Story Delilah "Del"

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter One: The Prelude (Part 1)

“Del! Del! Wake up!!”

“Aw Daddy. What time … ?” I said squinting at the blurry red numbers on the clock on my nightstand. “Oh no! I’m not on nights this week. Why are you waking me up at …?!”

“Shut your mouth and get up right now Delilah Bathsheba Jezebel Nash!!”

Daddy never used all of my names, not even when he was angry at me. He hated them almost as much as I did. The fact that he had used them … all of them … woke me up faster than a bucket of ice cold water.

“Daddy?” I asked, scared despite the fact that I was twenty-one years old and well past the point where I should be acting like a scared little girl.

“Baby Girl I need you to pack everything up. Now. Grab all the food out of the kitchen; cold stuff in the coolers, everything else in the boxes and laundry baskets. Come on girl … hustle.” His command ended on a grimace and he grabbed his stomach. That scared me more than the other had.

“Daddy, what’s going on? Has … has it gotten worse? Or wait,” I said, grabbing at a straw. “Did the insurance finally give the OK for …” I asked as I followed him into the kitchen, my scuffy slippers making swishing noises on the faded linoleum of the hallway between the bedrooms and the breakfast nook.

Turning to me he took my shoulders, not roughly but not gently either. “Enough. We’ve already been through that as many times as I care to. And now … now everything has changed.”

Looking over my father’s shoulder I saw Micah already in the kitchen emptying all of the cabinets willy nilly, making my teeth hurt at the mess he was making of my immaculate and organized kitchen.

My father, catching what I was looking at, drew me into his bedroom, the only room in the house he wouldn’t let me touch when it came to cleaning; and it showed. “Listen Del and listen careful and quick because I don’t have time for everything right now. I … I overheard something down at the plant tonight. I wasn’t supposed to and a good thing that no one saw me; Kenneth and Harmon got caught listening and … and I’m not sure where they were taken to but they aren’t my responsibility, you two kids are.”

Daddy worked at the water treatment plant and had since he’d retired from the military three years ago. I turned 18 and Daddy had 20 in. I busted out of high school and he went on terminal leave from the USAF on almost the same day. Since then we’d been living in a series three-bedroom rentals while we waited for the housing market to stabilize. It might seem strange but I’d been “the woman of the house” since I was five years old, the year my brother was born. Momma’s uterus had ruptured during labor with my brother and they hadn’t been able to stop the bleeding. Daddy had been with her as she bled out and slowly lost consciousness. The doctors weren’t at fault, they did everything humanly possible, though Daddy still hated anything having to do with hospitals and health care; it was just “one of those terrible things” that no one seemed to have a satisfactory explanation for that happened to good people. Daddy had never remarried and I’d had a … well, different kind of upbringing compared to most girls my age. I was both to forever be “Daddy’s Little Girl” and at the same time his confidant and his “right hand man.” It made for an unusual father/daughter relationship, but not one I’ve ever regretted.

All of this flashed through my mind as Daddy started talking again. “I’ll explain things on the road … at least as well as I can explain them, I don’t have all the facts. Usually I adhere to ‘believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see’ but … Del, you’re going to have to trust your old man on this. I need you to just do what I say and keep everything else to yourself for a while, just like with … with my problems. Micah thinks … thinks I finally told Wilkinson off and we’re going to go visit the Aunts and maybe look for some property up there. He’s happy right now and I want to keep it that way until I’m forced to tell him otherwise.”

Micah was sixteen but the way Daddy handled him drove me crazy at least every other day. Micah was a royal brat but it wasn’t all own his fault. Daddy gave him his way as often as he could afford to, let him get away with things he never would have me just because he was a boy and was “sowing wild oats,” and coddled him way too much. Micah didn’t know how sick Daddy was, that was a secret. He didn’t know how much Daddy had given up just so he could have a car and auto insurance on his birthday just a couple of months back; that was a secret too. And Daddy was doing it again, keeping the peace rather than dealing with it head on.

I tried to keep my opinion to myself, we’d already had too many “discussions” on the subject and I’d promised myself that I would make Daddy’s time as easy as I could no matter what it cost me. But apparently something seeped through my eyes or in the tilt of my mouth.

“I know Girl, I know. And … and maybe you’ve been more right than wrong and I’ve just not wanted to … I hope that I have time enough left to set some things right. Just get a move on.”

Having Daddy admit that nearly stole the breath from my lungs but I tried to stay on track because whatever it really was … and he’d promised to explain when we got on the road so the faster we got on the road the better. “Daddy? Where are we going?”

“To your grandfather’s old hunting camp on the backside of the Aunt’s property.”

“What?!”

“Enough Del. There’s no time. Just … listen girl. Anything you want to keep you better … you better pack it up after you get the food. We … we won’t be coming back here. At least I don’t think so. Just treat it like we aren’t.”

We were walking back into the kitchen at that point and Micah was bouncing off the walls in excitement. “Del! We’re moving home!! Dad said I could skip the rest of the school year and then catch my senior year back at County Consolidated!!! Finally we are getting out of this hell hole!!!”

“Micah!!! Dad … you aren’t going to let Micah talk …”

“Enough Micah or I might just change my mind. And watch your language around your sister. We don’t use that kind of language around ladies.”

I could tell Micah wanted to make a comment about the likelihood of me being a lady pretty badly but there are one or two things that Daddy would rare up and let Micah have it over and one was letting him catch Micah treating me with anything less than respect. Again, that was if Daddy caught him. The only bad fight Daddy and Micah ever had was when he heard Micah call me a whore after … well, it wasn’t my fault I fell for a guy that had failed to tell me he was married. Nineteen year old guys weren’t normally married these days and those that were usually didn’t attend college on a full ride scholarship.

