She found him looking out the back window again. It was 2:30 in the morning and he was peeking through the curtain at the cottage they owned. She padded quietly up behind him, put her arms around his waist and asked, “Did she get back late?”
“Yeah, well, she got back early this morning, about an hour ago. She was with someone,” he answered, moving his head a bit to get a better view. “He wasn’t one of her regulars. He’s still there, as far as I can tell.”
“What woke you? Were they loud? What was it?” she wondered.
“Oh, you know, I was worrying about our finances, about our son in Michigan, and about the septic system. The usual. Then I heard them drive up and I watched.” He paused, then admitted, “It’s my only outlet nowadays. I’m a voyeur of all things. I used to be an accountant.”
She should have laughed but she knew he was serious. What they had become worried her, too. They couldn’t leave the house and they had to hire the girl to be their outreach into what was left of the community. The stores and shops were all boarded up and only the immune ones and the asymptomatic ones roamed the city. The girl was immune, knew her way around the black markets in food and repair services, and agreed to work for free rent, a free car, and a few thousand a month.
It had worked out so far. She was good at getting decent food at a decent price, getting immune ones to fix things that needed fixing around the house, and keeping the riffraff off their property. They gave her a pistol and she’d used it once or twice. She was fearless but had good judgement. And it looked like she was close to getting the septic system back into working order.
It bothered them at first when she started bringing men back to the cottage. They’d last for a day or two, then there would be a big argument and the guy would stomp off, never to be seen again. They weren’t sure what they would do if she ever settled on just one guy and he decided to move in. She’d have them over a barrel, no question.
They left the back window and sat in the kitchen. She made coffee and he told her he had a story to tell that began a few weeks ago. He recalled how he found an old walkie-talkie in the garage and got it working again. He turned it on and sent out a general invite to anyone listening and he got an instant reply from an old friend of theirs, Milt Fletcher. The Fletchers were in a similar situation but Milt was a little more adventurous than he was. Seems like Milt liked to sneak out at night while his wife was asleep in an effort to find out what was really going on.
He found out all right. All the immune and asymptomatic ones had formed a makeshift open-air commune in a meadow just outside of town. It was sort of a ‘burning man’ deal with everybody running around half-naked and bartering all sorts of stuff. Milt would hide on a nearby hillside at night and watch the goings-on. He said it was like something out of a Mad Max movie. He actually said it might be worth getting the virus and surviving it just to spend a night down there with the rest of them.
They agreed to communicate again the next day at the same time, but Milt didn’t come up on his walkie-talkie. He went to his garage secretly and tried for two days, but no Milt. On the third day, he snuck out to the garage to try again. He found a walkie-talkie nailed to the garage door. It had been crushed and there was a note attached.
“Oh, my God! Was it Milt’s radio?” she shrieked. He nodded. He had given it to Milt a few years ago as a gift and he recognized it.
“The note. What did the note say?”
He slumped in his chair, a look of fear and despair on his face as he managed to stammer out, “It was from her, our boarder, and her friends. It said, ‘Don’t try this again or there will be no food!’”