Story Ava

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
I'm going to start this here. I'll eventually start rolling it over to the my other spot but I thought what the heck, might as well start on it here. I'm going out of the country for a couple of weeks starting Tuesday so I might not get to post more until I get back. Depends on the connection and if I have any time to get more written up.

I am a little uncertain about this story because I don't have a lot of working knowledge on the geographic location the character spends the majority of her time in. If anyone sees some mistakes, just sing out and I'll try and edit a fix in. Thanks.

Chapter 1

I feel like I’ve been stupid way too long. Maybe even way on the other side of too long. I just hope there is time to fix the stupid I’ve been so that I’m not stuck with it as a permanent condition.

Mr. and Mrs. Steuben said someone from the county would be coming for us; if not that afternoon the next morning. They said they had no choice but to leave immediately because of the evacuation orders and legally they weren’t allowed to take any of us with them. I get it. They were afraid. Life is a crapshoot and the Steubens are decent people, but I mean no one is perfect. They were nice to all of us, but it was Kay and Kal they had been waiting for. Two little babies that could be theirs and theirs alone and share their last name and be their kids for real. They were already going to be in trouble maybe for taking Kay and Kal without the judge having signed the final papers yet, but I guess they were willing to take that risk. Plus, I gotta say I’m thankful because I didn’t want to be responsible for two six-month old babies. I mean for real don’t want to.

The thing is I made the mistake of believing them, trusting them. Mr. and Mrs. Steuben, I mean. Or believing in what they were hoping was the truth. Whatever. More fool me. Hew told me I was being a fool all along, but I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to be wrong. Again. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to him. At least sorry right now. Maybe I’ll be something more than sorry tomorrow, but it must be done. All the older kids but me have decided to take off on their own. That still leaves me with six kids to look after by myself and all the food in the house is gone except for what I was able to scrape together for their dinner. A couple boxes of the super cheapo mac n cheese with a couple cans of veggies and tuna thrown in to piece it out so everyone has enough so they can sleep with something in their bellies besides boiled water.

Tonight, after all but Hew are asleep, I’m going to sneak out and try and find enough food for a couple more days. I feel kinda rotten about it. The people in this neighborhood seem nice in a standoffish kind of way and none of them look like they have a lot of stuff they can afford to lose, but I’m not seeing I have much choice because I can’t leave the kidlets to starve either. What I figure to do is get enough food and then pack everyone up and move over to the church where the Steubens took us on Sundays and Wednesday nights. I doubt there will be anyone there, but who knows, and maybe we don’t stay there but a night or two; but it is a place to work on a plan of what to do next.

Why can’t we work on a plan here? Because Hew says that he heard from Tyrell that Juan is planning on coming on these streets and getting back at someone who turned in his Mom and her boyfriend and got them deported. And not only is he going after those people but anyone that might be their friend or … just lots of what Mr. Loper would have called excuses, justifications, and rationalizations. Juan wants to make a stink because he is angry and that’s all he is thinking about right now.

I’m thinking that it isn’t the people over here that he is angry at, well maybe a little but mostly he doesn’t want to be angry at his mother for not taking care of her business to start with and then not taking him and his little sister with her when she had to go back to Honduras. And maybe if he was real honest, it was him finding out that he wasn’t even her biological kid like she claimed, but just one she picked up along the way to get around the old migrant legal system and found useful to bring more bring bennies in for the ones she called her real kids. Mostly Juan is a mess and he wants to blame the world for his damage even though he is now old enough that it is his personal choices that are causing the most damage to his potential future. Geez I can hear some of the guys now … “We need a social worker over here! Stat!” They hate the psychobabble crap nearly as much as I do.

I miss the crew. I mean I seriously miss them even if they were all just a buncha ‘Tards. At least they were my friends; and not just because their parents said they had to be nice to me. A lot of them even snapped me when things were going south to make sure that I knew and that I was getting out of the area. Even Zeb did. I know his aunt would have blown a couple of arteries had she known but he still took the risk and did it. But I can’t think about that right now. There’s no future in it.

I won’t have Hew around for long, not that he is much help. He has some crazy idea of joining Juan and his gang. I am not sure that is going to work out for him. He may be a person of color but he’s the wrong type of color if you know what I mean. His mom may have been Rican but his dad sure wasn’t and Hew is stupid if he thinks that those gangbangers are just gonna overlook his less than pure lineage. They fight amongst themselves like a bunch a dogs even when they share the same color anyway.

But I can’t stop Hew from trying. He’s 14 and while I’ve survived to make it to 17, that doesn’t mean much these days. He’s mostly mad that he thought we should hook up. I mostly wanted to drop him on his head after I finished gagging at the very idea. I knew Hew was getting nasty but man, he’s going downhill fast. Why do some guys have to think more with their little head than they do their big one? It also wasn’t brilliant of him to laugh at me for saying that I was saving myself until some guy was willing to put a ring on it. He told me I wasn’t pretty enough to hold onto it and that I should take what I could get before someone took it from me. Hew has a mile and then some to go before he understands girls and I am not going to be the little creep’s teacher. I will never be that desperate.

On the other hand, I don’t have time to worry about Hew anymore if he is going to be a stupid jerk. With him gone I’ll be down to five kids to look after because I guarantee he makes more work than he helps fix. I honest to God wish I had no one but me to look after but not even I am whack enough to leave five little kinderkids to look after themselves. The reason why I agreed to take the long-term Depo was so that even if I got raped (or super stupid) I wouldn’t wind up with a kid. But I do the right thing and keep my legs closed and I still wind up with kids. How insane is that?! There is no justice in this life. None.

I need to stop scribbling all the drama and get up off my butt and get ready to go do what I gotta do. At least it is cool enough that I’m not gonna roast in these clothes. I’ve lost all my summer tan – not that I had much time after summer camp to work on one worth keeping, and while I’m not day-glo white even at the worst of times I’m still too glow-in-the-dark to go around uncamouflaged unless I want someone to spot my butt while I’m trying to bump lock a door. Thank goodness I take after my dad who was a throw back Acadian that looked like his Mi’kmaq ancestors. My mom was Italian with hair so black it had blue highlights and skin so fair she never would tan. I have her hair and blue eyes but the rest of me is from Dad’s side of the family.

I wish I wasn’t on the wrong side of town. I don’t know this area like I did where I used to live. Why they had to close the group home down I don’t know. So there were a few bugs in the game room and the director was a you-know-what on wheels and was skimming a bit here and there. It wasn’t the end of the frelling world. I don’t know anyone over here. New school that sucks. New church that is alright but everyone already has their group of friends. Worst of all, all I can get over here are scut jobs and that’s okay but it doesn’t give me the chance to make money like my old job did that would pay extra for working holidays and doing the crap jobs no one else wanted to.

I miss my old life … my school, my friends, the troop, the church, I even miss the group home and the people who worked there. My old life maybe wasn’t much but it was still my life. Dang people and their wild hairs. And now things are really in the toilet and I’m going to have to steal to make sure these little kids don’t starve, something I promised myself I’d never sink to no matter what. Only thing I can say is it isn’t just my life in the toilet these days. Even normies are going through hard times.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 2

I can’t believe they just took them, took all of them. Even Hew the spazz-attack-waiting-to-happen. Maybe I should be relieved but …

Knock it off Ava, you are starting to sound way too much like a certified member of the drama queen brigade. Stop. Deep breath. Find the bright side.

On the positive side: Today a National Guard patrol took all the kids, including Hew who needed some medical attention, and they’ll be safe (relative these days), they’ll get fed (even if it is afterschool crap), and they’ll have real adults doing the responsible thing for them. They also scooped up Juan and the rest of his morons, or at least those that were left after they refused to believe that those other migrant guys would shoot ‘em up for daring to call something their territory. Apparently you don’t get to have a territory unless you ask them nicely if you may and then pay them a percentage for the privilege. The shell-shocked look on Juan’s face … I don’t know, part of me felt some satisfaction and part of me just felt bad for the guy. Talk about having your worldview screwed with. He has a foot in both worlds, and he found out he doesn’t get to pick a side because neither side wants him. If he wasn’t such a jerk maybe he could have been part of the new group I was trying to build instead of trying to tear down everything to make himself feel tough.

I should feel some pride. Six weeks. I made it work for six weeks. But Juan and his morons messed it all up by being stupid and getting shot up, and making the adults have to pay some attention to something they were trying real hard to ignore. Geez. I could get angry at that bunch all over. But that’s wasted time and that’s something I don’t think I have much left of. Now that certain people have been forced to pay attention, they’re going to keep on paying attention which will be a serious problem. Being put in jail for vagrancy or trespassing or whatever they decide to call it is not what I want or need. They say they’ll be a week getting back around and that I better be gone by then. Or else it will be my turn to get hauled off, but not to some foster home but to a refugee camp at best, at worst a work camp for people that can’t follow the rules.

Question of the day: Why didn’t I get hauled off with the rest of them today? Because they think I’m twenty-one. Teach me to carry around my fake ID instead of my real one. I was carrying my fake one because I thought … be honest Ava, because you were being stupid again. Like twenty-one has some kind of superpowers or crap like that. Only kind of power it had was to make me look even more stupid than I’ve been acting and thinking. God really must look after fools because that’s about the only thing I can think is what has kept something bad from happening. Wishing and waiting on things to get better was definitely foolish. What was it that my dad used to say? Wish in one hand and poop in the other and see which one weighs the most? Something like that. It still sounds disgusting but at least I’m a little older and wiser (or so I’d like to believe) and get the concept. Wishing doesn’t do any good.

I did get one good piece of news. The female draft got toasted in some federal court or other and I can forget about having to “serve my country.” It’s not that I’m against it. I mean it kinda makes a certain kind of sense. I only have a couple of people left that I can call family so if I get hurt or dead it isn’t like it is going to be much of a loss to anyone. I’d even been thinking of signing up once I really turned eighteen, but it looks like that is out. They even put the kibosh on guys getting drafted. Seems that they have enough volunteers at the moment and a draft isn’t necessary. Oh goodie.

Bad news is that I’m now nearly clueless what to do next. No group home. No foster home. No little sheep to keep the wolves from eating that I was using as some big “purpose” to my life. No school, at least not in this area. No plans at all. Strike that last part. I mean I have an idea of what I want to do but I’m not sure how to pull it off. I have decided one thing though; I’m not cutting my hair since I now don’t have to. And I’m not going to dress like a guy either. At least not on purpose. No matter how cool they make it sound in some books I’ve been reading. Unisex maybe I can wrap my head around … like my scout uniform … but I’m not going all butch even if that isn’t politically correct to call it that. Even if I wanted that kind of camouflage it ain’t happening. I’ve got real boobs and a butt, no hiding that fact and hasn’t been since I was eleven, a year after It happened. I’ll just have to protect myself the old-fashioned way. Er … maybe not exactly that, I don’t need a guy at the moment for anything else but a friend … but I mean to arm up and use my brain.

I’ve already been hitting the libraries and bookstores so I’ve probably got most of what I need to start with to research and formulate a plan. First, I need an outline of what I want to accomplish. Check. Sorta. Next I need a route. Got it. And alternates in case I need to detour which I may have to whether I want to or not. Next comes the equipment list to work from. I’ve got a skeleton one from my scout book, but this isn’t your average camping trip Scooby Doo so not all of it applies. I’ve already found some other things just skimming the books I’ve got stacked all over the floor here in the nursery room. Geez this place is creepy empty now that the kids are gone. I may find a smaller place to sleep, like the janitor’s closet, since it has a lock on the door … and a small window I can climb out of if I need a quick exit.

Food is going to be the main problem … food and water … but I’ve got a few ideas for that as well. Or should I say food is going to be one of the main problems. Water I have mostly covered because I won those Life Straws at camp last summer during the tomahawk throwing contest. Didn’t take first place but did take a close second. I took third in general scout skills behind two brothers who had plans to become Navy Seals, so I don’t think I did too badly there either. It won me a good-quality, self-inflating sleeping pad. Most of my camping gear has been won, given to me as a gift, or I picked it up on the cheap from yard sales and secondhand stores. A lot of the guys used to brag about their Army-Navy Store gear but the only thing I could ever afford from a place like that is the mosquito netting that I got by cleaning up for the guy who owned the strip center back then (who also owned the Army-Navy Store). He paid me in things instead of money and as much crap work as I did, he got off cheap.

So I need to work on a packing list. At the same time, how I actually get where I plan on going is a pretty big problem too. First, there’s a curfew according to those National Guard people. There is a whole slew of rules but that’s the one that affects my plan most right now because it means no traveling at night even though that might be best if I’m trying to move around without getting noticed. On the other hand, traveling at night has its own risks. I don’t want to get swept up and put in a camp either. It’s a long way to get where I might be going which means lots of chances for whoever is in charge to decide they might need to do something about me.

I found something in the apartment complex behind the church. That’s where I’ve been getting stuff instead of going through houses. Anyway this thing is one of those all-terrain e-bikes with fatty wheels. Problem one is that I’d be stealing it. Problem two is the power is out all over this side of town so I’m not going to be charging any battery that size any time soon. However, I have an idea. Two years ago I bought a portable jump/charger at Harbor Freight when they were having some crazy Christmas sale where I also got to use a coupon. I was going to give it to Mr. Loper for Christmas but then he had a heart attack and had to retire. He was the best janitor the group home had ever had. I hope wherever he is now he is doing okay. His wife didn’t like us older kids, blamed us for her husband’s heart attack, so we weren’t allowed to keep in touch. I hope he knows it is not because we didn’t want to. That would suck, especially after all the stuff he used to do for us.

So anyway, I still have the jump/charger. And I’ve used it a couple of times too. You plug it in, charge it up, and then you can use that charge to jump a car battery or use it to charge other stuff up. We used it a couple of times to keep a portable radio going at camp. I thought about trying to jury rig some kind of solar charger for the ebike but uh uh, no way to get that sucker enough juice to make it worth even trying. But I thought about using a solar charging system to charge the jump/charger. That might work. In the same apartment as I found the ebike was this cool set up called a Rockpile 250-watt portable generator. It is a lithium battery that has a 60w solar panel charger thing with it. Full sun is supposed to recharge the generator in 7 hours. The problem is that it isn’t exactly what you would call lightweight.

What I need to find is one of those small trailers that I can attach to the bike. It can hold my equipment that I can’t carry in my backpack. I know what it takes to ride a bike from point a to point b since that is … was … my daily ride to school and work. I also know what it is going to take to add all the weight. I’m going to need to go as light as I can. I really don’t want to leave any of my stuff behind but better to leave it here where someone might get some use out of it than to leave it on the side of the road and always wonder.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3

My week was up and I still wasn’t ready to hit the road so I moved over here to the apartments. Sure enough the next day a National Guard patrol came through and stopped at the church. They weren’t long but they did make the stop to make sure I was gone. I think it is going to take me another week to have everything prepped and then I will definitely be on my way. I’m using up my supplies nearly as quickly as I’m packing stuff to get away with.

I’ve dealt with most of the weight-problem I think. I did a lot of the cooking when we were backpacking and not because I was “the girl.” I belonged to an all-female boy scout troop. Don’t explore your stupid whoever is reading this, there were quite a few troops like that by the time I was old enough to move up from cubbies. Some of the guys in our brother-troop also belonged to the Venture Scout crew I was in. Yeah, I might have taken it more serious than a lot of girls but I took it more serious than a lot of guys too. When I was in cub scouts my brother DJ was my Den Chief. I miss him. I miss them all but DJ was always on my side about the scout thing.

Dad was a real family man but he worked a lot, him and mom both did to make ends meet. If I hadn’t come along maybe they wouldn’t have had to work so hard but that’s not how it happened for them. Mom would sometimes get on this kick that she was blaming herself for the way I turned out. Lalli was in girl scouts and cheer squad, sang in choir, had the boys after her as soon as she could talk and all that other stuff and I guess it just didn’t compute for mom and dad that I was just real different from Lalli. Gawd, it is hard to think she would be like 25 years old. DJ would be 23. I was a whoops. My mom had her tubes cut, tied, and burned shut but they still got caught with me. My parents freaked out a little and after I was born it was Dad’s turn and I suppose that fixed it because there were no more, not even any near misses. And trust me Lalli gave me lots of reminders that I was a whoops.

Instead of following in Lalli’s footsteps I wanted to do everything DJ and Dad did. I never would have measured up to Lalli anyway so I figured why bother trying. Plus Lalli was always so busy and DJ had to look after me anyway. He didn’t mind so long as I did what he did. I played church league sports and practiced on the same nights he did. I went to cubbies the same night he had Boy Scouts and became something of a mascot for him and his friends since I made it plain I thought they were great. All my teachers knew I was DJ’s little sister, and hardly any of them knew I was Lalli’s little sister despite both of them going to the same school. It was DJ that would walk across to the Elementary school to pick me up so we could walk home or catch the city bus. Lalli always had after school stuff and got rides with friends when Mom or Dad were taking turns carpooling.

Don’t get me wrong, Lalli wasn’t bad, she was just … Lalli. And her older seemed way more older than DJ’s older did. I was on a Senior Webelo camping trip when it happened. DJ wasn’t there that weekend because he had to work. One of the leaders’ husbands called and … and I don’t like to remember all what happened. Some creep firebombed the grocery store during Grand Opening to make some point about people eating meat and other world views he didn’t agree with. My parents were there to catch some of the sales and Lalli was there with the school chorus group and DJ was there bagging groceries and … they were all inside when something blew up. They called it domestic terrorism but the group said they hadn’t meant for anyone to die, there was supposed to just be a fire but no explosions. They were soooo sorry. Boo freaking hoo. A lot of people still died and I wasn’t the only orphan that was made that day. They went to jail but their first get-out-of-jail-early hearing is supposed to be when I turn twenty years old. If such a thing can still happen you better bet I’m going to be there and make a ton of noise to say that ten years is not enough.

