Elgin walked next to Brook down the path towards the collection house. The first thing they checked was the snares along the path. Nothing. They moved on to the house itself and Elgin checked the pear trees growing beside the porch. She pursed her lips, the buds were not growing as well as last year.
When they had first woken from the end, Brook and Elgin had found themselves very near this spot. The sun was a harsh and blinding white light that made their eyes sore just by being in its direct path. Plants that grew in the meadows wilted within a few days, but the ones hidden in the shade, where the two girls had hidden too, they grew and grew to abnormal sizes. They learned from the gardening books Elgin collected that some fruits and berries were nearly three times the size they were meant to be. The sunlight affected humans in strange ways too, many people who never hid from the sun and left their skin in its sight too long developed black spots that expanded across their bodies. Most who had these on their skin usually died within a few months, the rest didn't last a year.
Brook and the crew, as they grew in number, learned to layer their clothing, stay in the shadows during the hottest parts of the day. None of them had found any of the black marks on them yet, and the cases reported in town had had a drastic drop since last summer. With the drop in marked skin, the larger plant life also began to return to normal, but not just that, it began to stop growing in many places too. Elgin worried that with the sun fading to its old brightness, and the auroras getting dimmer, the earth was reverting to the form it had when the end happened. And since the cause was still a mystery to them, it was possible that a return to normal would start another apocalyptic event.
"Hey, we'll be okay." Brook said as she unlocked the door of the house. "We've still got plenty of other sources of food."
"Aye, but the townies will nae be pleased if they find oot we're running low. Farmers feed cities, ken?"
"Farmers feed cities." Brook repeated the phrase they had adopted after seeing it stuck to the back of an old earth pick-up truck.
The collection house was separated into two sections. The front two rooms were all the newspaper articles saved by Argyle and Aberdeen for their project, and books for research and reference of the old earth. The back and the upstairs was filled with boxes and shelves of objects that Brook had deemed worthy to go in her collection. All up the staircase were boxes with more objects that were yet to be catalogued in her system of binders. Now that the radio watch schedule was in place, she would have more time to dedicate to the work, plus get a hand from the others that helped in the house.
"Since we're here and all." She had said to Elgin, who wholeheartedly agreed. They sometimes thought about how they had known each other in the old earth, since Elgin sounded so different from anyone they had yet met in the new one. They guessed that she and Brook had been workers at what the old world called a Museum. Perhaps that was how they knew each other. The comfort they both gained from categorizing and describing all the artifacts, and then ordering them into material, function, or age was hard to describe to any of the others in the crew.
“Where do you want to start? Archives or Artifacts?” Brook gestured to the rooms that each collection started in.
“Ah'll do archives, it's been awhile since I read anything new.” Elgin grinned and gave Brooks elbow a flick. Brook laughed and mimed shoving the smaller woman into the right hand room. She marveled at their size difference again, realizing that as tall as Sherman was compared to her, at least a full head over her, that was how much taller she was than Elgin. A wave of gratitude swept over her for her friends.
“Hey.” She stopped Elgin just before the other woman was fully in the room. “I never thanked you, for standing up for me...you know, with Sherman.”
Elgin tilted her head and gave her a quizzical look. “And ye don't have tae. I ken yae would do the same for me. That's what crew mates do for each other.” She turned without another word and went to sit at the desk stacked with books yet to be catalogued.
Brook smiled and scoffed, turning to grab a box off the staircase. She carried it down the hall and into the room with her old desk. She pulled on the stained lab coat, not for practical reasons really, but for the feeling it gave her, the feeling of the old earth. She then lit the few candles that gave the room the burst of light it needed in order to write by and pulled on the old gloves. She then sat and pulled the first object from the box. It was a picture frame made of glass and mirrors, with two little wooden designs glued on either side of the photo. Brook studied the couple that stood out clearly, even if they were only in black and white. It was a marriage photo. The crew had learned a few things about marriage; since a few of them had been wearing matching rings, all on the left hand, all on the fourth finger. Research had to be done. In the findings it seemed that women almost always wore a white dress, and men a black suit. The photograph confirmed this, although the dress seemed a very different style from other, coloured photos she had seen, and the suit the man wore had two long pieces hanging down the back as well as a round, tall hat clutched in his hand. She flipped the frame over and was happily surprised to see writing there. It read: 'Pieter and Hinke, Dokkum, Friesland. 1953'
Brook crossed the room with frame in hand to a map she had tacked to the far wall. She spent some minutes studying it, looking for this 'Friesland' place. But it didn't seem to be anywhere. Not in Canada, or the rest of the world. Perhaps it was a province of a country. Brook gave up and went back to describing the piece. She gave it the title of 'married couple – Friesland' hoping that by writing that, someone else might remember something about the place when they read the records.
As the morning wore on, she finished the items in the box. A few glass jars, a candlestick, an old electronic tablet, a small, carved figurine of a girl with no face and wire wings kneeling with her hands pressed together. As the old clock in the hall chimed twelve, she rubbed her eyes and stretched. Time to head back. She removed the lab coat and gloves, blew out the candles, and moved out into the hall to wind the clock.
Elgin was deep in concentration, staring into a book so intently that Brook doubted she had heard the clock. She knew the feeling. “You can take it back with you, you know.” Brook leaned against the doorway as Elgin gave a start and looked up from the pages.
“That time already? Ah'm just gettin' in tae it.” She stuck a scrap piece of paper into the page she had left off at and did her own stretch.
“Finding anything good?”
“Aye, it's a work of fiction I believe, but the way they speak...it tugs at my memory tae be sure.” Elgin stroked the gold lettering on the cover.
“What's it called?” Brook stepped forward to read the title. “Kidnapped. By Robert Louis Stevenson. Huh, I think I picked that up down in the other town.” The other town being the one at the other end of the escarpment, like two castles on two hills, the crew liked to imagine they were feuding towns that each thought they were better than the other. Personally Brook liked the one further away to Ancaster. It seemed like it had more of a cozy feeling, before the end.
“Ah'll have to see if we have any more books from him.” Elgin placed the book carefully in her pack. She slung it over her shoulder and nodded at Brook. “Let's get going, Ah've got gardening to do!”