The Pickanick Basket - Cover

The Pickanick Basket

by GT Dodge

Copyright© 2022 by GT Dodge

Science Fiction Story: In a grim future, the Loggin Folk have always scraped by. Now hunted by a terrible foe, they flee into the mountains that they know better than anyone else. They have no modern weapons, no transport, little food. They’re down to eating tree bark for most meals but still managing to move the tribe. No worries, the Loggin Folk have never been totally out of food. They have their PickaNick basket. There’s food in it.

Tags: Coming of Age   Romance   Dystopian   Cannibalism   Post Apocalyptic   Near Future  

A Skull Train Story, Stands alone

Last time, Dead Guy, you went last and it worked out OK. First the men set up a guard post and built a fire acrost the river. Then they ferried me and all the kids, even my Littles, acrost the river. Then all the other women. Then the gear. Then, last, they carried you. I had to jump in and keep your face above water cause Fernell didn’t care much. Twist-Tie, he helped me drag you out and roll you over and he watched me rescue-breathe into your mouth. Then Twist-Tie, he rolled you on yer side and he slapped yer back so hard! And the water drained out a yer mouth. You never coughed ner nothing but I put my cheek to yer mouth and pinched shut yer nose so’s I could feel you sucking wind. Yep. You were still breathing.

Damned Fernell.

All the Littles were fussing, so me and Twist-tie dragged you out of the mud and stretched you out in the sun so’s I could mind the babies and chase down them that could walk.

And that night Twist-Tie dumped half of his plate on mine so’s I got a full plate. Nothing but shit-n-sawdust, baked hard - times are hard with us on the run - but a full plate!

I mean, we Loggin Folk never, ever have nothing to eat. But this year, still not all that much.

This time last month, I seen High-N-Tight dump his food on Tobb’s plate before Tobb and you took off scouting cause the Wak was all around. And I seen Tobb split his’n with you so’s you both got near a full plate.

Next day, them Wak got pounded when Tobb and you come out behind em, shooting real bullets - I know they was all your bullets since we swapped our guns away years back when nobody never had bullets to swap. And the Wak run out of bullets and run into the ditch where the Boss Crew and all the Real-Man men and even the Ready-Man men stoned them and then jumped down and killed them what fell.

‘Cept Tobb got shot and then shot again. And when you was draggin’ him out the way, that old Wak run in close to shoot you.

You got to remember that. Or at least know it deep down. Else you ain’t gonna come back to life.

You don’t got to remember what happened after you got shot ‘cept for I’m proud how Tobb picked up your pistol and shot that old Wak with your last bullet. And the Boss Crew got chewed up something fierce. Old-Man-Loggin dragged his brother Dun back to camp. And Twist-Tie and High-N-Tight was both shot but dragged Gramps back.

Loggin Folk don’t eat their dead but Wak do. But Wak eat their own dead only when they got no one else. We burnt Gramps and Dun and Tobb so’s the Wak wouldn’t get aholt of them.

We searched their dead but didn’t find no bullets but them that run took the rifles anyways. Even your rifle. But Tobb had shot all them bullets anyways.

Oh. You know, really know, Tobb was killed, right? I told you way back then but it aint right to say his name no more. But you know. Really?

Tobb, before he died, told the new Boss Crew, Fernell and his brothers, how your tribe brag they never left a man. Bury them in a secret place and always have. How your tribe has got to come for you. “If,” Tobb started, but he coughed and coughed til he told Fernell, “If this man is still alive ... then his tribe? They’ll owe us Loggin Folk more’n a life.”

Tobb died right about then with Fernell asking him real loud “What tribe? What’s this guy’s name?”

But we’d all heard Tobb tellin’ us to keep you alive. How you hadda be alive when your tribe gets here.

‘Cept you died. Why don’t you look at me? Why don’t you move? All you do on your own is breathe.

I tell you this story ever night when I lay the Littles alongside a you so’s they kin snuggle tight to you and share your warmth. And me? I snuggle their far side so’s we keep them safe and warm.

Last thing I tell you ever night, I tell you how I need you to wake up in the morning. Wake up some so’s Fernell can ask you your tribe. Ask you your name.

Then I stop talking out loud since the Littles need to sleep while they gots a bit in their bellies.

But I don’t just tell stories to you, Dead Guy.

I tell me stories.

Here’s the story I been telling myself about me and you, Dead Guy.

Not dream stories! I always know the Dead Guy is gonna lie still and warm and not look ner talk. Ner reach and kiss and hug me and love me.