Then came living with Uncle Henley, Dad’s older brother, but I got taken away when one of his crazy girlfriends didn’t like all the time and money he was spending on me and she called social services. Uncle Henley broke up with her but it was too late and I was “in the system.” Everyone kept telling him that I was better off and finally he believed them and moved back to take care of my grandparents on that side that weren’t doing too well. They both died the next year from their health problems but Uncle Henley did let me know that even if they didn’t let me go to their funerals that when I got old enough, if I was so inclined, I could come find him and he’d help me get on my feet as an adult. I’m going to hold him to that and that’s where I’m heading.

It means leaving Florida and going to Louisiana. Not too crazy about that but hopefully I’ll get used to it. After all Dad was always on about how I must have swamp water in my veins because I reminded him of his Aunt Sylvee. Uncle Henley said the same thing. Never having met the woman I’ll just have to take their word for it but the stories go that, like me, she preferred what most consider to be male pursuits. I always have thought it was beyond stupid for people to say only men can do this and only women can do that. I mean sure, it only makes sense that a man might be better at some things and that women are better at other things but there’s a lot of overlap. And I’m not talking about that irritating politically correct garbage too many people like to spew. Man I don’t have time for that.

What I’ve been making time for is cooking food and then dehydrating it on a dehydrator I found in one of the apartments. All I will have to do is rehydrate it or at worst I can eat it as is. I think the person living in this apartment is some kind of raw vegan. The first clue is the place doesn’t have a stove but does have a couple of really fancy appliances. There is (or was) a lot of dried foods, some weird condiments, and a crapton of books on the subject in the kitchen. Lucky for me there were a lot of root vegetables that were still good, as well as nearly a pallet of bottled water. Water is a commodity that is getting hard to find. Wash water is coming from the ag cistern on top of the well house but even that is feeling kinda slimy lately. The stuff in the ditches is so nasty that I doubt even my life straw could filter it.

Another apartment down the hall from this one belonged to a samesex couple that must have adopted a kid and decided that buying the kid stuff would prove just how deserving they were or whatever. One of the men was some type of track athlete – proven by a lot of marathon medals and junk hung on a bed post in a bedroom that was obviously not child proofed. Do … not … ask. The things people keep out in the open for anyone to see is just plain crazy. And you don’t want to know what I’ve seen in closets. Uh uh. Anyway, long story short, there was a bike trailer in there meant to pull a kid or two but I’m going to use it to pull the solar set up and what gear will fit.

I mean to tell you this trailer is boss. It has a solid floor, heavy duty wheels and axle, and you can either pull it with a bike or you can push it like a stroller. Bonus is that it has a rain fly that is made out of more than suranwrap. It also has black out curtains inside which I guess was for keeping the sun off the kid or keeping strangers from peaking in at them. Whatever. It’ll work for what I need it for. And just in case the bike gets toasted and useless I won’t have to leave gear behind since I can push it.

And while it is cool to have good gear, what I have for my supplies is turning out to be okay as well. I’m making plenty of my favs like Alfredo Mashers[1], Bacon and Cheese Pasta[2], Beef and Onion Trash-erole[3], Cheesy Chicken and Corn[4], Lentil Soft Tacos[5], Pizza in a Pot[6], and one of my all-time favs Veggie Beef and Rice Pilaf[7]. There’s more ideas where those came from. Pizza Rice[8] or Pizza Ramen[9] the crew would eat like crazy. I could have probably kept it to stuff like we had to eat on the trail at Philmont and our Northern Tier menus but I lost lots of weight on just two weeks of that stuff. I’m going to be burning more calories for a longer period of time and while I’ve got some jiggle to my butt lately, I don’t have enough to be able to lose ten pounds every two weeks. I need a balanced diet, not super high sodium and high carb crap exclusively. I figure I need to have at least one decent meal a day … whether its breakfast or dinner or both. Lunch I’ll snack pack with granola bars and the like. Wish I could find some meat sticks but maybe I can along the way.

And there goes the ding of the timer. Need to check the racks and then I need to get some sleep.






[1] Alfredo Mashers I Trail Cooking
[2] Bacon & Cheese Pasta I Trail Cooking
[3] Beef & Onion Trash-erole I Trail Cooking
[4] Cheesy Chicken and Corn I Trail Cooking
[5] Lentil Soft Tacos I Trail Cooking
[6] Pizza In A Pot I Trail Cooking
[7] Veggie Beef & Rice Pilaf I Trail Cooking
[8] Pizza Rice I Trail Cooking
[9] Pizza Ramen I Trail Cooking
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4

Okie doke. Time to hit the road. National Guard went through the complex three streets over and forced the few people still living there (or flopping there) to clear out. I imagine they’ll be heading this way sooner rather than later. I need to get going anyway because I’m using supplies faster than I can replace them. I found a few more things here and there … some shelf-stable milk, more staples like rice, potato flakes, and ramen. Found some canned fruits and veggies stored like they were something to feel guilty about. I dried or ate the stuff out of the cans to lighten the load. I also found some more some pastas though most of them were that gluten-free crap that nearly dissolves in water if you don’t cook it right. I found a lot of nuts – almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts – in this one apartment but no peanuts which is what I would have preferred. I found a couple of giant bags of animal crackers in a closet with some boxed juices and jars of peanut butter and diaper wipes in another place. No kid lived there so it was a little strange, or maybe not; maybe she was a babysitter or something.

I’ve got my share of junk food too, but I did the best I could by taking the packaging off just like I did with the other found food. An old popcorn tin holds a weird assortment of all the chips, pretzels, and flavored popcorn I’ve run across. I figure I’ll need the carbs and calories for energy at some point. And I found some of those no-doze, keep-you-awake-til-doomsday type liquid shots in what was obviously an apartment shared by some guys. Somebody’s momma cared because that is where I also found a package of unopened new socks that were big enough to fit my feet.

Speaking of my feet. I’m not exactly an easy size. I’m a ten and a half narrow. There are no words for how hard it is to find shoes that fit right. Usually I just have to lump it and accept whatever is in the leftover Christmas donations at the group home but a few months back, right before they closed the group home and farmed us all out, I got lucky and was working an inventory gig for this place that was going out of business. They’d already had their going-out-of-business-everything-must-go sale and what was left after that was just getting chucked into bins for auction. Well how-dee-do. I found three pairs of ten and a half narrows … a pair of runners, a pair of dress shoes, and a pair of hiking boots. The dress shoes were obvious returns because the heels were stuffed up but I was born to live in second-hand and hand-me-downs. Best part was I got them all for ten bucks. Not ten bucks each but ten bucks. It was providential I tell you. And I’ve still got them and I made room for all of them, even the dress shoes because who knows, I might just need them some time down the road. Uncle Henley got religion after I got taken by the state and from the conversations and occasional letters we’ve exchanged since he moved away, that hasn’t changed and he’s a bear for being in church at least once a week. He’ll expect me to follow along which is fine … but that’s just part of the motto “Be Prepared.”

I guess I’m still writing instead of sleeping because I must admit I’m nervous. It’s not leaving, not really; not now that I’m all packed. It’s not the traveling though that’s some of it. It’s the arriving I’m worried about. Yeah, Uncle Henley told me to come find him once The System cut me loose. Yeah, I believe he meant it. Yeah, I think this is the best thing I can do right now. But just because my parents were Acadian doesn’t mean they were all that eager for their kids to live the hard life they had growing up. Mom had it easier than Dad but not by much. She was raised by two older sisters when her mom cut and run when she was a little girl because she couldn’t handle the hard life that my grandfather preferred working on the oil rigs in the Gulf. He died before I was born so I never met him. Dad’s dad was a … well he was a jack of all trades with an itchy foot. Problem with that was he was rarely home and developed some bad habits that got him killed on the job leaving my grandmother alone with four kids to raise on her own. She wound up marrying a … I don’t know what to call them except swamp people. A clan of folks that live way in the heck back in the Atchafalaya Basin. Them I do remember meeting a few times but only because we went to them. I don’t think they ever went more than ten miles out of the Basin, or so Uncle Henley says. That was his big reason to move home; they needed someone that could operate in the modern world since they couldn’t and wouldn’t.

Uncle Henley took up their habits and while he came out of the swamp more often for groceries and such, after a while it wasn’t a lot more often and that’s why I don’t hear from him much. Though last I’d heard he was being forced to sell out and move out because they were expanding the protected areas due to increased flooding from all the hurricanes the last two decades. His address is a P.O. Box in this place called Breaux Bridge. I’ve plotted it on a map and its nearly 800 miles. Even in a car it would be a good day’s drive of 12 or more hours. On a bike? Maybe I’m crazy.

I’ve put in 50-mile days on a bike earning my Bicycle merit badge, but that is why I know that’s not something I can do for days on end. I’m in good shape. My equipment is good but a little on the heavy side. I’m guessing I can keep up a 10 mph speed, at least for the first few days as long as I have clear road to drive on. At worst maybe half that. There are days I’m going to need to rest. Weather is going to get in the way. At a conservative guess I’m going to try for at least 30-mile days with only one day off a week for a break. That’s maybe 200 miles a week. Oh man. I’m looking at a month on the road and that’s assuming no hiccups in my gitty-up or accidents or disasters of any other type. I can do it, I’ve hiked 100+ miles in Philmont. Twice. I’ve canoed almost that many miles in a week in the Northern Tier. I bike nearly every single day as my main mode of transportation. It isn’t a question of can I do it, it’s a matter of will I be allowed to do it and if I am should I do it. Get too tired, get sloppy, get hurt or worse. Got to use some common sense, and I won’t have anybody trekking with me to share the work load with or keep an eye out.

I also have been wondering if I shouldn't do it for other reasons. But Uncle Henley said come. And there’s nothing keeping me here anymore. No school. No foster care system. No friends still around. Nothing. It’s not like my parents would expect me to stick around just to put some flowers on the ground where their mortal remains are. They didn’t think like that. In fact Dad had some rude things to say about old Egyptians and worshipping the dead more than loving the living. I can respect them and their memories even without a grave to see. But I am going to go one last time. I’m not going to analyze it to death. And maybe it is a little sick but I’ll take a picture of their graves too. Sort of like a memento or something, like all the pictures I have on the thumb drives. Uncle Henley should have the actual photos in my boxes. But just in case he doesn’t I have them digitally preserved. It even says so on the certificate the company gave Uncle Henley who is the one that sent them to be copied over, along with all the family movies and stuff like that.

I did try to be smart and put all the important papers and the things I want to keep safe in one of the dry-bags I had leftover from Northern Tier. I put my clothes – or at least the ones I felt I could bring with me – in another one. Gonna be interesting how odiferous I get. I’ve packed down a bunch of feminine hygiene stuff so I don’t run out. That would not be fun or funny. I also packed some other stuff I’ll need. As a foster kid you learn what is important and what you can live without. Beyond that I’m trying not to be too sentimental. I did tear out some pages from books and put them in a binder but that’s only because I didn’t have room for too many complete books. What I have is just going to have to sustain me one way or the other.

I was eleven the last time I saw Uncle Henley and he me. We’ve exchanged pictures but I still worry if we’ll recognize each other enough to start back up where we left off. I mean I’m not the same little kid I was but hopefully there’s enough for us to work with since we’re family. Guess I’ll find out when I get there. And getting there starts tomorrow.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 5

Fifty miles a day was a fantasy. Thirty miles a day was wishful thinking. I’ve been averaging about 20 miles a day for the last two weeks minus the Sundays that I force myself to take off just to keep from burning out. I’m just on the other side of Lake City, FL and only because a lady state trooper cut me a break and told me to get off the Interstate instead of taking me to one of them camps (or jail) like she could have. I guess I should have figured they wouldn’t want bikes on I10 but I was only thinking what would be the fastest route. Not like there’s a whole lot of cars on the road … at least not moving ones. Lot of breakdowns though and that’s one of the things that has slowed me down. Now I’m on US90 and I’m not seeing too many friendly faces. It’s worse than when I was biking up US41 and US301.

I could have taken either US41 or US301 out of Bradenton, but I started with US41 thinking I could camp at some of the state parks along the way. Uh … nope. They’ve staged refugee camps in most of them. And freaking forget Tampa. It’s pure insanity because of MacDill AFB. That’s where I nearly got shot … and then nearly got my butt kicked by some guy not much older than me because he said I nearly made him shoot me. Uh … nope. There wasn’t a roadblock where they said there was supposed to be one so I rode on through and … ‘nuff said about that. It happened. I survived. Time to move along.

Move along. I’ve been told that more times than I want to count. Don’t stop here … move along. We don’t have anything for you … move along. We’ve got enough misery of our own, we don’t want yours … move along. There are already too many homeless making camp here … move along. Well it’s not like that isn’t the plan but I have to stop some place for the night or be out of compliance with the curfew. And I learned fast that camping out with other people only made me a target instead of keeping me from being one. Way too nosy about what is in the trailer and what I can “contribute” and “share” with the group at large. Uh uh. Way too many Tom Sawyers in the groups on the road. They may think they are slick salesmen, but I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck, so whatever they think they are selling I’m not buying.

And now I’m wishing for the one thing I didn’t find while I was … let’s call it salvaging. A gun. There are a lot of them out here on the road. Unfortunately, most of them are held by the wrong type of people. I’m not looking to be Bonnie Parker or Griselda Blanco, but I sure wouldn’t mind the extra protection. The fact of the matter is it is easier to travel as a group because you can share chores, the workload, including watching over your gear. It means you don’t have to wait until dead of night and 99% of the world is asleep to go do your business in the bushes or whatever cathole you can find (or make).

Water isn’t quite the problem I was worried about it being. The water bottles went pretty fast because it might be October here in Florida, but it is still in the 80s and I sweat like a pig. It has gotten a little cooler at night but just the last two days. But the heat is what made it easier to find water. Sounds like an oxymoron but I guess there are some people that still have compassion because the State set up what they are calling “Hydration Stations” every fifteen to twenty miles along the various routes being travelled by people like me. And there are a lot of people like me traveling. Most are coming into the state, but it is more than a trickle going the other way too. I guess the Governor and people like that were tired of all the heat related deaths that were being reported in the news with pictures to provide the exclamation point.

The Hydration Stations work like this. You can get up to two gallons of water a day but you have to have your own container … up to one gallon size … and you have to wash the container(s) to their specifications as they watch before you can get a fill up. You turn your freshly cleaned container over to a person that is in scrubs and has gloves on, they fill the container, drop in a water purification tablet then put your container in a crate that you slide down a long table and then you check out using your National ID. No National ID? No water. Lots of questions. And maybe a trip to a fenced in area until your identity and nationality are confirmed. And if you have any outstanding warrants be prepared to be put in a people mover and turned over to whoever is looking for you.

I hear a lot of older people in the lines talking about “jack booted thugs” and “government overreach” but they still comply. So far no one has given me any problems. It’s like all they want to hear is the ding on their tablet that says my ID is good and in good standing, and then it is “move along” just like with everyone else.

I was scared as crap the first time I got in line and had to do this, but I was desperate to refill my water containers before they all ran out … maybe a day or two on. I got the hairy eyeball but that is about it.

“Name? Place of birth?”

“Thibodaux, Ava. Bradenton, Florida.”

“Age?”

“Seventeen?”

Squinty eye. “Where are your guardians?”

This was the tricky part. “None. The State cut me loose during an evacuation because I wouldn’t be processed before my 18th birthday.”

Ye ol’ hairy eyeball. But then she typed something into the tablet stand and low and behold my fib was close enough to the truth that she let me pass after sticking some kind of gold holographic sticker on the back of my ID.

She looked at me hard and said, “If you get caught peeling that sticker off and selling it, it is an automatic five-year sentence. And depending on who you sell it to and for what purpose it can be a lot longer than that.”

I must have made a face that left her in no doubt that I thought doing any kind of time for a stupid little, sparkly sticker was stupid because she nodded with a moderate amount of approval and sent me on my way.

I’ve been able to refill my water supply on most days. Yeah, it’s slowed me down because the lines can be long, but I’ve been lucky and my timing usually meant the line wasn’t three city blocks long. What hasn’t been available on the road is food. There were a few enterprising people that tried to set up food stands, but the government put a halt to that in the name of keeping all those Third World diseases from getting out of control in the state. I’ve heard some places it is already bad. All the dysentery and other crappola that came in with the illegal migrants from across the border has become what they call endemic here in the US. I heard a buttload about that when I was taking my survival medicine training in Scouts. No matter how the medical people go in and squash an outbreak it just pops up someplace else. I heard this one really frustrated guy on tv say once that, “It’s like playing that damn game Whack-a-mole. All we can do is keep trying and deporting the ones that refuse to comply with community medical mandates.”

I’m gladder than ever that the group home gave us older kids the key ring medallions that prove our shot records are up to date instead of the hokey little paper card; the medallions you can’t really fake. All I have to do is put the medallion on their reader thingie and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am and I get to avoid the line of forced vaccinations. Gold sticker, gold medallion, gives me a gold-plated ticket to get in the fast lane at every check point and hydration station. Better than most people seem to have so I’m not complaining even if the check points waste my time with little to nothing but a jug of water to show for it.

Have a feeling that something else is about to complicate my life. You know that rule about never volunteering? I forgot it when “Do a good turn daily” and “Be prepared” jumped to the front of my brain.

