Getting interesting to say the least. Thank you for the additional chapters so quickly..................it certainly has been enjoyable reading when we don't forget where or when it left off. Thank you!
Nah, not a romance novel. Or at least not one based on having occasionally read what is now considered romance novels. Her characters are intelligent and make decisions based on more than hormones. And they don't obsess on physical sensations. I'd take her books over a romance any day.
Honestly, in PAW situations relationships are likely to form quickly. When practicality rather that emotion/hormones starts to become common you'd be amazed at how quickly things settle out.
The next two weeks went by in a blur. Reggie’s eyes improved though he continued to look a little like a doll someone has squeezed too hard and the eyes had bugged out. But at least the swelling started to subside and he was able to see after a fashion and didn’t constantly need Ginger as a seeing eye dog. Well, he didn’t need her but she wasn’t shy about offering her services just in case. All Reggie really needed to do was protect his eyes from bright light and not over tire them; that meant the running around he did with Jax at night was perfect for him. Me? Not so much. It was very hard to stay home while those two, and sometimes Ginger, went gallivanting around the county. I know it helped all of us out but I felt left out after being the one to …
Oh well, it really doesn’t matter after all these years; just memories that have come back to twit me here and there. Taking the long view it was a good thing that I hadn’t had any real desire to be empress of my little kingdom. I think for the guys it was enough to swallow that they lived in my house on my land and it had all started out as my idea. They didn’t suffer from what some of us girls back then called testosterone poisoning but I’m pretty sure living in a matriarchal society would have been too much for them to deal with. Actually I didn’t consider that a bad thing; if you need to fight the last thing you wanted was for your army to be full of metrosexuals that was too concerned with chipping their nail polish or running their eyeliner. Contrary to some opinions, real women aren’t much into men that spend more time on their hair than they do. This is just as true today as it was back then.
It didn’t necessarily have anything to do with them being real guys, but had I demanded more or forced them to give more than they willingly did it might have destroyed the accord we developed. I was pretty sure if our positions had been reversed I would have felt the same way. Besides, the accord was a good and constructive thing that got better as time went by with only the occasional bump in the road … like seven people having to share the same indoor shower on a system that was designed to only serve four people. We wound up having our first council meeting over that one.
Nervously I agreed to start the meeting out. “Let’s skip the calling to order and all that pretentious crap OK? Ashley wants to keep minutes and I’m cool with that if everyone else is; it might actually come in handy at some point. I just don’t want to turn this council thing into a farce.” As everyone agreed I got down to business. “OK, I don’t want to go all Mother Bear about this but you’ve got to be more careful with how much water you are using, especially hot water. The tanks are being run dry every night and yesterday I even had to haul water in from the pump just to get dinner cooking and clean up afterwards. Until I can figure out a way to increase the capacity you’re going to have ration yourselves … especially the hot water. I mean I don’t mind showering outside right now but it ain’t happening in the winter, not even for you guys.”
Obviously making an effort to take it seriously Ashley asked, “What can we do? I don’t like taking cold showers, but a cold shower is still better than no shower.”
I told her, “In the winter no shower might be what we wind up with at this rate; at a minimum we could wind up with shower rotations or something like that. See, come cold weather I have to drain the outdoor tanks and lines so they don’t freeze and rupture and switch the system over to the small indoor tank that uses methane to heat it up.”
“Methane?!” Reggie barked in laughter. “You mean you heat hot water with farts?!!”
Leave it to Reggie to channel George Carlin. “You should take that act on the road,” I sighed. “If you want an explanation it goes something like this. I take the rabbit and chicken poop and use it to keep these tanks called digesters topped up.. The resulting methane is collected and used like natural gas. (http://documents.ponics.org/sections...-Digesters.pdf ) After the stinky stuff has been fully digested it leaves a organic sludge behind. I take that leftover sludge and I spread it over the fields like a wet fertilizer. My folks collected quite a bit of methane this way but, pardon the pun, the supply isn’t bottomless. It’s not like I have access to big animals like cows or horses that produce a lot of … er … poop.” Reggie was trying to be serious but I guess like a lot of males under the age of sixty (and some even older) poop has an innate humor to it that was hard to resist.
Aston had improved enough that he was coming downstairs for a couple of hours every day and had insisted on sitting in on and participating in our “council” meeting. “Sorry Lydie, I’m still not getting it,” he said, rolling his eyes at Reggie. “I thought everything here was solar. Matt thought solar was where it was at too and from what I’ve seen and heard about everything here – now that I’m awake enough to listen – I can’t say he’s wrong. It sounds kinda perfect.”
Reggie leaned forward obviously interested in my explanation of this aspect of our lives as well. Trying not to make it sound like a lecture I said, “Nothing is perfect Aston. What happens to the solar if we have a week of cloudy weather? And you know that happens during the winter … and it happens during the summer too for that matter.”
Reggie answered manfully holding back another snicker, “Switch to the methane?”
I shrugged. “Sometimes; but the methane production isn’t a huge set up and is dependent on how much poop the animals give out and if I can keep the digesters warm enough to keep the reaction going to actually create the methane.”
Ginger said, “Then there’s that biofuel thingy. Or is that the methane thingy?”
I saw Reggie give her a goofy smile and had to fight a smile of my own because if anyone else had said “thingy” he would have gone into some long drawn out reason why it was stupid. “The big set up in the barn is biofuel … but it’s dependent on chemicals and what we can feed it to keep it going. I’m not going to use all of our corn to make ethanol; that would be cutting into our food supply. You want to know the full details about it ask Jax. He does better on the technical explanation than I do because he helped get the system up and running – and keep it running – out at the mill.”
