Snakes and Pills

098 - vogue

The goats munched silently on their rations. This food wasn't ideal for them, this Paul knew. But the drought had been harsh yet again this season, and there was precious little fresh produce to go around.

What there was of fresh fruits and vegetables, none of it would be earmarked for consumption by goats. It would even be foolish for a man of Paul's means to dream of having such things for himself. No, things like corn and cabbage were reserved for the elite. The same people Paul hoped he would eventually sell his herd to.

They would complain about the quality of the meat when they ate it. As if it were possible to produce anything delicious from animals fed these meager rations.

Paul looked around at his herd from where he was perched at the top of the hill. He let out a sigh, something he had long ago resigned himself to never do in front of anyone save his goats. He tried to put on a face of resolve and certainty, although in his mind he had anything but. His wife knew, or he suspected as much anyway, since he confided these thoughts not even with her.

His job was to be a shepherd, but there was more to it than that. He had to be the solid rock for his family, and for the community. What was left of it, anyway.

This had been his father's role, and his father's father's before him. Paul had assumed that one day, he too would pass the reins on to his son, and the tradition would continue.

Now, Paul doubted that more than ever. Little Julian appeared sicker by the day, afflicted with the obscure malaise that had befallen so many of the children in this ward as of late.

There had been rumors of a cure, but like the dream of cabbage for his herd, he had no possibility of ever being able to procure such a cure for his son.

Nothing but a remedy from the gods had a chance of helping him, Paul thought.

"Come now," Paul said to his flock. "Let's see if we can't find anything better to eat down on this side of the hill." He knew there wasn't anything awaiting them there, and he felt the goats knew, too. They dutifully followed him, nonetheless.

As he descended the other side of the hill, he could see the smokestack in the distance. It was not a clear day, in fact it was rather hazy and overcast. But Paul could just barely make it out, his vision aided by the occasional blinking of the red warning lights near the top of the fiery beast, which served to ward off any airborne craft that had ventured in too close.

There was something else Paul couldn't help but notice about the smokestack: the trail of emissions slowly leaking out of its topside. Despite the already overcast skies--there weren't too many sunny days anymore--the vapor trailing out of the smokestack left its own distinct footprint on the sky.

Paul's fists involuntarily clenched as his eyes traced the vapor in the air. He muttered slightly under his breath, "Is it all worth it? All this for the lives you lead?"

His question, if they fell on any ears at all, only made it to the ears of his goats. They wouldn't answer him, and that was fine. After all, they were not to whom Paul posed the question.

As he already knew, they found no sustenance here, and it was getting late anyhow. Paul continued to push the herd down the mountain. Time to be getting home.


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