The military and National Guard are using the highways, including US90, as some kind of supply line and they like to force everyone off the road when they are driving through. Or, sometimes there is a check point in the middle of nowhere and for no reason. Sometimes it is because they’ve pulled someone over or who knows for what. Pain … in … the … butt. But I’m not stupid enough to get in their way. Today was one of those days that I was just pedaling along when a couple of those Humvee things come down the road forcing everyone to the side. Junior Brainless a couple of car links ahead of me decides the road belongs to him and winds up in an altercation he would not win with the dudes dressed in camouflage. We were across from this trailer park when suddenly we all hear a scream that is louder than the verbiage-war going on between King of the Road and some guy with stripes on his shoulder. Everyone turns and I even see people grabbing for guns.

I don’t have a gun and I’m not looking to become a target so I off-road the bike and trailer into what passes for a shallow ditch. The door to this trailer slams open and out runs this guy with barely any clothes on – he’d been asleep is what I heard. The National Guard guys are shouting for him to stop, halt and they are emphasizing their commands with big ol’ nasty looking rifles. The guy just keeps coming, his boxers fast losing the battle to stay near his waistline, and you can finally hear what he’s saying … and see he is carrying this little kid.

“My kid ain’t breathing! He ain’t breathing!!”

You can tell when people are faking and when they aren’t most of the time and this guy definitely wasn’t. Big time panic. And everyone else is just staring, including the Guardsmen. The guy finally falls at their feet and begs, “Help … help … he ain’t breathing …”

One guy seems like he wants to do something and another one is calling 911 for a civilian response team. I can see the kid is turning blue and somethings just kick in.

I run over and yell to everyone standing in the way like blockheads, “Move!” I take my shirt off and put in on the ground and then take the kid while I listen to him say, “If I told Suzanne onct I told her a million times to pick up her damn tips and put ‘em in the jar instead of leaving ‘em on the counter. He swallowed a nickel. A nickel! I’m gonna lose my son over a damn …”

“Hush! Give the boy’s information to one of these guys so they can give it to the ambulance when it gets here and stop caterwauling. The baby is going to hear you. Man up already!” My words were rough but my voice was calm as I focused on trying to help.

The kid wasn’t breathing but he wasn’t really unconscious yet. Pretty floppy and turning blue so I knew he was in serious trouble. I got him into position by putting him face down on my forearm supported by my thigh. Head was lower than his body. I used the heel of my hand to thump him several times between his shoulder blades. He was back to breathing but the nickel was still lodged, and the kid was gasping and panicking. I turned him face up but kept his head lower and did the modified child’s maneuver where I used three fingers to push on his breastbone a couple of times then flipped him over and thumped him a couple of more times. It took doing this three times … thumping then pressing on his chest … before the nickel came out.

But the kid was a mess and had stopped breathing. I immediately started child CPR. It’s hard when they are that little because you have to be careful with your strength. His chest was rising and falling when I was giving him breath so I knew the obstruction was out and finally, right before the ambulance showed up the kid started breathing on his own and crying weakly. When I saw the real medical people there I got out of their way quick.

I finally got my shirt off the ground and headed back to my bike hoping no one had taken anything. Uh oh. There was someone there waiting on me. I just started to get my bike up when I noticed the rough treatment had knocked the chain off.

“Well crap,” I muttered.

“Can you put it back on?”

I finally looked the guy full in the face and using some sense and some manners answered, “Yes Sir. I’ll get out of the way so you all can …”

“Uh uh. Major Tisdale wants a word.”

“Am I in trouble?”

“No.”

“Incident report?”

He gave me a suspicious look so I eased it for him some by saying, “I had a couple of friends in ROTC. Seems the military writes a report for everything.”

Hoping to not waste time or get caught and gotten into trouble of some type I fixed my chain and was waiting on the side of the road until the Major got around to remembering he wanted to talk to me. I was just about to ask if I could go when the Major finally remembered. Figures.

I had to produce my ID and all of the normal yada yada and I thought that would be enough but after that he said, “Seventeen? Childcare training?”

“No Sir. Scout. And a Venture Crew member. I was working on my Emergency Preparedness BSA Award when the evacuations were ordered.”

“You aren’t a runaway?”

“No Sir. I was cut loose as I would have aged out before they could find another living situation for me during the evacuations in South Florida. I’m heading to my uncle in Louisiana because he told me when I aged out of the system he’d help me get on my feet and teach me how to get along as an adult.”

“You’ve biked all the way from …” He looked at a tablet in his hand before finishing, “Bradenton, FL. Two hundred miles.”

“Little more than that when you add in that I didn’t start going in a straight line until I was able to get around Tampa, but yeah about that. I mean Yes Sir.”

He said, “Calm down Ms. Thibodaux. This is mostly just a formality.”

“Mostly?”

“You are being extended an invitation. Private Rodriguez here is going to explain it.” He turned and left, taking most of the oxygen with him and all I could think was Rut Roh Shaggy.

The invitation was not one I could refuse under the circumstances. My day was already shot. I wouldn’t be going any further because of curfew – that I heard was now extended from 6 pm to 6 am – and I was out of sync to get to the next hydration station before it kicked in. However, this isn’t killing me either.

I’m in a special camp … not a refugee camp but a real camp … and have been invited to stay for the next few days while convoys take over US90 and remove all of the broken down vehicles so that larger military vehicles can start traveling the route in both directions at the same time. If you didn’t get an invite you were directed to find a hole and get in it or be taken to a refugee camp for processing. I don’t want to be processed so I politely thanked them and followed them to the campground and the camp site they assigned me. Lucky me. Not.

Lights out is in thirty so I’m going to hit the port-o-potty and then try and get some sleep. Assuming I can get comfortable. I made a lean to with the trailer on one side and bike as another wall, chaining the bike and trailer together by the wheels. Inside my lean to I hung my mosquito netting. It means my feet are going to be under the trailer and I’ve had the bike fall on me once or twice, but none of that is what is keeping me up. It’s listening to all the other people sitting around wondering what is coming next. I just need them to shut up, not make me more anxious.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 6

Man, people are nosy. So what if I don’t want to get in line to get fed. Found out my invitation seems to require me to get in their lines when they tell me to. The first line was for breakfast. They were out of everything but grits by the time I got to the serving line so they put a double serving in my mess kit. I could have used it as an anchor. Totally not exaggerating. I ate some and to say they were the consistency of wall paste with the same unappealing color and smell … ugh. I crawled in the tent and got into my supplies. Making sure no one knew what I was doing I put some squeeze cheese and baco-bits in the glutinous mess, stirred it up and then covered my dish to let the mess congeal.

When I realized my white gas wasn’t going to last as long as I thought I cobbled together a buddy burner like I’d learned to in Cubbies. I also had started collecting tinder and charcoal out of old fire pits and the like. For lunch and to keep my brain from turning into the same glutinous mess my breakfast had been, I decided to get creative and make some fried cheesy-baco grits.

I was in the middle of flipping the first one when someone created some shade. “You hardheaded girl.”

The guy sounded like DJ had when he was talking like Dad. I looked up and sure enough it was a guy in uniform. Or sorta in a uniform. He was in boots, fatigue pants and belt, but above that he was only in a military issue t-shirt and cap and had a few smears and grease here and there telling me he’d been working on a motor of one type or another.

I sighed. “Did I offend someone? And if so, how?”

“You missed the chow line.” He tossed a bag at me and then waited as I cautiously opened it.

“What am I gonna owe for this?”

He gave me a twisted grin that told me he approved of my question rather than took offense at it.

“See that building behind you?”

“Warehouse with US Postal Service on the side door?”

“You can read that from here?”

“Women’s port-o-john is on that side.”

He snorted. “Well, in return for your little bit of respite here, you’re gonna help me hump some crap around in that building over there.”

“Not to be rude but says who? And who is going to watch my stuff while I’m … helping?”

“No one is going to touch your merde.”

I nearly ignored him calling my gear shit but stood up slow and said, “Yeah, I can understand you. And your point is?”

Instead of answering me he asked roughly, “Where’re your people?”

“I don’t have ‘people.’ I have a person … my uncle. What do you want to know for?”

“‘Cause you’re a little fem out on the road where you don’t belong.”

“A lot of people out here don’t belong on the road but that don’t stop us being here. How do you know no one is going to mess with my gear?”

“You see them boys over there?”

I looked over and saw some more uniforms on younger men than the one in front of me standing around a jeep that blocked the road in and out of “camp.”

I turned back to the man and said, “Yeah. And?”

“They gonna make sure no one messes with any of the stuff around here and since you’re around here your stuff falls under that heading.” He looks at the mess my lunch is turning into and shakes his head then says, “You got fifteen minutes. Finish them grits and get to that building.” I got the feeling that I wouldn’t like the consequences if I didn’t.

Good thing that I’ve got plenty of practice at the hurry-up-or-else routine and I made it to the warehouse with a minute to spare. And good thing too as another guy (invitee not military) was about to tip a cart full of bags of mail.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. There’s a lever on that handle. You have to keep it depressed for the cart to move. Let go of the lever and the emergency brake sets.” Guy didn’t appreciate having it explained by a girl I guess and was going to say something smart but changed his mind and took off. My shadow was back.

I turned and nearly gave him a smart aleck salute, but as I have some sense of preservation I stood there waiting. “You know how to work a trailer dolly?”

“Yes Sir,” I answered.

Seems he wanted details so he asked and I answered, explaining I was the girl to call if there was crapwork to be done.

“Hmph. Well this ain’t crapwork no matter how some might think it. You see these bags? They’s full of people’s mail. All these bags need to be moved over there to that truck. Can you do that mon caneton?”

Putting aside the fact he had just called me his duckling I nodded and then headed to the nearest stack and started moving. It’s not the worst job I’ve ever had but I could have done without all the complaining of the guys working the floor with me. They weren’t a bad lot, but they are the kind that feed off each other. I let them draw the attention and just did what I could to make it through and not worry about my bike and gear. About four o’clock a whistle blew and I was given to understand that meant stop and head over to the chow line. By that time I didn’t mind as I’d gotten hungry for real.

I wanted to laugh at the faces of the men in line around me when they got their first look at what was for dinner. Basically it looked like the super cheap boxed mac-n-cheese with peas and diced spam mixed in. I don’t know what I expected but that was good enough and I didn’t complain when they said I’d have to bring my own bowl and utensils and wash it myself too. It needed more salt but I wasn’t complaining since I didn’t have to cook it. I was heading back to my campsite with when I heard, “Attendre mon caneton.”

I sighed and waited for the man who seemed to take delight in being the burr in my tail. “Yes?”

“You speak?”

“If you mean can I speak Cajun? Sorta. I sound like a Cracker when I do though. Kinder to your ears if I just listen to you speak it.”

He snorted then nodded. “Have a question for you. You want to pick up a few extra points?”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not vain and under normal circumstances my mind would have gone to what it went to but it did and some of the disgust and fear showed on my face.

“Easy fille. None o’ that. Is legit. You see that other building?”

“Yes,” I responded cautiously.

“It is a freight warehouse. There’s more stuff that needs to go. They want to turn it into a transfer station.”

“Transfering what?”

“Don’t matter. It’s gonna get emptied. You help doing the emptying and you get some extra points. End o’ this break, you take your points and you can trade ‘em for stuff.”

Since I didn’t have anything else to do and I was getting tired of being stared at by some of the other guys camped around me, I nodded and said where did I need to go.

“You come with me. I’ll get you signed in. You gonna need to be careful. This isn’t bags of mail.”

No, it wasn’t. At least it wasn’t paper mail. A freight warehouse is where larger items gets shipped from, the kind of stuff that regular mail people don’t move and deliver. One of the first crates I moved had a big ol’ DR Mower in it. And didn’t I raise some eyebrows knowing how to use a forklift. Oh well, crap jobs are sometimes necessary and sometimes you learn a few things as you go along too … especially when the old skinflint who hired you is willing to ignore OSHA rules and child labor laws so long as it saves him some greenbacks.

Moved lots of other stuff too. The moving required more thought than the humping the bags of mail had and has given me information I’m not sure I’m glad I have or not. Before you even start moving something you have to get the shipping slip off it and take it over to this table where a couple of uniform guys have tablets set up. You give them the shipping info and they tell you where to move the item to. First line was easy enough but had the fewest items going into it; it was for items that were going to continue on to the original recipient … the person or business the stuff was being shipped to. Line two was for items that were marked “contraband” for some reason. There was a lot of crates going there and some of those were tagged hi-pri. I found out accidentally that most of the hi-pri either contained ammo or gun parts. A couple of the men in particular were really pushing their luck when they found out “the .gov types” were “preventing regular people” from “being able to defend their families and homes.” They were going on and on about the 2nd Amendment, getting worked up, and not working while the rest of us humped all the crappola around, acting like they wanted more attention than was good for them. Then they weren’t there anymore and didn’t come back, leaving the rest of us with more work than we would have had otherwise. Those men weren’t arrested or any kind of melodramatic junk like that; they were just given big time KP to give them less time on their hands to make noise with.

There were a couple of other piles for us to put stuff on; one was for stuff going into evacuated areas and the other was pretty depressing and a little scary. That pile was for “return to sender” for items being mailed to people already on the death rolls. When I found out there was such a thing I asked “my sponsor” … also known as Sgt. Emeric Jeansonne or more privately “pain in my butt” … if a lowly scrub such as myself could take a look to make sure my uncle wasn’t on it.

“No you cannot. However, I will look for you. One name. One name only. So make it count.”

“Thibodaux, Henley. Last address I have for him was a PO Box in Breaux Bridge.”

“Where?”

“Breaux. Bridge. Louisiana.”

“You sure?” he asked suspiciously.

“Yeah. Why?”

“I can check on that.”

Beginning to wonder if there was something in the Gatorade he had been swilling earlier I said, “That’s what you told me you could do.”

He gave me a squinty look and then made a face. “I mean I can check. Got family there.”

It was my turn to give him the squinty eye because he was the first person I’d ever met to even know the place existed much less had a connection to it. “Uh … huh.”

He slowly grinned and said, “You’ll do. Just keep that attitude where the boys are concerned and you won’t go wrong. I got a home call coming tonight and will see what I can do. For now … just keep moving this shit. I’m tired of the Major asking if we’re done cleaning.”

So that’s what I did until the wee hours of the morning.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 7

Normally mornings don’t bother me. I’m not a morning person per se, but I don’t exactly take hours to get up and get human either. But going to bed at three only to get kicked awake at 6 o’clock and told to get in line for breakfast didn’t exactly make Ava all that chipper.

I wet a bandana and scrubbed my face and neck and then grabbed my bowl and spork and tried not to walk into anyone on my way to the chow line. The morning was a wet and foggy one. Walking around was like being unable to get the cobwebs out of my eyes. And it was like I was the only one looking where I was going because I kept nearly getting run over. Last time it happened I was pretty close to pegging the guy in the head, especially after he blamed me for him being an idiot and running at a full tilt in the fog. He made the mistake of grabbing me to shake me – yeah like I was going to just stand there and take it – and I tossed him pretty hard and was just getting set when I was plowed into from behind. I went down but only to my knees. It didn’t take me long and the guy who’d thought I was an easy target was holding his lip, and squealing like the stuck pig he was.

That’s when it clicks that there is a whole lotta noise when there shouldn’t be. We had us a genuine riot going on. It wasn’t just noise and signs and fists. Oh no friends, there were people with knives and I didn’t know what all at the time. I cussed myself for not having anything better than a multi-tool on me then I remembered some of the crazier what-if games the guys would play in ROTC and the Civil Air Patrol. I didn’t have a mirror or anything like that but I did have my bandana and there was a chunk of asphalt near my feet that together made a handy defense tool.

I stayed out of the ruckus as much as I could and tried to make it back to my stuff. When I got there I caught some guy trying to make off with the bike and taught him the error of his thinking. Got dinged up for my troubles but I was not losing my mode of transportation. I was debating just taking off and damn the consequences when I could just barely make out a pile on. And who was at the bottom of that attempted pile? Sgt. Jeansonne and the same ginger-headed scrub in a uniform that had watched my gear for me the day I got roped into this place. Dang I must be a glutton for punishment.

I almost turned my back but then one of the guys pulls out this nasty-big Bowie and looks like he’s gonna use it. I catch him upside his head with my makeshift bludgeon only the asphalt has pretty well turned to gravel and it don’t have the impact intended. I did however draw his attention. Lucky me. Uh huh.

For some reason the guy forgets he’s holding a knife that obviously has designs on growing up to be a machete and instead he reaches out and catches the front of my shirt. Only my shirt isn’t the only thing he grabs. To say it hurt is like saying getting a squirt of lemon in your eye only stings a little. I went all girl on him. My nails aren’t long but they’re thick and grow fast. What that meant was that my normally short nails had grown out and were chipped in a couple of places making them sharp. So he grabs meat and yanks me close in and I squealed and used my ten count like a cat and raked him from hairline to chin. He lets go and drops the knife as he grabs his face that’s now got a couple handfuls (pun intended) of bloody furrows. I’m still feeling pissy and kicked out extra special hard and one of his knees suddenly bends in the wrong direction.

But I’m not done yet. Sgt. J and Private Ginger are still getting whooped up on though I gotta say they were holding their own way better than I expected. Then a guy pulls a gun but I don’t give him time to aim and I put the Bowie point first in his right butt cheek making a mess of his can of Copenhagen along the way. After that it was a cat fight as I jumped on another guy and tore his face up around his eyes. And beyond that I’m not too sure as I just defended myself and my spot of ground I’d picked out.

I don’t know how long later I hear, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! She’s on our side!”

