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Chapter 5: Family Practice
(previous)

It was starting to get dark and the Carr family had just crossed over into the South Dakota border when they simply couldn’t drive any further. After Max’s clone had advised him to get out of town, Sam had tipped off Logan, grabbed his family and ran. They had been running since. It was dangerous to be outside of a city or town at night unless you were the predator and not the prey. Sam didn’t delude himself into believing that he could be the predator. So when Sam saw the signs of civilization, including men at a blockade with guns, he was relieved and only a little worried that the town wasn’t on any map.

He obediently rolled down the window when the grizzled man in charge motioned to him.

“Whadda ya want?” the man snarled.

“Just some place to stay the night. My daughter’s tired.”

The man glanced at Savannah in the backseat and softened just a touch. Sam’s daughter was still looking frightened at being forced to leave behind nearly everything and everyone in the middle of the night. Sam didn’t think he could explain to her the politics and secrets associated with the transgenics and Eyes Only. His wife only knew the bare minimum.

The sentry in charge looked behind him at the man talking to two young children on the edge of the forest. The second man listened to both of the children and then gave two thumbs up. How odd.

“Jo rents out rooms,” the man finally said to Sam and pointed in an easterly direction. “The Roadhouse is just off the square.”

Sam’s relief was written all over his face. “Thank you.”

The man just grunted and waved them through the temporarily open gate. Sam followed the road through the wooded area and over a set of dilapidated and deserted train tracks. The town square was easy enough to recognize. Sam was impressed with the solid buildings surrounding it. Most looked residential, but that brick building across the green could be the school. Everything was small, but Sam knew that the town population was small as well. His wife, Susan, pointed to a larger, two-story building with the sign ‘Jo’s Roadhouse.’ Sam had to check twice in the twilight to see if ‘Jo’ was missing the ‘e’ on purpose or due to some accident. In the end, he decided that it didn’t matter.

He gave his wife forty dollars cash to hide in various pockets; so as to not to look like they had a lot of money. Their cash on hand had to last for at least a year. Then he picked up his exhausted eight year old daughter and led the way into the building. He was pleased when he was almost run over by a pair of pre-adolescent boys as they exited the place. It was always a good sign when kids freely roamed around.

When they finally walked in the door and into the large tavern area, there was no sudden hush from the many people seated within. Sam knew that most were observing his family, but they weren’t being obvious about it. There were a couple families here and there eating dinner. Others were talking over alcohol and some were drinking something that smelled a lot like real coffee. There was a girl in the corner with a guitar. She was a double amputee and had a tin cup for tips in front of her chair. The soft music lent the place a sort of friendly atmosphere.

But what truly surprised Sam was the row of computers on the far wall. Every one had been jerry-rigged together, but they were working and they were connected to the internet. Sam could see the newspaper articles on the used computer screens. It looked like a homemade, pre-pulse internet café. Sam had thought that those were a thing of the past or of the far future. He was not expecting to see something like it in the middle of nowhere South Dakota.

There was a sharp-eyed woman about Susan’s age manning the bar. She waved them over. “What can I get you,” she asked.

“We’re hoping for a room. How much will it cost?”

The woman examined Sam’s family and finally said, “One room, one night, dinner and breakfast, thirty dollars.”

That was a good deal and Sam almost didn’t want to haggle her down, but Susan knew better. “Twenty,” she countered.

“Twenty-five,” the woman replied.

“Done,” Sam decided the matter. He shifted his daughter to one side and held out his hand. “Thank you, very much.”

The woman shook Sam’s hand firmly. “Think nothing of it. I’m Jo Harvelle. This is my place.”

“Sam, Susan and Savannah Carson,” he replied. “It’s very nice to meet you.”

Susan handed over the money with a restrained smile. The last twenty hours had been hard on her as well.

“Find a seat,” Jo instructed. “I’ll be right out with your plates.”

The ‘Carson’s’ nodded and watched Jo leave. Then Sam stepped to the side to let his wife decide where to sit. She chose the empty table in the middle of the room. Sam didn’t try to urge her to a table by the crowded wall. She was looking for some isolation, not the safety of blocking people.

Jo returned quickly with three plates expertly balanced on her arms. The adults’ plates were piled high with a meat, potatoes and gravy and some stringy green beans, Savannah’s was less filled. Still none of them would leave the table hungry. Sam used a fork to poke at the meat. “Is this beef?”

