My favorite game is Swoop and Catch. It's like catch,
except you need a friend or your dad or somebody to throw the ball so you
can catch it when you play just plain catch. I don't have any friends and
my dad's dead so I play alone. I have a favorite place I play Swoop and
Catch in, an old building that's far enough away from Bad Zones that it's
okay for me to play there - I checked it with our ‘counter myself. Teacher
says the Bad Zones were caused by Nukes. People get sick and die if they
go in the Bad Zones. That's why my dad died, because he went too close
to a Bad Zone. He's much too smart to go into a Bad Zone, except the batteries
in his ‘counter got weak and he didn't know. I don't know exactly what
Nukes are, or why they blew, but I know I don't like them because they
killed my dad last year and lots and lots of other people years ago.
The building I play in has a central paved yard in it, open to the sky. If you shout in there your voice echoes off the walls really loudly. I do that sometimes when I'm sad and it makes me feel better. I throw my ball from up high in the yard, and it goes bouncing off the walls and the pavement, back and forth, up and down. My ball bounces really high. It makes a loud sound sort of like, ‘PONNNG!' when it bounces. My game is to throw it so it bounces a couple times and then I swoop down to catch the ball and then zip back up near the roof again. It's fun except when it bounces into an open window and I have to go find it in there. The upper stories are easier because there's more light from the yard. Sometimes it takes awhile to find the ball after it goes into a window closer to the ground.
The day before my adventure I did a lot of shouting and listening to the echoes when I first got there. That's because I overheard my mom arguing with Mr. Greaves the night before. Mr. Greaves' loud voice woke me up. Mom was pleading with him to let us stay in town. He said we weren't doing our share now that my dad is gone. Mom was crying too.
I know he really wanted to get rid of us because he doesn't like me. You see, I'm Different from other folks. Oh, sure, other people have Differences too. Like Jimmy Johnson who has extra fingers and toes. I'm more Different, though, because I can fly. I'm not sure why that makes me more different, but it does. Tommy and other kids call me Freak, Bird-brain, or other bad names and won't play with me any more now that I can fly.
I got tired of playing after awhile so I just sat on a corner of the roof and enjoyed the view and thought about how mom and I could stay in Bakerville instead of having to go find someplace else to live. There aren't very many people left in the world any more, and lots of the ones that are left and live in other places are really nasty. Living in Bakerville isn't much like Teacher says people used to live, but lots of the people who live in Bakerville say it's still about the best place around for people to raise a family together. I decided the best thing would be if I could go collect scrap metal like dad used to do. Dad talked a lot about his work so I know all about what's junk and what's good to bring back for barter. I think dad hoped I'd be going with him in the wagon when he went collecting once I got bigger, but he died before I was big enough for him to feel safe taking me along. I know mom would ground me if I talked to her about this, so I had to leave without telling her after she went to work in the morning. I decided I'd just do a day trip, but that meant I had to skip Teacher's lesson that day to have enough time. He only teaches us in the mornings, but it's interesting stuff mostly and I really enjoy it. Oh, well, there will be other days to take the lessons if I bring back good things and mom and I don't have to move.
Right after breakfast I put some things in my packsack and wrote Mom a note. I knew I wanted to search in the mountains. It's pretty rough travel on the ground, but that's no problem for me. Being rough ground means not many other people will have gone there, and I'd have a better chance of finding good things to bring back. I took our ‘counter with me so I could make sure I didn't go into any Bad Zones and bring back things that have too many rads in them.
When I'm just going in a straight line I can get going pretty fast so the mountains grew from a thin blue line on the horizon into hills and valleys of trees in just a couple hours. Then I slowed down and zigged back and forth, slowly moving uphill. I found buildings around noon, in a part of a valley where it spread out and got more level. I landed on a flat-roofed building, had a bite to eat and a closer look around. It didn't look like anyone had been there for a long time. Brush and trees had grown up all around the buildings so much it was sometimes hard to pick out where the buildings were. Even up close the ‘counter showed Safe.
After eating I dipped into the open store-fronts until I found a hardware store. The roof had partly collapsed but the back of the store was still okay. When I flew through the door to the back room the smell hit me like a slap in the face. Sour, musty, hard to breathe: animal. I shone my flashlight around and saw tons of metal in shelves and boxes. I couldn't see or hear any movement. Maybe they'd be gone long enough for me to fill my pack and get out.
I picked up a couple boxes of bolts and flew back to my pack. Then back for two more boxes. After loading the four in the pack it looked like room for only two more. As I flew into the back room in the hardware I heard a deafening roar. I saw this huge bear rushing toward me - on top of the shelves! With the ceiling so close there was no room to fly away. I darted around and around and up and down, with the bear following. Then I saw the door at the back of the building that the bear uses and darted through. A second later the bear came out the door too and slid to a stop below me. I just hung there panting in the air as the bear paced around and made lots of noises while he looked up at me. After I calmed down a bit I decided to lead the bear away, dipping down around the trees. Here I had room so I wasn't in any real danger. I'm much faster than the bear. After about a mile I flew up into the air and back to the building, through the door and grabbed two more boxes, and kept on going out the front.
Once back on the roof where my pack was I just sat and shook for awhile. I was so tired I could hardly lift my arm to wipe my face. Finally I started to feel a little better, so I put the last two boxes into the pack, but the pack was too heavy to lift! I'd risked my neck for nothing! Hmm. The boxes seemed very light before. When I grabbed the boxes in the bear's den I was flying, not standing like now. It must have something to do with flying! Pushing with all my strength I managed to slide the pack to the edge of the roof. I carefully sat it there as I flew off the edge of the building and strapped in. Now the pack seemed light as a feather.
Mom was waiting for me when I got home, and so were Mr. Greaves and others. Once Mom calmed down, I noticed Mr. Greaves had the boxes out of my pack. Mr. Greaves said, "Peter, if you can bring metal to the town like this all the time, your Mom and you can stay."
Then Tommy said, "If you can carry a heavy pack, can you carry me?" I guess I'm not so much of a freak any more.