Thursday, March 17, 2011

Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Accelerando

All was quiet, quiet enough to make me sick to my stomach. I could hear faint sounds occasionally wafting up from the farm. Some sounded urgent, some angry, most just sounded ridiculously normal and nothing that my imagination could compute. I waited … and waited … and waited … for what seemed like hours for word to come up from the farm that all was well. Actually it wasn’t quite two hours before I noticed movement in the moonlight.

I saw two figures trudging up the road with either rifles or shotguns in their hands; it was too dark to tell who they were. When they saw the bikes both went tense; I could tell by their sudden change in posture. I took a chance and whistled “Bob White” and one of the men noticeably relaxed and then whistled an answering call to me. That was Daddy because for some reason Micah could never learn to whistle except through his fingers. The person with him was too big to be Micah but didn’t look like Mark either. As they came near the porch I saw it was Rudy and boy did that cause my breath to catch in my throat.

Both men stopped and stared at the mess I had made. It was Rudy that called, “Dellie girl? You OK?”

“Daddy?”

“S’ok Del. Come on out.” Which I did, with haste.

“Where are Micah and Mark?!” I demanded anxiously.

“Easy Honey, they’re fine. They just stayed down to help put things back to rights and … and to help haul the bodies off. Mark asked if you would take care of Jessie.”

“Of course. He doesn’t even have to ask.” I was indignant over the imagined slight now that I knew they were OK.

“And so I told him but he said he didn’t want you to think he was taking advantage.”

I would have had something to say about that if I wasn’t so anxious for someone to tell me what had happened. I had to wait a few minutes more when Daddy asked, “Del, we need you to come down to the farm. There are some injuries … nothing serious so get the look off your face, at least not on our side … but Lilah just isn’t up to doctoring the way she used to and it would be a kindness if you could go down and help her. She’s pulling pretty good all things considered but she is still frail and the younger ones tend to yank away from things that sting.”

I ran inside, put on the sling and grabbed Jessie and my large med bag and a couple of clean, white sheets in that order. On the front porch I rebalanced baby and bag while Daddy locked the house and then it was down the road we went.

Rudy asked if I wanted a flashlight and I told him, “No thank you. The moon is full tonight and I’d rather not ruin my night vision.”

He quirked an eyebrow at Daddy who reminded him, “I’ve been taking Del and Micah hunting since they were big enough to hold a gun. I wanted them to be able to put meat on their table if something were to ever happen to me. Did you think Sam was the only sixteen year old boy in the family that could hunt and trap?”

Rudy got a thoughtful look on his face, “Well, no … but I didn’t know that you kept doing it when y’all would move all over; leastways not until Sam said something at the dinner table yesterday. Did you all really hunt gator in the ‘Glades, Elk in Arizona, and go salmon fishing in Alaska?”

Daddy was getting tired and was concentrating on not losing his balance so I answered, “Daddy was stationed in Florida and Arizona when we went hunting there but the salmon fishing was an invite from a friend I met my first year of college. Her parents own a kind of … well, it’s a way for inexperienced hunters to get a taste of hunting big game in Alaska while not getting eaten by grizzlies or doing damage to the environment accidentally. We’ve been to Central America too. A guy daddy worked with last summer invited us to go deep sea fishing down in Costa Rica where his family has a coffee plantation and that was pretty amazing too.”

“Humph” was Rudy’s answer. But it wasn’t a jealous sound, it was more like a surprised sound, like he was rewriting how he saw us. We weren’t just the farmies turned city slickers that only had a few mental assets to bring to the table. It didn’t bother me that maybe he was going to consider us smarter than he thought. What bothered me was the possibility that he might think that if we had more skills than he thought then maybe to go along with that we had more personal assets than he had credited us with. That was another case that saying “yes” would have been better than giving a detailed explanation. A “yes” would have sufficed and been truthful while the more detailed answer only raised more questions like how did we afford to go on those trips. The answer was simple and straight forward; we saved our money and used those opportunities as family vacations and as pantry fillers.

I waited a few more breaths and then, “I know y’all are probably sick of it already but could someone please tell me what happened? I don’t know what I’m walking into or what kind of injuries.”

Daddy’s tired sigh focused my attention on him. “Sorry Baby Girl … sorrier still that I haven’t asked you for more detail on … on that mess back at the cabin.”

“I did what I had to. I’ll answer for it when necessary. They were armed and were on the porch before I shot. Nothing much else to say about it until the Sheriff gets involved.” I knew my father and I didn’t want him taking responsibility for something that I did on my own.

Rudy looked at Daddy who just looked back at him. “Dellie, Sheriff Noble is dead. Shot in the back when he went to check up on a reported break in at the nursing home in the middle of town. Deputy Larson is filling in until things can be figured out but likely will be appointed after they can get enough of the commissioners together to vote.”

“O … K … So where does that leave us?”

Daddy said seriously, “On our own.”

“But the … the bodies y’all were talking about … all the gun fire … I … I heard it …”

“Dellie,” Rudy started. “You remember the looter laws. Well that’s what those men were trying to do, only on a bigger scale than breaking into the five and dime and yanking off a TV. This was an organized raid and my guess is that this isn’t the first time they’ve done it, maybe just the first in this area.”

“I know for a fact this wasn’t the first time,” and I recounted the few words I had heard the men cursing.

Rudy nodded and said, “There you go. If I needed more proof than what I saw tonight that would put the nail in the coffin.

“Standard tactics … greater numbers, shock and awe, more fire power. Most people would just give up hoping to escape with their lives if they didn’t outright run. But this isn’t the city where the majority of the people go unarmed. Most farmhouses have guns of some type. And it is far enough into this situation that some family groups are smartening up and banding together for security. Rudy already has a patrol schedule set up since they’ve had a few too many curious eyes walking by the gates.”

As we walked into the farm yard and I saw the churned up mess the ground was in Rudy added, “Folks are completely ignoring the quarantine signs now. They either don’t believe them or they are so hungry or needy they don’t care. And when I get my hands on that Ryland Harris I’m going to make him wish he’d never even thought about moving to this county.”

Rudy stomped off, his anger suddenly boiling again, and I turned to Daddy with a questioning look. “One of the raiders let slip they were getting information by hanging out at the local bars, picking up gossip on what families were well set but likely to be unable to defend it. Rudy got angry and grabbed one of the few survivors to get more answers and it turns out from the description most of the information they had was from listening to a man that closely resembles the description of that Harris fellow.”

“I guess I’ll have to look at the raiders wounds too, but family comes first.”

“There aren’t any surviving raiders,” Daddy said after a moment’s hesitation.