Most of our keepsakes and mementos were already at the Aunts’ place either in their attic or in the basement. We visited them at least once a year ever since Momma died; it was a stipulation of my grandfather’s will, that and the fact that we had to attend church regularly which Daddy had already promised Momma he would do anyway. A couple of times when Daddy had to go on an extended TDY we even lived with them. Mostly we bounced around so much that Daddy just found it easier to let the Aunts store all the extras we’d accumulated which left us only having to pack and move the bare essentials.

Unfortunately the last two years we’d kept all of our newest “junk” with us which meant that there was more than the usual packing to do if we were going to take it all with us. Luckily our trailer was actually an old airstream that Daddy had been “gifted” by one of our previous landlords when the guy couldn’t afford to give us back our security deposit. Daddy still laughed at how his fourteen year old daughter had wheeled and dealed that particular event into unfolding. He used to like to joke that I was a born skinflint and that I could pinch Old Copper Abe until he cried. Frankly I had to. It wasn’t always easy to find the grocery money and the rent money on just Daddy’s non-comm pay much less pay for clothes, school stuff and Little League and Daddy’s fetish for yard sales and collectible knives. Sometimes I didn’t know who was worse, Micah or Daddy.

We’d moved so many times over the years however that I had a system down pat and as soon as I got Micah settled down and had him loading boxes rather than packing them, things went smoother and faster. I had spent my own money on the large storage crates we’d used over and over throughout our many moves and each one was labeled with what was supposed to go inside it. We’d gutted the Airstream and converted it to an oversized junk hauler. We slept in the camper top on the back of Daddy’s F350. The whole system was a gas hog but with the extra tanks Daddy had installed we could go a lot farther pulling the trailer before we had to stop for fuel. It was also cheaper than any U-Haul or moving company we could ever find.

Three hours later I was down to my bedroom and Daddy’s bedroom. “Daddy, I’ve put your boxes …”

“Baby Girl, don’t worry about my room.”

“But …”

“Del.”

“Daddy, please don’t give up, not now, not when we are so close to getting the insurance company to approve that new treatment.”

“I’m not giving up Sweet Girl, I’m being realistic. I told you not to argue …”

“Yes Sir. But I’m not arguing. You haven’t told me what is going on yet. I’m having to do this all by blind faith.” Thinking quickly I added, “Besides, if you don’t want Micah to get suspicious we’ll need to get your room packed up too.”

That got me a look but he knew he’d been hoisted on his own petard, so he sighed and turned to go into his room while calling, “Micah! Get in here and help me with this.”

“Coming Dad! Dat burn Del, what was in that last box anyway?”

“My schoolbooks.”

“Books?! You and your stupid books. What do you need them for anyway? We’re moving home and there aren’t any colleges there and besides you don’t really think you’ll be able to save up enough money to …” his voice faded as Dad started ordering him to shut up and start packing.

I can still remember how angry Micah used to make me, always acting like my dreams were forever out of reach or stupid or both. Who would have thought he’d be so right only for all the wrong reasons. Daddy made too much money for me to qualify for grants since I still lived at home, and since I wasn’t too crazy about taking out a gazillion dollars in student loans only to have the government bleed me dry for the payments for the best of my working years, I was paying for school as I went. I’d been saving up for college ever since my grandfather had let me have a jar of old coins that I had dug up in his barn when I was about ten years old. Daddy used to tell me that I could be and do anything that I wanted to and I wanted to believe him very badly regardless of what anyone else thought.

I was thirteen before I realized how valuable those old coins were and by then my grandfather had died and left me the three other jars of coins that he’d found after digging the foundation out of the same corner of the barn when the old support post had rotted through and had to be replaced. When high school graduation came I still had those coins, now carefully cleaned, cataloged and sealed in tubes. My goal was to save those coins for graduate school. But before graduate school I’d need to get a bachelor’s degree and those weren’t cheap either.

I’d started babysitting by the time I was ten years old … you’d be amazed at how desperate some of the military wives on base were to just get a few minutes to run out by themselves even if it was just to the BX for milk and eggs, and by the time I was thirteen my resume had expanded to include dog walking, animal grooming, weeding, trimming, washing and folding clothes, ironing, dish washing, window cleaning, and catering. By the time I was sixteen I was actually able to apply for real jobs but I continued to prefer working “under the table” rather than paying all of the taxes that they took out in places like the Pizzeria where I worked two months as a waitress (a curse on all the families that let their kids make a horrible mess and didn’t leave me a tip to make up for having to clean up behind them) or the Bait and Tackle shop where I worked the last time I lived with the Aunts when Daddy was sent to the Middle East. It was while he was over there that his stomach problems started up and when his tour was up they put him on light duty stateside right before he went on terminal leave.

But today’s money isn’t worth as much as those old coins, nor did it go near as far; still doesn’t. I’d been forced to take the semester off when my main scholarship hadn’t renewed; the Foundation sponsoring it had been forced to cut back. I wasn’t a minority and I wasn’t going to school for any government pet project so that was all she wrote. Grades didn’t seem to matter even though mine were excellent. Only your flavor mattered and how it looked on someone’s quarterly report. I’m stubborn, but I’m realistic as well. I could defer my other scholarships for one semester and that is what I did even though it put me behind the rest of my class.

Daddy had offered to foot the bill to help out but I knew that he’d already had to dip into his retirement account to pay his medical bills since the Health Care Bill had altered his retirement benefits from the military. I said thanks but no thanks, that I wanted to do it myself. He didn’t argue which told me things were even worse than he had been letting on.