“Venison,” Jo corrected. “Preference on drinks? We’ve got milk, coffee, water, rotgut, gin, beer and hard cider.”

“Milk for Savannah,” Sam was quick to request. “I’d like… a beer.”

Jo nodded and waited for Susan to make a decision.

“The cider, please.”

“Be right back.”

Jo was as good as her word. She returned with the mugs topped off. Jo worked the rest of the restaurant. She took requests and delivered food and drinks like she as born for this. She was cool and confident. Sam was impressed that none of the single men (and there were quite a few) tried to grope her. It spoke highly of the town that harassment of women was not commonplace.

The food was good. Sam was surprised at the quality. Susan was eating heartily, a relief to Sam. She normally tried so hard to watch her food intake. She thought she was thirty pounds overweight. It was closer to only ten over, but Sam knew better than to argue with his wife over her weight. Savannah was nearly asleep in her potatoes, but she was trying to finish her dinner. Even at such a young age and with Sam’s education and ‘wealth’ she knew that her next meal wasn’t guaranteed. Sam hated this world. Sam hated that he had endangered his family trying to do the right thing.

Susan reached across the table and squeezed him hand. Sam tried and failed to smile at her. Susan believed in him. She insisted that Sam’s moral character had been one of the reasons she had married him. Susan claimed that she couldn’t be mad when the same character that had caused him to chase a mugger away from a ‘plain’ secretary also inspired him to treat wounded ‘normals’ or transgenics. He had gotten a broken nose and two black eyes from that encounter with the mugger and had still lost Susan’s purse. He had gotten the girl though. He considered that to be a true victory. Sam was still uncertain how this mess was going to clean up. He had his family, which was all that mattered. If he could keep them together and fed, he would consider this a victory as well.

Susan was slowing her eating and Sam had nearly finished his plate. Savannah had succumbed to sleep, her hand still wrapped around her fork and her head listing to the side. The din of the Roadhouse was constant and subdued enough that even Sam was afraid he’d fall asleep in his seat.

“Good enough?” Sam asked his wife.

She looked at her plate and decided that it was. Jo would have some kind of animal that would get the scraps. The hostess was obviously the practical type of woman that wouldn’t let it go to waste. Sam removed the fork from Savannah’s hand and lifted her in his arms. Jo appeared at the foot of the stairs with a key in one hand and a stack of folded sheets in the other.

“This way,” she said.

Sam and Susan followed Jo up the sturdy, wooden stairs and to the landing. At the third door on the left, Jo stopped and unlocked it. She handed the sheets to Susan and the key to Sam. “There’s an old recliner that folds out in the corner and I gave you some extra sheets and there’s an extra blanket hanging off the end of the bed. You could put the girl there if you want. I start serving breakfast at five and close the kitchen at eight. Bathroom’s the central door at the end of the hall. It’s first come, first serve, but I don’t have a ton of renters at the moment. See you in the morning. Sleep well.”

Susan smelled the folded sheets and smiled in such a way that Sam knew that they were clean. Considering how cheap this place was, that was impressive. “We will, thank you,” Susan told Jo.

Susan walked into the room and looked around. Sam followed and handed his wife the key to lock up behind them. Sam’s first impression was sparse but clean. The bed wasn’t as big as their old one, but it would be big enough for the two of them for the night. The recliner was worn, but looked rather comfortable. The single window overlooking the parking lot and the town square was clean and the window covering was worn, thick enough to keep out the morning sun and clean. The floor was wood with a single homemade rag rug. The rug again was clean and brightly colored. The colors even matched the quilt on the bed. That was a luxury few afforded. Other than the bed and the recliner was a single table with a single drawer. A candle accompanied an empty water pitcher and two glasses.

“Start Savannah on the chair?” Sam suggested. “If she gets cold or scared, we’ll be right here.”

Susan nodded and set the recliner up for Savannah. Sam was relieved to set her down and watched as Susan covered her and kissed her forehead. Together, Sam and Susan put sheets on their bed, shed their clothing and collapsed into it. Susan nestled her head on Sam’s chest and fell asleep. Sam followed her to dreamland. It was the best sleep the family had in a while. Sam hadn’t slept that solid since he first started treating Max.

