Friday, February 17, 2012

Surviving the Autocalypse: Episode VI

There was an ancient dynamic between John Miller, the judge, and the sheriff. Maybe it was something from high school, but it seemed to go beyond that ... a family feud, or a clash of archetypes older than mankind's latest iteration. It was uncomfortable to watch, but so mesmerizing that you had no choice.

"Wondered when you'd show up, John," Dwight said, resting one rump on the edge of his desk.

"Heard from somebody that my ... uh, gee-gaw, isn't it, Allen? Yeah, that my gee-gaw was here."

Judge Allen's chin sunk further into a sulk. "This has nothing to do with you, John," he said. "This vagrant picked a fight with Tom Ellerby and Jack Parker. We can't have lawlessness ..."

"Oh, save the speech for the next election, judge," Miller said. "I've heard the story from a few folks, and managed to piece things together myself. I'm just here to pick up the part for my machine."

Dwight looked at my bike, then. It was obvious that he did not like the idea of the machine.

"Can't do that, Mr. Miller," I said. They all turned, slightly surprised that I was still there. "I was told to deliver it to you at your farm. I can't hand it over here."

Dwight gave me a quizzical look. Judge Allen kept sulking. Miller was obviously unhappy to have his indomitable will thwarted, but pressed on. "No problem, then. I can bail you out, and give you a ride to my farm in the morning. I brought my wagon."

"I've got lights on the bike, Mr. Miller. You can follow me, and we'll head out tonight."

"Why the rush?" the judge said.

"I've got a deadline," I replied. "You folks were about to make me miss it."

Miller smiled, pulling out the fat wallet chained to his wide leather Harley-Davidson belt. "Excellent. The sooner, the better."

While Miller and the judge counted the money, Sheriff Gordon unlocked the cell. "The rest of your stuff is on your bike trailer," he indicated with a nod.

"Thanks. And thanks for the book," I started to hand it back.

"Keep it. Pass it on to the next sheriff."

I smiled thanks, then shot a glance at Miller and the judge. "What is it with Miller's machine?"

The sheriff shook his head. "I'm not sure, really. I've just heard ... rumors. And I know John Miller."

I grunted and shook his hand, then rolled my bicycle out the door behind Miller. Ten minutes later, we were riding into the sunset, Miller in his wagon and me on my bike. I rode slower than usual, but Miller still pressed his horse hard to keep up, flipping the reins regularly. It was fully dark when we turned off State Highway 239, but my dynamo-powered headlight lit up the road from edge to edge.

"Go straight back to the workshop," Miller called out. "The green building."

The small barn was about 50 yards beyond the house, near the edge of Miller's wheat field. I leaned my bicycle against the wall, then fished around in the trailer for the package and receipt. By then, Miller had unhitched the horse and let him into the field.

"Come on," he said, pulling out a flashlight. "I'll show you what all the fuss is about."

The workshop was actually a fairly stout building, with a heavy metal door secured by two deadbolts. After unlocking it and rolling back the door, Miller went in and lit two kerosene lamps. The machine sat in the middle of the room.

Waving an arm at the mess of tubing and shiny cylinders, obviously proud, he asked, "What do you think of her?"

I shook my head. "I don't have a clue."

He laughed, and went to the far end of it. "We start with a wheat slurry, fermented for about a week. The machine then filters some stuff out of it, adds other things in, compresses it, expands it, and the juice comes out here," he finished, pointing to a valve.


Miller laughed deep and hard. "No, you fool. Gasoline!"

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