I was working three jobs trying to save up money and get ahead, one of the jobs was a nightshift at the local 24-hour Wallyworld, and I think this was partly why Micah was the way he was, on the other hand … well, I wasn’t his mother, I was his sister and it got to the point that he didn’t seem to want me to be either one.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 1 (Part 2)

I’d all but raised Micah as if he were my own. I was five when he was born and even wound up being held back a year before starting school because everything was such a mess after Momma died. Daddy did nothing but go to work and then come home and sit and cry for the rest of the day. Not even Granddaddy and the Aunts could snap him out of it and he eventually requested to be stationed someplace that took us out of the area just to get away from their nagging and meddling. For a while we had a succession of babysitters at the apartments we lived in but that was a nightmare with most of them sitting around on the sofa, watching TV, while I took care of Micah.

Eventually Daddy woke up enough to see how things were. He fired the baby sitters, signed me up for home schooling through an accredited correspondence school that transferred from state to state as we moved around, and requested and was granted a transfer out of the Air Traffic Control tower and into a position where he became a First Sergeant.

What that meant for our family was that I was home even when Micah started attending school at each of the bases we lived at and was there when he got home as well. It was an arrangement that suited the three of us but a lot of people, especially women that tried to catch Daddy’s attention, found it shocking. I was happiest when people would just stay out of our business. Unfortunately Micah enjoyed the attention that women lavished on him thinking it would get them in good with our father. I hated to come home from the library to find some woman in “my” kitchen making dinner or washing clothes. Daddy wasn’t too crazy about it either and finally told Micah that if he wanted us to continue living life as we chose it he’d better knock it off, especially if he didn’t want to have to share his room with some step-sibling or a new little brother or sister. That finally put the kibosh on that and selfish or not I was relieved.

Whenever we had to go live with the Aunts they made me take classes at the local schools. Every couple of years I would pop into that school district and the teachers would always wonder what to do with me. When Daddy was stationed in Baghdad the Aunts forced me into high school even though it was my senior year and I stood out like a sore thumb since I’d already studied most of what was offered. I tested out of nearly everything but P.E. and Shop Class so that is what I took in addition to signing up for Work Experience (the job at the Bait and Tackle shop) and an Ag Business elective that was offered through the FFA program.

Strangely enough while I hated the whole high school experience I enjoyed my classes, even Shop though I could have done without some of the heckling I got from most of the girls in my year. Again Micah was my opposite. He loved going to school … not because of the learning opportunities naturally but for the social ones. He’d never been satisfied with small playgroups or one or two good friends. He was all about quantity rather than quality and he’d been led astray more than one time because of it. Apparently my father’s big brother had been the same way before his death and Daddy used to excuse it because “it ran in the family” and because “he’ll eventually outgrow it.”

Even though Daddy had retired he still needed to work to support us. The job market was bad and he had been forced to move out of the area to find a job. Micah had been devastated. He spent the next three years getting into just about as much trouble as he could without winding up a juvenile delinquent … and he’d come close to that a time or two as well. He was bound and determined to move back to the Aunts and talked of little else when asked about his future plans.

As soon as we moved Micah began testing me and being just as obnoxious as any teenage boy could get. The problem was he’d suddenly become bigger, taller, and physically stronger than me and I was no longer the “big” sister. I couldn’t even intimidate him into behaving any more. He was bound and determined to make my life a misery, blaming me at least in part because we just happened to move to one of the cities where I’d always dreamed of attending college. He said some really nasty things and I’d finally had all I could take of being “the responsible one” and Daddy knew it. He’d stepped in, laid down the law at home, and helped me start college with a clear conscience. I also continued my habit of finding work where I could which meant that I wasn’t my brother’s keeper nearly as much as before.

That left Micah to get into some of the trouble he got into because Daddy couldn’t be around all the time either. Work at the plant was demanding and sometimes he had to work swing shifts. And when he got sick again, the work just seemed to take everything out of him by the end of his day. In hindsight I wish things had been different for those last couple of years but … hindsight is 20/20 and wishing won’t ever make it so.

I did a few stupid things when I experienced so much freedom all of a sudden and really messed up when I “fell in love” for the first time. Thankfully I found out the guy was a jerk before I gave him something I would regret but it was darn close and I was embarrassed horribly when the guy’s wife … his pregnant seventeen year old wife … tracked me down and had a huge scene in front of Daddy and the neighbors. I cried myself into a barfing spell every day for a week and then Daddy forced me to crawl out of my bed and talk it out, some of it embarrassing, and afterwards it became something that we never discussed again. Oh I thought about it all right, to the point that I decided to skip dating for a good long while, but no one ever mentioned it although when Micah was at his most hateful he would allude to it so long as Daddy wasn’t around to hear him.

All of this was running through my head, ticking off all of the changes I’d experienced over the years, as I packed up the last few items that were worth taking. Most of the furniture, a bizarre hodge podge of yard sale and free cycle items, was staying since we wouldn’t need it where we were going. I went from room to room until I came to Micah’s. I had wondered why Micah wouldn’t let me help pack up his room; or I did until and found the back page of a girly magazine when I lifted the mattress that Daddy had told us to just leave. I hid it real quick when Daddy walked in and asked me if we’d missed anything.

“I don’t think so. Did y’all get the camping gear out of …”

“Yes. Did you check under the …”

“Yes sir.”

“Well, then let’s hit the road. It’s nearly four and I want to be on the road and down a ways before daylight hits. I’m not supposed to be at work until the late shift but they might try and call …”

“Daddy?” I asked as his voice trailed off and he began to absently rub his gut.

“What?” he asked, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. “No, I told you I want to get on the road. We’ll talk later. Hopefully your brother will ask if he can sack out in the camper shell for a while and he’ll have those infernal earplugs in and we can talk then.”

