Mark put one foot in front of the other. The journey started, for there was no other way to reach home. Vaguely, he knew it was 2700 miles to North Carolina, and that was where he was determined to go. As a reasonably fit man for his age, he figured on ten miles a day, working up to fifteen and then twenty.
The gooey mud coated his feet and even in December the stench of the mire lay heavy in the air. He had a thousand regrets, who wouldn't.
He spotted an intact can, lying in the mud. No label, that, had washed off and the can use by date was obliterated. It wasn't bulged, so he used his knife to open it up. Mark was pretty sure it was canned dogfood, and he told his mind to keep thinking corned beef hash.
He was hungry. He considered it food and happy to have it. He gagged swallowing the slab he pried out with his knife, and kept walking.
He had to find a way to cross the Columbia River. He was on the North side, and that's where most of the tributaries emptied into the large river. In the winter time it wasn't smart to go North, and he didn't have the clothes for a Montana adventure.
He walked, trying to follow the paved road toward Umatilla. There was a bridge there, if it was still useable.
There were no recognizable landmarks, only rock covered with the mud, everywhere.
1Pe 4:7 But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind, and be sober unto prayer
Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Joh 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him.
Clora sent her young men on a hunt, she hoped it took every last ounce of their energy; so there was none left to fight, bicker and argue. She had Teddy doing some math for her, he wasn't the least bit interested in hunting.
She had him figuring out how many steps, how many miles and how many days and/or months it would take older people such as Joy and Warren to walk from New York city. Teddy was humming right along, his pencil flying over the paper as he worked.
"I reduced the average stride by one third, and had to recalculate everything. If Joy had high heels on, I'm going to reduce it by half. Grandpa has a long stride, but if their tired or hurt, I think I should reduce his stride by half."
Clora nodded. She intended to give him the approximate mileage from Portland to home and let him figure out when Mark might arrive. Clora estimated ten months of travel. It would be interesting to see what Teddy came up with.
Clora also intended to see if Teddy could teach Luke and Liz math. Anything, she thought desperately, to keep at least three of them busy. It wouldn't hurt if Robert, Gary, Lou and Sam sat in on the lessons, for a good solid background refresher.
They had saved some of the school books, but not all; and Clora was preparing a lesson plan to start school at home.
They needed a calendar made, and for some reason it made her think of Evie, Ben and Ben's purple-pet-ual calendar.
Ahh, Ben. Such a change from what he started out to be, to what he ended up with. Out of the six of them, she and Wayne were the only kids left. Clora was thinking hard about Zander, Jane, Sandy and Ben. Today with it's deep snow was very much reminiscent of that snowed in time at Grandma's, and Clora supposed that was the reason for all the memories. There was a small zinger of a thought that went racing across her conscience, and faded into nothing. Clora shrugged. Maybe it would come back, or maybe it wouldn't.
Clora had wondered time and time again why the EMP potential disaster hadn't registered with her precognition. The idea was simply blank in her mind. She could feel Mark however, could tell he was on the move. He was headed home. Clora said a prayer for his safe passage.
Well I doubt that the dams are still intact so the Columbia would be narrower in places, may have to invent a new sport of rock climbing and swimming at the same time to get across. The Umatilla bridge might still be there and if so would probably be people there as well. There I go speckulating again, (should have learned to spell at some point in my life).
Thank you Pac.
The word Bipartisan usually means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out. George Carlin
I can sympathise with you about windoze 10. It is for that reason alone I have not upgraded my box. I am hopping that eventually #11 comes out and is a step back in time. Thank you for the new story start. I do not know what I would do without your wonderful stories!
Mark walked until almost dark. He debated what to do, there was nothing but foul mud over the entire landscape, no rocks clean enough to sit on or use as a lee from the wind that was picking up. If he sat down, he would be wet and muddy, and stink badly. Enough, that it might be a problem if he needed to hide.
He really needed to sit and rest, and he scouted the river. It wasn't wide where he was at, but it was swift. If he sat in the mud, he could clean off tomorrow by crossing the river. The current might take him downstream however, as far as he had walked up river today. There were rocks washed clean down by the water, but the river noise would prevent him from hearing attackers or animals.
Mark settled for sitting in the mud, high above the river. There was a small rock he leaned against, keeping his rifle out of the goo by balancing it across his knees. He let himself sleep by catnapping, and relaxing his muscles.
