They were at Keysville for two weeks. As the days wore on, the small pocket of normality they seemed to slowly shrink.
The wireless connection on their wrist watches died days ago. In their desperation, they even activated an old television set in the corner of the room, but no pictures or words appeared out of the cackling mist. However, a vintage radio yielded some sounds, strangulated voices here and there, reports of riots of disorder, and calls for arms, but nothing coherent.
Roger said the small village store had closed around the time of Freddie’s arrival and never reopened. Its windows were smashed and all of the meagre supplies within had been plundered. Roger had some supplies of meat in a freezer and a stockpile of potatoes and root vegetables locked in the basement, but they would be out of food by the end of the month.
Carson remained a brooding and peripheral presence at the margins of the group. When Diana or the kids joined in the conversation, he would glare at her, and she would fall quiet. One day he approached Freddie in the kitchen. Up close the planning officer could smell the Bourbon on his breath.
Carson’s rifle was strapped on his back. “Think you need to come out hunting,” he said. “There’s another rifle in the outhouse.”
On a grey day when squalls, the last remnants of the hurricane, rolled over the hills, they stalked the land. After four hours of tracking and waking, a female deer came into sight with its fawn. Carson coolly dispatched it with a single shot. They jogged to the bleeding deer. The fawn was hanging around on the edge of the woods, crisscrossing its tiny legs nervously. Carson felled it with two shots.
They dragged the deer back to the farmhouse where Carson skinned them. Despite his misgivings about the shooting, Freddie savored the gamy taste. Roger dusted off one of the few remaining bottles of wine left in the cellar. Freddie found his spirits rising after two glasses. The warm glow that spread over him even extended to Carson, who stomached some of the wine.
Toward the end of the evening, Freddie stood up and gave a toast to the future. He didn’t really know if there was one but it sounded good at the time. He announced it was time to head west to his holiday home in West Virginia. He hoped the excitement of the journey ahead would galvanize the party, but he received blank looks.
Later when Carson and Diana had gone to bed, his parents pulled him over to the table, looking mournful.
“Son we’ve heard some bad tales about what’s happening on the roads,” said his father.
“Dad. We’ve lost connection with the outside world. How could you hear?”
Still the intensity of his mother’s gray stare was disconcerting.
“There was a man here in the village on Sunday. He seemed a simple fellow, but he said his brother had been out on the highway and saw people killed in cold blood for their possessions. The world isn’t the same anymore son. How are you going to survive even if you reach West Virginia?”
“There are the greenhouses and…” Freddie could not think of anything beyond the greenhouses. Still, he clung to his idea tall sunflowers in the breeze and the soil sprouting with healthy lettuces and carrots.
His mother wrapped her claw-like hand over his.
“It’s not that we don’t want to go. Just that we are too old for all of this. I think we should stay here with Roger for a while.”
Freddie felt suddenly too weak to argue, but the thought of remaining in Keysville was not one he could bear. The days were unbearably long, and they lived without purpose.
The next morning in the cold early light Carson helped him load to Jeep while Diana watched impassively holding the child. By the time they were heading west into the unknown the mist was slowly clearing and the light coming over the hills seems to herald a new episode in their adventure.