Ginger shook her head forcefully causing her curls to spazz out. “No technical anything thank you very much. Just wanted to know what it was called. I’m officially on vacation from science class for the duration.”
I did smile then. “OK. Look. Bottom line is we have redundant systems. We bring the redundant systems on line when they will give us the biggest, most efficient return. I run solar all year but the output is naturally going to be better in the summer than at any other time of year. During the winter we get the biggest kick from the BTUs of the natural gas system. Biofuel runs all year long as well but we’ve tried to take all the waste out of the way we use it because each system has its own needs. The tractors use up a lot of the biofuel as does the heaters for the house and the animal barn. The redundancies mean that no one system gets overloaded but we still have to use some … some …”
Jax said, “Common sense. Just say it Lydie and stop worrying about hurting people’s feelings. They’re not little kids and now that you’ve explained it I’m sure they understand better and we’ll all be able to be more considerate.”
It was Reggie using his non-goofy persona who responded, “Jax is right Lydie. Don’t let it go until it is a problem next time. We’re just used to turning on a faucet and having water and not thinking about how it got there. Having to do without was a real pain – I swear I got to the point I hated hauling water – when we were living at the school and then coming out here we just went back to old habits. But now we know that old habits aren’t going to work we can make new ones. No big. Right Ginger?”
Wide eyed she said, “Uh … yeah … sure. I … uh … suppose I don’t have to wash my hair like every day. Ash?”
Ashley nodded, “I guess … but that’s … that’s gross. I mean we’re all sweaty and junk at the end of the day because it is so hot. We can’t sit under fans all day long.”
Feeling bad I said, “If you really need to rinse you hair out you can use a bucket of water from the hand pump outside, but I wouldn’t recommend it when cold weather finally arrives unless you want to catch a cold.” I inwardly cringed hating the idea of giving another lecture. “When cold weather arrives heat is going to be precious. Look, I’m not saying this is going to be easy …”
Aston coughed and then grimaced but pushed off everyone’s concern. “I’m fine … but Jax is right. We’ll just be more careful from here on out. About everything. It won’t all come at once – like trying to learn a new way to play an old sport. Besides the water, what is the next most important thing?”
He was asking me but Jax answered. “She won’t say it but she needs some help cooking and getting the garden stuff in. I’m going to turn the potato hills over in the morning but need to spend the rest of the day unloading one of the trailers so Reg and I can take it and hit a couple of places we mapped out the other night when we brought that other stuff in. Can a couple of you help take the potatoes to the cellar? There’s also the last of the apple and pear trees that need to be picked over. The best looking apples go in the fruit cellar and the others are going to get pressed for cider.”
The girls were looking uncertain and Aston was looking depressed but then Reggie said, “Mmmm … fresh cider. I likey.” He sounded like that comedian that was called Jim Carey.
He looked so weird and goofy that we all chuckled, even Aston. The “meeting” broke up with everyone grabbing one last muffin from the basket I had made to try and soften them up. I was emptying the crumbs into the pail I used for scraps that I gave the chickens when I noticed that Jax had followed Aston out to the porch where he was going to sit and soak up some Vitamin D. The conversation was short but I knew it had to have been something special the way Aston seemed to sit a little straighter after Jax walked off towards the barn.
Being incessantly nosey I finished what I was doing inside and then used Kelly as an excuse to go see what Jax was up to. I found him stacking bags of fertilizer and soil on pallets in the old tack room attached to the animal barn. “Hey,” I told him.
“Hey,” he answered back with a grin.
“So … what were you and Aston talking about?”
The grin turned to a laugh. “You’re worse than a cat, you know that?”
“Maybe … but you’re gonna tell me anyway right?”
He smiled and then getting a little serious said, “Aston’s pride has been hurt. I’m worried he’s gonna have a relapse or set back if he starts giving up.”
Confused I asked, “Why would he give up? He’s getting better isn’t he?”
“Yeah,” Jax answered while he wiped the sweat off of his face with a bandana I had fashioned for him. “Yeah, he’s getting better but he isn’t anywhere near where he can really help out with anything. Aston isn’t the kind of guy that is going to just be able to brush that off. He’s already feeling the responsibility of getting Ashley pregnant and now he can’t do anything really to protect her or help get things ready so that other people can protect her.”
I sighed. “Oh. So this is one of those guy things that don’t make a lot of sense.”
He took his hat off and popped me in the head before taking the last few sacks off the dolly and placing them just so. “It does make sense and you know it. A man needs to have some pride … and right now Aston’s is hurting.”
“So what did you say? You obviously made him feel better.”
He shrugged but then grinned sheepishly. “I asked him whether he’d prefer a rifle or shotgun for tomorrow while he kept an eye on things.”
“While he does what?” I asked a little outraged. “Jax, he can barely stay upright for more than an hour or two at a time. You can’t expect him to …”
Cutting me off Jax said, “I expect him to do what he can and you girls need to start letting him.”
“Excuse me?” I asked feeling a little snippy.
Jax stopped and leaned on the dolly. “Aston doesn’t need three mothers, three sisters, or three nurses. He needs to be allowed to be a man. That isn’t going to happen if you trap him by hovering too much. Can’t you see he is starting to feel useless, starting to get depressed? That’s not good for his health and mental recovery. Bad enough that he got the crap beat out of him by women; it sure ain’t doing him any good for more of you to keep him down.”