The night was cold, the wind roaring down river. It was miserable; but not the extreme temperature fluctuations he had experienced in the 'stan. Mark thought about the billy goat and was mad, and warm all over.
The sun was barely chasing the dark from the east; when he woke. He ate a slice of dog food, and then another. Resisting the urge to vomit, he kept swallowing hard. When he figured the stuff would stay in his stomach, he took a drink of water, rinsed his mouth and swallowed quickly. He had maybe three quarters of a canteen left, not enough to make the kind of trek miles he needed to walk today. There was no use fretting about it.
Picking himself up, Mark felt the squishy mud dampness in the seat of his pants, grimaced, and started walking.
Always, he kept track of his surroundings, the river, and any identifying marks on the other side. There was some water flowing down what he supposed was Multnomah Falls, but considered the river still to dangerous to cross.
Following the road cut out of the rock on the north side, he walked until he came to three mud covered lumps in the road. They must be cars, he supposed; but the smell of death was too strong to consider investigating.
The mud must have sealed the inside, the bodies had been there already a year. It was odd they were still stinking. He walked on. At approximately noon. he ate another slice of dog food and drank another swallow of water. If he could find flowing water, he could filter it with the Life Straw in his pack, and fill his canteen and the spare but empty one attached to his ruck.
As he moved, Mark could feel the coins clink in the bottom of his pack. Mark wasn't sure, but he thought he had the situation worked to his satisfaction. Pete must have brought his Rhodium to the valley and hid it in one of the caves. Someone else, (Stillman he guessed,) brought the suitcase full and put it in the cave Gertie probably knew about. It was pure conjecture on his part, but Mark bet the old man in the upper gave had watched Pete stash his take, and then 'liberated' it the moment Pete left. That's what Pete wanted, his amount of Rhodium that equaled all the other metal totals combined. Pete had most likely gone back for the metal and found it gone. He must not have known about the upper cave or the old man, and because the family had been there, Pete suspected they had the Rhodium.
Mark was sure he had figured it out. There had been a huge amount of moldy cardboard boxes in the hidden room off the upper cave, filled with the metal. When he had left, there were already sprigs of Virginia Creeper poking out of the mud and the cave opening would soon be covered over.
He looked to be the only human to have been there, but he also noticed the muddy goo oozed in to cover his tracks. If someone else found it, well then they had a treasure.
There was no sign of life on either side of the river. It was a wasteland as far as the eye could see. Mark came to another car, it smelled but not as bad as the others. Mark decided to be smart and see if there was money inside. He hoped there was, for the effort it took to scrape the filth aside to get the door open.
There was several hundred dollars in the wet, sloppy wallet. He took the bills out and doused them with the half bottle of water that was in the cup holder. The money would come in handy before he got home. The woman probably had a purse, but Mark was done digging in the car. He wondered about the trunk, but couldn't get the key out of the ignition. He had spent twenty minutes of his time, and moved on. During the day, he came across three more cars and took money from all of them.
The last car, had a bonanza of sealed pop cans and pop top cans of Vienna sausage. They also had water in plastic bottles that he wouldn't drink, but used to wash the food cans clean. The plastic bottles had most likely leached contaminants from the mud back into the water, and he took several to wash with.
It was the jeep he came to, where he actually found what he needed to survive. They had either been camping, or were going; but the freeze dried food in the sealed pouches was dry when he rattled the sacks. He stuffed his backpack full of the washed off pouches. He debated a while if he should pour some of the bottled water in a pouch to rehydrate it, and then decided not to.
The driver of the jeep had eight hundred dollars in his wallet, and Mark stuffed it in his lower cargo pants pocket. He imagined, as per his experience in third world countries, that it might cost as much as a thousand dollars to cross the river, in a toll or boat fare.
It was now late afternoon, and he could see by the remains of twisted metal wreckage, that he had made it as far as the defunct Aluminum plant. The mud he was walking in, wasn't as deep as it had been, and there was a washed out culvert in a round depression on the upper side of the road that looked like a place to spend the night.
Mark sat huddled in the semi dried mud and wondered what Clora was serving for supper tonight. He would have gladly eaten elk, and not said a word to the contrary.