“Aren’t … but you just said …”

“They were shot trying to escape,” Daddy told me with a dead calm voice.

When I opened my mouth to ask more Daddy said, “Del honey, don’t ask questions you don’t really want the answers to. You don’t ask and I won’t have to lie to protect you. Understand?”

Unfortunately I did. I didn’t like it but a part of me understood in a way that made me momentarily uncomfortable with myself.

He left me at the porch of the farmhouse and I stepped into the kitchen where Aunt Lilah sat doing her best to tend to several people. “I’m here Aunt Lilah. Why don’t you sit and give directions and let me do the work.”

I got a steel eyed glare for my trouble. “Girl … I do not need you to feed me pabulum. I’m old and getting frail, but I’m not feeble headed. Give me that baby – he’s just about to kick up a fuss at all the ruckus – and you go on ahead and do what needs doing. These young un’s don’t want to hold still for me but maybe they will if you sit on ‘em.”

“Yes ma’am,” I answered with a smile. Hearing Aunt Lilah still be able to throw out that kind of sass gave me hope that she’d be around longer than she had seemed like the other day.

Mostly it was just bumps and bruises though Sam did have a deep sandy gash where some rock had got him from a ricochet off the garden wall. I kept looking around for Aunt Esther. It was Ali, a rather different one than I had been expecting, who told me, “Mother has taken to her bed. You wouldn’t happen to have anything in there to help her sleep? She ran out of her pills.”

“Give her a cup of chamomile tea and keep her away from any more ‘pills.’ She needs to try and integrate into the current situation and how she can constructively contribute, not run away and hide her head and become a burden on everyone else. Aunt Esther has plenty of talents … she ran that huge charity event when someone dropped it on her at the last minute, she’s very organized, she raised all of you by herself after Uncle George died. She is just going to have to get her head around things and she isn’t going to do it by sleeping all the time.” Aunt Lilah nodded in agreement as she continued to rock Jessie.

After I had cleaned and bandaged the last injury in the room I asked, “Anyone else?”

Sam, sticking his head in the door said, “Del, your dad is looking for you. He’s at the gate.”

I picked up my gear and went over to where several people were standing. It took my night vision a while to come back after being inside with the propane lamps but when it cleared I saw Daddy, Rudy, Mark, and a couple of other men I didn’t recognize.

“Del, this is Rudy’s brother John, and his son Calvin.” I looked at both men and didn’t see any injuries though both of them seemed upset. “John’s daughter Cindy was … roughed up … by the raiders. She says … well she says nothing happened but her face is telling a different story and she won’t let anyone … help her; not even her mother.”

I understood why Daddy had brought me to the gate. I’d worked for a semester in the student clinic. It was only supposed to be clerical work but being on the front desk also puts you on the front line and when girls come in looking a certain way you know something has occurred that they weren’t necessarily willing participants in. You have to be careful and channel your feelings so that they don’t cause more harm than help. You can’t let your empathy take over but your demeanor also can’t appear to be too cold or judgmental.

“I’m not promising anything. I won’t push her if she isn’t ready. I’m no doctor and I’m no clinician. And I won’t invade her space unless she gives me permission to,” I told them, drawing the line at what I would do.

I walked over to the trailer and stepped inside. The girl’s mother was hovering solicitously, almost smothering all of the personal space out of the room. “Ma’am,” I lied. “Your husband is looking for you.” I made it seem like I was telling her that he wanted to ask about Cindy but didn’t want Cindy to know he was asking. It worked and she left the trailer.

“I’ve already told everyone …”

“Yeah, I know. But we both know why they sent me over here. And I’ve already told them that I will not invade your right to privacy. However, between you and me that eye and nose needs looking at and those scraps need to be cleaned up. Let me do that much and if you find you can talk to me fine and if after I’m finished you’d rather see the backside of me you can trust me to do that too.”

She was like wood for a little bit but I was honest to my word and when I was done and she hadn’t said anything I packed up to leave. “Calvin got the looks in the family,” she said.

“Who, your brother?”

“Yeah, he looks like Mom’s side of the family and I take after Dad.”

Whatever it was I figured I better try and keep her talking. “I got split both ways. I look like my mom but inside I’m my dad. I guess you could say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.”

Silence again and I thought I’d missed it. Then she said, “That’s why I was so surprised you see. I mean look at me. I just kind of got caught up in the moment.”

At my blank look, “They didn’t tell you? I’m the one that let them in. He was flirting with me and I fell for it thinking he really did just want to talk to me and flirt for a minute before Uncle Rudy came to the gate. He acted so nice, so normal.”

“There’s a lot of snakes like that out there. I got caught by one of those a few years ago. Turned out,” and I sighed realizing that maybe I could put my own pain and same to a purpose. “Turned out the guy was married and had a kid on the way. But Lordy he was pretty and made me feel pretty too, at least until I found out the hard way what he really was.”

“Guys are such … such jerks.”

“Not all of them … a lot of them … but not all of them. I’ve met a few nice ones since that time in my life.”

“He didn’t … I mean he tried … but us ugly girls, we … we have to be strong because … because …”

She started to let loose. “Cindy, look at me. I could use all the phrases that the Aunts used to drive me crazy with growing up. Daddy had his fair share of homilies he used to spout at me too. But I doubt they would help right this second. I can tell you I see a handsome woman under those bruises, someone with a face that has character and not some whey faced little model type that seems to be so popular. I can tell you, and it is the truth, but until you are ready to hear it it’s not going to do any good. Don’t let a jerk like that ruin the potential in your life. I’m still trying to undo that mistake and it sucks.”

She nodded and the stuttered out, “He tried, but he didn’t … didn’t … he just grabbed me … in places …”

“Are you bruised or scraped someplace you feel comfortable with me taking care of?”

The donkey’s behind had done a number on her but it could have been worse, she could have died and never had the chance to decide how badly she was going to let this affect her. Mostly what she wanted at that moment was a bath to wash away the dirt she felt she was coated in and I could understand that. I stepped outside and let her mom know what she wanted most and told her that although she wanted to take this pain away from Cindy she’d be better off helping her to deal with the fact that it had happened. I said it a little more gently than that but that was the jist of the conversation.

I was ready to drop in my tracks but I still hadn’t seen Micah and though I kept looking for him I couldn’t find him. Mark stumbled out of the dark and I grabbed him, “Are you OK?”

He had to think about it. “Mostly tired. I think. I’ve never … Your dad and Rudy said that … that you …”

“I think I’ll play Scarlett O’Hara and think about it tomorrow.”

“Huh? Oh … yeah … Gone With The Wind … Frankly my dead I don’t give a … “

“Yeah, that one. Are you sure you are OK.”