He walked out leaving me with my mouth hanging open and just this side of being mad. But to be honest he did give me a lot to think about and by the time I put dinner on the table – with the help of both Ginger and Ashley who themselves seemed to be inordinately proud of their role in the meal – I realized that Jax had told me nothing but the absolute truth. It was also a truth that could apply to how I was working with Ginger and Ashley. I wasn’t used to there being anyone else but – and before that it was mostly just Dad and I while Mom took care of Will – and I was turning into my own worst enemy. I had to learn that I couldn’t manage or do everything myself, that there was no need to be a martyr because there were other people I could count on.
And I tell you as the remaining days of that second week went by I was very happy to have help. It was the end of October and except for a couple of the Granny Smith apples the rest of the trees needed to be gleaned. The Chesney and Buckingham apples were our best long storage apples and we went over the trees by hand first to pick the best of the best. After that we just picked as we went and took the bushel basketfuls to the cider presses. Yes, I wrote presses as in plural.
Dad got tired of it taking forever to get all of our apples pressed at the end of the apple season; or our grapes for that matter during grape season. Plus, went we started making nectars to bottle he said it only made sense to be able to having multiple presses running at a time. He built multiple fruit presses for the same reason he built Mom more than one cheese press; because he could. ( http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It...der-Press.aspx ) We had four presses, two with very large baskets, one with a medium basket, and the fourth with a gallon sized basket for berries and the like. Dad did some pretty extensive experimenting with the smallest press; basically if it was soft enough he would try and press it. He reminded me of how addicted to her dehydrator Mom could get on occasion.
With all four presses going it kept us hopping filling containers. Despite the warm weather the apple crop was one of the best in my memory. All of the apple trees on the home site were standard sized. Dad just didn’t have the patience for dealing with the dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties. “Them runty sized small trees are for city and town yards. We don’t live in town and I see no reason to restrict ourselves.”
Taking care of all the fruit that came off of those standard sized trees was another matter. A standard sized apple tree will give you anywhere between eight and eighteen bushels of fruit. That year we got close to between sixteen and seventeen bushels a tree but most years it was closer to fourteen and fifteen. Not all the trees were for cider making but there were about six trees left to deal with for that fall’s crop. A standard sized bushel of apples weighs in at forty-eight pounds. And a gallon of cider usually requires an average of fifteen pounds of apples. In other words for every bushel of apples I would get between two and three gallons of juice.
I pulled out the old account books to review our harvest that year and sure enough the math went something like this: six trees times fifteen bushels equaled ninety bushels of fruit. Out of that ninety bushels we peeled and dried another ten bushels to add to what I had already done. We also put back about twenty bushels of fruit for winter use in the apple house. Another twenty bushels was split between apple butter and apple sauce making. That left us forty bushels for the cider press which we got roughly a hundred gallons of juice off of. Jax, Reggie, and Aston took twenty five gallons of the juice and made five five-gallon casks of hard cider and another ten gallons went towards some fine apple wine. That left sixty-five gallons to bottle. Not just sixty five gallons to bottle but sixty-five gallons of juice to find room to store.
Council time. “Uh … you know, we’re kinda running outta room around here. Between you guys making your midnight runs and trying to store all the produce I’m tripping over stuff.”
Strangely enough it was Ashley who yet again understood what I was feeling. “Lydie you are just like your Mom. This mess would have driven her crazy too. I remember what she was like whenever she got involved at our school functions. Man oh man.”
We both laughed a little at the memory. “I’m trying not to be that bad,” I told everyone. To the ones that didn’t get it, mainly the guys, I explained, “My mother literally had to have everything hyper organized. It was like an ingrained personality trait; it wasn’t just something she did but a big part of who she was. You’ve seen the attic. I grew up living like that and … and this is a little … little … challenging.”
Aston said, “So what do you want? More cleaning or what?”
I shook my head and tried to smile despite the fact that Aston was being a little snotty. “I know not much can be done about it right now. I’m sure as heck not going to look a gift horse in the mouth; but space is something we should be considering as it is getting in short supply. I know Jax doesn’t think that much salvage is being brought in beyond like building supplies and stuff but to me it looks like a lot because keeping it neat and organized is getting almost impossible. I guess I was more making an observation. I mean this meeting was to talk about what we had and what we needed. Or maybe I’m missing the point. It’s not like I’m not willing to listen to anyone else’s opinion.”
It was Reggie that came up with the start of a potential solution. “Actually I got an idea. Kinda something that I had talked to Aston about when we were still in town.” Reggie looked at Aston and asked, “You remember that idea we had about hiding stuff outside of town, just in case?”
Aston shifted in his chair and slowly seemed to throw off whatever had been bothering him. “Yeah … yeah I remember. It was after we found out that Matt was the only one that knew where all the stuff was that we’d been salvaging. It was supposed to be for the whole group but Mark was like keeping the locations of the best stuff secret. We didn’t know whether even Sas or Marty knew where everything was although probably Sas did since Matt would have needed someone to move stuff around for him.”
I sighed but hadn’t meant for other people to hear it. Aston asked, “Am I boring you?”
“Huh?” I asked surprised. “Uh … no. I just keep walking into these huge billboard like signs that tell me how stupid I was about Matt.” I hadn’t meant to share so freely and was uncomfortable and went to stand up to refill the pitcher of juice.
Jax grabbed my hand and said, “No one is blaming you for what Matt did or did not do.”
I shook my head. “It’s not that. I’m not taking responsibility for what he did. I’m taking responsibility for what I didn’t see. And frankly I don’t like feeling like an idiot. Especially not in front of other people.”
“C’mon and sit down, we don’t need any more juice or cookies or whatever you were about to go get.” I sat down and Jax continued. “I could say the same thing about Darlene. That’s just … just life. Sometimes you just don’t see things until they slap you in the face. This war or whatever it is is changing people, and not always for the good. Matt has changed. You couldn’t know that because you were insulated from it by living out here. The fact is however that you do know now and you are choosing sides … our side … so let’s just stay on topic.”
