1. The Wizard
The wizard rolls into town at dawn, his cart rumbling through the gap in Trinity’s towering fence. A crowd of around forty people gathers around him.
Abel squints at the sun’s orange glare as it rises over the rooftops. “Come on, Pip,” he says, patting his thigh. A brindle-haired dog looks up at him and runs in a tight circle, her tail wagging. He looks around at the huddled shacks, at the curls of white smoke dotted across the settlement, and the people gravitating towards the wizard.
Abel follows the gentle sloping dirt track towards the entrance as Pip trots at his left. Chickens run in haphazard zigzags, confined by a line of wire mesh to his right, shedding feathers as they avoid the dog. The looming crucifix beyond the fence spreads shadows across the rooftops. Children duck past him, laughing as they chase each other.
A brown and grey mule lumbers forward, its head bowed as the wizard brings the cart to a halt. The cart rocks on four rubber tyres. Its sides are painted in garish daubs of blue and gold.
Engulfed by dusty blue robes, the wizard drops down from the cart, reaches behind his seat, and pulls on a blue point hat. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he booms. “I am the Great Alfonso. They call me the Wizard of the Wasteland.”
Abel joins the edge of the crowd as Pip sniffs around behind him, unconcerned by the new arrival. He looks around as people step aside for Sal. She moves past him and through the crowd to speak to the wizard, her dreadlocks hanging loose from her hooded robe behind her.
“My good lady, am I correct in assuming that you are the Sal these good people have been talking about?” the wizard asks.
“That's right,” says Sal, folding her arms. “And you are?”
The wizard removes his hat with a flourish and bows his head in a single, fluid motion. His skin is darker than Sal's, his hair an explosion of twisted curls, streaked in black and grey. He raises his bloodshot, yellow-tinged eyes and meets Sal’s gaze. “Madam, if you please. I am sure my reputation precedes me. I am the Wizard of the Wasteland.” He lifts his chin, offering her a toothy smile as he spreads his arms wide. “I am the magnificent, the splendiferous, the incomparable, Great Alfonso.”
Sal shakes her head, letting the silence hang in the air for a long, awkward moment. “Sorry, I've never heard of you.” She examines his cart, running her fingers along the whorls of paint. “Are you a trader?” she asks, turning to him.
“Yes, yes,” the wizard says, raising his voice and a finger. “But more.” He smiles again and sweeps his gaze across the gathered faces. “What I offer is the wonder of the Great Alfonso's magical extravaganza.” He thrusts his arms out.
Abel smirks as a few titters spread behind him.
“Magical what?” asks Sal.
“What I have for you today, ladies and gentlemen, is the culmination of many years of tireless research into the arcane arts of magic and alchemy, glimpses into our once great past, now long lost to dust.” The wizard reaches down to the soil, grabs a handful, and lets it fall between his fingers.
“I still don't understand,” says Sal.
“My good lady, you strike me as an intelligent and learned woman, which is why I will ask you to be my first volunteer.”
She looks around and shrugs. “Okay.”
She makes a face as the wizard moves around the side of his cart, unbolting a series of locks. An oak panel swings down on a pair of hinges, bouncing for a moment against its supporting ropes as it rests perpendicular to the cart's side.
The onlookers move in closer as the wizard arranges apparent pieces of junk along a series of shelves — an ancient television set with a curved grey glass screen and wooden casing, a fish tank, a hand generator in black and brass, and a toy car.
The wizard lifts the toy car from the shelf, its red paint faded to a cloudy pink along its edges. He takes a metal key from a pocket inside his robe and makes a show of putting it into the back of the car. “This,” he declares, “is an ancient and magical key. With this key, I can bring power to this otherwise inanimate object.” He places the car flat on the panel and winds the key, the mechanism clicking and crunching with each turn. The wizard mutters an incantation, closes his eyes, and wriggles his fingers over the toy. He lets go, smiling as it shoots forward, hurtling over the edge before landing in a clump of soft grass. A few people clap their hands.