Sam awoke slowly and started exploring his surroundings. Susan and Savannah still slept so Sam took advantage of the quiet. He glanced out the window and saw that his vehicle was still in the parking lot and from this perspective it looked like all of their luggage was still inside. Sam looked down and noticed shells mixed with something white lining the windowsill. Sam ran his fingers through the line. It felt like salt. He brought it to his nose, but still wasn’t sure. He knew better than to taste a mysterious substance. He counted the number of shells; he thought they were called ‘cat’s eyes.’ He wanted to be certain that Savannah didn’t pocket one as they left. It would be something that she thought was pretty but to just take it would be rude.

Sam turned away from the window and the faint sunrise peeking through the trees. He admired the hominess of the room again. He felt safe and comfortable. He returned to the bed and opened the single drawer of the bedside table. Inside were matches and spare candles. He picked up the pitcher and decided to fill it up with water for his girls. Susan would want to wash her face and Savannah’s as soon as they awoke.

Sam opened the door to the hallway. The hallway itself was quiet. He could hear muted sounds of cooking drifting from the kitchen. Jo was already serving breakfast as she had warned. Sam turned to the bathroom and was pleased that the door was open. He filled the pitcher and walked back to their rental room. From this perspective, it was impossible to miss the white crystals that had been poured outside of their room. Sam crouched down and touched the crystals. They were the same crystals as those by the window. Sam also saw the cat’s eyes mixed in. No matter how tired Sam had been last night, he would not have missed having to step over crystals and shells. Someone, probably Jo, had poured them there after the Carrs locked themselves into the room and slept.

In the end, he shrugged. He didn’t understand it but it hadn’t hurt anything. They were just passing through; there was no reason to get huffy about it. He might ask out of curiosity though. Susan always said that he came across as harmless as sleepy rabbit first thing in the morning. Sam wasn’t above taking advantaged of the fact. Sometimes, he thought that was part of the reason why Max’s clone had let him go; he was never a threat.

Sam checked his watch and decided it was safe enough to leave his girls in a locked room for two minutes as he ran out to the van and grabbed the family’s overnight bag. He didn’t know if there was a back door to the Roadhouse, where he could leave without revealing his family’s vulnerability. He just promised to be as quick as possible. He strode quickly through the dining room. Most of the customers didn’t so much as look at him. There were two couples by the door laughing quietly over their breakfast. Four old men were bullshitting in a corner over a checkerboard with mugs of steaming drinks. Six men sat at the bar eating breakfast and were pointing at a map that, if Sam wasn’t mistaken, was of the town itself. Sam realized that he was probably witnessing the organization of the sentry schedule. A trio of schoolgirls with backpacks was giggling as they made their way out the door. They didn’t have an adult escort before dawn, but he remembered the two boys from last night, running around after dark. He nodded in greeting to those that met his eyes, but didn’t slow down. He reached the van, unlocked it, noticed that everything was in place, grabbed the overnight bag and locked the van back up. He was back up to his family’s rental room within five minutes of leaving.

He finally breathed a sigh of relief. Being on the run was making him jittery. He knew how unsafe Seattle was. He didn’t know how unsafe this town was. It was probably safer than their old home mostly because there were more people intent on doing harm in Seattle than the entire population of this town… of which Sam didn’t even know the name. That was just it: Sam didn’t know anything about this town. In Seattle, Sam knew which Sections were most dangerous and to avoid. He knew who to bribe to safely traverse, but here… Sam suddenly remembered that he hadn’t needed to give the sentry a bribe last night. That was either a really good sign, or a really bad sign. The sentry could be a decent human being or he could be setting Sam up for something horrible. Considering his family woke in the same place they went to sleep, Sam was leaning towards good, but bad could still happen. If they didn’t get the bribe last night, would they be expecting something this morning?

Sam had to get his thoughts out of the spiral they were in. He would panic and that wouldn’t help his family at all. Instead, he focused on watching Susan and Savannah sleep.

Sam’s girls liked sleeping in, so Sam indulged them both. He kept a careful eye on the clock, so that they wouldn’t miss the breakfast for which they had paid. They had to be careful. Their savings wouldn’t last long and Sam would have to find someplace where he could ply his medical knowledge without bring harm back to Susan and Savannah. There was any number of places that would accept someone of Sam’s caliber and could pay for the privilege but normally they came hidden dangers. Not to mention that Sam had the obvious leverage against him of White and the government on his trail. Any employer of that kind of caliber would be able to figure that and Sam would end up doing horrible things so that his ‘employer’ didn’t call the feds. Sam would have to figure some way to keep his family both fed and safe and whole spiritually.