I tell myself the story bout me saying everthing to the Dead Guy that I been thinking about him.

Like this, “Me? I hope you wonder about me ... I’m like your new mama. I wash you and feed you like we’d feed a babe when the mama aint got no milk.

“See, you lie there like you’re dead. Fernell tried and burnt your hand and you flinched away but you never woke up. He shouted in your ear. But you never woke up.

“He even shook you til Nan stopped him sayin, ‘You mustn’t shake a baby and you dasn’t shake the Dead Guy.’

“Nan, she’s older’n old. She splints broke arms and poultices wounds and wrapped your head after she washed it and felt around til she found the bullet. Said she don’t dare cut it out so she poulticed you til the fever broke and no more pus drains out but you never woke up.”

None of the men know your tribe ner your name.

Fernell said, “This guy, this Dead Guy, he’s got no tats. No scars. His hair aint cut ner braided. Even Wak shave their heads so’s everybody can see where they put their tats. I don’t think he’s got a tribe.”

Fernell’s wrong. Tobb said he has a tribe.

We and ever tribe we trade with gots tats. My Ready-Woman tat acrost my left brow and down around that eye? It marks me forever as born Loggin Folk and waiting on a man. Just like a Ready-Man is tatted only on the left. He’ll get tatted on his right, Real-Man, when he marries or stands down a threat or makes his bones.

When I marry, my husband’s tat goes around my right eye markin’ me a Real-Woman. That tat means I’m his Real-Woman, that I have joined his tribe. Ever Real-Woman in any tribe we trade with? All you got to do is study her left eye and that tat’s gonna tell you and the world what tribe she come from.

Nan’s got Loggin tats around both eyes. Got to be a story there but only her crew would know it. Maybe Nan is so old that everybody what knew the story is dead.

Loggin Folk! We got family tribes up and down and acrost these mountains. Same tats.

Loggin Folk, we cut trees and rip planks and trade root barks from the right trees. We even...

Cain’t tell you. Loggin Folk secrets is only for Loggin Folk.

Since breathing is bout all you can do on your own, everybody started calling you the Dead Guy. Not me. Well, not at first.

It’s like that biggest storm of the past few years. We’d felt it coming on for days and then thunder, rain and wind and then, after, it hung on for weeks. Everbody still calls it ’The Storm’ and everbody knows what storm we’re talking about. But nobody woke up the gods ner told everybody down the line the storm’s name ner Nan shook white powder on nothing ner ... All them things a naming calls for.

Anyways, now you’re the Dead Guy but without the gods and all the white powder but with the name-telling down the line.

Nan told the Boss Crew that since I been feeding and dressing and tending the babies specially them what can’t even chew ner swallow ... My Littles, I call ‘em ... That I could feed a man that don’t swallow ner chew. That I could feed you and make you drink and...

Well, she didn’t say this part out loud but I clean you when you piss and shit and wash you and wash out your shirt and kilt.

My story near stopped but I blush and, in my story to myself, I tell you the next part.

Nan was laughing with her crew, the married ladies, and tole me to my face, “Missie, you mustn’t wash his shirt and kilt and hang it with your dress and britches.”

They all laughed when Twina whispered “You gotta wash them things on different days.”

Oh! I gotta stop telling myself stories bout what might be. You got no tats, I can’t never marry you.

Even tho Fernell said...

I remembered I had to tell this part out loud so’s you’d take it in: “‘Cept, Dead Guy, you don’t need to hear what Fernell said then.

“Listen to what Fernell said today! Sink these words in deep down and HEAR ME! Fernell said he aint gonna ferry you acrost the river tomorrow. Gonna leave you behind. When we make camp tomorrow night, somebody’s gonna ask, ‘Where’s the Dead Guy?’

“And it’s gonna be too late. Your tribe aint gonna be happy when they find us. You gotta wake up!”

Next morning, clouds boilin’ up ahead, gonna storm. I told myself to set the stories aside and get thru this day. I ain’t never told a story since.

I took the babies to their mothers for nursing and fed the rest from what food Nan sent me. The least of them, I chew up a mouthful and swish some water in my mouth to thin it some and kiss it into their mouth.

Then they swallow and beg another bite, open mouths gaping and popping their gums at me and making kissy faces.

I feed the Dead Guy, too. He can’t even swallow water less’n I stroke his throat like a newborn. I can’t chew soft enough fer him so I chew it small then swish water with what I chewed and kiss it into his mouth. I stroke his throat so’s he swallows the food.

This morning, he begged another bite! Opened wide and smacked his lips and even made a kissy face!

