In the evenings, Toby turns the radio dial compulsively, spiraling through the static with his head tilted, listening. He’s been doing it for so long that no one really pays any attention to the buzzing anymore; it’s the white noise that fills in the background of their board games, of Phyllis reading aloud in the candlelight, of Dwight strumming Michael's guitar. Jim and Sasha and Pam and Ryan have been playing the same Uno game for two months. Their scores are approaching the 10,000 point mark.
For the first three months, every time Toby passed 90.5 on the FM dial they heard a pre-recorded government message, repeating on an endless loop. High terror alert and cities under attack and how everyone should stay in their homes. They didn’t know who was keeping the message playing, but then one day in June it just wasn’t there anymore, like the power got cut. Now they go days without hearing anything at all but static, and the rare days there’s something else, it usually sounds like the military. Someone's military, anyway – once they heard someone yelling faintly in a language no one recognized. They pulled tight the blackout curtains that Angela had made and stayed inside, stayed quiet. They don’t know whose side anybody’s on, and the roads are too risky to leave and try to find out.
The only other radio they’ve heard was on July 4, when out of nowhere 103.3 started playing classic rock. They took the radio outside in the dusk, and lit some of Dwight’s old sparklers and sat on the porch and listened. It was an occasion – they don’t hear music that isn’t Andy singing very often anymore, with their iPod batteries long dead, with the static on the radio. Sasha laughed and Mose showed her how to write her name in the air with the sparklers. Michael kicked his legs against the porch and got that look on his face that meant he was thinking about Jan, listening to Tom Petty sing about an American girl. While the radio was playing, nobody fought. It only lasted a few hours before the music stopped and everything went back to normal, but it was a good day.
The farmhouse is crowded these days, but Mose likes it. Things hadn’t been the same since Helga and Johann and Heindl left, too big and quiet, so it’s nice to have people to fill up the spaces. It’s cozy. He doesn’t know what everybody’s complaining about all the time.
When Dwight comes inside he brings the fall air with him, cold and October-smelling. Mose looks up from his whittling by the fireplace in time to see him looking grim under his orange hunting cap.
Grim is a word he got from Pam, one day: "Dwight looks grim," she said.
"Dwight always looks grim," Jim said back, and dumped the armful of firewood he was holding into the kindling box. Which might be true, but Mose can tell the difference between excited-grim and smug-grim and angry-grim and grim-grim. This is a little of the first and a little of the last.
"Announcement," he says, and around the room a couple of people look up. "The gasoline supplies are getting dangerously low. We're going to have to do another raid."
Jim sits back with a sigh from where he's reading one of Phyllis's romance novels, and Stanley glances at Dwight over his crossword puzzle book, the one he keeps doing in pencil and erasing and redoing. Ryan doesn't look up from the S volume of the 1963 Encyclopedia Britannica.
"I'll go," Andy says from the doorway, and Jim glances at Dwight and then over at Andy.
"Actually, thanks, but I think we've got it," he says. Andy only goes along when they're really desperate for bodies, and apparently they're not. It's kind of routine who goes and who stays now. Bob Vance always volunteers to stay on patrol, which he's good at. Dwight always goes, of course. Michael went with them exactly one time and no one has talked about it since, at least not around Mose.
They end up paired off like usual, Dwight and Mose, Jim and Ryan, Karen and Toby. Jim and Karen used to team up, but then they switched. Mose is glad he doesn't have to switch -- he and Dwight are really good at communicating without talking in the field, at using signals and being brave. Dwight keeps watch while Mose sneaks up to the abandoned cars and jimmies their gas tanks open and starts the gas siphoning. It's easy.
They leave at dawn, but not before one argument about which cars to take -- the bigger ones mean they can bring back more gas, but they also use more. They're maybe safer, but also more visible. Mose yawns and wanders in circles in the front yard while everyone else sorts it out. The sky's just starting to get light in the east, and the grass is crunchy with early frost. There are two mourning doves in the tree by the side of the house, cooing, and finally everything's settled and he climbs in the car where they tell him to, and they go.
They have good luck -- heading down 81, where the flooding was worst, they find three gas stations whose pumps still have some fuel. The fourth one, on the outskirts of White Haven looks promising, but then a man with a crazy beard and a shotgun comes outside yelling, and from his place in the SUV Mose can see Jim and Ryan back up, hands by their shoulders, voices soothing like when Mose talks to the animals. They have to drive off fast, and in the side mirror, Mose can see the man watching them until they're out of sight. It's really not hard to keep a beard neat.
The fifth place seems okay, but when Dwight goes to look in the convenience store part of the Shell Station, to see if there's any food left, he stops abruptly in the doorway. Mose can see from the line of his back that something's wrong, and goes up behind him to look, his heart pounding, ready to do whatever he has to to protect Dwight. In the corner of the store, there's a body crumpled against a shelf of saltines. It smells terrible, and from the doorway Mose can see pock marks on its face, bad ones like big pustules. He starts to step forward to see it more closely, but Dwight shoves out an arm to stop him.
"Get back," Dwight says, and Mose stops. "We have to –" Dwight grabs Mose by the shoulder and starts pulling him back towards the car. "We have to get out of here," Dwight says, raising his voice to talk to everybody. Even Jim looks up – when Dwight uses that tone, you listen. They all know that pretty well now. "Everybody, back in the cars!" Dwight says. "There's a body."
Ryan's head jerks like he's scared, and they all scramble back into the cars much faster than Mose would've expected. He ends up sitting squished up next to Toby, who's got his hand braced against the dashboard.
"You didn't get too close, did you?" Toby says.
"No," Mose says, and Toby nods. Jim's driving fast, and the wind catches Mose's hair as it comes through the window, blowing it into his face. He needs a haircut.
"Good," Toby says. "We can't get sick. Not with that."
"Motherfuckers," Jim mutters under his breath. "Motherfuck." Mose can see Jim's knuckles white on the steering wheel.
They find one more station that has a little gas, but it runs dry sooner than anyone wanted. It's slow work, filling the gas cans and slinging them up into the trunks and backseats. By the time they're done, the shadows are starting to get longer. Jim and Dwight want to keep going, but Toby and eventually Karen talk them out of it. Everyone's on edge and no one's saying what Mose knows, that they need to get as much gas as they can, before it all runs out, before winter makes it impossible to go anywhere. They need the gas to run the generator, even for just an hour a day like they have been, and run the tractor and keep the cars ready to go in case they ever have to get away fast.
Ryan leans against one of the cars while they talk, and squints off into the distance. Mose goes over to see what he's looking at, but it's just half-bare trees and abandoned cars and some distant, burned out buildings, just like everywhere. The foliage is bright and glowing everywhere Mose looks -- it makes him want to take the leaves home and iron them between wax paper, like when he was small.
Ryan looks over at Mose and then away, and doesn't say anything. Mose is used to it. He's always thought he might like a friend his own age, besides Dwight, of course, and maybe Ryan will be it. And Ryan doesn't usually seem to mind Mose hanging around him, even if Dwight keeps telling Mose he shouldn't. Sometimes Ryan gets this look on his face around Mose like he does around Kelly or Michael, and they're his girlfriend and his old boss, so that must be good, right? And he always says thank you when Mose gives him something he whittled.
"Moving out! Let's go!" Dwight barks, and Ryan pushes up off the car and goes to climb into Andy's X-Terra with Jim.
"Bye, Ryan," Mose says, and goes over to where Dwight is waiting.
It's well past dark by the time they get back, and there's the dim glow from lanterns in half the windows of the farmhouse. They don't have the blackout curtains drawn – they're far enough from the road Angela thinks they only need them for emergencies, and Dwight didn't push it. Mose picks out the windows without even thinking: the living room, the kitchen, the America bedroom Stanley and Terri and Melissa are sharing. He's still looking when he climbs out of the truck into the crisp air, and then the front door flings open and people come running out, looking relieved and happy, Pam and Kelly and Phyllis and Gil. Sasha flings herself against Toby's legs, and then she comes over and lets Mose pick her up and spin her around.