Clora was serving large amounts of rice with a bean gravy and restricted spoonfulls of green beans. The boys hadn't been successful in the hunt. The young men were disappointed in the amount and the type of food served, but Clora had to explain there wasn't enough food to see them through to spring, especially with such bad weather.
The hunters had been starving when they made it home, and the food served didn't quite satisfy their appetites.
The day had warmed some, but it was still snowing huge wet flakes. Clora had milked during the last of the daylight, and fed the cow and horse. They weren't going to have enough hay either. Blossom had been dried up, and Clora had put her on a tether to continue eating the blackberry bushes in the 'yard.'
As she went to bed, Clora got on her knees and gave thanks for the blessings of rice and beans. She could feel that Mark was cold, and it made her heart hurt. Clora hadn't thought about Warren and Joy, but she could feel they weren't doing well.
Wayne and Millie seemed OK, and she let Toby be. Clora prayed for safe passage for those of the clan that were walking to home.
I hope Mark finds some horses in some high pasture once he gets above the muck. I don't want to wait until he walks all the way across the country. A stallion and couple mares of a good breed of work horse, some geldings for trade, and a jack for humor and to guard them all. It will make the trip more "interesting" because the horses will more valuable than the Rhodium in the hard times.
The difference between being smart and being wise:
Being smart is learning from your own mistakes.
Being wise is learning from the mistakes of others.
My life has given others many opportunities to be wise.
Seems people walked from st louis to oregon / washington over a summer, so 10 mile days would make it a 270 day trek, assuming walking 10 miles every day was possible. Mark needs a force multiplier to get more distance. A boat maybe or even bicycle once out of the desolace?
Warren and Joy were indeed having problems. First off, Warren was unbelievably stressed, feeling the tightness in his chest and the lack of breath as they walked with about a hundred other people. The couple tagged along the back fringes of the group, walking slow.
Joy was happy they had coats and sturdy shoes. So many of the people looked like they had got out of their stalled and inoperable cars and tossed their minds on the ground and walked off without them.
From their training, the couple was aware being with a mob wasn't the best way to travel and when Warren needed to rest, they were left behind. Looking at the country side gave Joy an idea. She knew where they were, having driven from DC to North Carolina several times.
She and Warren needed to take the next exit and walk over a mile or so into an Amish community. Not only would they be off the Interstate and on two lanes roads, but Joy had a favor she could call in from the non-electric people. The elder was suspicious and unfriendly, but finally agreed.
She and Warren paid dearly for the privilege to ride in the back of the wagon, but 80 some year old men with heart problems and no conditioning wouldn't last long walking. Joy was better conditioned, and she was feeling the effects of how far they had come.
The larger work type horse plodded along, not much faster than walking. It was the driver's knowledge of the area and back roads, that Joy needed. She wasn't sure of the distance, but it had to be over 400 miles. Some days they stopped early, because that's where the like minded members of the religious group lived. They had deluxe accommodations in the barns and bread and cheese purchased from the homeowners.
Huddled together against the cold, they got snowed on, rained on and chilled with the wind. They didn't complain. The teamster never talked to them as he sat, a lump on the seat with his hat pulled low. The day the unlikely sight plodded through the cold weather and passed the sign that said 'welcome to North Carolina', Joy almost felt overcome with emotion.
Warren was the toughest, old man Joy had ever met. It was clear he wouldn't have made it walking, but he held Joy's hand and kept it warm. Joy herself, was not a spring chicken, and she was thankful for the transportation.
Clora felt them coming. On the day they arrived, she had made extra food, had the house warmer than usual and had the boys unhitch the horse, rub him down well and give him oats for his herculean effort.
Franz, the driver, sat by the stove drinking coffee and promptly went to sleep.
Joy and Warren were around the other side of the stove and Clora hugged them both. "Welcome," she told them sincerely, "I prayed you would come safely."
Warren wondered where Mark was, and Clora had to tell him Mark had gone to the valley. There was a sad and defeated look to Warren, as he looked at the ceiling for answers he knew weren't there.
"I was hoping he hadn't gone," Warren said as softly as his deep voice would allow.
"He's on his way home," Clora was able to say. "That's a long way to travel on foot."
