I’ve was given a day off, or so Ruth tells me. I’ve been doing all the gardening and making sure Abby has extra meat and a place to lay down. She now looks like a big walking sausage with udders. The puppies are expected any day. I’m pretty worried, I know human birth is really risky without a doctor. I’m not sure about dogs. Apparently, my worry and precautions are annoying Ruth, or that’s what I’m assuming since she said, “Abby might be pregnant, but you’re the one having puppies about it”. So, I’m taking my bike, backpack, and guns, and going foraging.
There’s a lot of books I want to find, and I need more notebooks and pens. Ruth filled my lunchbox with some deer jerky, a jar of sauerkraut which I now know I love, and a few spare jars of tea. I found some freezer packs to keep my food cold on longer trips. It’s was a beautiful day for a trip, not a cloud in the sky. I tightened the string on the new straw hat I found in a neighbor’s house and started out.
There are times when I ride through the city, I’m reminded of a game I spent weeks playing before the power shut off, Fallout. I’ve started to realize I do live in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s not what I thought it would be. The houses I pass are hidden by grass that comes up to my thighs but they’re intact. There’s no radiation, or big monsters, aside from the ones that were here before, like the cougar. It’s really surreal.
I wanted to find books on meat preservation, water filtration, gun maintenance. The last being of particular interest since I’m not entirely sure what I should be doing with my weapons. I decided the gun book should be the easiest to find since they would most likely be at a gun store. My first stop was Apocalypse Tactical. At least that was my plan. It turns out ripping a steel cage that’s built into a building out with a bulldozer may do some structural damage. The roof collapsed sometime over the past few months. After a quick walk around the building there didn’t appear to be an easy way to salvage anything. I doubt there was much worth salvaging at this point. Dismayed I set off again.
I decided to look for a book on meat preservation next. This time I figured I might try the city library. The biggest problem is I’ve never been to the place. I’ve seen it a few times but to be honest I’ve always kind of hated libraries. At least I did when the internet was still a thing. The city library is a two-story building with three story windows. One thing I’ve always hated about libraries is how they try to fancy them up. They can’t just be a normal building. It’s like they get the newest architect that really wanted to be a modern artist and say “have at it”.
The city library has held up to neglect well. The windows are grungy and the grass is high, but it looks like it always did. Breaking in is uncomfortably easy for a building that probably cost the city a few million dollars, but most of the people whose taxes paid for it are gone now so they can’t complain. Even after a year of being closed off the library smells like all the other libraries I’ve been in. Like books and cleaning product, but there’s something else under it. The new smell wasn’t very strong so I paid it little mind. It was strangely familiar.
I remember learning about the Dewey decimal system when I was in elementary school. I couldn’t explain it completely now, but I remember it well enough that I’m pretty sure I can navigate the aisles. That’s what I hoped but there was one problem. There was no card catalog. Most likely they went digital and the whole thing is on the computers I see near the front. This will make my search much more difficult. I break out the flashlight and start my search.
At least the ends of the aisles are marked with fiction, non-fiction, and a few other identifiers but there little to no help. No aisle has the words “survival” on the end. It’s only when you have little to no reference that you realize just how many books a city library has. I had no choice but to be thorough. I picked the first non-fiction aisle and started my search.
The library isn’t dark exactly, the giant windows see to that, but the aisles themselves are just too dim for me to read the book titles. I start browsing each shelf from left to right carefully reading the titles. About a quarter of the way down I figure out that yes, they do have it broken up by topic, there’s just no mark to tell you what topic. I do find some interesting books. One is on circuits, and electrical devices. I set this one aside for later, I don’t have to limit myself to just three books. I also find a book on carpentry, one on Dendrology which will save me a lot of time identifying trees (I didn’t know that was the name of tree science till I found the book), and another on local wildlife which I’m going to read hoping it makes hunting easier.
