Chapter 17

The grandfather and the grandchild did observe the surroundings and once more make sure that there is nothing suspicious or inexplicable in their sight. The cattle were industriously cutting the grass; it had no reason to have a loaf. Seeing that, the shepherds returned to their affair.
“Honey, since we have some colloquy today, I’ll tell you the story, maybe because of which Nico and Dorothy are refusing to speak with you about times before your birth. I mean about your grandma,” the old man said resolutely after he made himself comfortable at his stool. Now they took a position in which Miriam was watching in the opposite direction of the herd, at a far distance. Vise verse her grandpa was surveying the livestock nearby.
“Yes, I want to hear it,” the teenager uttered with low voice after a short hesitation. “I saw her only in the video and don’t know why she didn’t survive together with us?”
Antony, as usual, rubbed his hand against his short beard and looking somewhere without purpose, commence to talk on:
“In the beginning, we didn’t know what we were confronted.”
Said these several words, he became silent. Then, before he proceeded with telling, Antony sighed. The creases on his angular face deepened. He fixed his sorrowful eyes on the child and continued:
“By that time we didn’t comprehend yet that not only famine is dangerous but also the hunger people represent even more jeopardy.”
The girl grasped this idea right away, she acquainted with it from the very childhood. So she just silently nodded.
“Entirely that lack of knowledge had perished your grandma,” Tony said with toneless voice.
Miriam sighed uneasily; the old man went on more severely:
“By that time the hunger blazed up with its full power… one of those vagrant scoundrels appeared in front of our courtyard and having been stretched on the ground began to scream: help!” Now old Antony was speaking angrily.
“What happened next?” the grandchild asked anxiously.
“Margo, inexperienced like all of us, seeing the distressed man, having opened the wicket and rushed to him to render some aid. As soon as she approached him, the robber instantly leaped up, grabbed Margo, cocked a pistol to her temple and ordered to call us…, “ here Antony’s voice had changed and he became mute. After sitting speechlessly for a short while, he got his flask from the bag and sipped some water.
“Grandpa,” Miriam said compassionately.”I … maybe we shouldn’t talk about… we were talking on other events, were we?”
“No honey, it’s better for you to know, it will be useful at this uneasy time,” the old man resolutely denied her offer.
The girl sighed and had discomposedly surveyed vicinage. Tony went on:
“So, when I and your father, hearing that screaming, ran outside with machineguns in our hands, that evildoer ordered us to drop the arm.”
“Then he would be able freely to enter our home and took what he wanted?” the girl tried to guess.
“He was going nothing to take,” old man pronounced wrathfully, “he was going to kill us all and live in our homestead.”
“Oh!” the terrified child exclaimed.
“Unfortunately your grandma Margo also grasped that already and very quickly decided what to do. In very same moment when I and your father did drop our arms, Margo hit the bandit with her elbow in his ribs and ran toward the pastures.
“And what? The evildoer…” the girl started but didn’t dare to finish.
“Yes,” Antony responded in a hollow voice. “Brutal brigand, redheaded, with a dishevelled beard and scared face, roared and shoot Margo several times. Next moment he realized his mistake and began turning the barrel toward us.”
Antony’s gaze stiffened and his face, as if sewn out of wrinkles, has petrified.
“One more blink and he would pull the trigger,” Tony gave his voice again, “but that twinkling appeared enough for your father. Nicolas sank down to earth, grabbed the gun… that horrifying picture is right in front of my eyes even just now…”
Antony stretched his hand for the flask but changed his mind and continued:
“I see it till today how the robber started to crook his finger and I wasn’t able to avert my gaze from the trunk pointed right on me. Till now I couldn’t understand what a force is hiding in that movement which would terminate your existence in a moment, but whatever it was, it really paralyzed me!”
“It seems it was very frightful,” Miriam said with unnaturally colorless voice. “Probably the fear had fettered you.”
“I doubt that is the exact reason,” the old man stared at his grandchild with a careful, tender look, “you know, resting on my sensations of that time I can say that the reason is the inscrutability, the greatest secret of parting with the life. He-he, you understand what I’m saying? Is there anybody who told us how it happens?”
“Maybe,” Just uttered obviously confused teenager.
“Your father didn’t give me the opportunity to share that sacrament but if I say now that I’m discontented because of it, it will be the lie,” Tony grinned.
Miriam smiled too, evidently with relief. Meanwhile, her grandpa finished his story:
“The burst of fire which gushed out from laying Nico’s gun had riddled that scumbag. Then I and your mother, who came to us hearing the shootings, made our contribution in transformation murderer’s face into the mess.”