It was Pvt. Ginger yelling at some guys with big black rifles that had me falling back and out of their way as fast as I could crawl backwards. I look over and Sgt. J looks like he’s gonna shake some guy till his brains leak out but then tosses him towards some other uniforms that are using these plastic ties to hog tie some people. They aren’t being real gentle and my commonsense takes that moment to kick in and I’m just hoping I’m not going to be joining them.

Sgt. J picks that moment to growl at me and says, “You stay put. I come back and find you’ve moved and you aren’t gonna like the consequences.”

From the look on his face he was telling the gold-plated truth so I said, “Yes Sir.”

For some reason that irritated him further and he snarls, “Do I look like I have them kinda stripes?”

“Well, you’ve got more stripes than I do.”

He looks like he’s about to rip my head off and then he shakes his head and snorts. Under his breath he mutters, “Couyon Fem.” He looks over at someone with as a stone-face as he has and says, “Leave this ‘un. The rest cart over to the pen.

An hour later and the fog has burned off but there is a nasty feel to the air and not all of it is from the wind blowing in from the north. I’m also still trying to get my split eyebrow, nose, and inside of my lip to stop bleeding. I’m a bleeder and that’s a fact. I’m spitting pink with my nose stuffed with stuff out of my nosebleed kit and since I don’t like using QuikClot around my eyes I’m using direct pressure hoping it will stop sooner rather than later and that I only need some butterfly bandaids to keep it closed.

I’m about to give it a go when someone squats down and says, “Lemme see.”

Sounding about like you think I’d sound with what feels like a couple out pounds of gauze up my nose and another wad in my check like a bit of chew I said, “I got it.”

“Don’t be a hardhead. Move your hand.”

Since my one eye is half-way closed from the swelling my glare wasn’t exactly as deadly as I wanted it to be. Private Ginger sighs and says, “Look. Move your hand and lets get this over with. Sarge comes by and sees you looking like this he’s liable to bust a vessel. All the medtechs are busy so I’m what you got.”

“Have. And I don’t need you. Go practice on someone else.”

He sighs again and says, “Troop 641. Houston. And I got five sisters. Two in Venturers. One in Scouts. And the twins are still in Cubbies. If you don’t have sympathy for what Sarge will do to me, have mercy for what my sisters will do to me if I don’t help a fellow … er … you know what I mean … fellow Eagle.”

“Uh …”

“The Major checked you out.”

“He what?!”

“Turn the volume down. You’re a minor, he was checking your facts to make sure you’re legit and not a runaway that made it through the cracks. We’ve had a few of those.”

I let him have a go at getting the butterflies in place so I wouldn’t make a hash of it and waste my supplies. In return I told him, “I’m only a couple of weeks till my birthday. That going to make a difference?”

“Depends. You hit eighteen and screw up, girl card or no girl card, you aren’t going to juvie camp that’s for sure. But for the most part you should do okay. Just don’t expect eighteen to bring rainbows, skittles, and unicorn farts.”

“No kidding.”

We were quiet after that and when he was finished he stood up and said, “They want all able-bodied to find a work station and help clean things up. You able?”

“I ain’t going to no hospital if that’s what you’re asking. Will my stuff be okay?”

“Yeah. In the mood the officers are in … uh … just no on the stupid or a load of bricks are going to fall and ain’t no one digging you out.”

“Got it. So where do I sign up?” I said trying not to show how little I really felt like pitching in and helping.

“Start at the chow line. It’s a mess and will help the most.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 8

Jolly. Just jolly. I’m not sure if I got suckered or not. Supposedly none of the cooks made the able-bodied list and the females had been sent to the chow line to try and make something of the mess. How does someone – female or not – make it to thirty and not know how to cook?! The six other females there with me were either playing stupid on purpose or were just plain stupid. I’m still not sure. And frankly a couple of them could have passed for both real easy. What’s worse, they were all milling about like they didn’t have a clue. Well I wasn’t feeling so hot and decided if someone didn’t take the reins, we’d be there ‘til doomsday.

“Yo. You … and you. And you too. Start setting the line back up.”

“How?”

Not feeling the love for Dipsy Dawn who wore the remnants of her spray on tan like a crown, I nevertheless grabbed my temper in both hands and said, “You remember what it used to look like. Just make it look like that again as close as you can. You other three help me set up the cookers and then see if you can’t make heads or tells out of that beverage cart.”

“What are YOU going to do?”

“I’m going to get some chow going before the boys in green start thinking we look like their next meal.”

Praying I wouldn’t have to waste time explaining the details I started a big batch of Scout Goulash. My head was pounding and it was about the only thing my brain could put together from what I found in the food trailer.

I took some canned bacon, chopped it up, then browned it in the bottom of flat baking pan that could have doubled as a bathtub at the foster home. Then I threw in some onions and green peppers and sautéed them until the onions were translucent … or that’s what Momma always called it. Then I browned some ground beef from the cooler and then after that I poured in some #10 cans of cheap and watery vegetable soup. When that was bubbling like a cauldron I started dumping in the kind of stupid-easy dumplings made from a drop biscuit recipe I kept in the front of my memory bank when the guys would get hangry and the food the younger scouts brought didn’t go as far as they thought it should.

I was done and trying to figure out how to get the stuff from the cooker to the serving line when two guys grabbed it and hauled it over without me even having to ask.

I heard, “Is it edible?”

“Well you been smelling it the same as us. Whatchu tink?”

No one wondered for long as the first ones in line started eating it as fast as it was dished up. And lucky for me someone had made a heap big load of rice to go with it. Apparently Dipsy Dawn had some brains and talent to use them with after all. Almost too tired to go get my own bowl I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle and prayed they had a can of pop in amongst the drinks that would help the ibuprofen I was craving go to work even faster. It was also about that time I noticed my hands were singing, not from the onions but because I’d ripped three of the nails way back.

“Dang it,” I growled. I couldn’t even feel sorry for myself for five minutes in peace.

I stood up and headed back to my tent which miraculously hadn’t gotten knocked over and then set to trying to do something about the mess I was in. Then it hit me and I had to crawl in the tent before someone saw me crying like a girl. I mean I am a girl and I don’t regret it, but it is never a good idea for people to see you acting like one. They think that makes you weak for some unfathomable reason.

I was finished and cleaning myself up when my peace was cut up again. “Yo, caneton. You in there?”

I wanted to groan but didn’t. I may be just shy of being legal, but I know what a chain of command is. I crawl out and look up and croak, “Who needs what now?”

It’s leaning toward dusk but there is still enough light for him to see my face and he lets out a long low string of curses that I’m not even going to bother trying to remember the order of. Let’s just say he’s a lot more creative than he looks and leave it at that. When he finally gets around to talking about medics I’d had enough. “Already looked at by Private Ginger.”

“Who?”

“That guy that was with you during the dog pile. I haven’t caught his name or if he said it …” I shrugged.

“Hmph. Sullivan. You still look like roadkill. Let’s take a walk.”

“If that walk includes the medic tent no need. Too late for them to do more than already’s been done. Including stitches if that’s what you think I need.”

Next question. “Did you eat?”

Thinking of the pop and three ibuprofen that were swimming in my stomach I just nodded.

He sniffed again like he didn’t believe me but wasn’t going to fight me about it and then popped as squat like he was going to be there for a while. I waited him out and he finally got around to talking after some people moved off that had been walking down the aisle of tents.

This time he sighed and I got a bad feeling. “Caneton …”

“Was my uncle’s name on that list or not?” I demanded.

“Not.” I started to relax but shouldn’t have. “But …”

“But?”

“There’s no easy way to say this. My aunt runs a bed and breakfast sorta place. Henley Thibodeaux did odd jobs for her when she needed help, or he felt like being around people but not too many.”

“And?”

“And three months ago he came outta the Atchafalaya this time needing his own bit of help. Auntie Orélie took him to the local clinic but … it was already too late. His wound had gone septic.”

“He’s …”

“Yes little fem, he’s … gone. He’d been trying to tell her something but he was far gone and she couldn’t understand him. She understood niece but that’s about it. Your uncle had some friends and they took up a collection and he was laid with his people … your people … in St. Bernard.”

I knew I was supposed to be feeling something but at that point all I was feeling was numb. The one plan, the one goal, the one person in the world that was waiting for me … it was all gone. And there I was in the middle of nowhere with a whole lot of nothing.

“Caneton?”

“Don’t call me that please,” I said for lack of anything else to say.

“All right. Then what do you want to be called?”

“Ava … just Ava.”

“Well … Ava … you … er …”

I looked at him and realized he was just being a nice guy. He hadn’t wanted to tell me any more than I had wanted to hear it but neither one of us was given much choice. “Thanks.”

“You sure? ‘Cause I didn’t hear nothing to be thankful for.”

“You didn’t lie. You didn’t fake it. And you know it sucks but you aren’t treating me like a ticking timebomb. So yeah. Thanks.”

After a minute he asked, “You got a Plan B?”

I almost lied but then said, “Nope. I’ll work on one in just a minute.”

After another brief silence he said, “My aunt says they need someone to sign some papers. Seems your uncle had an estate.”

“Uncle Henley? I doubt it. The state was taking away the house he inherited from my grandmother so they could expand the … the … the …” It was finally sinking in and I shook my head. “I need some sleep. Thanks for finding out and telling me.” I tried to crawl in the tent but he put his hand on my shoulder.

“You should think about going to sign them papers. It … it likely isn’t much but something is better than nothing and my aunt … she says there’s papers and stuff in the boxes.”

“Boxes?”

“Yeah. The park rangers went and cleared his place out during the investigation.”

“Investigation?”

“Henley was … he was shot Ava … among other things. Best guess is poachers. They’d left him for dead and … aw hell …” It was a picture that I hadn’t needed in my head but that now I’ll have to live with. I bowed my head, anger towards people that had stolen my uncle from me with more finality than even the State had warring with my previous self-pity. But I was exhausted, and all the anger did was make me even more tired and depressed.

“Caneton? Ava?”

“I’ll work on Plan B after I get a few hours sleep. I … I won’t be a problem someone needs to clean up.”

He sighed. “We’re closing down this camp by tomorrow.”

Hearing the next box of shoes as they started falling I asked, “What time do they want me out of here?”

“Everyone has to be out by noon. They want all civilians gone by 0900.”

“Okay.”

“Before you take off, you take this card …” he said as he slipped something in my hand. “You go over to the check out and you take what they give you. Got it?”

Not really understanding I still nodded like I did. Then my conscience kicked in as he turned to go ‘cause underneath him being a pain in the butt, he seemed to be a nice guy. “Sgt. Jeansonne?

He turned to look at me and I repeated, “Thanks. I mean it. Better that I heard it this way than some other. Not everyone would have taken the time.”

He looks surprised but nods but we both go our own way … he got called away and me into the tent to wonder what a Plan B was going to look like.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 9

Haven’t felt much like writing for a while but for now I’m stuck because there is no peddling in the kind of rain that has been going on for the last three days. Before this I was back on the road and turning my twenty miles into thirty miles on most days, at least until the rain came down.

First day getting back on the road I made it to Lee, FL before curfew set in but it wasn’t easy as I was pulling a heavier load than I had even when I left Bradenton. Stayed the night at some tree farm in exchange for a laundry list of crapwork. I didn’t care. It was a place, and raking and bundling pine needles was better than scrubbing toilets. They even let me sleep in one of their tree sheds which meant I wouldn’t have to fight off varmints who wanted my stuff … four legged or two legged.

The reason why my load was so heavy was because of my “pay” for cleaning out the warehouses also included a bonus for fighting on the side of the military types during the riot. I’ve got my suspicions who packed my stuff – there was a note in one of the boxes with a map to a certain bed and breakfast and even a letter so “Auntie Orélie” would be able to tell I was legit. I didn’t find that out until the first night when I stopped to look at it. All us civilians were being pushed along so fast they nearly turned off the water tap before we could all get an extra gallon as a going away present. It made me glad that I’d filled up my containers the night before and had the extra jug to get a little more besides.

Even had I had a Plan B there was nothing I could do but continue to head west on US90 as going east was no longer an option as those lanes had been shut down for eastbound convoys coming out of the panhandle of the state. I was beat by the time I made it to Lee but I got lucky with the tree farm. They let me have potable water to fill my drinking containers (there wasn’t a hydration station in that area) and even some water to do a small wash of underthings and wash the pinesap out of my hair after the work was over with. While things were drying is when curiosity finally moved me. When I opened the boxes I just hoped I wouldn’t get stopped and told I was under arrest for contraband.

Someone had gotten into a shipping crate. It’s the only explanation because I didn’t see stuff like that in the food trailers unless they were hiding it in the back. Most of what was there was sampler packages of the kind of expensive trail food my crew sometimes dreamed about. An 8 pack of beans and legumes; another of expensive TVP that doubled as fake meat. Some plant protein mixes that had chipotle and black beans in them in ready to serve packages. A 12-count soup and chili mix sampler. A 32 zip-bag kit of ready-to-prepare trail food. One box held 12 plastic quart jars of dried fruit. Another box was the same of dried veggies. There was a small but heavy box that mostly held salt but there were some other seasonings in there as well. Another box had a bunch of that shelf-stable food like from Bridgford … French toast, cinnamon buns, turnovers, sliced bread, sailors’ crackers. There were packets of instant oatmeal and instant grits. There were a bunch of granola bars and fruit bars. A bunch of little packages of cheese spread of different flavors and all these little triangles of shelf-stable cheese. A few of those packages that had a stick of cheese and a beef sausage stick. Had enough of those in the past to know you don’t want them to get warm or they get greasy so they are buried in the middle of all the rest of the stuff.

Got enough packets of condiments – some of them weird gourmet crap – that I could open my own deli. Not just ketchup and mustard either but mayo, honey, oil & vinegar, BBQ sauce, you name it. Good junk food like Nutella and caramel sauce, packages of nuts and seeds, individual packets of desserts like animal crackers, fig newtons, fruit roll ups, and the kind of stuff I never got at the group home or foster home as it was deemed a budgetary waste and unhealthy too. Little individual servings of jams, jellies, preserves, syrups, and even dressings and dips. Lunch junk like peanut butter, sandwich spreads, hummus, and ramen. A dozen honest to goodness Slim Jims. Some nasty nutrition bars, but beggars can’t be choosers and if I hadn’t tasted a few of them before I would have thought they were good too. There were packets of cocoa, tea, instant coffee, cold drink mixes, and flavoring drops designed to make plain water taste like something it isn’t.

It wasn’t all just food either. There were some first aid supplies and even aromatherapy stuff. Foot care, OTC meds, Vaseline, chapstick, insect repellent, sunscreen, a bottle of aloe vera, little packages of stuff that looked like someone raided a fancy hotels supply closet … Kleenex, hair crap, shower caps, lotion, sewing kits, disposable razors and shaving soap, mini bars of body soap. Then when you got rid of your body stink you could use the rest of it to get rid of the stink on your clothes and gear … but it was all natural this and organic that so it doesn’t make suds and barely cuts the dirt much less the stink ‘cause believe me, I’ve used it a time or two but only with limited success.

I spent over an hour reorganizing everything in the bike trailer to even out the load and to try and lighten it a bit by getting rid of some of the packaging. Didn’t have much luck on the last since it was already minimal packaging, but I did get rid of the packaging on all of the dried breakfast cereals by turning the contents into this ginormous bag of GORP. The GORP changes nearly every day as I eat some and then toss in what I don’t eat from a package of something I might open … like m-n-m’s, nuts, popcorn, you name it.

And as great as my “pay” has been it has helped me to piece out my original bunch of supplies, I’ve also been supplementing as I can. Thank goodness for all those wilderness survival courses I took. I still miss having a crew to share the load of the road, but for “food and lodging” it has been easier to manage as a single, even with the lectures people seem compelled to give me for various reasons; being young and female only two of the biggest points.

For food, the winged sumac has been ready for harvest every time that I’ve found it. Quite a bit more than I expected, mainly because the highway mowers have been silent for months giving a lot of wild and weedy stuff to grow and fruit when it normally doesn’t this close to the road. Run up on some wild hog plums when I was forced to sleep off the road and into a fallow field. The shrubs grew all along a fence line and I grabbed every one I could. Some of the fruit was great and some of it was mediocre in flavor but either way it meant I could save my personal supplies.

I found some bolete mushrooms when I camped under an oak tree on someone’s back lot. The husband and wife said I could do it if I’d help clean up their dog run. I don’t think it had been poop scooped for a long time. It wasn’t glamorous, and the big mutt got underfoot, but it got me a camping spot that didn’t include someone sticking a flashlight in my face every couple of hours of the night asking to see my papers.

I caught a bit of meat every other day or so. The wild kind like snakes were abundant ‘cause of the lack of mowing … and cars to run them over. I’ve caught bunnies and squirrels too but mostly because I found an abandoned have-a-heart animal trap. I don’t catch something every night I set it out but often enough that it has become habit. And sometimes what I catch is not something I would eat. A few feral cats and once caught a puppy that I almost thought about keeping until I realized the puppy was a coydog … a coyote dog mix … when its momma gave me what for. Lucky for me she was more dog than coy and just wanted her baby and not to turn me into their next meal. Whew.

But the best meat I was getting was as road crew. Or that’s what they called us. Better than being called a tramp, hobo, or homeless. See there weren’t that many people that could be out on the road when the military vehicles were traveling it. My ID was registered that I was okay and to leave me alone if I was spotted. Guess that was thanks to Sgt. Jeansonne, or fighting on their side which amounts to the same thing in my mind. How it works is that ever so often you have to come to a stop because something is going on. If it is something they need help with, they’ll call out and if you are fast enough and have the right designation on your ID, you get to help with whatever it might be. And your pay is a can of meat.

