Chapter 07: The trading post.

The south ridge was inaccessible from the sides, which dropped from the plateau back down the mountain in to the surrounding woods. The only enterence was dead in the middle, facing the ridge. The population long ago, had managed to pad out the trail across the ridge to be more accomodating, but that had never passed much beyond the length of the settlement.
As Sartoris drew closer to the ridge, the shapes drew into view. There was a low white wall edging around the plateau mostly for the safety of the residents. Peaking above it to the south he could make out the structure of the communal area, the scaffolding of cheap lumber draped in grimey clothes, blowing softly in the wind. Along the crest of the ridge were recreational trailers stacked high, and reinforced with lumber. Unlike much of the area, there was no filth lining these trailers. They were well-maintained, sturdy and clean, albeit small. This is where the rich and legacy residents lived. It was a wall of individual rooms and apartments, build into and reinforced with lumber from the surrounding forest. Jutting south of that was the communal toilets, with sewers pooling and emptying from a troth built into the wall.

Sartoris drew nearer to the walls, and the pebbly ridge bath widened to broad boards, and his shadow rose and was pasted against the white wall. As he dew near the main gateway, he began to run into lone transients, outcast or seeking reprieve, without the obligation of self-sustinence. A few eyed him coldly, but mostly they just stood or sat at the edge of the road, looking distantly across the valley.

He continued past, moving closer to the wall, and finally came to the main entry to the town. It was open, as always and Sartoris made his way under the mass of lumber and trailers and walked straight directly into the trading booth.

The trading booth was typically the only thing that Sartoris came into contact with when he visited the south ridge, there were few amenities that interested him, and he viewed most of the denizens as being the same people he saw on the way in, just on the other side of social alienation.

The trading booth, like the trailer structure, was built of lumber, and was a huge square dead center in the plateau. It was entirely open air, but covered, and was littered with indiviuals laying out random wares artisan things or cultural relics found in litter piles outside the town or stolen from hermits. Others sold cured meat or properly tailored felt clothes. And more than a few sold their hommade concoctions, mostly liquor, but there were always new things made by local tinkerers.

The merchants, seeing Sartoris he was acknowledged briefly, and the words of the others passed him without being absorbed. He stopped and backtracked for a moment, walked outside and unloaded his felt. He sorted them sheet by sheet, rolling each sheet into a narrow cylinder, occasionally folding one over first. He strapped his prime material back onto his back, in carefully organized rolls, and loaded up his arm with the less than prime rolls.

The post, though open, managed still to feel confined and musty, the out of town traders mostly kept their way to one corner, dealing largely in raw goods. Sartoris made his way round, and looked at the goods, there was a very appealing broken shard of a mirror that could allegedly cut hair better than his, but he figured he shouldn’t mess with success. Turning from the first blanket, glanced at the second. Books, mostly. Books never moved because literacy was largely found unimportant. The few that read prized very specific books, certain literature, and textbooks. The ones here were thick paperbacks that mostly had covers of some dude dressed like a froofy pirate and some chick with heaving breasts tied to a boat or some shit. Since they were indistinguishable by their covers, even sophistacated readers couldnt understand why the should bother reading so many books that looked the same. Regardless, they all seemed to take place in some fantasy land and involve a lot of complicated feelings that just didnt seem relevant on the south ridge.

That carried through to the appearance of the man running the blanket. He was lying on his side and looked like he had spent the last week climbing from one end to the other of an ancient rusted chimney. He clearly had no interest in books, and had simply come to a large pile of them from some method. There were a few odds and ends, but mostly appeared to be broken plastic toys. Sartoris moved on. A liquor dealer. He was a swarthy man, crooked along his spine, squat and balding. He had piles of recycled bottles filled with liquids all ranging between yellow and brown.

Sartoris stopped. He was in the market for liquor, certainly, but this was his first stop and there were certainly other liquor dealers.

“What do you have?”

The crooked man hissed: “What do you want?”

“Well, I wear all felt, and i live in a shack in the woods and my hobby is shaving wild animals. Also I pay everyone in felt made from onions.”

“Exsquisite” said the liquor dealer, “perhaps i could interest the gentlman in this area”, he motioned to the upper right corner of the blanket. There was a small square of corked coke bottles, with a light yellow tinge. “This is quite an exotic one, a small still on the border of the north ridge, a trader who just cultivates the ripest fruits along the border. Something strong in that. Really fucks you up, eh?”