Sure enough, two hours later when we stopped for fuel and a bathroom break, Micah took the cereal bar I gave him for his breakfast and asked if he could get in the camper shell. We got back on the road - this time I was driving - and had been going thirty minutes before Daddy would even stop looking through the back window to make sure that Micah was asleep with the plugs in his ears.

“Daddy, I don’t mean to be push but this looks a lot crazy. Packing up in the middle of the night to disappear down the road like the hounds of hell are after us? Come on, don’t you think I deserve some kind of explanation?”

Another five minutes with Daddy staring out the passenger window and he finally started to talk. “Baby Girl, when I say it aloud it isn’t going to sound like much. It’s more feelings than facts.”

He rubbed his face and I glanced over and saw how ashen he looked. I didn’t know whether he was feeling sick or just what. And I’ll admit that I was also beginning to wonder if maybe the cancer wasn’t causing him to have some kind of paranoid episode; one of the medicines he’d been on had done that before. He finally started talking again.

“Harmon misplaced another of those large diameter pipe wrenches. How he manages it I don’t know, big thing like that. He’s already had to pay for three of ‘em and they aren’t cheap. He was panicking because he couldn’t afford to have his pay docked again especially after they forced him to start paying more of his insurance premium. I agreed to get one out of the tool shed but told him that it was the last time. I didn’t want my pay docked for his stupidity and I was getting tired of covering for him. I snuck over in there and was being real quiet. They must have come in the back gate to avoid having to explain to everyone why they were there.”

“Who?” I asked wondering where Daddy’s explanation was going.

“Those DHS guys. They come around every couple of months to give us a hard time and make our lives a misery and I thought they were just pulling a surprise inspection or an unscheduled emergency drill to see how we responded. Then I heard Grossman’s voice.”

“Mr. Grossman, the big boss?”

“Yeah, and Honey, that man ain’t scared of nothing. I saw him jump into a holding tank when a man got pulled under by a gator that somehow got in without nothing but a box cutter. I saw him put his hands in … things … that was pulled up out of the screens. I saw him pick up human body parts when some kids dumped a cadaver into the blades as a joke. Nothing fazes the man. But this time he sounded like he was about to cry. When a grown man sounds like that, especially a man like Grossman, it just makes your ears perk up.”

And my ears were perked up now as well. I’d met Mr. Grossman a couple of times at company events and I knew exactly what Daddy meant. Mr. Grossman was over six feet tall and seemed to be nearly as wide, and all of it muscle. His hands looked like sledgehammers and he scared me more than a little even though Daddy said he was a sucker for the ladies.

“Well … what was it? What scared Mr. Grossman? Or was he mad or something? ”

“Honey, I wish I knew exactly what to tell you. I said it’s more feeling than facts. I heard a few things that lead me to believe this country is just about to experience some really bad things.”

Flabbergasted as he stopped talking as if that was enough of an explanation for me to understand I said, “That’s it?! That’s why we packed up and ran out into the night like we were skipping on our bills?! There has to be more to it than that!”

“Don’t sass me none girl. It isn’t your place to talk to me like that.”

Knowing I’d hurt his feelings more than made him mad I apologized. “Look Daddy, I’m sorry but … but … are you sure that you heard … whatever it is you think you heard?”

Exasperated, my father flipped his cap on and off his head twice before replying, “I’d be just as happy to be proven a fool on this Del. But … but it goes along too much with what has been on the news … and what hasn’t been on the news … lately. You know things have been heating up again over there.”

And “over there” always meant the Middle East to Daddy.

“And now this stuff with Israel and the crap with the border getting worse and worse because of all the less than half measures used to deal with it. And I’d be happy if it was all a big joke but these DHS types wouldn’t know what a sense of humor was if it reached up and bit them on the a … uh … on the backside.

“Daddy … look, I’m not being sassy but I still don’t understand what has set you off like this.”

“I can’t explain it either Del, not exactly. Look … DHS … normally I’d chuck it all to some weird hair they’ve got up their … uh … but it wasn’t just DHS. As soon as I saw the transports full of troops I got out of there by ducking through the shrubs on the opposite side. Grossman was asking one of the DHS goons ‘when’ and the other guy said something to the effect ‘we don’t know for certain but we’re going red on all facilities at least until the end of the month and some personnel are going into protected status.’ “

“And? What is that supposed to mean?”

“What I think it means is that there is a credible threat of some magnitude. I don’t know what it is or how large a threat but for them to go red on all facilities it means that the threat is a big one.”

Before I could ask another question he continued. “What’s more, as I was high tailing it out of there I saw the DHS guys get rough with some of the guys that had wandered over to see what was going on and take them off to the administrative offices. I think I got lucky because not too many vehicles left the plant after me even though it was end of shift. I hit your Wallyworld and the Super Target across the street as well before coming home. No trouble at Wallyworld but by the time I got to Target I saw them starting to limit transaction amounts. But, what’s weird is I spent more than the woman on the other register that reached the ‘computer limit.’ The only difference is that she had some food items on her ticket and I didn’t. I don’t know what that means.”

I was beginning to catch my Dad’s paranoia. “Is that why you were so worried at the truck stop and paid in cash?”

“Yeah. Luckily they are used to selling fuel in large quantities and didn’t blink. And I paid in cash to make it quicker and to not make a paper trail. That fill up should let us drive the rest of the way straight through. We’ll take the back roads and go straight to the hunting camp, should get there a little after lunch if we can get off the interstate before things come undone.”