Usually the canned meat the military or national guard types would toss us would be Spam or Treet; good stuff in my opinion but not everyone’s. There were some rare occasions when we’d get tuna or chicken but those were always small cans and I preferred the other because it at least came with some fat. I haven’t lost much weight but know it is some because my pants and belt are showing it. Once I got two cans of roast beef. I’ve used one and the other I’m saving.

On one memorable occasion I got a couple of large cans of beef stew. An NG supply truck had nearly gone in the ditch, was halfway in there for sure, and the truck had to be unloaded, gotten unstuck, tire repaired, and then reloaded. There was only me and this old guy out and willing to help. He was out looking for work to feed his grandkids who I spotted sitting off the road under a camouflage tarp. I told him I’d throw in and fix both cans if he’d throw in one of his. We’d gotten to “know” each other as we worked, and he agreed. I taught them how to cook wild greens that night as well and I made sure that there was enough green broth that the morning didn’t leave us with an empty stomach. Lucky for them they didn’t have that far to go before they could reach family that had already said they would take them in if they could get there. Me, well I still had a lot of miles to go but at least I had “done a good turn” and could feel a little better in amongst all the bad and uncertain I was and am feeling.

I was doing pretty well with wild greens like dandelions and dollar weed until a Halloween frost messed that bounty up. And wasn’t it fun when some local kids that should have been old enough and known better tried to put a Halloween scare into some folks camped out near the road. Let’s just say I wasn’t averse to making sure a couple of them walked funny for a few days even if he was a couple of years younger than me. It ain’t polite to have the port-o-john you are sitting in get pushed over. And that’s all I am explaining about that particular incident. Use your imagination if you have the stomach for it.

It is now November and while it has warmed back up a little, it is colder at night than my little South Florida heart cares for. Many of the travelers I pass have runny noses and yucky coughs. And the hydration station workers now wear what one of my instructors called PPE like masks, gloves, and plastic face guards that look like cheap welding helmets. There are signs up all over the place and not following health and safety rules in any migration camp is a good way to get kicked out or hauled off dang fast.

And by the way Skippy, happy birthday to me. I’m now a bonafide adult and legal in all fifty states and the territories too. I don’t feel any different but at least I get fewer questions … unfortunately not that many fewer. Especially when my jacket or hat comes off and people figure out I am female. Joy that. But there were some female NGs that gave me a job one time that earned me a box of feminine hygiene products. I was told they were worth more than canned meat, and that is no joke.

As far as the map of things, after Lee came Greenville and after that a place called Monticello. That was a short day and the next day was Sunday which kept me off the road. People weren’t bad there, just suspicious. However, a church was serving up soup, sandwiches and sermons to all “road people” of whom I am now one. They let some of us camp out in segregated areas. It gave me time to think. My Plan B isn’t much but I’m still going to Breaux Bridge. I’ll sign those papers or whatever the authorities need and maybe that’ll give me closure or whatever it is supposed to. Where I go from there I’m not sure. Sucks to be me.

After Monticello I made more than twenty miles to get to Tallahassee. What a mess that was. The town was locked down tight because of all the politicians and other important people converging to try and figure out some solutions to what we have going on. Wasn’t fun being hassled by the college students either. Seems they didn’t like that the reality of their political leanings (one way or the other) was starting to impact their lifestyle. It wasn’t fun anymore for some of them, especially those that looked like they were being faced with a possible draft – that had been put back on the board after being taken off – and all those other complaints they had on their poster board signs. Me being their age apparently only egged some of them on, especially when I wouldn’t play their dumb games. That was nearly a beat down. I didn’t come out unscathed but a few of the princess types learned the hard way that a fight goes both ways and that some of us will take their stupid signs and use it to beat them with when they come at us more than once. I got off luckier than most, but it didn’t help with the indigestion. Cops didn’t even act like they noticed. To me that was scarier than all the screaming, hollering, and protesting that was going on.

We were rousted early the next morning to keep us moving. Man that day was a rough one. Nearly fifty miles to the next stop in a place called Chattahoochee. All I remember of that night is standing in line to refill my water, collapsing for a couple of hours, then an airhorn going off in my ear as reveille the next morning. Mariana was next and after that came Chipley and beyond that were stops in places like Caryville, De Funiak Springs, Crestview, Harold, Floridatown outside of Pensacola (another not so fun stop that held me up a couple of days just so I could take my turn to cross some bridges) and then a few more days waiting on permission to cross the state line into Mobile, Alabama.

Leaving Florida was hard. I admit I cried again that night. I think I would have cried even if I still had Uncle Henley on the receiving end but now without him, I don’t know. I’ve known life isn’t fair for a while now, but I guess even I’ve got lessons to learn how well and truly life can suck.

Getting through Mobile wasn’t fun, but it was mostly because US 90 continued to be taken over by the military and I was in the group that got funneled down onto SR98 which hugs the coast pretty dang tight. Beach-sand-on-the-roadbed tight in some places. Because a lot of the coast is under evacuation orders services are sparse, even hydration stations so I’ve had to get careful with my water, something I should have done more of earlier. I let those hydration stations lull me. Stupid. And something I’m not going to let happen anymore. US90 opened back up to civilian traffic after Mobile but got crowded again at Pascagoula as people heading east stacked up waiting for their pass to get through Alabama.

Biloxi and Gulfport had their own challenges and while I got used to life on the road, those not suffering through the life couldn’t seem to get used to us. Sure, there were some decent people among the protesters and flakes, but they acted like every one of us had some fatal flaw that put us on the road to start with. Seems “good people” had family to take them in or had the sense to go to a refugee camp. I got so mad a few times I wanted to set some of them down and give them a dose of reality by telling them just how quick you can lose everything you have but I don’t figure it would really do any good. Sometimes you can’t learn those lessons from the experience of others, only when they happen to you.

I’m in Louisiana now. Got here just before the rain set in and I’ve been stuck in Slidell for a couple of days and looks to be a couple more as they are having problems in and around New Orleans. Word has it that the federal government has gone in and completely taken over local agencies from law enforcement to social services and court houses. Gossip has it some money that had been sent in to secure the place at the beginning of the war all disappeared into pockets of people that it shouldn’t have and was only being pieced out to a chosen few and some of the squeakier wheels. When the taps got cut off and the trickle down stopped, those that were wanting their “fair share” of the ill-gotten gains started rioting. Like that makes any sense. But that’s people for you I suppose.

Two days from now my number is suppose to come up and I’m going to join some protected convoy that will get me through NO and around to the west of it. The plan as I heard it is to get all us “road people” to this spot on the map called Raceland. Most people want to go to Baton Rouge but that ain’t happening according to the people in charge because it is nearly as big a powder keg as New Orleans is. The coastline isn’t the only place there are refugees and Baton Rouge has a couple of large camps that have double what they should have in human bodies, and sickness has started to make the rounds.

New Orleans is pretty much a point of no return for me. I either spend the next three or four days finishing the trip to Breaux Bridge or I sit and spin here in Slidell until the Heavens open up and God tells me what I’m supposed to do. Don’t take that as sacrilegious. I just mean I have few to none when it comes to options. People are getting mean and nasty cause they’re scared. This war isn’t like any that has come before it. We’re winning the big stuff overseas, most places can’t compete with our technology and training. It is here at home that things are falling apart. Every day used to bring news of a new terrorist strike or plot that had been foiled. That’s slowed down a little but now the strikes are bigger and hurt more as the seriously bad groups absorb the small wannabee groups and turn them into cannon fodder. The NE, NW, and West Coast have taken the worst of it, mostly cause of their lax immigration enforcement over the years – or so says the talking heads on TV that tend to speak out of both sides of their mouths. The Southern Border area isn’t faring all that much better but there’s enough private militias with ammo in quantity that they fill the gap where our military is spread too thin. The fact that the military isn’t making noise about that should tell anyone with half a brain just how bad things are.

But the military is building on the Southern Border now and they ain’t playing, especially not after that big group of terrorists were caught in the act as it were, trying to blow up the border wall. The Mexican government also doesn’t care if a border town gets blowed to heck by missiles from our side of the border. They are letting the US military take care of their drug cartel problems and civilian casualties are, in their words, an unavoidable loss to carve out the evil. That’s going to come back and bite someone one of these days but right now that is the way the politicians are rolling and no one has the strength to change that course.

Lights out is in a few minutes and it has started to rain again. I’m going to try and collect some water and wash some socks and try and do some undies and a couple of sports bras too. They’re going to take forever and a day to dry but like I said, I got a couple of days until I can move from this spot anyway.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 10

Thank gawd for tire patch kits and duct tape or I’d still be in Raceland instead of planning on riding into Breaux Bridge tomorrow. Seems the people inside New Orleans ain’t the only ones going butthead crazy in this state.

My number came up and I got a pass through New Orleans but instead of walking some of us were loaded onto flatbeds and busses to make things go faster to fit in the curfew which has been extended along the coast from 6 pm – 6 am to 5 pm – 8 am. That’s only 9 hours for people to get their business done and home instead of 12 and lots of people are complaining they can’t even earn enough at their job with those hours to keep a roof over their heads and food in their family’s bellies. I agree with them but I’m not the one holding the big bang sticks. Of course, most of the ones complaining aren’t following evacuation orders so not too many of those in authority are caring too much what they like and what they don’t. Called consequences. I’ve run into them a few times myself. They’ve already started to “encourage” more people to evacuate, by doing what they did down in South Florida. The electric, gas, and cell phone service to entire towns are being cut off. That’s driving people a bit crazy too. It also means the hydration stations have been closed down on long stretches.

All it means to me right now is that there is more rather than fewer nut cases on the road with me. Mental health issues are way up and hygiene and commonsense is way down. At least I’m not trying to hunt up fuel to keep a car running. That’s got some of those same walking-mental-health-issues jealous. Unfortunately I got parked next to one of them right before I got loaded onto the flatbed trailer that I had been assigned to. Man oh man this woman was a whack job. I didn’t even see it coming, but as quick as the National Guardsmen had the woman down and in plastic cuffs I still wound up with a Swiss Army Knife sticking out of one of my bike tires. I nearly had one sticking out of my ear if some old guy hadn’t pulled me out of the way.

“If that’s inoperable you’ll need to leave it behind,” a Guard told me while I’m still tabulating the fact that I was still alive but that my bike might be going on life support if I didn’t move fast.

I’d heard them tell others that the last couple of days while they’d been handing out call numbers so was already in repair mode. “It’s just a puncture. I got a repair kit and a can of tire foam,” I said pulling it out of bike kit strapped under the bike seat next to a water bottle.

She looked set to give me a hard time but the guy with her said, “If you can move it up the ramp and all the way forward you can ride with us to Raceland. Just take care of it as we move.”

“Thanks,” I said while the woman gave him a dirty look that seemed to express her opinion of men in general and suckers that got in the way of her being large and in charge in particular. I ignored the look she tried to give me next and concentrated on getting the quickly deflating bike tire up the ramp and secure enough that I could do what the guy had said. The repair has stuck but I’ve had to add air to the tire every day and today it was a couple of times so I know I’m going to have to figure out a more permanent fix pretty quick.

I’m glad I didn’t have to bike through what came at us as we went around New Orleans. As it was those of us on the open flat beds took a few hits from flying rocks and bottles from the people that lined the highway expressing their unhappiness … and their stupid. Cause no sooner than we’d passed through the worst of it than the “jack boots” started coming down hard and heavy on the necks of those too slow to run away from the consequences of their chosen actions. I’m still debating the “jack boot” title. Seems to me the Guards had a job and they’d reach saturation point about putting up with people that was making their job harder than it needed to be. Not to mention those rocks and bottles hurt.

It was a quiet group that pulled into Raceland. We’d passed a convoy pulling big missiles and other sorts of weapons heading both east and west for deployment on our Gulf Coast. It made some of us think the boys (and girls) in camou might know things we didn’t, and it wasn’t a comfortable thought to think. We also saw a few medical convoys and I for one wanted to know where all the wounded were coming from and where they were going. I finally heard that they were probably coming off ships near Houston and Galveston, which meant they were from the foreign wars rather than the one taking place on US soil. It made me wonder with that many wounded how we could be winning like they said we were.

“Because war ain’t cheap … in munitions or lives … and it is rarely all or nothing. It’s battles; lots of battles, some big some small. You might win the war but you lose battles along the way. Sometimes to win the war you have to lose some battles.”

That was said by this old, grizzled looking guy with an eye patch. He could have been a vet, probably was, but since he didn’t say for sure I’m not going to just guess. Either way him and some guys he seemed to be most comfortable hanging with had looks on their faces that said they seemed to have experienced a side of life I sure as heck don’t want to.

All the road people had one night in Raceland and then we had to beat feet … or in my case bike. I was all set to continue on US90 but I hadn’t gone a few miles – it was at this place called St. Charles – when we were all informed that the military didn’t plan on mixing with civilians. I was directed on to LA1-N and that was just not fun as that is the highway being used by people going in and out of Baton Rouge, the place everyone kept saying I didn’t want to go.

Found out that was the truth based on the stories I heard of all the crazy floating in the air. People claimed something had contaminated the area, that it was the only explanation for how people were acting. Nah. Peoples is peoples and most of them have more crazy genes than they want to admit … but it do come out and show itself in times of stress.

Made it to a place called Labadieville that night. It was a 24-mile ride but just like all that had come before, the road was insane enough that I was lucky to make that many miles before having to deal with the new curfew hours. Next day was a 30-mile route, but I could have kept on as I’d made good time using a bypass to get to the other side of a little skid mark called Annadale. Believe it or not I saw several Scout Troops doing some kind of field clean up and I stopped. Lucky for me the adults were willing to look at my membership card.

“You a long way from home Scout.”

“Yes Sir. Though properly I don’t guess I have a home at the moment. I’m heading to take care of some legal paperwork for my uncle who … who passed and see what needs doing on his behalf. It’s in Breaux Bridge.”

One of the men nodded. “National Guard is using some buildings there as a base of operations from what my cousin says. You watch your p’s and q’s and get your business taken care of right off … or you might just get run off.”

“Yes Sir. Could I ask if you have any other suggestions concerning the road between here and there?”

They did. One of them was that so long as I threw in and helped with the girl cubbies they had with them that I could have a tent spot with the women. There’s still a prejudice in Scouts about having females as members. I don’t mind it. I can imagine the reverse of the issue … and saw it first hand before I made the jump to Cub Scouts myself and never looked back. And I appreciate what Scouting has always given me enough that I overlook when some of the guys get heavy handed. For a while there guys didn’t have much that was “theirs” because all of the females wanting in. Yet they didn’t want males in their clubs and what not as they didn’t want to get bossed around or abused. I used to hear my brother complain that guys got it coming and going; and while there were some that needed a roundhouse kick to the backside, most of them weren’t so bad. But Girl Scouts got so politically correct and headed by women that were more into academics and sports than the outdoors that what they used to be great at they destroyed.

Ghosts. From my past and from a future that apparently wasn’t meant to be. They fit right in with the ghost stories some of the kids wanted to tell around the fire ring that night. I was stuck coming up with a story that was scary but wouldn’t freak the parental units out. Well I admit I know a couple. One of them is “The Ghost of the Bloody Finger.” The trick is to make the ghost sound really scary up until the last part where you make him sound just normal.

##### ##### #####

In a small town not far from here, there was an old abandoned house. No one ever went near it because everyone said that it was haunted.

One day, a bunch of local people were sitting in a coffee shop, chatting about bravery.

One man in particular was bragging loudly. “I’m not afraid of anything!” he boasted.

“Oh yeah?” asked his buddy. “I’ll bet that you aren’t brave enough to spend a night alone in that old abandoned house!” The boaster didn’t want to admit that he was afraid, so he agreed to sleep in the house that very night.

At dusk, he arrived at the house alone. He checked every room and found nothing unusual. He chose an upstairs bedroom, spread out his sleeping bag on the floor, and tried to sleep.

He had just dozed off when he heard a faint noise from downstairs. He strained to hear what it was. It sounded like someone moaning these words:

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger! I am in the front hall!”

The man told himself that he was just imagining things. It must be the wind, he thought.

But then he heard, a bit louder,

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger! I am at the bottom of the stairs!”

“My imagination is running wild!” thought the man. “I am just going to go to sleep, and soon it will be morning.”

But then he heard, even louder,

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger! I am at the top of the stairs!”

The man dove inside his sleeping bag, but he could still hear the ghost coming closer.

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger! I am in the upstairs hall!”

The man hid his head under his pillow, but he could hear the ghost coming even closer.

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger! I am at the bedroom door!”

The man was shaking with terror. The door creaked open.

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger! I am in the bedroom!”

The ghost paused in the doorway.

“I am the ghost of the bloody finger!” (pause) “Do you have a bandaid?”

##### ##### #####

That story was enough for the cubbies and their families and it took some hot chocolate to wind them down. I was about to turn in myself when one of the older scouts got in my face and in my opinion wasn’t upholding the Scout Laws.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 11

What it really boiled down to is the older scouts wanted their own bit of attention from “the girl” or they wanted to show me up. Either/or, or maybe both, it didn’t seem to matter. I was getting surrounded and only a couple of the adults were looking uncomfortable at what was happening. I figured out right there I’d been had. Or maybe that isn’t right, as it was only one adult that really seemed to be instigating what happened. I’d seen it before. Been the target before so I was prepared despite being caught a little sideways at how long it took to get pushed.

