Supply and Demand, a Dark Short Story by Indie Writer ZJC

Supply and Demand

A story on unbridled capitalism in rural America

By ZJC

<Mature Content>

 

“I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand.”

Al Capone

“Holy fuck, Ryland, I told you. I fucking told you,” Greg exasperatedly stated, throwing his hands defiantly up in the cold air.
“Told me what, you idiot?” his friend angrily shot back.
“That your so called shortcut would get us fucking lost. Now look at us. Where the fuck are we?”
Ryland furiously shook his head, his curly and wavy blond locks whipping about with the heavy winds soaring around the two men. “Whatever dude, I thought for sure that this would lead us back to Tacoma.”
“What?” Greg shouted back in response. He could not hear because of how loudly the wind howled over them.
Ryland rolled his brown eyes. “I said, I thought I was taking a path back to Tacoma…” he yelled, cupping a hand near his mouth.
Greg waved away the rest of his friend’s sentence. “Yeah, yeah.” He did not want to hear it. Tired and hungry, and now lost.
Glancing down the obscure and endless path, Greg sighed annoyingly. This particular road was not going to lead them back to the city of Tacoma. Downed trees littered the trail and the sides overflowed with bushes and other various shrubs, creating something of a natural barrier.
To Greg, it appeared to be nature’s way of telling you to turn back.
The sun disappeared a little more than an hour ago and substantial winds violently swirled around the men. With each heavy gust sweeping over the area, a loud howl would sound from deep within the forest. At least, Greg believed it was the wind howling. He really could not tell if animals were nearby as total darkness blanketed the two men as they stood among a mass of never-ending fir trees.
Earlier in the day, the two men took a road trip to the tiny town of Carbonado, Washington. Located along the main route to Mount Rainier from the western part of the state, most people would not even give the place a second glance. Worn down trailers and recreational vehicles substituted for homes. Bright yellow overgrown weeds dotted the yards, with other miscellaneous junk spilled across the dirty lawns.
Old cars.
Mattresses.
Children toys.
Seeing a tricycle rusting away in a yard caused Greg to jolt up his seat and peer more closely at the little town. Unnatural he thought, as no children were spotted playing outside even though it was the middle of summer.
Not too surprisingly, the nicest structures in the town happened to be state and federal: the school, fire station, and post office.
In fact, as Greg drove through Carbonado, he did not see anyone in the yards or sitting on their porches.
The busiest location seemed to be the only place to get real food.
Ted’s Bar & Grill.
With a dozen motorcycles parked in the front of the building flying a Gadsden flag, they skipped grabbing lunch there.
However, despite the unfriendly atmosphere, it was the perfect location for what the two friends sought in their new business investment.
Simply, a place to grow pot.
Since the use of marijuana became legal, the two friends decided to become suppliers of the drug.
Not dealers. That word was too dirty.
Suppliers.
Supply and demand.
Good, ole’ economics.
After looking at some property for sale near the town of Carbonado, the two men started to head back to Tacoma. Yet, instead of staying on Washington State Route 165, Ryland turned somewhere before the town of Buckley.
He said it was a shortcut.
Instead, the two men promptly got lost in the vast forestry wildness of rural Pierce County. Dusk fell quickly, and along with both men’s phone’s dead, their car was dangerously low on gas.
“Do you want me to head back?” Ryland asked, his tone of voice lowering. He was embarrassed.
“Yeah, I think we should…”
His friends skinny shoulder slumped in defeat. Crossing his pale arms together, Ryland glanced up to the dark sky.
“At least, let’s start heading back to where people are…”
Ryland’s head jerked suddenly. His brown eyes narrowed, gazing past Greg’s lean frame.
“What is it?”
“Someone might be coming,” Ryland pointed in the distance, behind his friend.
Greg squinted and, despite his horrible night vision, observed headlights rapidly approaching the men and their car from farther down the road.
“Thank god.”
Greg shook his head. Unlike his friend, Greg’s hair did not wildly fly around. His brown hair was cut short. Brown pupils scanned the darkness, straining as they did.
“Yeah man, hopefully it’s not some redneck dude looking for some sex slaves,” Ryland chuckled.
Greg spun to him. Tall and lanky with the long blond curls, his friend gave off a surfer vibe. The puka shell necklace he wore over his neck gave into this stereotype. A plain white t-shirt, with blue and red shorts did not help matters either.
Yet, since they were in Washington State, it was not a surfer vibe given off. Instead, it was stoner’s one.
Greg, on the other, wore a blue collared shirt with khaki shorts and black flip flops.
Come to think of it, I guess I give off a preppy vibe…
“Let’s hope we’re not taken hostage, like that one movie…Wrong Turn, I think it’s called…”
Greg snorted. “Ha, you’d enjoy that. Besides, you would probably just annoy the shit out of them anyways…”
“Aw, fuck you man…”
Blue and red lights unexpectedly begun flashing from the top of the vehicle, cutting through their conversation. The person coming upon them seemed to be a law enforcement officer of some sort.
Greg somewhat relaxed as the cruiser slowly pulled up and the engine shut off.
This is good…
For a full minute, nothing happened, as the driver did not immediately exit the vehicle. The wind continued whipping across both men, the gusts causing the branches of the giant trees to vigorously tremble and shake. Dry leaves swirled around the feet of the men, with Ryland stomping his foot down and crunching a few.
“Is the guy getting out?” Ryland finally whispered over the moaning wind.
“Uh, no idea…”
The door abruptly swung open, interrupting Greg in mid-sentence and answering his friend’s question.
A hunched over figure struggled to get out. Groaning, the person rocked back in their seat and grabbed the side of the roof from within the vehicle. Lifting themselves sluggishly out of the car, the person finally managed to stand upright.
After exerting obvious energy, the figure just leaned against the hood of the car for a few moments, catching their breath.
Greg glanced to Ryland, who just shrugged.
This is a little weird…
