Three days passed and nothing presented itself as an opportunity for breaking in the spiked club. The community was an unspoiled haven for the five who had been starving for months without any semblance of security. Between a couch and a variety of chairs sat a table adorned with a chess board. The survivors rested. James had asked if anyone wanted to play but the group was content to read, no one knew how to play save Abal and James, and if learning meant getting nagged by the self proclaimed master they were not interested. So the five sat in a circle with their books, but two were not focused on their literature. Tyler was not reading, occasionally he would turn a page, but Abal noticed that his eyes were not following the words, just focused between the pages.
“I’m going upstairs to decide which food we should eat first, even though its all lasted this long it will go bad eventually,” Abal said as she stood up.
James put his book down, “You want some help with that, could take all night alone.”
“Yeah sure,” Abal nodded, “Tyler you want to come help me?”
Through his daze he was aware that his name had been called and Tyler looked around to find out who wanted what.
“Over here buddy, do you want to help me upstairs?”
Tyler shrugged and stood up. Even though the day was little more than half over the group was not going back outside. Clouds covered the sky, it was not cold enough to snow but ice cold raindrops were rapidly painting the soil a darker shade. So the three sat and they read, in the twenty some years of Max’s life he had never been a book person. When he met Paco the amount of printed word he took in increased slightly because his burly friend would have Max reading newspaper and magazine articles. Paco had been up to date on current events and at least once a month found something that he thought his literature deprived friend needed to see. Max appreciated the sentiment and on occasion he enjoyed the pieces Paco brought to him, but reading for pleasure or to pass the time never occurred to him. But reading to save his life, Max had never thought of it that way. James had taken care to find a book that had been popular, one he knew by name, and one that had very few if any metaphors or deeper meanings. The kind of book that English professors would scorn as an inferior piece of writing. James found a book for Max that was entertaining, and that had been the only criterion, because those were invariably the best. So Max sat and read and for a few minutes, a few moments, his mind was only concerned with what the next chapter would bring.
“You collect things that will expire this year and I’ll collect things that expire next year or later,” Abal ordered.
Tyler did not know what year it was and when he told Abal she held back a snicker before realizing that she had to think about it before answering.
“I talked to your brother the other night.”
“Oh,” Tyler continued collecting.
“He appreciates the books.”
“This is hard for him too.”
“He really really loves you.”
“Tyler!” Abal hissed.
“A few days ago you were all about getting to talk to your brother again and now you seem like you don’t care.”
“I do care, I just know what I’m going to do.” Tyler continued sorting, about one eighth of the pile was already around him.
“So you have a plan?”
“A new one?”
“You’re not disappointed that the books didn’t work out as you had hoped?”
“Of course I’m disappointed, but to keep thinking about that won’t do me any good.”
Sometimes Abal forgot that she was talking to a kid. Abal remembered why she had brought him up in the first place, “You know Tyler you might not need that second plan of yours.”
“Michael wants to things to be like before, he just doesn’t know how to start. It may surprise your brother is human too, no one’s a super hero.”
Abal realized as soon as she spoke the lesson she had thrown in was foolish. He knew his brother was human, he stood up to his brother and contradicted him, Tyler was no child looking blindly at an idol, just a young man who had lost a close friend.
“What I’m saying is he might be the one who starts talking.”
Tyler nodded and continued sorting, Abal had nothing left to say. When they finished Abal had two thirds of the sustenance on her side.
“What will we do with this?” Tyler held a box of spaghetti. They had found macaroni and pasta in almost every house that still had food.
“I guess we will have to start making fire,” Abal said, “But not tonight.”
Tyler nodded and placed the long rectangular piece of cardboard among its numerous fellows.
“We will have some warm food soon.”
“Guess so, it’ll be a nice change,” Tyler said and then smiled, “Thank you.” Abal returned the smile and they headed downstairs with an armful of what would be lunch.
The day was spent exploring the house and finding ways to keep the mind entertained. With some inspiration from Michael’s creation James decided he was going to switch up weapons, he thought the aluminum bat was too light and wanted some force behind his blows. Tyler gladly accepted the relinquished piece of baseball equipment and James searched the basement. A plethora of rusted implements awaited, after a half hour James became bored and picked up an iron pole. It was two feet and a couple inches long and had only a few patches of rust. James thought there might have been some sort of abandoned project because there was a stack of them in the corner of the basement. He only wanted a little practice swinging a weapon and getting a bit of a workout before continuing to look for a viable weapon. It was a half inch in diameter and James made sure to place his hands away from any sharp rusted parts. It felt like what James imagined a sword would feel like, maybe worse balance but the corrugated iron felt heavy and strong in his hands. After a minute James continued his search, but he kept the piece of metal in his hands.