“Thank you, thank you. You are all most gracious,” the wizard says, lowering his head. “What you've seen here is just a mere hint, a mere glimmer of the extent of my magical powers.” He leans down and takes the car and wipes away the dust with the corner of his robe before placing it back on the shelf.
He takes something down, turns to the crowd, and raises a pair of binoculars above his head. “Behold! These magical eye lenses allow their user to see objects that are far away, as though they were right in front of your very eyes.” He hands the binoculars to Sal and shows her how to look through them, gesturing for her to point them towards the spherical form at the top of the water tower behind her.
A hush drops over the crowd as she looks through the lenses. “These are wonderful,” she says. “Where did you find these?”
“That, madam, is a secret.” The wizard taps a forefinger against his nose. “Please, pass those round, let the other members of your wonderful community experience this glimpse into the possibilities of alchemy and magic.”
People take turns looking through the lenses. Abel smiles at the gasps of awe and the occasional burst of laughter. When they reach him, he looks through the lenses and focuses on the wizard rifling around one of the shelves. He looks down at a tug to his elbow. A kid jumps up and down with eager excitement, clapping his hands and staring at the binoculars. He hands them to the boy, takes a moment to show him what to do, and turns his attention back to the wizard.
“As you will observe,” the wizard says, holding up a light bulb, “this is a simple globe of glass. I would offer to hand this round, so you can witness for yourselves my ingenious design. But, because the magic is so powerful and so very dangerous, I will instead ask that you all take a few paces backwards to give me room to perform this most incredible and delicate of spells.”
He places the light bulb on the panel and checks the wires are connected to the hand generator. He steps over to the dynamo and mutters an incantation with a raised chin and half-closed eyes. Smiling to the crowd, he winds the handle.
A low hum and the sharp crackle of electricity emanate from the generator as he turns the handle. A scattering of gasps spread around the wizard as the light bulb glows a brownish-yellow. “As you can see, with this ancient magic, I have created fire within this glass. I'm sure you will agree that this might be the most marvellous, magnificent, magical accomplishment you have ever had the good fortune to witness.”
He stops abruptly, sweeping his gaze across the faces of the crowd, now rapt. He raises his right forefinger with a sudden jerk. “Oh, but there is more.” He makes a dramatic turn, his robes billowing in an expanse of dusty blue.
The crowd moves forward with tiny, hesitant steps as they strain to get a closer look. The wizard disconnects the wires from the light bulb, places it in a pot filled with cloths on the middle shelf, and then connects the wires to the television. He turns back to the crowd, spreading his arms wide. “I must ask again that you take a few steps back. This is very ancient and powerful magic. What I am about to show you is the most amazing sight. Where are the magical lenses?” He waits a few moments for the binoculars to return to him. He looks through them, smiles again, and places them on a shelf. “With those lenses, you were able to make objects far away seem as though they are close enough to touch. Using the same principles, I have devised and constructed a magical box that allows you to see over great distances to lands to the west, beyond the edges of the wastes.”
He reaches for the hand generator and cranks the handle again. The belt hums, crackling and sparking as the smell of burning rubber fills the air. He leans over to the television set, mutters a spell, pushes a button, and keeps turning the handle.
White noise hisses from the television's speaker as the screen comes to life in a random array of white, blacks, and greys — a dead signal. “As you can see, ladies and gentlemen, what we are witnessing is a window into another land, another land shrouded in —what is it?” He tilts his head and rubs his chin. “A dust storm, perhaps?” He drops the handle and turns to the audience with a dramatic shrug.
The white noise drops to silence, the screen fading to black. The gathered crowd applauds. The wizard makes a deep bow. “Thank you, thank you. You are all too kind.”
“What I am about to show you now may be my greatest miracle, the pinnacle of my magical achievements.” His face drops to a grim expression. “I warn you all that this is ancient and powerful magic and urge you again to stand back.” He reaches up to the fish tank on the top shelf and takes it down, placing it carefully on the flat panel.
