Sarah Spellings & The Cariboo Posse

Beans, Beans, Beans

“This is a big fat joke. We should go back to Vancouver,” Violet pouted. She pressed a cuticle into the tidy white half-moon of a nail bed.

“Shush,” Ichamus whispered. “What if someone loyal to him hears you?”

Violet and Ichamus were sitting at a folding metal table in an almost-empty cafeteria; most of the Parleyment Army had deserted the mine. Only a dozen soldiers remained, sitting in twos and threes, muttering grimly, and glancing at the swinging kitchen doors. The meal buzzer had sounded but tea, toast, and sludgy porridge were absent.

“It’s breakfast time—where IS everyone?” Violet asked petulantly. Her high, reedy voice echoed in the barren stone chamber.

“Beans, beans, beans,” grunted a skinny man with a sallow complexion.

“Shaddup,” said his grizzled, square-jawed companion. “Beans fill yer gut, don’t they?”

No tantalizing food smells wafted from the kitchen, not even the tedious aroma of boiled beans. Ichamus suspected there would be no breakfast, and he was beginning to think it had been a tactical error to show up in the cafeteria, expecting to be fed. Loyalty to Parleyment was supposed to guarantee three boring but trustworthy meals a day, made from the boxed and canned food stored in government-surplus warehouses. But even supplies of stale, packaged food couldn’t last forever. Minutes ticked past ominously; no one had seen Harpminster Abbott since his fight against Sarah Spellings in the Reactor Core building. His stomach grumbled, and Ichamus feared Parleyment could no longer feed its army.

“I told you,” Violet said smugly, admiring a thumb nail with sassy pursed lips. “The pantry is empty. The cooks kept asking Harpy when the next shipment was coming.”

The skinny man stood up. “I got a bad feeling about this,” he said. “Dirk, grab the packs. Let’s go up top, and see if we can snare a rabbit.”

The grizzled man sniffed in agreement. They left, breaking into a jog as they neared the exit.

“Huh. Where are they off to in such a hurry?” Violet said sulkily.

The cafeteria was chilly, but Ichamus was sweating. A premonition made him tremble, and his spirits plunged from vague fear to abject depression. He felt nauseous, tired, and convinced that nothing mattered.

“He’s coming,” said Ichamus.

The kitchen doors banged open, and a smirking Harpminster Abbott wandered slowly into the cafeteria, his eyes red and dangerous. Ichamus glanced toward the exit doors; he should have listened to his gut, and left while he still could. Harpminster Abbott counted heads with a pale, languid finger.

“Ten, eleven, twelve. Perfect—a dozen total failures, a nice round number of complete idiots. Congratulations—you’re the only ones too stupid or lazy to run away. Oh, wipe that look off your face, Violet. There’s no reason to be insulted. Every single one of my so-called loyal subjects failed me, when it came down to the crunch.” Harpminster Abbott smiled, a humourless, snake-like stretch of his lips. “We were so close! Everything was in place. With the energy from this reactor we could have supplied light, pumped water, and brought food packaging factories back online. We could have charged electric vehicles, heated homes in the winter, and cooled them in summer.” He raised his arms to shoulder level, and let his hands drop with a resounding THWAP to his thighs. “Months of labour and organization. Hundreds of gallons of fuel burned. A one-hundred-strong person army, fed and sheltered throughout construction. This entire investment was wrecked in under and hour, by a handful of children on horseback! Unbelievable.”

Gingerly, Harpminster Abbott palpated his facial scar with the pads of two fingers. A red flush crept out the neckline of his button-front shirt, and climbed toward his chin. Violet opened her mouth to speak. Ichamus lunged across the table and slapped his palm over her lips; Violet had a special knack for saying things that infuriated Harpminster Abbott.

“Are you actually expecting to be fed?” Harpminster Abbott hissed at the small assembly of hopeful, hungry faces. “Tsk, tsk. I’m surprised my hand-picked team members are this dense. I’m especially disappointed in you, Violet, because you were working in the kitchen. You should know I can barely feed this pathetic little group for a couple of weeks. Still, that should be enough.”

Violet blanched. An ominous silence filled the cavernous room; no one knew where to look.

“Enough for what?” Ichamus asked scornfully. He despised himself for speaking up, but he couldn’t hide his hunger and frustration.

“Ah, Icky-poo,” said Harpminster Abbott. “I’m glad you stayed behind while everyone with brains and good sense ran for the hills. I can always depend on you to ask incisive, pithy questions.”

Ichamus braced himself for a wave of punishing anguish—but nothing happened. Had his boss’ powers been depleted by the clash in the reactor chamber? Violet’s lower lip trembled. She fidgeted with a purple beaded clutch purse, and her eyes flicked between the kitchen doors and the main cafeteria exit. It was her fault, Ichamus thought bitterly. Whatever uncomfortable, nasty circumstance awaited them, it was all Violet Smacker’s fault. She should have known there were no supplies.

Harpminster Abbott licked thin, red lips. Placing his hands behind his head, he paced like a caged animal. “There is enough food for an entourage to escort me home. Fortunately, there’s a considerable supply of combustible fuel, and I have vehicles at my disposal that are capable of navigating rough terrain. The journey will be hard and uncomfortable. It’s an inadvisable time of year to travel in this climate, my home is three thousand kilometers away, and we will be forced to negotiate with rebellious settlements. But that’s why I have this crackerjack team of spineless morons desperately requiring a leader. Travelling with you people is a tiresome prospect, but I shall endure it. Oh yes, one more thing—you’ll be stranded out east, without means to return.”