“Why wouldn’t you just use a bat,” Max said. James was showing his desired weapon to the group, the pole with some rags wrapped with rubber bands on one end for his hands.
“This is stronger and, look. At. This.” James struggled to pull a metal file out of his pocket.
“What’s that,” Tyler asked.
But Abal recognized it, “Great, so you’re going to have a knife at the end of a stick, why not just get a knife and tape it to the end of a stick. Or better yet forget the stick and just take the knife.”
“I thought I would use it more like a spear.”
“And when was the last time you threw a spear?” Michael asked.
“Not to throw just to stab.”
“Yeah, like I said, an extended knife.”
“You know what, screw you guys, I’m going to make this work, I’ll take first watch by the way, I’m not tired and I’m going to work on this tonight so tomorrow you will see just how wrong you all are.”
“Okay you have first watch,” Abal said, “Don’t try and prove us wrong. I’m being serious. If you feel comfortable with what you have there use it, but don’t force yourself to use something just cause we were joking with you.”
“I feel comfortable.”
Abal nodded, “I’ll take second watch.”
James roused Abal from one of her few pleasant dreams. She and Michael and Christi were on a beach on the little lake. When she was out of the dream Abal realized how ridiculous the whole set up had been. Why Christi was there she had no clue, but the beach was a figment of her imagination. The dream lake only barely resembled the real lake, there were certainly no beaches on the real one. As the dream was starting to fade in Abal’s mind, she remembered that she wanted to ask James about his little project, but he was asleep or very nearly so. She crept downstairs and admired the moon from a window. The sky had cleared up and the giant orb hung over the lake, splashing light on the surrounding trees. The moon was full and Abal thought that no matter what happened on earth, it would continue around and around. The universe itself would continue without a care to the little speck of dust that was being consumed by the worst plague of its short existence. Abal tried to focus her mind on remedying the group’s problems, in particular the brothers’ separation. It all depended on how they treated each other, she thought for the most part she would let them be, but if the talk was small and the air felt like divorced parents at a forced reunion she would jump in. However her mind continued back to the state of the stars and their fate. Abal stared at the water, its beauty only worsening her foreboding, the off white light shining through the leaves as they floated to the ground. The gleam rippled with the movement of the water and it illuminated the shore. When Abal was focused on where the water met the land she spotted a silhouette against the water. The pace was uneven and the head lolled ever so slightly from side to side. It stopped for a moment and watched something on the ground, then with a sudden leap the humanoid was upon the dirt and scrambled after a small animal. The mammal ran up a tree and for a moment the viral gripped and rubbed and pulled on the bark. Then sat down as if content to watch the tree. The body tilted to one side then finally collapsed entirely, and there it stayed, waiting for its little morsel of nutrition.
Abal thought about waking up everybody but figured that it would not do any good considering they would just be awake and have to continue to wait for daylight to do anything. In a few hours she would wake Max, tell him what was going on and try to get some more rest herself. Abal was wide awake, her fears of the universe and the pitiful state of humanity left her, she was only concerned with dealing with the viral. They had finally started to fall into a day to day routine. Now there was this creature that came along just to ruin the set up, Abal tried to calm her breathing, she did not feel tired, but soon she would have to try to get a few hours of rest. Abal shut her eyes and hoped there was only one, she listened for the sounds of hunting.
Michael had the last watch. He sat on Tyler’s bed, watching the door for his entire shift. When the sun started to rise Michael tapped his brother’s shoulder. Tyler shifted back and forth on his back then blinked his eyes open and sat up. The brothers spent a minute in silence. Michael stood up from the bed and extended a hand to Tyler and pulled him off the bed. Michael lowered himself to one knee, wrapped his arms around Tyler, and hugged his brother. Tyler hugged him back.
Early morning light was easing its way into the house. Tyler sat on the top step watching the house below him and tried to ignore the light voices a few steps behind him. If he had been a different kid in a different time he may have tried to eavesdrop, but Tyler was aware that his job was not just busy work meant to keep him away from the adults. He would either be told what they were talking about or he would see the final plan first hand. Michael passed by Tyler on the staircase clutching his bat while Abal tapped the boy on the shoulder and held a finger to her lips. Tyler nodded and followed behind Max at the end of the line. Abal looked out the window she had pondered the universe from the previous night, she saw nothing. Abal shook her head towards the group and with Michael in the lead they continued to the front door. There were five weapons between the members, Michael had his special bat and his pistol, Abal the ax, Max a bat, and James had a hammer. His spear was not ready. Tyler was unarmed. Only Michael and Abal approached the door, the other three remained at the foot of the stairs. After setting her ax aside Abal prepared to open the door with one hand, and with the other she held up three fingers. Two fingers. One finger. She pulled the door and ducked behind it, Michael was ready to swing but there was no need. There was nothing waiting on the porch and the survivors soon secured the position. The four survivors moved as a tight square with Tyler at the rear. He held onto Abal’s shirt and kept his head over his shoulder, making sure nothing snuck up on them. The street curved away in both direction, there was nothing visible. After Michael was sure that there was no immediate danger he started leading the group toward the water. The houses were all about the same distance from the water creating a lane of vision for the survivors. The trees were sparse and the ones present had few leaves, James tugged on Max’s shirt and pointed towards the house two doors down on his side. A short, chubby viral, clad only in jeans, was close to the building, walking toward the water. The group oriented itself in the proper direction, Michael left at a fast jog followed closely by Max. The other three went back to back and held their position. Michael was only focused on the viral ahead of him while his back up was checking left and right constantly. Twenty feet away from his target Michael began to slow down. The infected human turned its head at the sound of rustling leaves, when it caught sight of Michael it whipped around and tried to run towards the attacker. The viral had taken two steps when Michael decided it was in range and swung his bat. The nail closet to the butt of the bat hit only air, the second one caught the flesh of the check and some bone, not doing much damage. The nail furthest from Michael was out of sight, completely embedded in the skull. The force from the swing drove the viral into the ground and Michael hastily pulled his bat free from the head of the viral. The three standing back to back hurried over the recent kill once they got the go ahead.
“All clear over there,” Michael whispered.
“Yeah, but this isn’t the one I saw last night,” Abal’s voice was as quiet as Michael’s.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, he is too fat.”
Now Michael whispered to Max, “Does that look like one of the one’s that was chasing you with your old group?”
“I don’t recognize him,” Max responded.
“Best case scenario we have one left, lets find it.”
The team formed up again behind Michael and walked back to the road in formation. The group walked wide circles around each house, after prowling around six houses the five turned around and headed back to their house. They followed the same procedure in the opposite direction. Four houses past where they had started Abal saw her viral, a lanky naked man, he was walking away from them. Michael prepared to repeat the same procedure when he noticed another viral walking by the shoreline and two others face up in the dirt and leafs. He turned around and held up four fingers to his company. The two lying down were about ten feet apart and the walker was separated from them by about twenty feet. It was not unusual to encounter groups of viral that had amassed at random. One viral would make noise by falling into a window or wading into water then thrashing around. Others would follow the noise and make some of their own. Thus some areas seemed nearly deserted but were punctuated with heavy concentrations of viral. James nodded to Max who pulled Abal, Michael, and Tyler in close. James kept a constant watch.
“Be ready for more than four,” Max whispered, “Tyler keep vigilant and warn us if you see any more, don’t worry about noise.”
“We should choose our viral now,” Michael murmured, “I’ll take the one walking at the water.”
“Naked guy,” Max chose.
The four broke apart and prepared to run. Abal grabbed James by the shoulder, “We have the ones lying down, I’m left you have right.”
Michael held out a hand and lowered his fingers one by one. Three. Two. One. The group raced into the open and within a second Max was upon his viral, Tyler stayed close to him. One swing of the aluminum club and the viral dropped, two more made sure it would not get up. The other viral heard the thud of bone against metal and rustled themselves from apathy.
“Two more, two more,” Tyler’s shout reached all the survivors. He grabbed Max who was searching for his next victim but was looking in the wrong direction. Tyler pulled Max toward the shore where he was hoping the three other viral would soon be dispatched. The two viral had been in the house and were in the process of falling out of a first floor window after hearing the commotion.