“Daddy … come undone … uh …”

“Pay attention to that guy, he’s weaving all over the road. Pass the jerk if you can.” After I did as he bid he continued, “People are going to notice if DHS starts doing things too overtly. I’m sure I can’t be the only one that has got wind of something in the air. Too many people out in the world smarter than I am that are watching what is playing out. I just don’t want to take anything for granted or make any assumptions. As soon as we can I want off the interstate and onto back roads. I know it will mean a longer travel time but this silver bullet we are pulling isn’t exactly camouflaged and we haven’t exactly taken any pains to cover our tracks. I had to make the choice fast or stealthy and for now fast is what we need. But that may change. I’m … I’m tired Del. I’ve got to close my eyes. Just let me rest for an hour and I’ll take back over.”

He didn’t even wake up when I left the interstate, nor when I left the highways for the county roads. It wasn’t until I hit the old forestry road that would take us around to the back of the old home place that he startled awake.

Grumpy he started, “I thought I told you …”

“Daddy, I’m fine and you weren’t. You look better now; at least your color has come back. And besides, stopping would have meant waking Micah and he’d have been pestering you to let him drive. I can’t believe you actually hitched that old thing of his to the trailer. I hate driving piggy back like that.”

“Don’t start Del. The Jeep might come in handy. He’s going to lose a lot more than he gains even if he doesn’t know it yet. I’d like for him to have something to call his own.”

“You’re really sure about this Daddy? That something bad is in the wind?”

A sigh and then, “Yeah Baby Girl … yeah, I am. What it is I’m not sure but I’m worried it could be a bio-terror event or a dirty bomb.”

“Do they make clean bombs?” I asked, slightly stupid from lack of sleep.

“Don’t quit your day job; this isn’t near as funny as you seem to think.”

“Daddy, I’m not making fun of you … or your worries … I just … just … to be honest Daddy I’m still not sure what to think. It’s a horrible risk we are taking, dropping everything, and running away like this.”

“In my estimation we would have taken a greater risk had we not run away. I’m not willing to risk my kids just to hold onto some job or my pride. I’m getting to the point where pride is meaningless. The only thing I have left is you two, if I have to start over fine, but it’ll be knowing I’ve done my job as a father to protect my greatest assets and leave them something, even if it isn’t much.”

It had started to bother me when he would get so fatalistic. The doctor warned me that Daddy’s attitude could change daily, even multiple times a day, as he went through all the adjustment reactions that terminally ill patients go through. But he wasn’t terminal yet and I wasn’t giving up without a fight … and I wasn’t going to let him give up either.

Lord have mercy, I’m almost glad I didn’t know what we’d be fighting right then. Innocence is bliss, at least for a while. After a certain point though it is too expensive a commodity to keep on hand.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 2: Exposition in C Major (Part 1)

“Oh Lord Daddy. I think we’ve got problems.”

“Don’t be profane Del,” Daddy said automatically as I startled him out of another doze. “What problems? You are always imagining something.”

Grabbing the steering wheel to keep from being waspish about his, yet again, referring unflatteringly to the fact that I’m the worrywart of the family, I counted to five before answering. “The road Daddy,” I said pointing out what I thought was obvious. “Somebody has been through here very recently and trimmed the branches back.”

“Good.”

Looking at my father out of the corner of my eye trying to see him while at the same time guiding our awkward load down the rough track that passed for the road back to the hunting camp I saw him give a satisfied nod. “Good? OK, so what am I missing here?” I asked. He and Micah had a bad habit of leaving out key pieces of information in their stories. I’ve had my whole life to not over react to it but I always seem to get hung up on it like a big mouth bass on a well baited hook. At least this time it was accidental and not on purpose just to get my goat.

“Oh, I must have forgotten to tell you I called the Aunts after I got off work and told ‘em we were coming for an extended visit.”

Instead of making me angry like you would figure, his forgetfulness nearly brought me to tears. Over the preceding six months or so Daddy’s … well, his cognitive skills … had definitely been affected. I had taken over all of the bill paying and errand running that Daddy had always done before and after work. I already did most of the organizing around the house and I didn’t mind doing it, it made me feel like I was helping, but it turned out to be a blessing that I wasn’t able to go to school in more ways than one as it turned out. I’ve been forced to learn the hard way that things happen for a reason and that when a door closes a window will open somewhere, so long as you are willing to look for it. Actually it wasn’t the cancer that was slowly eating Daddy alive, it was the treatments and the medicines he took to counteract the treatments. It was just so very hard to see my once healthy and active father, a man I considered brilliant, enduring the trials and tribulations of his illness.

Besides, calling the Aunts so late at night wasn’t as crazy as it sounded. The Aunts were ancient and rarely seemed to live by the same sleep patterns as everyone else. At all hours you could find them up and discussing a wide range of topics, usually about people and events that lived and happened generations before I drew my first breath.

The Aunts were a force of nature. They’d also raised my mother when her mother hadn’t been able to handle the physical and emotional hardships of getting married in her teens, having five children in quick succession two of whom died in infancy, and trying to keep body and soul together while taking on the responsibilities of being a farmer’s wife. My mother was the youngest child and was nearly the third infant death and, according to the Aunts, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I remember Aunt Lilah, the oldest of the three as well as the tartest, saying, “That high stepping camel gave birth to a little Tennessee mule. Your Momma stubbornly clung to life every time the doctors had given up all hope. Too bad Winnie would not wait on the Lord’s timing. After a while she was just too scared of the pain of living and loving.”

I shook my head to empty it of memories. “Daddy I know the Aunts are still active even if they are as old as Jeff Davis’ hound, but I can’t see them out here lopping off these limbs. Some of them are so thick they had to have taken a chain saw.”

“I wouldn’t put it passed at least one of the old witches …”

“Daddy!” I remonstrated him laughingly. Daddy and the Aunts had a love/hate relationship. They’d been extremely protective of Momma and hadn’t cared too much for Daddy in the beginning. The only reason at all that they tolerated him in fact was because Momma was tip or tail in love and even the Aunts in their distrust could see that Daddy was even worse over her. Granddaddy liked Daddy from the beginning … until he and Momma eloped and then he didn’t seem to be able to ever completely forgive Daddy after that. At least not until he saw how completely devastated Daddy had been when Momma had died. But Granddaddy was dealing with his own grief and took it out on Daddy for a couple of years. It caused a valley between them that never quite healed.