The figure then began to limp toward the two young men. While making their way over, a cowboy hat was tightly flung on top of the head.
Ryland was correct. We are indeed out in the boonies.
Steps away from the men, a flashlight was unexpectedly whipped out and a bright glimmer beamed in the direction of both Greg and Ryland.
“Ah,” Greg cried out, shielding his eyes with an arm.
Ryland did not say anything, but took a step back.
“What you boys doin’ here?” the man demanded in a backwoods drawl.
“We’re lost, sir…”
The man started laughing, a sharp crackle rising from him. “Yeah, I’d say you most certainly are. You are not from around here.”
“No, sir. We got off 165…”
The man continued strolling over, his black boots loudly crunching over the leaves and twigs scattered across the dirt roadway. Coming closer, Greg spotted a badge on the man’s chest.
“Officer, we just got turned around here…”
Greg had trouble seeing the face of the law enforcement figure because he was holding the flashlight directly in front of it.
“Sir…can you help us…”
A snort echoed from the officer. Lowering the flashlight, a rugged face rapidly became visible. The very first thing Greg noticed was the black eye patch. It covered his right eye, with an old scar stretching diagonally above it, and ending down across the middle of his cheek. The hair had not grown back from the old wound over his eyebrow, the mutilation on his cheek discolored as well. White and gray hair flowed freely from underneath the cowboy hat. The law enforcement man was dressed in a tan shirt and pants, a black line running up and down the middle of both trousers. Strangely, the officer did not appear to be armed. Greg only noticed a walkie-talkie strapped onto his belt.
Smiling, the man revealed two missing teeth on the top row.
We are in Deliverance…
Now wishing he never watched that movie when younger, as it was giving him
horrible ideas about what could happen.
“People aren’t really like that, right,” he remembers asking his father.
His dad chuckled at the question . “You’ve never met someone from the Appalachian mountains.”
“You boys alright?” The old man asked suddenly, interrupting his thoughts.
Greg casually nodded, glad for old man speaking up. “Yes, sir. We are, just almost out of gas and have no idea where we are at.”
“Well, honestly, you boys are nowhere.”
“Excuse me, sir?” Greg did not understand what the man meant.
“What I mean, is that there is nothing here. You are, literally, nowhere.”
Ryland and Greg quickly exchanged confusingly glances before turning their attention back to the officer.
He shrugged his pointy shoulders. “Sorry, rural humor.”
“Can you help us then?” Greg asked.
Surprisingly, the law enforcement man shook his head furiously, the demeanor swiftly changing in an instant. “No, no, I’m sorry boys. Best for you two to just get moving and continue on back where you came from…”
“Excuse me?” Ryland stepped toward him, anger piecing in his voice.
“Now, now…”
Ryland face grew dark red. “We’re almost out of gas…”
“I know, but…”
“No, I don’t think you do know. We’re fucking stuck out here.”
The older man sighed and put both hands on his hips. He directed his scowl at Ryland. “I can call a tow for ya boys. If you’re lucky, he can be here in a few hours…”
“That’s not good enough Officer…”
“Sheriff. It’s Sheriff Cullen.”
Ryland’s brown eyes burned with rage. He was not taking this well. “Well, Sheriff Cullen, my father is the police chief in Tacoma. So either you help us or I’ll tell my dad how you refused to help us and just left us here in the middle of, like you said, nowhere.”
That was not entirely true. Ryland’s dad was not the police chief, but his uncle held that title back in the city of Tacoma.
I guess dad sounds better…
Greg noticed Sheriff Cullen flinch for a slight second at the mention of law enforcement from another city getting involved.
“Whoa, whoa…hold on now, son. Let’s not go getting upset here and getting your daddy involved…”
Ryland confidently nodded, brushing the blond locks flowing over his eyes away. “Then take us to the nearest gas station…”
“That’s not a good idea…”
Ryland started pulling out his phone. “Just one call…”
Sheriff Cullen snorted again, rubbing his wrinkled chin. “Son, you ain’t got no service out here.”
“Yeah, that’s true. But once I get some service, I’ll be damn sure to put in a call that a Sheriff Cullen refused to help out stranded people. Maybe a call to a reporter, maybe bring some people back here…”
Sheriff Cullen sighed heavily, holding his hands out in defeat. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you…”
Greg frowned. “Warn us about what?”
Sheriff Cullen waved away Greg’s question. “Oh, nothin’ son. Fine, you two can follow me into town and we’ll give ya boys some grub.”
“And gas and directions so we can get out of here…right?”
Sheriff Cullen nodded vehemently at Greg’s question. “Oh yes, yeah, yeah of course.”
“That’s more like it,” Ryland declared.
“Oh son, you don’t want to start that with me…”
Greg stepped in between the two men, trying to calm them both. “We’re just tired Sheriff…”
“I get it…”
“Nah, you don’t Sheriff,” Ryland continued poking the law enforcement officer for whatever reason. More than likely, he was just cranky and decided Sheriff Cullen would be the beneficiary of his bitching and moaning.
Greg, yet again much to his annoyance, attempted in calming the Sheriff down. “We appreciate your help. Anyways, what town is this?”
Sheriff Cullen took a moment to continue glaring at Ryland with his one good eye, before rotating the gaze to Greg. “Well, it ain’t nothing official or anything, but it’s called Commodity.”
“Commodity?”
“Yeah, I know it sounds strange to some folks, but that’s what our founders called it. Way back in the early 1900s, this area was a logging camp. Since we were so far away from anything else, things like food and water were considered extremely valuable commodities.”
“Never heard of it…”
Sheriff Cullen laughed. “Yeah, we like to keep off the grid here. Why don’t you boys follow me, okay?”
“Sure thing, Sheriff. Thanks again.”
He nodded, limping away. “We can get you your gas and somethin’ nice to eat…for a small payment of course.”
Greg felt relief rush through him. “Yeah that sounds good. We got a debit and credit card.”
A boney finger waved in the air from Sheriff Cullen. “Don’t ya worry about that now. We’ll figure out the payment plan. Anyways, you boys follow me into town.”
As they headed back to their car, Greg could hear Sheriff Cullen quietly chuckling. Although he did not say anything to Ryland, Greg suspected that something was just not quite right.

