Fiction Tuesday – Vacancy

Today’s blog is the continuation of, Welcome to the Valleys. If you would like to catch up with the tale, the first section can be found at this link

Welcome to the Valleys Cover Jeremy led the group down the road toward the distant bridge. The weather had warmed once more, and many of the companions were beginning to sweat in the heat. Still, Jeremy didn’t pause to let his friends rest. He led the descent into the untended fields beyond the town, which had be left unplowed for the new planting season. To the West of the fields were several animal pastures but these too were empty of inhabitants. Occasionally, the group would pass a small cluster of buildings which made up a little village, but Jeremy showed no sign of curiosity and never once slowed down.

Finally, with the others far behind and night closing in, Walter called out for Jeremy to halt.

“Lad, you need to stop! Wait for us!”

Jeremy turned, annoyed at the delay but allowed his friends to catch up nevertheless. When they arrived they found Jeremy tapping his foot impatiently.

“We’re almost there, Walter, I can’t stop now!”

“Lad,” said Walter as he placed a hand on Jeremy’s shoulder. “I know you’re eager, and none of us can fault you for that. But you’ve been running us ragged for the entire afternoon. We need to rest, eat, and sleep.”

“Sleep!” Jeremy nearly shouted.

“Yes, lad, sleep. Who knows what we’ll find over that bridge? I’d rather us all be rested and ready to face whatever we’ll meet.” Walter pointed ahead to another small hamlet not too far from where they stood. “Look, why don’t we bed down in those buildings for the night? We can eat and be refreshed for the morning. Then we can cross the bridge in the morning. OK?”

Jeremy looked over his friends and noticed, for the first time, the toll the afternoon sprint had taken on them. Ama was gasping in exhaustion, Talum had collapsed to sit on the ground, and even Michael and Tollen looked almost asleep on their feet. Feeling suddenly ashamed of how he’d treated the people closest to him, Jeremy gave Walter a curt nod.

“All right then.” Turning to his tired companions, Walter pointed to the cluster of buildings. “Folks, in a quarter mile we’ll bed down for the night. If we’re lucky we might even find some actual beds.”

Encouraged, the group stumbled forward again with renewed effort, if not renewed vigor. As they entered the small hamlet Michael pointed to one of the larger structures located on the town square.

“Walter, I think that house might just fit all of us,” said the guard.

With that, the party made their way over on to the porch of a large and beautiful house. The lawn had become overgrown, and the potted flowers had turned brown from neglect, but it was easy to imagine how lovely it must have looked when well cared-for. The house was, indeed, large enough to fit the entire party, with enough beds to for everyone to sleep comfortably. The door had been left unlocked, and as a result the place felt welcoming. Talum and Tollen quickly found a comfortable couch and collapsed into it, while Micael walked through the structure to see if any surprises had been left behind.
Night was coming on rapidly, and Michael and Ama were searching the home for something using the evertorch shards Terrin had made for them. Confused, Jeremy had walked over to them to see what they were doing.

“What are you both looking for?”

“An evertorch, lad,” Walter replied. “I’m in a civilized home for the first time in days, and I think I’d like a civilized light to go along with it.”

“Oh. You won’t find any of those here, Walter.”

“Then what do you light your homes with, Jeremy?” Ama inquired.

“Give me a second and I’ll show you! Hold on!” Excitedly Jeremy bounded through the house and pulled down shades over each of the windows in the room where he was speaking with Ama and Walter. He then made his way over to the wall and flicked a switch. Immediately, the room was filled with soft white light.

Walter whistled in appreciation. “That’s quite a trick!”

Wonderful, Jeremy!” Ama cheered. “But what powers it?”

“Electricity,” spoke a weary voice from the doorway. Talum was looking up at the glowing light fixture in awe. “We know about it, of course, but it’s all over this structure. Jeremy, this is a marvel!”

The youth shrugged. “I don’t know, Talum. To me, it’s just what we use. What I saw in The Valleys is a marvel!”

“And what other innovations do you have to share with us, young man,” said Ama with mock scorn.

“Hmm, let me see if I can remember. Well, through there,” Jeremy indicated a small doorway off to the right of the room, “You’ll probably find a kitchen. We’ll be able to cook a meal in there without starting a fire. There’s indoor plumbing, like in The Ravine, and if the lights are still working there should be hot running water.

“Excellent!” chimed Ama. “Jeremy, please find out how many baths are found in this home. We could all use one. Walter, why don’t you and Talum head into the kitchen and see about cooking us a hot meal? I’m sure some of our store should still be worth using.”

“Right away, meddle,” saluted Walter.

Ten minutes later two tubs had been located, and the shades had been drawn over each of the house’s windows. Soon the house was awash with electric lighting, cheering spirits considerably. Ama and Jeremy were the first to immerse themselves in the baths, and locating some fluffy towels and soap in a small closet to complement the experience. As Walter and Talum tried to navigate the kitchen Michael and Tollen scouted the town. They returned just as Jeremy was emerging from washing.

“Did you see anything?”

Michael shook his head. “No. I was hoping to see some lights or something in the distance, but everything is dark. There’s a small store across the square, though. Tollen found some coffee. I figured we could have some with dinner, I don’t think it’ll keep us up.”