“He begged another bite!” I hollered. I jumped up and waved Nan over. I told her, “Watch this!”

She smiled when I moved to kiss the watery chewed up food into his mouth. This time, he swallowed on his own! And he opened his mouth and moved his chin.

Nan sent for Fernell and the whole Boss Crew come over. Since they’d never seen what it takes to feed a new baby ner a helpless man, Nan hadda tell them, “The man aint been able to chew ner swallow on his own. See how Missie chews the food and adds enough water? Then she has to kiss it into his mouth. Then rub his throat til he swallows it down. Over and over every mealtime.”

Dog-Breath ruined it for me when he said, “Missie’s been kissin’ the Dead Guy over and over ever mealtime? They needa get hitched.”

There was all sorts a useless chatter for a bit til Nan hushed them and pointed. The Dead Guy was begging food again. “The Dead Guy’s waking up,” she said. “It may take a day or three but he’s healing.”

I grinned at that! But ThickChuck ruined it all over again, “Missie’s been sleeping ever night with the Dead Guy.”

And Fernell said, “Marry them quick. Today.”

But first we had a river to cross.

The day was blessed. Before Fernell and the Boss Crew got to the gully worn down where all other tribes cross the river, two Ready-Man men charged up waving some sticks they’d found. Green sticks with one end chewed. Then, floating over there, one of ‘em picked up a stick with both ends chewed off.

Beaver sign!

Beavers are scarce but they’re meat. Loggin Folk know more bout beavers than any other tribe, I bet. What trees they like to eat. Which ones they won’t eat. How to figger out when they’re burrowed into the bank or how to bring the beavers out to fix their dam.

And we know how best to roast the fatty tail that tastes so good!

“First things first!” says Fernell. “You men,” this to the two Ready-Man men, “Cross the river and start a fire then scout downstream at least a quarter mile.” Next he sent Dog-Breath and Old-Man-Loggin upstream with two younger boys to find the tree the beaver had cut down. Then he split the remaining men into a rear guard and a team ready to cross the river and rove out and around til we knew it would be safe to bring the rest of the tribe across.

A loud, sharp clap changed everything. There was TallRed, her arms frozen high, palms together. It’s our alarm signal. S’posed to sound like a beaver tail smacking the water. Every kid went down and fast crawled over by me and the Dead Guy. Even Littles that I don’t feed no more. Each man had taken a weapon and picked a fighting spot – the closest trees each had one man knelt and spear ready or standing tall looking out with an ax or at least a rock held high. The men with bows and arrows shifted so’s they covered all directions. At the firewood pile, the last Ready-Man, holding the chopping ax, was backed by all the biggest boys each with a knife or enough of a log to swing, all knelt behind the woodpile. The breakfast crew were the only ones still moving, women dishing out half cooked food to the girls who run and feed any of the men that missed breakfast. The rest of the women slowly circled me and mine. Each held at least a knife. I hovered over the Littles and the Dead Guy. I held the Dead Guy’s big knife like a sword. My feet were in motion as I did my best to watch north and east and south all at once. West was the river and a clear firing lane. Cept we got three r four bows and hardly any good arrows.

Nan hissed, “Save your energy, Missie.” Pointing at a girl running food to the warriors, she pointed at me- Me! – saying, “Feed her next.”

Blast. Shit-n-sawdust. Again. And half raw. But food is food and I suppose it calmed me.

TallRed held up the thick stick that was gnawed at each end. Loud but not shouting, she said “This is willow wood. Bitter bark. Beavers got no need to eat willow with all the sweet bark around.”

Everybody but me and TallRed and Nan cussed. Beaver is good eating.

I was too busy thinking, ’TRAP!’ to worry about my dinner.

Too bad.

I was right about the trap.

A team of strangers pushed Old-Man-Loggin, who was walking crooked and holding his arm, along with the two boys who was mostly trying to carry Dog-Breath but when he fell, I seen he was tied right hand to right foot so’s he hadda hop. But hopping weren’t working well for Dog-Breath. Looked like he’d smashed his nose when he fell but ... No. Dog-Breath was a born fighter. At least one of the strangers was limping and another had a bloody bandage acrost his ear. He had fought them strangers but they beat him up.

Heads turned and I looked quick, the two men we’d sent downstream were hurrying in, splashing acrost the river whilest another team of strangers stood behind them on the far bank.

I counted twelve strangers. But that weren’t all, I was sure. Exactly double the count of men they’d guarded. Bound to be more. I spun to face the east.

