Snowbie Joe had never run so fast or so long in his whole life and right now he wished he had always been a runner. Maybe then he could have outrun them. He laid down in the corn field trying to make himself as small as possible as he heard the shiners making another pass. As they went over, slowly, with the spot light falling all around he prayed they didn’t see him. For the few moments until they moved off into the distance they drowned out the whispers the dried out corn shucks made as the wind from their down draft moved through.
When it was dark again, he heaved himself up and took off again. The only noise now, the corn rustling and his own ragged breath. It was bone cracking cold and the patched and taped rags he used for a coat were better than nothing, but not by much. He thought about gloves as he ran. Gloves and boots. Back in the day before the shiners came and the lights went out, he used to have gloves. Now his hands froze all the time and even the tiny cuts and scratches from the corn field hurt like the dickens.
If he wasn’t already out of breath, Snowbie Joe would have breathed a sigh of relief. The shiners had moved off. He was safe to move for awhile, at least from them.. No telling what else was out there. It was harder alone but his clan had been killed. Not his family. That was the first thing the carders put a stop to. Separate folks and isolate them, that’s the way they played. If he still had family out there he had no idea how to find them and it would just be dangerous for them anyway. The carders might have separated families but folks still grouped up. This stray and that one, strength in numbers. Now he was alone again.
Rollie who stayed fat no matter how hungry they got, Tommy who was little, but fast and could get in and grab supplies and be gone before anyone knew what had happened. Sarah Jane who still had vestiges of the beauty she must have been at one time til the hunger and sickness ravaged her face. Pa Tom who’s gift was keeping the stories and teaching the younger ones to read and write. All gone and their hidey hole too. It hadn’t been much but it was warm and dry and they had added to it over the months. They had several ways to get to it and never used the same way twice, but they must have gotten complacent and someone saw them. Either that or they had been ratted out. If they got you, you would tell ’em something just to make them stop. No good making something up. They would check it out and come back for more, even worse if they figured you lied. Didn’t do you no good though. No one ever came out if they took you in to the citadel.
He blew on his fingers and slowed to a walk. He was tired, cold, and hungry and he knew he needed to find somewhere to hole up and get a little sleep. “Oh God! What was that?” he thought. Bump bump. Bump bump. He spun around trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. Bump Bump. He held his breath, there it was, over to the left. He ducked down and tried not to move or breath. It was getting closer. He was squeezing down trying to hide when this thing burst through the shucks. It was the weirdest thing Snowbie Joe had ever laid eyes on and he had seen some weird stuff. A three wheeled bike with tools and plastic dwarves and kites and buckets hanging off every surface. Big goofy guy riding it wearing what looked like a pair of night goggles.
“Hey dude! What are you doin way out here in the cornfield? Aren’t you cold mister?” He grinned at Snowbie Joe, questions running on quicker than he could answer. Even if he hadn’t been dumbfounded he wasn’t sure he could have gotten the words out. What words would he have used? “We gotta get out of here mister. There’s dogs come round after dark. You stand on the back and I’ll get us there in two shakes.” He said grinning his big goofy grin. “Two shakes is this many!” he said holding up two gloved fingers. Gloves! Must be some kind of sign, he thought.
Still, Snowbie wasn’t about to just climb on even though he figured the big guy was one of the harmless ones. Carders left the defectives alone, figuring that natural selection would take over. Long as they didn’t cause any trouble they ignored them. “Do you live by yourself?” Snowbie asked the big guy. “No, man. I got pets!” he said grinning. “But no people, mister. I ain’t got no people.” Now he looked like he was gonna cry. “Mister we really gotta go, the dogs’ll be out soon. Come on, I ain’t gonna hurt ya.” Snowbie climbed on the back and the big guy took off pedaling.
“What’s your name?” He asked the big guy. He had to call him something. Most people wouldn’t tell their name but the big guy just grinned and said “Boogie Man, mister. What’s yours?” Snowbie told him and asked him how he came by his name. “I didn’t know what my name was for the longest time. Nope, a long, long time. I was living in town for awhile and some kids were throwing rocks at me and told me to go away, – they didn’t want the Boogie Man hanging round. I was kinda mad, but kinda glad they knew who I was. Yes sir, that’s me – Boogie Man.” Snowbie Joe grinned and then felt the grin just melt away as the sadness of it all sucked everything out of him. Poor big fella, amazing he had lived this long.
He asked Boogie where they were going and Boogie told him just up ahead were some trees. They would have to get off the bike once they got there and pull it over some logs, but he had found a cave. Snowbie was still nervous but he knew he had to get warm soon. They got to the woods and Snowbie helped Boogie carry the bike a ways and about the time he thought he couldn’t walk anymore, Boogie told him to stop. Snowbie was disoriented from traveling in nearly pitch dark so he stood still while the big guy moved something and told him to wait a minute. Then he told him to come on and they pushed the bike up a bit further. Boogie moved around behind him now and he heard sounds like something being pushed. “Just one more minute mister and we’ll be able to see.”
He looked around blinking. Boogie was holding a lantern and and his night goggles in his hand, waiting to see Snowbie’s reaction. He had bushy red hair and freckles. Snowbie was speechless for a minute. There were pictures of all kinds and pieces of junk on every possible surface. Store mannikins sat around a big piece of log that served as a table. Old Coca Cola signs with pictures of Santa Claus, a stuffed walrus, and Christmas garland. Street signs and coffee cans, all kinds of crazy things. He looked at Boogie. who had his lower lip poked out and looked like he would burst into tears any minute. “You don’t like my decorations do you?” he asked. Snowbie grinned at him. “Boogie your place is wonderful, but we need to eat. Have you got any food?”
Boogie smiled his big goofy smile. “Lands yes!” he said. He went to the back of the cave and opened a trapdoor.” “Lands yes!” He said again and waited for Snowbie Joe to come look. In the hole under the crude cover was a stash of canned goods. He smiled at Boogie and reached for a can of stew. Boogie turned to a pit and busied himself getting a fire going. Snowbie sat down by the fire and Boogie took the can and opened it and put it in a big pot he sat on a grate over the flames. They ate their fill and then Snowbie Joe walked around the cave until he stopped in front of a mannikin that was wearing a pair of red insulated gloves. He reached out and touched the gloves. “Mister you want those gloves you can have them.” Boogie said, grinning again. “That lady don’t need em. Lands no.” Snowbie turned back to Boogie with tears in his eyes. Maybe this would be the start of a new clan for Snowbie Joe.
Snowbie Joe thanked Boogie and carefully took the gloves off the mannikin and put them on his own hands. He curled up by the fire, belly full and warm for the first time in weeks. He was asleep in no time. Boogie covered him up with an old blanket and laid down on the other side of the fire. “Goodnight, mister.” he said, and fell asleep with the grin still on his face.