I had to shake my head again. One of the things that irritated me most about going back to the old home place was how the memories all seemed to crowd in for attention at once instead of taking their turn like normal memories should. I finally got my ears turned back on and realized Daddy had been talking. I had to ask him to repeat himself.

“You OK Del? I’ll drive …”

“No. It’s … it’s just being back here,” I shrugged. “What were you saying about a caretaker?”

“Well, believe it or not the Aunts have finally admitted that they are getting too old to do some of the stuff around the homestead. They finally hired someone to help them.”

“Why aren’t the boys over there helping instead of making them pay someone to do it?!” I asked outraged at the very thought.

“Because they aren’t around anymore. When Clement died the death tax took up all of the liquid assets that were left in his estate and there was also a lot of debt. The boys sold their share to Esther’s son in law and there are some hard feelings or feud or something equally as asinine going on. Whatever it is I want to stay out of it as much as we can so don’t let those old biddies drag you in,” Daddy groused.

Clement was my maternal uncle and he’d died in a farming accident three years ago. Lightning had hit the barn and travelled through some cables then into a mule that my uncle had been currying. Esther was my mother’s sister and she was … well, a lot like her mother, my grandmother. Uncle Clement and Aunt Esther had lived with their mother off and on most of their childhood so they could go to the school in town. In the summer they stayed at the farm. It was sort of like an early form of shared custody, only without ever getting the courts involved to muck things up. Momma and her mother never bonded so she stayed with the Aunts and her father all the time. In fact I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’d actually seen my grandmother, I’d only actually met her twice and she didn’t seem to like me very much though Micah she seemed to adore … just like everyone seemed to in those days. Granddaddy still loved his wife and for many years nursed hopes of her coming home but she never did and when she died of heart failure his heart broke. He followed her less than two years later.

My family seems to be full of stories like that; call it “As the Stomach Turns: A Hillbilly Soap Opera.” That sounds more derogatory than I mean it to because I know lots of families have stories like that in their closets … our closets just seemed to be overflowing with them. It was one of the reasons that Daddy took Momma away from the homestead as soon as he could, and why he kept us away as much as possible. Especially Micah who seemed to thrive on the drama that side of my family had a bad habit of generating. ‘Course it didn’t help that Daddy spoiled Micah something awful, and so did the Aunts and everyone else, but that is a different problem than the one I was trying to unwind at that moment.

“OK so the Cousins aren’t helping the Aunts because of some drama or other and as a result they’ve hired a caretaker to help out around the place. Anyone that I would know or remember?”

Daddy snorted and then laughed which should have warned me but I was too busy easing through a low place in the road, praying I wouldn’t bottom out the hitch. “Oh, I think you’ll remember him. Marcellus Griffey.”

I braked hard and just about screamed, “What?!! You so did not just say that the Aunts have hired Mark Griffey as their caretaker.”

I thought Daddy was going to laugh himself sick, and he nearly did. “Oh boy, that smarts, but it was worth it to see the look on your face girl. Honey, I know you and Mark haven’t always seen eye to eye but he’s not the same kid he was when you were growing up around here. I met him year before last and he’s actually turned out fairly well, especially all things considered.”

All things considered. I felt like putting my foot through the floor of the truck. “Well thanks for the warning Dad. Appreciate it.”

“Now hold on Missy, no need to get disrespectful. I’m not the one that hired him, the Aunts did. And since it is their place they’ve got the right to choose who they want. I think he’s a little young for all of the responsibility but then again, so far as I know he’s been doing just fine so far.”

I popped my neck and apologized for the umpteenth time and admitted that I’d been on the mouthy side. “But come on Daddy. Mark? Really?”

“Yes Mark. Really. You know he wasn’t part of that pack that set the dogs on you, in fact the boy wound up getting hurt trying to protect you.”

“And I wouldn’t have gotten a broken arm if he hadn’t forced me to go up on the branch I told him was too slim to hold my weight. The only reason he got hurt was that he would have gotten switched badly by his crazy brother in law if the dogs had gotten to me while I Iay on the ground. You know you and Granddaddy and Uncle Clement would have shot all of them mutts if they’d so much as nipped me. Granddaddy nearly did anyway.”

“Don’t remind me. That was a bad day. Between Micah wandering off with the Taggert boys and all three of them getting lost up on the ridge and then you getting treed by those lunatic dogs and breaking your arm I was … well, never mind what I was. It isn’t a day I’d repeat for love or money. But Mark was in a hard place for a long time. His sister raised him the same way you helped raise Micah only she didn’t have either parent around for any guidance. She married young to a man who promised her diamonds and gold and she was too innocent to see it wasn’t anything but glass and tin. She paid for it, still is for that matter.”

“Oh for Pete Sake. They’ve been divorced at least five years Daddy. Even I know that.”

“Yeah, and that’s about all you know. You don’t just get over something like that and get to start over at square one. You shouldn’t be so quick to judge … and we both know what I’m talking about young lady.”

OK, so I’d jumped to some conclusions. Daddy was right, I was being judgmental and I should be the last person to be that way. I’d had my own embarrassing and awful relationship and it had changed me.

Daddy cleared his throat to say that the old, hurtful subject was to be put out of our thoughts again. “Look Del, I have a feeling this is going to be hard enough without you and Mark going at it like a couple of banty roosters anytime you get near each other. When you were little it could be funny, but you’re not little any more, neither one of you are. It is time to put childish things aside.”