Everyone's smiling, almost, and they brought back more gas than they ever have before, and when they all go inside, Angela's figured out how to make something almost like apple pie from the ingredients they have, and the warm, homey smell of it makes Mose's mouth water.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, Mose wakes up with his heart pounding, like his body thinks it's that night in March all over again. As he wakes up from the dreams, he always thinks for a second that he can hear the tornado sirens in the distance all over again, low and continuous, and over them the far away wailing of police cars, rising and falling. He lies there clutching his blankets and waiting for Dwight in his nightshirt to come rushing in like he did that night. But Dwight's always just asleep in the narrow bed on the other side of the room, breathing deep and slow and peaceful, his glasses on the nightstand between their beds, because March 15 was a long time ago, and nothing like that can happen again. For one thing, there's no America to attack anymore.
It always takes him a long time to get back to sleep after he has a nightmare like that. He lies awake for too long, remembering what happened.
When Dwight had burst in that night, his glasses caught the moonlight from the window so that for a second they were blank opaque circles in front of his eyes, like some sort of monster, rushing towards Mose. But then he said, "Get up," in that Dwight tone of voice, and in his movement the light shifted so Mose could see his eyes again, and it was okay, just Dwight. But a Dwight that seemed almost agitated, which was as scary as anything. "Something's happening," Dwight said, hurrying to look out the window.
Mose's window had the best view, at the top of the house, looking towards Scranton. Dwight was peering out, but when Mose went to look, he couldn't see much. The horizon was darker than usual, though, like the lights from the city weren't there.
"The power's out," Dwight said. "The radio said we're under attack."
Dwight fired up the generator, and they turned on the TV, flipping between cable news channels. The government was telling everybody to get out of cities, even though they weren't saying why. Bombing, or something. High terror alert. The highways were clogged with traffic, everyone trying to get somewhere safe, the alarms going over everything. Mose and Dwight were okay on the farm, already out of the city, but Dwight's friends lived in Scranton. He called Angela first, to tell her to come stay with them. Then Michael.
Michael insisted on calling everyone else in the office, even though Dwight didn't think they'd come. Didn't want them to come. "Dead weight," Dwight said ominously to Mose. "Useless. Especially Andy." Most of them must not have had anywhere else to go, though, because by lunchtime cars were starting to pull into their driveway, Dwight's ashen-faced coworkers climbing out. (Not all of them, though. Nobody knows what happened to Creed or Kevin or Meredith, although Michael’s the only one who ever brings it up.)
It was supposed to be temporary – Mose knows none of them planned to stay more than a day, until the danger was over and they could all go back to their real houses. They all say that a lot, how they never would've stayed there on purpose. It's – Mose doesn't know why they think the farm is so bad.
He asks Pam, once. "Oh," she said. "It's not – the farm is great, Mose. It really is. I think people are just, um, you know, sad that they can't go home. And they're worried, so they say things that maybe they don't mean."
"Oh," Mose said. "Okay."
Pam's always nice to him. She's nice to everybody.
He remembers that the whole week of March 15 was rainy, gray with low-hanging clouds, oppressive. It was like the whole world broke at once; flooding and explosions in the distance and tanks going down the highways, soldiers everywhere. The news was strange and garbled, and by the third day, when they got the generator going and turned on the TV, all the reporters looked bad, bags under their eyes like they hadn't slept, their clothes rumpled. They kept talking about infrastructure collapsing, about power grids, about martial law. There was a rumor about someplace in Atlanta getting broken into, about maybe the smallpox being missing. Mose didn't really know how a disease could get stolen, but when he tried to ask Dwight about it, Dwight would just look grim and worried and would mutter something about the Schrute immune system. Everything was an unconfirmed report, and no one knew where the president was, or the vice president. A nuclear bomb hit Los Angeles. That's when Kelly started crying. When they talked about the subway bombs in Manhattan, that's when Michael did.
Melissa kept her headphones on and didn't talk to anybody. Sasha told Mose she was bored, so Mose found Dwight's old Star Wars action figures for her to play with. The only game she ever wanted to play with them was war, though – she kept shooting Mose's guys dead.
Then on the fourth day the TV stations started disappearing, one by one, the local stations first. CNN lasted a whole week, but then it went too and there was nothing but blank blue screens on every channel. They stopped turning the TV on at all.
They spent two whole weeks holed up, not knowing what was going on, everyone bored and scared and mad at each other. The third week, some of them decided that they had to leave, find their families, find out what was happening, even though Dwight said the roads were too dangerous and that everyone was supposed to stay where they were. There was a huge fight, everyone screaming at each other. It hurt Mose's ears.
Dwight and Jim were the ones yelling, mostly, but then Karen started and Oscar, and Michael, and Andy threw a book at the wall and broke its spine. In the end, five people decide to leave: Jim, Oscar, Gil, Karen, and Ryan. Later, Mose could hear Kelly yelling at Ryan upstairs, and when she came downstairs her makeup had dripped down over her whole face. (This was back when she still had makeup, before Mose found her crying in the upstairs hallway about how it was all gone, and now she'd be ugly, and -- here she flung her arms around Mose's neck, and he didn't know where to put his hands -- Ryan wouldn't like her anymore. But he still seems to, and Mose thinks she looks better this way.)
The five of them were gone exactly six days, and no one thought they'd ever see them again, but then they came back, a mess. Jim had gotten shot in the leg, and the whole right side of Ryan's face was swollen and bruised, and Gil's wrist was pretty badly burned. Jim had bled all the way through six layers of bandage wrapped around his leg. Terri, who's a nurse, had to take care of it – it was a good thing that Dwight always has extensive first aid supplies on hand, but even so, Jim had lost a lot of blood. And none of them would really talk about what had happened. They just said it was too dangerous to leave. If anybody pressed them about it, their lips would tighten and Jim and Karen would look at each other and then Jim would say, "I don't want to talk about it." Sometimes Mose thinks that maybe Jim had to kill somebody, but he doesn't know why he thinks that. Just the guilty look Jim gets sometimes.
They had brought back a trunk full of supermarket food, though, canned stuff that wouldn't go bad, some fresh fruit, meat. That was the first raid. They've gone on a lot more since then.
Mose wakes up every day when the rooster crows. He pulls on his pants and suspenders where he left them lying over the chair in his and Dwight's room, and sneaks downstairs. He's just finishing his glass of goat milk when Dwight comes down, and after him Angela, who starts water boiling for everyone's breakfast. There's a complicated schedule Mose doesn't quite understand about who cooks when, but most everyone shares. After a very long period of swapped schedules and burned dinners and some tears, Michael is now always in charge of setting the table. Mose likes it. Sometimes Michael folds all their napkins into funny, if squishy, shapes.
Pam comes out to the barn yawning while he's milking the first of the goats.
"Hey," she says, and wrestles one of the goats over to the other stool. It's funny because he had to teach her this when she first got here and wanted to help out. She kept laughing when she couldn't get it at first, and then she got quiet and intent and finally managed two or three weak squirts into the pail. Now she's -- well, no one's as fast as Mose, but she's getting a lot closer.
It was like this with everyone at first. Mose has always lived in the country and he's glad. He doesn't think he'd like a giant city like New York or Scranton. But he always thought the people there knew all kinds of things. Instead, none of Dwight's coworkers even knew the planting cycle of a beet, or how to churn butter. They've had to learn a lot.
The screen door to the house bangs and a minute later Phyllis and Angela come into the barn to feed the chickens. Dwight keeps an eye on them as they shoo the hens off the roost, so they can gather the eggs.
"How's Heidi doing?" he asks, and he likes Phyllis because she knows he means the fattest white one on the end.
"Still not laying," she says after checking. Mose shakes his head and then grabs the bucket Pam's just finished filling in his other hand and takes both in to the house.
Stanley and Oscar are both already at work in the vegetable garden when Mose goes to check on it. "Mose, Pam, check on the vegetable garden," Dwight had said at breakfast, so Mose goes, even though it doesn't really need checking on. Dwight has always liked giving orders.
