The visit to town went better than expected. At least from an execution standpoint. His route from the wilderness to “civilization”, such as it was, included several twists and turns that were probably unnecessary. He was trying to mask the direction he was coming from, but no one seemed to care. Clint hoped to buy pipe tobacco and coffee and brought along an extra box of shotgun shells for this as he had heard ammunition was the new currency for goods and services. But as it turned out, he could find neither being offered for sale. There was a considerable supply of moonshine available for sale or trade, but he wasn’t interested given he could easily make his own.

Town looked familiar, he remembered most of the buildings from his last visit not all that long ago though now they appeared beat-up, colorless, and just sad. He made note of the fact that not a single unbroken window was found along the entire retail district. He made a couple of passes up and down the main drag, chatted briefly with a couple of fellows hoping to glean something he didn’t already know, and was suddenly gripped by a strong urge to retreat. He slipped away unnoticed with no one following him. Fear and foreboding turned into depression as he hiked back to the cabin.

He suddenly thought the trip to town had been a bad idea.

A few days removed from that excursion and Clinton’s attitude improved considerably. He was too busy preparing for the upcoming season to waste time brooding. Besides, he had received news via wireless that sounded encouraging, even if it wouldn’t have any immediate impact on him.

The limited periods of grid power availability were creating opportunities to restore some network connectivity, at least among those who had internet access via satellite. The Starlink system with its constellation of satellites continued to fly above the fray of earthly problems. Apparently, when its customers were able to power their ground station terminals there had been reported instances of limited data being received and exchanged despite large chunks of the global network being offline. The internet had been designed to survive widespread outages by clever packet routing schemes though it’s DARPA creators probably never envisioned a global situation quite like this one.

Still, it sounded hopeful.

Oddly enough, amateur radio was the most consistent form of data transfer available and some limited regions were beginning to rely on the information it exchanged. Though it was a throwback to the 1950’s, message handling was being done by ham radio traffic networks the old-fashioned way, via phone and Morse code as these could be maintained without need of computers or internet connectivity. These were limited to populous regions and messages often took days or weeks to be delivered, when they could be delivered at all. Still, this was impressive to Clinton given that most older hams, like himself, who had traffic handling experience, probably didn’t survive the ordeal. He thought it amazing this was now being handled by the whizz kids, without their computers, forced to rely on Morse code and a pencil to carry on the tradition and they seemed to be doing well.

Perhaps amateur radio would have a place in the New World after all?

Winter was another mild one. There was plenty of snow, but there would be a lot of unused wood in the stockpile after this one. Clint took two deer with his bow and had enjoyed the flavorful protein. One morning, he loaded up a heavy portion of venison, along with two bottles of fruit wine he made back in the summer, onto a sled he had fashioned from tree branches. He began walking south from his cabin dragging the sled behind him. He was determined to visit his nearest neighbor, a small family that holed up in their cabin about the same time as he did. This would be the first actual meeting for these neighbors but he knew they were there. He had seen them during his walk to Boone and had found evidence of them long before that. He figured their meeting was long overdue.

A couple hours later he was in view of their cabin. He felt bad that his clothing was so badly worn and in need of replacement, but he had done as best he could with only a small sewing repair kit that had been unused at the cabin for years.

When he was a hundred yards away a younger fellow called out to him. He was carrying a shotgun though not pointing it in Clint’s direction. The two men met and introduced themselves with a wary handshake. Clinton told him who he was and learned the younger man’s name was Isaac. Two girls who looked to be ten or twelve ran out to their Dad. Their Mom did too. The five of them chatted briefly then Clint offered them the sled of provisions. “Ike” told him they had been taking small game and fish from a nearby stream so the deer meat would be a much appreciated change of pace.

Feeling a bit awkward at this impromptu meeting, Clint was thinking of heading back to his cabin when Ike said, “Why don’t you sit and stay with us a bit. We haven’t had any company since all this started and I’m certain we would enjoy your company”. Sally, Ike’s wife, said she would prepare a feast with the deer meat and potatoes, and they could open the wine. That’s what they did.

A few hours later, luxuriating after the first meal Clinton had prepared by someone other than himself in, ages, they gathered around the fire pit sipping the too sweet wine while the girls giggled and performed a well-worn mountain song for their newest audience member. Clinton thought this was nice, really nice. Ike grabbed his guitar and Sally joined in while they all sang familiar tunes and watched the girls dance joyfully around the fire. As Clinton walked back to his cabin that night after promises to visit again soon, he thought this was one of the best soiree’s he had ever attended. Including during the “before” time.

He drifted off to sleep with the notion the New World would be made by hand, and maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing stuck in his head.