Who Moved the Cheese

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Post Apocalypse, Extra Sensory Perception, Violent,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: A smart man with a head full of plans is shifted to an agrarian world where the furries ruled over the 'bald folk'--It doesn't end well for the hero, so be prepared.

It was damned boring checking sailors for VD and keeping up their shot records. I was an over-qualified, under-paid guest of Uncle Sam's blue water contingent. King's Bay Georgia Naval Resupply Base holds more stored nuclear missiles than Nevada and California put together, but nobody talked about it. We were the re-arming port for all the boomers on the East Coast. My ID hadn't been replaced yet. It still read CPO Benjamin Sanders. I went by Benny. I'd just been busted down to PO3 for giving a colonel exactly what he asked for.

My smart mouth kept my pay grade disappointingly low, and I had just enough rank to tell the smart-assed missile boys when to bend over and take it like a man. I'd just read a book, "Who moved the cheese?". I'd come to the conclusion that in my job, there was never any cheese there to begin with.

I was down in the hole, checking the weekly dosimeter counts and totaling up the bad news for the hot teams, when every radiation detector in the room started squealing like a stuck pig. I could feel the blood leave my head as I realized I'd just born witness to my death sentence. The lights flickered as the base went to generators, then those then went out. Only the tritium-based emergency signs still glowed. I strode through the crash bars on my way outside.

The sky was an odd swirling orange-red. Then I figured out that it was a dome centered over the base. The overarching cover developed bands, then started rotating like a huge magnetic field in a motor with the axis parallel to the ground. It slowly started accelerating, accompanied by a frying noise like a mistuned arc welder. My glasses were getting hot on my face so I threw them away. Then the contents of my pockets started burning my crotch. I quickly lost the boots and stripped. The dome was spinning too fast to see, then it developed a nasty whine that went up in frequency until I lost it. I started shaking. Paralyzed, I passed out.

I woke on a hillside covered in black pine trees in a plantation grid. I sat up. It was a damned big reforestation project. I couldn't see the edges of it, even when looking out over a broad series of valleys that grayed in the distance. Like I said, a damned big reforestation project.

I was naked as a jaybird, and sunburned fit to beat the band. All my hair was gone; above, below and everywhere in between. I explored my teeth with my tongue and found no fillings, no holes. That shocked me. What the hell? My hands didn't look like a thirty-six-year-old guy's hands either. They were too perfect. My palms had no calluses. The nails were thin and soft. I checked my feet. Ditto. I had a nasty feeling that I didn't wake up in the body that I grew up in.

On standing up I overbalanced a little and had to grab a tree trunk to balance myself. My head was too far from the ground. That meant to me that my limbs were longer which meant they had new moments of inertia. I'd be damned clumsy until I got used to things.

I spotted a wood wheelbarrow not far from where I had lain. On top lay a long pull-over shirt, a pair of tie-on under shorts, a pair of canvas pants, knitted wool socks and a pair of lace-up rough-out ankle-high mocs. I curiously examined one. The soles were sewn on then the seams were tarred and short heels were pegged in place. There were no metal buttons or eyelets. I quickly got dressed, stuffing my shirt inside the pants and hauling the suspenders up over my shoulders. I quickly let them out to keep from crushing my nuts as I danced about in pain.

Someone had paid attention to details. The boots fit my long, narrow feet. They were remarkably similar to Jefferson Booties.

I turned my attention to the barrow. It was narrow, high and long, like an old European barrow or push cart made to transport cargo down a forest trail. It was filled to the top and it was heavy! What the hell was this? two mules and a plow, without the mules and plow? (Sharecropper's start)

