The Fall

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  • #51907
    Cast Iron

    The small white church sat upon the hilltop, its single black shingled steeple reaching into the blue sky, towering over everything nearby. Scattered puffy white clouds, moving before a mild breeze, slowly rolled into different shapes.
    The Church’s gravel parking lot was packed with neatly arranged rows of folding tables, booths, pop-ups canopies and a few simple set ups of pieces of lumber on a stack of cinder blocks. Numerous people milled through the maze of merchants and their offerings. Despite the mostly sunny day, it was a cool spring day, many were still wearing jackets or heavy sweaters, hats and gloves. Nearly everyone wore some type of winter boots.
    Jack stood in front of his small folding table with 4 cartons of a dozen eggs each. He sipped hot tea in his well worn insulated travel mug. His long dark hair made him look like the lead of a early 90s Grunge band, but he limited his face to only two or three days growth, some thing of a rarity these days as most men had beards of varying degrees in length. Jack just could not stand more than a few days, the whiskers itched too much for his liking. He wore a old OD Korean War surplus jacket, blue jeans, a black knit cap and wool glomitts, the mitt Velcroed in the back position exposing his fingers.
    Despite the drone of people talking, walking about, he enjoyed the morning. As people passed by he smiled, or nodded to a familiar face and nearly every face was a friendly familiar face.
    Except one.
    Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw the unfamiliar man who already walked past his table twice, approach Jack. It was hard not to notice the man as he stuck out clearly in the crowd. The man wore combat boots, khaki tactical pants with bulges in the cargo pockets, a black jacket with many pockets, and a M4 carbine rifle slung over his back. The rifle was nothing really unusual, as there were a several people with similar rifles in the market at any given time, along with another dozen or so various hunting rifles, shotguns and likely as many hand guns seen or unseen. But the clothing was unusual. It all looked new.
    But Jack was not looking at the clothing now as the man approach. Jack was looking at the man’s face and eyes. Jack kept smiling.
    “Good morning, sir, can I help you,” Jack offered.
    The man did not wear a hat, his hair was short, but uneven, shorter in some places and longer in others. He had a beard just as uneven. The face under the beard was thin, nearly gaunt. The eyes guarded even nervous. Jack kept his hands in plain sight, and kept smiling.
    The man leaned in, kept his voice low, “I have something to trade for your eggs. Meet me a mile down the East road in twenty minutes. Come alone.”
    Jack leaned into the man, keeping his voice low too, “What do you have to trade?”
    “I am not telling you here,” the man snapped, glancing around. “Do you know what OPSEC is?”
    Jack pretended to glance around like the man did, but did only to throw a look at Walt, Jack’s neighbor and merchant in the pop-up canopy across from Jack. Walt was watching the exchange intently.
    “Yes. I know what Operational Security is. I was in the Marines, in Afghanistan.”
    “Then you should know better then to ask shouldn’t you?”
    Jack ignored the comment, “If our positions were switched, would you meet me, a mile down the road, by yourself, twenty minutes from now, to trade your eggs for something I wont tell you what it is? Would you do it, hhuummm?” Jack arched one eyebrow and waited for the logic of what the man was suggesting to sink in.
    The man leaned back as he mulled over what Jack said. It took a moment. A long moment. Jack kept his face neutral but inwardly he was cringing. But the understanding of what the man was asking of Jack finally came around.
    “Ok,” the man started, he lean in again. Jack did the same.
    “I have .22LR ammo,” he said.
    “You have .22LR ammo?”
    “Yes. I will give you ten rounds for two dozen eggs.”
    “Ten rounds of .22LR for two dozen eggs,” Jack leaned back, nodding as if he was contemplating the offer.
    Just then a young girl bounced up to the table, completely oblivious to what was going on.
    “Excuse me a second,” Jack said, without waiting for a response Jack turned his attention to the girl and smiled. “Good morning Pam! How are you doing today?”
    “I am good Jack,” Pam beamed. Pam always beamed. Pam always bounced everywhere she went. Pam was a beaming, bouncing ball of energy despite everything that happened in the past year.
    The man was bristling at the intrusion, but Jack ignored him.
    “How is your dad?”
    “Oh, he is better now, be on his feet today or tomorrow.”
    “Good. Tell him I asked about him. What can I do for you today?”
    “I will. Can I get a dozen eggs?” Pam pulled out a small box out of her pocket and held it out to Jack. Jack immediately recognized the box, took it and put it on the table next to him. He opened a box of eggs checking them over to make sure none were broke, closed the lid and handed it over to Pam.
    “Thanks Jack! See you next week!”