Ginger said, “Yeah Lydie. We all make mistakes. Like Ashley and Aston are the only two I know that have stayed together as long as they have … at least people our age. And now you’ve got Jax and … well, it’s cool. You don’t need to freak out every time it comes up that Matt has seriously taken a vacation from normal. We don’t blame you for it.”
Reggie just looked on but seemed to relax when Aston sighed and mumbled, “Don’t mind me. Matt just … I feel like he stabbed us in the back when he should have had our back.”
Reggie brought the conversation back around by saying, “Exactly which was why I was talking to Aston.”
Jax in an attempt to keep the conversation going in that direction prompted, “Talked to him about what?”
“Whatses?” Ginger asked.
While Reggie laughed and everyone else rolled their eyes I asked, “You mean storing stuff off site?”
Aston nodded. “Yeah. We didn’t really have time to pull it off but we did some thinking on it. You know my dad and uncle dug basements and septic fields?” I nodded. “Well, during the summers I would help when they needed another hand. A cache wouldn’t have to be as big as a basement of course.”
Then a thought came to my head, “But could you like rehab an old basement or an old storm cellar?”
He gave me a considering look and said, “Maybe, depends on how old and how bad it is. Why?”
“I might know of places like that but I don’t know how far away you want them from the house.”
Jax said, “You thinking about the abandoned houses?”
I shook my head, “Uh uh. Only one or two of them even have basements and I figured they might be too obvious for what Reggie and Aston mean.” Turning to them I explained, “Two of my dad’s aunts and uncles built houses on the land they inherited from my great grandparents. About fifteen years ago they sold out to some investment company that was going to put in one of those high end gated communities but the company hit a lot of legal snags and the whole plan fell through. But not until after they had bulldozed down the houses. The investment company lost the land to foreclosure to some lender that was based in India. The lender went in there and put in planted pines because supposedly they were going to sell the trees to the paper mill later but then just basically abandoned the land when they went belly up too. The county was always threatening to take the land because the property taxes weren’t being paid but they never did. You can imagine what the land looks like after fifteen years. Dad and I hunted all over that area so I know the cellars are still there though I won’t go down in them for love or money.”
“Why not?” Aston asked.
Jax and I answered in stereo, “Spiders.”
So then the spider story had to come out and Ginger and Ashley both got grossed out and sympathized while Reggie had an evil twinkle in his eye that told me a plastic spider was likely in my future.
Aston said, “I’ll have to look at the interiors of them first to make sure they haven’t collapsed or don’t have standing water in them. And it isn’t just spiders we have to worry about; holes in the ground sometimes turn into snake dens. But if they look half way decent – even if it means shoring them up a bit – we could use something like that to maybe set up not just a cache but Reg and I talked about having a base camp to work around. Can the cellars be capped off?”
“They are already capped off; with metal doors no less. I don’t know what shape they are in as the doors have rusted closed.”
That gave Aston something to spend his energy on which I think is what Reggie was after. I knew he and Jax talked a lot and I decided to leave the guy stuff up to them as I had already experienced just how wrong I could read them.
By the end of October we were all really tired. It was a good tired but a bad tired at the same time. Good tired because we were really getting a lot accomplished and we were starting to work together smoothly as a team but bad tired because in addition to everything we were accomplishing we thought about everything that we weren’t accomplishing.
We still hadn’t managed to lure the goats out of the kudzu. Of course that wouldn’t have done any good anyway because we didn’t have an enclosure built to put them in. We hadn’t done any hunting and we badly needed to. It was amazing to me how much food the guys could put away and the canned and dried meat I did have was not going to last forever. We hadn’t culled any of the chickens and I was beginning to wonder if I should since all the additional mouths meant that I didn’t have near the surplus eggs that I used to. We hadn’t done any spying on the refugees in town when we really needed to know what they were up to. There were lots of things we hadn’t done; the list was depressingly long.
But Jax constantly reminded me that there were the unexpected things we had accomplished that we hadn’t expected to. For one telling Mr. Houchins what was going on in town seemed to soften him up a bit and he and Jax spoke of possibly doing some trading come the spring once we all saw ourselves through the winter. Then we got a double dose of friendlies when Jax and Reggie, on one of their midnight runs, crossed the county line to check out some of the farms out that way and ran into an older couple that were just about on their last leg and bad shook up because they’d been robbed the week before. Turns out they were close kin of Mr. Houchins. Jax couldn’t leave the old couple so he and Reggie packed them up, animals and all, and figured if Mr. Houchins wouldn’t take them in that we’d figure something out.
Oh my word, Reggie said Mrs. Houchins was crying and Mr. Houchins wasn’t far from it. But while Mr. Houchins was more than willing to take his kin, the animals were just going to be too much for their laid in supplies so the older couple decided to take a couple of animals that were sentimental to them … like their hound and a couple of noisy geese … but we inherited the rest of them. Geese, ducks, chickens, and quail then numbered into the birdbrain clan I was already caring for. A young female cat that they’d rescued from their neighbor’s abandoned house because it was fixed and declawed so wouldn’t really survive in the wild … and it was an indoor cat which Ginger fell in love with and it with her. Sigh. Three young dogs, housebroken, that were the pups of the hound the older couple kept. Two more flaming rabbits which I suspect means that shortly it will be a whole lot more than two because it was a male and female kept in the same large cage. And to top it all off there was the parrot.
Its name was Green Bean and Reggie fell in love with the lunatic thing. It was pretty young as parrots go but someone had already taught it to talk and mimic human speech and it seemed to enjoy attention. Luckily the cat and the parrot were friends or I can imagine the trouble that would have led to even if the cat was declawed. The dogs learned really quickly that Green Bean was king but after the pecking order was established things settled down in the house. I just wish they had stayed settled down everywhere else too.
Thank you for the chapter -- insomnia came to visit tonight - new horse on the ranch and he has manners but if he were not gelded, I swear he is suffering from a testosterone overdose.
He got ridden successfully today by the granddaughter and learned the old woman (me) still can give him a what for at least for ground manners. Still keyed up and generally sore from helping chase him down in a 5 acre field - with heavy barn boots on because of rattlers and copperheads. Took a tad too much of the pain meds and feeling slightly 'stoned' - HATE narc pain meds but they were needed, even after all the less than narcotics pain reliefs . However I can't sleep with the head dancing. Having this chapter to read gives me something to FOCUS on.
Thanks for the link on presses -- going to put the rest of the family making some - herbs to extract oils and apples and peaches and my mind is laying out the location of the mustang grapes in the area. The young kids will be harvesting them come late summer and we will have grape juice (and some beyond <G>)
Am I the only one that vicodin makes my mind run 90 to nothing? Luckily we have a big family - Mom, Dad, 5 kids at home 27 to 13 years and one SIL. I can keep them busy - they need to go to work to escape Grandma's projects. Hummmmm methane generator -- we have 5 horses, a donkey, 2 hogs and a flock of free range chickens and guineas. Field behind us has a fair herd of beef cattle. I think the whole family just go to their jobs and school to escape my projects and get some rest.
So many projects to get built - so little time, I fear. This PAW fiction is a gold mine of ideas and projects. See I NEED more chapters.
The problem is that people keep screaming:"The wolf is coming, the wolf is coming!" so often that we never notice the coyote that is running off with the chickens.
Parrots are so cool. A friend had a double yellow headed amazon named Chico, who went bonkers over McDonalds french fries.
He would hop off his perch and wobble over to you saying, "I wuuuuv you. I wuuuv frenk fry"
If we ever forget that we're one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under... Ronald Reagan
I guess I'm just skipping around looking for new chapters out of habit. It just isn't fun right now knowing what Pac's suffering. I don't want to see anything happen to any of our TBK family, but our authors are especially loved and appreciated for the joy they bring us day to day. I just hate it.
I guess I'm just skipping around looking for new chapters out of habit. It just isn't fun right now knowing what Pac's suffering. I don't want to see anything happen to any of our TBK family, but our authors are especially loved and appreciated for the joy they bring us day to day. I just hate it.
I know, she's on my mind as well. I've got a bit written and I'll try and finish it tonight. Hubby took our three youngest to go see the Tampa Bay Rays play the LA whatchamacallits. Tickets were cheap for this game or they wouldn't be going; certainly not on a school night. As you can tell I don't keep up with baseball though my son in law is a true MLB fan. Kinda just every time I sit down to write something slithers into the area my muse normally occupies and all my story lines fritz out and I have to scrap them and start over. Hmmm. Let me see what I can do but no promises.
Sorry I was late on this. Took me longer than expected to untangle it from my brain.
The Unholy Roamin’ Empire
“Lydie,” Jax said in a voice that was devoid of emotion yet full of it at the same time. “I’m … I’m pretty sure I killed a man ... maybe more than one … probably more than one.”
I was cleaning the cuts and bruises on his hands and face while Ginger did the same for Reggie. Aston was teaching Ashley how to clean the guns that had been used so that they could be reloaded properly.
Reggie added, “You ain’t the only one Bro. I mean we knew we’d eventually run into others just like in town. I knew I could pull the trigger. I … I just … man … I wasn’t expecting this … this feeling it leaves behind.”
I sighed and told them, “I’m just thankful neither of you were hurt.”
Reggie exclaimed, “What do you call this?!” He pointed to some road rash running down his ribs where their attackers had tried to drag him away from the truck.
In a sternly quiet voice I told him, “I call that better than being shot.”
Green Bean suddenly interjected a faux tommy gun sound making us all jump. I thought about parrot fricassee while from the sofa where she worked to help Aston Ashley said, “I still don’t understand how the military got involved. They aren’t supposed to get involved with … with civilian stuff are they? I mean, The military and the CIA aren’t supposed to … you know … operate on … I don’t know what it’s called I just know they aren’t supposed to do it.”
Aston said, “They aren’t supposed to operate on US soil but I’m not sure how valid that is when we’ve been attacked and there is a congressionally declared war.”
“Is there a congressionally declared war?” I asked, surprised. “I thought that … well … I haven’t heard that its official.”
We all just kind of looked at each other uncertain. I mean they were calling it a war. The government had been evacuated from DC. We’d had terrorist attacks on our home soil. But none of us really knew how official things were. But that was someone else’s problem that day, a sharp hiss from Jax as I cleaned out a deep scratch near his belt line from where he’d run through a bunch of old blackberry canes reminded me we had more immediate problems on our hands.
The way things started was that Jax and Reggie had decided to locate one of the last of the Caulderman caches and try and bring it in for relocation into a cache of our own. The cache was located off the road and on a hunting lease the brothers’ uncle owned in the next county over which meant that the guys would have to park and walk in to reach it.
When he and Jax had started their nightly excursions Reggie had suggested, just to be on the safe side, that a cover story that they were out hunting would be sensible. They’d used it enough that they could say it and have it really sound like the truth. In a sense they were hunting, just not a traditional kind of quarry. Unfortunately the type of men they ran into weren’t looking for an explanation; they were the shoot-first-and-who-cares-about-anything-else types.
