Swish

The lake had frozen over last month, and Jules was happy to see it—now he could cross instead of taking a two-day trek around it.

Walking was a drag, but it had been over a year since the truck had been usable. No one was making fuel anymore—that industry had died when the world ended. No one knew how to do it, and even if they could, there was no way to power up the refineries. Solar and wind power only went so far.

Dad had laughed at the irony: you need oil to get oil, and oil to use oil.

It didn’t matter. In the summer Jules could row the boat across, and in the winter, he could skate. But during those blustery days of autumn and the rainy days of spring, the boat was dangerous and skating wasn’t an option.

That was when Jules would have to pack up his tent and start walking, backpack on his back.

He didn’t like it, not because he minded the walk, but because he didn’t like leaving his parents alone for so long.

The world was all wrong now.

This side of the lake, many houses were now unoccupied, the residents having decided to move on for one reason or other. Jules couldn’t imagine leaving his home in the little village. He’d been born there, and fully expected to die there someday.

Possibly today, if things went wrong on his trip to the city.

He strapped a shoulder holster across his chest. He made sure no bullet was in the chamber and double checked the safety before settling his pistol into its nest and snapping it securely. He put a flannel shirt on over his thermal undergarment, added a down vest and then donned his parka.

It seemed stupid, on the whole. He’d have to undress to get to the gun if he needed it before he got across the lake. But his father insisted he be armed with something besides the crossbow.

“This bow will be plenty, Dad,” he’d said. But arguing with Nathan Graham about anything was a fool’s errand, and Jules knew there was no time to waste. He packed ammunition in the backpack and adjusted his quiver to fit in the most efficient manner. The crossbow was locked and loaded, but sometimes more than one arrow was needed for the job.

Jules had several reasons for preferring the crossbow, but the main reason was the fact that it was quiet. He didn’t care to draw attention to himself.

Vivian Graham gave him her list—medications were the most important items, of course, but any sort of canned food he could bring back would be more than welcome.

Jules planned to visit the pharmacy first and anything extra would be catch as catch can. They weren’t starving, as many people in this new world were. The village people had always maintained their own gardens and were seasoned hunters. A surplus was always nice, but he had necessities on his mind today.

Missy was diabetic. Insulin was the first item on the list. There were folks needing rescue inhalers for asthma and COPD. Vivian needed her blood pressure medication and Nathan had gout.

The doctor who had taken care of them all for years had died recently, but Vivian had been his nurse, and her list was meticulously drawn from their records. “I just hope you can find everything,” she told Jules as he carefully folded the paper and slipped it into his inside pocket. “I’m very worried about the insulin…”

Jules was worried, too. Insulin didn’t have an indefinite shelf life, and needed to be stored cold. He didn’t know what the power situation was over there.

Missy was the love of his life. He didn’t want to fail her.

She joined him at the lake’s edge as he sat on the park bench lacing his skates. “You don’t have to do this,” she told him. “God knows what’s going on over there.” She looked across the lake, industrial buildings dominant on the shoreline within their sight.

“I do have to do this,” Jules replied. He leaned toward her and captured her lips with his own for a lingering kiss. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“Oh, Jules!” Missy threw her arms around him and held him tight. “You come home to me, do you hear?”

“I hear very well.”

Missy pulled the hood of his parka up over his ears and tied the laces. “Can you hear me now?”

“What? What?”

They shared a laugh and a last sweet kiss.

Jules made use of his speed-skating skills and headed for the city. He hurried away, not wanting to hear the sobs of his love as he started his trek.

When one went to the city, it was never a certainty that one would be returning.

The world had gone wrong…

His skates made an ominous sound as he skated away.

Swish.

Swish.

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