For the next couple of minutes, the men were silent as they continued following Sheriff Cullen deeper and deeper down the road, heading farther into the forest. With it being so dark out, the cars could only crawl at a very slow pace. Greg could not visualize anything more than few yards in front of him.
A steep bump in the path caused the men’s heads to almost hit the roof of the car.
“Jesus Christ, we better be getting close to bumfuck or whatever it’s fucking called,” Ryland muttered, rubbing his head.
“Commodity.”
“What?”
“It’s called Commodity.”
Ryland chuckled, gripping the steering wheel tightly. “More like the place where someone’s cousin is also their husband or wife.”
Greg just grinned.
The Sheriff’s car finally slowed and turned left. A burned-out shack was the first thing man-made to greet the two men. Greg squinted, able to make out the wording ‘Henry’s Meat and Butcher Shop’ printed out on a sign hanging sideways from the top of it. As they passed, both men observed that the back end of the building had been destroyed, with weeds and other scrub now growing inside the structure. Whatever happened, evidently occurred years ago.
As they advanced forward, the area in front of them hastily opened up. Somewhat of a valley emerged in front of the friends. Two dozen buildings were scattered about, their dark silhouettes blending in against the endless landscape of trees filling up the dark background.
“Welcome to Commodity,” Ryland muttered.
The Sheriff’s brakes lit up as his vehicle came to an abrupt halt. Greg peered over. The town’s gas station was to their right, a single pump located in front of it. Cracked windows and tools piled up near a garage door emerged as Greg observed the building more closely.
“How the fuck do you think they get gas out here?”
Greg shook his head. “No idea dude. I don’t think a tanker would come all the way out here…”
Sheriff Cullen approached the car, leaning onto the driver’s side door.
Ryland quickly rolled down the window.
“Hey boys, I think Burt has gone home for the night, but I’ll go get him.”
Ryland nodded. “Thanks, Sheriff.”
Sheriff Cullen tapped the top of the roof with his knuckles before strolling away.
“Well I need to get out and stretch…” Greg opened his door and stepped out. He arched his back, bending over, trying to pop out the kinks plaguing him since the trip started hours and hours earlier.
I hate sitting in the car for that long…
Arching his neck up, Greg admired the stars gazing down upon him. The area was so peaceful.
No car horns or city sounds.
No people yelling.
Greg now realized why some people found this situation so appealing.
As he found himself studying the gas station more intently, Greg noticed the yard behind the building stretched out farther along then he realized.
Giant, dark lumps caught his attention.
Weird…
Walking past the side of the building, he saw dozens and dozens of cars scattered in the back lot with tarps over them. Squinting, he observed some vehicles had been stripped of essential items, such as an engine or rims.
Looking closer, he spotted an enormous pile of license plates stacked up against the back of the structure.
Oregon…California…Washington…Oregon…
“Whatcha you think you doin’ there?”
Greg jerked at the low growl of a voice piercing through the night air.
Spinning around, a large man glared down upon him, a finger directly pointed in his face.
“I asked you again son, whatcha doin’ back there?”
Greg stumbled. “I…I was…”
“Trespassin’ is what you were doin’…”
Greg shook his head. “No…no…”
The large frame of a man took a menacing step toward Greg. Angry, dark pupils burned right through Greg. The smell of gasoline filled the night air, as the oily stained figure in overalls moved closer.
Greg put his hands up in a defensive position.
Thankfully, a voice drifted over to them.
“Hey Burt! Stop right there!”
The voice belonged to Sheriff Cullen.
As Burt spun around, Greg observed he was dressed in dirty, greasy gray overalls, a faded green John Deere cap perched on top of his round head. Facing the side of the gas station attendant, Greg discovered that he was missing one arm.
Is everyone here missing a body piece…
Sheriff Cullen limped over to the scene, chuckling loudly. “Burt, these boys are with me…”
“This one right here was trespassin’, Sheriff…” Burt pointed an accusing finger at Greg.
Sheriff Cullen waved him off. “Now, Burt, these boys aren’t tryin’ to do any harm…”
“Peekin’ and pokin’ around my property…”
Cullen nodded. “They don’t know the rules here. But I will remind them. But in the meantime, I want you to fill them up…”
Burt’s haggered face flushed with confusion. “Gas…?” he asked, a bushy eyebrow arching in surprise.
Sheriff Cullen nodded, wrinkles forming on the corners of his eyes as he narrowed a gaze at the gas station attendant. “Yes, give ’em some fuel…I’ll be along in a minute. Gotta alert the council of our guests.”
Greg withheld a snicker.
A council?
Seriously?
“Okay boys, you go get some fuel and I’ll be back in a minute here…”
Sheriff Cullen waved at the two men before limping away to a cluster of buildings. Greg watched him lumber toward a lone, darkened structure that rose up above the rest of the town’s buildings. Suddenly, a light flickered in front of the entrance. Greg saw the law enforcement man limp up the stairs and enter the building. Another light flicked alive inside before a curtain closed over the window.
Weird…
“Greg, yo, let’s go…” Ryland broke through the thoughts of Greg.
“Yeah man…”
Both men entered the gas station, an annoying jingling sound ringing from the door. A musty odor immediately socked them.
Greg wrinkled his nose at the smell.
Ryland was less settle about it. “Whoa, stinks like old man,” he loudly chuckled, pinching his nose with some fingers.
“Dude, be quiet,” Greg quietly huffed.
“Man, that old geezer can’t hear shit.”
Burt flipped a sign around on the front door, indicating the gas station was now open.
Who was going to come fill up for gas way out here?
Looking about, Greg noticed the shelves filled mostly with dust and cobwebs. A few had discolored magazines and old, yellow newspapers stacked upon each other.
Ryland picked up a pile of magazines, the pages crumpling as he squeezed them.
“What the fuck is this? Yo, Burt, where’s the snacks at?”
Burt positioned himself behind the counter, near the cash register. “What’s that boy?” He cupped a hand behind his ear.
“Snacks, ya know. Like Beefy Jerky…”
Burt snorted. “This here a gas station, boy. You want some grub, you gotta go to the diner.”
“Wow. Thanks old man, thanks.”
“What’s that, son?”
Ryand waved a hand in the air. “Oh, nothing, thanks Burt. You’re so helpful.”
Greg glanced at one of the old newspapers. Dated from 1923, the headline stated:

