“What’s your business?” yelled Marie from the gate tower, pointing her rifle at the small caravan below. A man emerged from the covered wagon holding a wool hat in his hand. He was gaunt, his bones pulling hard against his leather skin.

“Ma’m we were hoping we might have a word with someone who would be able to speak for your people.” Marie pointed her rife at his chest.

“You stay behind that yellow line there, you can speak your peace.”

The man shifted on his feet and rubbed his neck. “Ma’m, I just wanted to say how I think mighty highly of your ancestors for planning this place and anticipating the Fall like they did.”

Marie nodded. “You honor us for saying so.”

“And I wanted to say how you all look like fine folk, real fine.”

“Kind of you.”

“And I’m sure, if not for the Fall, you wouldn’t have that rifle pointed at my head and we might be good friends.”

“No point dwelling on what might have been, my pa used to say.”

He nodded. “Right you are, Ma’m, right you are. I was just hopin’ being that you folk seem to be doing well, that you might be able to open your house to weary travelers.” He motioned toward the caravan where Marie could see children poking their heads out from the tarp covered wagon. They were all different ages and colors. Strays this man must have picked up for labor or sex or maybe even out of some kind of sympathy. Might be some of them were even his own children. “We’ve been going a long while Ma’m and it ain’t been easy.”

“Hard times.” said Marie.

“We willing to trade whatever we’ve got. It ain’t much, we were hit hard by some bandits and they took some of us and our valuables, but we’ll trade what we’ve got. He motioned to a woman, who crawled out of the wagon, smoothing out her hair. Her footsteps squished in the mud and Marie saw she had bags wrapped around her feet with rope. The man smiled and motioned her.

“This here is my sister, we can do whatever labor you needs doin’ and the children can work too, they do anything for the food. Helen here is friendly and clean and she’d be willing to give company if any of your folk are lonely.”

Maries voice changed. “That ain’t your sister and I’m insulted you tried to trick me to thinking so. That’s your wife or I don’t know a breath from my face. We don’t know those we ain’t married to here.”

The man turned his hat in his hands, clenching at the fabric. “I’m sorry Ma’m. I didn’t mean to offend.”

Marie motioned with the rife. “I think you better move along. Unless you got trade like weapons or seeds or gasoline, you need to get yourselves off our land. We can’t take another mouth to feed and we’ve got all we need. You should go north. I hear it told that there is some work for a big compound up there.”

“Miss, we’ve been up North. We just came from there. There is a camp of folk like us outside the compound just waiting for work that doesn’t come. What goes on there is terrible, the people sometimes, when someone dies. . . They are just so hungry.“

“I don’t need to be hearing your tale of woe Mister. I got troubles of my own. I was raised a Christian woman and I feel for you, if I had enough food I would give you what I got, but I don’t and I can’t. I got my own people to think of.”

“I don’t fault you for that.”

“Sure that you do, as I would in your position.” She cocked the rife. “You better start moving.”

“Alright Ma’m, I hear you.” He began to walk away from the line and then turned suddenly and forced his words. “Uh, Ma’m, please don’t shoot me for stopping for a minute, but we do have something you might find useful. I’m not sure that you might be interested in such things, being that you are people of the cross, but a couple months back we passed through a factory and picked up a bunch of, uh, preventatives, and we hid them under the wagon. They was the only thing the bandits didn’t take. If you want to trade those, we got about three hundred of them.”

“Preventives, eh?” Marie nodded to someone behind the wall and a basket was lowered down with a rope.

“There’s a tomato in that basket, you put one of your preventatives in there and if we like it, we might talk.” The man approached the basket and tentatively put a little package inside. He took out the tomato and took a large bite, and then another. He handed it over to Helen, who let the children take one bite each, made them chew slow.

Marie picked the little square out of the basket and looked it over, finally ripping it open with her teeth. Inside was a wet rubber ring. She slipped it back in the package and into her pocket. She held the rife across her chest. The man saw her perfect white teeth as she smiled.

“Mister, if you got a few hundred of those then I believe we can do business.”