Our troop had our own way of having a contest against other troops that had an issue or problem or something. One troop or patrol would tell a story and then their audience would have to decide whether they were telling the truth or not. It’s an old tradition and goes back to before even DJ was a cub scout. I still have DJ’s notebook of skits and stories on my external hard drive, I just haven’t been able to look at anything on that drive for a while. But I don’t need to. I have them all memorized. The problem was that with no internet I wouldn’t be able to prove whether my stories were truthful or not.

“You won’t … but I will,” said a guy that turned out to be an older son of one of the Assistant Scoutmasters. He lifted a tablet up and I nodded. He’s a college student and was along for some community service hours.

However with my first story the “game” was turned on its head as the younger boy scouts – that outnumbered the older ones three to one – decided they liked being told a story more than they did telling one of their own. Basically they just wanted to have fun and weren’t into the trouble the older boys and one of the scoutmasters had been after.

I think it was the true tale of the atomic wedgie of death[1] that finally won the last of them over, even the original adult instigator.

The next morning I took extra care to clean up my tent area and leave it better than I found it and then got on the road after thanking the adults that were awake. I was about to pull out when the Scoutmaster asked me to wait.

“My nephew is in the National Guard patrol that runs this section of the highway. They’ll be here in about fifteen minutes. His Sergeant doesn’t mind if road people follow them so long as you don’t ask favors or get too close.”

“Yes Sir. But is there any particular reason that it would be smart to follow them?”

“Young lady you don’t strike me as someone that is stupid.”

“No Sir. But I’ve never been good at mind reading either. And these days pretending to be something you’re not is a good way to have a hard life.”

I got points for honesty if not delivery but he did explain, “You’re being smart not going into Baton Rouge but you’ll still be skirting it. If you only had locals to contend with I’d say you could probably get there unmolested. But even if you discount our homegrown knotheads we’ve got a lot of outsiders in the area. The worst of them are being swept up and dumped in work camps … and not always by law enforcement so stay outta of the way of good people doing good deeds for their neighbors.”

“But there’s always more where those came from.”

He gave me an approving nod. “Just so. So you follow the convoy. They’ll take you through White Castle, then around Myrtle Grove Plantation and all the way to Grosse Tete. Girl that’s 35 miles but you gotta do it or you’ll be in the swamp overnight and tell me you know why you don’t want that.”

“I know,” I told him. “I’m originally from Florida and it don’t even take once to not be that kinda stupid.”

“Good enough. Now once you get to Grosse Tete, you go on up to the Tiger Truck Stop and you give any of the waitresses this card. If there is a place to be found they’ll find you one. Get you a shower and what have you. If you can find something to help them with that’d be a good thing too. If that don’t work, then you find you a church to spend the night. There’s St. Joseph on Gum St. and if they’re full up the Baptist church might have something. What you do not want to do is get stuck on the street. And the bushes ain’t good this time a year either. There’s things in ‘em that will chew on you some and not all of ‘em walk on four legs. You understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes Sir. I’ve already run into that but I do appreciate the warning.”

“Good. If this wasn’t a camporee I’d take you home to my wife but …”

“But it is and your first responsibility are to the cubbies, scouts, and their families. I get it Mr. Larkin. And thank you for the contact. I won’t abuse it.”

He smiled when he said, “See you don’t.”

I did get behind the convoy when it came through and I wasn’t the first one. Most people were walking but there were a few on bikes and I found my place and started peddling.

----------------------------------------

[1] Atomic Wedgie Cited as Cause of Death
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 12

Wowee. I’m telling you. Mr. Larkin did me a good turn that morning. Following that convoy saved my bacon. Those NG boys and girls didn’t fool around and all but rolled over and through the few groups that tried to take ‘em on. I’d never seen the like in all the time I’d been on the road. The noise about Baton Rouge being a rough spot on the road was no exaggeration. Pity the people that have to live in all of that mess.

Had to pay my way by moving some dead bodies. Not something I want to remember much less brag on but that’s what they used us convoy followers for. I’m use to crapwork and that’s a fact but smelling busted up guts was nearly more than I could handle. They gave us gloves but that’s about it. Found out that some of the “dead” weren’t as dead as expected and one pulled a fast one and drew a knife on me and this guy that had gone over to carry him over to the pile that was being made. He nearly got me and it made me so mad that he’d play it foul I kicked him in the side of the head putting him down and out.

After the NGs made sure me and the guy I’d been working with weren’t hurt they put another hurt on the guy that I’d kicked. He was zipped tied tighter than a bull at a rodeo, with even less dignity and was thrown in the back of this step van that I found out was hauling prisoners to some place called Angola. I’m still not sure but from the looks on the faces of several people I figured that Angola was not someplace I wanted anything to do with and those going there were going to wish the same thing.

The bad roadies had shot their wad with that last attack and we made it to Gross Tete without anymore problems. The NGs went one way and most of us convoy followers went another. Don’t know where they all went but I went to the Tiger Truck Stop just like Mr. Larkin said and the man has a good reputation and deserves it. I’m not the first former scout he has sent their way but I am the first female, so I was a bit of a curiosity. I didn’t begrudge them. I suppose I am a bit different … and getting more different as the days go by, even in my own mind.

Rosalee and Vickie were the two waitresses on duty and they were happy to have the help as the boy that had been doing things had gotten into a brawl and been hauled off and was given the choice to join the military or go to prison … he chose prison of all things. Some people I guess.

I know my crapwork. I had bathrooms and backroom cleaned up quick. I swept and mopped the tile area where the cheap seats were. And I even scraped up the fries that had been ground into the floor so long that the grout beneath them was a different color.

While I did all this I found out that the Tiger Truck Stop really did have a tiger at one point. Way back in ’17 Tony the Tiger passed away from old age and is now stuffed and on display. Pretty cool story and there were all sorts of famous people that came to have their picture with Tony.

Once the curfew went into effect they shut down the truck stop to all but the convoys. That meant the waitresses and all but a skeleton staff went home. But I got to stay as they’d liked my work ethic. That’s what they even called it. That made me feel good and still does. They locked everything up but it was still nice not to be treated like a criminal looking for a crime scene to create.

And after they all left I was allowed to use the showers and finally got the worst of the road stink off and by the time I was done scrubbing and washing up I was then pounds lighter and three shades whiter. Since even after all that it wasn’t dark yet, I asked if there was anything else I could do.

“How old did you say you were?”

“Eighteen.”

“Close enough for what I need. Help me restock the cigs and beer. We got a dozen convoys supposed to be through tomorrow and when we get three they eat us outta house and home, can’t imagine what a dozen is going to do. You stay and hep us out and I’ll see that you get something. Might not be much …”

What the heck. “I’ll work for food for the road.”

“Most people want cash upfront these days.”

“If there is going to be twelve convoys on the road I might not make it where I am aiming for. I’m not real good at sitting around doing nothing. Working here means I got a place to stash my bike and stuff and just like today you made sure that I got a poboy to eat and plenty to drink. I like to think I’ve got some commonsense. This is a good place and one more day on the road isn’t gonna kill me.”

So it was agreed. I helped to restock everything. Got a decent sleep while the armed guard they’d hired kept watch on things. Then in the morning even got a couple batches of biscuits going before Rosalee, Vickie, and another waitress named Marie shows up. They had me working the grill since I knew how, and I knew how to do everything they needed me doing except how to deep fry crab. But I learned to do that and the shrimp too. The smell wasn’t grand where I took my turn cleaning them but since I knew they were going to be good to eat I kept my opinion to myself and by the time closing time and curfew came they all agreed that Mr. Larkin had earned himself a free meal next time he was through.

After everyone had gone home for the evening I helped to restock again, and organize their back room where they’d gotten a much needed order of supplies in.

“The convoy operators look out for us.”

“How? Or do you mean they just keep the crapheads out?”

“That too but mostly it means that when we need supplies we can get ‘em. Not everyone can say that. We accept that military scrip they’re handing out and then we turn it back over to the Base and that’s where our supplies come from.”

“Sounds … like good business relations. Most of the crapwork I used to do came from working for this crazy guy that ran a military surplus store. ‘Course he owned the entire strip it was located in but mostly he had me working for him doing everything but being behind the counter. The man knew how to count his pennies and that’s a fact.”

I got a laugh for that and the face I made when I was telling it. I told a few stories on the crazy coot and got some more laughs proving that Cajuns did like a good story. Next morning was Sunday so the truck stop was going to be closed until noon and the diner closed all day. It was as good a time as any to hit the road but I did it with a box of goodies … a poboy lunch and some stuff that wasn’t selling in the souvenir area … and some more good advice of the places to avoid and where I might catch my next break.

I’m having a hard time staying awake, but I don’t have any choice right now. Rain is coming down so hard that I’m worried my tent site is going to get flooded out. I’m off I10 at the Waffle House. Bad place to be but that’s the best I could do and it’s better than what a lot of people have tonight so I’m trying not to complain. My butt sure is sore. I was forced to bike 51 miles today and was barely able to pull it off. Only reason I did is because I got in behind a fast-moving convoy. First one got me as far as this place called Krotz Springs and before I could even eat half my poboy I had to pick up a fast-moving group that got me as far as I am right now. Had I followed it any further I would have gotten off track but I’m wishing I had pulled off sooner. The people I’m sharing the space with here behind the dumpster aren’t exactly friendly and they aren’t exactly happy I’m here. Only thing I can say is that tomorrow’s ride is going to be a mere ten miles, assuming I’m not kicked out on my butt. It’s a possibility. People around here are real suspicious.

I can’t sleep yet despite the day because the Sheriff – who happens to be eating at the Waffle House – wants to see our papers. When he does, he’ll decide if he needs to run anyone off or take anyone in. I’m hoping neither. I’m tired.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 13

Followed the map and directions that Sgt. Jeansonne gave me and when I got there I wasn’t sure to go to the front door, the back, or just where. I stood there long enough that I drew attention.

“Girl? Don’t make me a fool. You wouldn’t happen to answer to Ava would you?”

I turned and said, “Yes ma’am. Ava … Ava Thibodaux. I’m … I’m here to sign some papers for my uncle … or his estate … or something like that. A Sgt. Jeansonne said that … that …”

“Girl don’t just stand there drawing flies. Pull your stuff around drawing here and get outta the driveway.” She turned and yelled, “Boy! Get on out here and handle this! I got lunch to fix!”

Man oh man I was tired and all I could do was stand there looking after the woman who was sailing into the side yard and outta view. Wondering who the “boy” was that she’d yelled for I turned expecting a kid of some type only to hear a curse as something was knocked over.

“Bon sang! Who the hell stacked this merde right in the middle of the hall,” they growled. There was more growling and if I hadn’t been so tired you can bet I would have rethunk my position and backed away. Instead I stood there as stupid as could be when he came out of the old house that set to the right of the big, fancy bed and breakfast place. He’d nearly made it down the stairs when a dog shot out from under the porch and nearly took him down again.

I could see the look of real pain on his face that time and I grabbed the happy hound by the scruff and said, “Knock it off Brainless before you break the sergeant’s neck. He already looks like he’s been in another brawl.”

The man gave me a surprised once over and then said, “About time you got here Caneton. I was about to give up on you.”

“I thought we agreed you’d stop calling me that stupid name. I’m not a duckling. Not even when I was duckling sized would anyone have called me that. It’s Ava.”

“I remember. Just Ava.”

I bent to help him stand up but saw that he was moving slow and ginger and could only limp. I didn’t say anything because if I know nothing of the male of the species, they aren’t fond of having their weaknesses pointed out. Since I wasn’t poking the bear he gave me the answer without the question. “IED.”

“You got shipped overseas?” I asked trying to figure out how fast it must have happened for him to already be back.

“No. Southern border. Tore the merde out of my neck, back, and leg. Sent home on medical leave. Might be staying here if the docs have their way.”

“Well that sucks if that’s not what you want. Anyway, I’ve come to sign those papers you told me about.”

“So I see. Sit here and tell me your story so I don’t go find Fabrice and strangle the little idiot.”

“Is he the one that put the crap in the middle of the hall?”

“Heard that did you?”

“They probably heard it all the way back to Pascagoula. And if I was that Fabrice and heard that I’d make myself scarce for a while.”

The sergeant snorted before saying, “All that boy does is make hisself scarce. Especially when there is work to be done. Now tell it … and before the bugs come out.”

So I did and then he said, “You up for some chores? It’ll give you a place to stay tonight. Orélie needs some help in the house. I’ll make sure your stuff is secure.”

I nodded. “About them papers …”

“You want to move on so fast?”

I sighed and admitted, “It isn’t that I want to move on … I’m … I’m just … I kept coming this way to sign them. I guess signing them is suppose to give me a clue what I’m suppose to do next.”

“No Plan B?”

“This is Plan B. Now I gotta figure out what Plan C is.”

About that time there’s a crash and it doesn’t take long for voices to get loud. Sgt. Jeansonne has a worried look on his face and isn’t moving fast so I run ahead to see what is going on only to find two boys about to have a fight in a fancy sitting room at the front of the brick house. Having seen this type of mess before I break it up fast grabbing handfuls of hair and smacking foreheads together before leading/dragging them out the side door and off the porch.

“Civilized people don’t fight inside. Things can get broken and trouble happen. You want to act like Neanderthals and take each other’s heads off then you do it outside where there isn’t as big a mess to clean up.” They both tried to charge me and I guess I’ve been building muscle and losing patience at equal rates over the miles and I put ‘em both down with atomic wedgies to add to the insult.

“Stay down if you know what’s good for you. I’m not in the best of moods. And I’m PMSing on top of it so knock it off or get knocked back down.”

That’s when it finally seemed to register that I’m a girl.

“Whoa! What the … ?!”

“Shut your mouths before something nasty flies in. And for Pete’s sake, start acting like you have some sense. If you broke something you better start coming up with a way to pay for it too.”

Sgt. Jeansonne is just standing there making weird noises that I finally figure out was chuckles he’s trying not to let out. I just shake my head but as he is there, I trust him not to let the two idiots-in-training tackle me from behind and I head back into the house to see what mess has been made. Lucky for them it was just a big fern that got knocked over and all that was required was sweeping the dirt up and putting it back in the planter. Oh, and convincing this ugly furball cat that looked like someone had unraveled a giant ball of gray yarn that I was not its mortal enemy that needed slicing and dicing post haste. From there I somehow found myself totting dishes in and out of a dining room as men in uniforms rotated through eating what was on the dishes.

Three hours and a whole lotta dishes later I finally stop and notice Sgt. Jeansonne and the woman called Aunt Orélie deep in conversation with a Louisiana State Trooper.

Being cautious I waited them out while I wiped down the counter tops a second time until St. Jeansonne stuck his head in and said, “Come on out. You ain’t gonna get chewed on.”

“Is it about the papers?”

“In part.”

He wasn’t playing so he used my real name. “Ava, this is Deputy Edgar. His brother works for Fish and Wildlife and knew your Uncle Henley. Daniel, this is Ava Thibodeaux, Henley Thibodeaux’s niece.”

In foster care you have to learn to stand your ground with all sorts of bureaucrats and people that have power over you. You also have to learn when to at least act like you have some manners to fool them into thinking you will comply with whatever their mandates are. You’d be amazed at how naïve a lot of them people area.

“How do you do?” I say taking the lead.

“Fine, just fine Miss Thibodeaux. You mind if I call you Ava? Got a lot of Thibodeauxs around here and one of them happens to be my maiden aunt.”

I blinked. I’m not used to grown men doing what that fella was trying to do. Rather than let my surprise show I pretend I’m a real grown up and nod politely. But I throw him off the scent the best I can by getting down to business. “I’ve been given to understand there are some legal papers for my uncle that I need to sign. Something …” I stop and do my best not to let my feelings show. “Something about an investigation.”

Deputy Edgar nodded. “There are. The detective in charge will be by tomorrow or the next day if possible.”

“If possible?”

“Hmm. We’re running short handed with so many getting drafted into service. You understand.”

I didn’t because technically there wasn’t a real draft, but it was an easy thing to be polite about and ask questions about another time.

“Now about the fact that you are going to need a work visa and pass.”

“I … er … am?”

“Ms. Orélie says you’ll be full time and Emeric has vouched for you, but i’s still need to be dotted and the t’s crossed. You still have your ID?”

“Wouldn’t have gotten far if I didn’t,” I said, trying not to sound offended that he was making me sound like an idiot. I already felt like one ‘cause I had no idea what he was talking about.

I handed my ID over and he swiped it in what looked like one of the old credit card readers and then the machine on his belt started making as much noise as the cat had right before it went for my leg. Instead of an attack he handed me a long print out with my card and told me that it would do until my official card came in the mail. I’m still clueless but unwilling to show it.

“Just don’t wander too far from the Isabella until you receive it. You shouldn’t have any problems afterwards. If you do here’s my card. Give me a call.”

“Thank you,” I told him trying not to jump back and out of shine of his canines that he’d flashed.

The trooper drives off as I turned to the two adults. “Aunt Orélie” said, “I don’t have time to explain it. ‘Sides it was your idea. You do it. I have supper to see to for the ones that will be staying here tonight. And speaking of, pick her out a room at the house. You dragged her into this, you can see to her.”

The woman sailed off only proving she spent less time being still than I did and leaving Sgt. Jeansonne with a sour look on his face as he said, “It was not my idea.”

Getting close to fed up I said, “Your idea, someone else’s, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t sound like it is my idea. So … wanna fill me in?”

He looked at me and seeing how gray he was in the face I decided not to give him the heck I was feeling. “Caneton …”

“Please don’t call me that.”

“Fine. Ava. Better?”

