As the multitude of brightly coloured flags flicked and fluttered against the overcast sky and the warm wind whipped the waves into a foam that sprayed gently onto the shore, the throng of different tribes-people bustled about busily at the Tribal Gathering.
May confidently weaved amongst the numerous stalls. Stealthily she eyed various objects for sale, searching to acquire useful items to barter with at a later date. A sparkly necklace caught her attention, it was not of exceptionally high quality or value but was pretty enough for a boy to successfully win a girl’s heart.
Watching her carefully as she examined the necklace, the tradesman noticed the expensive diamond ring on her middle finger. Full of charm, he held her hand delicately and examined it before offering a barter for it. Firmly she told him the ring was not for sale as it had been a gift from someone special in her past, but he persisted and insisted that were she ever to change her mind, he would make her a good offer. May hoped the future never became so tough, she would be forced to part with it.
At that moment another customer caught the tradesman’s attention by asking to look at a valuable item kept locked within a small glass jewellery cabinet. May, spotting the opportunity, quickly stuffed the sparkly necklace unnoticed into a secret pocket stitched within the lining in her oversized red leather jacket and walked away.
Close by, on the shore’s edge, a dancing contest was in progress; the prize on offer was two barrels of prime diesel for the winner’s tribe. May’s Loco informant last night had given her a solid tip that Ebony, deciding the diesel belonged with the Locos, would rig the dance contest in their favour. Therefore earlier this morning, at different locations around the city, May had confidently placed three bets on a loco win, guaranteeing herself a slap up meal every day for the next week cooked and served by the bar staff, a month’s supply of clean water from the casino and a new black double breasted fitted jacket with a pretty multi coloured pattern printed on it, from the girl in charge of stock at the Demon Dog’s warehouse who regularly found ways to make her own secret profit, behind the backs of her fellow tribe.
May silently joined the crowd of spectators stood watching the climax of the Loco boy’s break dance. He had some quite spectacular moves and probably would have stood a good chance of winning despite the corruption. Next a young Asian girl from a tribe who were unknown to May called the Mall Rats took to the stage. Her delicate ballet performance was far better than the Loco candidate’s dance and with a determination to win, the girl gave the audience her heart and soul. Knowing the outcome had already being determined, May decided it was a crying shame the ‘Mall Rats’ would never stand a chance of winning the resources that would have inevitably helped them to survive a few extra months.
While everyone became totally absorbed watching the girl dance, May slowly wove her way through the vast crowd, unburdening several different people’s pockets of their sweets, chocolates and jewellery items with ease.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Nearby, the Farm Girls were operating their stall with great efficiency, as their fresh produce and alcohol sold in vast quantities. Alice was pleased she had overruled the tribe and brought more pigs to sell than originally planned. People with something of high economic value to barter could take away a whole pig for their tribe, but many on the beach today were delighted to exchange an object of low worth for a lovely, juicy, hot roast pork sandwich with home-made apple sauce, and stuffing.
As a broad attractive young man with shaved hair approached the stall, Alice couldn’t help but notice his naturally developed arm muscles. Having asked for a sandwich, Alice checked what the young man had to barter. Feeling first in one pocket of his body warmer and then the other, he searched for the bar of chocolate he had placed there earlier. He quickly patted his trouser pocket muttering angrily to himself about been robbed. Alice had heard all these stories a thousand times before, but, being able to distinguish a true hard working manual labourer from a gym bunny, and never a young woman to miss a chance, she held out the sandwich towards him. He looked blankly at her for a second, and then reached for it slowly. As he did, Alice withdrew it quickly, pointed at him sharply, and explained to him that if he accepted the sandwich he would owe her a week’s worth of hard work on the farm. Accepting the offer without hesitation, she handed him the sandwich. He took it, thanked her and bit into it – not with starvation – but with glee and excitement. It always delighted Alice to watch a man who took pleasure in eating his food.
“What’s your name?” She asked.
“Ryan” he replied, with his mouth full.
“Well Ryan, I expect to see you at my farm at sunrise tomorrow morning ready to work hard!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Not prepared to barter something from her hoard for just an apple, May stood a short distance away from the Farm Girls stall figuring out how best to steal such a small item. She had successfully completed large deals with this tribe in the past and knew that they calculated their stock by weight so never noticed the occasional missing vegetable or piece of fruit. Their leader Alice, was formidable, but May believed she could easily out-run any member who decided to give chase.
