Chapter 8: And Then There Was Really Good Beer
Faye had never been to Bend. She had heard good things about it. Once there, she decided she had always wanted to go. She smiled to herself, staring out at the flooded city center. Even here, at the end of all things, she was able to mark items off of her bucket list. It was a satisfying little thought. She savored it, nodding approvingly at the half-drowned city in front of her.
“Cute town,” she said. Joss glanced at Faye, her eyebrows doing that little “I keep forgetting that you’re a psychopath but clearly I love you anyway why else would I still be here” dance.
“Well. Lunch won’t find itself,” Tarin said, wading down Northwest Bond Street. Faye followed, holding Baby up higher, not wanting it to get wet. Well, wetter. “Wet” was an unavoidable state of being.
Faye supposed the city had been built around streets and sidewalks. This was no longer the case. Post-flood Bend had been transformed into a city of canals. Well, almost, anyway. There were no gondola men. Which was a real bummer, once Faye started thinking about it.. A kitsch, warbling balladeer would have been really nice, right about then. The sky was grey enough for it.
They walked against the current. It wasn’t a heavy current, though, and it wasn’t deep, barely reaching past their knees. The grey-blue water passed them by quietly, tugging only a little at their legs. Faye watched it float by, curious that the water should be so clear. Though, the first flood had been weeks ago. Hell, the fourth flood had been weeks ago. The streets had been thoroughly scoured, by this point, the muddy water long since washed away.
The drowned pavement shone up at Faye, clearly visible. It sort of gleamed, greenish-blue, refracting the watery light of the grey world above. Faye thought it was pretty. Pretty, and horribly depressing. The occasional bicycle wheel bobbed past. A few bottles of kombucha, an empty growler. She snagged a packet of kale chips as they floated by. But the bag had been made of thrice-recycled cardboard, most unfortunately, and the chips were soaked through and inedible. She dropped the snack back into the stream.
Most of the glass was gone from the buildings of downtown Bend. Window panes stood empty and sharp. Shattered door frames shuddered in the current. Wood-braced buildings sagged, water-logged and rotting. Faye wondered how much longer those would last. Their odor suggested they weren’t long for this world.
Their were people here, though they all stayed in the distance. Most people did, these days. There had been one middle-distance person, a few days back, but Faye was pretty sure that had been accidental. The middle-distancer had been cleaning his glasses. Once he had returned the lenses to his face and noticed Faye’s party approaching, he had scampered off into a more proper distant-distance.
The distant people ghosted along the streets and stared at nothing. They were flat. Flatter than Joss. Flatter than most of the refugees Faye had travelled with, back in the mountains. These distant people had lost their faces and tongues, and never really seemed to see Faye or her companions as they passed.
“This looks promising,” Tarin said, stopping in front of what had once been a gastropub. A warped, splintering sign named it “Brother Jon’s Alehouse.” Tarin waded through the doorway, careful not to brush up against the bits of exposed glass.
“After you,” Faye said, stepping to the side and dipping her head towards Joss. She would have preferred to bow flamboyantly. But she was holding Baby, and she didn’t want to accidentally dunk it in the water. It didn’t much like the cold.
Joss walked in, saying nothing, acknowledging nothing. Being her regular static self. Faye followed her in, grinning.
The bar was a bar. Well, a bar with a foot of standing water covering every inch of floorspace. Though, come to think of it, this wasn’t even the first bar like that Faye had been to. Not even the second.
The air was thick and sour and black mold webbed across a majority of the booths. But Faye was hungrier than a little stink, and the wooden barstools had been oiled and polished within an inch of their life. And, perhaps more conveniently, bolted to the ground. Faye was grateful to whichever paranoid barkeep had had the foresight to flood-proof a half dozen stools. She waddled over and perched herself and Baby onto the nearest stool. A clumpy chalkboard hung above the bar, proclaiming that day’s “specials” in streaked pastels.
“That’s one word for it,” Faye said to Baby. The menu was just about as grungy as the bar. It promised “sizzling sriracha wingchokes” and “plant-based pesto power bowls.” She stopped reading after “Keto-keeping Kale-Za.”
“Beer,” she said, eyes dropping from the menu to the seventeen taps behind the bar. All craft, all locally made. This was more like it. Her stomach did a happy dance.
Tarin jumped the bar and snatched one of the eight remaining glasses. Well, intact glasses. There was plenty of glass remaining. Broken shards and splintered food baskets lay strewn across the dry surfaces of the establishment. Rusted forks and dried-out napkin wads covered tables, shelves. A boardgames nook in a back corner.
