2019-04-08 10:00 fiction reel

ReeL Deal

Willm walked through the lanes created by the haphazardly placed cars of the caravan. Some tents had been put up. Stands that had been pulled behind cars and trucks were opened. He smelled weed and piss and campfire. Behind him there was a shriek, then an outbreak of laughter.

Most of the stuff caravans sold was shit. Jerky made from roadkill. Weird, abrasive fabric recycled from who knows what. Religious items, roadside reliquaries. Curiosities and hokum. Home cures. Questionable dentistry services, raccoon teeth implants or a quick spackling job. Doctors that might have once been certified, now chain smoking mercenaries. Bad legal advice and fortune tellers. Pain givers and pain takers. Delectable and rare tidbits—at least that was the pitch, along with all the other pitches, delivered with practiced verisimilitude. Every caravan was mostly the same caravan, more or less the same cast of characters, winding their way across the country, trading for what they could and providing some entertainment wherever they stopped.

Willm liked the caravans but they weren't without friction. He knew the sheriff got his cut, but sometimes the town became confrontational and they were told to leave. When they were here naturally business at the market was off. This bred resentment, yet everyone went, and everyone denied it.

He slowly poked around. He was looking for ReeLs they sold in caravans, the oddities, rejects, occasional classics. The hardware might be antique, and hit or miss, but now and then you'd find something great. Once he'd picked up an old experimental ReeL, if you'd call it that, which must've been made with a first generation rig. It was full of strange non sequiturs, moments of disparate, unexpected beauty. At first he didn't know why the ReeL hadn't been overwritten. Maybe other people had watched it the way he watched it, and had formed a similar connection with it—the story was no story, it was like spying on another person's dream. He knew someday he'd grow tired of it, lazily deciding it wasn't worth recycling, and it would end up back in a caravan.

Then Willm turned a corner and saw Bug. He was talking to one of the sellers, standing next to several large bins full of electronic and mechanical hodgepodge. Bug had a few things in hand already, and was haggling. His eyes were made absurdly large and distorted by his corrective goggles as he swiveled his head back and forth, thoroughly, over the items in the bin. As Willm approached he saw the parts Bug had collected more closely and was positive they were for making drones. Very illegal. Not that Willm hadn't done precisely the same thing too, although not in a long time. It was fun but wasn't worth the hassle if you ever got caught. And these days the gov seemed more aggressive about enforcement.

What was Bug doing making drones, he wondered. Before he walked up he studied Bug for a moment, bargaining with the owner, he watched his posture, he watched his minimal but effective hand gestures. These were techniques he'd seen Bug develop when they were growing up, if they could call themselves grown up now, as if Bug were refining a tool. Because of his odd appearance Bug had learned to become intimidating.

"Bug," Willm said.

Bug looked up, saw Willm and executed as close to a smile as Willm was likely to get, then continued the task of looking through the bins.

"Willm," Bug said blankly, "help me find one more receiver."

"Sure." Willm began routing through the opposite bin.

"I remember you were good at this," Bug said, flipping over a corroded, cracked electronics board, "you still good?"

"I don't think I've forgotten anything," Willm replied.

"Interested in some work?" Bug asked, "I've got a project that could use somebody like you."