By the second aisle the smell I noticed when I walked in started getting stronger. It was really familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant smell but for some reason it was a little nostalgic. Like it was something I was really familiar with. I tried my best to ignore it, but the further I got down the aisle the stronger the sent got. Finally, I had no choice but to see what it was.
I walked into the main area that held all the tables and followed the smell. It seemed to be coming from the back corner. I drew my gun more from habit than fear. I knew this smell, but from where? I turned the last aisle and something was bundled up at the end. It wasn’t moving but the smell became very easy to identify the closer I got. It was a large pile of dirty blankets. I approached slowly and when I reached it, I gave it a poke with my foot. There was nothing in it. The reason the smell was familiar was the blankets had been heavily used and not washed for a very long time. I noticed odd shapes under the blankets. When I poked them, they turned out to be books. I started removing books, when an empty can rolled out as well. The label was missing and it appeared cleaned out so there was no telling what it had been. The more books I pulled out the more food containers I found. Bags, bottles, and wrappers spilled out as I dug. Once all the blankets had been removed, I found a flashlight with dead batteries.
There had to be at least a dozen blankets in the pile. It looks like someone has been sleeping here, either recently or in the past few months. I check down the other aisles for any other signs of life, but there’s nothing. Whoever they were, they’re not here anymore. I went back and checked the books. Most of them are really useful. Most are about survival skills. I find a book on herbs, one on off the grid living, one on pre-electric living, on and on it goes. In the midst of this pile is a book on pre-refrigeration food storage. After a quick browse I saw it had a section on meat preservation. Someone was trying to do the same thing I was, but they don’t appear to have succeeded. Was this the same person I had been seeing signs of when I go hunting.
This thought worried and excited me. It meant there may be more people around. People who may be able to help. They also may be hostile or dead. I’m pretty sure I would have noticed another suburban farm popping up nearby. If the person who was reading these books was the same who was leaving the marks I was seeing, they’re moving closer to my house. The library is a few miles away and I’ve heard no cars and seen no signs of bikes. Maybe we’re just missing each other.
I go back and check the blankets again. I want to see if there’s any clothes or something else to help me figure out who this person may have been. I find nothing more than I did in my first search. It looks like they aren’t staying here anymore. Not sure what to do I fold the blankets and lay them in a pile where I found them. If the person does come back, they will know they’re not alone. I go to the front desk and take a sheet of paper out of the printer. Using one of the pens I write a message telling the person I was here and have the books, and where they can find me. I know it’s taking a risk, but I’m willing to take it.
I had one more thing to do before I left the library with the books I found. I removed the hard drives from the computers at the front desk, from the office behind the front desk, and one of the terminals by the front of the store. I’m willing to bet one of them has an actual index of the books in the library. If I can get it, I can simply look up what books I need at home, make a list, then come back.
I ate my lunch at one of the picnic tables outside the library in hopes the person who had been living there would show up. No such luck. I waited for another hour before I left. I still had to get notebooks. The notebooks were the easiest part of the trip since I knew where they were. I couldn’t get as many as I wanted since I had a dozen books split between my backpack and strapped to the rack over my back tire.
As I rode home, I could only think about the straps digging into my shoulders, and day dreaming about who this other person may be. More than one of these fantasies involved some beautiful young woman showing up at my front door looking for refuge. I let these fantasies play out as they liked, knowing reality never flows that way. If I was really lucky maybe it’s a doctor who can help Ruth. I feel a thrill of panic every time she mentions dying for reasons I don’t want to think about. Every time she brings up her disease, that night months ago when I lay with the window open listening for any sounds of life, and only hearing that great yawing silence of being completely alone plays in my mind.
It was close to dinner time as I approached my street. I could hear the sounds of my water wheel working away as I turn towards my house. The bugs buzzed as I pedal past the overgrown yards. The front door is open when I arrive and Ruth quickly showed up to greet me with a big smile and one word. “Puppies”.
June 15, 2022