Tarin didn’t bother with a closer study of the Alehouse. He had seen worse. They all had, by this point. None of them, however, had had a good beer in over a month. He reached out and began to experiment with the various levers. The first tap—a “Knotty Blonde”—coughed out muddy water. The second was all froth. The twelfth tap dripped out a bubble of mud, which was around the time when Faye lost hope. But then Tarin pulled the lever on the fifteenth—a “Cluster Fu#k Hazy”—and a beautiful, golden stream of fermented grains spewed forth. Faye closed her eyes, wiped away a single tear, and whispered a little prayer of gratitude.
Thirty minutes later they were very buzzed—boozy beers and empty stomachs had turned them all into cheap drunks—and making a meal of locally-sourced pickles and “Backhouse Kimchi” (whatever that meant). The Brother Jon’s pantry had been somewhat picked over, but in a lazy and despondent way. In a way that had left every third jar intact, and the mayonnaise vats wholly untouched. It was too bad that none of the artisanal rolls had survived. They were either top-shelf and brick-hard or disintegrated mush in a moldy bag.
A woman wandered in, eyes managing to be both surprised and empty. Tarin handed her a glassful of “Cluster Fu#k.” She drank it, ate a pickle. Joss handed her an unopened jar of preserved purple carrots. The woman stared at it, then pocketed it, then patted Joss on the hand. She wandered back out, wordless and full.
“That’s so weird,” Tarin muttered, watching her leave. Faye shrugged.
“That’s the new normal, Tarin. That’s how all the people are. It’s pulling teeth to get a word out of Joss, and we’ve been together almost this whole time. For goodness sake, tomorrow’s our two-month anniversary!”
“Not even close,” Joss said, not bothering to look up. She was spooning mashed peas into Baby’s mouth. They had stocked up on toddler food before leaving the mountain camp. It was one of the categories of supplies that the helicopters dropped in abundance, and Faye hadn’t felt bad at all about hoarding. It’s not like Baby could survive on the caloric content of beer and vinegar.
“It being the new normal doesn’t make it any less weird,” Tarin said. He drained another jar of pickled cabbage.
“You’re not wrong,” Faye said, watching Baby eat and trying not to laugh. The child wanted nothing to do with the green mush. Its mouth was screwed up as tight as it could manage. Which was not very tight, seeing as its face was mostly squish and wrinkles. Joss just kept pushing the spoon through the chunky lips and holding it there till Baby was forced to swallow.
“What’s next?” Joss asked. “We made it to Bend. That was the only plan I was made aware of.”
“Trusting woman,” Tarin said.
“It’s because I’m so good-looking,” Faye said. “Her attraction has clouded out her sense of self-preservation.”
“The only explanation,” Joss agreed, worming another spoonful of mush into Baby’s mouth.
“Trusting and tasteless. My, my. A terrible combination.” Tarin seemed rather pleased with himself. Faye let him have his moment. They were, after all, so very rare.
“What’s next?” Joss asked again.
“There’s a little grotto a few miles up the road where we’ll sacrifice you and ritually cannibalize your body.” Faye thought maybe Tarin was getting a little carried away with himself.
“You are a humorless witch,” Tarin sighed, grinning.
“No. You’re just not very funny,” Faye replied, turning to Joss, “We continue south, dear snookums. Tarin has business in Peru.”
“We’re walking to Peru?”
“No, no,” Tarin said. “There’s a port a few miles south and west. It used to be for the river. But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, the coastline has moved east by a bit. So I guess it’s a seaport now. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. Point is, I’ve a boat for us a few miles away, and I hope you don’t get seasick.”
“I would have thought all of the boats were gone, by now.” Faye had been thinking the same thing. The first flood hadn’t led to food riots or bank rushes. It had, however, caused a mad, forty-eight-hour boat scramble that spanned the entire globe. Every vessel, from battleships to yachts to dinghies, had been bought, stocked, boarded, and set adrift. These boats weren’t even sailing anywhere, per se. There was no where to really sail to. But boats floated, which was, at present, the hottest commodity. And their captains seemed to prefer the “Noah’s Arc” approach to a global flood. Faye couldn’t blame them. It had worked out for Noah.
“It was gone,” Tarin agreed, “but I brought it back. Captain’s an old friend, and I told her I’d bring a case of DIPA’s.” He nodded towards the pack of crowlers he had been canning. “She’s a real wino. Well, beer-o, I guess? Anyway. She’ll be taking us south. I think she’s as grateful for the direction as anything else. Don’t know how long I’d last, just bobbing around out there. Grey sky, grey sea. At least on land we get some variety.”
Faye swiveled around in the barstool, staring out the windowless-window. The world around her was varied, to be sure.
“I always have liked boats,” she said, chewing on a pickle.
One thought on “Timekeepers.1.8.”
See, this is quite depressing, with the setting bring as it is, BUT the humor and character interactions make it a great read. You strike the right balance for someone like me.