Although stores are plentiful, goods are not. If you want a real store selling non-essentials, you go to May’s shop, where she sells jewelry and other artsy things of her own creation.While Leila examined necklaces and earrings, Cassie peered at a globe that glowed faintly blue. It was too dim to make a reading light, but in her mind she saw the dark halls and stairwells of the hotel and tried to imagine what they might look like illuminated with globes glowing red, blue and yellow. “What makes it light up?” she asked.One thing you won’t get easily in the city is medicine. All drugs and medical supplies are tightly controlled by the Pharms, who have their own shops and extortionist pricing system.
“Chemicals,” May said.
“How long do they last? And what do they cost?”
“Depends on the color. Some last up to twelve hours, some only four or five. They’re priced at one food can per four hours.” At the look of disappointment on Cassie’s face, May added, “Satisfaction guaranteed. I’ll replace anything that doesn’t work as promised.”
“It’s not that. I was just thinking what great nightlights they’d make, but they’re not much use to us if they have to be replaced every night. Are these like chemical light sticks, then? Any chance you can tell us how to make them?”
Before May could answer, Leila interrupted, holding up an amber plastic pendant. “How much for this?”
May went to take a closer look. “The acid-etchings cost two cans of food. Or four batteries.”
“No chance you’d take a diamond?” Leila held out a ring-studded hand.
May shook her head. “I’ve got plenty of diamonds."Both girls lapsed into sullen silence, not even bothering to whisper to each other when they passed a bakery that had been taken over by the Pharms and turned into a drug kiosk. They nodded politely at the painted children out front chanting what the store had to offer, turning away when one boy screeched after them, “You’ll be back! You’ll get lockjaw or rabies and you’ll be back!”In the post-pandemic world, the typical way to acquire goods is by foraging. In the beginning, it was enough to take things from stores and empty houses, but competition from rats and other groups has been fierce and it’s getting harder to find food. Almost anything is fair game now.“Was that your cat?” Leila asked in a tone that made it clear she knew precisely what he had been doing.Pets aren’t standard supper fare, but if you’re not so hungry that you don’t care where the meat is coming from, it’s best to avoid it. The forage team will acquire whatever is available and they don’t like to come back with nothing to show for their efforts.
“Are you from PETA or something? It was going to be dinner.” He scanned her face, then Cassie’s, lapsing into an attitude of wary patience. “Don’t worry, I’ve got others.” He gestured toward a bulging backpack.Everyone thought the final straw had come when the foraging team came back empty-handed, complaining of road blocks and heavily armed Pharms. Sandra hauled David into the kitchen, threw a few pots around and demanded to know what she was supposed to cook for supper. David suggested they cook her fat behind, and Eleven had to call for backup to get things quieted down.The Regents have a hotel shuttle and some hoarded gasoline for getting around town on their foraging missions. When the shuttle is needed for another matter, a joint venture with an allied tribe might be in order.There was never any telling how long a forage might take, but being teamed with the Thespians meant it could turn into any kind of crazy affair. Thespians were wild and unpredictable. They would find good stuff, but they were also known for egging each other on to acquire it in the most dramatic and story-worthy way possible. A simple tossing of goods out an office window might turn into an elaborate scheme involving uniforms, secret codes, and window-washing machines. Such antics must then be re-enacted back at the theater, preferably with vodka or tequila to add a little glory to the otherwise bad theatrics.Trades don’t always come off as planned, though.“So what did you trade for the goat? I mean the truth, not what you said down there.”Sometimes though, in spite of everything, one can forage something good.
“I already told you.” With his finger, he traced a path across her bare stomach. “Mundo had a stash of trade goods he was keeping for emergencies. Liquor, cigarettes, guns…stuff like that.”
“So you really didn’t steal it?”
“Why would you think that?”
“Because that goat is going to produce enough milk for all the children to have some, not just the baby. If we could’ve gotten something that useful before, why didn’t we?”
“Motivation. And the current state of our alliances.”
“Then how come David said you stole it?”
Galahad stopped moving his hand across her skin. “David often says too many things.”
“But is it true?”
With a sigh, Galahad rolled onto his back. “It didn’t come off as easy as I made it sound. I didn’t want to bore anyone with the details.”
“So you did steal it.”
“Not exactly. Let’s just say it wasn’t one of our cleaner trades.”Cassie lay back among the covers while Galahad padded into the hall toward the kitchen. After a couple minutes, he returned and her eyes widened in wonderment at the box in his hands. “Cocoa Puffs?”Food, batteries, toilet paper...alcohol and cigarettes...such are the currencies of post-pandemic life. Dollars, gold, and diamonds are worthless. If you want real value, try a can of beans.
“It was a good foraging day. It wasn’t easy to sneak this away, though.”
Cassie took the box reverently and broke open the inner bag. The cereal was stale, but tasted delicious. “Too bad we don’t have a little of that goat milk. It would be almost like things used to be.”
“All we’d need is cartoons.”
She dug her hand back into the box. “This whole place is a cartoon. Just not a very funny one.”