“Poor grandma,” Miriam uttered with regret.
“Yes,” Old man’s voice became muffled again. “We couldn’t help her. She perished because we hadn’t the experience in those times, the pillage of hungry people barely started. We were just lucky that your dad is a military man and marauders had reached our country later.”
“Dad is a good fighter?” the girl asked with proud.
“It’s not the main. At his service, Nico heard a lot of very useful information, not reachable for others and we used it for our benefit,” Tony spread his arms, “what else we could do?”
“How you did that?” Miriam cut in his speech not paying attention to grandfather’s as if apologizing.
“We stocked up a lot of provision, weapon, ammunition, drug, plates that are now fencing our courtyard, dug the channel along that fence… and anything that we could do,” her grandfather answered.
“And then, grandpa?” The girl still wasn’t satisfied.
“Then… what else can I say? I don’t know. After Margo’s death and till your birth thirteen years ago we all three, with guns in our hands, were get riding the hungry robbers almost every day.”
“How it was with the other farms, grandpa? Did they also turn their homes into the unassailable forts?” Miriam tried to guess once more.
“The farms, Mira, are situated… were situated far from each other. In fact, they were solitary settlements, so the neighborhood between them wasn’t… ahem, tight. I had friendship only with Iorg Karlsen… his farm is or was over there,” Tony extended his hand and slyly smiled, “to where am I pointing?”
“Come on, grandpa!” the teenager grimaced, “at that direction, there is a north-west! Have I passed your exam?”
“Fine girl,” her old man eulogized her without taken away the smile from his lips. “You’re vainly indignant because I taught you that reiteration is the mother of knowledge.”
“OK, OK,” Miriam agreed with him impatiently, “what happened to your friend, then?”
“To Iorg? We use to be hunting the deer together,” Antony fell in silence after these words; then he sighed again before proceeding to speak. “When I spoke with him last time thru phone, he was in the heat of the shooting, he told me he is wounded in the leg and the family is hiding into the basement… I didn’t hear his voice anymore.”
“Very likely they were killed and their food was stolen,” the girl concluded without vacillation.
Antony was silent. His face, as if assembled out of leather shreds, withered but still willful, has petrified. Seeing that, the girl took the binoculars from her grandfather, stood up straight and attentively surveyed surroundings one more time. She didn’t notice anything shady now too. Within the expanse nothing has changed, it uninhibitedly stretched at each direction –south and east unbroken fields, north, in several hundred meters there was little bush, which, as she knew, formerly used to serve as the border of their farm.
To the west side, in the half-way to the horizon, the knoll was visible, topped with their two-storied house. Miriam returned the look-see to her grandfather, adjusted her hair and asked the next question, in answer to which she was obviously less interested:
“Grandpa, people were assaulting each other but how about countries?”
“There was the small scale and very bloody conflicts but them, who was in command of really dreadful weapon, didn’t dare to use it. They were afraid to make things even worse than death. Soon it didn’t matter, humanity scattered seeking the salvation.”
Antony cleared his throat and followed his speech:
“People abandoned their actualities, among them, of course, the Antenna too. I knew some of the persons who worked there before the crisis: once I was there because of curiosity. All in all, they were watching after the rockets, by one them our ancestor is traveling,” Tony smiled bitterly. “Later I was getting some of them rid by the gun.”
“Because of this we couldn’t learn whether fulfilled or not grandpa Iase’s dream, I know that,” the teenager said with the upset.
“Yes, about that case we talk quite enough,” the old man agreed with her, “what the trifle is antenna and cosmos when the people abandoned such dangerous things such are a nuclear power station and rocket mounts.”
“Among them that one which gives us the electricity?” the child recalled, “it is guided by computers, isn’t it?”
“Evidently,” her grandfather nodded. ”In the beginning, frankly to say, we were very afraid that the derelict NPP may explode, but I don’t know… since then nothing happened for twenty years already. It seems there is no jeopardy… though, as I have heard, the stations usually were shut down before abandoning. Why they didn’t switch off that one, I don’t understand.”
“It’s really amazing,” Miriam animatedly supported him. “Maybe later, when the robbery will finish, we will go there…” All of a Sudden she abruptly ceased to speak and peered at something with opened mouth.
Then she anxiously exclaimed: “Look, Grandpa!” With these words, she pointed the barrel of her gun to the bushes.