Pam comes by too, a wide-brimmed hat on her head even though the sunshine's weaker now. She and Mose weed up one row and down another. Toward the end she laughs a little and shakes her head.
"I used to buy plants all the time," she said. "And they always died in, like, two weeks. Roy said I had a black thumb. He wouldn't believe it if he could see me now."
Mose doesn't say anything as he digs down a little to check on how big the russet potatoes are.
"Who's Roy?" he asks, when she doesn't volunteer anything else.
"Oh," says Pam, looking up at him. She has a smudge of dirt on her forehead. "Uh, he was my boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Well, fiance. He and his brother went up to this cabin at the lake his parents have when, um. When everything started."
"Oh," says Mose, nodding like he knows. "Do you have a boyfriend now?"
Pam looks back down at the pile of weeds by her knees.
"No, not right now," she says. There are already a lot of boyfriends around, Mose knows: Kelly has one and Angela has one, although that's a secret, and Oscar and Gil both have one. He can't really imagine what it must be like.
Mose comes around the corner of the outhouse one day and realizes the pumpkin patch is full of round, orange pumpkins, even though he's given it hardly any attention this year. It's almost Halloween, so he fills the wheelbarrow and brings two loads up to the house, and after dinner they sit on the porch and carve jack-o-lanterns.
Angela sits in the living room in disapproval of Halloween, but that's no different from last year, when it was just her and him and Dwight here. Mose shrugs and helps Sasha scoop the insides of her pumpkin out, while she giggles at how squishy the pulp is.
When they're done, they have six pumpkins to line up on the porch railing. Oscar says that maybe they shouldn't waste the candles, but Michael and Toby overrule him. From where he's lowering a candle into one of the pumpkins, Mose sees Michael give Toby a surprised look when he sides with him.
Sasha-and-Toby-and-Mose's jack-o-lantern's grin is lopsided, and Dwight's looks like a Cylon centurion. Jim's pumpkin looks like it's throwing up, with seeds and pulp for the vomit, and it makes Pam laugh really hard. It's a strange sound to hear lately, and when she stops she looks kind of surprised at herself.
The nights when Angela comes to see Dwight, Mose gets kicked out of their room. It's been happening more and more lately; at first, when everybody came to stay, they were worried people would find out the secret, but they don't seem as worried now. Or they're just tired of worrying.
Mose lets Angela into the room and goes downstairs, his bare feet cold on the wood of the stairs. It's Sasha's birthday next week, and he's carving her a set of toy soldiers. He has some paint left over from a model airplane, so he's painting little faces on them, giving some of them blue uniforms and some of them red uniforms. She'll like them.
When he walks through the kitchen, Jim and Pam are sitting next to each other at the table, talking in low voices.
"Hi, Jim," Mose says. "Hi, Pam." Jim starts and jerks away from Pam a little bit.
"Hi, Mose," Pam says. She looks pale and exhausted. Jim nods but he doesn't say anything. He mostly doesn't pay very much attention to Mose. That's okay – Mose has heard so much from Dwight that he doesn't really want Jim's attention.
He goes into the living room and settles down close to the fireplace, where the coals are dying down. It still gives a little bit of light, though, and it's warmer than everywhere else. Winter's coming on, and the nights are getting cold. "Fact," Dwight had said. "Winter will be very bad." Dwight doesn't believe in white-washing the facts. That's why you can trust him to always tell you the absolute truth.
"God, Dwight," Jim had said in a disgusted voice. "We know."
"Do you, Jim?" Dwight said.
Mose hates it when they fight. He thinks they just do it when they get bored, so he tries not to let it bother him, but he doesn't like it when people are mad.
Mose is finishing up a fifth toy soldier when Andy wanders into the room. "Hey there, Big Beet," Andy says. "What's shaking?"
Mose looks around at the dark living room uncertainly for a second. "Nothing," he says, not really sure what he's supposed to say. Andy sprawls out on the couch and reaches his arms out along the back.
"Wow," he says, tapping his hand against the couch rhythmically. "Long day, long day."
The days are getting shorter, and they can't work in the fields for as long before it gets dark, so it seems like a weird thing to say. Mose can't think of a response so he just keeps quiet. He does a lot of that, with Andy. Well, with everybody, really.
"You know," Andy says after looking around the room for a second. "Everybody living here really reminds me of college. Like we're all living in the dorms at Cornell, and you and me are hanging out in the lounge because we got sexiled."
Mose has no idea what that means, but it's nice Andy's being friendly. Mose smiles at him a little bit, nervously, and says, "I didn't go to college."
"Oh, really?" Andy says. "I went to Cornell."
"I know," Mose says.
Andy starts humming something under his breath. Mose carefully whittles the soldier's hat.
"Michael snores," Andy says after a little bit. "That's why I'm down here. It is pret-ty annoying."
"Oh," Mose says. Michael and Andy are roommates, just like Jim and Ryan, or Angela and Pam. Angela used to be roommates with Kelly, but after three days they had to switch with Pam and Karen because Angela couldn't stand it. Once Mose overheard Pam and Karen complaining to each other about it. Karen especially hates it when Ryan visits Kelly – she used to come downstairs and hang out with Mose when that happened, but now she mostly goes and sleeps in Pam's room instead.
Mose thinks it would probably be simpler if Ryan and Kelly were just roommates, but Ryan tells him it's complicated. It seems like everything is complicated with everybody. Mose can't keep track of it all. He's glad that he's just roommates with Dwight, even if he does have to sleep on the couch sometimes. Things with Dwight are never complicated.
On Sundays, Angela holds church. She makes Dwight go, and Dwight makes Mose go, and they're the only three that are there every week. Stanley came to the first service, with Melissa, but after that first one he never came back. Angela had said some pointed things about Papists.
Andy comes sometimes, mostly because he likes to sing, and Pam will come if it's a day that she feels particularly sorry for Angela. Phyllis will come the weeks Mose overhears Angela bullying her into it.
Dwight plays his guitar, and they sing songs like "Awesome God" and "Shout to the Lord" and sometimes hymns. Mose likes "Amazing Grace" and the nature-y hymns. "For the Beauty of the Earth," he likes. It makes him think about heart-shaped beet leaves, growing out of the ground, and morning glories on their front gate, and lying on his back in the grass in the fall, looking up at the changing leaves against the bright blue of the sky.
It's the first Sunday of the month, so they have communion, with saltine crackers and Welch's grape juice. Church is the only time Angela looks really relaxed, a lot prettier, and she looks at Dwight in this nice way. The sun shines in through the window and catches her blond hair, so it looks bright all around her head.
"This is my body, broken for you," she says. "Do this in remembrance of me."
Mose chews on the saltine and feels holy. Outside the window he can see Karen talking to Toby by the barn, smiling at each other, and Michael walking by with Ryan, and he likes them all so much. He's been happier the last six months than he ever has been.
It's going to be a bad winter; Mose knows because the almanac on a string above the stove says so, and because there's already too much frost on the ground when he goes out in the mornings. Everyone's worried about clothes: March clothes are not December clothes, and after almost eight months of wearing and washing even those are getting pretty threadbare.
Dwight and Mose have let people raid their armoires for clothes because sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the good of the tribe. When Jim came out of Dwight's room in suspenders and a long sleeved shirt he held up his arms and grimaced in a way that made everyone laugh, for some reason. Terry has cut down some of Melissa's clothes so Sasha can wear them, but Melissa didn't want to wear any of Mose's clothes.
"They're guy clothes and they're gross," she said, with a scary look like Angela's, and folded her arms like that was that. Stanley told her she was being foolish and Pam tried to get her into the idea by modeling one of Mose's flannel shirts in the living room, but it was Karen who Mose heard in his room with Melissa, coming up from dinner one evening. He paused in the hallway, listening.
"See? They're kind of like boyfriend cut jeans," Karen said, and Melissa made a noise like she didn't want to admit Karen was right, but had to.
It's still not enough, though.
"We need coats, Dwight, and boots, and hats--" Angela says to Dwight after dinner, while Mose is clearing the table.
"I know, monkey," Dwight says low and tight, and Angela doesn't say anything else, but her lips are still thin.