He reaches into the tank and pulls out a green frog, holding it up by one leg for the audience to see, its body squirming as its free leg flails wildly. Stepping over to Sal, he dangles the frog before her. “Madam, please do me the honour of telling the members of your wonderful community what you see before you.”
“It's just a frog,” she says.
“It's just a frog,” the wizard repeats. “Never has a truer phrase been uttered. So you will agree that this is a living, breathing frog? You agree there is no trickery, no shenanigans? It is, as you say, 'just a frog'?”
She nods, looking around. “As I say, it's just a frog.”
Without ceremony, he swings the frog in a downward arc, smacking its body against the panel. He waits with his back to the crowd for several seconds and then raises the frog's lifeless body for all to see. “As you will observe, the life of this frog has been taken.”
He turns his attention back to Sal. “Madam, would you like to take a moment to examine this frog, assure the ladies and gentlemen gathered that this is the same frog?”
“You killed one of God’s creatures,” she says, shaking her head. “I wouldn't call that magic.”
“And you would be correct in that most astute of observations,” he says, giving a slight bow. “There is no magic in killing a frog, but as much as it pains me to do it, as much as it pains me to take the life of an innocent creature, it is unfortunately a necessary component of the Great Alfonso's most important magical discovery.”
The crowd looks on in silence as the wizard lays the frog flat. He takes the wires from the television, attaches the crocodile clips to the frog's torso, and mutters the words of a magic spell, making complex shapes and symbols in the air with his fingers. He turns to the crowd, gives a solemn look, removes his hat, and gives a deep bow. “Observe,” he says, looking up, his voice little more than a whisper. He steps over to the generator and turns the handle, building up a rhythm until the belt hums again.
The frog's right leg twitches. The wizard winds the handle faster, smiling when the frog begins to convulse, its arms and legs quivering spasmodically. Dropping the handle, he places his hat back on his head and turns to the audience, triumphant. “As you have seen, ladies and gentlemen, the Great Alfonso has brought this frog back from the dead.”
He turns back to the frog, now limp, and drops it into the fish tank. He faces the crowd, taking in the applause. “Thank you.”
A few men shake their heads and walk away. Children run over to the wizard, jumping up and down as they ask him questions. The wizard closes his cart.
Abel weaves through the crowd, making his way over to Sal. “What did you make of that?” he asks.
“He’s clearly a charlatan.”
“Yep. But he certainly knows how to put on a good show.”
“It's just technology from before the end times,” she says. “There's no magic to it.” Her eyes narrow as she watches a few residents leading the wizard’s mule away to be fed and watered.
“I know,” says Abel, rubbing his beard. “But you got to admit, pretty fascinating stuff.”
A frown spreads across Sal's face. “You're not seduced by this fraudster are you?”
“I'm intrigued,” he says, shrugging. “It's been a long time since I’ve seen anything with real electricity.”
Sal nods. “Perhaps.”
A tall lean man with pale skin and dark hair wanders over. “Jacob,” says Abel, dipping his head in greeting.
“You look healthy. I take it you're still keeping clean?” Jacob asks.
“Yep. I'm a full-time trader now, no plez for me.”
Jacob nods and turns to Sal. “What's the plan for this guy?”
Sal shakes her head and sighs. “I don't know. The residents are clearly taken with him. Might cause friction if we ask him to leave.”
Jacob casts a cursory glance towards the wizard then nods his agreement. “What do you say? We treat him like any other trader and hope he goes by the morning.”
“I don't trust him,” says Sal.
“Come on, Sal,” Abel says. “It's hard out there. He’s surviving. It's different, I'll grant you, but he's not raiding, or dealing. He looks like he's probably clean.”
She raises her hands. “Okay, you're probably right. But I still don't like it. This promotion of magic and mysticism doesn't sit well with me.”