James reached his viral first, his weapon was light and sprinting was not difficult, before the creature was even on its hands and knees James was upon it. He dispatched it with two blows to the side of the head, but as his second blow landed one of the viral from the house reached him. The viral grabbed his shirt and pulled, James twisted his body, but the viral would not let go, and both were thrown to the ground. Abal and Michael reached their targets at almost the same time, her viral was in the process of standing up. The head was craned back to watch her and she caught it just below the right eye. It was twitching when she removed the blade so she struck again, ending the spasms. Michael’s viral had up some speed when he reached it. The viral ran with a variety of arm movements, for a second they would follow the form of the run, then would be forgotten about and hang at its sides, then back to pumping with its feet, but as the viral reached Michael it held its arms wide, prepared for a bear hug. Michael’s timing was better than the first time, two nails caught the head and the viral tumbled forward. Michael put his foot on the head and pulled his weapon free just as a viral from the house reached Max.
“One, coming from the red house,” Tyler called just as Max turned around to deal with the viral coming up behind them. Max did not have time to take a proper swing, instead he crosschecked the viral while sidestepping, not fighting the momentum coming at him but using it to throw his victim off balance and onto the ground. At the same time James was struggling on the ground trying to hold his attacker at arm’s length. The viral from the other house was racing towards Abal and Tyler, Michael was coming to support them but he had more distance to cover than the viral. If a viral got ahold from behind it was too easy for it to wrap teeth around a shoulder or neck, after that point it would be all over for the survivor no matter what happened. James was left to struggle alone, he fought and pushed and although the viral was too strong for him to push off he thought he could hold it for a minute at least. One of his arms was holding the neck of the viral and his other was stuck between the two bodies to keep them apart. The body on top of James snatched at his face and body, but James held on. It was an energy consuming struggle but after the food James had been getting he felt strong, able to maintain the locked position, but the viral stopped pulling his shirt and instead grabbed the hand pushing against its chest. Across the lawn several swings from Max’s bat finished the monster that had come his way. He turned in time to see Abal strike a solid blow into the head of the seventh viral. The ax landed just above the lower jaw, cutting flesh and bone, but nothing else the viral needed to attack. The full weight of racing body plowed into her stomach.
When the viral grabbed for James’s hand it lost enough grip on its subject that James was able to throw it off, but the viral grabbed the pinky and ring finger on James’s left hand. James rolled got onto his knees trying to pull his trapped digits away from danger, but he could not get free. James stood up grabbed his left arm with his right hand and pulled, but as he did the viral tried to wrench the fingers it held to its mouth. James felt the sickening, unnatural range of motion before he felt the pain, he was not free, the viral had not gained any ground, but the item they were struggling for had given way.
The viral was on top, and Abal was having trouble holding it off. Blood from the viral’s shattered mouth was streaming onto Abal’s face. Abal closed her eyes and stopped breathing in case any got near her nose. Tyler noticed Tyler grabbed on of the arms that gripped Abal and tugged it away, giving the woman an advantage, but she was struggling to hold her breath.
“Tyler move,” Max’s screamed, he was within striking distance of Abal but the boy’s head was in the way.
Tyler was only concentrated on Abal, “James, go help James,” He responded. Max ran past Abal in frustration, he would not be any help if Tyler would not move. When Max made it to James a second later he was just in time, the viral was pulling in the man’s arm and he looked pale trying to resist. One strike and the hand was released, two more and the body would never move again. Max turned around, ready to be in mourning for Abal, a prepubescent was fighting an fully grown infected man. When he saw Michael standing over the three fighting souls his hopes rose, but soon it was clear the older Mackay was not going to do anything. Tyler was still in the way. Max felt like screaming at the boy, but he watched the malnourished young man from a distance, anything he did would be too late. Tyler pulled the arm he had behind the viral’s back, then up behind its head. The creature could not get any closer to Abal and seemed only vaguely aware that it might not be using both hands. Tyler had the viral’s right arm and had it situated behind the head moving towards the left side of the body, with one quick jerk he popped the shoulder out of its socket and rolled the viral off Abal. When it lay on the open ground Tyler moved away and let his brother finish the job.
