Search
Close this search box.

BVC Announces Smilodon Country by Steven Popkes

Smilodon Country by Steven PopkesLucio doesn’t know it but he’s on his way to Smilodon Country.

Lucio has been a soldier in the Long Bottom Boys nearly as long as he can remember.

Living on what they can scavenge, the Boys rule a portion of post-apocalyptic Saint Louis. Lucio has been abused and the abuser. The hunter and the hunted. In this meat starved environment, he has been hunted for food and eaten his fill of human prey.

He’s been okay with this.

But now something has happend. What he does, who he has become, doesn’t fit the brutal life of the Boys anymore. Who can he trust? Should he leave? Can he leave? If he does, where does he go? Is there a place for him anywhere?

He does not know it but he is on his way to Smilodon Country.

This story follows on from Jackie’s Boy.

____
Steven Popkes lives in Massachusetts on two acres where he and his wife raise bananas, persimmons, and turtles.

He works in aerospace making sure rockets continue to go where they are pointed. He insists he is not a rocket scientist.

He is a rocket engineer.

Buy Smilodon Country at the Book View Cafe bookstore

Read a Sample

Chapter 1.1

My squadboss, Jihandre, had sent us out to scout the area around Delmar. It was a nothing gig. Pretty much every grocery for twenty miles around us had been looted. But there was always someone desperate enough to check out a grocery—or anything that could be thought of as a grocery—again. Surely, there must be something left.

That left me and Umberto crouched at the edge of the crumbling parking garage next to a strip mall, watching and shivering. It had been a thin winter so far and it was still January. The Long Bottom Boys were looking forward to a little meat in the pot. We weren’t particular.

We were watching for anybody looking for us, too. After all, we weren’t the only ones around. We could end up filling someone else’s belly as well as they might fill ours.

So far, we hadn’t seen a thing. Heard a thing. Smelled anything on the wind.

I was about to tell Umberto this was a lost cause when he poked me and nodded toward the grocery parking lot.

Sure enough, along the south side of Delmar, I saw someone peeking around the edge of the building on Skinker Boulevard. I didn’t move—they might see me if I stayed still but they would certainly see me if I moved. I estimated three hundred meters—too far for a good shot. I just had my AK. I should have brought one of the sniper rifles. Even then it would be chancy.

Under the parking wall, so no one could see my movement, I gestured to Umberto: wait.

He grinned, stroking his little mustache carefully. He was proud of it, though it was narrow and barely there and made the corners of his mouth look smudged. I was jealous. We were both sixteen and I couldn’t grow more than baby fuzz if my life depended on it. He waved back: no problem, Lucio.

Sneaky Guy ducked back out of sight behind the corner but we didn’t move.

A few minutes later, Sneaky Guy crept out along the sidewalk, hugging the building. Behind him, one, two, three, four smaller figures. Kids, maybe?

I waited to see if there was anybody else bringing up the rear. Nobody.

Sneaky Guy led the kids down the street, watching the storefronts.

Good for us: we were up the street past the grocery. Sneaky Guy wasn’t alert at all. The storefronts had his attention. Stupidity is its own reward.

I edged up my AK, laying it slowly on the top of the parking garage wall and sighted on him. Two hundred meters. Nice shot if I had a sniper rifle, I snarled to myself.

Sneaky Guy led the kids along the street, carefully watching the storefronts for an ambush, all the time moving closer to the grocery and to us. I counted down the distance, keeping him sighted the whole time. A hundred meters. Eighty meters. Sixty meters. Forty meters. That was good enough. Estimated the wind and the drop. Edged the barrel a little up and a little north to compensate. Eased the trigger. A crack and Sneaky Guy fell over in a boneless collapse.

Umberto ran down the stairs and down the street to catch the kids before they ran. I kept an eye out to cover him.

The kids huddled around Sneaky Guy’s body, crying. Good. Umberto slowed to a walk, talking to them, calming them so they didn’t scatter. He waved backwards to me and I left the top floor of the garage and made my way down to them. Two girls. Two boys. Maybe six to nine but starvation made it hard to tell.

I drew them a little ways from the body and asked their names. “Tommy? Andre? You’re Maria and Suling? Good.” I spoke calmly and pulled some rope from my ditty bag and tied them wrist to wrist, just tight enough to keep them together but not enough to hurt them.

Umberto was watching for anyone else.

The body on the ground was well-fed—clear sign he was a member of another group. Farrel’s, maybe. Or Nature Phil’s. He certainly had not been sharing with the kids. Sneaky Guy had probably just found them. Got overconfident and figured he’d check out the strip mall on the way back. I realized that Umberto had only stripped the body of anything essential.

“We can’t leave him,” I said.

“We have to. You need me to help take the kids back.”

“I can handle that.” I nodded significantly to the body. “Field dress him and follow me back.”

“Carry forty kilos of meat on my back? Not happening. You need me to bring up the rear.”

I looked around. The return was mostly residential, only low buildings. Nothing tall enough to house a sniper. And, with the kids, we needed to return the most direct way possible. He was right.

“Okay,” I said. “Field dress it over in the parking garage and stash it. Then, catch up to me. I’ll walk slow. We’ll send someone back for it.” I looked around. Still early and cold. The corpse fungus wouldn’t get a start for a day or so.