“Just a different kind of magic to what you’re used to. You've got God, this guy's got...” Abel's voice trails off at the sight of Sal’s glare.
“He can stay for breakfast, but then I want him gone,” she says, turning to Jacob. “Hopefully, we'll see the back of him.”
The communal hall rattles with the noise of chatter and movement. Abel takes a tin plate from a pile being passed along the central table. The plate has a blue rim. Occasional chips in the enamel expose the tin beneath. He sits at the end of a long pine bench. Jacob takes a seat to his right, handing him a clay cup.
Abel passes the plates along to Sal. She sits to his left, leaning back on a chair at the head of the table. Pip rests against the front of his legs, warming his feet with her body heat. The wizard vaults the seat across from him.
Abel takes a boiled egg from a tray and watches with anticipation as fresh slices of bread make their way towards him. “Where are you from?” he asks, smiling at the wizard.
The wizard gives half-shrug. “My travels take me far and wide.”
“You ever been by the Grid?”
“The Grid?” The wizard pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yes. I went there once, had half my stuff stolen.”
“Yep. That’s about right.” Abel takes two slices of bread when the tray reaches him, drops them on his plate, and cracks open the boiled egg, its orange yolk soft and steaming.
“Where do you get the items for your show?” Sal asks.
The wizard shuffles in his seat, raising his chin. “Many years of exploration, painstaking research, and alchemical experimentation.” He makes a wide gesture with his hands. “Understanding the ways of the ancients, understanding the inner workings of magic is something I've made my life's work.”
Jacob gives an incredulous smirk. “You may have most people believing what you do is magic. That's fine. You're a showman. I get it.” He raises a silencing hand when the wizard poises to speak. “You've obviously found a haul of technology from before the end days and worked out how to use it for your little show.”
The wizard gets to his feet. “I have never...”
“Sit down,” Jacob snaps. “You can eat with us and trade, or you can leave now. Either works for me.”
The wizard hesitates, drops to his seat, picks up a slice of bread, and pouts.
“Jacob, please,” says Sal. “That's no way to speak to our guest.”
Jacob nods and raises his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “You're right.” He turns to the wizard, offering a handshake. “Great Alfonso, if that is your real name, please accept my apologies.”
“Of course. I understand that my work can sometimes leave some people feeling...” the wizard hesitates, reaching for the word. “Uncomfortable.”
“My issue is that you've found this important technology, the ability to generate electricity, but instead of doing something for the betterment of everyone, you waste your time on a frivolous magic show.”
The wizard gets to his feet again, grabs another slice of bread, stuffs it into his mouth, and storms out, his dusty blue robe flapping behind him as he leaves.
“What did you do that for?” asks Sal, her lips pursed.
“He is only walking away because I told him the harsh truth.”
Abel turns, leans away from Jacob, and rests on his left elbow. “I've got a lot of respect for you, Jacob, but Sal's right. You say what that wizard guy does is frivolous, that it's not for the betterment of others, yet I saw the faces of the people watching. There's not much in this damn world to smile about. You've got your God, but a flesh and blood man showed these people something real, something miraculous.”
Jacob sniffs. “It's just old technology. There's nothing magical about it.”
“It doesn't need to be magical. It's still something marvellous. I feel sad for you that you can't see that.” Abel stands and turns to Sal. “Are we okay to go to the trading house? I need to get on the road.” Pip jumps to her feet, her tail wagging.
“You ready, girl?” He leans down and pats Pip’s back.
The trading house stands dark and musty. A cocktail of smells hang in the air: old clothes, damp leather, paraffin, and bread. Abel's eyes adjust slowly to the candlelit gloom. He walks around tables scattered with shoes and clothes, car parts and cutlery. He steps over to a sagging table piled high with books, scanning the familiar titles. “Anything new?”
Sal shakes her head and folds her arms. Pip sniffs around the bottom of her robes. Sal looks down, smiling.
