Thom sat near the fire, watching the clouds twist in the sky outside the tent, trying not to shiver. Shivering hurt. The bruises were healing, but he still ached. Their numbers had stabilized a little in the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours. They were still too few and too many all at once. The others were ranging farther in their hunt for supplies, even in the foul weather that had been omnipresent. It was chill, much colder than it should have been. They were trying to bring in everything they could before things got worse. Most of them were thinking things were going to get a lot worse.
We need to make a plan. More plans than we’ve already made. He shivered, winced, and drew his blanket closer, though he didn’t try to edge closer to the fire. He was close enough. Closer and the embers were almost certain to catch on his blanket. Burns were the last thing he needed. He stared at his hands and thought about Marin. Again. She’d gone out to help round up all the bicycles that were left on campus. As long as they could ward off rust, they’d be a vaguely reliable source of transportation, or scrap metal. One or the other. He hadn’t argued. It wasn’t an entirely useless idea. They’d already done the same thing with some of the cars yesterday. Some misspent youths had been useful in that activity.
He poked at the fire with the stick in his hand, nudging one of the logs closer so it would start to catch before too long. Right now, he wasn’t good for much more than keeping the fire going and thinking too much.
“You okay, Thom?”
“Yeah,” he murmured to J.T. “Just thinking. Probably too much.”
Thom winced. “How’d you know?”
J.T. smiled wryly, sitting down on the ground next to him. “Well, considering you kept apologizing to her when we were down in the hole…call it a hunch.” He rested his elbows on his knees, half stretching his hands toward the crackling fire. “What’s eating at you, Thom?”
He shook his head, biting the inside of his cheek and staring at the fire. “Just…worried about her, that’s all. She’s going to overstretch herself.”
“No further than you’re going to overstretch yourself,” J.T. said quietly. “Why should she hold herself to a lesser standard than you’re going to hold yourself?”
Thom winced again and hunkered down with his blanket. “She shouldn’t be trying to shoulder as much as she’s going to try to shoulder.”
“You say that like you know how much she’s going to shoulder.”
“I don’t want to talk about this, Jay.”
“Too bad, Thom.” He stared at the fire. “She’s worried about you, too, y’know.”
“She doesn’t have anything to worry about,” Thom mumbled.
“Bullshit,” J.T. said. “And you know it’s bullshit.”
He fell quiet, staring at the fire. It was a long moment before he took a breath and opened his mouth again. “I can’t do anything else right now except for worry and plan. If I could do anything else, I would be. The rest of you don’t have time to be worrying. You’ve got too much else to do.”
“A lot of what we need to be doing still leaves time to think. A lot of time, if you want to know. Moving things, gathering wood…doesn’t really require that much active brain power, bro.” He shook his head. “We all know that it’s not going to be easy, Thom. We’re all thinking. We’re all trying to find ways of making this work better.”
“And if it won’t? What then?”
“Then we die and we won’t be in a position to worry about anything ever again.”
Thom snorted. J.T. was right, after all. “Have we started to talk? To plan?”
“A little,” J.T. said. “Until the weather lets up a little and we’ve stockpiled a little more loot, we can’t plan too far. The greenhouse at Padnos looks like it’s intact, so we can use that, at least as long as it stays standing and we can get to it. Raided the hardware store for pots and seeds. We’ll grow some of the hardier plants up here and grow others down there. Some folks were going to look at the greenhouses up across M-45 today, if at all possible.” J.T. glanced out toward the sky. “Hopefully we’ll find a good way to dry out some wood. This rain isn’t helping us stay warm or dry.”
“Looks like there’s been ice after the sun goes down.”
“There has been,” J.T. said. “We’ll manage somehow. We’re not done with the hardware store. Who knows what they’ve got stashed away in their stockroom, waiting for September.”
Thom grunted and nodded a little. He shivered, then winced and inched closer to the fire. To hell with setting myself on fire. It’s bloody cold out here. “Bloody hell,” he muttered.
J.T. shook his head. “There’s meds in the kit.”
“I don’t want meds,” Thom said. “We’ll have to do without them soon enough anyway. I’ll be fine I’m just…sore. And cold.”
“More than sore, looks like. I would be. That was a lot of ceiling.”
Thom grunted again and hunkered down. “We need to think about defenses, J.T. And soon.”
“Give it another couple of days and then we’ll cross that bridge, Thom. We’re not stupid. We know we’ll need to defend ourselves and whatever we can scrape together from other people who want it. Hell. We’ll probably build some walls or some shit before we build houses. Maybe. You know how bad winters here get.” J.T. shook his head. “Why do you think we picked the high ground with our backs to the ravine?”
Thom shook his head slightly. “We need weapons. People who know how to use them.”
“A few of us do, and Matt and Drew went looking for guns today. If we’re lucky, they’ll find some and that’ll be a start.”
“Y’think our luck’s going to hold out enough for that?”
J.T. shrugged. “Don’t know. I can hope. That’s about all we’ve got left right about now. Hope, guts, and a prayer or three.” He was quiet for a moment, then finally spoke. “I should get back to work.”
Thom just nodded. Yeah. Get back to being useful. I’ll sit here and stew. And ache. He could hear Marin’s voice on the wind, but couldn’t make out the words. He closed his eyes. J.T. squeezed his shoulder.
“Stop beating yourself up, man. Mackinac did that for you.”
Thom choked on a laugh. J.T. left him sitting there by the fire. Guts, luck, and a few dozen prayers. Don’t have much else to work with right now, I guess. He glanced in the direction J.T. had disappeared in. Guess we could be facing worse than that. At least we’ve got the guts and prayers.
Eventually, our luck’s going to run out, though. He exhaled and looked toward the fire again. I just hope we’ll be ready for it when it does.
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