Then he leaned against the barn and said, “I left Jessie. I left him and you are the one that had to protect him. I …”

“Hey, easy. You were looking after my brother and dad too.”

He looked at me and said, “You would think of it like that. OK … OK … but I won’t forget … ever. No matter what happens, you protected my son. I won’t ever forget.”

That was a little too powerful for me and I wasn’t sure how to respond so I nodded and then asked him where Micah was because I hadn’t seen him.”

“He’s OK. Shook up a little; we all are. I have to keep reminding myself I didn’t have any choice but your brother is a little younger and he and Sam both are … are having to choke it down and are finding it bitter. You want me to round him up?”

“No. I’ve been trying to let him grow up. He’s doing a lot better than before we moved back. I don’t want to ruin things for him by treating him like a baby or by embarrassing him in front of the other men. He’s my little brother but Daddy reminded me that he is growing into a man and I have to … to respect that even if it isn’t easy for me to let go of him. I haven’t seen Sam’s mom or sisters making a fuss over him. I need to try and give Micah the same space. I just don’t want him to think I don’t care.”

Mark said, “I don’t think you need to worry about that.” Then he nudged me and I turned around. There stood Micah.

“I think Sam wouldn’t mind too much if his mom and sisters made a little fuss; he did get injured and all. I mean, if I was him I wouldn’t mind if my sister gave me a hug if she was worried and stuff.”

Well he didn’t have to say it twice and I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes were a little watery with relief. I told him I was proud of him and he puffed out his chest a little and then before I could go overboard I turned him loose and let him go back to where Daddy was standing with Rudy and his brother. But personally I’d had enough and needed to get out of there.

“Mark, I’m going to go get Jessie and go back to the cabin. Please try and not let Daddy do too much. I don’t think it is just the moonlight that is turning his complexion gray.”

“Yeah, I heard him say that we were going to go back as soon as you finished up and the vehicles … and other stuff … was taken care of.”

I wanted to ask them to hurry up. I wanted to ask what they were doing with the bodies. I wanted to ask a lot of things but instead I took a still restless Jessie from Ali’s arms – he’d gotten to be too much for Aunt Lilah who had needed to go lie down – and then headed back to the cabin.

All of the night sounds that normally didn’t bother me suddenly had me on high alert, making me jump and strain my eyes into the dark of the surrounding woods. I was almost squeezing Jessie too tight in my own anxiety. But more fun lay ahead.

I got back to the cabin and then remembered, from the smell, that there was still work undone waiting for me at the foot of the porch. That wasn’t the only thing waiting there however. A low, canine growl warned me before I saw it. Nature has its own way of taking care of the dead but I didn’t think this was a time appropriate to letting nature have its way. The dog didn’t want to give up however.

I knew that a carrion dog would only get braver and then start going after the livestock … and humans. That’s when I recognized that I’d seen that beast before. I was less hesitant to shoot it once I knew how dangerous it had already proven to be. It did manage to back me up a few feet but I was the super predator and I had a gun. The problem was I also had Jessie.

I held Jessie in my left arm and turned him away from the dog and then pointed my pistol and fired while his teeth were still bared threateningly in my direction. Of course the noise scared Jessie to pieces and set him off. I stepped around all three corpses and got the door unlocked and got him inside. I’d laid him down just in time to hear more ruckus in the yard and I ran back but it was Mark.

I calmed him down and explained and then he ran back to let Dad and Micah know the reason for the gun shot. They’d tried to come running but Daddy simply didn’t have it left in him at that point and Micah agreed to stay with him and let Mark go ahead. I had on my heavy duty oven cleaning gloves and was dragging the monster dog’s corpse away from the house when the three entered the yard.

“Del, what are you doing?!” Mark exclaimed.

“There’s a dog and two … two …”

“They are bringing a four-wheeler up to haul them off with the other ones. Why don’t you go inside. My gawd, it’s that bleeping dog of Cici’s,” he croaked out.

Daddy had arrived and I looked at him, but let me decide. “Mark, I did the deed; I’ll see it through to the end.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

About that time we all heard the two motors and tensed up until Rudy and Calvin slowed down and called out who they were. Both four wheelers had wagons attached that had to be emptied before the corpses could be loaded. I handed disposable gloves to everyone that was touching the bodies.

After thanking me for the gloves Rudy’s gruff voice said, “I can guess what the dog was doing. We’ll take it with these other two. You OK Dellie?”

“I’m fine Rudy. Tell Cheryl I’m sorry that I couldn’t stay and help more.”

“Honey, she understands. Ali … well, strange to say it looks like Ali may have found her bottom tonight. I never thought I’d say it but she’s been worth her weight through this; even told her momma to settle down … and believe it or not Esther actually did it,” he said shaking his head in wonder. Rudy looked a little shocky around the edges and I told Calvin to tell Cheryl to get everyone something a little sweat to drink to help with that.

Rudy and Calvin slowly trundled down the track back to the farm. They weren’t being especially careful of their load as I watched it bounced sickeningly behind them, but of their four-wheelers and because it was dark.

“Mr. Nash, how about we just move this stuff into the front room there and take care of it after a few hours of sleep? Del looks dead on her feet and between you and me I’m about there myself,” Mark asked Daddy.

“Yeah son, I’ll admit to needing some rest myself. For safety’s sake can you keep your door shut in case Jessie wants to get mobile before we get these guns put away?”

“Yes Sir. I’ve had him climb out of bed but never roam around the house if the door is shut but to be on the safe side I’ll slide his bed against the door so it won’t open even if he tries.”

Micah wound up throwing a pallet down in Daddy’s room but no one said anything to him about it. Sometimes you just need company.

I only slept two hours and was shaky when I got up but I had responsibilities that weren’t just going to go away because I’d had a rough night. My mind wasn’t up for a fancy breakfast so I fixed plain ol’ pancakes. I noticed when I did that my baking mixes, corn meal and wheat flour were getting used faster than I expected and then remembered that I’d been feeding more people than I had planned on when Daddy had first asked me to work up an inventory. I added flour and corn meal to my list of “wants” but I also had a grinder I could hook up and grind the feed if I couldn’t get it any other way. Onto my chore list I added keeping a five gallon bucket of the feed wheat and corn cleaned and ready for grinding. We already had many superpails of grains down in the basement but I didn’t want to break into those until we had to. Why is it that that chore lists only get longer and never shorter?

I had just poured the first pools of batter onto the griddle when Mark stumbled in with a very cranky Jessie. He wasn’t crying but he was kicking and very irritated. “I’m sorry Del but do you have anything, crackers maybe? He acts like he is starving to death and I know it’s got to be when he was up half the night.”