At least Sam’s savings would last to the East Coast and hopefully he would lose the hunted look that had both Jo and the old sentry caving to his needs.

At seven o’clock, Sam woke Savannah quietly. He just shook her and manhandled her until she was upright, also righting the chair she had slept in all night. He wandered around their room, knowing that Savannah’s eyes were following him. He placed Savannah’s clothes right next to her and the rest of the bag by Susan. He and Savannah had perfected their little routine for many days of readying for work and school. Savannah would be an absolute bear if Sam insisted on movement immediately, but if he woke her a little early and let her decide when to move, the morning were infinitely more enjoyable.

At seven-fifteen, Sam turned to wake his wife only to see that her eyes were open and crinkling with peace and a joy that Sam would never understand. He had just spent the last hour or so fretting over their situation, but once Susan slept on it, she was fine. She accepted it and was ready to move on in the inconvenient circumstances. She knew as well as Sam just how precarious their lot in life was right now.

“Fifteen minutes,” Sam told her and then sat on the bed as his wife bustled out, and down the hall to the bathroom. By some sheer miracle that she repeated every morning, she was dressed and beautiful and on time. Savannah was dressed and her hair braided. Susan managed to make the bed and pack all of their belongings and the little family was ready to face the day outside of the safety of their hotel room. He unlocked the door and held it open for his girls. Both of them gave him a kiss good morning on their way by. Sam noticed that Jo had swept up the crystals and the cat’s eyes that had been on the floor. Sam hadn’t heard her.

The dining room had emptied even though it was only 7:30. Jo had a perfectly valid reason for closing the kitchen at 8 o’clock: she rarely had customers that late. Out of the dining room that had been packed last night, and partly full earlier this morning only three of the men remained at the bar nursing steaming mugs. Not alcohol, maybe they were drinking something caffeinated. Hadn’t Jo mentioned coffee last night? Jo must have had a sense that they were up and about. She met them at the foot of the stairs with a smile. “Three breakfasts. Milk, coffee, or water?”

“Tea?” Susan asked hopefully.

“We’ve got a couple house teas,” Jo remembered. “Herbal or caffeinated?”

“Caffeinated. And milk for Savannah.”

Jo looked to Sam for his order. “Coffee,” he quickly supplied.

“Black? Or with milk and honey?”

Sam could easily drink it black, but for a morning treat? “Honey, please.”

“Sure thing, Honey,” Jo teased just to watch him turn pink. She shared a conspiratorial glance with Susan and sauntered to the kitchen. Susan had picked a table –same one as last night- though she had the entire room from which to choose. The three men by the bar were nursing coffee were chatting quietly. The map Sam had previously seen was nowhere in sight.

Sam held a chair out for Susan and then for Savannah just because it made both of them smile. Jo was back with the drinks. She set them down on the table, along with napkins and silverware. Sam thought that they had a similar shine to Logan’s set: he had true silver. Surely Jo wouldn’t waste real silver on travelers?

“So how was your night in Ghost Town?” she asked cheerfully.

“Ghost Town?” Savannah echoed and wrinkled her nose. “I thought there was no such thing as ghosts.”

Jo rubbed a shoulder with a floured palm. Sam could detect the soreness of an old injury there. “Don’t I wish,” Jo answered Savannah cheerfully. “But the town is actually named ‘Ghost Town’.”

“Why?”

Jo smiled at Savannah. “That’s actually a very sad story. Maybe I’ll get to tell you someday.”

Sam doubted it, but Savannah was satisfied. It was kind of Jo to offer and to put Savannah off so smoothly.

Jo sniffed. “I think I smell the ham. Be right back.”

Jo was right back and balancing three plates. Breakfast was a full plate of hot eggs, ham and potatoes, with a soft, stringy cheese covering it all. The cheese smelled different and tasted unlike any cheese Sam had ever had but he liked it and so did Savannah. Susan scrapped it to the side and enjoyed the rest of breakfast. This might be the best twenty-five dollars he had ever spent in his life.

Jo dropped into the free seat at their breakfast table and pointed at the cheese left on Susan’s plate. “You should really eat that. That’s really good for you. Whenever a cold is going around town, the people who eat the most of that are the ones that get the least sick. It’s local. The goats, the process, it’s all local. We’ve got several goat farmers on the outskirts.”

Susan poked the cheese with her fork. “It’s healthy?”