‘Logging Camp Burned Down: Tales of Cannibals and Flesh Eating People’

Greg chuckled softly. People were so gullible.
Another headline caught his eye. This one had the title printed as:

‘Butcher Lynched and Burned.’

Reading the beginning, the story grabbed Greg’s immediate attention.

“…Henry Ellison, a local butcher at Logging Camp 421, was burned and then hung by his neck until death. The mob, a mixture of loggers and local folks, raided the meat shop early on Tuesday morning upon learning the gruesome details of what Mr. Ellison was doing inside his place of work. Although it is only still rumor, reports state that Mr. Ellison would freely butch poor humans and then sell and eat their body parts all around the community…”

“Come pay for the gas now. I’m all ready for yer.” Burt interrupted Greg’s reading. He waved them over to him with his one good arm. “You boys gonna have to pump it yourself.”
The two men approached the counter. Greg pulled out a wallet and yanked his card from it.
Burt frowned as Greg looked to swipe his card.
“What are you doing?” he growled, yellow stained teeth revealed as his mouth opened up.
Greg looked confusingly at him. “Trying to pay for the gas.”
The gas station’s gray and black bushy eyebrows furrowed deeper, forming a V shape across his face. “I don’t think you understand…”
The door jingled again and Sheriff Cullen entered.
Burt raised his arm at him. “Sheriff, sheriff, these boys are trying to pay…”
“Yes, I know Burt, they are trying to use a card.” Cullen faced Greg and Ryland. “Sorry boys, but we have a different form of currency here.”
“You mean, like cash?”
Sheriff Cullen laughed at that question. It seemed to be a ludicrous inquiry to him. “No, we usually barter goods. Since we’re so far away from anyone here, we trade goods that people can utilize and use for themselves.”
“I’m sorry Sheriff, we don’t have any cash on us…”
Sheriff Cullen brushed that suggestion away.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll find…something we can agree to trade with here…”
Greg shrugged his broad shoulders. “I’m not sure what we can trade here…”
Sheriff Cullen again waved away any concern from Greg. A smile was plastered on his old, faded pale face. “Don’t worry about it now. Now, I’m sure you boys are pretty hungry…”
“Hell yes!” Ryland pumped his fist in the air, the puka shells bouncing around across his neck.
“If you boys want to follow me?” He motioned to the door.
Greg and Ryland nodded and followed the Sheriff outside.
“We gotta pump the gas…” Greg voiced his concern yet again.
“Oh nonsense, son. I’ll have Burt fill yer up while you eatin’.”
“Are you sure?”
Sheriff Cullen chuckled. “Oh, yes for sure. Showin’ you some small town hospitality.”
“Appreciate it Sheriff, thank you.”
“Uh huh.”
The three men continued walking along a beaten path. Ryland spotted a post office and began snickering. Sheriff Cullen looked back to him, frowning at the young man.
“A post office?”
Cullen nodded. “Ya, we get mail sometimes here. Also, we have to send…some packages out occasionally. So a chopper will land there in the back.”
Greg noticed lights in the form of a circle scattered on the ground. Brightly lit up, as if expecting a helicopter to be landing sometime soon.
Going past by a church, a wooden structure stood out front, catching his friend’s attention.
“What the fuck is that?” Ryland demanded, pointing at it.
“A pillory.”
“A what?”
Cullen stopped and jerked his head to it. “A pillory. It’s where we hold offenders.”
“You mean, used to hold offenders?”
Cullen begun limping down the beaten trail again. “Nope, we still have some need for it in these parts.”
Ryland and Greg exchanged worried looks.
They still used medieval torture techniques out here?
Dark stains dotted the ground around the pillory, indicating the device had been used recently.
Advancing further into the town square, they strolled past the building that loomed over all others.
‘The Council’ was plastered on a sign hanging from the roof.
The structure stretched out for three levels, dark curtains covering all the windows. Unlike the other black buildings, this one was painted white.
Greg noticed the outline of three figures near a window on the ground floor. They appeared to be watching the men go past.
The council?
“Ah, here we go…” Sheriff Cullen led them to an adjacent building marked ‘Ellison Diner.’
The diner was a two-story building, perched at the end of the town square. Only yards
away from the treeline, a porch wrapped itself around the front of the structure.
“This is where we can get you some food before you go.”
“Appreciate it Sheriff,” Greg remarked, still wondering about the people observing them. Slowly rotating his head, he no longer saw them looking out the window.
“Of course. You boys just relax and get your bellies full.”
“We can’t pay you right now…”
“Again, I’m sure we can find something to barter with here.”
The door swung open, and a lean figure appeared on the porch.
“Catherine, is that you?” the law enforcement officer inquired.
The figure on the porch stepped forward, moving into the light illuminated from the full moon.
It was a young woman.
Green eyes straight back at the two men.
“Hello, Sheriff.”
Greg’s mouth dropped at the sight of the stunning woman. Long, brunette hair flowed down across the shoulders. Tan, olive skin sparkled in the moonlight. Red lipstick covered her lips, which she pursed together. She wore a white apron over a black dress, which appeared to be smeared with blood.
Her expression bore that of tiredness, heavy dark bags under the eyes. Wrinkles were prevalent on the corners of them, and her thin shoulders hunched over a slender body.
She eyed the two men before swinging the green pupils back to the Sheriff.
“Catherine, we have some guests. I’d appreciate if you give them some food and water…”
“We can pay…” Greg tried reminding them again.
“They will pay later, Catherine. I’m sure we’ll think of some sort of commodity they have that we can utilize.”
“That joke was funny the first time you told it, Charles.”
The sheriff chuckled, the gap in his teeth showing as he grinned. “It’s a nice little pun…you know, a little play on the name of a town…”
“We get it, Charles,” Catherine sighed tiredly. She swung her gaze at the two men. “Come on in, I’m sure that you two are hungry.”
“You bet…”
Climbing up the stairs, Greg felt the three figures burning a hole into his back even though they were no longer visible to him.
Catherine led the men inside, pointing to an empty table. “Choose any open table.”
Ryland and Greg each took a seat directly across from each other at a table in the back, by a small window. Glancing over, Greg saw four other tables, only one of them occupied by a lone individual. A lamp perched on a shelf lit up the room, yet it was still pretty dark inside. Stairs led to an upper level, although it was blocked off by a sign stating ‘No Vacancies.’
“Here you go,” Catherine stated as two menus were dropped at their table.
“Is this your place?” Greg asked, looking up at her.
Catherine proudly nodded. “Yep. Why you shocked someone like myself runs this?”
Ryland snickered, lifting his face up at her. “Actually, yes. Someone as hot as you…”
“Ryland, jeez man.”
His friend shrugged. “What man, she’s fucking hot…”
To their surprise, Catherine laughed. “Oh I know how you boys are. Whether it’s small or big city, you men are the same. Besides, I can handle you two city slickers…”
“Yeah baby!” Ryland shouted, grinning widely at her as she strolled away.
Greg shook his head, but suddenly jerked it at the window near them.
“What the fuck…”
A procession of people streamed toward the tree line, their torches lighting a path.
“Dude, that is weird…”
“What?” Ryland asked, his gaze continuing to linger at the owner.
“Look behind you,” Greg responded, keeping his voice hushed. He did not want to draw attention to them.
Ryland swung his head over, his eyes growing wide at the scene. “That is strange.”
Around ten people were in the column, pulling hoods over their heads as they begun to disappear behind the vast forest surrounding the town.
Ryland turned and faced Greg. “Oh well.”
“Oh well? Dude, we need to get out of here…”
“Hey man, I told you, someone’s cousin is their spouse here. Besides our server is a real hottie, everyone else looks like they are related to one another…”
“Quiet man, you’re talking too loud,” hissed Greg.
Ryland laughed and shrugged off his worries. “Whatever man, I’m hungry.” He opened his menu and scanned it.
Greg folded his menu open as well, but had lost his appetite. From the three figures he guessed were ‘the council’, to the people he just witnessed going into the forest, Greg felt something within this town was not right.
Something is wrong here…
While he wanted to share his worries with Ryland, he suspected his friend would brush aside any concern.
So he decided to keep quiet.
Catherine approached the their table again. “What would you men like?”
Greg looked at the menu.