Details were and have always remained a little sketchy of that night but it goes something like this: They were walking in, using a significant amount of care like there might be wild animals on the loose. Turns out there were a few over a dozen of the vicious kind, but luckily for our guys they were mostly either toked up on weed or on their way to being drunk. Later Reggie hypothesized that the group had been looting, and probably practicing home invasion, for quite some time.
Jax and Reggie might have been townies to a much greater degree than me but that didn’t mean that they hadn’t spent their fair share of time in the woods playing games like man hunt or going camping and fishing with friends. They knew how to walk in the woods without attracting a lot of attention and that skill had come in handy a couple of times since they started their enterprise. As they worked their way towards what Reggie had said was the main base camp on the acreage Jax had spotted a semi sober patrol of three men about five seconds before the patrol spotted them; that five seconds probably saved their lives. They started running pell mell back to the truck which was luckily down slope.
Jax was both taller and faster and made it to the truck before Reggie and had gotten it started. Reggie stumbled and got up but it slowed him down just enough that as he was jumping into the truck the fastest of the bad guys grabbed him and dragged him back across the gravel road; that’s when he got the road rash. Jax went into action and there was a brief shoot out while Reggie broke free of the one that had started to pound on him and reached the safety of the truck. Reggie then drew his own gun and covered their escape while Jax put the truck in gear and took off.
The truck bore several shotgun scars but luckily from that perspective the only other damage was a crack in the rear window that was small enough it could be repaired with one of the DIY kits Dad had stocked for our farm equipment. I wasn’t really concerned about the truck having shotgun holes in it but was more concerned that the guys had almost had shotgun holes in them. There is no simple DIY kit for that kind of injury and I was glad they’d been able to escape.
The rest of that night’s trouble came when as they were barreling down the highway and nearly ran smack into a military convoy clearing the roads outward from Ft. Campbell. They were in the process of meeting another convoy coming from Chattanooga direction. Jax flew under an overpass and then around a bend to find a roadblock ahead of them; but before they could get turned around the overpass had been blocked off behind them essentially bottling them up with no way to get across the deep ditch on either side of the roadway. Well of course the guys were ordered to stop with the most persuasive part of the command coming out of a barrel of some freaking big gun mounted on one of their Humvees. It took about thirty minutes of hard questioning for the military patrol to buy their story. But buying their story came at a price; the guys had to lead a squad back to where the crapheads were camping out.
Jax said it was like they were drafted and he was worried they wouldn’t be coming home one way or the other. They weren’t exactly under arrest but they weren’t free to go their own way either. Basically they were told to do their duty as citizens and join the party clearing the area of bad guys. When it was over with neither Jax nor Reggie could agree on exactly who fired the first shot and which bad guy fell first.
They led the military personnel to the overgrown pull out they’d used to hide the truck, found evidence that there had been a shoot-out in the form of a few blood drops but no bodies were around. That reinforced that our guys were telling the truth but it only meant that they would have to lead them deeper into the wooded terrain towards where they had run into the baddie patrol.
Like cannon fodder, Jax and Reggie were put in the front but neither one of them played the fool. Quietly as they could they moved through the trees and underbrush until they could hear some cutting up, cursing, and raunchy laughter. When they saw a bunch of men around a firepit drinking and carrying on Reggie told the military squad what he remembered of the set up. Two guys from the squad did recon and agreed with Reggie’s drawings in the dirt but they added a few details like some vehicles parked about twenty yards off from the three trailers that were grouped in the clearing behind the fire pit.
A trained military unit against a surprised dozen or so bad guys? No contest; it was a massacre. Even with their ability to return fire with upgraded weaponry the bad guys didn’t stand a chance against a trained and cohesive force; especially given their inebriation which slowed their reaction time down significantly.
“When it was all over – and if I had to guess it didn’t even take twenty minutes from the first gun shot to the last and then clean up – the leader of the military squad just made a call to something named the aid and litter team and told them they weren’t needed and that they’d be back shortly. They just started walking away like it was nothing,” Reggie said with a little bit of reluctant awe in his voice.
Tiredly Jax had agreed. “I had ran to catch up and ask what they were going to do with the bodies that were just laying everywhere and what were we supposed to do. I didn’t know if they expected us to wait for the authorities or what. The gut shot ones were already starting to smell gassy and I knew something would be at them before morning.”
Shuddering since I’d smelled that smell a few years earlier when a cow on a neighboring farm had panicked when it had stepped on a wasp nest and caused them to swarm and had subsequently ripped itself open trying to go over a cattle fence. “What did they say?” I asked.
“The guy I took for the squad leader was maybe about mid to late thirties and had this piercing stare; hard to tell with him all decked out in combat gear but I’ll admit I was honestly rethinking opening my mouth. Then he just looked at me and Reg and shook his head before saying, ‘We’ll inform the local Guard Unit of the location. As for the rest of it, I can’t tell you the smart thing to do but were I you and I had a few hours like you’re going to, I’d take advantage of it. Times aren’t going to get any easier. If these scum bags used our caliber we wouldn’t be standing here talking but since they don’t I fail to see the good of us wasting any time around here. I wouldn’t leave that truck unprotected for long though. You never know who might be out on the road these days, curfew or not.’ I was going to ask him what he meant but Reg came up and elbowed me and told the guy, ‘Yes sir.” I swear I’ve never heard him that polite for as long as I’ve known him.”