“I know, it doesn’t make a ton of sense with what everyone said before the Pulse, but trust me: that stuff is good for you.”

Susan tried the cheese and while she didn’t enjoy the taste as much as Sam and Savannah had, she wasn’t wincing at it either.

“So,” Jo’s pause was a slight warning that she was changing the subject. “What are you folks running from?”

Sam blinked slowly; he was trying to figure out a way to divert the nosey woman. He hated lying, but he would do anything to keep his family safe. He would much rather deliver bad news to a patient –or a patient’s family- than to lie to Jo. He had managed to keep the medical treatment of transgenics secret not because he was a terrific liar, but that no one ever considered that mild-mannered Dr. Carr would have the guts to stay in the same room as ‘monsters.’

Thankfully, Susan had always been the kind to wake up with an easy smile and a quick mind. “Running?” she echoed with a disbelieving smile. Only awake for fifteen minutes, she was still better at disassembling than Sam was after an hour of exploring and running out into the cold outside.

“We broke into your van last night,” Jo said. “Doctor Carr.”

“Why?” Sam had to ask.

“The kids at the check-point liked you and they don’t like everyone so we decided to dig deeper.”

“The children at the checkpoint? They… judged us?”

“Children often have a heightened sense of trouble than adults. We take advantage of that.”

Susan glanced at her own daughter curiously. “How accurate are they?”

“Very.”

“And when they grow up?”

Jo shrugged and her smile seemed a little brittle. “Back to my question, Dr. Carr: What are you running from?”

“Did you call the Feds?” Sam asked. He was suddenly worried about his family’s safety.

Jo snorted completely un-ladylike. “Hell, no. They are not welcome here. And if they even know we exist, they stay out of Ghost Town if they know what’s best for them. We handle everything internally here.”

“We’re not looking for trouble,” Sam started.

“You’re running from it, why?”

“I treated someone that people say I shouldn’t.”

“Hmm.”

“Look. Thanks for the rental and the food, but if you can just direct us to a distributer of gasoline, we’ll be gone and I promise that we will never mention Ghost Town to anyone.”

Jo shook her head. “Gas is rationed here. Ben only sells it to truckers. More of a trade for some of their foods. Here is a safe stop for truckers coming up from Mexico to Seattle and the West Coast. It’s the reason that we have a regular supply of coffee among other things. Because the truckers get their cargo to the end of their route because of us, we are very well supplied. We’ve traded their safety for materials.”

Yes, Sam could see the truth in that. To tell the truth, he hadn’t expected to be able to buy gas for another ten thousand miles and had containers of gas in the van for the purpose. He had just hoped to fill up in Ghost Town since he was here.

“We need a doctor,” Jo said.

“What?”

Jo repeated herself. “Look. We’ve got a vet and she despises working on humans. We’ve got a couple of people that can stitch up a cut, but we really could use a real doc. We would take care of you. We can take care of you. We’ve got a clinic with whatever equipment the previous docs and nurses left behind, which was mostly everything. You could live in the back of the clinic. It’s probably not as nice as your house in Seattle, but you’ll be safe. You’ll never need to worry about the Feds, ‘cause they would want to close down the entire town if they even imagined that we existed outside of their jurisdiction. None of us want that. We like being invisible to the Feds and want it to stay that way. They would probably throw most of us in jail.”

Sam’s jaw dropped at the sudden shift. Jo was not good at recruiting, but the fact that she was trying to recruit them at all was most convincing.

“Look. You still have to go through Ben, but why don’t you check out the clinic and see what we can offer you.” Jo grinned, now on familiar ground. “I can give you three more meals free and another night here to give you plenty of time to think it over.”

“Would that be three meals altogether or three meals for each of us?” Susan asked. God, he loved that woman. She was so sweet natured most of the time but when it can to bargaining and bartering, she was a bulldog.

Jo grinned. “Altogether and if you stay I am so recruiting you to help me barter with the truckers. I feel like I lose every exchange. And then they come into my bar and spend most of the money that I paid them, so I guess it all comes out in the wash.”

“Where is this clinic?”

“It’s the brick building on the square.”

“I thought that would be the school.”

Jo looked at little startled at the thought. “No, we keep the schools separate, hidden from passers through. We don’t have sign for it or anything.”

“Oh.” Sam supposed that it made sense.

“After we stop at the clinic, I can take Susan and Savannah to see the school. Meet some teachers and other kids in her class.”