Another storm came in during the night, dumping a foot of new snow. Clora served their plain breakfast to Franz and found out his last name was Stoltz. "Please stay until the weather breaks, it puts you in such danger to be out traveling. You are welcome here with our profound thanks for bringing my husband's parents home."
Franz nodded, his speech thick with German accent was difficult to understand, but when he went to the barn to check on his horse and found Lady and her harness; the universal language of horses was spoken.
The boys had wheels and they were trying to fashion a wagon or cart to pull behind their sturdy Fjord pony.
Franz had them bring in all the spare extras they could find, showing them how the two sets of axels could be tied together with the timbers from the unfinished machine shed. It didn't turn well, there was no fifth wheel turntable for the front axel, and they were stumped until Benny thought about using the steering wheel and rod to turn the front assembly.
It took two to drive the wagon. One to teamster the horse and one to turn the steering wheel. but it was transportation and the boys were proud.
It had taken over a month for the Amish man to drive Warren and Joy to Clora's and he stayed until the middle of February, before the weather broke enough for travel. Warren paid Franz double what they had agreed upon and shook the man's hand, thanking him profusely.
Clora sent rain gear and one of the tents and sandwiches to hold him over until he got to friendly, like minded farms.
Mark picked up a traveling companion the day he came to the Biggs Junction bridge. The large black and white Border Collie was waiting on the North side and walked across with Mark. There were beginning to be signs of people, but as he was traveling with his rifle, most avoided him completely.
There was a toll to cross back into Oregon. The sign said $300.00 or we throw you in the water. The man collecting the toll money was larger and more fierce looking than Mark. He wouldn't share any information as to what had happened and told the wayfarer to move on, and he wouldn't get hurt.
The mud had finally stopped, the high desert landscape terrain, high enough in elevation to have turned the water back.
Mark bought food at the tiny store on the South bank, and dry dog food and a bowl.
It was sixty or so miles to the Idaho border, and Mark pushed on.
I wanted to say that Mark's timetable will at times be faster or slower than the progression of days at the homestead. They are the accurate measure of days according to the calendar; but Mark's times will surge and ebb according to the difficulty of the weather and terrain.
Zipping up Cabbage Hill with a loaded truck at 25mph, is still way faster than climbing the grade on foot. The 8 mile grade out of Pendleton might take all day with a heavy pack, and a man weakened by not enough food.
It took twenty days of walking to get to Boise. That included a lift from a rancher and his hired man in a 1940's something, greenish gray Dodge pickup. From the top of the Cabbage Hill grade to Ontario, Ore., where the rancher turned off to drive out to Vail and his farm.
Mark had looked at the dog and said, "you'd better get in, I'm riding." And the two of them sat in the open bed and nearly froze to death in the wintery conditions.
Mark thanked the rancher, paid the one hundred they had agreed upon and went to a motel. He was so weak, he needed food and rest. The stretch from Portland to Ontario was unforgiving country; except for the area across the Blue Mountains. There was no food or water if you were walking the sagebrush miles, and Mark was suffering
He left the dog and his rifle in the room while he went to the truck stop restaurant, and had to show his money before he could order. That's where he discovered he could take a bus to Salt Lake City, the ancient diesel run by The Idaho Stage Lines. The bus was so old it had the bubble faced front, and Mark had to pay a full fare for the dog, and check his rifle into the hold for transport.
It took almost 24 hours for the old, slow machine to reach Salt Lake and Mark needed the rest.
In another motel for a night of rest. Mark counted his money, fed himself and the dog and contemplated which way he needed to go. Interstate 80 would be shorter, but no less void of services. However if he got to the Missouri River, he could float South and pickup Interstate 40. January and February across Wyoming, Nebraska was severe weather, but reports coming in from travelers told about ten foot high snow drifts they had to climb.
The other alternative was to drop down on the West side of the Grand Canyon and pick up I 40 in Flagstaff. That's what he did. The route was open, but the winter weather bad.
At the homestead, February weather passed into March, the snow melted and mud season began. As early as they could, Clora and the children began spading up the back yard. The berry bushes were uprooted and removed; as day by day the over turned earth got firmer and firmer. The half acre former lawn was prepared from side ditch to side ditch for vegetables. It wasn't enough garden land to grow what they needed, it was what they had to work with.