I had decided that I loved Jax, that I really did, but he had a streak of idealism that looked great on a live hero but just plain sad on a dead one. Reggie saved me from having to reply and let my opinion slip out by filling in the final piece. “As soon as they left the clearing I was gathering anything that looked remotely worth salvaging. Jax started to help as soon as he’d accepted reality.”
“I still don’t get why they did what they did,” Jax had mumbled as I had slathered his lower back with a mustard plaster to get rid of the soreness he’d been feeling. I taped it over so that he could put a shirt back on without staining it yellow.
I looked at Reggie and he at me then I shrugged as nonchalantly as I could. “You two got lucky. Had those guys had anything that military squad had needed or wanted they would have been on it like locusts on a field of grain. I suspect had they known about the Caulderman cache they might not have been as generous.”
Reggie added, “Kinda sloppy of them not to have checked out the trailers if you ask me. They didn’t even check out the vehicles to see if they had any gas in them.”
Jax said, “They did check them … but I think all they were looking for was to see if there were any more of the bad guys, nothing in the buildings seemed to register.”
“Well it sounds like if Reggie hadn’t known about the hole under the workshop floor it would have been easy to miss. And if they were city boys I’m not sure they would have recognized the still. You told me the trailers just had a mess of beer and canned goods in them with sleeping pallets and packs of personal items belonging to the baddies. Remember, the military is supplying the squad’s daily needs. God help us all if it ever comes down to the military units being forced to provide for themselves; either they’ll go AWOL and run home to their families or they’ll take it any way they can just like during the Civil War. It will be the War Between the States and Sherman’s Army all over again.”
Everyone had gotten a troubled look on their face at the historical reference I had made. You just didn’t grow up in our neck of the woods without knowing what I meant; not unless you were dumb as a post and three-quarters blind at the same time.
Aston had gone on to continue an earlier conversation on how important it was to start caches of our own and create camps where we could rendezvous in case the home place got over run. Finally though the guys were patched up and everyone was completely busted down tired. I thought I had everyone but Aston convinced to go take a nap and they filed away. Ashley and Ginger went to “freshen up” or something like that before laying down for a little while. They promised they’d take care of dinner. Reggie went up the stairs as did Jax while Aston moved to the front porch with some binoculars to keep an eye on the road coming in.
I picked up Kelly and put her in a sling on my back and went to continue the chores for the day. I was coming up from the fruit cellar when Reggie nearly scared me out of a year’s growth. At his mischievous look I told him in an irritated tone, “I thought you were going to lie down.”
“Tried. Too keyed up,” he muttered turning serious.
I nodded then when he still didn’t say anything I asked, “You ok?”
He shrugged. “Getting over it.” He looked at Kelly. “Can she understand what we’re talking about?”
I shook my head. “No, she’s too little and is blathering something about the ducks and geese. Let me put her in the swing if you need to talk; she might not understand but she’s getting heavy as all get out.” We walked over to the fish pond and put her in the little swing we had set up over there so she could be distracted by the ducks. “So, what’s up?” I asked him.
He sighed and asked, “Is Jax really up for this?”
“Up for what?”
“This. The way things are.”
“Of course he is. What makes you ask?”
“Don’t get me wrong, Jax is a good guy and he’s someone I’d trust with my back in a fight. Just he seemed … lost … or … or … I don’t know.”
“You mean when that military squad blew the baddies away.”
“Not that exactly. More like when he had to do it … make the kill shot himself rather than someone in authority or whatever.”
“You didn’t exactly sound that untouched by having to do it yourself.”
He shook his head. “Like I said, I’m surprised how it made me feel but I’m … it … Look, it just isn’t bothering me like maybe it should. Like it seems to be bothering Jax. Those guys would have killed us if they’d had the chance. Probably have killed their share already because I know for a fact about half what we took away from the camp didn’t belong to the Caulderman family … specially not that all that jewelry and money we found.”
With absolute conviction I told him, “Thinking about the consequences and understanding them doesn’t stop Jax from doing what he has to when he has to. He’s just a lot deeper than people have ever given him credit for being.”
Reggie shrugged, “I just don’t want to see the guy struggling like Aston is.”
Admitting it yet trying not to be judgmental I stuttered my reply. “Aston is … is …”
“Yeah, he is,” Reggie said so that I didn’t have to find the word I was looking for. “That’s the problem. Aston has always seen himself as a good guy. He hated it when an opposing team used unnecessary roughness to score. It’s not only that he thinks it’s wrong, he thinks it is in bad taste or something stupid like that. You get what I’m trying to say?”
I nodded, “Sure, but he’ll come around. You just can’t ask him to do something that goes against his principles. Same with Jax.”
He smiled cynically, “You mean unlike you and me.”
I rolled my eyes. “Stop trying to get everyone to think of you like a jerk with no morals. You aren’t like your dad. You aren’t a sell out like your brother. And you aren’t like your mom either. You aren’t unprincipled, you’re just a realist. Even if you did know the Cauldermans that doesn’t mean you would ever act like they did.” I snorted when he turned a bright shade of pink. “What you are Reg is a survivor; so am I. The difference between us and the others is that we’ve had more practice at it than they have. Jax has too, he just has Kelly to think of and set an example for and that’s always in his mind. Back off and cut him some slack. Did he freeze when those guys almost had you or did he do what needed doing?”
Reggie nodded. “Yeah he did and that’s why … look, I just don’t wanna see nothing go wrong with what we’re building here. I don’t … don’t …” He stopped, wiped his mouth then scowled at the ducks in the pond. “I just don’t want to lose anyone. We got something good, we could have something great. That’s worth fighting for. I just … need to know if other people see it like that too.”
“Well ask him Dork,” I told Reggie. “I can say what I think but you’re so hard headed you aren’t going to be satisfied until you’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth.”