“Pour him some milk in his cup and by the time he has downed that I’ll have some pancakes for him to eat.”

Mark nearly fell asleep trying to feed his son but wouldn’t listen when I told him I’d watch Jessie so he could get some sleep. “No, Jessie isn’t your responsibility Del. I’ve been taking … “ a huge yawn stopped him mid-sentence “advantage of your help.”

“Mark, I thought we’d already had this discussion.”

“Yeah, maybe we have but …”

“No buts, if you want to be a martyr fine but eat some of these pancakes before they get cold and I’ll go see if Micah and Daddy are ready to get up.”

That day was a quiet one as we all stumbled through our regular chores plus the project that was planned for the day. At lunch Sam came up to tell us that the bodies had been disposed of … on the quiet … by getting in line with the trucks that we taking bodies found as the flood waters receded. Since the bodies had been bagged in body bags that were being handed out no one noticed that these bodies weren’t flood victims. Who turned them in wasn’t being noted either.

Sam looked as tired as the rest of us. “Dad said there was a whole lot more bodies than they were letting on about. So many that not all of them could have possibly come from the flood unless the floods were worse than they had let on about. But I heard Calvin say that it looked like they were bringing in bodies from other places as some of the trucks were refrigerated step vans and had out of state tags on them and some of the cops had out of state uniforms on. He definitely saw a couple of Kentucky state troopers and a sheriff with an Arkansas uniform on. He said he thought he even saw some from Missouri and Illinois troopers but it was so dark and busy that he wouldn’t swear to it.”

He told us this while I had him sit and let me look at the wound on his arm. “Sam. I thought I told you to keep this clean.”

“I did.”

“No you didn’t. Look at this. How many times have you sweated through this bandage? Enough times that you tried to use duct tape to keep the gauze in place from what I can see.”

“Aw Del. How am I supposed to …”

“That’s not my problem Sam. You see how red and irritated this looks? When is the last time you had a tetanus shot? I forgot to ask last night.”

After a very put upon “humphf” he said, “Two years ago at football camp. We were goofing around on the bleachers and I scratched my leg and the coach wouldn’t let me play unless I got one.”

“Good for him. A coach with common sense. Sam, this isn’t the time to get careless. I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse and actually the only training I’ve had is some that I was required to have to work in a day care and some classes I took just because I was interested in taking them. The most I can do is a little emergency stitching … I don’t want to have to stretch that to amputating an arm because of infection.”

He jerked said arm out of my hands, “You’re making that up.”

“Did you know that more men have died of infections and disease during war … any war you can name … than have died of battle wounds? This isn’t funny; it’s serious business. I don’t have things like antibiotics to give to you if this gets infected. When I tell you to keep something clean I’m not just talking to hear my own voice. And you yourself saw what the health care system has devolved into … and is probably going to be like for the foreseeable future if not worse. You have to take more responsibility for your body and its needs.”

Daddy broke in, “All right Del. I think he’s got the picture. Isn’t that right son?”

I think it was Daddy’s deadly serious look and voice that impressed Sam more than my lecture had. Either way I was glad to see that he seemed to take it to heart.

“Uncle Hy?” That’s what all of the kids always called Daddy.

“Yes son.”

“Dad backtracked the raiders and found their stash, or that’s what he called it anyway. We’re going to go get it tonight after we make sure no one is watching and he wants to know if Micah or Mark can come along to help and then bring you all’s share up.”

Daddy decided that the idea called for a visit down to the farm so he walked down with Sam while the rest of us finished up what we had started in the morning.

Mark and Micah went down to work on the sub-cellar while I stayed upstairs with Jessie, tried to finish preserving the plums, changed out my dehydrator trays and got that stuff properly stored, and last but not least dealt with the remaining mess from the raiders.

The guns and ammo had already been taken care of. Rudy had given Daddy the guns and ammo that could be interchanged with what we already had, or at least the ones we carried most often. We had other guns but we also had plenty of ammo for them and I figured Daddy had just chosen not to mention them. I’m not even sure if he had shown Mark at that point. But Daddy did make sure that Mark got one of the shotguns and ammo for the rifle he carried as well as a hand gun and corresponding ammo. Mark’s mouth open and shut a few minutes but a look from Daddy kept any sound from coming out. Micah also got a shotgun since he hadn’t had one before to go along with the rifle and pistol he already called his own.

Daddy looked at me and then just sort of shook his head and rolled his eyes. I’m sure Micah and Mark thought it was because he didn’t think I really needed anything besides my pistol and my hunting rifle. What the two of them didn’t know – I hadn’t trusted some of Micah’s friends at the time so I hadn’t even told him – was that I had bought myself a very special twenty-first birthday present with Daddy’s help.

It was a Ruger Mini-14 Rifle with an ATI stock. I got it at a gun show and the guy threw in several extra twenty-round magazines if I said I’d do some advertising for him to get more women interested in it. It weighed a little more than I was used to at first but the adjustable stock made it worth it. A woman I worked with had bragged about hers and after going with her to the gun range I could see why. It was one of the few tactical weapons that I could shoot without having problems seriously over correcting. Stinking thing cost an arm and a leg and it took me over a year to save up for it. I’d been buying my own ammo long enough that having to add .223 to the .22lr made my wallet sing out in pain.

Daddy had tried to talk me out of it. He didn’t like the .223 rounds for hunting anything deer-sized or better but I was determined. He said I would regret not putting the money into something more practical and maybe I should have listened but I didn’t know what direction the world would take at the time. I’ll admit now that it was the look of the gun as well as the feel that drew me to it. How practical a purchase it has turned out to be depends on which end of the barrel you’ve been standing on.

The rest of the stuff was clothing, stuff that had been dug out the vehicles and the general flotsam that people carried around with them in that day and age. In other words stuff that I would normally have considered 75% junk. There were some pretty decent knives but those were set aside for cleaning and sharpening. I sighed and threw the clothes into a tub of cold water to soak and put the leather aside to clean. I wasn’t very comfortable handling the garments but figured that if no one decided they needed those clothes I could always cut them into strips to make rugs with and after a while the memories of where the material came from would fade.

Daddy and Rudy had combined the cash that they’d found on the bodies and in the vehicles and were saving it to make a mass purchase of groceries to split between farm and cabin, or at least that was the plan. There was a surprisingly good amount which led me to wonder if they had that much money to spend why were they bothering to raid? Did that mean there simply wasn’t anything to spend the cash on, or was it that they enjoyed the terror and mayhem they had created that much more?