Clora looked at the hilly rise to the right of the house, and that's where they started spading next. The sloping land would be the corn and squash patch, she decided. March was almost over when they heard the growl of a motor. Such a foreign sound, they scattered defensively until it could be identified.
It was Wayne in an old Galleon grader of the 1960's era. He was working at pushing inoperative cars off the roads so the highways were clear. Wayne had passengers. Millie, Joe and Abe were squished in the cab with him and a huge box was tied on, just behind the motor. The boards tied along the frame and wired to the ripper bar, served as a platform for the big wood box. Wayne was taking his family out of the dangerous city to the relative safety of the isolated farm.
Working quickly, they unloaded the precious cargo, the box and Wayne used the ripper to open the sod bound pasture for gardening. He ripped the land two ways and then had to go. He was way out of county and didn't want to be fired for his side trip.
Millie and Clora hugged, Millie and Joy hugged, and Clora could see Millie was expecting again. Later after supper when the kids were bedded down, Clora teased Millie about Wayne making up for lost time.
"He certainly is," she said with amusement. "If you didn't have so many kids for Wayne to catch up to, it certainly would be easier on me!" They all had a gentle laugh.
It was that Sunday afternoon when Addison Wilson came calling. Dressed in a clean pair of bib overalls and his Sunday 'go to meetin' shirt, he dropped in to see if Clora didn't want to marry him. Ill at ease among so much family, he finally asked Clora if he could have a private talk with her. They went to the bench across the road.
Addison's Granny had sent him with instructions to ask and marry up with the 'widder woman' with all the kids. Addison was offering as a public service, to make sure all them boys had a man's guidance as they was 'growin."
Addison was so nervous and embarrassed to be speakin on such things, them hardly knowin each other and such, but Granny had decreed and Addison went to do her bidding. Clora scared Addison half to death. She was taller than he, by at least a foot, and she worked like a crazy woman.
Clora coughed, covering her mouth politely, so her smile couldn't be seen. "Addison, you have honored me by asking," Clora was able to say, "but Mark is on his way home. He's still my husband and he will get here." she finished. This was the most touchy situation she had been in, for a long time. Pride was the only thing a lot of people had, and you had to be careful with it.
Addison was very relieved. He talked a little more and then lit out for home. "If you get word otherwise, my offer still stands," he called over his shoulder, and Clora waved goodbye.
Joy and Millie giggled a lot when they found out what the visit was for; and Addison's Granny was put out at him for not realizing the woman was clinging to false hope. "Her man ain't comin home, you keep track of her." the old woman had snapped. Addison decided he had enough problems with his own kids, without adding more. He thought he counted at least two more kids there from the last time he visited. He figured they must have a dozen.
Mark had been on the road for 75 days when he got to Flagstaff. Weak and uncoordinated, he opted to rest in a motel that should have been torn down, and was instead charging fifty a night on account of the dog.
The dog had already repaid Mark any debt by challenging a bear and then a two legged varmint. There were groups of armed people everywhere. Typically unfriendly, the groups wouldn't challenge a person if they kept walking, especially on the interstate. At times there was a sea of humanity surging both ways; and then at other times, Mark and dog were the only alive bodies headed East.
Food was so difficult to come by, Mark chewed on dry dog food more days than he cared to count. He and dog had been caught in a late spring snowstorm ten or so miles East of Flagstaff, and they huddled on the camp mat and pulled the silver but ragged emergency blanket around themselves.
It was a low moment, as low as Mark had ever been anywhere. For the first time, he wondered if he was going to make it; the overwhelming odds seeming so much to overcome.
That night, Clora woke and was compelled to slip to her knees beside the bed, praying hard for Mark. She prayed he wouldn't give up, that he could feel her prayers and the hand of God guiding him. That if he prayed, he would receive strength and purpose from his Creator, to continue his journey. Clora didn't know it at the time, but her prayer kept Mark alive that night.
To Mark, Clora felt exceptionally near; and he was dreaming he could smell her faint rosewater scent. Dog edged closer, feeling the man's distress, and Mark's cold fingers rubbed the dog's head. "She doesn't want me to go," he told Dog; "I'm going to try and stay."
Every time he woke during the exceptionally cold and windy night, Mark prayed for strength. He was so thin and without fat reserves, that his core temperature went dangerously low. Dog crowded closer and whined, causing Mark's eyes to open in a near catatonic state.