It takes a long time, but eventually everyone comes around to the same idea; they have to leave the farm again, and they have to get clothes. And more food and more fuel and maybe some medicine and a lot of other things everyone's very anxious about.
"I'll go," says Pam, and Jim and Dwight both stop talking abruptly and look at her. "What?" she says defensively. "I want to help."
Dwight's against the idea, but Karen jumps in on Pam's side and by the time Mose is nodding off by the fire they know who's going in what car.
The light is thin and gray when they start out. It's a high, autumn sky, and Mose looks out the window of Stanley's wife's station wagon at the empty, dark windows of houses and schools as they drive past. Andy's X-Terra bounces cheerfully ahead.
There's a Burlington Coat Factory in Whitehall, and if that doesn't work apparently a mall down the road. When they go by a sign that says Arlington Memorial Park, Dwight salutes.
They park the cars across the parking lot from the building, just in case.
"Right," says Dwight as they gather between the cars. "Toby, Karen, Pam and Jim, you're with me and Mose."
"I'll go," Andy says. "I used to be a bit of a retail expert. A&F."
"No, we don't have time for that," Dwight says. "You and Ryan stay here and guard the vehicles. Look sharp."
Andy's smile falters but just for a second.
"Righto," he says. "Big Suspenders and I will hold down the fort." Ryan looks less than thrilled.
They have to pry the sliding glass doors open before they can get inside. The store is dark and very quiet.
"Creepy," Karen whispers as they walk in.
Dwight and Mose take point, shining flashlights between all the huddled racks of clothes and into the far corners. Dwight nods at Mose and jerks his head back toward the door.
"It checks out," he says to the others. "Karen, Pam, you get the women's clothes. Toby, Jim, men's are over there." Pam rolls her eyes but she and Karen split off toward the right. Mose and Dwight take up wary positions by the doors.
The store smells kind of musty, and there's a rack of sunglasses beside Mose.
"Mose, don't touch that," Dwight says, when he pokes at a pair. The whole row clacks against each other in the quiet. Somewhere in the dimness Mose can hear Pam and Karen giggling. From the other direction, Jim says something too soft for Mose to hear, and Toby answers.
Dwight gives them fifteen minutes and then he starts whisper-shouting that it's time to go.
"PSSST," he's saying for the fourth time when Jim and Toby come up, carrying bags.
"Did you hear that, Toby?" Jim says, dropping some of the bags into Dwight's arms without looking at him. "I think there's a snake in here."
"Ha. Ha." Dwight says, and hands the bags to Mose. Mose shifts his crossbow to his left arm so he can hold them all.
Pam and Karen bring a cart with them when they come, full of bags of clothes.
"And look what I found by the register," Pam says. She holds up a big roll of thin white paper and a handful of pens. They're running low on paper at the farm; whenever anyone brings it up, Andy starts singing a song about rain and your wedding day and free rides.
"For writing," Karen says.
"Or drawing," Pam says.
"Or printing a receipt," Jim says, grinning at both of them.
Out in the parking lot, the wind has picked up, blowing trash across the asphalt, the girls' hair in their eyes. Over by the cars, Ryan is sitting on the X-Terra's bumper, reading a yellowed newspaper he must have found somewhere. Andy's leaning against the station wagon, singing a song in a high lady voice. As they get closer the wind blows his voice toward them, so Mose can make out the words.
"--and I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down." Jim snorts and Toby grins at the ground. Mose has learned not to ask.
As they get closer to the cars there's a popping sound high in the air, and Dwight stops in his tracks, throws one arm out. Mose stops obediently, and then the sound comes again, twice in a row.
"He sings the songs that remind him of the good times, he sings the songs that--" Andy's singing stops abruptly at the same time that Dwight yells, "DOWN, EVERYBODY DOWN," in a voice so serious that everyone crouches, although Jim is the last.
Ryan looks up when Dwight yells, but Mose barely notices that out of the corner of his eye because he's realized why Andy stopped singing. He's sliding slowly down the side of the car, a surprised look on his face, hands pressing on his neck. There's dark blood bubbling out from between his fingers. Everything starts going slowly as Mose's training kicks in.
"Temp, get DOWN," Dwight says, pointing toward Andy at the same time. Ryan pokes his head around the car, then jerks back and hits the ground fast. Even from twenty feet away, Mose can see how white he's gone, his eyes huge.
"JIM," Dwight says, "you're with me, we have to get him around the car, you take feet. Everyone else, stay low, move fast, put the cars between you and here, GO, GO, GO."
Everyone moves, fast, Mose bringing up the rear. He hopes he doesn't get shot. He hopes no one else gets shot.
"Mose, the clothes!" Dwight roars over his shoulder and Mose freezes and doubles back, grabs the shopping cart and runs like he's back on the farm doing speed drills with Grandfather Schrute.
"Get the trunks open!" Jim's yelling, as he and Dwight lift Andy around the car. There's blood soaking the front of Andy's shirt so it looks black, blood all over Jim's pants and Dwight's hands. Toby gets both trunks open, still hunched over, and Mose starts throwing in bags as fast as he can.
"I know CPR, move," Karen says, and shoves between Dwight and Jim to kneel beside Andy. "Andy, let me see, okay?" she says surprisingly gently, and lifts his hands away from his neck. She says a bad word right away and puts them back, pushing down on top of them with her own. "It's his carotid," she says, in a choked voice. "I need fabric, something--" Before she finishes, Pam strips off her sweater and crouches down beside Karen. Andy's making an awful, awful sound somewhere in his throat.
There are more cracking noises in the air, and something whizzes by Mose's ear. He hits the ground and rolls, like Dwight taught him. The bad guys must be in the next parking lot over, or its building.
"Incoming," Dwight says, "get him in the car, we have to move."
Everything's gone from happening slowly to happening too fast. Jim and Dwight are lifting Andy into the back of the station wagon just as there are more gunshots. Mose throws the last of the bags into the back of the X-Terra and pushes Pam inside.
"Push that against his neck," Karen's shouting, just as Jim says, "Fuck, he's not breathing, he's not--" Mose doesn't hear anything else because he pushes Karen into the X-Terra, too, and jumps in after her, pulling the hatch closed. Toby's in the driver's seat, somehow, and the engine roars to life a second before the other car's does. Through the window, Mose can see Dwight in the driver's seat, Jim crouched in the back. Ryan is in the station wagon's passenger seat, twisted around, looking in the back, a look of horror on his face, just before they both peel out of the parking lot.
Toby drives almost a hundred miles per hour the whole way home and he can still barely keep up with Dwight. Across from Mose in the back seat, Karen and Pam are huddled together, holding hands so tightly Mose can see their knuckles are white. There's blood everywhere.
When they finally pull into the farm, the station wagon's already skidded to a stop in front of them, Dwight stumbling as he leaps out of the car and goes tearing up towards the farmhouse. Terri's a nurse; she'll know what to do. She'll fix it.
"Mose," Jim says, still kneeling in the backseat of the station wagon, as Mose gets out of the car. Mose's legs feel shaky, and it's like there's a buzzing noise in his ears, coming up so it's hard to hear anything. "Help me get the – help me get him out of the car."
Mose nods and takes Andy's feet while Jim has him under the shoulders. Andy's head is lolling obscenely and his eyes are open, and the whole backseat of the station wagon is soaked through with blood, dark and spongey under Jim's knees. It smells like old pennies.
Mose thought maybe Andy would be okay, but now that he's seen him, well. Mose has seen dead people before, but not like this. He didn't know people had so much blood inside them.
He and Jim get Andy laid out neatly on the grass. Somewhere on the other side of the station wagon, Ryan is throwing up. Karen and Pam are still holding onto each other, Pam gripping Karen's shoulder, their bodies turned in towards each other. Toby's sagged against the side of the X-Terra like one of the ragdolls Helga used to play with. He's one of the only ones without blood on him, and he looks strange and pale and clean compared to the rest of them.
People start to come out of the farmhouse, Dwight shepherding Terri along as they run, her carrying the first-aid kit. Mose looks at the ragged hole in Andy's throat and doesn't think they have anything for that in there.