Sartoris picked one up and popped the cork out. It smelled like a burning animal corpse.

“Not bad,” said Sartoris “but whats the recoil?”
He meant hangovers.

“Would the gentleman like a sample?”, he took the bottle and poured a short corner into a communal shot glass.

Sartoris took the drink without heistation, the shot burned from the middle of his tongue straight down his throat. His left eye squinted and he felt a shiver convulse over his body. He stood tall, but gasped for breath, his sinuses cleared and the world looked just a little cockeyed until he got a couple good breaths.

“Not bad,” repeated Sartoris. “Ill give you this roll for the lot of it.”

“And the gentleman asks for the best of my stock while offering me a fist of his refuse. Perhaps he could part with a large roll weighing him down.”

And so the haggling went insufferably on, Sartoris not being anywhere near the businessman that he was the trapper. In the end, he unloaded a small prime roll for the lot, plus a few bottles in PET water bottles that daylight could barely see through. Sartoris wasn’t always picky about what to drink.

The rest of the trading continued like that. Irascible mutes, bizarrely shaped mosquito men, broken mirrors and toys. Sartoris made his way around the post, picking up liquor and exotic cured meats from the west ridge. Slowly, his packmule load of fabrics was replaced with his new cargo.

At the end of the day, he walked out of the outpost, laden with bottles and small hooks of meat, stumbling from all the “samples” he had taken. The world was becoming hazier and he stumbled forward, barely able to handle the weight on his back.

He walked out to the ridge, and watched as the sun made its way westward, beyond the forwest in the distance. As the sun grew dim, a silent wind dragged across the valley in front of him. He could hear the topmost branches in the brambles snap and drag across into clusters of kindling humming a stifled whistle.

Sartoris looked around, the outlines of the transients began to fade into the darkness, and he found that he was in no condition to bear the crossing back to the ridge. He stumbled forward a few steps, but the weight of his cargo was taking its toll. Thinkingly, he grabbed a piece of cured meat off a nearby pack hook, and started chewing it. That dried out his mouth, so he pulled a bottle of the drinking liquor he had managed to trade for some inferior felt.

He reconsidered making his way back so late and drunk, but he turned around just in time to get the gates shut in his face. It wasn’t his condition or any malice, it was, as the gateman said “just the way it goes, buddy”.

So Sartoris stood there, watching the night come and listening to the low hum of the shattered undergrowth in front of him. The valley at night was almost undetectable, if there was still a river down there, it couldnt be seen through the toxic vegetation. With the isolation of the ridge, there were very few discernable structures along the ridge, save for the trailer village behind him.

The murmur of the valley was unnerving, Sartoris turned back towards the path to the east ridge, and moved forward. He stumbled at times, across the logs making the excursion in front of the ridge, he would catch his foot against the grain, and his pack would again push him forward. Fortunately, he could make use of his hands and catch the wall with his hands and brace himself. Most of the transients, still out at nigh would notice him and back away, shunning any possible interaction.

Occasionally, one of the transients would approach him.
“Hey buddy looks like you got too much to handle there, why dont you just gimme a couple of those bottles, we can work something out.” Sartoris would always shove them back, unforgivingly and move forward. Between the bramble and the hangers-on, and the previous days lack of luck, Sartoris was hardcore struggling. Eventually, he came to the end of the wall, and the log platform condensed to the path along the ridge. Behind him were still the straggling transients, fiending for his wares, and in front of him was a treacherous path that he could not navigate in his current condition.

He remembered the low wall along the side, and hatched a stupid, drunken plan. He took off his pack and held it in front of him, and backed up against the wall. He poked his head around the corner. Over the murr of the valley, he began to hear louder murmurs from the folks behind him: “hey, he put his pack down”, “i dont think he’s gonna make it”, “dibs!”.

Around the corner he saw the wall drop off from the imposing facade down to just below eye level, just a few feet beyond. The downside: it overlooked the steep dropoff of the plateau down into the woods of the east ridge. He heard footsteps grow louder and faster. In his drunken state he tried to get rid of his entire pack, he grabbed it by the shoulder straps swung it in circles, hearing the running feet draw ever closer. He let go of the pack as he stepped over the edge of the platform and fell into the woods edging the plateau. The last thing he sees is a mob running to the edge of the platform, his pack making a narrow sail over the wall towards the trailers, and the trees closing in on his view as his consciousness left and the night came in.