Harpminster Abbott halted, stretched his arms, and cracked his knuckles. Violet took a shaky breath. Under the table, Ichamus stamped on her foot. She squealed, and closed her lips. Ignoring the interruption, the leader continued to speak.

“I have confidence none of you will fail me again. The consequences would be dire; being stranded on the prairies in winter without food or shelter is a death sentence. We have to reach the Capital before the big snowstorms come, so here’s the deal. You have traded your freedom for beans, so it is beans you shall get. In the kitchen you will find six cans of beans and a can opener. The generators are offline, so the beans will be cold. There are only three spoons, so you’ll have to share, and oh yes, the water pump doesn’t work. After this hearty, delicious meal, pack your belongings, and assemble a bedroll from what you can salvage. Return here within an hour—we leave for the Capital at noon.”

Harpminster Abbott exited through the main cafeteria doors. A few weighty seconds ticked past, then metal chairs scraped concrete and boots thundered into the kitchen for the meagre cold bean repast. Ichamus grabbed Violet’s arm.

“Let’s go to Vancouver,” he said urgently. “We can sneak out while they’re eating.”

“Didn’t you hear Harpy? It’s too late,” said Violet. “We’re going to the Capital.”

Ichamus shook his head firmly. “I’m not going to the Capital. I grew up out there, and it’s not like Vancouver. Forget about fresh vegetables, the winters are too cold and long to grow them. There will only be factory food, and we will be beggars. In the Capital, if you don’t know the right people, you’re doomed to being a servant, grovelling for so-called superiors. Even the muddy treehouse mess is better than the Capital. How do we get out of here—where’s the back door?”

The corners of Violet’s lipsticked mouth turned down. “I can show you the back door, but it’s no use. He’ll be there, Icky— he won’t let us leave.”

“This mine is huge. He can’t be everywhere at once,” said Ichamus.

“I guess we can try. But I need something to eat first.”

Motioning for him to follow, Violet went to the kitchen. Hostile, greedy faces scowled at them as they entered; the straggling remains of Parleyment Army were clustered around six cans of beans.

“Give us two spoonfuls each, and we’ll leave you the rest,” said Ichamus.

Grudgingly, a woman handed Ichamus a spoon, and he swallowed his miserable ration of cold beans. Violet gulped down her two spoonfuls, then led him past vast stainless steel sinks and industrial-sized appliances to a rock archway and a dark, sloping tunnel.

“This leads behind the bomb shelter,” Violet explained. “From there we have to cross the main hallway, and sneak past the reactor core chamber. Once we reach the main road, we’ll run around and around, all the way to the top. Thank goodness I wore rubber boots. Would you believe it? I almost wore heels today!”

“Why can’t we use the elevator?”

“Oh Icky, don’t be silly! The elevator was powered by the generator.”

Picturing the long, rocky spiral of road leading out of the mine, Ichamus sighed, and ducked into the tunnel. Two minutes later, they emerged into the bomb shelter, a small room with rock walls. It was vacant, except for a smirking Harpminster Abbott, arms crossed over his chest.

“Oh—I thought this was a shortcut to the bedrooms,” Violet giggled nervously.

“Gee. I guess that makes you wrong—again,” said Harpminster Abbott.

“Ha ha, my mistake. Thanks Harpy!” Violet squeaked, and she shoved Ichamus back into the tunnel. “Run,” she said. “It’s our only chance.”

Their footsteps slapped and echoed in the tunnel. In the kitchen, they sped past the indifferent bean eaters, and raced through the abandoned cafeteria. Violet’s blonde hairdo bounced as she ran; cold sweat bloomed in Ichamus’ armpits as he strove to keep up with her surprisingly athletic pace. She banged the cafeteria doors open, veered right, and rushed through a room full of garbage to the second floor landing. Ichamus felt a wave of misery and despair, and Violet choked out sobs without slackening her speed.

“He knows,” Ichamus croaked. “He knows we’re trying to escape.”

Violet doubled back, snatched his hand, and yanked him through a narrow fissure into daylight—they were on the main road! Crisp fall air filled Ichamus’ lungs, diluting the negative emotions flooding his system. Soon Violet, in her ridiculous rainbow-pearl rubber boots, was outrunning him. Ichamus ran as fast as he could. His chest tightened with exertion, and his muscles were in agony, but Violet’s pace was relentless—she circled the mine three times without slowing down.

Ichamus glanced up; the top of the mine pit was still impossibly far away. A wave of wretchedness struck him, and he and forced himself to think of happy memories: slicing fresh carrots on a sunny afternoon in Sassamatta Grove, sleeping in the treehouse he had shared with Pietro, catching fish from the deep, sparkling lake. He tripped on a rock, pitched forward, and landed on his hands and knees. Pain and indignity burst from Ichamus in a terrible yowl. He was bleeding; small stones and sandy grit crusted fresh wounds. Violet skidded to a stop, reversed her path, and came to his side. She hauled him to his feet, and dragged him onwards.

“We’re almost there,” Violet panted. “You can make it!”

The last two laps were the toughest. Ichamus felt a strong urge to give up, and throw himself on Harpminster Abbott’s mercy. At last they staggered onto the open, grassy expanse of the Cariboo. A cool breeze dried the sweat on his face. Canada geese flew overhead, honking.

“We did it!” Violet shrieked. “And look—in those trees over there—water!”

He had only the clothes he was wearing, and his stomach held a scant helping of cold beans, but Ichamus felt an unfamiliar lightness of spirit. The fragile bridge connecting him to Harpminster Abbott was officially burned. He imagined meeting Mackelman, and bragging about his daring escape. Ichamus would tell the mercenary how he had bravely turned his back on Parleyment, and struck out as a free agent.

A foreign sensation came over him—Ichamus was happy.

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