Terri kneels over Andy and starts feeling for a pulse, but Mose already knows there isn't one. He starts to move away. Everyone else is moving towards them in a tense crowd, walking slowly and warily. Sasha peeks out from behind Melissa, and when she spots her dad, starts to run towards him.
"Daddy," she calls, and Toby's head goes up sharply.
"No," Toby says, and starts jogging over to catch her before she can see Andy. "Sasha!" Mose watches him take her inside. He doesn't want Sasha to ever see this either, not ever.
As Toby passes him, Stanley seems to figure out what's going on. He turns to Melissa and makes her march back to sit on one side of the porch steps, against the railing. For once, Melissa doesn't seem to be arguing.
"It's my fault," Ryan is muttering behind Mose. Mose hadn't heard him come up, and when he looks over his shoulder, Ryan looks terrible, his skin chalky. "It's my fucking fault, it's my fault, it's my fault." He's half-bent over, his hands on his knees like he can't breathe.
Kelly sees Andy just then, and gasps. She comes barreling at Ryan, not paying any attention to the blood, and then they're clutching at each other for dear life. "Kelly," Mose can hear Ryan saying, in this voice like it's hard to get words out. "Fuck," Ryan's saying. "Kelly." Behind them, one of the girls starts crying.
The wind picks up, cold even through Mose's jacket, and he can see orange leaves go blowing off the big oak tree by the front porch. He wipes his hands carefully on the grass, and sits on the other end of the steps from Melissa to wait for someone to tell him what to do. Melissa's arms are hugging her knees.
"Is Andy really dead?" she asks in a very small voice. She sounds younger than Mose has ever heard her sound.
Mose nods. They both look at Andy's body, people clustered around him. From here, you can't see enough to tell he's dead. If you squint, you can pretend nothing ever happened.
All the water they use has to be hauled up from the well and carried inside, so they don't take full baths very often. But everyone on the raid will need to get the blood off them. Mose starts hauling up buckets of water and carrying them to the house, where Angela is heating them on the woodstove. They'll all get sponge baths, at least.
Every time Mose walks between the well and the house with a bucket in each hand, he passes where Michael and Oscar are using the two shovels to dig. Six feet is a long way down, and neither of them are used to it – they're just lucky the ground hasn't frozen much yet. Even so, they're going to have blisters, probably. Neither of them is talking.
Mose goes into the kitchen and pours his buckets into the metal tub they're using.
"Dwight's done with his bath," Angela says, and nods at the basin on the table. Mose picks it up to go throw it on the vegetable garden. Underneath the soap suds, the water is a dark pink.
Mose has to breathe carefully through his nose for a minute, even though he's seen blood before. This is what the water looked like after that one time Dwight went deer hunting. It shouldn't make him feel this way. But he still has to breathe for a minute before he takes the water outside. As he walks, he notices that Andy's blood is drying stiff and heavy on his pants and starting to chafe his legs, and once he dumps out the soapy water on the tomatoes, he goes inside to change.
In the dining room, someone has put a tarp over the rough oak table, and Andy's lying on top of it. Phyllis and Gil are wiping him clean with cloths, wringing them out in the basin next to them. Someone's closed his eyes. Mose stands in the doorway and watches them, the careful way Gil lifts Andy's arm, how Phyllis is gently washing his hair.
Dead, Andy doesn't look like himself. With nobody animating his features, his nose looks too sharp, his cheekbones oddly shaped. Like a stranger. Through the walls, Mose can hear someone crying in another room.
Mose finally turns and trudges up the stairs to his and Dwight's room, where he strips out of his clothes.The blood had soaked all the way through to the skin, and the fresh clothes feel clean and dry and light. Mose wads up the soiled ones and takes them downstairs to the pile with the others to be burnt.
"Oh my God," Kelly is saying the next morning at breakfast, over and over. "I can't believe Andy's dead. Oh my God."
Everyone else is eating their porridge in silence, not looking at each other. Or pretending to eat it, anyway. Mose doesn't feel too hungry. They're having the funeral right after breakfast.
"I mean, it could've been any of us," Kelly says. "Oh my God, it could've been Ryan. I would kill myself if it had been Ryan, you guys, oh my God." When Mose glances over at Ryan, his jaw is clenched. He is eating very deliberately. Kelly keeps talking. "That would be the saddest thing ever. Not that Andy isn't sad. Oh my God, I can't believe he's really dead. What are we going to do, you guys? Andy's family doesn't even know. Oh my God."
"Kelly!" Ryan finally interrupts in a mean voice. It's really loud, and he stands up from the table so fast he knocks over his chair. Mose moves to put his hands over his ears. "Can you just shut up for five fucking seconds?" It's more animated than Mose has ever seen Ryan.
"Ryan!" Kelly says. "Why are you always such a jerk? Don't you even care?"
Ryan grabs Kelly by the arm and starts walking her out of the kitchen. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" he says, and then they're outside, without coats, and the door slams shut behind them. Mose can still see them out the window, but though he can tell they're yelling, nobody can hear what they're saying. They both have their arms wrapped around themselves, and their breath is white in the cold air.
No one else is really watching -- Ryan and Kelly have a lot of fights. Mose goes back to trying to eat. Across the table from him, Michael is holding his spoon really awkwardly, and as he's lifting up a spoonful of porridge and milk, he somehow loses control and drops it, the milk splattering all over the place.
"Dammit!" Michael says, and from his voice it's clear he's on the verge of tears.
"Michael," Pam says. She's sitting next to him, and she reaches over for his hand. "Let me see."
Michael lets her open his hand up, and the whole palm is one huge blister, with smaller ones for the fingers. He shoveled for a long time yesterday and wouldn't let anybody else take a turn.
"Oh, Michael," Pam says in this very quiet voice, and at that Michael really does start crying. She gets up and takes the first-aid kit from where it lives under the sink, and starts getting out gauze, her hands gentle on Michael's.
Mose has to go out and do his chores – the goats will be in pain if they're not milked, and work on a farm doesn't stop because someone dies. He doesn't go back to the house until they're ready to bury Andy.
The funeral's really simple. Toby and Jim and Ryan and Michael are pallbearers; each of them taking a corner of the tarp to carry Andy out to the Schrute graveyard. The gauze covering Michael's hands is very white against the dingy blue of the tarp, and it must hurt for him to carry it, but Michael doesn't even wince.
They take Andy to the end of a row, next to Uncle Gottfried, and everyone stands around and watches as they carefully lower Andy into the ground. Mose sees a few snowflakes drift down, blowing around Andy's body – the first snow of the winter. It's just a flurry, nothing sticks, but the white flakes swirl around their heads as they stand and watch, all in their new coats and hats. When Andy's all the way down at the bottom, Angela reads something from the Bible about many mansions.
Ryan and Kelly are standing as far from each other as they can get, Mose notices. Phyllis and Bob Vance are holding hands. Toby's holding Sasha, and she's leaning her head against his shoulder, sucking her thumb a little bit. Jim and Pam are leaning against each other, Pam holding onto Jim's arm.
They don't have a coffin, and it's strange to watch the dirt fall on Andy's face, a shovelful at a time until you can't see him at all anymore. Bob Vance and Jim do the shovelling, tall and solemn. When a mound of dirt is finally heaped up, the entire grave filled in, Mose is the one who puts the temporary grave-marker in place, just two boards hammered together in the shape of a cross. He hasn't had time yet to carve a real one.
The weather abruptly gets warm after they bury Andy, a strange November Indian summer that makes everyone a little nervous. Even Oscar keeps looking suspiciously at the sky, like the planes might come overhead again at any minute, and Bob Vance keeps saying, "It's awfully warm for November," in this ominous voice. It still feels like fall, though, a current of chill under the sunshine, and the last leaves cling to the trees in orange and red scraps against deep blue sky, the air so clear you could see for miles if you got high enough. Mose starts to climb a tree to see, but Dwight catches him by the suspenders before he gets more than a couple feet off the ground. Too dangerous. Everything's too dangerous.