“Definitely. Wanna go find a chair to sit in? Sounds like this might take a bit.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 14

We’d been talking for a few minutes when I got up the nerve to ask him, “Is the job real or a pity gift that runs out?”

Sgt. Jeansonne nodded in approval. Seems having a realistic and somewhat cynical view of things floats his boat … or at least makes him take me more serious than not. “It’s real enough. How long it lasts? It isn’t contract work so there’s no end date, but life happens and you’ll need to be prepared for it. My aunt needs a Jack of all trades … or Jill in your case … and you’ve admitted you can fit that bill. Being female you won’t give her the same merde some of the boys have given her. Or you sure as hell better not. You help me get some of the fancy work done and that’ll be even better.”

“So, you’re an electrician.”

“Was. Then came the military when I found out working for my brother wasn’t good for either one of us after mon pere died. Now I’m … I’m … not sure what I am and not sure why I’m telling you. Hell, I’m not going to be fit for active duty for at least six months, if then. They’re talking about putting me on terminal leave if they can’t find a desk job for me, but I can still be called up in an emergency. For the moment I'm on medical leave.”

“The rods in your leg and back hurt?”

“Sure as hell do,” he admitted, willing to be honest. Like he needed someone to be honest with and I was that someone. “The rod in the leg will come out in about three months. The one in my back is what is in question. They ain’t sure it can come out. And before you hand me some FRENCH FOR BS that I’m lucky to be alive, I know it already. Hell, I’m lucky to be ambulatory. Before the war I’da been stuck in a rehab facility, but they don’t have the room these days. They’re taking a lot of overflow from the VA hospitals. And while I might be lucky, it is taking some time to get used to the idea. My world blew up so damn fast. That day I saw you last is the last good day I had.”

“That was a good day? You must really be an optimist.”

He gave me a serious look before saying, “I know it was a shit day for you Ava but …”

“But everyone’s crap level is different on any given day.”

He snorted. “Sure ‘nuff is. Today is only the second day I’ve been able to get around without the damn walker.”

“Good. But there’s a gray tone to your skin that probably means you aren’t following doctor’s orders and should rethink that.”

He snorted again but conceded that if he didn’t go rest I might have to help Orélie drag him to his bed. As he went in the house, starting to have to hang onto things to keep his balance, he nodded his head to follow me.

“My bedroom is down this hall. Aunt Orélie stays in the Isabella’s housekeeper’s quarters with that little scut Fabrice. Pick you a room and then bring your gear in. After that I’ll try and explain the rest.”

I wanted to tell him I wanted an explanation before I brought my stuff in and before I agreed to whatever was going on but was at a loss what to do if I didn’t agree to it. I looked at the four other rooms down the narrow hallway and they didn’t look like bedrooms. I mean they did … had a cheap hotel bed in each one anyway … but on the other wall of the room they had a counter that had a miniscule microwave on it next to a single burner stove; and under the counter there was a dorm-sized frig. There was a little sink as well. The doors were different too. Each one had a letter on it and the locks looked like they belonged on an exterior door.

Hurt or not Sgt J could still move quiet … at least he could if he wasn’t grunting a little in pain with each step. “This was Orélie’s in law’s place about a million years ago. They rented rooms out and used to occasionally help with overflow from the Isabella.”

“That’s what the B&B is called. The Isabella.”

“Yeah. Man who built it named it after his wife, and the subsequent owners that turned it into a Bed and Breakfast kept the name.”

“So I can really …?”

“Yeah. You can really,” he answered with a tired chuckle.

I wanted say wow or yeehaw or something but didn’t want to look like a kid. I’ve never had my own room. I used to share with Lalli. At Uncle Henley’s apartment I slept on the sofa. And in the group home and foster homes that came after there was barely privacy in the bathroom, you sure never had a room to yourself. I picked room “A” for Ava and because it would put me near a door. You’d think I’d be worried about that but nah … the floor squeaked, and I didn’t want to have to hear any complaints of waking people up when I walked down the hall.

It took a few trips to bring everything in. The third trip Sgt J – who wound up parking himself on the stool part of one of those walkers with wheels – was surprised to see me wheel in the trailer with everything else in it. I thought at first he was gonna rip me for bringing in dirt so I told him, “I wiped down the wheels so it isn’t tracking stuff in.”

He surprised me by responding, “Don’t think anyone would notice if you hadn’t. You had all that gear all this time?”

I shrugged. “I haven’t picked up new gear, so yeah. Food has held out because I’ve been making do as the opportunity arose. Been picking up jobs here and there. Stuff like that. Thank you for … you know … at the camp, where we met. It has helped me to piece out everything else.” And when he asked me what I’ve been doing to make ends meet I told him while I put stuff in neat piles for putting away later, and hung up my clothes … the ones that didn’t stink bad enough they could have stood up on their own.

“Uh … Sarge? Does the use of laundry facilities come with this job?”

“Does,” he answered. “And if you’re finished, let’s go sit out on the screened porch and talk it out.”

He was a little ashamed that he needed help getting off the stool and upright, but I wouldn’t let him make a big deal out of it. I also treated it normal that he had to use the walker. I owe him but I don’t have to tell him that … I can just do something about it. The good thing about the way I handled it was when I didn’t make a big deal out of it, he stopped looking like he wanted to, and we were able to get back to what I needed. An explanation.

##### ##### #####

Well knock me down with a feather. Things are not nearly as bad as they could have wound up. It is pretty good for a Plan C. Sure, it is mostly going to be crapwork but it will be full time crapwork that comes with a roof, four walls, a bed, a door that locks, and three-squares. Well, at least the meals will come on the days I work. I for sure get Sundays off and the rest will depend on what is going on. I’ll get a little of the local scrip on top of that.

Sarge stays at the other end of the hallway in #E. I tried not to let myself smile but I couldn’t help it. A for Ava and E for Emeric. Might be a small and silly thing but it is still a thing to smile about and there aren’t too many of them lately. I’m still figuring out how I feel about Uncle Henley being gone. I’ve gotten used to the idea of it, now I’m going to have to face the reality of it.

The night was coolish – sixty degrees and heading lower – but I’ve grown used to being out in the open and was feeling a little claustrophobic in the small room so I had the window open trying to use the last of the daylight to organize what I could still call my own. My bike and the trailer are locked up in a storage shed and I’m the only one that has the key to the padlock. I also padlocked the bike and trailer together through their wheels. Someone might bust the door in, but it will take them time to get through that cable. Not to mention the front tire on the bike is toast and that’s one of the first things I need to save up to replace.

Most of the food I was able to put in the cabinets above and below the counter … after I cleaned all the grime off of it the best I could using some of the leftover cleaners I had and a little elbow grease … or hell-bow grease like DJ used to call it when he wanted to get a rise out of Lalli. What food wouldn’t fit in the cabinets I put in a storage tub I found in the bottom of the “closet” which was really just an alcove with a dull gray cloth shower curtain strung across it. Luckily it had a lid and the lid is where I sat my shoes. Two pair of them anyway. My boots still sit on the window ledge … er … airing out to keep the room from stinking up. There were old plastic hangers aplenty and that kept my clothes, such as they are, off the floor.

My cooking and eating gear I set in the cabinet nearest the stove. I put my drinking water in the frig and it barely fit but at least I can have something cool to drink when I want it.

Sgt J explained that the stove top and frig are both gas. The gas is kept topped up because it comes from the same big tank that feeds the lines at the Isabella. Water is potable that comes out of the sink but isn’t what you would call best tasting so for water you want to drink plain he said we can go to this spigot in the Isabella’s garden shed. The lights are electric but not reliable and they also get cut off from sundown to sun up … when you actually need to have electric lights which is a little on the stupid side. But there’s no changing that because of the town’s black out mandate. Which also explains the heavy curtains over the window. Just in case I use a flashlight or wind up lamp, they don’t want the light becoming a target for the little drones.

The only real inconvenience in my opinion, if you want to call it that, is that there is one bathroom for the entire house. Upstairs there are six more of these rooms and every once in a while they all get filled and eleven people trying to use one closet sized bathroom (it has a stand up shower rather than a tub it is so small) can get a little on the trying side. ‘Nother problem is that the hot water is currently hit or miss because Sgt J hasn’t had time to convert the water heater back to gas yet and the one right now has a heating element that only works about half the time.

“You know what that is?” he asked suspiciously since the look on my face said he wasn’t speaking Greek to me.

I snorted. “I’m known as the Queen of Crapwork. That doesn’t mean I haven’t picked up a few things more complicated than pushing a broom here and there. Not to mention my dad was a contractor that liked to get his hands dirty. Sometimes the only time I got with him was when he took DJ – my brother – and I on a job with him. I could change toilet guts and wax rings out by myself before I was double digits.”

He gave me an odd look but said, “Ain’t gonna hurt if you already know your way around a toolbox.”

I didn’t tell him I could also do simple welding and work on cars so long as it wasn’t one of those stupid proprietary codes that only the dealerships could do … ‘cause a girl needs to have some secrets. I can also do carpentry and HVAC systems so long as the city inspectors don’t catch me at it.

I was about done organizing my new space when I hear this big bang and crash from down the hallway and cussing that was in French and creative enough that it let me know who was doing it. I run down there and he is on the floor in pain trying to brace himself against bathroom door jam. I see water on the floor and can add two and two.

I step over him because the look on his face tells me he ain’t in the mood for help just yet. I throw a couple of towels on the floor to soak up the water on the old linoleum and then look to try and see where the water is coming from. Find it and tell him, “Supply line to the toilet tank is going bad. These crappy plastic ones always do. I’ll see if Gorilla tape will plug it until it can be replaced.”

Nothing but cussing came out of his mouth but since it wasn’t at me I didn’t take offense. I turned off the supply line and went to get one of my rolls of Gorilla Tape. Came back and he’s still on the floor but looks closer to irritated than a nuclear devise about to explode. “You want up first or you want me to fix this first?”

He mutters, “Couyon.” Then growls, “Up.”

He’s no lightweight but something tells me he should weigh more than he does. He tries to take most of his weight but I tell him it’d go easier on both of us if he would save the “helping” until he had something besides me to keep him balanced. Finally get him back up on the walker and then feel like cussing myself when I fix one hole in the supply line only to find the fitting at the wall is dripping too. And it’s the fitting not just the washer.

“I can put a bucket under this but it’s gonna need to be replaced in the next day or two. This wasn’t like this earlier when I was in here.”

“Fabrice.”

“I give. Person, place, or thing?”

“Boy I was telling you about earlier.”

Finally remembering what my fatigue had stolen from my memory banks I asked, “Is he one of the ones that knocked over the planter in the big house?”

“Naw. Those are Orélie’s … hell … they’s some kin to her from her husband’s side of the family. Live down the road.”

“Not kin to you?”

“Hell nah. Orélie is a cousin of my mother’s but we grew up calling her aunt. Everyone does. Give her time and she’ll tell you to call her that too. She ain’t fond of being called Mrs. Fontenot. Reminds her of her ex-mother in law.” He saw the look on my face and started laughing only it pulled something and he started gasping in pain.

“When’s your meds due?”

He gave me a look and said, “Now. So scat." He dry swallowed something out of a bottle he pulled from his pocket. "Just do what Daniel Edgar recommended … at least ‘til the locals pick up on who you are.”

“You mean the state trooper. And you can tell me tomorrow why … I think we’re both full up of things for now, or at least I am.”

“Caneton …”

“I thought I …”

He grinned but it turned to a frown pretty quick. “I ain’t kidding about not wandering. This ain’t the camp, can’t set a watch over things. We don’t have much trouble … or much trouble anymore … since the military commandeered the Isabella. But not everyone around here can say the same. And if anyone invites you to the Food-n-Fun you tell me right quick.”

“I take it that is not a place that polite people go.”

“And how. Problem it is just down the road and around the corner and flat in the middle between here and the Bayou Cabins which the National Guard has rented out for the duration for their Junior Officers. We’ll …” He scrubbed his face. “We’ll talk on things some more tomorrow. Just let me get some sleep without worrying about where you are getting off to.”

He started tilting and that told me whatever meds he was on, they were strong. I left the room as he was trying to get in his bed and lay down. I turned the lock on his door as I walked out and he grunted a thanks. I was walking back to my room when Orelie appeared in the hall and beckoned me outside.

“He asleep?”

“If he isn’t he was heading that way. Took his medicine if you are wondering about that too.”

She gave me a look up and down. “Yeah, your Henley’s girl. Has his way about you.”

“Er …”

“Don’t worry about it Sugar. He used to talk about you. Feel I know you ‘cause of it.”

I had absolutely no idea what to say to that but apparently I didn’t have to say anything as she kept on like it didn’t matter one way or the other now that she’d made her mind up. “You can call me Aunt Orelie. Everyone does. And tomorrow is soon enough for you to start going through them boxes the rangers brought of Henley’s things. But you go ahead and take this one so I can get it out from under my bed. And that fat manila envelope is some legal papers. Next order of business is are you fit to work tomorrow?”

“Started already. Bathroom here needs to have a supply line and valve replaced. Sarge slipped in the puddle it was making.”

“Who? Oh you mean Emeric. I swear that boy is going to give me gray hair.” Since she was nearly white headed I almost asked her if that would be a good thing but kept my mouth shut and she just rolled along. After I told her the story and she stopped worrying he'd hurt himself she said, “Don’t let him do too much if you can help it. And since the hard head probably won’t tell you, Xavier … his brother … don’t want him home. It’s a long story I don’t have time to tell but that’s why he’s here. What his momma is thinking I’ve given up trying to figure out. Just the boy come along late in her life … never mind. I said I don’t have time to tell it. As for that plumbing nonsense … Henley kept all the parts and such in the workshop which is attached to the back of the pool house. You come get the key in the morning. Continental breakfast starts at 6 and full breakfast at 7. Clean up starts no later than 9. You’ll help with that. Eat your own while your at it. Then we’ll see how many are staying for lunch and dinner. There’s a list of repairs that need doing that is as long as my leg, and you’re just lucky I’m short. I usually saved up a list for Henley and only had the emergency work done in the meantime. After lunch I’m going to need you to look at that list and see if you can work it or am I going to need to farm you out to get some help that can. Now I’m off to bed and I suggest you go there too. And if the boy hasn’t reminded you, no wandering. You hear?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“See you do. We have strangers moving through here way too much for my liking. Not the tourists that used to come to fish and lookie lou, some of the ones around here now … mm mm mm … don’t know what their business is, don’t want to know what their business is, just want ‘em to stay out of my business so don’t you go attractin’ ‘em. You hear?”

“Yes ma’am,” I repeated. She's the kind of person you don't smart mouth. She proved it to me too not a moment later.

Quick as a wink she reach into the azalea bushes and pulled a small boy out by his ear. “You an me gonna have a talk young man. I find out you been playin’ your tricks again and …”

“Wunt me! I swear it!”

“Well then let’s go have a talk about who it was.”

I did not want to be in Fabrice’s place that’s for sure … then or now. And now is when I should be going to sleep but it has been too long since I slept in a real house. This is taking time to get used to. So is being clean and stink-free. Worse, it just make the smell of my clothes and bedding stand out worse. At least I did a small load of socks and underclothes, but tomorrow I think I am going to avail myself of the laundry facilities for sure.
 

AlaskaSue

North to the Future
I’ve not yet begun to read your new story, but upon finding it I feel like clapping my hands and exclaiming, “Goodie, goodie, gumdrops!”. Thanks, Kathy; safe travels and safe home!
 

Texican

Live Free & Die Free.... God Freedom Country....
Kathy,

Great story.... Thank you....

Be careful traveling out of the country and enjoy yourself....

Texican....
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 15 (part 1)

For such a fancy place The Isabella has as much if not more crapwork than the strip mall and its hole in the wall thrift store vendors did. The Isabella has eight bedrooms and ten bathrooms plus the housekeeper’s suite. I got a tour of all of them and things are looking a little run down. Not terrible, but I don’t think they’d still earn all them awards that are on the wall in the sign-in area. Then again, probably lots of places like that. The Isabella has been able to keep her doors open, I call that better than most.

Sarge says it wasn’t like that even six months ago but Aunt Orélie hasn’t been able to find the help she needs even though the news is spouting that there’s some kind of market crash going on with a lot of people out of work. Maybe she just hasn’t advertised in the right spots ‘cause this kind of work would have been eat up fast back in Bradenton. Instead of looking for a kid maybe she should have looked for someone like … well, like she had in Uncle Henley apparently. She let it slip that most people say they can’t work for the what she’s allowed to pay … some kind of trust owns the place and the lawyers control the argent.

Argent (or l’argent) is Cajun for money … or so I finally figured out after hearing Orélie complain about it most of the day. It also means silver or something like that. When Mom put her foot down – some time before I was born – that the family wouldn’t speak anything but English in the house I guess I might have missed a few things. I don’t understand it as well as I thought. Some sure, but not as much as I thought. Or maybe I’ve forgotten it and will remember it once I’m around it for a while. Either/or, she’s got me now and I’m hanging on to job this for as long as I can. Dawg. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter deal.

I’m an early riser. Might not be a morning person but my clock has been stuck on early for as long as I can remember. Getting up at five and over to the big house – what everyone kinda calls it if they call it something other than the Isabella – to help with breakfast was easy peezy. I’m not a coffee drinker either so my feelings didn’t get pinched when I was told the coffee was strictly reserved for paying guests. I get five tea bags a week and how I choose to use them is up to me. I get paid in chocolate too, maybe once or twice a month, which sounds weird, but I can live with it. And some sugar as well, but it isn’t the white stuff but raw sugar. More on that later. First came breakfast.