There was a mild ache in James’s fingers. It surprised him how little they hurt considering their current condition. His left pinky and ring finger made an acute angle with the back of his hand. They were dislocated and possibly broken. James sat down, even though only his hand was damaged his whole body was starting to feel a cloud over his head and when he turned his head colors blended together. James thought he was going to puke. Michael was helping Abal toward the lake. She continued to try and keep her face shut to the terrible disease that was sitting on her skin. With one powerful burst of air Abal blew everything she could manage out of her nose, then took one tentative breath. Michael guided her across the rocks by the water’s edge and into the cold liquid for for a few steps. Once Abal was in up to her knees she leapt toward the water in a shallow dive and immediately began to scrub her face with open palms.
“Is everyone alright?” Michael asked.
“His hand is pretty fucked up,” said Max nodding towards James.
Michael made his way over to the wounded survivor. Michael let his drift around the shivering man in the grass, letting his gaze come to a halt on James’s left hand, “Lay down,” He ordered James.
“What are you going to do?” The man in a mild state of shock asked.
“We have to correct your fingers, it’s best to do it while your still a little hyped up from the fight, you won’t feel it as much.”
James nodded and put his back in the dirt, he had felt like lying down anyway. Michael straddled him when he was down, James’s left arm was trapped between their bodies. James realized he wasn’t going to be asked to consent to anything else, the man was going to do what he was going to do.
“What are you going to do?” James asked the question with the most obvious answer, but there was no response from Michael. One hand held his wrist and palm, another gently wrapped around his hurt fingers, they were tender and James felt pain to his wrist, “Hey, isn’t there a better way we can do this?” The grip around his fingers tightened and the broken bones and swelling tissue in the hand created a cascade of bolts and pinches of pain all through James’s forearm. James groaned, “Please, just let go and…” Before he could finish his fingers were realigned back in their sockets. James screamed and then cried a string of obscenities as a new pain bloomed in every joint of his two broken fingers. When Michael got off James rolled back and forth holding his hand, he could neither bend nor extend his fingers.
“What happened?” Abal asked, she was still wet from her swim.
“His fingers were pretty bad,” Max answered, “Michael just tried to fix them.”
James stopped rolling on the ground, his eyes were closed, “That hurt a lot.”
“How are you feelin’?” Tyler asked
“Not great,” James slowly rose to his feet, Max was at his side prepared for him to faint, “But not terrible.” He held his hand out for the group to admire, it was red and the digits were already mildly swollen. Michael pulled his gun out of his pants. The four others froze, “I’m okay, it’s not that bad.”
Michael held the pistol out and offered it to James’s good hand, “Take this, give me the hammer.” James accepted and handed over the short carpenter’s tool with the thumb and pointer on his bad hand. Michael picked his bat off the ground and offered it to Tyler, “You two get back to the house and pack up everything. We’re going to search the houses now that they should be clear.”
“Now, go,” Michael cut his brother off. Tyler would have been happy for the small amount of interaction if he liked the situation. He wondered for a moment if the only time he would get to see his real brother was when they were in danger.
“Michael why would we do that?” James asked, “Why would we leave?”
“We aren’t leaving,” Michael said, “But if something happens to the house and we have to leave we could lose all the food. We need to be ready to get out of there at any moment. So go!”
James nodded, realizing what Michael was saying, he and Tyler took off at a jog toward the road and back to the house. The remaining three avoided the bodies on the ground as they walked toward a white house that looked like it had been boarded up at one point. Glass and wood was shattered on the porch, it was the house two of the viral had come from.
“Why didn’t we pack up the food before if it was so important?” Abal asked.
“Because I didn’t think of it until now,” Michael responded with complete honesty that almost surprised him.
“We’ll be ready from now on,” Abal said. Out of three people, including herself, zero believed her, it was impossible to be ready.
In the first house Abal found herself a change of clothes and tried to get herself as dry as possible after her swim.Two of the houses had makeshift defenses with tables and interior doors nailed behind windows. Entrances were littered with broken wood, glass, and blood. Some viral bodies lay decomposing on carpets or wherever they had dropped. Early in the infection some survivors had tried to bury the bodies, the extra effort for an attempt at human decency soon died. If the three ventured into the forested area across the street they would find twice dead bodies thrown on top of one another. The other four houses were more or less abandoned with little to no viable food remaining. The survivors were able to fit their finds into their pockets. Abal scooped up two lighters and a half dozen cartons and books of matches. Max found a half full pack of batteries he thought might work in one of the flashlights. The survivors found little else. They returned to the house with not much to show for their ventures hoping that their home and companions were in tact. Tyler and James were almost asleep in the master bedroom. All the food sat in the same place but now it was ready to move.