Towards the end of the day, after Daddy had returned, they guys managed to finish ninety percent of the basic work that needed doing down in the sub-cellar. It wasn’t pretty or particularly comfortable, but that was where I came in.

Micah, Mark, and Daddy went that night to help bring back the good-sized stash the raiders had been building. “Contrary to all appearances,” Daddy said. “It looks like someone in that group of raiders had half a brain or more. There were a couple of caches marked on a map (that was a little on the stupid side) and they weren’t hidden too well but they had the general idea correct. Lots of canned goods, tobacco products, ammo, some fuel and camping gear. A good supply of liquor. Some medical supplies with a few antibiotics but no narcotics. They even had some women’s stuff. I think, don’t know for sure, that they might have been looking to set themselves up in business once they’d gotten all they could. Black market or barter. And the way the stuff was organized was pretty impressive too. Maybe they took it off of someone else or maybe the big boss was away or got arrested and the worker bees got restless. Don’t know for sure but we wiped all sign that we’d been there away just in case there was another part of the gang still out there some place.”

That was another short night of sleep for them, but not as short as they had expected it to be. It was raining cats and dogs when I woke up and there was no way they were going to be able to cut wood in that weather. Nothing was going to get done outside in that weather so I just went down to the basement and took Jessie with me. He had been sleeping in my room while Mark was away and I saw no sense in moving him so when he woke up I just took him down to the basement with me. It was easy enough to corral him with a baby gate and some boxes and I drug the gorilla shelves piece by piece down into the sub-cellar and put them together.

That part I hated. The banging echoed horribly and gave me a headache even though I was using a rubber mallet. However, once the shelves were together I decided rather than line them up along the walls, which were irregular, I had them come out from the wall in one of the smaller caverns. It looked more like a store room than a library that way and I got several more sets of shelves in there than I would have otherwise. Around the edges of that “room” I would have someone nail in Shaker pegs and I’d be able to hang up stuff that wasted space on the shelving.

There were several small “loops” off of the main cavern we planned to use as living space that weren’t good for much so I decided to put the five gallon buckets in there, at least the ones that I didn’t use to make “furniture” for us to use. I was getting irritated and went up to see if Jessie wanted a snack and ran into Mark stumbling down the stairs from the main floor.

“Sorry. You shoulda woke me,” he mumbled around a yawn.

I just shook my head and then Mark asked me, “What’s up? Has Jessie been a pistol?”

“No. Jessie has been a little darling. I can’t get anything level down there,” I grumbled, pointing to the sub-cellar. “Every time I think I’ve found something level it winds up being anything but.”

From the kitchen I heard Daddy say, “And that’s what you get for letting us oversleep and trying to do everything yourself.”

Having him rub it in did nothing for my mood and neither did the humidity as I emerged from the cool basement. “You know, I think you might have the right idea about sleeping down there.”

They were in a good mood and when I asked them rather grumpily if they had enjoyed the extra sleep Daddy smirked and said, “It helped … and what is under that tarp on the truck will make you feel better too.” That’s when I found out about what the raiders’ caches contained.

Since the farm had so many people they got the greater share but since they had resources we didn’t Rudy wouldn’t let it be the lion’s share. So the farm got two-thirds and we got a third. But being the good negotiator Daddy was I still think we managed to come off with the better deal. He made sure they got most of the convenience foods since that is what they were familiar with and he slid most of the staple stuff that he could into our pile. I use a lot of gelatins and things like that and at the time most people thought of that as poor-folks food … Daddy took that for us. He made a point of separating all of the spices, seasonings, and sweetenings by share but made sure the washing soda and borax was in our pile. He didn’t touch the “women’s stuff” knowing I had a couple cases of my own stashed. He also didn’t take any of the white sugar since he knew that I’d been packing it 25 pounds at a time in buckets for a couple of years but the confectioner’s sugar and brown sugar went into our pile except for a token amount for the farm. Jessie didn’t drink formula so Daddy told Rudy to keep it for bartering with, and the disposable diapers too since I had started using cloth ones on Jessie when his original supply had run out and nearly had him potty trained as it was. Daddy told Rudy to keep all of the baby food and other items like that for barter as well. Back and forth, back and forth.

“It took longer to divvy the stuff up than it took to haul it back,” Micah complained.

Whatever. It gave us a couple of weeks more food when pieced out with what we already had so I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth; especially not as things had really started to deteriorate.

The rationing and price fixing might have been done with the best of intentions but the practices actually seemed to do more harm than good. True, it stopped price gouging but it also prevented businesses from being able to operate except at a loss. If the government had stayed out of it, there would have been turmoil and availability issues but natural market forces would have eventually settled at an appropriate pricing structure and people would have had to deal with it. The way they did it ensured that businesses simply shut their doors when they couldn’t make ends meet and that ricocheted across the already troubled economy.

Most of the rioting during that time was generated out of fear and ignorance … from the hardships people were suddenly facing, many of them for the first time, and because they didn’t seem to have anything better to do than to let their feelings show. The only thing that slowed the rioting down was when the federal government started opening large “soup kitchens” in the urban centers and at some of the suburban schools. It was the carrot and stick approach to crowd control … “stop rioting and we will feed you; don’t comply and we’ll seal off the city and let you burn yourselves down.” By that time people were becoming so debilitated that the strategy worked. And the looter laws, despite a challenge in federal court by the ACLU, were working to slack that type of violence as well.

As the days passed our country began to slowly knit a working response together. It didn’t cover everyone, a lot of people still fell through the cracks, but it calmed most people down by giving them a false sense of security, a sense that something was being done.

It also helped to have a common enemy on our borders. Federal “volunteers” helped hold back the mobs of internationals seeking food and potable water. But as the US stabilized the international scene grew worse.

Fallout, literal and figurative, from the nuclear explosion in Iran killed millions. Millions more continued to die from radiation poisoning from traveling in the most contaminated zones, burns, accidents, poor hygiene, diarrheal diseases, starvation, violence, religious persecution, and many more things that were too numerous to be listed on the news broadcasts. Countries that the US had helped to stabilize in the decades past were short circuiting once required to stand on their own. Countries that had lived off of our food donations or cheap food pricing were rudely shocked when our Congress made the transportation of any food product across international borders illegal, prosecutable as a First Degree Felony, unless it was specifically to feed our active duty military personnel. Many ex-pat Americans were being thrown out of the countries they had sought asylum in in retribution … assuming they survived the violence directed at them.

The unprepared in every country around the globe – both rich and poor – were demanding their governments do something. No one knew what exactly but they all felt entitled to some kind of help. US assets in other countries were confiscated at the whim of whoever was in charge and the US did the same for international assets within her borders, including all banking and investment assets.