“That would be great. Was there anything else useful?”

“A few things,” Tollen responded. “There were a number of packages of dried fruits and nuts by one of the counters, so I took them along. Everything else was either too big or I didn’t trust it, though their refrigeration units all seemed to be working.”

“A wise idea,” Ama’s voice called from above stairs. “We have no idea how long the people of this region have been gone, but given the state of the fields I’d say they left in the middle of Winter. The food is most likely spoiled.”

“That was my thought, yes,” the Seeker replied.

“Good. Now the two of you stink, please go and wash. You’ll find Jeremy has prepared towels for you.”

The two men nodded gratefully and headed to there respective baths. Tollen upstairs and Michael down a hall on the first floor. As they left, Ama and Jeremey headed back to the kitchen to lend Walter and Talum a hand with dinner.

An hour later, after everyone had bathed, the group enjoyed their first hot meal in nearly two weeks. Walter had managed to use their dried rations and some jars of vegetables he found in the kitchen to concoct a delicious stew for their evening meal. The group ate until they were satisfied, and finished off the evening with mugs of coffee. Some remained around the table, talking into the night, but Jeremy headed to bed after making sure everyone knew how to turn off the lights.

As he lay in bed he felt Sheilak return.

“So you’re back?” he said. He’d not felt her presence all day.

Yes, tired. Minnik better.”

“I’m glad. Will I see more of you now?” Jeremy had suddenly realized he’d become a bit jealous by her sudden absence.

Yes, but not now. Tired, must rest” With that, the Guardian slipped away once more, off to rest in her own way.

Surprisingly, Jeremy had no difficulty sleeping that night. He woke up the next morning refreshed and ready to go. He dressed quietly and made his way downstairs, where the smell of coffee revealed he was far from the first one up.

“Good morning,” said Michael as he poured Jeremy a steaming cup of his brew. “I’ve checked the pantry and I think I have the ingredients to make something which resembles a pancake. Would you like some?”

“Sure, but what will we put on them?”

“I found some syrup in a cabinet,” Michael smiled. “It’s what gave me the idea.”

“OK, you’re the chef.”

Micheal set off cooking while Jeremy enjoyed his coffee. He was interrupted by Walter and Tollen as they stepped on to the porch. Apparently they’d been up and about early as well.

“Tollen, I know you think it’s useful. I don’t disagree. But we’re not ten miles from that bridge and I think that rather than lug it out of here now we can come back and pick it up on our way back through.”

“And I’m asking, ‘How do you know we will come back through?’”

“What are you arguing about?” Jeremy asked as Michael silently slipped some cakes on his plate.

“Tollen discovered that much of the meat in the store is frozen, so it’s probably still good. He also found a supply of ice and some containers which look like they’re insulated. He wants to fill the things up and grab all the meat we can before leaving.”

“It makes sense,” Tollen insisted.

Michael handed each of the men a plate filled with his cakes, who both eagerly accepted them and had a seat. “How will we carry these ice-filled containers?” the guard asked.

“Exactly!” Crowed Walter.

“Not ‘exactly!’” Tollen shot back. “We found some two wheeled transports which look like they’ll be perfect for lugging these things along.

“You mean hand trucks?” Jeremy asked, realizing he’d not seen such devices in The Valleys.

“If that’s what you call them, sure. There’s a tall handle which reaches down to a flat bit of metal, and down by that are two over-sized wheels.”

“Yup, that’s a hand truck. It wouldn’t be that hard to grab some food and keep it frozen, Walter.”

Fine,” grumped Walter. “But I’m not doing any of the lugging. This is your idea, you take care of it.”

“Gladly,” grinned Tollen. “And maybe I’ll even let you eat some of the meat I end up cooking.”

Walter frowned as Tollen chuckled in delight, and the two settled in to eating their breakfasts in earnest. Talum and Ama came in shortly thereafter, also accepting plates from Michael. The group then sat around the table, eating in silence, until Jeremy stood.

“Well, if we’re all done, I guess there’s no reason to put this off. Can we get going?”

“I guess, lad,” replied Walter. “I suppose we’ve been keeping you long enough.”

With that, the group cleared the table and gathered their things. Ama even washed the dishes in the sink. Walter thought a waste of time, but the Ama insisted it was necessary as part of accepting hospitality. Most of the group began down the road while Tollen and Walter stopped in the store to acquire some more food for the journey. After a few miles they managed to catch up, breathing a bit heavy but otherwise in good spirits.

“I found steaks,” Tollen beamed. The group smiled at the thought of a steak dinner later, and continued down the way.

Shortly before Noon they reached the arc of the bridge, crossing a violent channel of water, far below. Much of the bridge deck was obscured in thick fog, but the structure of the bridge looked reasonably stable. It was vast, almost a hundred yards wide and stretching off toward the horizon. Cables on either side of the deck reached down from above, descending out of the clouds from unseen heights. As the group stepped on to the deck they could feel it swaying under their feet.

“I’m not sure this is entirely safe,” Talum whispered, causing the rest of the party to look at him in alarm.

“No, it’s safe,” Jeremy assured his friends. “It’s supposed to do that.” With that, he walked out on to the bridge and made his way into the fog.