Abel leaves his backpack on a table, reaches inside, and takes out a few office supplies: a pencil and a ruler. He reaches farther and pulls out a copy of the New Testament. “I remember you saying you'd offer me top trade if I ever found any Bibles,” he says, handing her the book.
“This is in wonderful condition,” she says, turning the leather-bound volume in her hands, its embossed gold title flashing against the candlelight.
“Yep.” He walks around the tables, examining the goods. He picks up a child’s doll, pink and naked and grimy around the fingers and toes, its hair a tangle of matted blonde. He shakes his head and puts the doll back. “I've not seen anything great around here to trade though. I don't think I'd be able to carry the amount of tins I could get for this.”
Sal nods. “There is something that came in. A piece of old technology, something electrical.”
“What am I going to do with something electrical?”
“This is different,” she says. “You'll see.” She opens the door at the far-end of the room, hidden by shadows, and emerges a few seconds later holding a black cylindrical object, a little longer than the length of her palm.
Abel takes it, feeling its coldness and weight. There's a glass lens at one end, and a handle at the other. “What does it do?”
Sal takes the object and winds the handle. A broad grin passes over her face, illuminated by yellow torchlight.
Abel's jaw drops. “How?”
“You think this will be enough for the Bible?”
“Yep. Throw in a few tins, and you've got yourself a deal.”
Sal flicks through the Bible's pages again, smiles, and shakes her head. “Fine, fine. You win.” She walks over to a pile of unlabelled food cans. Taking four tins, she drops them into Abel's backpack. “What are you going to do now?” she asks.
He shrugs. “Get back on the road, I guess. Head back east.” He swings the backpack onto his shoulders and adjusts the straps. “Hopefully, I won't bump into anyone from the Family again.”
“You’re past that part of your life.” She places a hand on his shoulder.
“It's still hard though. It never leaves you.”
Sal offers a gloomy smile as she leans forward for a hug. “You look after yourself, and look after this one.” She gestures to Pip.
“Thanks, Sal.” He pats his thigh, makes a clicking sound with the side of his mouth, and heads to the door. “Come on, girl.”
2. The Family
Abel heads east along the highway. He pulls his cap low over his eyes, protecting them from the dazzling sunlight. There's a stillness in the air, a dryness. Pip runs on ahead, sniffing along the warped central barrier, its surface barnacled in rust and lichen. The highway slopes down for miles, swooping in gentle waves towards the distant smudge of the city.
He passes wrecked cars and dead trees, his footsteps softened by the thick moss and gnarled green roots extending along the asphalt. Gaunt pines make way for lush oaks, poplars, and apple trees. To his right the ground slopes down to form a steep embankment. He glimpses a greyish-white flicker through the trees. He pats his thigh, calls out for Pip, and stands at the highway's edge looking down at the backend of a wrecked truck.
He scrambles down the embankment, his balance shifting against loose stones as they tumble to the ground below. He steadies himself with his hand as his left foot slips beneath him. Pip runs down the bank with ease and sniffs along the truck's half-deflated tyres.
Reaching the bottom, Abel wipes his brow, removes his cap, and looks around. He listens for movement. Trees cast shadows like twisted fingers reaching from the top of the embankment behind him. A square of flat concrete lies cracked and obscured by stains and trailing vegetation. He steps over to a pile of broken branches and bits of plastic and crouches to look. He shakes away some of the brownish-grey dust, moving the branches aside, as dried strips of grey fungus drift to the ground.
Pip pokes her head between Abel's right arm and torso, sniffs at the wood, then turns, and licks his face. He laughs then wobbles backwards, losing his balance for a moment.
Pip jumps back a few steps, bows, and rests her forelegs against the ground. She gives a playful growl and jerks to her feet.
“You want to play?” Abel asks. “Do you? Do you?” He pats the ground with his right hand, then his left. Pip runs forward and pushes her wet nose against his fingers.