Breakfast
Steak & Eggs
Hash browns

Lunch
Steak & Potatoes
House Soup

Dinner
Steak & Veggies
House Soup
Steak Salad

Not much of a choice…
“Just soup please…” Greg mumbled.
“Not hungry, hon?” Catherine inquired, scribbling down on a pad.
“Not really…”
“Well, I’m hungry babe. I’ll have myself some steak baby…I like red meat.”
Catherine smiled at Ryland, her bright white teeth shining in the half lit room. “Oh yes, our meat here is the finest…”
Ryland grinned back at her, nodding his head up and down. His brown eyes danced with delight at the conversation with Catherine. “I bet it is.”
She laughed, seemingly enjoying the flirting going back and forth. “I’ll be back boys.”
Ryland did not hide the fact he was admiring her as she left.
“Damn, that’s a fine piece of ass…”
“Jeez dude, calm down there, we aren’t in the city anymore.”
“So?” His friend’s shoulders shrugged uncaringly as he brushed away the blonde locks falling across his forehead. He held no worries about his behavior or the situation they found themselves in.
“So?” Greg repeated. “What I mean is you shouldn’t be hitting on her.”
“Man, why not…”
“Because,” Greg whispered, “this is a tiny town. Jesus dude, you don’t hit on the town’s women…”
Ryland flicked a hand in the air. “Whatever man. We’re stuck here, might as well enjoy myself while we’re here.”
For the next couple of minutes, a hush settled over the table as both men became lost in their own thoughts. Greg thought he observed torches moving in the distance, but with his eyes straining, was not certain.
The other, lone customer in the place was hunched over, their back to the men. He had not moved or eaten since they arrived.
“Isn’t this town weird?” Greg decided he could not stand the complete silence that had fallen over the two men.
Ryland bobbed his head. “Well, yeah man, it’s in the middle of nowhere…”
“What?”
Ryland grinned. “Ya know, it’s out in the middle of nowhere…hahaha…”
“That’s not what I mean. Something just isn’t right here…”
“You’re worrying too much, man. Just enjoy your soup…”
“Here you two go,” Catherine announced as she set a plate of steak in front of Ryland and a bowl of soup right next to Greg.
“MMMMMMM,” Ryland rubbed his hands together.
“Go ahead boys, and dig in! I’ll be in the back. Just shout if you need me,” Catherine stated.
“You got it baby,” Ryland said. He dug into his meal immediately, slicing open the steak and taking a few bites.
Greg pulled his soup bowl closer. The heat from it rose up, and he grabbed a spoon, slowly stirring it.
Something was not right. He felt it in his chest, which tightened up.
Maybe I am overreacting…
“How’s the steak?” he asked, attempting to swipe any worries aside.
Ryland nodded. “Oh man, it’s great. Some of the best I’ve had…”
“Is it now?” Catherine appeared near them. She pulled out a seat and sat down.
“Hope you boys don’t mind me joining you.”
“Of course not.” Ryland grinned, his mouth full of meat. Some steak juice dribbled down his chin as spoke to her. “Have a seat, baby…”
“So, how did you find yourself out here?” Greg asked, letting his friend chew on the steak in his mouth before he choked on it.
“I was born here…”
“Seriously?”
Catherine shot him a look, her green pupils blazing at him. “Yes, why is that hard to believe?”
“Oh, nothing. Only that, well, this place is so far from anything…”
“Oh yes, my family has roots from the very beginning here. So I hope to continue that family line.”
“Uh, nice…” He awkwardly took a sip of the soup. It burned his throat as he swallowed it.
Pretty good actually…
Tasted like steak.
“But what are you boys doing way out here?” Her bright green eyes danced over to both men.
“Well…” Greg hesitated to answer the question.
His friend, however, did not.
“We growing some pot baby.”
Catherine glanced between both men, a smirk flashing over her thin face. “Oh really now? Like looking for fields to grow it in?”
Ryland nodded. “Oh yeah,” he stated, shoving another piece of meat into his mouth. “We are looking for fields and areas to expand our weed business.”
“That’s very interesting,” Catherine stated, folding her hands onto the table.
“Yeah, Greg here is a smart guy. Always talking about the economy and how…well, how there’s like… supply, and we are going to supply it…aw, damn it man, what is it?”
Greg sighed. His friend had a big mouth.
“Just supply and demand. Simple, really. There’s a demand for items, and we’re going to be the suppliers of that.”
Catherine slapped a hand on the table. “Damn it, I never thought of it like that, but supply and demand, wow, that just sums it up, doesn’t it!” she exclaimed.