As the world deteriorated, so did Daddy. He had a great attitude but there was no longer any hiding or denying the fact that he had lost a significant amount of weight and that his energy level, even on good days, was quite low. Micah was afraid to leave his side and I didn’t intervene. Maybe I should have, but I’d had a lot more time to come to terms with Daddy’s cancer and now it was Micah’s turn to have the memories of helping Daddy so he would have as few regrets as possible.

The world was on the edge of a precipice and it looked more like at least some of us were going to fall over the edge every day.

We were getting by, certainly getting by a lot better than most folks were. Fresh meat only reached our table once a week at best but I had developed a good, nutritious menu heavy on grains, greens, and beans to make up for this. Fat was easy to take care of, at least then. I still had oil and lard down in the sub-cellar’s coldest reaches … which we had planned to make colder by bringing in blocks of ice once it got cold enough to freeze water.

The reason why meat was so scarce was because the area was being hunted over. Lots of families had at least one hunting rifle, even after seeing a 35% decrease in the local population … either because of the flood, disease, or moving on to “better” locations … that still left a lot of people to feed. Rationing had kicked in early enough in our area that the pipeline hadn’t completely been emptied of everything but even that was slowly being drained dry. The exodus from the cities had been curtailed when systems of check points and curfews had been put in place in conjunction with extreme fuel restrictions.

A lot of livestock was being culled to feed the hungry, even Rudy had had some of his livestock confiscated for this purpose and the air was blue for days as he came to terms that he was only getting quarter value for the ones taken. He started keeping his best breeding stock under constant guard after people started rustling his cattle, even going so far as to slaughter them right there in the field, leaving most of the carcass ruined since they only took what they could carry.

We found that our turned into a haven for some animals … not enough to destroy the habitat but enough that we’d probably provide the stock for “reseeding” the area in wild game once things calm down. Daddy and Mark both were against hunting the larger animals … deer, turkey, etc. … except for the feral pigs that seemed to be showing up in abundance down in the bottom land as they rooted for whatever they could find, but they were nasty looking creatures and some had ribs showing and looked sick. No way, not at my table, not when I could provide a decent meal any other way.

Rudy gave us a milk cow and calf. It was simply easier than transporting the milk up to the cabin every day. Not that I needed any more chores. Milking seems to be one of the few chores that Daddy can still do without getting too hot or tired. Mark and Micah built a cow shed for them to live in at night and we picket them different places in the woods so that they can eat their fill without us having to use too much feed to keep them satisfied. I used the raw milk to make cheese, cream, yogurt (for Daddy’s stomach), and cottage cheese.

I saw goats in the kudzu back along the spoiled areas between our land and the old TVA work camp and sheds on the other side of the forestry road. I don’t know who was more scared, me or the old Billy and his nannies when we ran into one another. I can look back it now and laugh but at the time it wasn’t so funny. I thought about trying to lure them in but I didn’t know much about raising goats then and we sure didn’t have the open space to keep them or the feed for them.

Rudy had to cull some of his livestock to control his feed outlay. Also, herds under a certain size were exempt from confiscation so that breeding stock could be maintained. That was a week of blood and guts that I hope I never have to repeat. It was like living in a charnel house with a smell several times worse. Every bit of the animals was used; didn’t matter if it was bovine, porcine, or foul. The biodiesel that Calvin’s father brewed was used to run several generators that were in turn used to run several chest freezers and upright coolers that held the meat until it could be processed.

I helped to raw pack most of the meat and then Aunt Lilah and I came up with lots of ways to use the rest to save on fuel later … soups, stews, sauces, broths, convenience foods like sloppy joe mix, etc. We made sausages, hams, and shoulders for the smokehouses. I showed Cheryl how to make several different flavors of jerky. In return, when the a couple of the geese hatched their latest broods I got my own little flock of noise makers who for some reason preferred living under the house at night rather than in the cute little coop that I had built for them. Ingrates … but there you go, geese like to have their own way just about as much as I do. That meant enclosing the bottom of the house more securely so nothing could dig in and get them … they were particularly fond of getting into one of the smaller granite crevices under the house, I suppose because he was cooler.

Every other week I usually fixed fried squirrel as a change of pace. They were about the only wild varmint still in abundance. Even the blackbirds that had been such a problem for a few weeks were skittish and shy of humans now. Someone had thought of the “Ol’ King Cole” nursery rhyme and given blackbird pie a try … and then spread the word.

The farm garden was a blessing as well but when the weather stopped cooperating and cool weather brought harvest time near it no longer produced as bountifully as it had. Still, something was better than nothing and that’s what a lot of people were beginning to put in their belly … nothing.

As summer made its way into autumn I had to step up my foraging to help those on the farm in return for the help they had given us earlier. I would trade bushel for bushel … wild greens for the domesticated grapes that grew along the fence behind the farm house, persimmons for winter apples like Granny Smiths, black haws for hot peppers, you name it I did it.

I taught Cheryl, Ali, and Cindy to recognize wild edibles while Calvin’s mother and Aunt Lilah watched the younger three that belonged to Rudy. Aunt Esther was only slowly coming out of her shell but it wasn’t a pretty picture. The only one that could really get her to get up and get moving all the time was Sam who could wheedle her into a good mood almost without fail.

I never took anyone foraging up at the cabin. Part of it was selfish and I’ll admit it. I did not want people to get the idea that they could go wandering up there any time they felt like it. The ridge was our haven, sacrosanct. It was still pristine in a way that the farm and other places were not. There wasn’t trash and human flotsam all over, blowing in the wind. It even smelled better up there … even with the pungent cow dung and the occasional mess made by the geese. I felt freer at the cabin, not so tied to the mundane and minutiae of everyday living even though I worked like a dog just like everyone else. Up at the cabin I work for myself, for my small family group, at the farm I felt like I was working for the greater good and sometimes I just didn’t feel like the “greater good “ was very appreciative of that fact.

It isn’t that those on the farm were nasty or condescending although they did seem to have some weird view of us being the poor cousins for some reason I never could fathom, but one that bothered me most was that they seemed to continue with the entitlement mentality. They were constantly talking about what the government should be doing to make things better, or what other people should be doing for “everyone’s” good. The conversation around the cabin was always how could we make things better for ourselves without relying on the help of otheres.

Even Rudy, as independent and ornery as he could be, would fall into the trap of expecting others to take over a problem every so often … like with the roads. Rudy wanted someone in the county to come out and fix them, I said not to worry about it so that it would be less likely that we got the casual visitor … or if he really wanted it fixed then fix it just in front of the farm and throw some gravel or dirt in the holes when they got too bad. No, Rudy wanted something out of the taxes he paid … something out of the system that he had been paying into for so many years. Maybe it was because I was less invested in “the system” by years and dollars but it always seemed to me that we were more successful when the government would just let us alone than when they came in to try and “help make things better.” Not everyone thought that way though.

An example of that was how everyone kept waiting for the grocery stores to reopen; they were eager for them to be open, some were even demanding they be opened and then given money so they could shop there. Not me. I knew I’d eventually need to trade for things beyond the farm but I was content with what we had right then and getting out to forage was like icing on the cake. And I was enjoyed it too; it was like nature’s grocery store only you didn’t need money, only the incentive to get out there and look. I looked plenty, and harvested plenty as well.

In the autumn what you can forage begins to change. I like the fresh greens and flowers of the spring and summer time but the autumn brought with it the things that helped prepare for winter; the plants change and if not the plants themselves then certainly the parts of the plants that can be used. For instance, wild mustard is no longer good for the green leaves or stems which have become too woody or bitter, but as the seed heads dry they are as good as the domesticated ones grown by larger commercial endeavors. And some of my favorites from that season couldn’t be found in most regular grocery stores … hickory nuts, sassafras, Jerusalem artichokes, paw paws, and persimmons.

On particular day I got fed up with the farm a little quicker than normal. Aunt Esther had been quick to criticize my rough appearance. “Brown as an Indian Del, that’s what you are. And look how you’re dressed. Someone could mistake you for a boy with your hair all up under that sloppy hat. What would your mother think if your mother could see you now?”

I thought to myself, “Considering you used to say roughly the same thing to my mother I doubt she would say much at all except to be quiet and mind your own business.” Of course I didn’t say it aloud. Aunt Esther had a gift for annoying me, but she could only make me made if I let her.

Ali, overhearing her mother, teased me about how I was never going to be anything to Mark but a nanny for his son if I didn’t do something to make him see me as a female. I wanted to tell her then he must be blind or an idiot considering the preceding day he’d been moving some supplies and my case of female stuff rained down all over his head from the top shelf where I had put them out of eyesight. Considering how red we both blushed I don’t think recognizing that we are two different sexes was a problem. And if that didn’t wake him up, me threatening to boycott cooking if I found the toilet lid up one more time surely must have.

Then Rudy started being foul and I was in no mood to put up with it as on top of everything else I was stressed myself because Daddy had had a bad night of fever and chills.

As soon as he started bellowing and belly aching at everyone how he better start seeing people make a little more sweat I kissed Aunt Lilah good bye and put Jessie back in his carrier and headed for the cabin. I could have popped off at Rudy but I’d learned which side my bread was buttered on. Rudy was a pain in the backside but he was instrumental in some of the creature comforts that I was providing for my family and I didn’t want to ruin the relative peace of the relationship.

Cheryl caught me as I left. “Don’t mind him Del. Please. Those town council people were out again early this morning demanding he donate more beef to their food program and when he wouldn’t, saying he hadn’t been paid for the last two after all their promises, they got nasty and said he’d take their IOU again this time or they’d start their own confiscation program and put him at the top of the list. He asked them what army was going to try that one on him or any other farmer out this way and they said they’d surprise him and maybe the townspeople would have something to say about it to his face. He told ‘em to bring it on and then some other really nasty threats were made and now he has to figure out how to guard everything 24/7 with just the people we have.”

“Cheryl, I know how Rudy is. I don’t blame him for being mad or stressed out; he’s got a load on his shoulders. And even at their most polite those council people make my skin crawl. They used to be nice folks as I recall them but I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them now. I’ll tell Daddy and Mark what is going on and maybe they have some ideas. They had mention taking out the gully bridge to keep people from just wandering up the way they have been getting into the habit of doing. I know they’ve brought down trees on the forestry road and took the cross ties out of the two bridges closet to us. What I don’t like is how Rudy lets it all roll downhill. Life’s not fair and that’s a fact but he doesn’t have to make it worse, especially not on the folks that are beholden to him.”

“Beholden? Are you talking about you Sugar? Because frankly you scare the jealous bejeebers out of Rudy.”

“What?!” I asked, laughing at the very idea.

“You’re that independent Honey. He just doesn’t know how to deal with it. He doesn’t agree with some of the things your father let you do; working so many jobs, homeschooling yourself, running the house since you were a little thing. He’s talked to me about it.” As I was starting to get made she added, “The problem is now, nearly too late, he sees the good it has done. It hurts him to think of his girls being forced to work as hard as you did at their age … and are doing now. He wanted his kids to have a better life than he did growing up. I don’t know if you know or not but he had a hard life as a kid, about like mine which is why we understand each other. All of his plans for them are going up in smoke and it makes him confused and irritable to know if he doesn’t push them even harder than he already does he going to handicap them. He knows none of them are ready to stand on their own and there isn’t really anyone to take his place if something were to happen. Sam is too young, Calvin too useless, and John … well, John has his talents but being a father ain’t one of them. And what you are going through with your daddy … that just sends him to an all new level of hurt. He would like to talk to you about a lot of stuff but he has a hard time seeing a man his age going to a young woman your age for advice so he asks Mark but Mark doesn’t exactly trust Rudy I think, seems there is bad blood in the past.”

“Mark hasn’t been disrespectful, he’s thrown in with all of us!”

“Honey, from what I understand even Rudy says that is likely more than he should expect from Mark all things considered. And that’s another part of the problem. Rudy sees Mark and sees that he was wrong … badly wrong … and it makes him wonder if how he is handling things now is wrong too.”

That was more to think about that I had room for in my head at the time but I promised to at least remember it and try and cut Rudy some slack when he got like he did. I thought I was being considerate to get out of there and not cause an argument. I suspect even then that Cheryl had a soft spot for Rudy but I wasn’t sure if Rudy was aware of it or returned it in any way. I expect it would be a risk to start a relationship with a woman when your ex-mother in law lived under the roof you were taking care of.

Trudging up to the cabin I would stop and pick things here in there and put them in the poke sack I routinely carried. Mark and Micah were on the porch drinking the switchel I had left for them.

“Del, what did you say was in this stuff?” Micah asked making a face.

“If you don’t like it, don’t drink it,” I responded, not much in the mood for complaints.

“It’s good, just bites back a little.”

“Del?” Mark asked, catching that I was having an attitude.

“Rudy was in a mood and I was too tired to excuse him of it.”

“Why? What did he say to you?” Mark asked, always prepared to think the worst of Rudy no matter how much he tried to fight it. I wasn’t going to give him the excuse to go defend my honor as I didn’t find that as flattering as some girls might have.

