Linus slept in a little later than normal. Being in the cabin was comforting. Harkening to a simpler time. Rather, that’s how it had been. Now, everyone was in a simpler time. But the cabin still offered a kind of comfort his home did not. Lying in the small bed, Linus stared at the exposed timbers that supported the tarpaper covered plywood roof.
Sitting up, he took a deep breath and stretched. Feeling more refreshed after the previous night’s sleep than any day of recent memory. He was in no hurry. He wanted to get down the river, but he was going to enjoy the morning. Somewhere off behind the cabin a pileated woodpecker cackled out its call. Linus loved the swamp and all its sounds, smells and sights.
Sitting on a shelf of rough hewn boards, sat a Coleman camp stove. Linus walked over and lit both burners. On one, he put a coffee percolator filled with water from a large blue plastic jug. He filled the basket with coffee and put the lid on. On the other, he set a cast iron skillet atop. Taking a Mason jar down from another shelf, he used a spoon to scoop a large dollop of grey/white paste and banged it into the bottom of the pan. It immediately started to melt, and he went to work on a can of Spam. Once breakfast was cooking, he went outside to take care of his morning constitutionals.
Taking out an old magazine, holding it under one arm, and picked up a bucket with a roll of toilet paper hanging from the wire bail handle and walked out to the end of the porch, Linus dropped his pants and straddled it. He sat for several minutes, thumbing through the pages of the outdated Atlantic Monthly. Once he finished up, he dumped the contents of the bucket into the swamp water beneath the porch. The light flow of current immediately began carrying it away.
After washing his hands in a stainless-steel bowl resting on a repurposed table on the porch, he went inside and flipped the Spam over with a fork. The coffee wasn’t yet boiling, so he returned to the porch and pitched the water from the bowl into the swamp and refilled it with fresh water. After brushing his teeth and running a comb through his graying hair, he went back inside.
The coffee was boiling and the Spam satisfyingly browned. He filled a coffee cup and used an old dish towel to pick up the skillet and carried them out to the porch. Linus enjoyed his breakfast sitting on the porch as cormorants, Ibis and herons glided down the river or walked along its shores. He was surprised when a pair of otters emerged from the swamp and began seeking their breakfast in the small channel Linus used to access the cabin.
The otters squeaked and chattered as they dove looking for anything edible. One of the otters floated to the surface and rolled onto its back. In its hands was a large crayfish which it eagerly ate. Linus could hear the crunching from where he sat. As the gentle current spun the otter around, it noticed him sitting on the porch.
The animal immediately submerged, only to pop back up, pushing itself out of the black water to get a better look at the creature that wasn’t there yesterday. It squeaked loudly, and the other otter emerged from behind a large cypress stump. It answered the first and swam over. The two animals bobbed up and down as they considered Linus. He sat still, watching them. Then, taking a piece of the crisped meat from the pan, he tore it in half and tossed the pieces into the water.
Both creatures immediately dove for safety. Only to resurface feet away. One of them swam towards the pieces of strange smelling meat drifting in the black flow. Swimming up to it, the otter pushed the piece with its nose for a moment before seizing it and rolling over onto its back. The other otter copied the first and in a moment, both of them were swimming lazy circles in the water just below where Linus sat. He smiled and tore another piece in half, tossing them to the animals.
“That’s all you get. This is my breakfast,” he said as they each grabbed a chunk and quickly consumed it.
But they didn’t leave. Instead swimming around below him, squealing and chattering like bickering siblings. Linus took a sip from his cup, it was down to the bottom and lose grounds drifted in it. He pitched the dregs of the coffee at the otters, saying, “Here. Have some coffee.” The animals quickly dove for safety, reemerging farther down the canal where they continued their search.
While Linus had a goal for the day, he was in no hurry and took time to enjoy the morning. He drank the entire pot of coffee and started another. He’d need some for the rest of the trip and there was no sense in suffering without when he could just brew up another pot. While the coffee brewed, Linus enjoyed the scene from the porch.
With the thermos filled Linus secured the cabin. He paused on the porch for a moment, caught in the perodox of the situation. He built the cabin as an escape. He went to it to escape. He enjoyed the simpler life on the river, void of the modern trappings. And now, the entire nation had lost those trappings as well.