Umberto grabbed the legs and hauled the kill back to the parking garage.

I smiled at the kids. “Okay. Let’s go for a walk. Then, you’ll get food and a warm place to sleep.”

That quieted them down a little and we started back to the Saint Louis Art Museum.

oOo

Umberto caught up to us about twenty minutes later. It was just over four kilometers back to the Museum but we had to zig zag, wait for the kids, zag again. I didn’t breathe easy until we crossed Lindell into our territory. I pulled one of the guards aside and told him where Umberto had cached the body.

Fight training was going on in the field in front of the Museum and we walked past the action to Jones House, where the women lived. Matron Dee smiled at the kids when I gave her the rope. The kids gave me side eyes as they walked past—they figured they’d been sold down the river. I didn’t say now they were safe—truth was, they weren’t. Safety didn’t exist. Tough times were ahead of them. But I’d gone through it along with the rest of the Boys. A group was safer than an individual and the Long Bottom Boys were better than some.

Umberto wanted to go back to the Museum for breakfast but I was too jittery from the kill.

“I’m going back to the fields and work out,” I said.

Jihandre was leading the training, his knit cap tight to his head, the silver rings he kept in his hair tinkling like tiny bells as he moved. He was pretty fit for an old man.

I slipped into the rear line but Jihandre wasn’t having any of it. He waved me up to take over.

We did warmups for a while. Then practice: strike, block, strike, repeat. All the basic stuff. Jihandre was a stickler for always practicing the basics. We paired off for practice sparring. I got Hugo. I liked working with Hugo. He was big and very strong. If he hit you, your head rang like breaking glass. And he never took it personally. You could smack him right in the face and he’d grin and say: “Good hit.”

Jihandre walked around pointing out a mistake or encouraging something he liked. Then, he dismissed them all and held me back.

“How did it go this morning?”

“Well fed man—maybe one of Nature Phil’s. Picked up four kids. I sent Jomo back for the carcass and dropped the kids off at Jones House.”

“Good work,” he said. He thought a moment. “Maybe you should come up to Lindell. Work with me and London Bob.”

I stared at him for a long moment. This was the man who had taught me everything I knew: how to fight, how to shoot, how to know if I was being hunted and what to do about it. Now, he wanted me to work with him and London Bob. This was a promotion.

“I would like that,” I said, swallowing hard. “I’d like that very much.”

“We’ll see.” He pushed me in the direction of the Museum and left.

oOo

Everybody ate together in the Museum’s old restaurant section. Umberto and Doc Halliday were already there. I looked over at them: beans again. I grabbed a spoon and a bowl, dipped beans from the pot, and sat at their table. joined them.

Doc had to be sixty—older than anyone—he was a real doctor which meant he was a grown man before the world fell apart, long before I was born. He was the oldest person I had ever known. He was eating slowly, looking carefully in the stew for bones or anything else hard.

“Your teeth bothering you again?” I asked.

“Shut up about my teeth,” he said.

That was a yes. “Jones house is going to drop four kids on you later.”

“ Four kids?” He stared at me, then shook his head slowly.

“That’s right,” said Umberto. “And forty kilos of meat for the next pot.”

“You dressed it?” asked Doc. “Who’s going to smoke it?”

“It won’t get to that,” I said. “We’ve been without good meat for too long. It’s going to go into the pot as soon as Jomo and his crew bring it back. That’ll stop the fungus.”

Doc shook his head. “None of this is normal.” He said to himself. I ignored it. Doc said a lot of things.

Umberto finished and stood up. He gave me a crooked grin as he left, and I had a good idea where he was going.

“I have news,” I said after he’d gone. “Jihandre said he might want me to work with him and London Bob.”

Doc watched me a moment and looked back at his bowl. He didn’t say anything.

“A promotion is good,” I said, prompting him.

“It’s the best you can hope for,” he said.

That stung, somehow. “Jihandre appreciates me.”

“Yes,” said Doc bitterly. “You are of use to him. One of his best fighters. Certainly, his best shooter.” He fell silent.

“That makes this good. I’m getting recognition.”

“God damn it.” Doc dropped his spoon into his bowl. “I’m trying to be encouraging.”

“Doesn’t sound like it.”

“Would you rather I say: Lucio, you’re too damned smart for this place. A promotion is the least they could do.” He pushed the bowl away.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Get smarter. Read books—read my books. You could be Doc after I’m gone.” Doc snorted. “But you don’t give a fuck. You can barely read.”

“I read fine!”

“You can but you don’t. The pond minnows are better read than you.”

“I read fine,” I said to my beans. “Maybe I don’t want to be Doc.”

“Fine.” Doc leaned towards me, trying to look into my eyes. “Every written book is a life you can add to your own just by reading it. It makes you richer. It makes you smarter, building on the support of people before you.” He leaned back. “But you don’t take advantage of that, do you?” He waved around the room. “Why should you? What the hell good is a rich inner life going to be to you? To be the best read baby Mussolini in a destroyed world?” He pointed his finger to the table. “This is not normal. You deserve better. But there’s nothing better this world has to offer.”

With that, he got up. He put his bowl in the bucket and left.

I stared after him. What the hell was eating him up? Then I looked into his bowl to see whether he’d eaten all his beans.

Buy Smilodon Country at the Book View Cafe bookstore

Authors

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *