The Hunger Gap

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thehungergapAfter years of the government taking everything he grows, homesteader George Vega has had enough. Food is scarce and people are starving. To provide for himself, he’ll need to break the law. Together with his next-door neighbor June, he sets up a system to hide food from the controller during his weekly collecting visits.

Axel Rowe won’t survive much longer. Every scrap of food he can get his hands on, he gives to his six-year-old daughter, but it isn’t nearly enough. Luck is on his side when he secures a job as a controller. He realizes taking the job will make people dislike him, but he has to eat.

George understands the danger he’s in when his old, lazy controller is replaced with a new, more observant one. Axel suspects there is something George is withholding, but when George takes care of him after nearly collapsing from hunger, Axel is more curious about how he’s able to keep food for himself than he’s interested in reporting him. George knows the risk, but after having looked into Axel’s desperate eyes, he’s compelled to take care of him. But can an outlaw homesteader have a relationship with the man who’s supposed to make sure he follows the law?

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He focused on the man, George Vega—tall and dark-haired and in far better shape than Axel had ever been. He had strong arms, and while he was thin, he wasn’t malnourished. How could he not be malnourished? These days everyone was starving.

Is one meal part of your employment contract?” Axel wished he could’ve gotten a job which included a meal—but few jobs did—then he wouldn’t have to eat at home, and Mira could have it all.

Mr. Vega narrowed his almost black eyes. “Yes. Bread for breakfast every day.”

Even on days you’re not working?” Axel almost swayed as he realized how a benefit like that would have changed his life.

I’m working seven days a week.”

Axel stared. Seven days a week? Few jobs were seven days a week. His was only three, one extra this week, but that was only because it was his first day and he was supposed to get to know the route—still, it would earn him the middle-sized food package this week. It would save his and Mira’s lives.

The small food package he’d get every week was more than he’d had before, but only half as much food as George was entitled to, plus he got breakfast every day. Axel would get the extra child package, but there never was much in them, not nearly enough to feed Mira for a week.

He pushed down the resentment wanting to bubble up. He couldn’t work seven days a week. He had a child to take care of. Having this job would make their lives better, perhaps not as good as Mr. Vega’s life, but better than it had been.

So you get meals every day.”

Something flickered in Mr. Vega’s eyes, but then they hardened. “Yes.”

Axel nodded. “The barn?”

Mr. Vega glanced out the kitchen window. “I think the hens ran off into the woods, but I can show you where I keep them.”

Axel nodded. As Mr. Vega pulled the shirt over his head, he did his best not to notice how his muscles moved, but it was hard to look away. Axel looked like a skeleton next to him.

Let’s go.”

Axel nodded, and right as he turned to head for the front door, Mr. Vega flicked a light switch on the kitchen wall. Maybe he was turning on the light in the barn? He didn’t ask. It was his right to inspect everything on the property, and one day he would, but right now it was a struggle to stay upright. They’d check the barn, so Mr. Vega would know he’d monitor his small farmstead, but then he needed to sit.

Axel hadn’t been in a barn in about thirty years. He’d spent the summers with his grandmother as a child, and she’d had a small farm similar to this. But that had been before the economy collapsed, before people were starving. Axel hadn’t paid much attention, there had been food in abundance, and no weekly controls or food tolls.

I keep them here.” Mr. Vega gestured at a small stall with a couple of laying boxes in the corner and a roosting bar on the opposite wall. Axel didn’t know much about keeping hens, but it looked a bit too clean compared to the vague memories he had of his grandmother’s chicken coop. “See, there is one now.” He gestured at a bird coming in through the door. Axel frowned. He knew nothing about hens, but the one strutting around by the barn door looked more like a rooster than a hen.

Mr. Vega took a few hasty steps in its direction, and it hurried off. “Oh, she ran off.”

Of course, it did. Mr. Vega had intentionally scared it off. Axel frowned at him. A crow cut through the air. “That’s a rooster.”


The crowing. I might not know a lot about homesteading, Mr. Vega, but that sound, it’s a rooster.”