Sam turned to his daughter who was paying avid attention to the grown up conversation. “What about it, Savannah? Would you like to visit a school?”

Savannah nodded enthusiastically.

“Great. Let me know when you’re ready.” Jo stood and walked back to the kitchen.

Sam looked at his girls. Savannah was smiling and bouncing. “Do you think there are girls my age?” The smart girl understood that in a small town like this, the number of children in the different grades would be inconsistent.

“I saw three this morning,” Sam told her. “They looked pretty happy to be going to school.”

Savannah grinned.

“Susan?” Sam prompted his wife.

She smiled. “I guess we can leave our belongings in our room. Locks won’t keep them out.”

“I checked the van this morning,” Sam reminded her. “Everything was there. They didn’t steal any of the cash.”

“That’s good.” Susan gathered up her worries and put them aside. She stacked her family’s plates and carried them to the kitchen. “Jo?” she called.

“It’s not locked,” Jo sounded amused.

Susan walked through and not thirty seconds later walked out with Jo. “Ready?”

Both Sam and Savannah nodded and stood. “Follow me. It’s a pretty short walk. Well, no one drives around here. No one keeps vehicles, ‘cept Ben. He’ll buy yours offa you, trade you for some bikes.”

“That’s… nice,” Sam delayed his answer.

“Too fast?” Jo smirked. “Here’s the clinic. We figure they left most everything since we saw expired medicines when we locked it up.” She got out a large set of keys and unlocked the door to the squat, brick building. She probably had keys for the whole town.

The clinic was dusty, but the many windows were big enough to let in light. It wouldn’t take Susan much work at all to make it homey. No computer here, but that was too be expected. The files were well organized on an entire wall of shelves. He pulled a random file. These patients would be his now.

Jo noticed his attention. “I don’t think those will help you much. Few of the original residents remain.”

Sam returned the file of Jacob Passerello (seventeen, football player, had healed well from multiple bone breaks which seemed to randomly occur on Friday nights) to the shelves. He would need a census of the town to figure which files to keep and which to box up.

Sam moved confidently through the office, the exam rooms and then surveyed the back lab. He was impressed with the equipment. “I’m surprised they left it all here,” he murmured.

“The Pulse made people do stupid things,” Jo reminded him. “No one’s been back since.” She glanced at Sam’s girls. “You can dig through here, Doc, and I’ll walk Susan and Savannah to the school.”

Sam glanced at the girls but they looked eager to leave him to his boring job. He gave them both a kiss and made Savannah promise to be good. The females left and Sam nosed around more. He found the pharmacy. Shelves and shelves of expired drugs. With a quick glance, he knew which ones to dispose because they were unstable and which ones could be used past their expiration date. The unstable ones would be dangerous to anyone who tried to ingest it. Sam found a big garbage can on rollers and dragged it to the pharmacy. The least he could do was toss the dangerous pills. Even if they weren’t staying, disposing of these drugs would help everyone.

He had filled up the garbage bin and emptied half the shelves when Susan returned alone. “Savannah wanted to stay in her class and Jo had to see to her place,” she explained.

Sam nodded, distracted.

“Have you even looked at where we’d stay?”

Sam tore his attention away from the pill bottles in his hands guiltily. This particular medicine had been scarce since before the Pulse. Would he ever need it? “Ah, no.”

Susan huffed in amusement and disbelief and disappeared. She appeared fifteen minutes later. “I approve!” she announced. “Three bedrooms, a full bath –not counting the one for patients-, washer and dryer and running water. The kitchen is not as good as home… Seattle, but it’ll work. There’s a small dining room and a living room and enough windows that we’ll make due without electricity.”

“We’ll have to ask Jo about that,” Sam said. “With all the candles, they were prepared for none in the rooms, but every time I was in the restaurant, she had power.”

“The school had full power too,” Susan remembered. “And plenty of teachers.”

“That’s good.”

“I’m going to investigate the closets,” Susan said and she was gone.

“We sure we want to do this?” Sam asked his wife, when she had paused in his area again to seek his opinion of the clutter. She was bustling around the back half of the clinic, cleaning and sorting. Sam almost didn’t need to ask the question; Susan bustled when she was happy. She was possessing the area.

She giggled, her first true giggle since Sam had wakened her in the dead of night and told her that they were leaving Seattle as soon as they were packed. “We can make this work. I will get to see a lot more of you than back… in the city.” The woman was optimistic and way too good for him.