Boarding the boat, he untied the line and kicked it away from the dock. As he motored out the small canal to the river proper, he took in a deep breath. The smell of the tannic water, fish and rotting vegetation mixed with the odor of gasoline and exhaust. It was an intoxicating aroma to him. It brought back memories from his childhood and always relaxed him. And right now, he needed any comfort he could find.
With light steam rising from the water, Linus turned into the river. The rest of the river is uninhabited until he came to Suwannee. But just because there’s no houses, doesn’t mean there’s no people. So, Linus wasn’t surprised when he saw a boat coming towards him. It was a large pontoon boat and as they drew near one another, it slowed and one of the men waved him over.
Linus slowed and let the boat drift towards them. One of the men stood up. He held a long-barreled shotgun in one hand. The man reached out to hold Linus’s boat back so the two didn’t slam together. He wore what at one time was a white wifebeater. Now it was an indistinguishable shade of gray. And even sitting in the rear of his boat Linus could smell the reek of whiskey.
“Morning,” Linus said with a smile.
“Mornin,” the man replied. Linus took him in. His eyes looked like two red piss holes. He was obviously still drunk and probably had been since the moment things changed.
Nodding at the shotgun, Linus asked, “You boys out hunting?”
The man took a wobbly glance at the weapon in his hand. “Naw.” Then looked at the carbine resting between Linus’s legs. “You?”
Linus tilted the carbine resting muzzle down and looked at it. “Not yet.”
“Where you headed?”
“Suwannee. How about you?”
The man’s partner laughed. “There ain’t shit there now. Ain’t that right?”
“Yeah,” the man with the shotgun replied and wiped his mouth with a filthy hand. “We drank the town dry.”
“I guess it’s good I wasn’t looking for any whiskey then.”
“What are you lookin’ for?”
“Nothing interesting,” Linus replied and looked down the river. “I’m gonna head out boys. You fellers have a nice day.”
The man holding the boat smiled and said, “I like your boat.”
Linus gripped the carbine and rested it on his lap. “Me too.” He looked the man in the eye and said, “Now let go of my fucking boat.”
The man lifted his hand, “Easy now friend. No harm here.” As Linus dropped the boat into gear and started to back away, the man said, “We’ll be seeing you again.”
“It’ll be the last thing you see, should that day come.” Linus knew the type he was dealing with. Base animals that were only barely contained in civilized society.
As he motored away from the men, he wondered how many more like them were on the river and just how much shit they were going to stir up. He had an idea, and it wasn’t good. Folks in the country are generally good. But like everywhere, there is trash and just like their urban counterparts, they can very dangerous. The difference is, out here, it can be just as dangerous for them. And now that there was no 911, all those signs posted at gates and on porches spoke truth.
Coming into Suwannee Linus eased through the canals to find the hardware store. After tying the boat up he walked over to the cavernous building that was the hardware store among other things. The store was owned by Don. A curmudgeon of a man. But he was the only source of hardware, lumber and anything else you’d expect to see in such a place. But he also sold boating supplies, live bait and fishing tackle. As well as camping equipment.
But Don’s store wasn’t like Wal-Mart. You never knew what he would or wouldn’t have and it was very possible to find items from companies that no longer existed and had been hanging on the same hook for a decade. But that was also a good thing. Because more often than not, you could just the oddball thing you needed, or something that would do the job.
Then there what the place looked like. It was a massive building that at one time housed a boat building outfit. And it was old
The side of the store facing the river consisted of two enormous doors that were pushed back out of the way on old cast iron rollers. Around the corner from there, was an old-time plank board covered porch. Linus could see several people occupying the many chairs, buckets and crates that served as porch furniture. But he wasn’t interested in the people on the porch, he was here to see Don.
The focal point of the store was the old cypress log that had been hewn into the counter top which Don held court behind. He seldom left his stool behind the counter. He kept a gathering of young men around the store to lead people to what they were looking for or to help load their supplies. While the store seemed like utter chaos to most, Don knew exactly where everything was and could call out its exact location from memory. An astounding feat considering he never left his roost behind the counter.
Don was talking to a couple of men when Linus walked in and out of instinct he turned to head for the coffee pot that sat on a shelf. “Ain’t no coffee, Linus. Damn power’s out,” Don called out.
