The river was calm under the gray morning sky. Riley felt the familiar squish of the ground
external image North-Shore-Channel-at-NSCP-August-2013.jpgunderneath her feet as she reached the bank. She smiled to herself and took a deep breath. The air was harsh with the odor coming off the water. The mix of sulfur and gasoline often made many people sick to their stomach. It didn’t really bother her much anymore.

Riley began to walk in silence along the shore. The Wardings were quiet this early in the day. Even the Red Hand, a group Riley had avoided when she was a child, were still sound asleep in their run down hideouts scattered across the district. She could still remember her mother telling her to stay away from this place because of them. She would never listen to those warnings. Her and her friends always came down here to play among the towering Warding Stones. She ran her hand across one as she passed it. It’s cool, rough exterior tingled the tips of her fingers. This one was Mary. She remembered because it was the one they would always use as a base for hide and seek. Sailors who passed would always wave and call out to Mary in hopes of a good trip. As she continued down the shore, she tried to recall the rest of the stones' names. Jacob. Aria. Calvin. No, wait, that was Rachel. Then Calvin. And Lily.

She came to a stop in front of the next stone. It was a bit shorter than all the others. It’s edges were much smoother though. She placed the side of her cheek flat against it, like she used to do when she would first get to the shore.

“Hey Riley…” she whispered to herself.

“I’d be careful putting my face on that if I was you. Some of the river muck never come off.” The voice ripped Riley out of her memories. She turned around, startled. Behind her stood a plump man. He stood only a bit taller than her, his hands in the pockets of his worn jacket. His face was round and his eyes were soft. Riley immediately recognized him.

Marvin?” she said, her hand still clutching her chest.

“That’s my name,” he said, “Usually I can recall a face pretty well, but I have to say, yours is stumping me.”

“It’s me Riley. Riley Pei.” Marvin squinted his eyes at Riley as if she was just a shape on the opposite bank of the river. After a moment, they snapped back open and he let out a soft chuckle.

“Well would you look at that. Riley Pei. I haven’t seen you in what, two years?”

“It’s been three.” Riley said. Of all the people to run into out here, she was happy to see Marvin. She reached out to give him a hug. Even with the odor in the air, she could still smell his store on the clothes he wore. It was the stuffy smell of wood and mothballs. It was comforting to her, one of the many smells she missed from here.

They broke the embrace and began walking back down the shore.

“How have you been?” Marvin began, “Last I heard, you were off to Omaha for awhile.”

“Well you heard right. Dr. Bartle invited me to travel with him there to research the plague more.”

“Still trying to figure out a cure, huh?”

“Trying, yes. If a cure was to be found, Omaha would be the place for it. The resources I used for study there were unlike anything I could have imagined. They even had an old world heart monitor that’s still functional. You would’ve enjoyed that.”

“Oh I bet I would,” Marvin said, “I assume you’re here on business then?”

“I’m going to be researching the plant filtration system at the plant to see if it can give us any more insight. The plague is… elegant. Anytime we think we take a step forward, it turns out to be a step right into a stone wall.” Riley looked up to see a boat passing them on the river. She can make out the faint sound of the sailors calling to the rocks for good luck. Marvin and her stop and wave. One of the sailors give them a small salute, then continues with his work.

“If anyone will find a way to stop it, you will. We all thought so when you left.” Marvin said.

“I know. How has everything been here?”

“Oh the same yet different.”

“What were you doing down here so early?”

Well, I heard a rumor that a boat would be bringing in some parts to repair a sewing machine I have back at the shop, but…” Marvin glanced around. The shore was still empty. He reached into a pocket on the inside of his coat.

“I happened to find this instead.” It was an old Colt. The years had not been too kind to it. Riley let out a slight gasp.

“Marvin, you know you’re not supposed to have that. You could get into a lot of trouble.”

“I’ll take them down to the Cage if I have to.” He smiled to himself, cradling the gun in his hands. “How could I pass something like this up? People in the old days used to be able to use two of these at once with complete accuracy.”

Marvin was always willing to take a risk when it came to old world stuff. Riley could still remember hearing all the stories of how he acquired the items displayed in his store. Some people thought he was a bit off his rocker.

“Just don’t get caught with it.” Riley put her hand over the Colt.. Marvin got the idea and slid it safely back into his pocket.

“You don’t need to worry about that.”

They continued to walk for awhile. Soon, Riley began to hear the sounds of stores opening and the town waking up. There were a few of the Red Hand hanging out further down the shore. It was about time to head to the plant.

“I’m going to have to get going, unfortunately,” she said to Marvin. He looked around.

“Yeah, it’s about time I head into town and open the store. If you happen to have some free time, don’t hesitate to stop by. Got some new things since you’ve been away, some great stories too.”

Riley nodded. “You can bet I’ll stop by as soon as I can.”

She gave Marvin another hug. He turned and headed towards town. Riley gave one last glance towards the river. The gray sky was beginning to let a few streams of light through and they danced across the murky water. She let out a sigh and headed back into town.