He weren’t quick enough, I seen him duck behind that bushy cedar.

He was too damn close to ThickChuck. I run towards the stranger and ThickChuck turned so quick he fell. But I was over ThickChuck with that sword rared back over my shoulder, ready to swing.

The stranger pointed to where he was holding high his big knife then pointed to my big knife.

“That’s a Skull Train knife, girl.”

Sure! Call me a girl when I’m tatted Ready-Woman. None of the other strangers had said a word.

“It’s on loan, stranger.” True. My next words were trash-talk. I made my voice all scratchy and high pitched like telling the story,” ’It’s in my hand. It’s thirsty for your blood.’

Not from my favorite story. Not even a story I tell my Littles. It’s right out of HopAlong and the Werewolf.

I heard TallRed snicker. We all know that story.

That damned stranger laughed out loud. “Seems I gotta wait til the moon comes up to see which part of the story is you and which part is me!”

I don’t care he knows that same story. It goes way back. And startin’ today I don’t tell no more stories.

My knife don’t move and my muscles tense up.

Damned stranger dropped his knife.

No, I lie.

He threw it down so’s it stuck straight up. A lot closer to him than to me.

He stepped sideways and back his hands flat and tight like the men train for close-in fighting. But then he raised both hands empty and spoke, “HopAlong, he started as Skull Train stories.” He stopped like maybe Skull Train scares me.

But I’m a woman trained for close-in fighting and for talking woman to man. I don’t scare. Can’t knuckle under to the first smooth talking face that speaks to me. Moreover, I aint Boss Crew. I got no business talking down a stranger. Where’s Fernell? Somebody’s got to make talk-talk with these strangers.

Since talking is better’n fighting, I raised my head like I was gonna talk. The stranger narrowed his eyes.

“I see your tats, Seven Killer,” says I, knife still cocked and ready.

“I aint killed just seven. These tats?” His one hand moved slowly, one finger pointing at his face, touching his jaw.

I nod.

Starting on the bottom right, he touched each tiny skull, working his way up and acrost. “One, January. Two, February,” he paused where there was a big spot where no tat had been put, then, “Three, April. Four, May. Five, June. Six, July. Seven, August.”

Yep, there was a gap between February and April. What happened to the Skull Train named March, everybody knows that story.

“I’m,” -gesturing at himself and the strangers spread around us- “Well, we’re strikers for Train” – he paused a beat of my heart –” August.”

“Woman, we, Skull Train, don’t count kills. The rest of the world counts the skulls we jam onto stakes or hang in nets on our trains or pile high when we leave. We don’t count ‘em. We just kill and walk away.”

I told him, “You try me and you won’t walk far.” Not trash-talk. Just, I hope, a promise.

By now, Fernell’s moved acrost the camp to stop in front of the stranger trash-talking me. I didn’t have to watch, I know he slid from step to step never coming between one of us and the enemy.

But here’s Fernell. He can make talk-talk with the stranger.

I stepped back to my Littles. Looked around the camp, all directions.

Them strangers acrost the river have all sat down near the fire.

Them what come from upstream, the ones who sent back Old-Man-Loggin and Dog-Breath and them boys, they’re all waiting back where that path turns upstream.

Back behind the stranger not named Seven-Killer whose tribe is Train ... August, I mean way back, I see three strangers. The way they’re spread in a staggered line, I bet there’s another nine hid from view.

Fernell says, “We’re Loggin Folk.” He rocks his face slowly so’s all his tats show.

That damned stranger reaches out his foot to the knife stuck in the ground.

He’s gonna...

Yeah. He hooked his boot-tip under the crossguard and flipped the knife straight up. He caught it and settled it in the sheath. A sheath much like the Dead Guy’s.

“Skull Train.” He waited just that beat. “August.”

I bet them that knows Skull Train knows their tribes is the trains. I’d never thought about it. I’m betting Train (beat) August is badass.

Fernell put up both hands, the sign for a talk-talk, palms forwards fingers spread. Behind him all the Littles put up their hands the same way. I hid my grin.

The stranger put up both his hands the same way. He ducked his head looking at the Littles. He made sure they saw his grin. I turned and saw the strangers across the river holding up their hands the same way. Behind them another set stepped out of the woods and their hands were up, fingers spread. Then, them new others backed back into the woods. When I looked to the path upstream, they was now sitting, hands up and more of them was backing into the bushes either side of the path. Palms out. Far out behind the stranger I saw no one. But I knew they’d sat down and held their hands up fingers spread. Talk-talk time.