Reggie turned his scowl on me and said, “Maybe I will.” He then limped off towards the house finally leaving me in peace to think about what he’d said. I fed the fish and decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to catch some of the finned population so that I could filet and can it. I had my note pad out and writing down a few ideas like also making some fish jerky (http://www.dehydratorbook.com/fish-jerky.html ) when Kelly chirped, “Dadddeeeeee!”
I jerked my head up and saw Jax leaning against a tree. “Hey! Shouldn’t you be resting? Or are you too keyed up to rest too?”
I nodded, “Yeah. Reggie was out here just a minute ago. I hope he went back to the house.”
He nodded but asked, “What did he want?”
I snorted. “Just Reggie being Reggie. I think he is more affected by that fight y’all were in than he is willing to admit and he’s projecting or something.
Jax left the tree and came over to help me to seal of the metal drum where I kept the fish food. “Projecting? Projecting what?”
“I think he was trying to ask if you felt the same way he did about what happened but he got all squirrely about it. He all but said he’s worried that something is going to mess up what we have here.”
Doing a little projecting of his own Jax asked, “And he thinks I’m going to do the messing up?”
I shook my head. “No, not really. I think he is more worried about Aston. Just like Aston sees himself as the good guy, Reggie has always seen himself as the outsider and borderline bad boy though he could never quite pull it off to those that really know him.”
“And you really know him?”
I was starting to get some weird vibes and looked at Jax’s face which was a little on the chiseled side at that moment. “Tell me this is not about … uh uh … you wouldn’t go all … all weird on me at this point would you?”
Jax turned to look at me and saw how I was reacting and relaxed. “Maybe,” he admitted. “A little bit. I feel like I’m … I don’t know … maybe a day late and a dollar short. Reg and Aston have known you longer and …”
I snorted. “And more to the point I’ve known them longer. Aston still carries a bit of a chip on his shoulder about him being forced to accept my help in school. The boy has too much pride just because he comes from the poor side of town. Reggie … to be honest I think he and I are almost too much alike in some respects. We’d kill each other eventually if there weren’t other people around to take some of the heat off of us.” Leaning against the tree with Kelly on my hip I asked, “You want to hear how stupid I felt for a few minutes when Ginger was asking about what our relationship was?”
He grinned and I swear to goodness it was a little bashful. “You were?”
“Yeah I was,” I admitted. “But I got over it really quick because I trust you. Don’t make me feel stupid for it.” I abruptly turned and started walking to the barn leaving him staring at my backside and thinking on the fact that I didn’t particularly appreciate his worry.
He caught up and took Kelly from me and put her on his shoulders. She loved it when he did that. He also put his arm around me. I didn’t point out that it left Kelly’s boot-covered foot bouncing perilously close to my face. “So … I know you have to be thinking about stuff,” he said.
“If by stuff you mean I’m wondering how many more times you guys are going to run into baddies and how long it will be before the baddies start running into us then you’re right.”
A little chagrinned he said, “Actually I was talking about how we were going to find some privacy to take care of … of the fact that we haven’t … uh … anyway I suppose what you’re talking about is more important.”
Guys, I swear. I pulled out from under his arm and grabbed the bucket I used to fetch chicken feed with. “Actually I think they are at least equally important but what I was thinking about might interfere with what you were thinking about so I’d like to do something about the problem.”
He grinned and said, “Yes’m, I’ve about had my fill of things getting in the way.” Then he got serious again as he put Kelly in the little run we’d built so she could work off some energy. He offered to help but I shook my head so he sat and said, “I’ve been worried about the refugees from town coming out this way when it looks like we’ve got homegrown trouble that is just as bad. I … I recognized one of those guys as someone who used to work at the mill.”
“Did it make it harder? To shoot at him I mean.”
He shook his head. “Actually made it easier because I knew just how mean that guy could be. I wasn’t guessing what he’d done and if he really was a baddie but knew it because I’d seen him take a pipe to one of the foremen. It’s what got him fired. The guy had anger management issues in spade.”
“OK,” I said as I scooped the feed into the five-gallon bucket. As I put the bucket on the dolly to make in easier to move I said, “We need an early warning system.”
“You’re right. No way we can pull off the same thing that Houchins and his group are doing. We can’t watch our borders and at the same time get any work done. We just don’t have enough people.”
I asked, “You think we need more people?”
“Right now? No. And I’m not sure in the future either. We’ve got enough going on under one roof with just the six of us … plus Kelly and plus Ashley is what four months along now? We’ve got to be thinking of that coming event too.” He disentangled Kelly’s fingers from his hair and then said, “I’ve got some ideas. First off, those wireless cameras like they used in pawn shops. If we can get them placed in strategic locations and then set up a security desk in the house …” He stopped on a sigh. “It is going to take power and I’m not sure how to pull it off.”
“We could deal with the power issue with solar panels but a wireless system has some limits to it. They normally only come with four channels which means that you can set up four cameras. Closer to the house we can run wires and have wired in cameras … assuming we can find the cameras.”
“OK, then on that same vein how about trip alarms?”
“You mean like driveway alarms?”
“Yeah. Definitely for the road in and out but I’m thinking some in the woods as well. We’d just need to figure out how to set them so animals wouldn’t set them off. But we also need to think about reinforcing the house and outbuildings. I know things are already pretty tight but they could be tighter.”
Yeah, they could be. We spoke of some things that could be done but eventually I finally got him to go lie down and rest when it was time for Kelly’s nap. In truth I needed him to give me some space. I had some much to think on. A lot was going to be asked of me in the coming days. A lot was going to be asked of all of us.
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