I don’t want to give away too much of what is happening on Home, but here’s some more of the side story about the fellow in California.
The man had a cheap plastic vuvuzela like some idiots took to sporting events, and blew a flat nasty raspberry with the cheap yellow horn. Jon hadn’t expected to see anybody at the cabin once there was any snow on the ground at all, but the fellow had a horse that seemed to deal with it well. When Jonathan went to the window to look the fellow seemed impatient for a response and gave it another blast. The horse he was sitting on just twitched its ears so he must be used to it. Jon had never seen a horse with a thick winter coat. The man was being cautious, not aggressive, and stayed back well over a hundred meters away. That was smart. He wouldn’t want to be mistaken for a bandit.
Jonathan told his wife to cover him while he walked out to talk to the man. She was a fair enough shot to do that. She’d watch him through the scope, dialed back to the weakest magnification from well inside the door where she’d be in shadow.
He looked the fellow over with binoculars and then set them on the table before going out. They were a treasure and it was best not to advertise your wealth now. He’d seen the butt of a rifle sticking up from a scabbard. Something old fashioned with polished wood and a metal butt plate. The man had on a heavy jacket with the collar up. He might have a pistol but it wouldn’t be very accessible.
The man kept both his hands on the saddle horn, reins loose, and the horse stood patiently without any fuss. Jonathan walked out to him at a normal pace. He looked all around and back on each side of the house. If he had to run in snow he didn’t want to start winded.
“I’m Victor of the Foy family,” he said when Jonathan came to a stop. “You go downhill to the northwest until you hit a stream. Go uphill and you’ll pass an abandoned cabin in rough shape. We’re another mile and a little more past it. About seven miles in all from here. We have a dinner bell on a post by the stream for folks to announce themselves.”
“We’re the Hughes,” Jon said. “That’s a good idea about the bell. We don’t have a bell but I’ll improvise a gong or something. What sort of business are you about?”
“Folks seem to be settling down. There were a few people who lived hereabouts all year long. Mostly retired. And those who could reach their property after things went all to hell seem to have made it. I don’t expect a whole lot more to show up. Some weren’t the owners of record, but that’s no concern of mine. There was one case where folks arrived to find squatters and they shot it out. We have two of the kids who survived that in our family now. I was told of another case where they came to an agreement and allied.
“I’m taking a census for our own use. I’m going to hold it close, and I’ll burn it before I let it fall in the wrong hands. But in maybe another year, if it looks safe to publish, I’ll be back and have a map for you of where everybody lives in about a forty kilometer radius. If you don’t want to be added just say so, but if you aren’t on it you don’t get a copy either.”
“Is there a cost involved?” Jon asked.
“Nope. We hope to get some trading going though. If you have a skill or intend to make something it’s a way to let people know. I have one lady who intends to produce wool and woolen goods. She’s what you’d have called a hobby farmer, and it all depends on increasing the size of her flock and keeping them safe from the coyotes. Got another fellow who has a decent metal working shop. There’s also a woman who keeps bees. You have any specialty?”
“I’m a farmer, a real trained one with a degree, not a hobbyist. I can provide expert advice and a lot of practical lessons on how to propagate plants and keep the lines of cultivars pure. I’d be happy to trade seed for variety I don’t have.”
“You sound like you’re saying you’re in then,” Vic said.
“Yes, as long as you have the sense not to supply it to somebody who will use it as a treasure map.”
“That’s a danger to me too. That why I am looking at next spring. This spring is too early. We have satellite com and get good weather reports still. I’m sure I have a three day spell we won’t get any snow right now. This is probably the last week I’ll be able to go out, even on horseback, before the deep snow sets in. About late May I hope to send a young man out further than I can go now.”
Jon nodded approval. “I notice you didn’t come in by the road.”
“The roads are still dangerous. We have maps and avoid the roads. Some people have dynamited the hill side and brought it down to block the road off too vehicular traffic. I had to beg a fellow not to take a bridge out and just do something less permanent.”
“Is there any official presence at all?” Jon asked. “Any police or military?”
“Nope. The county Sheriff quit when it was obvious he wasn’t going to be paid. Even if there were enough people to pay him in kind we don’t have the transport to get it to him yet. He’s not of much use to use if we can’t call and he has no way to come. When we breed some more horses it’ll help. Horses breed faster than people so they’ll catch up.”
“I was actually more concerned somebody would show up demanding their property tax. But when it was settled out here they had sheriffs. I suppose somebody had to ride into town to fetch him,” Jon speculated. “I don’t suppose you have anybody who can actually make radios?”
“No, but I’ve got a young guy who says he can make telephones if we can get him enough wire. Maybe half the homes near main roads have power wire strung we can use. Some can be cannibalized for other places. That’s a couple years out though,” Foy said.
“You think things will stay like this for years?” Jon asked.
“Up here? Yeah. They’ll likely take back control of the cities much faster. Better to plan on that, and be on the safe side, than wait for somebody else to fix things and be disappointed. What else you got to do but get on with life?” Vic Foy asked wryly.
Jon just tilted his head to concede the point.
“Is there anything you need?” Vic asked. “No idea when we’ll have access to anything, but I’m making a list of folks who need medicine or glasses. If it’s anything real serious they’re just out of luck. But I’m still making a list.”
“No. We’re fortunate that way. I suspect people will learn to use herbs and such again.”
“Then you’ll probably see me or one of my boys around late May or early June. We’ll be looking to survey to the southeast of here.”
“Hopefully we’ll be here. There’s a couple with a young girl who might be trying to come here, but they had a longer way to go than us. Just be aware,” Jon said.
“I’ll keep an eye out and know it’s OK to admit you are here, if they turn up and ask after you by name.”
“Thanks, until spring then,” Jon agreed.
Foy clicked his tongue at the horse and pressed with his knee, ignoring the reins. It turned back the way they’d come, highstepping a little because of the snow.