Mose goes back to cutting firewood, and he works up a sweat fast, even not wearing a coat. It's strange weather. Mose likes cutting wood; the axe bites into the logs with a satisfying thwack, and nobody bothers him.
Indoors, they're canning the fruits and vegetables left over from the harvest, and when Mose carries an armload of wood into the kitchen, he's hit with a thick rush of heat and noise, people everywhere, the wood stove burning to boil water to sterilize the jars, Angela yelling at Phyllis over the green beans. In the middle of the chaos, Kelly is sitting in a kitchen chair with her face buried in her arms. Pam pats her shoulder every time she squeezes past with jars of vegetables in her arms. When Mose catches Pam's eye, Pam grimaces and says in an undertone, "Ryan broke up with her. For real, this time."
"Oh," Mose says.
It's too crowded and loud for Mose to stand it for very long, so he sidles to the door. One of Angela's cats makes a break for it, but he slips out while holding her off with his foot. Angela got so mad the last time, when Mr. Whiskers got out, that Mose really thought she might hit him. It was a good thing that Toby got her to calm down.
Mose closes the door behind him, back in what now seems like the cool quiet of the yard. No one seems to be around – Dwight took Toby and Karen and Gil out crossbow hunting early that morning and they're not back yet. Hunting's usually an all-day thing, though, so Mose isn't worried. There have been a lot of deer out lately, near the farm, and when they go they usually come back with something.
Mose was one of the only ones awake when the four of them left, early in the morning. Dwight was being very serious, checking off that they had all their supplies, and Toby was making Karen almost laugh with faces from behind Dwight's shoulder. As they headed off down the drive, Mose saw Karen bump Toby's shoulder with hers.
Mose isn't allowed to go out hunting himself, not since that one time when he was twelve. Toby, Karen and Gil are the ones who are the best at it, anyway, though Mose suspects that Ryan wasn't really trying to get good when Dwight taught all of them.
As Mose walks across the farmyard, he can hear Sasha playing underneath the little copse of trees on the western edge of the yard, where the pine branches are so close together it's hard to see her. She calls it her fort, and she likes to set up her Star Wars action figures for war around the roots. Dwight got mad at first, about how she was getting them all muddy and bringing down their market value, but then after he said that, he said, "Oh," in this sad voice like he'd just realized something, and after that he didn't mind Sasha playing with them anymore.
Mose can hear Sasha making little shooting noises with her mouth, and after a second he hears another voice join in. It's Melissa. That's strange – Melissa doesn't usually really talk to anybody.
"Here, what if we put some up here?" Mose hears Melissa say.
He doesn't want to interrupt, so he detours around the trees, toward the other outbuildings, wondering where Ryan is and if he wants any of the spruce gum Mose cut earlier in the day. Ryan usually likes spruce gum. At least, he always takes some when Mose offers it to him. And when Mose pushes open the big doors of the barn, he hears voices up in the loft, what sounds like Ryan and Jim throwing straw down into the stalls.
When Mose's head and shoulders come up the ladder into the loft, Ryan sees him. "Oh," Ryan says, straightening up a little and resting the end of his pitchfork on the floor. "Hey, Mose." Ryan's stripped off his button-down, so he's just in his undershirt and suspenders, and he's sweating, a thin sheen on his muscles. He's wearing some of Mose's old clothes, old work pants with the cuffs rolled up so they're not too long.
"Hi, Ryan," Mose says, pulling himself the rest of the way up the ladder. Jim's there too, dressed the same as Ryan only in Dwight's old clothes, sweat sticking his undershirt to his back. "Hi, Jim."
Jim glances over and sort of waves before sticking his pitchfork in another pile of straw.
"Kelly's crying," Mose says. He goes to sit down against the wall of the barn, leaning back against it and letting his back slide down until he's sitting on the floor cross-legged. He feels like Ryan should know if Kelly's crying. That's how they've gotten back together all the other times they've broken up – Kelly cries, and then Ryan feels bad and goes to make her feel better.
But this time, Ryan's movements get quicker and angrier, tightly controlled as he tosses some more straw down. "I know," he says.
"Yeah, man, I don't know. I think maybe this time – " Jim starts to say to Ryan in a dubious voice.
"You know what?" Ryan cuts him off. "I don't think you of all people should be lecturing me about this."
Jim straightens up and rests his pitchfork on the floor, leaning against it. "What's that supposed to mean?" Jim says. "Me of all people."
There's a sunbeam coming through a space between the boards in the barn wall, falling across Ryan's face in a golden line. Mose can see little bits of straw dust floating in the air, lit by the sunshine, and the beads of sweat on Ryan's face. "I mean," Ryan says. "At least after I dumped my girlfriend, I didn't hook up with somebody else."
"What?" Jim says. He sounds confused and a little angry. "I didn't hook up with anybody."
Mose is looking between the two of them. He has no idea what they're talking about, but it sounds like they might really start fighting. He hopes they don't. People have been fighting constantly since Andy died, and he feels kind of sick to his stomach all the time.
"Uh, okay," Ryan says.
"No, seriously," Jim says, and it sounds like he really doesn't know what Ryan means. "What are you talking about?"
Ryan shakes his head and goes back to work, tossing another pitchfork full of straw down below. "Really, dude?" he says. He sounds like he might laugh. "You have no idea what I'm talking about? Because I think everybody else does."
Jim's getting all red in the face. "Shut up," he says. "We're not – I didn't hook up with anybody. We're not hooking up."
"Okay," Ryan says.
"I'm serious," Jim says.
"I said okay," Ryan says. "God."
After that they stop talking and keeping pitching straw, their movements rhythmic. One of the barn cats, Crookshanks, comes stalking over to Mose, walking back and forth across his lap with her tail in Mose's face, her paws digging into his legs. Mose scratches her behind the ears and starts to relax. If he squints a little, he can't even tell that it's Jim and Ryan up working in the loft, with their faces in the shadows. Instead he remembers being four years old and up in this same loft, watching his papa and Uncle Dwight pitch straw just like this, before the storm. Their ropey muscles under their suspenders, the same old pitchforks. It's nice. Crookshanks starts purring.
"I think that's enough," Jim says finally, peering down below. He wipes sweat off his forehead.
Ryan looks too. "Yeah," he says. He runs a hand through his hair and turns toward Jim. "Look, man," he says in a quieter, nicer tone than he was using earlier, without the edge to it. "It's been a rough couple of days. You wanna go down by the river and smoke the last of my pot?"
Jim kind of smiles and rubs the back of his neck, and the two of them start walking back towards the ladder. "All right," Jim says. "That sounds good." He starts to climb down, and Ryan stands at the head of the ladder watching.
Mose starts to get up too – he almost wonders if they've forgotten he's there, but when Ryan glances over and sees him, he doesn't look surprised or anything. "You wanna come too?" Ryan asks. Mose is so surprised at this he almost sits right back down again. Ryan never invites him to do anything.
"Yes," Mose says quickly, before Ryan can change his mind. Ryan kind of smiles and starts climbing down. Mose stands at the top of the ladder and waits; he can see that Ryan has straw in his hair, and dust sticking to his sweaty skin.
Outside, the air is cooler, but Jim and Ryan don't put their overshirts back on, keeping them scrunched up in their hands instead, sweat still sticking their hair to their foreheads. The Lackawanna river isn't far from the farmhouse, but the path to get down there is heavily wooded, and leaves crunch under their feet. Ryan stumbles over a rock he can't see under them, and he swears under his breath. When Mose and Dwight were little, they used to know every rock in the path, every tree along the way, and during the summer on breaks from homeschooling, they and Johann and Helga and Heindl would go racing down the path in their underwear to get to the swimming hole, towels flapping behind them, shouting as they ran.
Sometimes Mose wonders what happened to Johann and Helga and Heindl after last March, if they were okay out there somewhere. For the first six weeks after, he kept expecting them to come home, expecting to see them coming down the driveway every time he looked towards the road. He's gradually stopped thinking that way.
