Ben limped slowly down the road, his leg was acting up again. Not that that was any great surprise, the rain was coming, he could feel it, deep in the old wound, freezing him from the inside out. He’d get home, start a fire and stay huddled up by it, wrapped in blankets. It’d ease the pain a bit, keep the cold out. The injury was from an old hunting accident. Accident they called it, though it wasn’t an accident. There wasn’t much he could do about it now, it had happened after all, so many years ago. The road he was walking on was pitted and cracked, the jagged edges of potholes waiting for any traveller who was stupid enough to travel this way. He could see the first few houses up ahead of him, worn and desolate husks of what they once were, one leaned to the side almost drunkenly, the others roof had caved in some four years back. He had been walking along the road at the time and he almost pissed himself. Loud noises were never welcome these days. He passed by the ruins, revealing more. The whole town had gone to shit really. Mostly abandoned, now there was four residents, maybe five if old Sammy was still kicking around. He used to cycle this way, but his leg started to stiffen up, made it harder to turn the pedals, it was manageable until the tire got a puncture, then he saw no point. So instead he walked. He was pretty safe here after all, not like anyone unknown came visiting. There was nothing to scavenge, nothing of value anyway. Squatters occasionally moved in for a few weeks or months, but they always moved on. Such was life. The wind picked up and brought with the irregular thump of wood banging against wood. Damn shutter, hadn’t it rusted in place yet? He had spent three weeks searching for it on his days off. His only consolation was that one day it would stop banging, shorn off by the power of the wind. It brought scents with it too, cold and curiously blank. A storm was definitely coming, not just rains. Last storm had gone on for three days. He had enough in the house to last that long, but he was moving slower these days, he wouldn’t have time to warn the others. They’d know though, they always did.
He picked his way through the field of rocks, almost home, great chunks of brick littered the road, here time hadn’t been as kind to the houses. But there was his, still standing, and while it was grubby and a little run down, it looked like a shining jewel. He paused for a second, as he did every day, taking it in. It was a good house. Had always been good to him. He had raised two children in that house, watched his wife die in it too, but that wasn’t so bad either, she was always a miserable bitch and while he was sad to see her go, it was freeing in it’s own way. The children had left years ago, they still visited, once every few years when they got a chance. He was happy to see them, but he always felt a little guiltily, like he was dragging them all the way out here, away from their own families and lives. Not that he didn’t appreciate the company, no, that was his favourite time of the year, whenever they visited. Tommy would fix a few things he couldn’t get to, Gilly would always bring something, a knitted jumper, crocheted blanket. Something to show she was thinking about him the rest of the year. He climbed the porch steps carefully, he was always careful with them now, ever since his foot went through one about two years back, had cut himself pretty bad too, still had a faint pink scar encircling his ankle. He opened the door, strangely proud that it swung open quietly without a squeak. He breathed deeply, that warm smell of home filling his lungs. He closed the door behind him as another gust of wind came, trying to steal the warmth of the house. He shuffled into the sitting room and eyed the stack of logs critically. Would he have enough for the next few days? Well, it wouldn’t hurt to have some more. He went through the kitchen and out to the back garden. It was overgrown and tangled with weeds now. Tommy used to clear it out when he visited, but Ben had made him stop. What was the point? There was no one to enjoy it, to sit outside in the sun. He followed the concrete path to the woodshed and started filling the wheel barrow. Once it was comfortably full he picked it up with a slight grunt of effort and slowly began his trip back to the house. At the backdoor he set it down with relief, then he began to carry the logs, in ones and twos, into the kitchen. He could move them into the sitting room later. He looked out at the wheelbarrow, wondering if he should return it to the shed or not. After a moment of thought, he went back outside and turned it upside down, at least he wouldn’t have to deal with a wheelbarrow full of rain afterwards.
Inside, he filled the kettle with water and carried it into the sitting room. There wasn’t much point in setting up a fire in the kitchen, he’d be camping out here. He didn’t have enough petrol in the generator. They’d stopped doing deliveries for him about three years back, when the roads stared to get really bad. Told him he wasn’t worth the destroyed tires. He kept a supply himself, driving it slowly back from the depot, but he hadn’t gone in a good while. He didn’t like to drive so he always put it off. Sitting behind the wheel, white knuckled and hunched over the steering wheel, terrified he’d crash. He shuddered at the thought. No thank you. Tommy was going to be visiting soon anyway, he could go pick up some petrol, maybe even convince them to come out and fill the tank again. He shook his head, what was he doing? Oh yes. The fire. It didn’t take him long to get it going, he rubbed his hands and then held them in front of it, trying to absorb as much warmth as possible. He placed the kettle over the arm and swung it over the fire. Wouldn’t be long now and he’d have a nice hot cup of tea. His stomach grumbled faintly, he’d need something to eat soon. He left the fire and went back into the kitchen, he looked through the cans and settled on a tin of spaghetti, he carried it back to the sitting room, bringing a fork, some bread and a can opener. He opened the tin of spaghetti and placed it close to the fire, in a little while he’d give it a stir, then rotate the can. He sat in his chair, already pulled close the fire, and placed a blanket across his lap. He sighed in pleasure, finally taking the weight off his feet. He reached out and massaged his leg lightly, trying to knead the pain out of it for some relief. The heat would help ease it at least. The entire house shuddered once as the storm hit, rain pounded against the windows. It was perfect timing really, it’d be gone in a few days, just in time for him to be able to walk to work when it was dry. He settled back comfortably and prepared to wait it out.