“Do you want me to keep the van?” he asked. It would give them a safety net. They would be able to leave in the event of an emergency.

Susan looked at the spacious clinic and attached apartment with no land. “And store it where?” she asked wryly. “There’re only five parking spaces out front.” At Sam’s dubious look, she compromised. “How about this: Savannah’s at the school. If she’s not learning anything or the kids are mean to her, we’ll keep the van so that we can move on when we find out more about the surrounding towns. Somebody’s got to know something, right? We can stay here until we learn of a better town.”

“Agreed.” The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning and organizing… and hoping that this was as good as it seemed. They worked hard and the hours past quickly. Soon, Susan and Sam could hear Savannah running up the drive long before she hit the door. Susan looked worriedly at the clock. Savannah wasn’t supposed to be released from school for another hour yet.

“Mom? Dad?”

“Back here,” Sam called.

Savannah dumped her jacket and her book bag at the door. Sam gave her ‘parental look Number 5’ and she grinned and kicked her stuff out of the doorway. “We’re doing a science experiment with all sorts of seeds and fert-i-lizers,” she said carefully. Then she giggled. “Joanna said that that’s just a fancy name for poop. Each group has their own set of seeds and they’re supposed to care for their seeds and have a control and measure the results and then we have to present our results to all the local farmers of Ghost Town and then those farmers will take what we say and follow it because science will make all of our lives better.”

Sam, as a scientist, was thrilled with his daughter’s excitement. Obviously, Savannah wanted to continue at this school and finish the experiment. As a man, he was a bit sheepish as he looked at his wife. “I’ll talk to Jo tomorrow about the mechanic that would buy the van off of us. Later, I’ll see him.”

Susan just smiled and asked Savannah why she was home early and who brought her home. Sam vaguely heard his daughter talk about a special schedule and of her new group of friends that had walked her home so that she’d get there safely. He was more thinking about the Scientific Method and about the special, nutritional cheese that Jo had in abundance.

If he cleaned up the dusty equipment of the clinic and utilized the Scientific Method, he should be able to evaluate the amino acid concentration of the cheese. It would be fun to do a regular experiment after all of these years.

It was during another wonderful dinner at Jo’s when the last of the residents stopped by for Q’n’A. Ben was barely twenty, tall, healthy and muscled. He was obviously respected around town. One man gave him the sentry schedule and another one came to him for permission to switch shifts with another. Ben introduced himself to Sam and the rest of the family and then suggested that the men go for a walk since the doctor had finished his plate.

Ben interrogated Sam during the short walk to the clinic. The doctor tried not to let his bemusement show, because of Ben’s youth. He did hold himself like a transgenic… or a soldier, though. He told Sam about finding the connection between Sam and the transgenics. He didn’t seem to mind that Sam had treated them. He asked questions about his education and his normal work hours. He questioned Sam’s needs at the clinic and what would be a fair charge for services. He asked precisely for what services Sam could provide. Could he do surgeries? (Yes.) Could he treat common illnesses? (Yes.) What about cancer? (No.) Did he have experience with paraplegics? (Yes.) Ben conducted a thorough job interview before they even made it to the clinic door and he seemed satisfied with Sam’s answers. He too had keys to the building and let them inside.

“What on earth?” Somehow in the dark Sam finally noticed the black paint on the ceiling and the salt on the windows that he hadn’t seen during the day. He reached out a hand to brush the salt to the floor.

“Stop,” Ben ordered. “Either you leave the salt on the window stills or you leave. It’s for your own protection.”

Sam was confused. “What does it protect against?”

“The supernatural,” Ben said shortly. “Look, I don’t expect you to believe me and frankly, I don’t care, but this is how the town runs. Every building is protected against the supernatural.”

“The supernatural,” Sam echoed dumbly.

“Yes.” Ben offered no other explanation. He did say, “We want you to stay. We do. The girls at school already think the world of Savannah. You passed Jo’s BS meter and you’d be useful, but if you or your wife can’t leave the protections alone, you’ll have to leave.”

Sam frowned in confusion. “I’ll have to talk it over with my wife,” he said finally, but he was pretty sure she wanted to stay.

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Sam had noticed that there were no other vehicles on the road. There were bike racks everywhere, but very few cars. Jo had been telling the truth, but then she really had never lied to Sam and his family. So they probably could keep the van in one of the parking spaces in front, just in case. Savannah loved her school and her teachers and she looked worried every time she saw the family vehicle. She knew that it implied that they could leave at any moment and she hated that idea. She would relax once it was gone.

