wormwood, pt. 34

At some point, Winston became aware that they had been at the diner for a long time. There had been no new business, but neither had anyone left. The other patrons gave every sign of having been there for a very long time, indeed.

"The radio says the tap water's poisoned," the waitress was saying, "so we have to boil it now. Not many people know about that one. It makes cleaning up a bit hard."

"Good to know. How much do we owe you?"

She seemed genuinely surprised. "Owe us? What am I going to do with money? I've got a till full of the stuff. Nobody cares."

"Well, how can we--"

"We've got a kitchen full of food that's going bad. Just eating it's doing us a favor. But if you really want, you can stay around and help. Don't know where you're headed, but it can't be that much better off than this place."

"Maybe." Winston shrugged uneasily. It certainly had its appeal--safety in numbers was where human civilization had come from, wasn't it? It would be a lot more stable than wherever he was going. And Rose--well, she'd always been happier alone, anyway. If she was even going to meet them at the boat, it would only be for him.

His companion's wife spoke then. "The sign says this place offers a reprieve from the apocalypse. I think we could use a bit of a rest." Her husband nodded assent, and Winston smiled grimly and said, "All right. Just tell us if you need anything."

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