By Michal Morgan

Copyright 2016 All Rights Reserved

— 3 —

“Nope,” Tom replied as he shoved the eggs into his mouth. “Need to look after things here.”

“Why? There’s nobody left.” Emma protested. “Just those looters you fought with.”

“That’s why I’m stayin’,” Tom picked up his coffee. ”This is my land, and they’re on it. That only ends one way.”

“You said that place belongs to Mrs. Rogers,“ Emma started.

“She looks to me for help, and that makes it my responsibility,” Tom finished by sopping up the rest of his eggs with a slice of toast.

Emma shrugged, “I don’t understand. You take us in, but you’re going to hurt people you don’t know over property you don’t own.”

Tom sat back and looked at her, “Where are you from?”

“Philadelphia, originally. We moved to Biloxi three years ago when I got a teaching job.” Emma looked confused, “What does that have to do with this?”

“Figures you’re a school teacher from up north,” Tom sighed. “Folks from up north just will not understand certain things.”

Emma bristled, “Like what?”

“Like property,” Tom said calmly. “And the natural hostility some people feel when others come to take that property by force. This country fought a war about that.”

“Oh brother,” Emma rolled her eyes. “Are you unreconstructed?” She took a deep breath, “The property you are talking about were PEOPLE! Slaves were human beings, not property!”

Tom coolly raised his eyebrow, “You’re talking like all of that is in the past, and it tells me you’re not thinking about the here and now.”

“I know human trafficking is happening today,” Emma fired back. “It’s always in the news.”

“No. I’m talking right here and right now,” Tom said quietly. “You need to think about what is happening in the here and now because your future and your kid’s future depend on what you decide to do here and now.

Emma crossed her arms, “What are you talking about?”

“How far does the blackout extend?” At Emma’s shrug Tom continued, “How long will it last?”

“How do I know?” Emma spat.

“Exactly. We know nothing beyond the distance we can see. Heard any radio lately?” Tom asked.

Emma shook her head, “Not since we lost the car.”

Tom turned and pointed to the shelf in the corner, “Jeremiah, would you please bring me that radio?”

Jeremiah had been so engrossed in watching the adults argue that he jumped in surprise at being suddenly addressed, “Yes, sir.” He got up and brought the radio.

“Thank you,” Tom said and turned the knob. A flat white hiss filled the room. The station knob was slowly marched all of the way down the dial, but nothing broke the monotonous hissing. “You said you’d been on foot for two weeks right?”

Emma nodded.

“About a week ago I head a short announcement on the Emergency Broadcast Network that said they were suspending operations indefinitely.” Tom shut off the radio, and the silence crashed back upon them. “I haven’t heard a peep since. Whatever happened was big.”

“So what do we do?” Emma looked a little pale, and Caroline took her hand.

“We have to worry about the here and now,” Tom said. “The water table in this area is high enough that hand pumps can work as you saw out back. That means food is next on the list.”

“You have food in the cellar,” Emma started and faded away fearful that Tom might rethink his decision to share.

“I do, but what about next year?” Tom asked. “With no power to run pumps, we can’t get to the fuel that is stored under gas stations. No fuel means, no cars and no farming equipment can run. No machines, and we are back to farming by hand. Do you see where history is about to repeat itself?”

“Oh God,” Emma said in a small voice. She glanced at the children who were quietly listening, but not understanding.

“The people that are out there now?” Tom sipped some coffee. “They are already hungry. Most of them will starve to death by next summer. Those that don’t will be organized into little kingdoms in need of cheap labor.”

“What can we do?” Emma asked. She remembered passing the Rogers’ place the night before. She had almost lead her kids right up to the people having a bar-b-que on the front lawn of that house to ask for food. Some little voice had warned her to keep moving.

“I can’t say what you will do,” Tom replied. “I don’t know any more about the world than I can see in a day’s walk from here.”