Ryland bobbed his head, curly locks flowing over the eyes as he did so.
“This little community is self-sufficient,” Catherine stated, closely watching Greg bring up the spoon to his mouth and swallow some more soup.
“Oh really?”
“Yes. We’ve managed to survive here for over a hundred years with no contact or help from the outside world.”
“How did you do it?” Greg asked, somewhat intrigued at what her answer was going to be.
Catherine’s green eyes narrowed at him. “We have our ways.”
“Like what?”
“Some might find those ways…unusual…”
“Oh man, I gotta use the bathroom,” Ryland interrupted, rubbing his stomach.
Catherine laughed. “Outhouse.”
“Outhouse?”
She pointed out the back, toward the treeline. “Yes. There’s a door past the staircase when you take a left. Just follow that and you’ll see the outhouse.”
“What?
Catherine grinned. “You think we have plumbing out here?” She laughed at that thought, slapping her hands together.
“Well, I don’t know…” Ryland stood up and lumbered past the table. His friend disappeared from view, swinging around the staircase
“Don’t worry,” Catherine called after him, “we have toilet paper. We aren’t savages.”
Greg chuckled. Taking another sip of soup, he noticed Catherine staring at him.
“What is it?”
“Oh nothing. Just usually, we don’t get strangers coming into our little community…willingly…”
Greg coughed suddenly. His throat burned.
“Are you okay?”
Greg glanced up to Catherine, whose voice begin fading away.
“Whaaa…” Greg also started to feel somewhat light-headed. “Ohhh man, I just don’t feel that great…”
Catherine laughed, a deep snort echoing over the table. “Well, you shouldn’t have eaten the soup without having a way to pay for it…”
A scream then rose up from outside.
Ryland.
Greg stood up, and stumbled over, colliding into a nearby table. His vision danced around as he struggled to maintain his balance.
“Don’t worry about your friend, the council will take care of him…but you’re mine…”
“I don’t…understand…”
“You see, around these parts, there are no IOUs or credit. You either have the ability to pay for something or…”
Greg fell to his knees. Sweat now poured down his face. “Or…what…?”
“Or we will take something from you…preferably something valuable…a valuable commodity as Sheriff Cullen would state.”
Greg tumbled over, falling to the floor. Catherine’s face loomed over him. “All around here, the most valuable commodities are food, water, and body parts.”
Greg did not think he heard her correctly. “Body…body…parts?”
Catherine now hunched over him. She leaned her face in closely. The green eyes glowed as she spoke to him. “Oh yes, especially body parts. And looking at you, you are especially valuable with some excellent commodities…”
“I don’t understand…”
“Looking at you, you seem healthy and have some excellent organs that can be utilized…”
“You eat…human meat…”
Catherine sniffed, crinkling her tiny nose. “No, Jesus Christ. You’ve seen too many horror movies about rednecks. Jesus.”
Greg realized he was about to pass out.
“We’ve evolved now. Now we sell them to the highest bidder. Just like how you put it, supply and demand.”
Behind the post office.
The helicopter pad.
It was used to funnel out human organs.
Greg and Ryland stumbled onto a human organs smuggling operation.
“You’re…you’re…joking…” Greg’s vision swirled more rapidly as darkness crept closer and closer to him.
“Catherine, is this our donor?” a different voice called out.
Catherine nodded. “Yes.”
Another figure hunched over next to Greg. “Oh, yes, yes, he will make an excellent donor.”
A faint sound rose up.
“Helicopter is almost here…”
“Damn, that was quick…” Greg still recognized Catherine’s voice.
“Yes, well when we tell BioTech Pharmaceuticals that we have fresh organs to harvest, they make us a priority.”
It made sense to Greg now. All the abandoned and stripped cars. The license plates stacked up against the gas station.
This town kidnapped people and then harvested their organs.
Sold them to the highest bidder.
“Animals…you fucking animals…”
The unnamed figure glanced down to Greg. “Animals?” they chuckled, repeating it. “It’s so simple. In fact, I listened to you talk about economics. Well, this is unfettered capitalism. Simple supply and demand. And the fact is, there is a higher demand for fresh organs than can be supplied. So that’s where we step in. We provide that supply. Anyways, if you had the means to pay for the meal here, than we wouldn’t have felt the need to supply the payment. But everyone has a price they need to pay. Nothing is free. Supply and demand…”
Those final words rang hollow in Greg’s head as he finally passed out.
Supply and demand…