Susan had befriended Jo and trusted her. She believed that they were safe here. The town protected them from both the natural and the supernatural. The residents’ superstitions were pretty easy to ignore, especially for Susan. Sam could literally see his wife bite her tongue every time she saw the van. She wanted to stay as well. She was trying so hard not to nag and was only successful fifty percent of the time. He had checked and rechecked the results of his experiment with the goat cheese. The results remained the same: it had an exceedingly high concentration of tryptophan and other nutrients.

Sam had already had two patients offer goat cheese in exchange for his services. He got the feeling that there was an abundance of cheese in town, so much so that some of it went bad before being eaten. All of Sam’s black market contacts were in Seattle. Hell, all of Sam’s contacts were in Seattle. It would be easy –or at least, easier- for the transgenics to obtain the medical supplies that Sam would need and they did need a steady source of tryptophan. It would be an equitable exchange.

Sam would be able to help his friends if he stayed. It would be easier to gain the trust of his new neighbors if he surrendered his van. He hadn’t driven it once since parking it outside the clinic when they had moved it. If Sam didn’t want to give it up, he would still have to empty the gas tank and the oil reservoir to save the motor.

He waited a week for something to go wrong. The worst thing that happened was an old cuss of a patient broke his leg. The man was not pleased with Sam, but he was pleased with the diagnosis that he’d be able to walk with a limp, if he managed to stay off it. Sam bet that he’d be trying to maneuver around within a week. He knew the type.

Sam had no reason to keep the van. He hadn’t seen a single indication of federal involvement in town. The town council took care of everything. An old lawyer had been elected judge and he had already visited Sam and Susan and taken their information for jury duty. It didn’t happen often, but all court decisions were by jury.

So Sam asked Jo for directions to the mechanic’s shop, removed anything of value from the van and drove it to the garage. Once he got close, it was easy to identify it: it was the only building surrounded by cars. The bay door was up, so Sam parked there and walked in. He could hear someone rattling under the station wagon.

“Hello?” he called.

“Be with you in a minute,” a man answered back.

“That’s fine.”

He stood in the doorway and resisted the urge to poke around.

Finally, the man poked his head out from under the car. He was about Sam’s age, dark blond hair, a strong chin and a streak of grease across his forehead. He looked rather familiar, but Sam couldn’t place him. He pushed the low-support-on-wheels (Sam had no idea what mechanics actually called it) out from under the car enough that his muscular upper body was exposed. “Can I help you?” he asked.

“I’m Sam Carr.”

“The new doc,” he supplied. “Jo and Ben both had good things to say about you.”

Sam blushed slightly. “That’s good to know.”

“I’m Dean,” he said. “Ben’s father.” Sam willingly shook his filthy hand and then got out of the way. Dean pushed his equipment even further out from the car and Sam immediately noticed the lack of movement of Dean’s legs. When Dean hauled himself off of the ground and into a nearby wheelchair with ease, it was only confirmation to Sam’s assumption: Dean was paralyzed.

“What exercise regiment do you do?” he asked.

Dean looked bemused. “Excuse me?”

“You have extremely well toned legs for a paraplegic.”

Dean looked down at his useless limbs. “I just keep them moving whatever way I can.”

“I’d be interested in exact exercises.”

“Maybe later, Doc. I know that’s not why you visited me today.”

“True.” Sam no longer needed to hedge his answer. His family had made their decision. “I’ll like to sell you my van. We don’t need it anymore.”

Dean grinned and it made him look years younger and even more familiar. “Glad you made that choice. I can give you a couple hundred dollars and a generator for the hospital for emergencies.”

“Aren’t you going to look at the van first?”

Dean grinned. “I was one of the ones that broke into it your first night here. I probably know the vehicle better than you do.”

Sam laughed and didn’t argue. He did barter a bit, trying to get extra cash out of Dean, but not too hard. In the end, both were happy with the arrangement and Dean promised to have Ben drop off the generator that afternoon. He didn’t think that Sam would have much use for it, since Dean was also in charge of the electricity for the town and they rarely had a problem.

Sam left the van and walked home. He didn’t feel any panic, or feel like he had just made the biggest mistake of his life. He felt safe… at home.

Since the Carrs were officially settled here, Sam had an old friend to contact.

(next)
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