The morning dawned clear and by the miracle of prayer, Mark was still alive. He was able to buy food in Albuquerque; goat meat from a Latino meat market and he bought as much for Dog as he bought for himself. The woman behind the counter gave him a stack of day old tortillas and filled his canteens with water, filling a bowl of the precious liquid for Dog.
Mark had lost count of the days he had been on the road. Sometimes delusional, he counted more days than was accurate, and then with the same delusion, subtracted them the next day. All he could tell, was that the days were getting warmer, and he struggled on.
It was the end of May, when Mark made it to Little Rock.
Joy and Warren are at home and Millie and and the kids are also at home....
Mark is getting closer to home....
Prayers can accomplish what man can not....
Thank you Pac for all you do for us....
Pac you are making me and all of your many readers very happy. Thank you for all of the new chapters. Hopefully no one will try to force Clora to do something she doesn't want to do, thinking that she doesn't have Mark around to protect her and that she is an easy target. I am guessing that would not end well for them.
Thanks Pac God Bless you and yours.
Mark stopped well this side of the city. It was easy to hear and see that Little Rock was busy having a riot. There were all sorts of gun shots, and fire and dense black smoke boiling skyward. Mark was sitting on a truck stop ecology block that defined the parking lot. He fed Dog, or Dawg as he had started thinking of the animal, and gave him water. Mark had finally bought a map, and the plastic coated information was difficult to read in the near dark.
There was a row of trees that was going to become his night bivouac, but he didn't want to give his intention away too soon. The whole place was crawling with unfriendly looking desperados, and to be sure of making a quick get away, he picked up Dawgs bowls and stashed them in his pack.
He was waiting for full on dark, or as dark as it got in the feebly lit truck lot. There was a man coming his way, and Mark watched him in a casual but coiled to strike way.
The man stopped a good 30 feet away and spoke up, drawing Mark's attention. "Ah Sir, may I have a word with you?" Mark looked the man over and he wasn't carrying a badge, or a weapon in his side waistband.
"Sure, How can I help you?" Mark stood up and put Dawg behind him to be alert for back stabbers, in case this was a trap. By now the Dawg was used to what Mark wanted, and they worked as a pretty good team.
"I was noticing you caring for your dog, and I was wondering if you are going East? If you are, I'm trying to buy protection for myself and my cargo."
Mark whipped his head around, looking to see if anyone else had heard.
"Sir, keep your voice down," Mark growled. "That's not a wise thing to say."
"Oh, I knew you looked all right. would you please help me?"
Mark motioned for the man to come closer and to keep his voice down. "What is your problem?" he hissed, not liking the set up one bit.
"I have to go to Knoxville tonight, and I want to hire you to guard me and my cargo." The man's whisper was as loud as his regular speech.
Mark used his hand in the down motion, shaking his head at the man's stupidity, asking him to speak lower.
"I'm interested," he said calmly, "I don't do illegal, but I am interested in going to Knoxville. What kind of cargo are you carrying?"
"A horse," the man whispered, "a real valuable one and it needs to be there by tomorrow night and I'm scared to death to drive the interstate through town."
"Yeah, I'm not to interested in giving that a try myself." Mark said drolly. He brought out his map and penlight and the two of them looked at the map.
"I think you would be smarter to back track a little and drop down on I 30 to I 49, and then go 20/59 up to Knoxville." Mark told the man his opinion.
"Yeah, that's it, that's what the trooper said to do, and bypass Memphis and Nashville. But I couldn't remember all that he said."
As close as the man was, Mark could see he was just a kid, and a dumb one at that. "So, do you have a rig that will make the trip?"
"Oh, yes Sir," the kid was pitching his problem in a hurry. "It's a modified pickup to look like a real old one, but she purrs like a kitten."
Mark decided he'd better help the clueless idiot and get him and his cargo out of the potential danger.
"My dog has to go," Mark looked at the unsavvy man.
"Oh yes sir, can he ride in the pickup bed? My name is Elberton, Elberton Wallingford." and he stuck his hand out for a shake. Call me Eb," he offered like a happy puppy.
"Mark Linderman," and they shook. "Let's make tracks," Mark looked around and didn't like the dark area.
