|Model Colin Dack as Ryan|
Heart For Trade Week 2
Twenty miles south of the village of Whispering Creek, Samuel Kingsley waited just inside the entrance to the tunnel. He took a drag off his hand rolled cigarette, eyeing the vehicle approaching at a dust kicking rate. The solar powered dune buggy skidded to halt, the driver grinning right at him.
Benny pulled his helmet off. Wild auburn hair stuck up everywhere. “How many of those things have you had today?”
“Not enough,” Samuel replied, taking another inhale of his cig for emphasis.
“I know they’re synthetic, but you know the smoke is still bad for you.” Benny hopped the side gate to the buggy before striding up the slight incline.
“Thank you, mother, I’ll remember that.” Samuel pointed a finger at the buggy. “Just going to leave the buggy out in the open or what?”
“Colby wants to have a look at the fan out here. Said the oil fumes stuck around the garage even with the fans on last time. He shouldn’t be long.” Benny’s hazel eyes glinted in an all too Benny kind of way. “But you know as well as I do that anyone who had followed me out here would have been dead by now—got over a mile of warning with the cameras and the trip sensors. You’re only trying not to show your excitement.”
“I’m not excited. Curious maybe, but, it’s not a big deal.” The dark haired leader walked past his best friend with a towering cloud of smoke. His thick soled boots sank a little into the forest ground before he spoke again. “Find out anything?”
A rustle of paper caught Samuel’s ear. He didn’t flinch though. Benny was always jovial, mischievous even—he was probably just messing with him or trying to make the best out of nothing. The ads in the past had never exactly been what Samuel was looking for. Actually just one thing was always missing—something he would never force on anyone, even if he was desperate and lonely.
“Male,” Benny read, attempting to keep the joy out of his voice. “Twenty two years of age, Caucasian with a certified health visit clearing him of disease or ailments. He’s one hundred and forty five pounds, five feet ten inches with sandy blonde hair. He’s got blue eyes and no tattoos or piercings.”
Samuel hit his cig hard, his hand shaking—the only sign of his increasing anxiety. Could this really be the one? Could he have a man of his very own, finally?
“Reads and writes. He’s trained with a bow, gun, and knife. He’s fit for manual labor and knowledgeable in fruit and vegetable farming. His hobbies include wood carving, carpentry, and reading when literature is available.
Conditions of the trade agreement are non-negotiable and are as follows. The leader of the village of Whispering Creek shall choose the male’s new village upon an interview and review of compensation. Interviews will be conducted the last day of this week and will end at sunset. If a suitable village is not found, the ad will be null and void.”
“An interview?” Samuel tried not to notice that Benny had left out the most important things, but he knew his friend was doing it on purpose. “I’ve never heard of that before. Usually they’re arranged as an auction.”
“The boy is the leader’s son.” Benny looked at the ground. “It’s really sad, Sam.”
“The boy is going willingly then?”
“Seems that way. The poor kid is trying to help his family out I guess.” Benny met his eyes. “The messenger in Surik was careful who he passed these to. Said the family didn’t need any grief from rough traders and that the boy was to go to a good home. That the father would choose carefully. Everyone will want him, Sam. He’s a perfect farm hand or—yeah.”
“Is he perfect for me though, Benny?”
Benny sighed, looking at the paper again as if the image of the kid being ripped from his family broke his heart. Honestly it did, but a squirmy smile lit him up again as he read the parts he’d left out. “Sexual status listed as inexperienced. He’s virgin, Sam. Sexual preference listed as—” Benny looked up with a heartwarming smile. “Male.”
Sam’s hand stiffened. The ash from his dying cigarette blew in the wind. “Male?”
“That’s what I said.” Benny laughed. “Want me to send someone to poke around? Get a heads up of what they need before the interview?”
“Go,” Samuel choked—all he could manage as he fought to keep his cool. “Get someone out there now. Give them anything they want. Fuck, this is real. Isn’t it?”
Benny studied his best friend—the big, imposing man who never got excited—with a grin like the Cheshire cat. “Yeah, it is.”
“Well, go then. Go round up Wren and a few of the boys. Tell them not to get too close, but to survey the village closely. I want them back before tomorrow night. We have plenty to do.”
“Got it.” Benny laughed with a salute. He rushed inside the tunnel and down to the airlock door that led underground.
Samuel dropped his cigarette in the hidden coffee can that was so rusted it would never be found if you didn’t know to look for it. He fingered the faded sign on the bottom of the brick with a genuine smile. The sign that always made him think of his father—Property of the U.S. Military.
Knowing there were plenty of eyes on the buggy, that they were safe and unknown to the world around them, Samuel walked inside the tunnel and punched in the security code. The door to the tunnel whirred with a mighty sigh of metal before sliding shut from the ground. Only a grassy, leaf covered hill remained to the outside world.
On the other side of things, Ryan sat in the shed that had been his shared room with Jarum for as long as he could remember. Their names and doodles carved into the now rotting wood—a marker of all their memories and the things he would be leaving behind. It had been almost a week since he’d spoken to his father or his sisters. The distance was easier to handle than the closeness he was formerly familiar with. He hadn’t left the shed for days except to use the bathroom or step outside in the middle of the night to inhale the fresh air.
