The one admonition from Abel besides promising to wake him up at the end of the agreed upon watch length was to be aware that people could be moving through the area to escape what was going on in the town. I also knew it would be important to watch for fire jumping the river. I didn’t think it would happen but if a spark drifted just right anything was possible.
The smoke was pretty thick in places but we were over on the other side of the river – and yes, getting across had been in the not fun category of life – and up a fairly steep incline. That gave us some altitude to view any incoming intruders and it also helped with the smoke. We still smelled it but the worst of it stayed low in the geologic bowl that contained the town because there was barely a breeze to rustle a leaf.
There used to be vacation cabins around but the years of economic downturn had seen most of them foreclosed on and fall into disrepair … some even being burnt down by their owners to spite the banks. I thought that people might try to head for this building, dilapidated though they might be. But since we were near the top of the most accessible trail into the area I’d have nearly a bird’s eye view of anyone trying. I also turned my eye to what was going on in the town.
The fire damage was even more impressive than the light of the flames had revealed during the night. Whole sections of town were just shell after shell of what once had been houses and businesses. Many still burned but most were just embers. I could see a few people wandering about but not many. There was no way to recognize any of them from the distance I was but even had I been closer I doubt I could have told a townsperson from one of Hakim’s people because of the soot that covered everything and everyone.
I suddenly realized I had started to nod off as I watched the remaining flames eating what was left of the town so I shook myself and started going through the boxes of things we had taken from Hakim’s cache. The box of spices and seasonings was good though the selection isn’t what I would have picked if I’d been given the choice. Then again I hadn’t a clue about where the man had really come from or what he had eaten prior to coming to this country. Allspice, anise, basil, borage, cardamom, cayenne, chamomile, cinnamon, citric acid, cloves, cumin, curry powder, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, marjoram, mint leaves, nutmeg, orange peel, oregano, paprika, rosemary, sage, sumac powder, tarragon, turmeric, valerian root, and whole black peppercorns was the inventory of the spice box.
The other box contained couscous, dried figs, green tea bags, fennel tea, something called halva that looked like a candy, hazelnut cream, rosehip tea, dried hummus mix, dried leeks, pickled mango, spicy walnut cream, orange blossom jam, bottles of orange blossom water and syrup, pomegranate dressing, red wine vinegar, dried shallots, sour grape juice, roasted squash seeds, tahini, apricot paste, grape leaves in a jar, almond powder drink, lemon syrup, melon syrup, rose syrup, mint syrup, and vanilla syrup.
I hadn’t a clue what to do with over half of the stuff I found. I mean, I’ve always been adventuresome when it came to food but I was not even sure I wanted to taste pickled mango and I thought valerian root was used as a sedative, not as a seasoning. I was wondering if Abel knew what it was all used for when I saw movement on the path well below our position.
I nudged Abel. He took a second to wake but then he jump to where he saw me crouching and looking below. He put a hand on my shoulder to let me know he was there and then watched as several people tried to make their way through the heavy brush and steep incline of loose soil and gravel. I was setting an arrow on my bow when I saw the one in the lead take a tumble. Rolling down the trail he knocked the legs out from under the two people with him.
I could just make out the voice of a woman as she complained bitterly, “This is ridiculous. There’s nothing over here. We’ll starve, die of exposure, or get eaten by something or someone. Let’s go back and try the other end of town. Maybe we can make it over to New Vale before it gets dark.”
They scrambled down faster than they had been coming up and we lost them as they reached the river’s edge. Abel whispered, “What is this New Vale?”
“Nearest town along the interstate. But that lady is crazy if she thinks they’ll make it before dark without a ride of some kind.”
“She is crazy for more than that. If it is the town I think of, months ago it was emptied of people by the gut disease. The water, it went all bad.”
It had been a while since I’d thought about any place beyond the town. My world had shrunk. Yes Abel did make it bigger but the day-to-day struggle kept both my hands and mind too busy to constantly worry at problems someone else might be having.
For the rest of the day Abel and I took turns but we only saw four more people; one during my watches and three during Abel’s turns. By the time that late afternoon arrived, it had been several hours since the last person had shown themselves. The fires had also moved to block that route though they stayed on the town side of the river.
Abel and I decided to begin moving the cache. The wind had changed and the smoke was getting pretty bad at that location anyway. It took eight trips to move the entire cache to the new location up over the top of the ridge; eight exhausting trips of up and down and up and down and up and down. I felt like a mountain goat. But the air on the other side was easier to breathe and didn’t smell quite so bad.
It was near midnight by the time we finished moving everything. The trail had turned treacherous or we might have continued as we’d caught our second wind … or the fourth or fifth one, I lost count. We were anxious to get everything closer to home so that we could go check on Daniel. We both admitted it wasn’t happening that night and snuggled up under a small overhang to do our best to escape the damp fog that rolled in.
Condensation woke me when it dripped into my ear. If Abel hadn’t wrapped me so tight with his arms I would have sat up straight into a rock that would have probably knocked me right back out again. “Good morning Querida.”
“Morning,” I grumbled as I tried to wipe the cold wetness out of my ear canal. “What time is it?”
I stopped what I was doing and rolled over in his embrace. I said, “Hi.”
He said, “Hello.”
We both realized we weren’t thinking about moving much so that’s what we forced ourselves to do. I knew we had been running low on rations so the previous evening I had picked out a few things around our camp that were edible and as daylight came I put together a reasonable facsimile of something that looked like food.
“Let us move this cache within sight of the meadow and then go get Daniel. We need to rest and then get back to preparing for winter.”
I was in one hundred percent agreement but no matter how hard we worked there was no way we were going to meet that goal. Oh, we managed to move the cache. And thought it was approaching evening, we even managed to hike to within sight of Amish Town. But what we saw when we got within sight made both us both boil over with fury.