Taking a stick from the pile of wood and plastic, he gets up and holds it just out of Pip's reach. He lets her run around him in circles and moves the stick out of her way every time she leaps to grab it with her teeth.
“Nearly,” he taunts. “So close.”
Pip's panting. Abel's grinning. She runs in a loop, charges towards him, feints to the right, then jumps up, and grabs the stick. She twists the branch from his hands and shakes her head with a frantic, flailing movement. Pip flops to her belly and gnaws on the branch with the side of her mouth, lumps of wood and drool dropping around her.
Abel gets to his feet, brushes his hands together and tickles Pip behind her ear. He turns his attention to the truck. He finds the cabin’s passenger door locked, so he goes around the other side and climbs onto a rusted footplate to pull the door handle. He staggers backwards when the handle snaps off.
“Damn it,” he grunts. He steps away, scratching his head. Looking around, he drops his backpack to the ground and considers the cabin's broken windows. He pulls himself up onto the step, and makes sure there's no broken glass poking through the perished rubber seal around the window. Taking a deep breath, he pulls himself up, his feet scrambling against the door for purchase. With a sigh, he drops back to the ground. Sweat seeps from his forehead and the back of his neck. He wipes his hands, spits on them and rubs them together. Pip looks up at him for a moment then continues splitting the branch, holding it down with one paw as she tears off the bark with her long front teeth.
Abel walks around to the other side of the cabin. Grunting, he pulls himself up, his arms trembling as they take his weight. The truck groans against its suspension when he finally heaves himself into the cabin. He coughs as a cloud of dust explodes from a bench seat, its upholstered cover damp and blackened by mould. A cluster of silverfish scatter. He flips open the glovebox, freeing it from crumbling hinges.
Curling his lip, he looks around for somewhere to put the glovebox cover, its surface sticky against his fingertips. He places it on the seat next to him and checks inside the glovebox to find it empty.
He looks under the seat, wrinkling his nose at the death-stench of rotting silverfish. There's an ancient food wrapper and a few slivers of paper: nothing useful. A cockroach flickers its wings.
Abel sighs, catches sight of Pip in the wing mirror, and raises an eyebrow. He leans forward, examining the mirror. He pulls the door lock, but nothing happens. Frowning, he slides back out of the window and moans as his weight crushes against his belly. He drops to the ground on his feet, staggers, brushes himself off, and looks up at the wing mirror. A thin layer of dust coats its surface. Speckles of rust creep through the glass in the top-left corner, the remaining glass clear. He reaches up and lets the mirror’s bracket take his weight until it bends and snaps free.
Smiling, he walks over to his backpack and opens the top flap. He takes a cloth from a sidepocket, wraps it around the mirror, and drops the bundle inside the main compartment. A gust of wind scoops up a whirlwind of dust and rattles the branches around him.
He makes his way around the truck's rear and tries the shutters. They don't budge. He shifts his weight against them, pushing upwards. “Come on,” he says through gritted teeth.
He looks down. Pip’s tail wags. “Not now,” he says. He tries again, strains against the resistance for a long moment, and drops to his knees, exhausted. “Damn it.”
Defeated and panting, he looks up at the shutters, and tugs at his beard. He lets out a long sigh and shoulders his backpack. “Come on, girl,” he says, patting his thigh. “Let's go.”
Pip bolts up the embankment then looks down at Abel from the highway, her tongue drooping from the side of her mouth. Abel grips at exposed tree roots and pulls himself up.
At the top of the bank, he crouches on one knee to get his breath back. He pats Pip on her back and follows the line of the road, shifting his gaze towards the city.
Wind rustles through the trees around him. He pulls up his collar.
There’s nothing of use in the ancient car shells dotted along the road. He spots movement ahead and hides behind a twisted thorn bush. “Come in, girl,” he says in a loud whisper.
Pip raises her head, her ears twitching. Abel watches her and then watches the dot of movement in the distance. “What is it, girl?”