“I don’t want trouble either Daddy so I won’t start if he doesn’t. A little more warning would have been nice though. I had to ask. What if I had run into him without knowing what he was doing hanging around? Or vice versa?”

Daddy shrugged, “Don’t have much choice Sugar, this is the way things are happening. And here’s an idea for you. Be nice. Disarm him. I know you can. You always could get the men down at the plant to eat out of your little hand; when you try you can be just like your Momma. So act like the past is the past and just let it go. You might be surprised to find he’s just in the habit of being defensive because he’s had to be that way his whole life. He’s a worse prickle burr than you are. And he’s got heavy responsibilities of his own now.”

Not quite sure I wanted to know but helpless to stop the question from leaving my mouth I asked, “What’s wrong with him?”

“Him? Nothing. But he’s supporting his sister and that three-quarter wild daughter of hers. And …” He stopped, pursed his lips, and sighed.

“What? Don’t leave me hanging now that you’ve started dishing the gossip.”

“That’s not funny Del, I’m nothing like the Aunts. This isn’t gossip, this is … I’m arming you with information so you can walk softly as need be. We don’t need any trouble nor any more notice than we are bound to get when folks hear we are back in town for a longer than normal stay. Truth is, Mark can’t seem to cut a break. He made the same mistake his sister did … looking for love in all the wrong places. Some girl from college, she got pregnant, told him he was the father and then when Mark said he’d marry her she pretty much said no and tried to take him to the cleaners. But the boy doesn’t have anything; his parents didn’t leave him squat. Well, that didn’t work too well for her but she agreed to marry him pretty much because her parents forced her into it, or so I was told. Six months after the baby was born, she hits the road “needing to find herself” leaving Mark with a sickly baby, a sister on some pretty strong meds to get her through the day, and a niece to support and still a semester shy of his degree and getting a decent job of any type. Worse yet …”

Dumbfounded I asked, “It gets worse?”

“Oh yeah. I just heard from the Aunts last week that the girl has come back and is trying to say she was suffering from post partum depression or something and wants to be a part of her son’s life and has a lawyer trying to get custody and child support too.”

“Geez Louise Daddy. Not that I don’t feel sorry for Mark … and I’m sure that’s why you told me all of that … but this is an awful mess we are driving into. Even under the best circumstances I’d rather wait til things settled out some before coming for a visit but … if you are wanting to do what I think you are wanting to do this is only going to make it that much harder.”

Daddy humphed as only he knew how and asked, “And what is it you think I’m wanting to do?”

“Daddy you raised us to be able to bug out quick in case of an emergency. You’ve always talked about if worse came to worse we could move into the hunting camp and spend a while pioneering until things blew over. I know for a fact you’ve got some stuff stocked down in the sub cellar beneath the cabin’s basement. You never let me help inventory it but I know it is there.”

“Do I want to know how you know?”

“How do you think? Micah of course. He’s always threatened to runaway and hide at the cabin so no one would find him. One time I asked him how he expected to eat while he was there and he let it slip.”

Daddy got mad which surprised me. “That durn fool boy. Do you know if he’s said anything to anyone else?”

“Take it easy Daddy. Who else would he tell? Those dumb friends of his? They couldn’t find the place if they were tied to the front porch by a two foot leash. Besides, after I figured out what he was talking about I warned him you wouldn’t be too pleased that he’d told me so he better keep his mouth shut or I would blab to you about it.”

“I just can’t put it off any longer can I? He’s not a little boy anymore and his shenanigans could have serious repercussions assuming I’m correct.” Daddy just shook his head sorrowfully. “You two grew up so quick, you even faster than your brother. Seems all I did was turn around and … but it is what it is and I don’t know how much time I’ve got left to set everything up. And … and I’m not in the shape I need to be to do it Honey. You’re going to have to really buckle down and help.”

“Daddy you know I’ll do anything …”

“I know that Sweetheart, but … well, better not to borrow any more trouble than we already own. I don’t really know how much time we are going to have. Tomorrow is Monday and I want to hit the ground running. We’ll unpack today even though by rights we should be resting and as soon as I make sure everything is still where I left it we’ll get a list going and you can go over to the Aunts and get a list from them and we’ll just make a day of it.”

Daddy was pretty much wore out again leaving me worried. He tired so easily, even on the medications that were supposed to help with his energy level. They used to help more and that led me to thinking about getting him into a doctor’s office to make sure that things hadn’t gotten … worse.

I didn’t have any time left however for that train of thought. We were pulling into the yard of the cabin and there was an ancient blue Ford pickup sitting on the opposite side of the clearing from us. I maneuvered our load reasonably close to the cabin and then got out, stumbled as I got my land legs back under me and then stretched.

Daddy got Micah up and they went to see what needed to be done to the outhouse leaving me to deal with the man bent over the tail gate of truck.

Recognizing him even from behind I walked up and asked, “Mark?” When he turned in my direction sharply I saw a baby … a baby boy … in the middle of a diaper change. “Need some help?”

“No,” he growled. “Why is it that every female always thinks I’m helpless when it comes to …”

Trying hard to remember what Daddy gave me to think about I said, “Knock it off Mark. I’ve done diaper duty enough in my life to know that it isn’t rocket science. It was just an offer, not a judgment of your abilities one way or the other.”

All I got was a grunt of an acknowledgement and I decided to accept it as a magnanimous apology and stood there waiting while he cleaned Junior up.

Mark held the boy like he wondered whether I was going to try and steal him and I pretended not to notice, “Cute boy. Daddy told me you had a kid but not what his name was.”

Grudgingly Marked replied, “Burgess. But everyone calls him Jessie.”

“Your Dad’s name, right?”

I’d managed to startle him. “Yeah. You never knew my dad though.”