One year later

The car weaved violently, attempting to avoid the body lying in the middle of the street. Swerving wildly, the vehicle almost crashed into a ditch as it pulled over to the shoulder of the road. A woman hastily jumped out, concerned for the figure she almost ran over.
“Hello! Oh my god! Are you okay!” She shrieked, dashing to the body. Hearing no answer, she worryingly kneeled over the figure, now recognizing it as a young man.
“Oh my god, are you hurt?” She shook the person, but there was no clear response. Turning the body over, she thought mumbling was coming from him. She leaned in closer in an attempt to hear if that was the case.
“What’s that?”
“Help…help…”
She turned her face away and put her ear down by the stranger’s mouth. “What’s that? Can you tell me your name and if there’s anything wrong with you?”
As a result, she never spotted the needle until it was stuck into her arm.
“What are you doing?” she cried out before rapidly losing consciousness. The woman crumpled over, collapsing onto the pavement.
Standing back up, Greg called out for the person hiding in the bushes.
“It’s done.”
Catherine appeared, jogging over to the scene.
“Good job,” she squealed to him. “You’re a natural!”
“Yeah, yeah.”
“Hey now, don’t get grumpy. You get grumpy, and you’ll get punished. You’re lucky the council allows me to take you out now.” She then faced the woman on the ground. “Oh, she’ll make a good organ donor…she’s very young and vibrant.”
Catherine spun around, facing Greg.
“Do you want to drive her back?”
“Ha, you’re funny.”
Catherine snickered at her own joke.
However, Greg did not return the snicker.
He could not drive because of a valuable commodity taken from him a year ago.
His vision.
His cornea’s had been surgically removed, and as a result, was completely blind.

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