Chapter 24

I found out later the reason why Corrigan had asked if Mr. McDermott was Amish was because of some other things he found down in that basement. There was this big metal thing that looked sort of like a round rocket stove, only it didn't … and wasn't one. Corrigan said it was a wood fired water bath canner similar to the ones that were used by some members of his commune.

"The kids were always set to picking up the fallen branches and stacking them and they were used on wood-fired things like this canner. If I had to guess this one is big enough to hold 32 quarts at a time. There's a big pressure canner over there too; big All-American, the size that will do 19 quart jars at a time. Ought to know. My grandmother would make Christopher and I spend days at a time during harvest season moving those things around for her. I was never so glad when I got old enough that I could move to the greenhouses permanently."

There was a small smile on his face, the kind people don't realize they're doing, which told me no matter how hard the memories might be, they were still good memories. I was hoping some day that maybe I could have a smile on my face I didn't realize was there.

Instead of bringing attention to it I told him, "I don't know about any of that. I probably know more about Cujo that Cujo's owner. That stupid poodle hated us kids almost as much as Mr. McDermott, he just couldn't hide it the same."

"Well, poodles are just mutants and probably can't help themselves."

It took me a second to believe I'd heard what he said right.

"Uh …"

"I had an aunt that was partial to poodles. There's no other explanation." He said it so seriously I didn't know whether he was fooling or not and decided I wasn't even going to try to figure it out. "O … kay. But if your family used that stuff like the wood-fired canner, does that mean you were Amish?"

"No. Some in the commune wanted to play at being back to nature and that sort of thing but I didn't realize how fake they were until it was too late … for them and me. But I grew up knowing enough and it has kept us out of trouble more than a few times. Robbie knows a bit too. Hopefully it will help him with whatever life he is after."

Taking a risk I asked, "Do you miss him?"

He snorted. "I've met him a few times." I tried to keep the question out of my face but he answered me anyway. "We've got a system of signals. Something Christopher made up when we were just boys." He shook his head. "Getting too warm for a fire, even at night. Still better put that extry blanket on your bed. You were shaking again last night."

It was just easier to do as he told me rather than remind him I wasn't a little kid. When I came back out he had pulled out his inventory book and was hunched over it and I'd learned to make myself scarce when he was doing it. Annie had worn herself out finally and had nodded off in this baby saucer bouncy thing Corrigan had found up in one of the attics. I left her there so I could finish the few dishes our dinner of mushroom burgers covered in pork gravy I'd made from the leftover bits of a feral pig that Corrigan and I had caught in a pit trap. The rest of the pork had been traded for some black powder so we could make bullets for his gun though he said he'd continue using his air gun for most everything.

Dishes done and everything else put away but Annie was still snoozing and Corrigan still scribbling. I decided I was in the mood to tinker so I quietly pulled out the boxes of spare parts that I'd started before Corrigan had shown up the first time. At first I just looked at the parts. Then I looked around the basement. It was getting dark but Corrigan had a small lamp. For some reason that bothered me, how small that lamp was, how he had to keep picking it up and moving it over his paper throwing shadows on the wall.

Without really thinking about it I went over and got the mirror he used to shave with and brought it over and put it by the lamp. It made it brighter by doubling the amount of light through its reflection in the mirror. He grunted his thanks but something had gotten my tinkering imagination going. For some reason I kept thinking of Annie's dirty diapers. And then the outhouse. Silly thing to think about I told myself. Silly time to think about it. There's always gonna be poop to clean up. Sam had said … what was it Sam had said? If he could figure out a way to use all the s#$% people made he'd be a forever rich man. Then I remember something that my brother had made as a 4H project out of his pet pigeons' poop. A biomass digester. He'd never done more than make the digester but it had gotten him a special award because he'd always drawn up plans for building a methane generator. It was small but was made of recycled materials.

I hadn't realized it but I'd stared rocking back and forth pretty hard. And suddenly Corrigan was there shaking my arms asking me what was wrong.

"I can do this Corrigan. I can do this. We can be smarter than him. I can make pasta. I can make cheese. He never knew and couldn't do it himself. And I can do this too!"

"Easy there girl. What's rattling around in your head?"

"Light. We can make light. I just have to find the drawings."

