SOIL: Soil By Zachary Keep

Week 2 Word: SOIL
Word Count 500
Zachary Keep
“You’re gonna’ die in the dirt, old fool.”
The sheriff said it, his growling voice particular to aging officers of the law, when it became clear Tom wouldn’t leave. He was right about the fate of one old man, but he was wrong about the dirt. It used to be dirt. That was before the end of the world. Today it was soil. Soil grew crops, fed mouths and brains. It was soil that kept lights on, antibiotics produced, libraries organized.
It was soil where Evelyn gardened. Soil where she’d lain for a decade.
He was glad she hadn’t witnessed dirt become soil. The shift in… priorities… those semantics entailed beggared description. He missed her of course- nearly joined her once. He still smirked, recalling his attempt (the realization that you could breathe through the barrel of a pistol? If that wasn’t her sick sense of humor, he didn’t know what was). Her dark humor saved his life that night.
He’d gone on. Survived the three year winter and lived to see the first harvest, first canal boat, even the first concert in the park under electric lights. He’d sampled the rarest luxury in the remade world… old age. He tried contentment; reading, smoking, watching civilization toddle along. It never took.
God help him, he’d been excited to learn of the militia’s route at the hands of that Utica thug, gleefully telling the Sheriff to piss off before crumpling the evacuation order. He was a mile from the expected incursion route- over Kast Bridge, along North Creek, and South to town. They’d radioed for help from Albany, but it would be close. Someone needed to hinder the advance, so he’d walked to the one lane bridge, sat, and waited.
Two scouts came at sunset. Ridiculous in black fatigues, they fumbled with plastic rifles at his hearty greeting. One face registered surprise at his ancient revolver. The truck- running on God knew what-came an hour later. It rested in the middle of the bridge now, a moonlit hulk with spider web cracks on the windshield and two flat tires.
The night was silent now. He scrutinized his fingers, burned from reloading his last six cartridges, and reflected. He’d bought time, maybe even enough time. (Cont’d Next Page)
He passed the night, savoring memories of an intensity reserved for those awaiting death. As the sky lightened, fear bloomed; what if they’d taken another route and left him sitting here, a helpless old fool?
His doubt didn’t last long. The dawn carried noise of hundreds of footfalls. He’d bought more than hours- he’d bought all night. Thank God.
Knees cracking, Tom stood to face the first figures advancing cautiously across the bridge. They paused, gathering in a knot and training their rifles. At length a voice rang out “What the hell happened here, old man?”
He breathed deeply, the scent of wet earth filling his lungs. His grin showed more teeth than were strictly natural as he replied in a steady voice: “Let me show you.”

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