Lorraine Coombs pulled down the brim of her broad brimmed hat. She looked over the flat, rocky ground of the desert floor, squinting her eyes shut against the dust thrown in the wind. On a calmer day, she would be able to see the hills marking the edge of the desert and beyond them would be another town. At least, she remembered one being there.
She was fifty-nine when the world powers cancelled the earth. She had worked hard all her life on her Arab horse farm. Buried her husband early in their marriage, but still maintained the property. Another year and she could have retired, enjoying the serene bush-land setting in her final years.
Lorraine pulled her sheepskin coat tighter about herself. Her country had never been so cold before and it was only Autumn.
Only autumn. Her thoughts echoed.
She peered over her shoulder beneath her, down into the natural bowl in the earth once created by a massive meteor. Salvaged scrap iron and timber were welded, nailed and lashed together, creating buildings up to three levels high. Few people roamed the streets. It was bitterly cold, although the wind barely got down into the crater. It was her town; even named “Lorraine Town,” after her.
When the war ended, people came to her at first in one’s and twos, seeking food and shelter. She couldn’t turn them away and the town eventually became the result of her compassion. The landscape above the crater slowly died, and from what she was told by newcomers, many died making the journey to find her.
She thought over the residents within. There was a hundred and nine according to her last census. She never saw them as a burden - only as unfortunate people throwing in their lot with her.
She frowned at a lone figure in a knee length, leather coat, standing in the street. “Rats” always seemed to survive every sinking ship.
She pulled the scarf around her neck up over her mouth and nose looking once more through the stinging dust clouds, and saw movement. A shadow slowly took shape, appearing as a walking mountain. A bellowing moan sounded as the shape suddenly erupted into view.
A young man wearing what looked like a crudely made turban of rags, sat on top of a camel.
Like most newcomers, he was gaunt, but looked healthy. The paraphernalia which was tied to his camel, seemed to be half of what most people carried when they arrived. Lorraine conjectured that he must have lived in the wastelands long enough to do without most things.
The young man pulled down his scarf from his mouth, revealing black stubble, then pushed his goggles up to his forehead. He grinned broadly; his grey eyes glittered with elfin mischief.
“G’day,” Lorraine, nodded.
“G’day,” replied the young man. “Are you the mayor here?”
Lorraine sighed; nodding-it was a title she had come to accept.
“I’m Vic Simons.”
“Lorraine Coombs. You’re welcome to stay on here as one of our community.”
“I’ll only be staying temporarily.”
“For how long?”
Vic shrugged, pursing his lips.
“For as long as it takes to get the job done.”
“Do you have a trade to offer?”
Vic shook his head, snorting with amusement, before answering, “No, I’m an enforcer.”
Lorraine would have laughed at him, if she didn’t have the trouble she did in her town. Enforcer’s were nomadic lawmen, selling their services to dying towns like hers. They were big, hardened men, capable of sterner measures than their criminal counterparts – not men like the half starved rat she saw before her.
“You’d better be sure of what you’re doing,” warned Lorraine. “There’s a strong criminal element here. We’ll hold your camel until winter.”
“So you don’t run out on us; we’ve had it happen before. It’s only Autumn now, but once winter sets in you’ll be snowed in with the rest of us. That’ll make you committed.”
“I’ve never seen snow before,” Vic whispered, apparently awed at the concept.
“You still want the job?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, dismounting and leading his camel beside Lorraine for the ascent into the crater.
“What were you before the war?” Lorraine asked.
“I worked in a window factory.”
Lorraine laughed inwardly at the irony of it all. Her town’s safety would be in the hands of a factory worker. She hoped Vic would live long enough to make an impression; but she doubted it.
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