“How are your fingers?” Abal asked.
“Broken,” James just wanted to get some sleep but his damn knuckles would not stop aching.
“That’s why we’re going to splint ‘em,” Michael said. James pushed himself out of the bed, it was clear he was not going to be allowed to get sleep anytime soon.
“Is it going to hurt as much as last time?”
Michael was already walking out of the room, “We’ll find out.”
James tried to fall asleep, maybe if he was out by the time Michael got back he would be left alone. Abal and Max looked at him in pity for a moment before going to find some dinner. Tyler was snoring. Michael took his time getting bak and James thought that maybe if he had not been trying to fall asleep he might have. Michael measured the fingers on the wounded hand with a wooden ruler. He then broke the ruler into pieces and placed one part across three of James’s fingers and one part running parallel. Some gauze and tape later and there was no more easy movement for the intended hand, a splint.
“Now take these,” Michael handed a bottle of aspirin to James, “Two or four.”
“Nothing to wash them down with?”
“Your a man.”
“Not much of one,” James said, “But I can get it,” He moved to stand.
“No I got it,” Michael pushed him down, “You should be resting.”
After James was properly drugged up and Tyler was out cold from his day of intense action followed by monotonous boredom, the other three congregated downstairs. The sun was brushing the tops of the trees and spilling an orange glow into the lake. Michael was doing pushups in the elevated living room where he had a view outside but the windows were too high for visitors to get a clear view. He finally had some extra energy to devote to strengthening his body, the gradually increasing tension in his chest muscles was an empowering feeling, one that he had been missing but never realized it. Abal sat in a chair and James on a couch, all three watched the sunset.
“After swim today I could use a fire,” Abal said.
“Wrong time of day and the fireplace here is no good,” Michael responded pulling his weight off his hands and rolling onto his back. In a room that faced the lake, with one large window, and absolutely no cover was the fireplace. Michael would not eat in there much less cook.
“We could have one in the basement,” Max said.
Bodies wanted the warmth, minds wanted the comfort, and bellies wanted the food, it was too much for Michael to resist. “We just have to make sure nothing catches on fire unless we want it to.” The three came to an agreement and scattered to collect wood and paper and whatever else would burn. They brought a pot with water from the lake, and created three towers of cans to hold the pot above the fire.
A small stack of old newspaper and bits of scrap wood were arranged under the pot. Neither lighter worked, but the first match lit easily and the paper was alight within moments. The pot was already on its pedestal gathering warmth for the box of noodles that awaited. Smoke rose around the pot. Abal put her hands near the fire and finally felt some real warmth returning after her swim earlier, she breathed deep, the smell of burning wood calmed her nervous mind.
“Abal,” Michael said, “We. umm. We should be careful.”
She had wanted him to be more forward, he was with everything else, “Because I might have it.”
“Yeah, we might be in trouble if it,” he paused and closed his eyes, “if it turns out you got the Virus.”
Abal was frustrated, “In trouble?” If she had it she was going to die and all he could muster was ‘in trouble.’ “What do you want to do Michael, how do you want to handle this? Just shoot me right now and get it over with or leave me alone to die? I mean as long as I’m dying here we might as well be practical about it.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Do what? You want me to calm down? Yeah, why not, by tomorrow I’ll probably be trying to kill you guys so why not enjoy the now right? You gonna shoot me when my back is turned, keep you and your fucking brother safe?”
Michael and Max looked into the fire. Tears of fear and confusion began to well in Abal’s eyes but she continued to glare at Michael. With caution he slowly looked up towards her face, but stopped at her mouth. With one hand he pulled down her bottom lip, she didn’t pull away, but she didn’t do it herself, so he continued. Michael opened her mouth and looked inside. He was searching for blood, but found none. It meant very little except that she was not dangerous for the moment. Michael pulled away and put his hand over the pot to feel for warmth, not much yet. Max continued to watch the fire, he had wanted to say something about breathing in the smoke but the conversation had turned too quickly. In a moment he would regret keeping his mouth shut. The smoke drifted up and out of sight, where it was detected by an alarm still running on good batteries. The food was not going to be cooked.