Chapter 11: No Call Home

The houseboat is approaching a bend in a broad flooded river. The land has an occasional clump of trees in a ravine, but is primarily pasture land. Toward the top of one hill, on a slope of land, is a massive garden, being tended. Those tending the garden are a mixture of various races and cultures - Hispanic, Vietnamese, and Russian. Hoes are being wielded aggressively, weeds pulled and laid down on the ground as mulch, produce being picked and placed into baskets, and a wheelbarrow full of compost being pushed down a row.

Finegan has pedaled the houseboat to an open spot on the shoreline, anchored, and is walking across the gangplank with Joey at his heels. One of the Hispanic workers nearby nods and welcomes them.

Hola.

A Russian, dressed in faded jeans and a garish shirt approaches. He acts as the group's interpreter as he speaks English better than some.

Hello to visitors. We here grow food and live harmony one with other.

Some of the gardeners pause in their work to watch the exchange, while others continue with their work.

Finegan Fine here, trader.

The Russian asks,

What you trade?

To which Finegan replies,

What you need?

______________________________

Finegan has been taken to the Russian's sleeping quarters. This is a shack made from pieces of broken housing - part of a roof overhead, wallboard on one side, a tarp hanging to form another wall, and a blanket on top of a straw bale for a bed. They are both seated on the crude bed, Finegan inspecting radio components. The Russian complains,

I trapped here. Can no fly home. Can no call home. I worry.

He points to the distance, where he worked as a contractor.

We work for cheap, send money home, but now I regret.

Finegan, trying to help, asks,

Do you have a tower? Short wave is the only thing working, and you need to be close to a tower.

______________________________

Finegan and the Russia are walking along the edge of a broken blacktop road. They pass a car parked next to a rupture in the road, where there was no way to proceed. The road has heaved six feet into the air. The doors of the car are hanging open, and the glove box is also hanging open. In the distance are several buildings, some partially collapsed, with almost all the windows broken. Pigeons have taken up residence inside the rooms beyond the broken windows. The parking lots are overgrown with weeds where the blacktop is cracked. The ground has heaved and bent the chain-link fence in places, with an occasional deserted car here and there. The place is deserted. The Russian is gesturing in the direction of the complex they are approaching, then puts his hand on his chest.

I chemist. On contract.

Finegan points to one of the buildings, seeing what appears to be a tower there.

Let's try that building.

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Finegan and the Russian are climbing stairs inside one of the buildings. The concrete stairs are broken in places but the rebar is holding. However, the men test the strength of the stairs now and then before gingerly putting weight on a step, and hold onto the handrail frequently. They arrive at the top of the last flight of stairs and open the door to the roof. A flock of pigeons takes flight, startled. The men walk over to the tower. The Russian has his radio in hand, and Finegan has brought his short wave radio, which he knows to be operational. There are tie lines from places on the tower to places on the roof, which held during the high winds as the winds simply flowed around the wires and thin tower.

Finegan drops to a squat at the base of the tower, which is enclosed in a box. He pries open the door with a penknife and pulls out some wires, inspecting them. He loosens some screws on the side of his radio and attaches some wires from the tower directly to these points, then finds the radio batteries are now dead. He looks at the radio in the Russians's hand, and sees it is a crank radio, generating its own electricity.

Let's try yours.

Finegan stands up to crank the Russian's radio, then squats again to connect wires. The Russian's radio is making static noises as the dial gets turned. Suddenly, they connect.

(skritch) . . meeting later . . (snap) . . something to eat . .

Finegan presses a button to send a message.

Caruthersville, Alabama here. Can you tell me your location?

The voice on the other end pauses, then says,

Memphis. Are you in contact with rescue services?

Finegan responds,

No. I've been along the new Georgia coastline. Florida is flooded. Atlanta is a zombie town. Do you have international connections? Russia?

Memphis pauses, then laughts.

Are you kidding? Farthest we got was someone in Asheville. Had them for awhile, but they were being overrun with folks from the coast. Flooding. Been a couple months now, no contact. Where the heck is the national guard?

Finegan says,

I've seen no sight of them. Period. No military, no guard. Everyone is on their own.

Memphis continues to press for information.

(skritch) food depot? We're plumb out here. Hunted out too. Some fish in the Mississippi though. It's big now, stretching west as far as the eye can see.

Finegan says,

Everyone gardens, sheep and goats and the like. You too?

After a pause, Memphis concurs.

Them that can, yeah. Lot of suicides here lately. Peaceful. They go peaceful like.

Finegan signs off.

My Russian friend might connect now and then to chat, but I gotta go now. Maybe I'll make my way up there. I run a trading houseboat. What side of Memphis are you on?

Memphis laughs, and says,

The part above water. Ah, high, the hill tops.

Finegan signals his goodbye.

10-4.

Finegan turns off the radio, shaking his head in the negative, but the Russian already has caught the drift.

No call home. Maybe you take me home in your boat?

Finegan is startled at the request.

Oh, no, it'd never make the ocean. No can do. No, no, you need a bigger boat, well, you need a boat period. What I have is a raft! The waves would go over it. We'd all die.

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Finegan and the Russian are returning to the camp, walking up a dirt path toward the shanties that the camp has assembled from junk. These are all people who were not welcomed at other communities, joining forces and helping each other. There are more men than women present, and every women is pregnant or with a baby in arms. Joey is playing with a group of Mexican and Vietnamese boys, kicking a ball around. The Russian points in the direction of the houseboat.

You no have light?

Finegan is reaching for the Russian's radio and unscrews one side to inspect how the crank device works. He looks up at the Russian.

No, but they can be rigged. You've got lots of fresh vegetables, how about a trade?

Finegan is grinning at the Russian, as the crank motion has set him to thinking.

______________________________

Several of the men are bringing forward car batteries and headlights taken from hulks nearby. These cars had been driven to the migrant camp when the migrants were ejected from other communities, and then parked. They are old trucks and battered older cars, but ran as long as the gasoline in their tanks lasted and where they were able to work their way over fields to bypass breaks in the roads. The batteries are being placed in a series, side by side and row after row, and wired together.

Finegan is working with the back of an old farmstead windmill, which has had several of its blades repaired with pieces of wood screwed onto the broken blades.

Got that alternator?

Finegan indicates the Russian should hold the windmill in the air, holding it from the hub at the backside, while Finegan holds onto two wires coming out from the hub backside. Finegan looks up, noting there is no breeze at the moment, then turns the blades by hand. The two wires he has in his hand spark, causing Finegan to jump.

Hey! Success.

Finegan then bends over a metal box between the battery series and windmill, connecting wires. He motions to one of the men, a Hispanic, to turn the blades of the windmill while he, Finegan, bends over with a flow meter to check on the batteries.

______________________________

The windmill is now standing up where it can catch the breeze, on a narrow triangle of boards nailed with cross-struts, crude but sturdy. The blades are lazily turning in the evening breeze coming off the broad river. The series of batteries has been covered with a tarp roof, to keep the rain off. At the far end of the battery block is a rack of headlights, glowing. The migrants are all milling around, contemplating this new setup. Finegan is off to one side, being handed an armful of Bok Choy cabbage.

______________________________

Finegan and Joey emerge from the darkness, coming down from the hill toward the houseboat, pulling the rusty wagon. Atop the hill is a blaze of light from several headlights, pointing in various directions. Frogs are thrumming along the shore. Finegan says,

Time for a good night's sleep . . if the neighbor's lights don't keep us up.