To hell with them all. Dice had lost his Karen, forty-five years of hard work, twenty years as a damned Linotype operator and twenty-five as a damned pressman after the damned computers had taken his damned job away. God how he hated that pressman's job! A quarter century hauling paper and permanently stained fingers, but he'd stuck with it.

Then, to top it all off, right before he was ready to retire and tell the whole world to take a flying leap, the local chunk of world had taken a flying leap and Dysart Clifford along with it!

Dice grumbled out loud as he walked the ten blocks to his two-bedroom house with a single bag of groceries. Sixty-four years old, over $523,000 in a Fidelity Retirement account, and a paid-off boat and house on Sutton Lake—all shot to hell. Now, here he was stuck in the 1600s with no retirement. All because he got a bargain on the house in Grantville when the mine shut down. Why hadn't he gone to Sutton that Sunday? Why did the Ring of Fire happen to him?

Dice grumbled louder and noticed that people were stepping off the sidewalk to avoid him. For good measure he snarled at the next pedestrian and was delighted when the shocked down-timer almost fell over himself getting out of his way.

It's damned hard to snarl when you're laughing inside.

With his mood much improved, his step lightened and the final blocks home passed quickly.

* * *

Elfriede Schützin made her choice. Her husband had died a year ago and her year of mourning was over. As a shoemaker in Coburg, he had made a passable living. As a widow, she had not. When news of the Ring of Fire and the Americans had reached her town, it was not a difficult choice at all to leave Kurt and Anna with neighbors while she went to check out the Americans from the future.

Perhaps she could find work there. The Americans she had seen were all lords, of course, in their marvelous vehicles from the future and their fine clothes. Such as they would surely need a good cook. So, with letters of recommendation from her neighbors and priest, she set out for Grantville.

Four months later, she was still in the refugee center. Kurt and Anna were in the Grantville school and she was taking English lessons, but there were no American lords, and no grand castles. There were also lots of people like her looking to the rich Americans for a better life.

And although she had not found work with one of the Americans, she had found a niche at the refugee center. With girlhood lessons at her mother's knee well learned, she combed the dense woods around the center for the ingredients that made her, if not the head cook, at least the head recipe maker. With the help of the old folks around town and books from more than one home, she quickly identified the edible plants, herbs, berries and other kitchen essentials that grew wild in the steep West Virginia hills. More and more Americans were finding reason to be around the refugee center at dinnertime.

"Trudy, haff ve got eggs today?" she had asked her friend and head cook at the center.

"Ja, Effi. Lots of zem." Gertrude was her best friend at the center. They bunked near each other, laughed together, and watched each other's children. The crowded refugee center was like a community where neighbors looked out for each other.

But Gertrude Zeiss had Hermann. And Hermann was a popular workman among the down-timers. They would not be staying long at the refugee center.

"If you vill keep an eye on Anna, Kurt und I vill go chopping."

"Shopping, Mama. It's pronounced mit a 'shah,' not a 'chah.'"

Effi slung her big net bag over one shoulder and pulled her machete from its leather scabbard and wielded it like a sword. "Ven I say chopping, I mean chopping!"

"Javol, mein Kapitan!" Her nine-year-old saluted, laughing, and slung his own net bag to march out behind his mother.

* * *

Dice's good mood lasted until he opened the door to the dark house and the dark TV. He could turn on all the lights and play a tape, but that would just make them wear out faster. There weren't going to be any more light bulbs, TVs, or VCRs for quite some time and he was determined to make them last. He looked longingly at the TV and heaved a sigh for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Just on the other side of the dark TV screen was the twentieth century and Three Rivers Stadium where the Pirates would be playing Cincinnati tonight. He plopped in his chair and looked out the window, almost in tears.

Outside on the sidewalk was the German bag lady with her tote full of dandelions. Several weeks before, she had knocked politely on his door with her prepared speech, "Mai I pliz haff yoo dandy lions?" She seemed so sincere and with his consent immediately fell to harvesting the weeds. She was young, clean, thirty-something, with blonde braids tightly coiled on each side of her head, a brown down-timer blouse, and sturdy green skirt that hung to her ankles. He was so taken at her industriousness that he had pointed out a patch of mint growing by the back door. "Ach! Minze!" She happily placed a few starters in a carry-cloth.

What she was doing out so late was none of his business.

Dice walked through the dark house to the kitchen. He never kept the refrigerator too full in the best of times and nowadays it was getting downright bare. The freezer held a lonesome Swanson turkey pot pie and a partially consumed half-gallon of Neapolitan ice cream with freezer-frost thick on the lid. Lots of ice, though. Since he'd run out of Scotch, the need for ice cubes had diminished considerably. He put the few groceries away and left out the brown bread and sausage for his supper. At least the beer had improved. He drew a frothy mug from the recycled one gallon Heineken keg.

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff