The sign for New Mexico had long since faded in the rearview mirror when Sam and Evelyn finally pulled off the side of the road near the exit for San Jon.
“We’d better look for some more water. I’ve never been out this way and I don’t know when we’ll hit the desert.” Sam said, easing the car down the ramp and turning left. He passed under the highway, turning left onto Fourth and then left again onto Walnut, stopping at the water tower bearing the towns name.
“Wonder if it’s full?” He asked, but did not expect and answer. She had not said a word since she had fired the gun the day before. He got out of the car spinning and admiring the openness around him. Searching, he found a spigot near the base of the water tower and turned the knob slightly. A small trickle of clean water dripped out.
“That’ll do.” He hurried back to the car and grabbed the four canteens out of the backseat and managed to fill all four of them. “Hey, Evelyn, want a drink?”
She got out of the car silently and blankly took a sip from the outstretched bottle, which Sam filled again when she handed it back.
“You want to look around here a bit?” He asked and she shrugged. Sam wracked his brain, trying to find a way to pull her out of her stupor, but came up blank. They got back in the car and drove around. San Jon was a small town, and they passed the majority of the houses, all of which had doors standing open or broken windows, within a few minutes.
Sam looked at Evelyn, who was frowning. “Yeah, that’s what I think too.”
“No, look!” She said, pointing at one of the houses.
Sam looked but did not see anything.
“In the window!”
Sam saw it, or saw the motion. A curtain that had been pulled aside fell back into place. Sam put the car in park. “Did you see who it was?” He asked her.
“It was an old woman, she looked ancient.”
“What do you want to do?” He asked Evelyn.
“Um,” she pointed again. An old woman, her skin the dark red of the clay around her, came out of the next house, holding a long barreled rifle, a feather hanging from the tip.
Sam put up both of his hands, showing he was unarmed.
“Get out, slowly,” The woman said, her voice sounding as old as she looked.
Sam began to get out, but Evelyn did not move.
“Both of you.”
The young girl glanced at Sam who nodded. They both slipped out of the buggy, slowly.
“Calm down, we don’t mean you any harm,” Sam said, hands still in the air.
“Like hell you don’t,” She said, motioning with the rifle to move away from the car. Both Sam and Evelyn did so. “You’re just a girl.” She eyed Sam suspiciously.
“Yes ma’am,” Said Evelyn.
“At least you have some manners about you.”
“Now look lady,” Sam said, “We’re just driving through, looking for supplies, before we head on to the next town.”
“She runs on batteries.” Sam said. “I can show you,” He took a step towards the car.
“Nope. Stay there,” She had not moved any closer since they had stepped out of the car, but gun still trained on the both of them, she walked toward the car and stole a glance in the back seat. “That’s an awful lot of ammo. You army?”
“No ma’am,” Sam said, following Evelyn’s lead. “There’s just a lot of strange stuff going on out there.”
“Ain’t that the truth. So where’re you headed?”
“Well, like I said-” Sam began but Evelyn cut him off.
“We’re going to Boulder City!”
“Ah, you think the dam is still running?”
“I don’t know, but it seems as good a bet as any. Now, if you don’t mind, we’ll just get back in the car and be on our way. Won’t trouble you anymore.” Sam said, lowering his hands slightly.
The gun jerked back toward him.
“Woah, let’s all be civil. I’m Sam and this is Evelyn.”
“You can call me Tama. Ok, put your hands down, but no funny business.”
“Are you out here alone Miss Tama?” Evelyn asked.
“Just Tama dear, and yes, I believe I am all alone.”
“You should come with us.” Evelyn offered. Both adults stared at her.
“I don’t know about that sweetie,” Tama said. “How about we start with some tea?”
“Sure,” Evelyn said, smiling.
Tama turned and headed back toward her house and turned back when the two did not follow. “Well, come on then.”
Sam looked to Evelyn, who was already moving to follow, and shrugged. He double checked that the gun was still hidden in the waistband of his pants. “So uh, Tama, what happened to the rest of the houses?”
“Happened?” Winter happened and I needed food.” She held the door open long enough for Sam to walk into the small home, stepping into the living room. A pile of books sat next to a worn but comfortable looking recliner, a small fire in the fireplace. “Sorry for the mess, I don’t get many visitors nowadays.” She chuckled to herself as she took a ladle out of a nearby barrel and filled a tea kettle she pulled off of a shelf before hanging it on a hook set above the fire.
Sam scanned the room, noting the three closed doors. “How long have you been here?”
“Sam was it? Sam, I’ve been here all my life, before the new highway went in, back when we used to have people stopping through here every day. I worked at the gas station. Of course, back then it wasn’t no Phillips 66. I’ll be back in a minute.”
She walked toward one of the closed doors removing a key from around her neck as she did so, unlocked the door and replaced the key. It opened outward, blocking Sam’s view beyond it. A minute later, she returned, carrying three packets of tea, and proceeded to lock the door. The pot whistled and she grabbed three chipped mugs from a small rack and filled them with the steaming liquid, dropping the teabags in.
It was odd trying to make small talk after all he had been through. “So, uh, where’s everybody else?”
“There weren’t that many to begin with. Most of them died or down-right left when the trouble started. The rest left as winter got close.”
“Why didn’t you go with them?” Evelyn asked, blowing into her tea.
“Well, as you can tell, I’ma bit on the older side o’ things, and I figured, walking, I’d just slow them all down.”
They talked about the weather, during which Tama apologized for not having any cookies to go with the tea. “Look at me, I’ve forgotten how to be a proper host.”
Finally, as Sam drained the last of the tea from his mug, he offered to clean the mugs. “It’s the least I can do.” He said as he stepped into the small alcove that housed the kitchen. It was cramped, but Sam managed to get all three mugs clean using a little soap and water ladled out of the barrel.
“I’ve enjoyed your company. Sorry about the gun. Does your car have a trailer hitch by chance?”
“Yeah, why? Sam responded, looking at Tama cautiously.
“Does her offer still stand?”
“What did you have in mind?” Sam asked.
“Like I said, I’ve enjoyed the company. There’s an empty box trailer a couple of houses down. You’ll need supplies. You take me, and you can have everything we can fit in that trailer” She indicated with her finger for them to follow her. She pulled the chain from around her neck and again unlocked the door. She stepped out of the way as it swung open.