Dust in the Field

Tim

His lips stung. Tim pressed his hand to his mouth and sighed. His mouth was dry; it had been dry for a long time now. He closed his eyes and sat back against the couch. He tried to focus on what it was to feel full. He got up, walked to the window and pealed back a corner of the newspaper that covered it. The street outside was dusty, dirty and empty. He sighed with relief. It had been two days since he had seen another person. It had been a year (at his best guess) since he had seen someone who didn’t look starved, angry, or scared. Those looks used to be reserved for people at the shelters or the men huddled around trash can fires. Tim wore that look, he finally lived like everyone else.

Tim sat on a chewed couch in the middle of a derelict town house. It was big but empty. He had hoped there would be a mattress, but there was only a bed frame, all metal no useful straps. At least the people who left didn’t take the couch. Most of the other furniture was broken; a chair with two legs sat toppled in the corner. Everything was covered with dust. Who-ever used to live here left in a hurry and someone else had probably tossed the place, probably several someones.

It occurred to Tim that being homeless had helped him. Sometimes, he even felt lucky. He was used to surviving, always living on the move, on the streets. Hunger was not a new experience. Tim could argue life had improved, instead of sleeping under overhangs and in parks he could break into houses. Nobody was around to care. Stealing from stores wasn’t a problem anymore; he could take what he wanted.

Tim sighed again and then broke into a fit of coughing; his mouth was so dry. Walking over to the couch Tim picked up a battered steel flask. He shook it: half empty. He opened it and took a small sip. Water was precious these days. Before, the flask could have been filled at water fountains or public bathrooms, but when the government fell the water stopped running. It stopped running in Oakland long before that, but that was cuz people in the cities started getting crazy once the supermarkets closed. Tim didn’t go to supermarkets that often, but he knew why they closed, no food. All the plants started making people sick and most people who got sick stayed sick. He had seen some of the guys at the tent camps go that way. They would start throwing up one day, and that was that. They couldn’t eat, could barely sleep from the pain building in their stomach. He didn’t like to think about it. It was a bad way to go. Even if the poisoned plants didn’t get you life sill went to shit; eventually the plants stopped growing altogether. All the plants, save the wild weeds and shrubs that poked through cracks in the sidewalk.

Kevin had explained it to him once, something about genetics or genetically modified something. He said it was actually lucky the new batch of super plants had died so fast because it stopped them from contaminating a lot of processed foods. Tim smiled. Kev was always going on about those god damned scientists who’d killed the world cursing their Super Crops and GMOs. According to Kevin, even the trees in the cities were engineered. They didn’t die cuz they hadn’t been upgraded yet. Tim winced. He wasn’t supposed to think about Kevin…or food.

Sitting back down on the couch Tim took out his map. He was, as far as he could tell, in a town called Mountain View, in a little neighborhood surrounding a church. He hadn’t checked the houses down by the church. He hadn’t checked the church either, but worried that people might be holed up there. He would have to go looking tomorrow. He had killed the last of the Oreos earlier that day.

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