The minute Alice became distracted serving a big guy with a sandwich, May took a step forward to make her move, but felt a strong firm hand aggressively grip her shoulder tightly stopping her getting any closer. Instinctively she spun around and raised one arm sharply to attack, but he was far quicker and grabbed her wrist.
“I hear on the grapevine, you are the person to speak to whenever someone needs information” the tall confident guy stated.
Her eyes narrowed in suspicion. “That may or may not be true” she answered. “It depends who’s asking, and what they are willing to pay.”
Loosening his grip, he released her wrist, which she rubbed. Reaching into the small top pocket of his frayed tan denim shirt he held out, between his finger and thumb, her own diamond ring. Shocked, she quickly checked her finger and noticed the ring was missing.
“How the…?” she gasped! “Okay! Wow!” Every word she spoke increased in anger, annoyance and sarcasm “You are good! Really good! I never felt a thing! Now give it back to me!”
“Not without the information I need.”
May tried to make a sudden grab for the ring but the tall guy just held it up high in the air where she couldn’t reach.
“If you are going to be careless enough to lose your concentration for the minutest of split second watching some girl dance,” he smirked “someone is obviously going to take advantage of the situation! Now, find me the information I need and I’ll give you your ring back.”
Her unsuccessful attempts at both jumping up to reach the ring and pulling down hard on his arm made her eventually sigh and reply “What do you want to know?”
“I’m looking for someone who was captured by a slave trading tribe, five months ago.”
With the ring still held above her head, he reached into an inside pocket with his other hand, and pulled out an old dog-eared photo of a young boy with curly hair and round glasses. He showed it to May.
“His name is Josh, and he’s my brother.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After the virus all the Farm Girls had worked like trojans – planting, digging, harvesting and tending to the animals, but Alice had coped alone with all the heavy labour as no-one else possessed the strength needed to help her with the really difficult jobs. But as strong she was, there were many two person jobs that had now become a matter of urgency. She had always championed girls being as capable as boys, and wasn’t about to change her mind on that issue, but Ryan had been the first person ever, male or female, with the strength she knew was needed, kind or daft enough to agree to help.
As the cock crowed Alice noted the slight chill in the air as she leaned, arms folded, against the door frame hoping, but not really expecting, Ryan to appear. After all, a full week’s work for just one sandwich had been a lot to ask from him. More often, pushy craftspeople insisted on a full pig for an afternoons work. But to her astonishment, in the distance, Ryan with his large frame shadowed against the brightening morning sky behind, walked along the road towards her.
Alice’s priority was to build as many new pig pens as possible within the week. This meant chopping down four huge trees near the farmhouse and cutting them into manageable sizes. The trunks would be made into fence posts and hammered into the ground. The job of wiring up the fences and chopping the tree branches into fire wood to use during winter could easily be done by anyone at anytime.
Having never cut down a tree before, Alice explained to Ryan how and where to hit the trunk so the tree fell in the wanted direction. To her delight it all made natural sense to him. Laughing and chatting together, they both enjoyed the hard physical work of the arduous task ahead of them. Later with the sun high in the sky and the first, but smallest tree felled, Alice placed her hands on her hips and said,
“Right! Come on Ryan. Lets go back to the farmhouse and I’ll cook you a big hearty lunch fit for a big hard working man.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was well after lunchtime when May stirred from her sleep. Never for one minute after meeting Slade yesterday, had she imagined, that spending the whole day with him checking out the various slaves for sale at the gathering, would lead to such an extremely wild and crazy, passionate night together back at her place. Reaching to feel his naked body once again she realised the bed beside her was empty and cold and opened her eyes with a start. Sat neatly in a pile on top of the empty pillow next to her lay all her stash. With a sigh she closed her eyes again, certain, without even looking, that her leather jacket would no longer be still hung on the coat hook.
But May knew Slade was a man desperate for information about his brother. So desperate, she had no doubt whatsoever that she would see him again soon. He, along with her jacket and ring may have all disappeared into the ether for now, but she did recognised that the ring was his guarantee for useful information next time. ‘Next time…!’ She thought with a smirk, imagining him thanking her for all her help with another night together. ‘Definitely something to look forward to’.
Still smiling, May got dressed, picked up her hoard, securely locked it all away in her secret hiding place and set off to enjoy the first of seven delicious cooked lunches at the bar.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Alice and Ryan toiled from dawn until dusk for a week to fell all four trees, saw the trunks and make all the fence posts. But as Ryan’s final day on the farm drew to an end, even with teamwork, the pair had only managed to hammer into the ground, about seventy percent of the stakes.