“Nothing … really Mark, it was over something else. Is Daddy around, I don’t want to have to explain it twice?”

The man in question slowly made his way out to the porch, showing as much gray in his face as he now did in his hair. “What’s up Honey?”

I explained about the town council and even Mark felt sympathy for Rudy’s position when I had finished. “Mr. Nash, you want Micah and I to go down and see about pulling down those bridges this side of the cross road? We can dig more on the tunnel when we get back.”

“I reckon you better son,” Daddy sighed with regret knowing he was in no shape to help or even visit Rudy and trying to help him calm down.

As Mark and Micah stood up to go down to the farm I went inside to fix Daddy some powdered blackberry to help with his stomach.

Mark stopped and turned to me hesitantly. “Del?”

“Yeah Mark?”

“I know I said that I’d take Jessie this afternoon …”

“Don’t worry about it. Getting the farm secured is important. Besides, I’ve got all of that stuff from yesterday that needs processing so I’ll be staying here at the house.”

Daddy sat on the porch sipping his home brewed medicine … I had dried and powdered some of the blackberries that I managed to get to before the birds … a teaspoonful of the powder in some cool water, and he would sip on it. Other times all he wanted was my special brew chamomile tea. I thought how I just wished I could get him to eat more.

I lucked out and Jessie was ready for a nap. I put him down and put up the baby gate on Mark’s bedroom door and then went downstairs and got the black haws first to make Black Haw Butter. It isn’t a very sweet condiment but it is very good. You simmer two quarts of black haws for thirty minutes and then use a sieve to press the pulp out so that you have two cups of pulp from the two quarts of fruit. To the pulp you add a half cup of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of ground allspice, two teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and half a teaspoon of ground cloves and then simmer that until it is smooth and spreadable. You put that into prepared jars … you’ll wind up with about five half-pints … and then process appropriately.

I also did a batch of wild grape butter that is nearly seasoned the same way except there is ground ginger in that one and more sugar. I then made some homemade raisins by putting bunches on the solar dehydrator.

I was at it through lunch and into the early afternoon … ground cherry jam, persimmon jam, black walnut conserve, wild grape conserve, elderberry and sumac jelly, bee balm jelly, spearmint jelly, mint syrup, violet syrup, spiced burdock roots, spearmint relish, apple and black haw chutney, mint vinegar, and garlic vinegar. I also started some candied burdock, persimmon chews (Micah and Sam were both partial to these), and sassafras brittle (something that I was fond of).

I was using a lot of sugar but didn’t see any alternative. Sugar is one of the best preservatives there is and I had to take full advantage of it while I had it to use. I knew that come the spring there would be a chance to replace our sweetening with boiled sap and just had to put faith in the fact that God would provide what we needed in the future so long as I used the resources we already had wisely.

Jessie had been up long enough that he was starting to get impatient to get outside again and frankly I’d about had it being cooped up as well.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah Sweatheart?” he said from the rocker on the front porch where he could sit and listen to the radio.

“I’m going to take Jessie and go foraging; see if can I get the last of those Amaranth seed heads and maybe collect some more of those pawpaws. Dinner is ready if the guys get back before I do,” I told him.

“Ok Baby Girl. Watch yourself and get back before the first lightning bug starts its engine, you hear?”

“I will Daddy,” I assured him.

Daddy wasn’t really telling me what to do, more like asking me to be careful and letting me know when he’d start getting worried; he just couldn’t stop sounding like a concerned father despite the fact that I was grown.

I guess I had been out about two and half hours and was on my way back when I heard Micah’s sharp alarm whistle … that and an animal calling whistle are the only two types of whistles he has ever learned to make. The first two times I whistled back they couldn’t hear me … they were making so much noise in the underbrush. Finally they stopped long enough for me to whistle back and Micah knew to stand still until I could figure his location.

He and Mark were off the path I had taken by quite a bit and looking extremely concerned.

“What?! Is it Daddy?” I asked nearly worried to death and breathless from jogging with Jessie on my back and my foraging basket in my hand.

“No, but it ain’t good,” Mark said. “Micah, can you take the bag and I’ll get Jessie. Your dad is probably worried sick by now.”

On the way back to the cabin they told me that they had just finished dropping the second small bridge when Calvin came running with news he’d just heard on his ham radio.

“We thought it was just another rumor,” Micah said, huffing at the heavy load I had turned over to him. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we were traveling a regular speed but we were practically jogging and I still didn’t know what they were having the heebie jeebies over.

Mark said, “You know how Calvin is. He is a real drama king, I thought he was just crying wolf again but if he was I noticed he’d scared himself silly this time. We get back to the farm and find Rudy had shut everyone out of the room he is using for the radio equipment and everyone was stepping light.”

“Yeah, Sam said he’d never seen his dad look like that and that he’d radio’d up to Daddy and they were both listening and trying to analyze what they were hearing.”

“I tried to get Rudy to explain but he told me to head back to the cabin that your dad would fill us in but that we needed to git,” Mark told me trying to talk over Jessie’s complaints of being jostled so roughly. “There was a look in his eyes I didn’t think I’d ever see there. He was scared Del and just barely covering it up and as we started back up to the cabin I heard him ordering the boys to put all the animals in the barn that would fit and to corral the rest of them up the best they could. That was enough for Micah and I, we started jogging only when we got there your dad was frantic because you were still out foraging.”

Micah couldn’t hold it back anymore, “They bombed the UN Del … somebody has gone and done it. There was some kind of big session going on with all the member representatives there except for the President of the UN whose plane got stuck on some kind of trip over in West Africa.”

“Wait!” I made them stop. “What do you mean they bombed the UN? A car bomb? A pipe bomb? A …”

Mark interrupted me, “A dirty bomb Del. It was a small one from what little bit is coming out … but it was definitely a radiological one and it was centered in the UN complex itself. There are also reports of attacks against several of our nuclear reactors. A bunch of places in Pennsylvania, Crystal River and St. Lucie in Florida, a couple of places in Illinois, Palo Verde in Arizona and I can’t remember but several more places. Reports keep coming in. So far the attacks reported have failed but your dad is worried this could be the tipping point we’ve all been waiting for. Now come on.”

We all jogged and I swear if there weren’t tears in Daddy’s eyes when he saw them practically dragging me back.

“I don’t know if this is it or not. I’ve got the animals in the shed and fed and watered the best we can. The geese are shut in under the house. Grab what you can and let’s get down to the basement. I may be jumping the gun here but I’d rather be safe than sorry. We’ll leave the antenna out as long as we can but I want it detached when the radio isn’t in use. Let’s move,” he said … right before falling to his knees in a near faint.

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