He called after me but I was off and running up the stairs. I didn't realize until later that I'd grabbed up Annie and taken her with me. I kept mumbling as I got into my brother's room. Things had been put in there willy-nilly to make space in the other rooms for Corrigan's stuff but I knew what I was looking for. My brother must have been the only boy in his class that had his very own filing cabinet. I had to crawl back in there and Corrigan was not happy, especially 'cause I still had Annie. To make him stop I handed him Annie and he later told me I just kept mumbling.

"Gonna make you a light so you don't go blind. Gonna prove we're smarter than him. He was smart. Maybe even a genius. But he was a monster too and all monsters gets the stupids. It's like programmed or something so people can survive them. Gonna … there you are!"

By the time I crawled out Corrigan said he could only understand one word in three I was mumbling. "Dirty diapers and outhouses and light. That's all we need."

"Clarity. Come downstairs girl. Even in this dark I can tell all the color has gone out of your face. Now come settle down."

Corrigan wound up having to carry both Annie and me down. I guess I'd gotten over excited and everything sorta just went gray for a while. I don't know how long I was out but I woke up on my mattress with Annie pulling at me, letting me know she was hungry. I sat up and felt carsick but I had learned better than to throw up no matter how bad I felt. I still felt jittery even with Annie feeding and knew I needed to remember something but it was just out of reach. Some sound must have given us away because Corrigan walked in … and seeing the school folder in his hand brought it all back.

I looked at him and said, "Lights."

He looked like he'd been thinking pretty hard himself and then he looked at me as he bent down beside us. "Lights," he said, nodding his head.

# # # # # # # # # #

"You say your bother built this for 4H?"

Looking at Corrigan I nodded as I answered, "He built the digester part. It was basically just a metal drum that he collected the pigeon poop in when he cleaned their cages. Pigeons make a lot of poop. He had a prototype of the biogas collector but the leader of his 4H crew moved so things kinda fell apart and … and then The Chaos wasn't long after that."

"And you're sure you can make this."

"Easy Peazy. I just need to find the right parts. The hard part is going to be collecting enough manure to have a set up of any size. And it will take a little bit to get the thing up and digesting. But say … ten to fifteen days after I have it all built and full of biomatter and it should start making enough gas for us to collect and then use. If we plan it right, and can wait until we have a couple of tanks for storage, we should always stay out ahead … at least for most of the year. When it is winter the digester will slow down because the bacteria will get cold and slow."

"Is that a fact."

I turned to look at him thinking he was making fun of me but he was smiling.

"You've done good Clarity. Real good. But it has waited this long and we need to get some rest so we'll be fit for tomorrow. Time to rest."

"Don't you want me to make this for you?"

"Yes. Frankly, hell yes. But we do this, we're going to need to do it right the first time around or we're going to wind up with a mess. I know gas generators. We had them on the commune. They've got their pros and cons. One of them cons is they can be a hell of a fire risk. Gas leaks are also dangerous in the house. That kind of gas will displace oxygen; so unless we want to risk asphyxiation we need to make sure it is properly ventilated. And, whatever delivery system we use for the flame needs to be secure as well. A couple of the houses on the other end of the cul de sac are set up for gas power rather than electric. I can probably find most of what we'll need there, but there's other things to do too."

"Can find some of it at this house. Our hot water was gas. Daddy said there was nothing like having hot water when you wanted it."

"I don't see gas tank."

"That's because it's …" I stopped with a grin. "The tank is buried. It's in that back corner of the yard where the pavers are laid out. If I can just …" My head hurt … so did my chest again.

"Okay, that's enough of that. Time for some rest."

"We need a list. I think I know how to pressure test the old gas tank and then we …"

"Shhhh. Aren't you tired yet Clarity? Annie is going to have you up in no time. C'mon let me add this cover over you two. You can hardly hold your eyes open."

I didn't think I could get to sleep. The thoughts in my head were so big. Here was a chance for me to prove that Boogeyman Sam maybe hadn't completely broken me and that I was smarter than he let me think … maybe I was smarter than he was afraid I would get. So smart I would be able to get away and take Annie with me and all he'd be left with were his nightmares. But I really was tired and there really was a lot of work to do in the coming days.