Repairs in the Wasteland
by Luc Reid
A harsh wind buffeted him as he emerged from the hut, a squat, stone structure without windows. All around him the wasteland stretched, black rock in sharp ridges pocked with sulfurous pits that steamed and smoked, stretching into the distance, mile after desolate mile. The sun, barely risen, glowered red through the haze.
He set down a clanking leather satchel of tools and set off across the rocks with a pair of old wooden buckets. These he carried across the wasteland for most of an hour to a pit where he filled both with steaming tar. Then he carried them laboriously back to the hut.
At the hut he used worn tools to scrape out sections of the walls that were crumbling and refill them with carefully-fitted stones chipped from a nearby outcropping. Wth brushes long congealed stiff, he plastered tar over new stonework and cracks. He worked methodically, scrutinizing every square inch.
The work went slowly. Twice more he trekked out to the tar pit and hauled back his buckets, heavy and steaming. By the time he was finished, the sun was beginning to set. He was exhausted, dusty, aching with cold, and smeared all over with tar, but the hut was as perfect as he could make it and wouldn’t need his attention again for a month or so. Gratefully, he gathered his tools, lifted his buckets, pried open the door, and ducked back inside.
The interior was larger. A startled shriek of “Daddy!” frightened gem-colored birds out of the bushes. His wife and three children ran to him along the riverbank, made colorful by the purple and orange and golden sunset over the distant hills. The children had been picking fruit, and from over a fire nearby he smelled some kind of forest bird roasting.
His daughter and young sons threw their arms around him when they reached him, ignoring his commands not to get themselves dirty. His wife leaned over them and kissed him on the lips. “How is it?” she said.
“Still pretty solid,” he murmured to her. “It will last for some time yet, I think.” Then he reached down to hug the children, but they were already chasing each other through the trees in some new game.