Jim and Ryan are quiet as they finally come to the riverbank, where the muddy water is milky and flowing lethargically between grassy banks. For the whole month of March, it was full of ash, and the fish all died, floating bloated on the surface. But it eventually went back to normal looking again, though Dwight still won't let them drink out of it. The fish have just started to restock. Maybe in the spring Dwight will let them fish again.
Ryan starts digging around for something in his right pants pocket, and comes out with some dried leaves in a crumpled plastic bag.
"I can't believe you've made that last this long," Jim says, settling down, leaning back against a tree with his knees folded up and his arms resting on them. Mose sits down cross-legged a few feet away.
"I know," Ryan says, sitting down so they're in a loose circle. He starts rolling a cigarette with the leaves, the same way Mose remembers Grandfather Schrute doing before he died. "I knew someday we'd really need it."
Jim looks right at Mose, maybe the first time he's really ever done that. "So Mose, you can't tell anybody about this, right? Especially not Dwight." Mose nods and Jim thinks for a second. "Or Michael," he adds. He thinks for another second. "Or Angela."
"Mose is cool," Ryan says. He already sounds more relaxed.
"I won't tell," Mose says. He won't either – he has lots of secrets he hasn't told anybody. Like what happened to Mr. Whiskers after he got out, and where Dwight keeps his throwing stars.
"Okay," Jim says, and he gives Mose a serious nod, like they're colleagues. Then he smiles. "Man," he says. "I need this. Ever since Angela poured all the alcohol down the drain, I swear."
"She," Ryan says, as he lights a match, "is really working my last nerve." He lights the cigarette and take a long breath from it.
"Tell me about it," Jim says, as Ryan passes him the cigarette, and he smokes it for a minute too, a look on his face like he's really, really happy. The smoke smells weird, kind of sickly sweet.
"You want any?" Jim says to Mose, but Mose shakes his head. Once he smoked one of Grandfather Schrute's cigarettes and he was shunned for a year and a half. Jim shrugs. "Suit yourself," he says, and hands the cigarette back to Ryan.
"So," Jim says, as Ryan starts to smoke. "Has Michael blown you yet?"
Ryan chokes and starts coughing, hard. Jim smirks at him, and when Ryan can finally talk again, he says, "Gross, man. Gross."
"That doesn't actually answer the question," Jim says.
Ryan just shakes his head, making a horrible face. "You're disgusting." He takes one more pull on the cigarette before he hands it to Jim. "We have to figure out a way to get out of here," he says. "I'm going insane."
"Everyone's going insane," Jim says. He rubs his leg a little bit, right where he'd gotten shot that time they all left, like it's aching. He still limps a little bit when the weather's cold and wet. "But it's not like we have a lot of options."
Ryan sighs and takes the cigarette back from Jim, closes his eyes as he inhales. Mose picks up one of the leaves near his feet and starts pulling it apart carefully, along the veins.
"So you're really not banging Pam?" Ryan says. He's sounding more and more mellow, like he's barely awake.
Jim makes a face. "Don't talk like… no. I told you we're not together."
"So you're not getting laid at all?" Ryan says. "Jesus."
"Shut up," Jim says.
Ryan looks over at Mose. "What about you, Mose?"
"What?" Mose says. He's barely been following the conversation, and he's not sure what Ryan means. "I lie down," he says.
Jim barks a short laugh before he manages to stop himself.
"But you like Pam, right?" Ryan says to Jim.
Jim shifts, starting to put his overshirt back on. He must be getting cold, sitting still like this. "Yeah," he says. "I guess." He reaches behind him for the left sleeve, turning so Mose can't see his face anymore. "Yeah, I like her," he says again, quieter. "But it's not like – I mean, she and Karen are friends. Like, really good friends."
"So?" Ryan says.
Jim shakes his head, straightening around and starting to button up his shirt. "You're a dick, man."
"Whatever," Ryan says. "It's not like Karen would have to know."
Jim finishes buttoning his shirt and takes the cigarette back from Ryan. "Right," he says. "It could be a deep, dark, secret. Like Dwight and Angela are secret."
Mose blinks. "You know about Angela?" he says.
Ryan and Jim both turn and look at him for a long moment. "Everybody knows about Dwight and Angela," Ryan says finally. "Plus, our room is right next to yours."
"Oh," Mose says.
"Exactly," Jim says to Ryan, with a tone in his voice like, See? "You can't have secrets on this farm."
Ryan winces as the cigarette in his hand starts to burn too close to his fingers. "Fuck," he mutters, and carefully goes to put it out in the dirt. "Yeah, I guess," he says.
Mose watches the last of the smoke drift up above their heads, white against the blue of the sky, tendrils wreathing upwards. He doesn't think that's true, that you can't have secrets. He's pretty sure that everybody here does.
Thanksgiving comes. There’s a lot of squabbling ahead of time about the need to ration food in the face of impending winter, versus the need to boost morale and be thankful they’ve made it this far.
“I don’t feel very thankful,” Stanley mutters as he walks by Mose and out of the kitchen during one of the arguments.
In the end there’s a lot of compromise and a table pretty full of food and an old cornhusk wreath Mose rescued from the attic for decoration. Usually they have to eat in shifts, or split up between the tables in the kitchen and dining room, but this time they’ve pushed the two big tables together in an L-shape so everyone can fit.
Before dinner, Michael makes them all go around the table and say things they’re thankful for.
“I’m thankful for friends and togetherness,” says Michael.
“Me too,” says Toby, smiling across the table at Karen.
“Yick,” says Michael. “Copycat. It’s not even your turn.”
Mose is thankful that Heidi the hen is laying again, so they don’t have to eat her. Dwight says he’s thankful they haven’t had to turn to cannibalism yet, which makes everyone boo him.
“Either my swimming pool or my fleet of Cadillacs,” Jim says, so then Ryan says, “My incredible good looks,” and Karen says her claw foot bathtub with unlimited hot water.
“Must we always turn to sarcasm?” says Angela. And then they eat.
Mose’s other Thanksgiving contribution is goat’s milk whipped cream, like they used to have every other birthday when he and Dwight were growing up. It’s a lot of work: he had to let the milk sit in the root cellar for four days so the cream would separate, and then give it to Phyllis to whisk and whisk until it came out fluffy. But it’s worth it, when everyone gets their little dollop and people say “oh my god, Mose,” and “wow, Phyllis,” and Pam puts a little in her mouth and closes her eyes for a long, long moment, like all she’s doing is tasting.
After dinner Mose is coming back from taking the bucket of scraps out to the goats when he sees a dark shape in the corner of the porch. Intruder!, he thinks at first, like Dwight’s trained him, but then he hears a soft laugh and realizes it’s just Karen and Toby. They’re standing so close together it must be to keep warm. Jim’s standing in the kitchen doorway, looking toward them too, and Mose thinks maybe he’s going to bring them coats. But instead he just steps aside to let Mose back in.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” says Mose, and Jim blinks like he’s surprised to see Mose there next to him.
“What? Oh, yeah, you too,” he says, and Mose goes in to put the scraps pail back beside the sink.
Every day it’s colder and there’s heavy frost on the ground but snow still doesn’t come. Dwight’s all full of tension waiting for it, even though everything is ready. Mose likes winter, likes how quiet and cozy everything gets under a blanket of snow, but everyone else seems worried. In the evenings Mose sits by the fire and works on carving a better cross for Andy’s grave marker. It’s relaxing work, and he thinks Andy would like it, but when anyone notices what he’s doing they look sad or look away. When he walks by, Bob Vance pats Mose on the back kind of forcefully and tells him he’s a good kid.