Having been relieved and excited to have an extra set of strong muscles around Alice wasn’t looking forward to her future at the farm without Ryan. Putting aside the several months backlog of jobs, she had loved having him around and would miss his company. Together they laughed and talked as they worked. He was friendly, kind and enjoyed eating everything she cooked. The realisation of her true feelings, occurred as she cooked his final evening meal… She was growing fond of him!
“Ryan?” she tentatively asked as they ate their last supper together. “I wondered if you would consider coming to the farm for a little while longer to help me finish the fencing and catch up on a few other jobs? As well as payment in cooked meals, I could afford one pig, and a few urns of cider to take back to the Mall Rats!”
Ryan had enjoyed Alice’s company, the hard work, the superb food and the thought him now providing food and drink for his whole tribe made him grin and reply,
“I’d love to continue helping you.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was one week after the gathering, when May returned home in the evening, to find Slade inside, sat in her comfy armchair waiting for her. She greeted him with friendly sarcasm.
“Yeah! It does look good on me, doesn’t it?” he replied with a confident smile, adding suggestively, “and I have to say, May, your new coat suits your style and fits your figure far better than this one ever did.”
Closing the door she casually removed and hung up her black jacket.
Asking if she had any new information for him, May told Slade about a guy in the casino a few nights ago who had mentioned he had recently bartered for a young man matching Josh’s description at a slave market many miles further north, but the moment he had paid for the young man, smoke bombs suddenly detonated in the street, causing utter confusion. The area was stormed by an unknown tribe wearing black outfits and masks covering half their faces. They had captured and tied everyone up - traders, slaves, and anyone unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time – and loaded them into several black trucks. After a full day’s travel, the guy said he managed to loosen his ropes, jump off the moving vehicle and roll into a ditch unnoticed, leaving the young boy behind. The convoy continued to speed away and disappear into the distance. It had been a five day walk back to the market and another months walk to finally reach this city.
Deflated, Slade wondered how, on foot, he was ever going to find and catch up with a convoy of trucks that were by now several hundred miles to the north.
“Look Slade, I’ll do you a deal” May purred. “Stay with me again tonight and in the morning, I’ll ask a contact who owes me a big favour to provide me with some transport and petrol.”
He gently stroked her neck with the back of his hand, “I’d have stayed with you again tonight even without the information or the deal.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Their love for each other started with the most simple of gestures. Alice welcomed Ryan inside the farmhouse the next morning for a hearty breakfast with a gentle kiss on the cheek. Ryan’s mind and body raced with emotion as he gently touched the spot with his fingers, realising how cherished, wanted, and needed, he felt.
Later, heading out into the field to work, Ryan reached tentatively for Alice’s hand, held it in his own, squeezed it lightly and said,
“I really do enjoy coming out here to help you on the farm Alice.”
“Well, that’s good to know.” She replied “because I enjoy you being here Ryan”.
Pulling Alice close, Ryan kissed her. Immediately realising what he had done, he lowered his head in embarrassment.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” he apologised.
But Alice gave a hearty laugh, winked and said, “Here’s looking forward to our summer of love and happiness, eh Ryan?” before wrapping her arms around him and kissing him again.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Leaving Slade asleep in her bed after their fun night together, May disappeared, returning an hour later pushing an enormous bike, nearly the size of herself, with a plastic barrel of petrol strapped to the seat.
“Slade!” she shouted, calling him to the window. “This should help you cover a few miles quicker than you can walk and would suit your image in that Jacket”.
Outside he inspected the bike, then reached into the secret pocket May had sewn inside the lining and held out his palm containing her diamond ring.
“You’ll be wanting this back” He smiled.
Taking it from him she returned it to its rightful place on her finger.
She knew last night and last week had meant no more to him than a couple of enjoyable one-night stands. That was all it had been in her mind too – to begin with. But deep down she believed they had been special together, if only for the sex. She really hoped that Slade felt the same way too.
As Slade held and kissed her, May wished him all the best, telling him she hoped he found Josh alive and well. Secretly, May’s innermost thoughts told a different story. A story she felt extremely guilty about. Her deepest darkest desires wished that Slade never found his brother, causing him to return to her in the future for more information, followed by the hope of more passionate nights together. Because in her mind Slade was definitely a most enjoyable diversion from this difficult and unrelenting new world of Power and Chaos.