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The Space between Atoms 35

  The men stepped into a glaring January sun.   The air was bracing and Terah sadly felt the cozy fantasy being relayed in Moby’s house dissipating as real life intervened. “The saw mill is our communal gathering place.   Long ago we decided food in the cabins only encouraged rodents, so we all eat at the mill.   No set times.   We do have a nightly gathering, and most people come to that.   First, though, we have to look at the menu.” They stopped in Mr. Hoopers and each picked something to eat.   “The mill has tools—can openers, utensils, and whatnot.”   As they approached, Terah noticed the fire circle.   It was behind the mill, and hadn’t been visible from the angle he’d entered yesterday.   “That’s where we hold the gathering.   Just as it’s getting dark.   If there’s business we discuss it.   If not we sing or tell stories.   What the Celts call a ceilidh.” “Like Johannes’ wife’s name?” “They’re pronounced the same, but have different meanings.   A ceilidh is a Celtic song style,
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The Space between Atoms 34

  Settling in doesn’t take long when your worldly possessions are in one pack.   When Terah saw his new house was numbered 77 he had to wonder—had there ever been that many buildings here?   The numbering scheme at Dickinsheet was idiosyncratic.   Of course, he knew little about the place.   He gathered that it was named after the unfortunately named founder, but he was curious about the history.   Moby would be the man to answer his questions.   He made his way back to the little man’s house. Here in the middle of winter, with no roads to be plowed and outdoor work uncomfortable, the community was in simple survival mode.   January was like that.   Moby seemed glad for the visit.   “Come in, Cal, was it?” “Thanks, yes.” “If you don’t mind my saying, Cal, you look like a professor.” He’d known some pretty shabby academics in his day, but this made him laugh.   “I used to teach,” he admitted. “Something about your face.   I can tell a person who reads a lot.   I suspect you miss books.”

The Space between Atoms 33

  “Hagrid, you know.   I think everyone goes by nickname.   We don’t ask about nobody’s past.   Another rule.   Some people tell, and that’s okay.   Askin’s not.   Oh, an’ there’s a signal for privacy here.”   She went to a rusty mailbox missing its door.   She raised the flag.   “Occupied.   Put it down when ya come out.   The guys all respect that. Terah felt odd, being introduced around.   Until he’d met Lindsey he’d been on his own for months, and as an adjunct professor nobody really cares who you are.   The clear, cold weather had continued.   The first house they came to housed Moby.   He didn’t look like a white whale at all, but he was surprisingly literary.   “Talkin’ to him’s like readin’ a book,” Lindsey explained.   Moby had been a teacher who’d fallen on budget cuts and come off scarred.   A small man, he wore glasses and his skin was a pleasant shade of brown.   Beards, as Terah surmised, were the norm.   “I started a little free library,” Moby said.   “Not all the guys

The Space between Atoms 32

  He threw his arms around Lindsey.   “Mich!” he called, “I can’t believe you’re here!” “Get off me!” she growled, worming out of his grip.   “An’ it’s Claresta here.”   She looked around to ensure Terah’s rashness hadn’t been seen. Although chastened, he couldn’t get the smile off his face.   “Maybe someday I’ll use your real name.   So Claresta, how’d you come to be here?” “Look, Cal, let’s step inside.   Phew!   No plumbing!” “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting company.”   He pointed to the fire.   They settled on the floor. “I been here before,” she began.   “I prefer to be on my own, but when I was first tryin’ to figure it out the guys from Dickinsheet welcomed me in.   Bein’ who I am, I was afraid I might get raped, but these guys are perfect gentlemen.   Gave me the best house in town.   We all got along well, but I needed my space.   When I got on the road, outta that garage the other day, I recognized where I was an’ came straight here.” “We didn’t have any backup plans.” “I couldn’t

The Space between Atoms 31

  “Claresta won’t appreciate you walking in without knocking.” Terah turned around.   The bearded man behind him was large, looming, and unkempt.   “Sorry,” Terah managed.   “I’m new to the neighborhood.” The light was failing and Terah didn’t cherish spending the cold night outdoors.   His right leg still ached and he was exhausted. “We don’t have a realtor,” the large man boomed, “but nobody’s in number 27.” “I appreciate that,” Terah said, remaining cautious.   “Name’s Cal.” “Hagrid,” the stranger nodded.   “It’s this way, Cal.” With the light fading fast, determining the number of houses was impossible.   “If I may, what’s this place called?” “If you may?   Where are you from, finishing school?   Here we just ask questions.   It’s Dickinsheet.   And what brings you here?”   His faux polite manner was mocking, but didn’t seem malicious. “On my way west.   If I—   Do the authorities know about this place?” “What authorities?   The slave-drivers most people call bosses, police and pol

The Space between Atoms 30

  As the stream began to climb, it had formed a natural setting for a mill.   Dilapidated, the remains of one crouched alongside the stream.   This was far from where anybody now lived, like the Deserted Village in Watchung Reservation.   Danielle had taken him there.   Technically Feltville, it had been a place where a community had thrived, but had eventually been abandoned.   Houses still stood, falling apart, but the area was now being preserved.   Of course, in New Jersey nothing was really far from anything else, but here?   From the mill Terah saw scattered, clearly forsaken houses, up on the hill. Some towns, like New Amsterdam, caught on and became New York City.   Others, like Pithole City near where he had entered the world, were left to rot.   It was like when you had an idea and began to follow it, but others dropped out when it wasn’t an instant success.   Terah recalled that Weird New Jersey had designated the area around Feltville “the Enchanted Forest.”   Young people