Jarum had become his shadow, following his every little move or look. His friend had refused—both verbally and physically—to leave his side. He’d proclaimed that if Ryan was up for ad, so was he. They wouldn’t part ways for anything. The stoic promise touched Ryan deeply, but he knew the village that took him in wouldn’t allow Jarum to go with him. He was another mouth to feed, another back to clothe. A person they hadn’t bargained for. The world was such a selfish place.
Why didn’t he run? He’d asked himself. The answer was simple, because as much as he wanted to hate his father or his village, his love for them was so much greater. Surviving in these conditions brought people closer, more intimate with the small details about each other. They were one big family. Sometimes people had to make great sacrifices to survive, to show they cared. Showed they appreciated all their family had done to get them this far. It literally took a village.
Ryan knew he was no saint, he’d made mistakes as all humans do, but in memory of his mother—the woman who had loved this village with all her heart—he was willing to move on to save them. He’d overheard his father’s men talking last night. The situation was desperate at best. Food was almost non-existent. Materials for clothing and blankets cost too much. Bart had pleaded with the two villages they had security treaties with for help, but they too were having problems of their own. They could only provide muscle if the occasion called.
The main house, if you could call it a house, was leaking in four different spots. Even with the timber patches they’d put it in three weeks ago, the roof was about ready to cave. The chicken wasn’t laying eggs at the rate they needed. The cow would have to be put down for meat this winter. Now they would be without milk.
Ryan didn’t cry, he could control his emotions most of the time, save for Jarum. But to hear his father near tears in front of his own men—that made Ryan emotional. Last night he’d huddled up next to Jarum’s body just to feel a sense of connection. Even in his sleep, Jarum had returned the sentiment—opening his arms so Ryan could snuggle closer. Two men, brothers in every way but DNA, embracing in their sleep in some desperate attempt to make it all go away.
The reality always smacked Jarum in the face when he woke up. In two days, he would leave this place and never see them again. He wanted to scream, to throw things, to fall to his knees. But out of love, he didn’t. If it was this hard for him, it was harder for his father and sisters. If he could give them anything to remember him by, it would be the gift of strength. The one thing that had gotten them all this far would be the one thing that carried them past this time in their lives.
Ryan heard another small knock at the door to the shed. Jarum didn’t even look up this time. They both knew what the small knocks meant. Outside the shed, the villagers had begun placing small gifts—a small chunk of wood for his carving habit, a shoelace that had been turned into an intricate bookmark, a slip of old tissue paper with a drawing of a sparrow, nothing of value in the trade, but sentimental to their hero. They were remembering him as if he’d already left.
Ryan waited as the footsteps died away from the shed. He slid the shed door open with a little creak, only a few inches to slip his hand outside. His brows knit together in confusion. His hand grabbed at the blue material or was it black. He couldn’t tell in the dark. Soft, a softness he’d never felt before lined his palm. Thick layers of fabric bunched as he pulled his gift inside the shed. A folded blanket in a royal blue sat in his lap.
Jarum’s attention perked. “Who would give that away?”
Ryan shook his head absently. Everything else tuned out as he brought the unmarred blanket to his nose. So fresh, the scent indicated the blanket had never been used. It was too clean, too well made to be from the village. If he’d ever shopped in a store like they did back in the old days, he’d have sworn this would be there—sitting on a shelf waiting to be purchased by a lucky shopper.
“It’s brand new,” Ryan whispered. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“No one around here could afford something like this.” Jarum’s eyes darted to the door. “Stay here.”
He stood, carefully toeing around Ryan in his shock. He cracked the door, peering outside before opening it completely. No one was there. Not one rustle of the woods or anyone flitting about through the windows of the small homes erected. The sky was still clear except for the stars and moon. Only the sounds of crickets and a soothing good night from a small owl made themselves known to Jarum.
“Shut the door,” Ryan finally spoke again. “It’s freezing out there.”
“Sorry,” Jarum muttered, still on alert as he slid the door back into place. “I wanted to make sure you were safe.” He sat back onto his palette of blankets and rolled onto his side.
“You okay?” Ryan leaned over, his fingers brushing Jarum’s arm.
“Sure,” Jarum replied, rolling to face the wall.
Sitting back with a sigh, Ryan unfolded his new blanket with care. He spread it out over both their bedding before climbing into Jarum’s nest of blankets. It was the first time he’d done it while his friend was awake. Jarum said nothing. He let his friend wrap around his body, not out of lust, but because they needed to be close right now. Any time they had left together would be cherished.
Ryan hid his face in Jarum’s hair. His fingers gripped his friend’s arm as he started to cry.
The end of the week came. The villagers stayed inside their homes—all except for Bart and his four men that sat on the creaky porch to the main house. All the other sheds and makeshift abodes were locked up tight from the strangers. Ryan and Jarum sat right inside, staring out the front window as a convoy of different village leaders started to make a line.
For lack of a better term, it was show time.
To be continued...
To be continued...