    “You’re welcome!” Jack smiled as she waved and bounced away into the crowd. He found himself wondering why she always said ‘See you next week’ when likely he would see her the next day or two.
    Jack returned his attention to the man, and held up the box for the man to see. It was a yellow and black box of .22LR, 50 cartridges count.
    “The going rate for a dozen eggs is 50 rounds of .22LR.”
    The man’s eyes bulged, “I am not giving you 50 rounds of .22LR for a dozen eggs.”
    “Ok,” Jack said flatly.
    “.22LR ammo is worth more than that,” the man insisted.
    “Not really.”
    “Think about it,” Jack continued. “During all those gun grabber scares, you bought up as much .22LR ammo as you find. Two, or three or even more 500 round bricks if the store limit allowed. Every time a gun shop, sporting good store, or Wal-Mart had it in stock you bought up as much as you could. You did it. Your shooting buddies did it. Your neighbors did it. Hell, even I did it. You have what, probably dozen or more bricks, unopened, of .22LR sitting around your house? Most anyone who shot .22LR on a regular basis, already had a few thousand rounds just because. It is all over the place. And no one was shooting till the supply returned. Until then everyone kept buying, kept stockpiling. Now, people use it to trade for other things.”
    Jack held up the box, “See this? I traded this box away last year after everything went bat shit crazy. This,” Jack shook the box, the rounds making the familiar sound as they rattled against the cardboard, “Is the fourth time this particular box of ammo has come back to me through trade.”
    A middle aged woman walked up, pausing to make sure she was not interrupting something. This time Jack did not even excuse himself, putting the box down on the table.
    “Good morning, Kathy. How are you today?”
    “I am good Jack. You?”
    “Cannot complain. What do you have there?”
    Kathy opened a well used plastic bag to show Jack what she had to trade.
    “It is cinnamon raisin bread, just made this morning . . . for a dozen eggs,” she asked hopefully. The bread was a beautiful looking loaf, worthy of the front cover of the holiday issue of any number foodie magazines had they still existed. And it was half the size of a regular loaf of bread.
    “Sure.” Jack checked the eggs and gave them to Kathy.
    “Thank you Jack.”
    As Kathy walked away, the smell of fresh baked bread wafted into the air. The mans stomach growled audibly. He stared at the bag.
    “Let me guess, you have been holed up somewhere several miles from here. Never left the house. Eating canned goods, freeze dried camping food or MREs. And even after rationing, your supply is running out, right?”
    The man’s eyes flared, guarded again.
    “Never mind. I know, OPSEC,” Jack held up a hand dismissing any response.
    “Hey Jack!” A short man, in a black leather motorcycle jacket, tore jeans, orange blaze winter hat, rushed up to Jack’s table, he slid a small plastic tub full of a white substance across to Jack. “You going to be at the meeting tomorrow?”
    “Sure will Tony,” Jack took another carton of eggs, checked them, and handed them over to Tony.
    “Great! See you then!” Tony rushed off.
    The man stared questioningly at the tub.
    Jack opened the plastic tub and showed the man the contents, “Butter.” He closed the container with a snap of the lid.
    “So, you want to trade for some eggs or not?”
    The hunger on the mans face was obvious to anyone walking by.
    “25 rounds,” the man offered, his voice small.
    Jack sighed, and began packing up everything.
    “What are you doing,” the man asked, a hint of desperation.
    “Going home. I am done for today.”
    “What about the last carton of eggs?”
    “I will take them home. I traded for a box of 50 .22LR, a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread and about two sticks of butter. The wife and I will have quiche, and buttered cinnamon raisin toast for breakfast for the next two days.” Jack shrugged, “It was a good day today.”
    “What about me?”
    “I dont know. There are others around here willing to trade . . . if you are willing to trade.”
    “Ok, ok, I will trade you the ammo for the eggs!” The man was nearly shaking now.
    Jack stared at him for a moment, and sighed again. He opened the plastic bag and took out the last carton of eggs.
    “Here. Take them. No trade, no charge. You look like you could do with a meal other than a MRE. But a word of advice; don’t stay holed up in your bunker. Get out and talk with some people. You will be better off for it. Believe me.”
    Jack handed him the carton of eggs, and smiled. Over the man’s shoulder, Jack gave Walt a nod and a smile that everything was fine, picked up the folded table and his small back pack and headed for home.
    Walt gently dropped the hammer on the 30-30 rifle and went back to business.


    Nice story!


    If anyone knows how to get in touch
    with Cast Iron, the rest of the story
    is just as good.

    He abandoned this forum after it went
    to the new software, but maybe someone
    knows if he is on another forum.

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