He gets up and grips his hunting knife inside his jacket. He walks towards the movement with hesitant steps. As he draws close, the shape of a person comes into focus. He scans the hillside to the left, sweeping for signs of more movement, signs of a trap. The man spasms with agitated jerks.
Pip moves along the road with a raised tail, her ears erect and pointed like a jackal’s. He follows her lead, making himself visible. Pip lies down ahead, watching.
When he catches up to her, he crouches and strokes her back. “What do you think, girl? Shall we look?” He pats her side and gets to his feet on creaking knees.
The man ahead wears blue, his clothes billowing with the wind. Abel approaches, one hand gripping his knife and the other fingering his pistol. As he moves closer, the man looks up. His skin is dark, his eyes bloodshot. “It's you.”
Abel offers a smile and takes his hand away from his knife. “The Great Alfonso,” he says.
“What do you want?” the wizard asks.
Abel shakes his head and raises his hands. “Just saying hello. Nothing to worry about.”
“What's your dog doing?”
Abel looks around. Pip sniffs at the wizard's cart, stationary at the roadside. “She's just taking a look. She's friendly.”
“Yeah?” The wizard moves over to his cart and crouches next to the nearest back wheel with his back to Abel.
The wizard shrugs. “Wheel's snagging. Nothing I can do about it.”
“Your voice is different.”
There's a long pause and the wizard stiffens. He doesn't look around and doesn't respond.
“It's okay,” Abel says. “You're a showman. I get it.”
The wizard turns, narrows his eyes, and makes a show of sizing Abel up. “You come to preach at me too?”
“Nope. Is that why you left?”
The wizard nods. “That guy was getting under my skin, man.”
“Yep,” Abel agrees. “Jacob can be a bit prickly, but they're good people.”
“Yeah?”The wizard pushes himself to his feet and leans with his back against the cart. “Why you sticking up for them?”
Abel shrugs. “They were the only ones who were there for me when I was sick. It's a good place to trade, get food. They even put traders up for the night.”
“They didn't offer to put me up for the night,” the wizard says, folding his arms.
“I don’t think you gave them a chance.”
“They were hostile, man.”
“I think you scared them with your show.”
The wizard scoffs. “Yeah?”
The wizard’s mule takes a step backwards as Pip sniffs at its nose.
“You just running with that dog?” the wizard asks, walking over to his mule.
“Yep.” Abel looks at Pip and smiles.
The wizard strokes the mule’s mane and waves Pip away. “What are you?”
Abel gives the wizard a bemused look. “What do you mean?”
“You a trader?” The wizard narrows his eyes. “A dealer?”
“Definitely not a dealer,” he says, shaking his head. “I find things, trade them. Books, stuff from before.”
The wizard nods. “You know about books and things?”
“I know when I see a book I can trade.”
“No, man, can you read the words?”
Abel scratches his beard and nods. “Yep.”
The wizard raises his eyebrows, pushes out his bottom lip, and nods to himself. “That's good, man,” he says, patting the mule’s side. “You ever teach anyone?”
“It's a dead skill. You're lucky, man.” The wizard's eyes brighten. “You should read to people, travel the roads. You’d get some good stuff in trade.”
Abel shakes his head. “I've been reading again for less than a year. Not sure I could stand in front of a crowd and do it.”
“Man, if I could read, I'd do that. I'd do my show, read stories from before. People would love that.”
“That's not me.”
“Man, if we worked together, we could make a great show.”
Abel shrugs. “Not for me,” he says.
“That's too bad.” The wizard walks back round the side of his cart. “You seem alright.”
Abel approaches the cart and runs his fingers along the swirls of blistering paint. “Ever thought about doing more?”
Abel pats his hand against the cart's side. “You've got some great things here. I bet you could do so much with the things you know. Things with electricity. I got this.” He reaches into his jacket, takes out the wind-up torch, and turns the handle. “You've got something like this. I bet if we could find the right stuff, the right books, we could make things better.”