Loggin Folk split the difference. We each moved our weapon to our off hand and held up the other hand palm out, fingers spread. But we’re surrounded, we didn’t sit. Still, a kind of peace. Talk-talk time.

All around me the camp moved slowly with furtive gestures, dabbing marks on our faces. Each of us painting our death face. But me? I can’t paint my face, I got no kills and I got no children. I held off til I remembered the Dead Guy. Holdin’ up my left hand I painted the Dead Guy’s face with my right. I painted the Dead Guy four tear drops under each eye using spit and dirt. I got no idea however many kills he come to us with but we know his little pistol held 9 bullets. We found eight Wak with tiny bullet holes in their foreheads. And we know Tobb picked up the Dead Guy’s pistol and shot that old Wak with the last bullet. Nine bullets, nine kills. We gave eight of them to the Dead Guy. High-N-Tight said he’d never seen shooting that good with a pistol ‘cept on a practice range. Back when bullets were easy to waste on practice.

We don’t paint the Littles. They all got parents and brothers and sisters, what’s to paint?

But we might all die today. The strangers come on us unexpected, so I seen everybody paint themself.

Dog-Breath stuck his finger into the blood caked below his nose and dabbed 3 teardrops under his eye for the three Waks he killed with the ax.

Old-Man-Loggin knelt and streaked mud across below each eye. “Too many to count,” he said out loud.

I seen Nan rub her five fingertips across a stone from the firepit, touch all five to her forehead leaving soot prints, her children, I knew. Then, one more to her cheek below her eye. A teardrop! Nan has a kill?

I got no paint? Ha! I got my Littles. I streaked spit and dirt in a line acrost my eyebrows. Like Old Man Loggin, I got too many to count, too!

Eyes touched eyes. We each nodded to each other. We were ready to die today.

“Loggin Folk!” I dunno who shouted it. I shouted it back. We all shouted it back.

When we straightened up, man after man leaned their weapons against their hip. All held up both hands, palm out. So did the boys. The women. Me. Talk-talk time.

The least trigger would turn this into a blood bath. It was up to Fernell to make a peace that we could live with.

I seen the stranger was waitin’ on Fernell. He shifted like he was fixin’ to speak to Fernell.

That’s so wrong! This is our camp! Fernell needs to speak first! He’s to invite that stranger to eat and drink and smoke.

I bet Fernell was more worried we got no food than worried he’ll piss off a stranger. Men! We Loggin Folk never, ever have nothing to eat.

I looked to Nan and TallRed, both nodded at me. Both of them, their chins lifted that least little bit and pointed acrost the fire.

Here, alongside of the fire where Nan’s knives are heating red-hot ready to sear a deep cut so’s to get a man standing again, back to battle again, all our packs were gathered round the Littles. ‘All our eggs in one basket,’ is how I learnt it – and Nan’s basket top was already off, ready for battle. Her basket is our first-aid kit for everyday but, more, it’s our field hospital in battle.

And our best egg is in the bottom of her basket. Nan keeps a roll of red and white cloth part way down hiding the PickaNick Basket. Long as we got the PickaNick Basket, we Loggin Folk never, ever have nothing to eat. Not a lot. I guess enough to feed everyone ... I done the woman-training but we never, really, open the PickaNick Basket. Just spread the cloth just so. And fetch the drink. For training, what’s left from breakfast is the food and water the drink.

I never thought it thru, tho, til just then. Enough food to feed everyone is maybe ten pounds of meat and double that in greens and grain and taters. And that’s just the one meal. In times like these, that one meal might be enough for everyone for a day. But not while moving camp. Just enough to sit around and keep warm and not keel over from hunger.

I’ve hefted Nan’s basket. Sharp knives, clean cloths and twine and special shaped sticks for splinting kids arms and legs. A bundle of herbs and never enough pills. Never, anymore, bottles of colored syrups. Plus a PickaNick Basket. And the whole weighs less than any thirty pounds of food.

I shook my head. All I know for sure is the promise: so long as Loggin Folk carry the PickaNick Basket, we never, ever have nothing to eat.

As I stepped over the line of baskets, I stuck the big knife in the ground, straight up beside the Dead Guy’s hand. No time to be hunting and fumbling with his sheath. I grabbed the red and white cloth and the bundle beneath it and walked back to the talk-talk.

When I come up next to Fernell – careful, so’s not to block him fetching out his knife should a battle suddenly start around us - I lifted the roll of cloth and flipped it out across the ground between the two men, spreading flat the gaudy red and white squares. The white squares show stains but it’s what we got.