Between 6 and 7 am Aunt Orélie taught me to make French Market Beignets, basically squares of fried dough covered in powdered sugar. Square doughnuts are what they reminded me of but she looked like I said something rude when I mentioned it. She even said she’d send me to Confession if I said it again. No thanks. I’ll keep it to myself from now on. She made up the dough, I fried them and sugared them, and then a yawning Fabrice carried them into the dining room where the buffet was set up.

“Sometimes I carry in plates, but we’ve had so many staying overnight that a buffet line is easier. Do the same thing for dinner. Lunch we usually only have a few unless some officer sets up in the conference room but I still keep it simple,” Aunt Orelie explained as she bustled around like a force of nature. I tell you those officers treat her like she is a four-star general. I was just a scut until they found out I was a girl but even after that I get treated mostly like a waitress or cleaning lady when they notice me at a all. Is fine by me, otherwise I might say something about all the mess on the floor they were bringing in and the unintentioned work they were causing me ‘cause they were thoughtless about doors, floors, walls, and the fact even if they did grow up to be soldiers their mommas must have not taught them to aim too well.

At 7 am Fabrice hustled out the door to catch the bus that stopped for him special at the end of the driveway and I stopped having to watch where I was stepping in case he was sitting where I was trying to walk. I’ve met some lazy kids before, but that boy’s butt must have a magnet in it attracted to the earth’s metal core because for a fact I’ve never met anyone that likes to sit as much as he does. I wasn’t sorry to see him go because at seven is when “real” breakfast starts getting served and, if it is always like today, keeping the food dished up is no easy job. This morning it was something called Grillades and Grits. Kinda like the shrimp and grits Mom used to make only this was made with bits of leftover pork instead. There was also scrambled eggs and sweet potato biscuits. Beverages were coffee, water, milk (made from canned stuff), and fruit juice that was a mix of whatever was available including what came out this morning which was powdered orange something or other with the syrup off of the canned fruit cocktail that would be used in the cobbler that was last night’s dessert.

And when Aunt Orelie says 9 am is the cut off for breakfast she means 9 sharp. Everyone is gone by then anyway, heading off to whatever their authority brings them in responsibility and work. As I cleaned, I took the leftovers, such as they were, and divided them three ways … Aunt Orelie, me, and Sgt J although I found out that constantly calling him Sarge was giving the woman heartburn.

“Yo! Sarge? You awake?” I called through he door after knocking and getting no response. I finally found him on the back screen porch sitting there and looking stoned. “Sarge?”

He jumped a little and looked at me owl-eyed like he knew he should of recognize me but couldn’t quite place who I was. “You’re supposed to take them pills with food, not on an empty stomach.”

“What does a caneton like you know about it?” he asked, sounding like his head was thinking about floating off.

“Be surprised what I learned in foster care. And what I didn’t learn there I learned from the last girlfriend of Uncle Henley’s that I know anything about. The one that got me thrown into foster care. Mom always complained that Uncle Henley had terrible taste in women and he never proved her wrong on the subject. And I bet your feet are supposed to be propped up too.”

He started growling curses and telling me to take my pity someplace else.

“Only person I pity is the one that is too slow to get away from all the noise you’re making. You gonna eat this or throw it at me and give me more to clean up?” I asked him like nothing he said had bothered me one bit.

I put the tray in his lap and then went off to work on the toilet since I’d gotten the shed keys earlier as ordered and found Uncle Henley to be a neat and organized odd-job man. What I needed was easy to find and there were even some spares leftover. There was also an inventory on a clip board and I did recognize Uncle Henley’s writing – so similar to Dad’s and DJ’s – and it made me a little sad for some stupid reason which is probably why I was able to ignore Sarge’s crankies.

Sure enough, when I was finished and went to go pick up the tray, Sarge was in a better frame of mind. “Don’t mind me Ava. It’s the pills talking.”

“Pills don’t talk. People on pills do. If you can wait until I bring a tray over I’ll try and get your food over here earlier,” I told him stepping down from the porch and nearly getting run over by Brainless the dog as he hauled tail towards some tall reeds around a retention pond. Sarge gave a sharp whistle and the dog stopped so fast he tumbled.

“Get back here you idiot dog. Ava? Grab him by the collar and get him up on the porch so I can chain him to the stoop. And be careful … he’s after something over there. Outta season but it could be a kokodree.”

“A whut?”

“Gator,” he said with a snort.

I’m Florida born and raised. You don’t go playing around water unless you are looking for trouble. And I don’t care what you call it, gators are trouble with a capital T. “Get over here you crazy dog,” I said pointing at the dog and then at the ground at my feet. It took twice but the mutt finally obeyed without me having to chase him. And glad I didn’t because I saw what he’d been after.

“Isn’t a gator. It’s a big ol’ snappin’ turtle.”

Squinting in the midmorning sun he asked, “How you know that?”

“My Reptiles and Amphibians merit badge. My biology book says that rocks don’t have nasty looking mouths on ‘em. Or feet either. So that’s a snapping turtle. Let me go get a rake and I’ll flip him back in the water so Brainless won’t go after him.”

“Nah. Leave ‘em be. I’ll keep the dog with me. Just tell Julius what you saw and he’ll take care of him.”

“Julius one of the boys from yesterday?”

“Nah. Man who mows the grass. He’s usually here on Wednesdays.”

“Aunt Orelie didn’t say anything.”

“Not surprised. She and Julius don’t get on. He’s her ex-brother-in-law and Fabrice’s great grandfather.”

I have a feeling I’m going to need a play book before too much longer. There’s more people going in and out of here than at the group home.

I didn’t have any more time to figure things out as I needed to get back to the rest of my job. I walked in the backdoor of the big house with the dirty dishes and Aunt Orelie said, “I was wondering where you’d got off to.”

“Took Sarge his breakfast and fixed the toilet. Um … there’s a man that comes to mow the lawn?”

She made a face. “M hm. There is.”

“And he comes on Wednesdays.”

“Unless he is sleeping off a drunk,” she said contemptuously. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “The boy explain it?”

She was taking a meat cleaver to a couple of chickens so I was careful with my answer. “If you mean Sarge, I don’t know about explaining it, but he did tell me who the man is supposed to be. Until you tell me I’ll … er … just take his word on it but won’t mention it if it can be helped.”

Aunt Orelie snorted. Then her mouth started twitching. “I swear Child. You’re like a female version of Henley. I think you’ll do.” Then she sighed. “I miss him. Died too young and for no good reason.” She sighed again. “I reckon you want them boxes.”

“Uh … they’ve waited this long and … and you gave me the important stuff last night. I haven’t … haven’t been able to … to look at it all yet.”

Kindly she said, “You miss him too.”

I didn’t want to lie but I wasn’t sure how to tell the truth about it either. “I miss who we might have been to each other. I was barely twelve the last time I saw him. I think … I think he thought I was better off where I was.” I shook my head. “I … haven’t made my mind up about that yet.”

She stopped massacring the chicken and gave me a good look over. “Henley always said you were like Sylvee. I’m seeing why he said it.”

“Uh … Aunt Sylvee Thibodeaux? You knew her?”

“Did. You got her looks too. She didn’t wear her hair quite as short as you do but the rest of you is shaped like her. Tall and lean.”

“Mannish.”

“Co faire you say such a thing?”

“Why? ‘Cause I have a mirror. I mean I know I’m a girl but it always seems to take other people a while to figure that out.”

“And don’t that suit you to a t?” she said giving me a sly look.

It took me a moment but I smiled. “Sometimes.”

“There you go. The day it don’t suit you no more you’ll lay it on some poor man and he won’t stand a chance. Now what you want with Julius?”

I told her about the snapping turtle and she nodded. “Tell Julius. He’ll probably take the thing home to his daughter.” When I didn’t say anything she said, “You don’t object?”

“Not my turtle, not my business.”

“Good enough.” Wiping her hands on an apron she said, “We’re in luck today. No one is going to be here for lunch and most won’t be back for supper. Matter o’ fact they’s gonna be gone ‘til day after tomorrow. But when they come back there’s gonna be a house full and likely overflow to the old house. Both places need a good cleaning. You strip the beds for me this afternoon and I’ll start a laundry going. In the meantime, that list I tol’ you about is on the table. There a sandwich in the ice box for you. Eat while you look over the list then you can get them sheets and the rest of the day spend organizing. Emeric knows where to come for his food.”

“Yes ma’am.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 15 (part 2)

Crapwork. Most of it was anyway. I started at the third floor and worked my way down scrubbing bathrooms and bedrooms on my way down. I’ll finish the common areas on the first floor tomorrow. I came downstairs with the last of the bedding to find Fabrice and the two other boys stuffing their faces full of rice and beans out on the rear porch.

“We want more,” one of the older two demanded as I walked by. He was lucky I let him come up for air from I’d squashed his face into his plate.

“Try me Bean Face and see what happens,” I told him when he started to come at me. “I’ll put you down again only this time harder.”

“I don’t have to do what you say.”

“And I don’t have to do what you say.”

I turned to walk away and he came at me once my back was turned. Obviously he’s stupid. I flipped him and he hit the ground hard enough to knock the air out of him this time. His brother who I found out was younger by a year said, “You hurt him!”

“Dang right I did. You want some of it?”

“You XXXX!”

“Oh how original,” I told him, rolling my eyes. “Look here. I’m not wearing a slave collar and neither is Aunt Orélie. You use the words please and thank you or you can kiss my left big toe. The one that I use to kick your butt.”

“You can’t talk to us like that!”

“News flash. I already have and not a bit sorry for it. I saw how you acted yesterday. That’s colored my opinion of you making it not too high. You prove you aren’t how you acted then, and I might change my mind and how I treat you. Until then? Talk to the hand boys, talk to the hand.”

“What’s that mean?”

I shrugged. “No clue. It’s something my sister used to say. And clean up that mess you’re making so it doesn’t draw ants and roaches. Why do you come around anyway? You do odd jobs?”

They looked horrified at the very idea. “We come here after school for a meal ‘cause we don’t have much food at home.”

“Hmph. Maybe you don’t … but you must be getting it somewhere ‘cause someone that really was hungry wouldn’t leave half his plate of food all over the place. My guess is you get free breakfast and free lunch at school. And this is just a snack to fill some time before you get home to a meal that someone has fixed for you.”

“XXXX.”

“One trick pony?” I said referring to their word of choice. “And you know how I know you ain’t as hard up as you claim? ‘Cause that Dunlop tire all three of you have hanging over your belts. That’s coming from someplace and it ain’t an empty stomach. You keep going and you’re gonna need a man bra too.”

“You XXXX!”

The both charged me and I put them both down hard enough that real water come to their eyes. “You’re older than us. You aren’t supposed to do this. We’re gonna tell.

“And I’m a girl but it didn’t stop you from trying to tag team me. How about we bring that up during your story time?”

They might not be especially smart but they do seem to find a few brain cells every so often.

“Now remember what I said about cleaning that up or next time you come for a meal you might find there isn’t any.”

“Aunt Orélie will feed us whenever we say.”

“Keep on thinking that. She’s not a stupid woman, opposite of it from what I’ve seen. She’ll put two and two together once she sees the evidence.” A few more brain cells lit up and sure enough, after I came back from lugging laundry to the utility shed the mess was cleaned up. Dishes were in the sink instead of washed but at least all the food had been raked out of them. It was a start. I rinsed them out and put them in the dishwasher but didn’t turn it on since it wasn’t full.

I came out and wiped down the table and chairs they’d been sitting in and then heard wheezing from the side of the house. I stick my head out there and there was a man leaning on a weed whacker laughing into his elbow.

“Er … Mr. Julius?”

He nodded after getting himself under control.

“Don’t tell me the ol’ sòsyè done tol’ you who I am.”

“Who?”

“Orélie.”

“Not her. But Sgt. Jeansonne told me to tell you there is a snapping turtle in the retention pond. Said you’d do something with it.”

“Bon. Show me.” I did and he said, “I’ll take care of this thing if you take care of that hose pipe that is leaking all over the place the side of the house. Cain’t mow there. Too muddy.”

I never did find out for sure what he did with it, but he was hauling off a bag when he left after mowing. What I also found out is that he mows the lawn but nothing else. So, it looks like yardwork is getting added to my list.

Dinner was jambalaya and Aunt Orélie told me to scat and take a bowl to “the boy” as she was going to church. She left, dragging Fabrice with her. I was about to rake some into a container when “the boy’s” head slowly came in the door. “She gone?”

“Yeah. You need something?”

“Peace and quiet without her forever telling me how the doctors don’t know anything, and I just need to go see the sòsyè doktè and he’ll fix me up.”

“The what? I mean I heard Mr. Julius use the first word today but not what it means.”

“Don’t listen to Julius. He tells stories and on his bad days he’s a mean ol’ moccasin.”

“Meh. He seems okay. So what does it mean?”

“Sòsyè doktè? It’s creole for witch doctor.”

“You’re jokin’.”

“Nah cher. And today might have been a good day for ol’ Julius. It does happen, rare though they be. Jus’ don’t be surprised next time you see him he ain’t some different.” He eased onto the bench at the breakfast table and accepted his bowl of food with thanks.

“What do you want to drink?”

“Cold water if there’s any in the ice box.”

I poured him a glass then asked him if he minded if I had the last of the day’s milk. “Go on ahead and have it. My stomach is too sour.”

“Thanks. It’s been so long since … uh …”

He gave me a look but at least it wasn’t of pity. “Life on the road was hard.”

I shrugged. “Wasn’t awful. Better than what I left.”

“Dit mon la verite'!”

Puzzling his words out I finally remembered what the phrase meant. “I am telling the truth.”

“What could be worse than being one of the road people?”

“Lots of things. I ain’t saying my life as a foster kid was horrible. But what came between the foster family bugging out and me hitting the road … all that uncertainty …” I shrugged. “At least once I got on the road I had a goal. I’m here and … yeah … this isn’t bad at all. I hope Aunt Orelie let’s me work here for a while.”

I had to explain what I meant and he wasn’t too happy that I’d only been giving half-truths to the “authority figures” that I’d been running into but couldn’t tell me how things would have gone better had I told it any different. He shook his head.

“Girl you somethin’ else. Just make sure while you’re here you tell nothing but the truth.”

I smarted off by crossing my heart with my finger and saying, “And hope to die if I don’t.”

“Watch your mouth, that ain’t nothing to be playing at.”

“Um … look, I hate to bother you but calling you Sarge is making Aunt Orelie cross-eyed. Every time I do it she makes out like I have to explain who I’m referring to. Is there something else I can called you? I tried Sgt. J but that only made it worse.”

He kept eating then finally said, “Call me Emeric I suppose … or Em. Not like anyone ever wanted me to go into the military anyway.”

“Why? My brother was thinking about it.”

“’Cause they swore this – or something like it – was bound to happen. Now my life is ruined and I ain’t even thirty yet.”

“Shows what they know. If someone can be a crack addict and pull his head out of his butt and do something with himself then you ain’t ‘ruined’. Ask the assistant scout master in my old troop. Besides, you don’t know for sure that you’re gonna have to get out of the military.”

“Lookin’ that way. Got a letter today. The doctors won’t clear me for duty. Not even a desk job. Looks like a medical discharge is in my future. Xavier will like that.”

“Why would your brother like that some bean counter is taking away your dream?”

“Orelie tell you my business?” he asked getting angry.

“No because apparently she doesn’t have time to explain it … or so she said … which mean it is a long, involved soap opera that is none of my business. Just … my brother would have never said anything like that to me even if he didn’t agree with what I chose to do. I mean … he was my brother.”

He snorted. “Yeah well …” He gave some thought to whether he’d explain and he finally said, “Xavier is a lot older than me, nearly 20 years. He always thought he was the boss of me. Mon pere was the only thing that stood between us on some days. When he died … Xavier thought he’d finally teach me to behave as he thought best but … turns out Xavier needed to teach his own sons how to act before he taught his father’s other son. Got blamed for that too. Said if he hadn’t had to spend so much time teaching me that he could have been taking care of his sons.”

“Stupid.”

“Yeah it was. He expected me to fail basic. I didn’t. He expected me to fail all my ranks. I didn’t. I was near being promoted to an E7 but it looks like I’ll never make it farther than Staff Sergeant. And since I’m sure as hell not going to go back to work for him, I got no idea what I’m going to do.”

I nodded feeling his pain. “Well for now Aunt Orélie needs you here. There’s a ton to do if that list she gave me is true. And that list also seems to get longer for no good reason. You get that list whittled down and maybe you’ll find what you are supposed to do next.”

“That what you doin’?” he asked me with a little bite of sarcasm to his words.

“Maybe. Or maybe the Queen of Crapwork is all I’ll ever be. Don’t know yet. Someone has to be on the bottom of the heap. That’s how life works.”

He sighed. “Mebbe so. Mebbe so. Caneton.”

“You know I could have gone all day without you calling me that.”

He slowly grinned before saying, “Someone has to be at the bottom.”

My thoughts aren’t printable but he must have been able to tell ‘cause he laughed. But when it seemed to make him hurt he let up and asked me, “Aunt Orélie explained all of it to you?”

“I doubt it so maybe you will?” I asked hopefully. He nodded, asked for another bowl of Jambalaya then explained how things are planned to work. And hearing it, and figuring why most wouldn’t work for such pay, I still say this is a sweet deal for me.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Heading out in a few minutes. From TPA to Miami International and then to Santiago, Chile. Yehaw! Seriously though, it may be another day or two … or three or four or more … before I can get something up. A lot will depend on my connection which will be iffy in a couple of the places we are going to be at. Fly out of Argentina on the 20th … I think. Nice when we can combine business and pleasure/adventure.
 
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