Peter pushed his cart, refusing to make eye contact with Amy, despite her repeated attempts. Smoke rose in the distance and Peter chose to focus on that. It took the group three days before they arrived at the valley, the steam still radiating from the charred ruins within. Three long days during which Peter went out of his way to avoid Amy.
“What do you think happened down there?” Brian asked.
“A Battle, and by the looks of things, Graham won.” Zach replied as he started walking down the hill.
“But if it was a battle, where are all of the bodies?” Brian asked, falling into line behind Zach.
“I don’t know.”
“Listen, about the other night,” Amy said in a whisper to Peter after everyone else had begun down the slope.
“I know,” he replied.
“You know what?”
“It was a one night thing, I get it.”
She placed her hand upon his. “That’s not it.”
“Hey, I found something.” Zach called from the bottom of the hill. Inside what remained of the wooden gateway.
“Damn,” Amy said, removing her hand from Peter’s.
Finally, Peter met her eyes, “Are you sure?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
He took her hand and squeezed it, before rushing down to join Zach, leaving his cart at the top of the hill. “What did you find?”
“This,” Zach said, hefting a large metal ball.
“What is it?” Brian asked, joining the two men.
Peter reached for the object, took it from Zach. “I think, I think it’s a cannonball.”
“Really?” Brian asked.
“Yeah, keep an eye out for any more of them.”
“Look over here,” Julie said, using her foot to sweep soot off of a large piece of blue plastic, most of the word Wal clearly visible.
The group moved closer to where the front of the store had stood. Peter knelt down, a stain upon the ground before him. “This is blood. You’re right Brian, where are the bodies?”
They tried to move into the pile of rubble that was the store, but decided it was too unsafe, and headed back to collect their belongings.
“I don’t like this. I’m sure it was Graham, but why would he do this?” Zach said as they started their trek past the ruins.
“Just be glad he’s not after us.” Peter said.
Rocky began to bark, drawing the group to a stop.
They looked in the direction he was barking. A small group of people, led by a diminutive female, with greying hair and more wrinkles than a raisin, had appeared from the north, cresting the edge of the hill there.
“Ok, everyone play it safe,” Peter said, making sure he could easily get to his weapon. Hands outstretched, he approached the group, realizing it was nothing more than a few teenagers and the elderly woman. “Can I help you ma’am?”
“You know how to build? Or maybe how to make a windmill?” She asked, stifling a yawn.
“I’m sorry?” Peter said, adding, “I can’t say that I do.”
“Do you know what happened here?” Zach asked, removing his fedora.
“Them damned soulless men attacked and burned it to the ground.”
“But where are all of the bodies then?” Peter asked.
“My you’re a gruesome one. If you must know, The Pennyman came for them after the battle. He was
here most of the night, dropping off his tokens, but those soulless things,” She shuddered, “They harassed him most of the night. It was almost as if they had been told to. At one point I watched one of those men,” she shuddered again, “Approach him bearing a large torch. I don’t know how the Pennyman did it, but the torch blew out before it touched him.” She made the sign of the cross in the air before her with two fingers.
“And then?” Peter asked.
“Well, we went and hid from the soulless ones, and when we dared return, everyone was gone, dead and alive.”
“Thanks for the information. Where are you headed?” Amy asked, stepping up beside Peter.
“Headed?” The old woman said, and laughed. “We have a place nearby.”
“Ok then, well, thanks again.” Peter said and took a step backwards.
“Yeah, no problem. If you see anyone looking for the Bazaar, let them know what’s happened. Tell them by summertime, we’ll be open again.”
“No problem.” Brian parroted.
Warily, Peter and his group turned their backs on the old woman and her teenage companions, continuing the push of their carts until they had left the battlefield miles behind, they finally broke to camp for the night.
Heating some Spam and a few cans of vegetables, Amy sat beside the fire while the rest set up the tents.
“Do you two want your own tent tonight?” Zach asked, pulling the unopened box of a small tent from within his cart. He could not help himself and laughed when he caught the look Peter gave him. “Do you think I did not know she was there when I told you it was your turn for watch.”
“You set me up,” Peter said with mock anger.
“Yeah, but I bet you enjoyed it.”
“Shut up. I mean it, shut up.”
“All right, but here it is if you want it,” He said, tossing the thin cardboard box toward Peter.
Peter caught the box, and looked at it, considering putting it up, but decided against it, stashing the tent in his own cart. Maybe another night he thought to himself.
“Hey,” Peter said, joining Amy at the campfire, listening to his joints pop as he sat down beside the fire.
“Hey yourself,” She said back to him, smiling.
“Are you sure about this?” He asked, staring into the fire.
“As I am about anything right now,” she replied, moving her seat closer to him.
“About time,” Julie said, walking up with an armful of wood for the fire.