I set the PickaNick Basket in the center and lifted off the cover and I know not to look at Nan. I look up at Fernell. He’s smiling. Spreads his hands slowly to show off our PickaNick. “Skull Train August man, lets you and me eat a bit n” – he nudged me –”Missie will fetch us a flagon of water.”

The stranger nodded and looked around. When he sat I seen all the other strangers stiffen a bit, all on high alert. Loggin Folk stayed standing, also alert for treachery when Fernell sat, too.

Flagon, my ass. TallRed sort of pointed out which basket held the glassware and watched me take out the paper and grass-wrapped parcels until she nodded –that invisible nod that only women see. I unwrapped a big ole glass jar. The label had red printing but I don’t know what a pickled egg is ner what a gallon tastes like. Like I was trained, I set it paper-side up in the river and catch enough water to swirl and pour out any bugs or dust that might have found their way in since we last packed up the good glassware. I carefully filled it with clear water and paraded – that’s the word we was taught – paper-side to the strangers. And now parading to that damned stranger; him and me and now Fernell the only ones with no weapons to hand. The end of the parade comes when I settle down onto my knees between the men. I proffer the flagon. All them fancy words from woman-training. Last bit of training is I aint s’posed to speak.

Fernell lifted two stemmed glasses from the PickaNick Basket and I poured. That jar don’t pour easy. It wants to glug the water out. That and the mouth is so wide it will not pour a thin stream. Training don’t help with this, so I first turned up the lid of Nan’s basket and slid it under the glasses Fernell was holding and poured over that, keeping the PickaNick cloth dry.

Fernell and the stranger shared names. The stranger was a Barnard. Name of Luke. Fernell was Fernell.

They talked about the clouds piling up to the west and if they’d bring enough rain to raise the river enough to stop our crossing later in the day. The stranger, Luke, swore he’d never ever seen a beaver, just thought it was a trick likely to stop the tribe at the ambush spot. But one of his men had not only been close enough to hear TallRed’s warning but sneaky enough to get away and pass the message to Luke, the stranger. Luke vowed he’d never make the mistake of chopping willow sticks again. He even asked how sweet bark could be sweet.

But we don’t talk about things like that. Loggin Folk don’t share tree secrets, dontcha know?

‘Cept Fernell told him! “Some of the trees along here, the birch and aspen, even cottonwoods, n, anywhere, maple, you can cut out a square of the bark and peel it off careful. Then scrape the soft, white, living bark offen the hard woody bark. That’s the part what beaver eat, the white, living bark, that’s why they cut down trees, all they want is the bark. In hard times, we eat it, too. You can eat it raw, cooked, maybe add it to a stew. Stretches other food. The kids call it sawdust.”

Hell! We all call it sawdust. But! I’da never told a stranger how out of food we were, never told them how weak the tribe was.

But Fernell pointed into the PickaNick Basket at a tin of canned fish and a sealed bottle of wine, treasures anywhere, saying, “Loggin Folk aint never, ever been without something to eat so long as we got our PickANick Basket.

“I invited you to eat and drink. These are old, old but we think the tin is still sealed and the Vino is still red in the bottle. Otherwise, we’d have to eat shit-n-sawdust.”

Fernell’s face went red. I could tell Fernell’d never expected to say them words, ‘shit-n-sawdust’, out loud. His nerves were just that tight worryin’ about the trap, how it sprung, how we were surrounded.

His hand, all by itself, moved towards his knife.

I aint s’posed to speak at a talk-talk.

But talk-talk aint s’posed to end with knives and treachery.

I tipped the flagon just a bit and splashed water onto Fernell’s hand. He jerked it away from his knife.

“Peace unto you!” says Luke. I reckon he’d seen Fernell shift his hand away from his knife. “I thank you for your offer of old, old treasures. But I will not empty your tribe’s PickaNick Basket. Loggin Folk will always have something to eat after I have gone.”

Luke looked right at me. Dangerous stuff looking right into the eyes of a Ready-Woman. “Woman, do you cook this shit-n-sawdust?”

“Yes, when it’s all we have. And it’s so much better cooked!” says I. There aint no talk-talk training for a woman beyond parading and kneeling and serving. But I will never tell no one outside Loggin Folk that these woods are so starved for meat that we root out the big night-crawler worms and squeeze them flat. We DO wash away that shit. But when we chop the worms into mush and cook them into the pounded bark scrapings, we call it shit-n-sawdust. Yuck. But so much better than nothing.

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