This tale was first published in the e-anthology Things You Can Create.
The Lost Coast circuit was nearly a hundred miles long north to south, but Jake and Ella had come directly over the inner ranges from the limited-way, cutting their usual route in half. Low on supplies, with fewer places to get them each time they came through. So they headed for the river crossing a mile or so in from the coast, where there was a swap-mart by a cable-ferry. It drew trade from the hemp colony, the only one left on that circuit. From the narrow valleys around, settlers came trading hides, honey, or milled timber for smoke, paper, rope and oil.
Jake had his whetstone to sharpen and tools to repair any knife or blade. Ella could sing; she specialized in classical tunes, much favored then as now. Jake played a mouth-harp well enough to back her up, but her voice was the main draw.
Last time they’d done all right in trade: plus supplies, even negotiated some hard-to-find things for their skills. A metal belt-buckle for Jake that could still shine up. Ella got a lucky charm, a jolly red-haired clown of plastic, pocket-sized, improved by some hand with new paint.
But this time there wasn’t a soul on the beaten-dirt plaza above the ferry launch, near the pylons of the was-bridge, or anywhere else they looked. Only rags of mist floating up the river channel, wind whispering in the tall brown grass, and the dark pines sighing to themselves on the hills.
There was a single, roofless shelter at the edge of the plaza; Jake couldn’t remember it from before. Ella stayed close to the van as he unsheathed his knife and pushed open the only door. It shrieked on its dry wooden hinge; she bit her lip as he disappeared inside. And waited, singing softly to herself, Number one is the lowliest number…