stood up. “Oh, never mind. No one ever believes me anyway.”
“Probably, because you hit hard on the liquor, Beck. You should take it easy. The Baron is gone and his stock isn’t going to last forever, you know,” joked Andrews.
Beck shrugged, annoyed, adjusting the belt where his gun and his axe hung from.
“Ok, I’ll go get Adams then,” volunteered Andrews. “The food is getting cold and we wouldn’t want to lose the unique opportunity for tasting this exquisite delicacy made with the expertise of our finest chef.” The sarcasm earned him a murderous grin from Carver.
Sarah shifted slightly on the stool.
Adams was the local mechanic, a talkative, fix-it-all type of guy, with a tendency to overcharge for his services. His constant fiddling with a lighter had earned him a reputation. When a few unexplained fires destroyed the warehouse where they gathered newspapers, old magazines, and odd documents, no one doubted it was him. This apparently criminal profile somehow contrasted sharply with the fact that he meditated daily and had a flair for a certain sense of esthetics, especially oriental. When the quarantine was enforced and people left town hastily, he went from house to house gathering any artwork he could find, a task that proved to be unsuccessful, only because people in this town were rather inartistic.
Suddenly, Andrews appeared at the doorstep of the café, visibly shocked.
“He’s dead,” he gasped.
Everyone jumped from their seats.
“What?” Faulkner and Beck exchanged a look that didn’t go unnoticed by Carver.
“He’s dead. He’s dead. Can’t you people understand a simple sentence? He… is… dead.” Andrews’s hands were shaking while he tried to hold on to the table and sit down.
This could be a problem, thought Sarah.
“Let’s go check it out,” she commanded, followed by all except Andrews, who was still recovering from the shock.
“Yes, let’s all follow Sarah,” whispered Palmer.