Pam likes to spend the evenings at the old roll top desk in the corner drawing on the strips of paper she rescued the day Andy died. She carefully portioned it out to people who said they needed some – Angela for the canning labels, Sasha and Melissa for drawing, Gil who said he was keeping a journal. She’s using the rest to draw a comic strip about life on the farm, which only certain people are allowed to see. Mostly Karen and sometimes Jim or Oscar. Tonight she and Karen were giggling over it for a while (“oh my god, the suspenders!” Karen had said), but then Karen went to bed with her hot brick and now Jim is leaning over the back of Pam’s chair looking at what she’s drawn, both of them talking too softly for Mose to hear. He’s watching them idly while he polishes the section of wood he’s been carving, so he sees Jim lift the hand from the back of Pam’s chair and rest it on the desk beside Pam’s, so close they’re touching. Pam gives him a startled look, but Jim doesn’t look at her or stop whatever he’s saying, and after a second she nods and answers him. Jim points at something with his other hand, and she laughs, and when Mose looks back again she’s moved her hand so her fingers are all kind of tangled up with Jim’s, so it’s going to be hard to draw any more of her comic.
The air smells like snow. Mose felt it as soon as he walked outside this morning and Dwight did too. He's had everyone with spare time doing shifts bringing even more firewood inside to stack in the basement in case they get snowed in and need to keep the fireplace and kitchen stove burning.
It's after dusk now though, and coming on to dinner time. Mose is the last one outside, going for a final armful of wood, except he's not the last one because as he ducks back into the woodshed he hears Ryan's voice behind it, low and angry.
"Are you lying about this? Because I swear to God, Kelly--"
"No!" says Kelly in the voice that means she used to be crying and might again. "Not this time. I swear to GOD, Ryan, you have to believe me." Mose starts stacking a new armful of logs. "It's been like three months since I got my... you know what. And look at my boobs." There's the sound of a coat zipper and a long pause, before Ryan starts saying all the bad words Mose isn't supposed to know, all in a row.
"Everyone's going to kill us," he says, and Mose's arms are full so he heads back toward the house. He hopes there won't be another fight.
Inside is warm and bright and full of people, so many things happening at once after the quiet of outside. Mose stacks his wood with the rest -- the woodpile is almost to the ceiling and fills the whole side room of the basement. Dwight will be satisfied.
Dinner's not ready yet so Mose goes backs outside to the quiet. The air smells even more like snow; if there were still city lights in Scranton, the clouds above them would look all pink right now.
Michael is on the porch, sitting on the front steps slowly pulling a pine cone into pieces. Mose sits down on the other side of the steps to be companionable. It still makes him feel a little funny to know he knows Michael Scott after all these years hearing all about him.
Michael glances over at him and then back at his pinecone.
"Oh, hi, Mose," he says.
"Hi," says Mose, and they sit in silence for a while.
"Will it really snow tonight?" Michael asks.
Mose shrugs and nods.
"I was thinking about that one big storm we had," Michael says, "when everyone got stuck at the office because there was a white out and we had to all stay there and play truth or dare and eat all the candy in Pam's desk before the snowplows came."
Mose remembers. Dwight came home three hours late and kept snowshoes under his desk at work for the rest of that winter. Michael sounds happy talking about it.
"No snowplows now, huh?" he says absently. "No candy. No Comedy Central."
The wind picks up, tossing the tops of the big firs in the yard, a rushing sound in the darkness.
"Everyone here, though," Michael goes on. "I don't know why everyone hates it so much. It's like family." Mose nods three times but Michael isn't looking at him. He stays quiet for a while and Mose does too.
"What do you think will happen to all of us?" he asks finally and does turn to look at Mose but before he can think of an answer Michael's face changes and he's looking at something over Mose’s shoulder.
"Snow," he whispers, a grin spreading across his face, and then shouts "Snow!"
It is snow, big fat flakes falling in the yard and collecting on Michael's dark hair and coat. Falling on Mose's face when he looks up and falling fast in the light from the kitchen windows.
"Oh my god, it's snowing!" Kelly says as she and Ryan come around the corner of the house from the direction of the woodshed. She says it again when she runs inside and people come out to see, Melissa and Karen and Pam, and Michael's trying to catch flakes on his tongue and Jim comes outside too in his socks and stands on the edge of the porch peering up and then Angela loudly announces in the doorway that dinner is ready and they're letting all the heat from the house out and Dwight comes up behind her and says the same thing and everyone troops inside talking at once to where it's warm and smells like soup and biscuits. Mose comes last and looks behind him as he shuts the door, snow falling faster and thicker, on every part of the farm and all the parts beyond it too.
It snows all that night and ‘til late afternoon the next day too. Mose and Dwight and Gil and Toby take turns going out in it to shovel, keeping pathways to the henhouse and the goat shed clear. Terry sits up with them the first half of the night and Bob Vance in the second, keeping the kitchen stove fire burning and making hot cocoa when anyone comes back inside stomping snow off their boots in the mud room.
The morning after the snow stops is crystal clear and freezing cold. There's so much light reflected off the snow Mose has to squint when he goes outside first thing. The sky is deep, wide blue.
"PLEASE," Sasha is saying when he comes back in with a pail of milk, steaming in the cold. Melissa is backing her up.
"Come on, you have to let us, it's not fair."
"Let you what?" Pam asks coming in behind Mose with her own pail.
"Go get a Christmas tree," Stanley tells her flatly. It's the first week of December and everyone’s talking about Christmas.
"It's a waste of resources," Dwight says. "And body heat.
“And trees," he adds as an afterthought.
"Oh, I don't know," says Phyllis, as Oscar ladles her a bowl of oatmeal mixed with maple syrup. "It could be fun."
"Good for morale," Karen says from her seat at the table.
Dwight frowns and opens his mouth and Mose gets ready for a long argument, when Angela chimes in from the other end of the table.
"The birth of baby Jesus IS an important holiday," she says, carefully setting her spoon beside her empty oatmeal bowl.
Everyone stops talking, looking between her and Dwight, who aren’t breaking eye contact. Mose quietly sets his pail in the corner.
“Fine,” Dwight says, and Sasha and Karen cheer.
They bundle up after breakfast, Dwight and Mose and Michael and Stanley and Melissa and Oscar and Toby and Sasha and Karen and Pam and Jim and Kelly. Dwight grumbles about all the work that won’t get done, but everyone’s cheerful like it’s a holiday. Terry is already talking about stringing popcorn for decorations and Bob Vance starts moving furniture in the living room to make room for a tree.
They follow Dwight out the door and through the snow, walking single file. The snow is up to Mose’s knees so Sasha comes last, when a path has already been tramped down. When Mose looks back she keeps crouching down to try to make snowballs in her red mittens, but the snow isn’t sticky enough. If nobody else were here he’d tell her they’ll have snowball snow later in the winter. This is snow angel snow.
They go down through the east pasture, to the stand of pine trees at the edge of the property. There’s some arguing about which tree will be not-too-big-not-too-small, but everyone finally agrees on one. Mose and Dwight and Jim and Toby take turns sawing at it with the two-handle saw and Michael shouts “TIMBERRRR!” as it falls, bouncing a little on the soft snow.
They’re halfway back through the pasture, dragging the tree behind them, when Mose hears it.
“Choppers,” he says, looking up at the sky. Nobody hears him but Dwight, who stops in his tracks and says “Quiet!” in the voice that makes people pay attention.
Karen and Melissa stop talking about whether they can make ice skates from things around the house, and Michael trails off from singing a version of O Christmas Tree with a lot of his own lyrics. Jim and Pam are walking together a little ahead and don’t realize everyone else has stopped until a moment later. Mose sees Pam turn back, face puzzled, and then the helicopter comes over the tree line, suddenly much louder.
There’s nowhere to hide. They’re all clear as anything against the snow, too far from the trees or the house to run, standing still in the middle of the field. Another helicopter comes after the second one. They’re black against the sharp blue sky, still too far away to see any markings on the outside, but coming over the farm fast. It could be anyone: good guys or bad, soldiers or regular people with helicopters. Probably guns.
Mose looks down from the sky to see what Dwight wants to do. Everyone else is frozen, heads up, looking at the helicopters. They sound so loud. Sasha has her hands clapped over her ears, where Toby’s drawn her in against his side. Stanley has an arm out in front of Melissa like he’s keeping her from running forward, but she’s not moving. Nobody is. Dwight and Oscar are holding the two tow ropes on the tree, and in the distance behind them the farmhouse looks small and white, smoke a thin smudge coming up from the chimney. Mose looks back up at the sky and waits to see what will happen.