I emptied the thing, taking inventory. I found two sections of sturdy canvas-- one about 12x12 and one about 24x48. There was a huge canvas bag that looked like an over-sized duffel bag. It was only sane to carefully tear everything down to see what I had to work with. I dug out a pair of heavy wool blankets, a pair of axes and an auger with a half dozen 3/4 inch wide bits. Okay, I could build a shelter and some furniture. I kept digging. I found a big sewing kit with wax, a big hank of cordage and plenty of needles, extra socks, a very heavy spool of thick twine, an over-the-shoulder belt, a pair of sheathed belt knives, a flint and steel kit in a waxed leather bag, a four liter nickel lined brass kettle with a lid and another nesting kettle holding about a liter and a half, two lengths of quarter inch sisal or hemp rope of about 50 feet each, A big spool of heavy gauge tarred nylon bank line, a box of big sharp fishing hooks, a screw-top single piece steel canteen that looked to be of a lot different manufacture than the rest of the gear, A flint-lock double-barreled shotgun, a couple cans of black powder, A big pair of pliers and a sturdy hammer, a bag of dry shredded cotton cloth, a great big bag of dried ground corn, a similar bag of dried, powdered meat and yet another and much larger bag of gray salt. In the bottom of the barrow lay a full-sized diamond point shovel, a huge oilcloth overcoat, a waxed pair of pigskin gloves, a wool capote and an oilcloth floppy-brimmed hat.

I sat back on my heels and grinned. I really wasn't too badly off. Living on the east coast, I'd gotten sucked into the reenactment movement long before. This was some prime gear. I'd need to find a swamp for a stiff, strong rod to keep the shotgun clean and I had to pick up a decent supply of uniformly sized gravel to use as ammunition. I could hunt for game. I could weave a net to catch fish and with the most basic of tools I could beat metal into tools. I even had enough canvas to line a primitive dugout or line a cabin roof to keep nature out.

The local tree bark was too rough to climb. I checked what direction the wind came from, then held still to listen for the sounds of running water. I'd need water before I needed anything else. My canteen and bucket were empty. Clumsily, I picked up the barrow handles and headed upwind, over the rise and away from the tree-covered valley.

I stopped to rest and make camp after just a few hours. My endurance would have held out for hours yet, but I could feel hot-spots on my hands and feet.

After removing my shoes and socks to let my feet dry and hopefully harden, I took out my smaller section of canvas and the sewing kit. I measured off one half of it, then doubled over that half the long way into a tube. I carefully sewed it closed at one end and along the long seam, making three passes. After turning it inside out to protect the seam I filled the tube full of pine straw, then ran a line between a couple trees to give my little tent a ridge line. I made a cold camp, eating some jerky and taking a couple mouthfuls of water. I rolled up in a blanket, covered the barrow with the other tarp and settled down for the night.

I got on the trail soon after dawn. It was chilly. The dew had fallen. Before moving out I used my hand to wipe the dew off the tarps and into my canteen. My feet had perceptible calluses. Again, I walked until my feet felt dangerously uncomfortable. I'd traversed a valley and come down into the next. I made my camp part-way up the next slope. I knew that cold air pools at the bottom of a valley and the dew's heavier there. When I made camp I washed my socks then laid them over a bush to dry.

I had a mouth full of parched ground corn and a little jerky. It swelled up in my belly, making me feel full. Watching the moon rise, I determined that I was walking east. I wondered who had planted all the pine trees. There were acres upon acres of them, all planted within a season or two as they were much of the same size. What had happened? A fire? A hurricane? I certainly didn't know and I had no way of finding out either.

By the next morning my feet were in pretty good shape. I took a dump (it's hard to wipe with pine needles! I had to keep scrubbing my hands with the sandy dirt to get them clean. I had no water to waste. Next time I pissed I'd save it to wash my hands.) and quickly broke camp. I kept on walking. About two and a half hours after dawn I topped a ridge to find an old farmstead. It had been long abandoned. The buildings had partially collapsed. I smiled. Resources.

From what had been left for me, I could have been in any time from the late 1500's to a freaky late 1900's What was left on the farmstead would narrow that down for me.

Despite the temptation to explore, I cleared a small campsite, filled my sleeping pad, ate a frugal supper and tucked in for the night.

My first objective was to plot out the site and inventory what was there. I found the well right away. Thankfully the pump hadn't fallen into the well shaft. The fact that there was a lever-operated pump put the local timeframe at post civil-war equivalent. I tied a rope around the mechanism and tied it off before I did something stupid, then hauled it up, out of the well casing and off to one side. I doubted that it would work without a new flapper valve. Still, I had a well filled with clean water available! I emptied my canteen into a pail, tied it off and let it down. It came up heavy with cold, sweet water. Goal number one had been achieved. I would not die of thirst or of disease from drinking polluted water.

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