There were a few more than usual but about the same mix. The players change but the program remains the same. Ragged, underfed and forlorn; they kept to the shadows surrounding the circle of light outside the gate. Uneasy in groups, they cast fearful glances at one another as they milled about.
The old man cleared his throat quietly and squared his shoulders as he stepped into view causing several to visibly cower and shrink away from the light.
“Go away,” he grumbled.
“But we’re hungry…” said one, “And cold” from another. “We can smell the food and the wood smoke of your fire.” Several nods all around. “And you have lights,” said another from the shadows. More nods.
The old man shook his head, weary of the demands. “Do you have anything to barter with?” he asked. “I need metals, especially lead and copper or a bucket with a good bottom in it. Anything?” he implored.
Head shakes and downcast glances.
“What would you have me do?” he asked spreading his hands. “I can’t feed you or we would go hungry. It was part of our life-style to prepare. We hoped for the best yet prepared for the worst.”
“How were we to know that this would happen?” someone said from beyond the circle of light.
“The signs were everywhere if you had eyes to see” said the old man.
“We want answers” someone said.
“Ask” said the old man. “And I’ll tell you if I know.”
They moved closer into the light to hear what was said.
“Is it true that there was a nuke war somewhere?” asked one.
“It is true, but 1000 miles west. There was an increase in radiation here from fallout and the dirt blown into the atmosphere is blocking the sunlight and causing it to get cold even though it’s summer.”
“How do you know these things?” someone said.
“I know” said the old man.
“How come the government isn’t here to help us?” asked another.
“The government you remember has in all likelihood ceased to exist” said the old man. “We are on our own now”.
The largest one walked boldly into the light and pointed an accusing finger at the old man, “You have to share your stuff with us. You can’t just let us starve!”
There were several nods of agreement within the group.
“I’ll have to watch that one” thought the old man.
He felt the reassuring weight of the big revolver on his hip
and slowly relaxed.
“You’re old and weak” said the big one.
“We’ll take what we want and we’ll kill you if you try to stop us!” he threatened.
“You really expect me to do nothing?” asked the old man incredulously.
“What do you think you can do about it?” the big one asked as the group hungrily turned its attention to the challenge.
“I…I mean…I’m sorry if you thought that I wouldn’t give you anything” stammered the old man. “I’m sure that we can spare a little.”
“You’re damn right you can spare a little and you’ll spare a lot more than that if you know what’s good for you” said the big one.
The group crowded forward into the circle of light smelling victory.
“Not the way I planned this” thought the old man. “But I always knew that this is the way it would come down sooner or later.”
At almost point blank range, he couldn’t miss. In one smooth motion, the old man drew the heavy revolver, aimed at the big one’s chest and fired. The revolver roared and belched flame. The big one went down in a heap scattering the would-be looters like leaves in a storm.
The old man holstered the revolver and reached down to pick up the coil of rope laid ready at his feet. He stepped quickly to the big one’s side and lashed his feet together with practiced knots. Throwing the rope over his shoulder, he began to drag the body inside the gate toward the house.
“Fresh meat, Mom!” called the old man.
“Ouch” muttered the big one quietly.
“Quiet” muttered the old man. “We’re not out of ear shot yet.”
The big one obediently went limp and bumped along on the end of the rope. When they reached the back of the house, the old man untied the knots from the big one’s feet and he sat up grinning.
“How’d I do, Dad?”
“Just perfect Son, just perfect. Exactly like we planned. We’ll have no more trouble from them again.”
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