The pickup was a ancient looking International, and it sounded like it could handle the two horse trailer. Dawg jumped in like he was a happy pickup dog, and Mark squeezed in the much narrower old cab. It wasn't ideal, there wasn't much room to maneuver his rifle if needed, so he got out the Glock and put it in his lap.
"Drive out at medium speed, act like nothing is wrong. At the end of the drive turn right and drive two miles back to where we pickup I 30," Mark was checking the road behind them as well as possible. The trailer blocked a good sight of the traffic, as it was much larger than the old pickup.
"What is this, a "53?" Mark noticed a car following them at a respectable distance. The left headlight jiggled, so it was easy to spot in a line of cars.
"Yes Sir, a '52/'53 that has belonged to my family since it was new. Daddy had it rebuild about three years ago, and if necessary she can top a hundred."
"Eb, are you running shine?" Mark was stern, after his dawning realization.
"No Sir," Eb shook his head, "well not exactly." he amended, "No horse in there, I've got a load of sugar. Daddy and Grandpap are plumb tired of paying the high prices around town, and they've had a itty bitty bit of trouble with the law. The revenuers' don't by the notion we're using this for canning and preserving, and they always want to make such a big deal about it. We're putting the shine in canning jars to preserve it," he laughed at his own cleverness.
Mark had been hornswoggled, but felt he couldn't help but like Eb. He was a smooth talker and jovial person.
They got off I 30 at Malvern and went 270 over to Pine Bluff and then 79/49 to Helena and crossed the big river and shot over into Mississippi and traveled 278 to New Albany. They always had a car, a ways behind them, and Mark mentioned the fact.
"Yeah, probably the law, they won't do nuthin till we get close to home, they want to catch me in Tennessee. Fits their notion of justice, and all that. Don't worry, I'll let you off before I got to do any fancy maneuvering. Your a nice guy and I don't aim to see you arrested."
"Thanks," Mark was grateful for small favors. The pressed on through the night, Eb very sure of where he was driving. They motored up 75 to Knoxville and on the East side of town he stopped for gas.
"Nows when I stop you git your dog and get out of the lights. Take off running before they git close enough to see you. Sure enjoyed yer company, it made the time go faster." and he pulled into the pumps where the generator was running.
Mark took him at his word and skedaddled the second the pickup stopped.
He was close enough to practically smell home. To stay off the Interstate and possible recognition, Mark decided to cut through the mountains, over to Cherokee then down to Chashiers. He'd be 20 or so miles from home when he got there. His legs and body were weak, but his heart was singing. There was a lone car in the distance, coming his way, and Mark and Dawg faded into the underbrush to bed down for the night. He'd had a major amount of excitement, and was so tired he was trembling.
It took four days to travel the distance to home. Mark was at the end of his endurance, and had to rest often.
Clora was washing the dishes, threw the plate back into the water and yelled, "Oh Dear God, Mark's almost home." and she went tearing out the door and went running down the road.
Clora found him as she rounded the curve; he had heard her coming, yelling his name in a frenzy.
He had to lean on his rifle for support, but Clora was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Holding each other in the middle of the dusty road, Mark buried his face in her neck and cried.
Clora was incoherent with what she was saying, the tears running down her face as she held him so carefully.
"Thank you Heavenly Father, this is a blessing above all blessings," she kept repeating.
Red and Bootsie had come with Clora, and they looked at Dawg and his dirty, rough condition and said something inflammatory and derisive in dog speak about his appearance, his attitude and his mother.
Dawg had decided it would be necessary to teach these ignorant cat chasers, the finer points of proper dog greeting manners. While Mark and Clora kissed with all the pent up feeling they had in their bodies, the combatants prepared for a dog fight.
Red bumped Clora's leg and Clora snapped her fingers and pointed to the ground, ordering the dog down.
Red was disgusted, there was no way Bootsie could take on the stranger by herself, so she gave the black and white shaggy mutt a look that said, 'this isn't over. Postponed, but not over.' Dawg smiled a taunt.
Mark had his hands cupped on Clora's face looking at the love shining in her eyes. "I've missed you so much," he said brokenly; "Clora I'm about to go down." he whispered.
Clora hefted the rifle in her left hand and put Mark's arm around her shoulders. She walked her man back to the house and the mob that was breaking out of the front door at a run.
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