Linus stopped and shook his head. “I should have known that.”
“What’cha lookin’ fer?”
“Go ahead and take care of them. I ain’t in hurry.” Linus replied with a dismissive wave.
While he waited on Don, Linus wandered around the store. He knew what he was looking for was likely already gone, but he had nothing better to do. It didn’t take Don long to complete his business with the two men and he called out for Linus as soon as they were headed towards the door.
As Linus approached the counter, Doc asked, “What kin I do you fer?”
“I was hoping you might have some batteries and kerosene.”
Don chewed on his cigar, swapping it from one side of his mouth to the other. “Well now Linus. With everything going on, you know that stuff sold out already.”
Linus leaned over the counter. “Bullshit Don. You and I both know you came out here and took down everything you had. Not to mention all the shit you probably had in a hidey hole already.”
Don leaned back and removed the cigar from his mouth and pointed at Linus with it. Laughing, he said, “You’re not the first person to say that to me.”
“And what did you tell the others?”
Don opened his arms, “I ain’t got none.”
“Did that lie work on them?”
Don slapped his pudgy knee. “It did, it did.”
Linus slapped the counter. “Good that means you’ve still got it.”
Now Don leaned over the counter, “What do you need?”
“Five gallons of kerosene and D and double A batteries.”
Don looked around, then a rare sight occurred, he slid off the stool. “Come on. Follow me.” Don looked towards the front of the store and called out to a young man there, “Cole, watch the shop for a minute and make sure no one comes back here.” The young man rose lazily from the bucket he was sitting on and walked towards the counter.
Linus followed him through a set of antique swing doors into the warehouse section of the store. They walked past shelves that went nearly to the ceiling, which must have been thirty feet. As they walked, Don grabbed a pallet jack and drug it along. Stopping at a section of shelves, he shoved the jack under a pallet and pumped it. “You can’t just leave this sort of thing out in the open.”
“Especially when you’re trying to hoard it for yourself.”
Don stopped pumping the handle and looked over. “Now Linus. You actually think I would keep this from folks what needed it?”
Linus laughed, “Shit, you’re keeping it for whoever offers you the most damn money.”
“Of course, people have to pay for it. Hell, I had to pay for it. It’s only fair.”
Don pulled the pallet out of its place. Behind it was another pallet. This one was stacked four feet tall with gray five-gallon jugs of kerosene. With the pallet out of the way, Linus could see there were others as well. Don leaned in and pulled a jug down and set it on the floor, then pushed the pallet back in place and removed the jack.
As he started to drag the jack down the isle again, “I waited a couple of days at first. When I realized the power wasn’t coming back on, I started taking measures.”
“What sort of measures?”
“I pulled some things I thought would be important. Things folks would really need. If this goes on too long, folks are gonna be in a real bind.”
“You are absolutely right about that Don. I think things are going to get back to normal anytime soon.”
“I fear you’re right.”
They stopped in front of another section of shelves and repeated the process of removing a pallet to expose the ones behind it. Don leaned in, ripping boxes open to find what he was looking for. He handed Linus a large package of each type of battery and asked, “Is that enough?”
“Let me have one more of each.”
Don scowled and retrieved the packs and handed them over. “What are you paying with?”
Linus reached into his pocket and took out a small clear plastic envelope. Enclosed in it was a small gold coin about the size of a dime. He tossed it Don, saying, “This should cover it.”
Don examined the coin and nodded. “This’ll do it.” Stuffing the coin in his pocket he said, “Bring your boat around back here. I don’t want anyone to see you loading this stuff.”
Linus nodded and went back through the store and out to the dock. He quickly motored around to the rear dock of the old building. Originally this spot was used to launch the boats constructed here. So the doors opened right over the water, there was no dock here. Now, it was used by Don to bring in, or out, contraband of various kinds. After Don handed down the kerosene and batteries, Linus thanked him.
“Take care of yourself,” Don replied.
“You do the same. I got a feeling things are about to get a little sporty.”
Linus started the outboard and pushed the boat away from the building. There wasn’t anything else he needed from here and he didn’t want to linger. So he pointed the boat towards the channel. He intended to get home today, not staying overnight at the cabin on the return. But the trip wouldn’t be without incident.