“No, but the Aunts did and I must have heard that story of how they saw him run down Mrs. Cleary’s old Chevy when she forgot to put it in gear and saved it from hitting a school bus I don’t know how many times.”

“Oh.”

“Anyway, if that was you that trimmed back the road I appreciate it. It couldn’t have been easy.”

He looked at me like he was trying to figure out what game I was playing and that’s when Daddy and Micah walked up. I asked them, “All fixed?”

Micah answered, “And tried out. What’s for lunch? I’m starving to death.”

I rolled my eyes and told him, “You’re always starving to death. Daddy, you want …?”

“Don’t go to a lot of trouble Del; just heat up some leftovers out of one of the coolers. Mark here has hooked up a small propane canister but your kitchen looks like it’s had squirrels nesting in it. We’ll be cleaning tonight so you are going to have to get fancy some other time. I want to get unloaded and do what we talked about.”

“Yes sir,” I answered as I walked away, ignoring Mark as much as I could.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 2 (Part 2)

Dad and Mark talked while Micah and I started unloading the stuff that needed to be cooled down. When Daddy had started working on the hunting cabin, turning it into what he called a bug out location, one of his projects was to take an old RV frig and using some type of mirror thingy he heated up the ammonia coolant that ran through the coils. This in turn worked kind of like an evaporation coil method and only using the power of the sun had a fairly decent refrigerator for us to use without having to worry about a generator or propane. Someone, Mark I suppose, had already started the frig up and it was ready for our cold stuff. Not having a chest freezer because we moved around so much we hadn’t had too much of that sort of stuff to worry about transporting. I had also been a few days shy of my monthly grocery expedition so that meant there was even less to worry about that would spoil.

“Micah, I’m just going to fix up a stir fry tonight. Rice, these bits of leftover meats, and this last dab of steamed veggies. Will that hold you until I can get to the store tomorrow?”

“Bean sprouts on the side,” he said like he was being forced to offer me the keys to his jeep.

“Fine, bean sprouts on the side instead of mixed in. Happy?”

That caused lightning change of mood and a huge grin. “Who wouldn’t be? We’re home Del and I’m never leaving again. Not even Daddy can make me.”

A voice from the doorway asked, “Make you do what young man?”

Micah jumped and I had to bite my lips to hide a grin. “Oh, nothing. I’m just glad to be home. And you said I didn’t have to finish out the school year.”

“I suppose I did so don’t make me go back on my word by getting into trouble. Your sister and I have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time and you aren’t going to be sitting around playing or looking up old friends. You’re going to be working as well. Understand me?”

Micah was confused, I could tell. Normally Daddy doesn’t lay down the law until Micah has seen just how far he could stretch his boundaries. “Uh … yes sir. Sure.”

I was so tired by the time I fell in bed that night that I hardly noticed the musty smell of the cabin’s former furry tenants. I noticed the next morning however.

I found two dead mice on the cabin steps and said words I shouldn’t have when I stepped on them barefoot.

“Del Nash I better never hear them words coming out of your mouth again. What on earth has gotten into you this morning?”

“If I find out this is one of Micah’s pranks,” I said while I furiously scrubbed my foot of mouse innards “I will drop him down a well and cap it. I stepped on two dead mice on the front porch.”

I could tell that while Dad was sympathetic he was also having a hard time not laughing. “She must remember you.”

“She who?!”

“Remember that cat you patched up last time we were up here?”

“Not that mangy old … is it still around?”

“I saw her slinking around the wood shed yesterday. As long as you act like you are ignoring her she’ll come right up to you and give your leg a bump but just as soon as you think about petting her she’s off like greased lightning into the underbrush. Add cat food to that list of yours and we’ll see if we can’t tame her some. A good mouser is worth its weight in gold.”

“That list” as Daddy called it had already grown several pages long and there was more than one column on a page. He’d shown me what was in the sub cellar and had been duly gratified at my surprise and appreciation. I’ve been cooking with dried milk and stuff like that for as long as I could remember because that was what Daddy used to buy at the commissary. We still shopped at the commissary but a lot less often because it was so far away to get to.

Between what we brought from home and what was in the sub cellar we had food for a good long time. But Daddy told me to think about what would I need to turn all of the stuff into meals. He also told me to think about what I would need to preserve anything if we wound up growing that garden I had always wanted.

“Baby Girl, you may yet get to grow all of that rabbit food in something besides window boxes. And it looks like the old fruit trees have done well since we pruned the heck out of them year before last. I’ll talk to the Aunts about borrowing the old red A tractor, but not today. I know I said I’d go with you but, I just can’t face them right now. I can’t deal with this and their questions. You understand?”

“Sure Daddy. Why don’t you sit on the porch and get your thoughts in order and I’ll take the truck, run by and do the meet and greet with the Aunts, and then head on into town.”

“No, too much work. Micah and I will get some stuff down around here while you’re gone.”

“Well, all right. Maybe work will keep Micah from being so wound up. Wear him out Daddy, but don’t wear yourself out. I have my cell phone but I’m not sure what the reception is going to be. Call or text me if you think of anything.”

“I will, just watch yourself. And pick up some news while you are in town. One of the things Micah and I are going to do is set up the radio and antenna while you are gone.”

I hopped in the truck and headed through nearly a hundred acres of woods to visit the Aunts. What was once a thriving plantation before the Civil War … or the War Between the States as the Aunts tended to call it when not in polite company … had been reduced to less than five percent of what it once was.

I knew from the Aunts that the Nash, Griffey, and Porter families (Porter was Momma’s maiden name) were all related, going back to a common ancestral line born on the very homestead where the Aunts now lived. That common ancestor lost his life in one of the battles for Clarksville and it was his children and theirs that lost bits and pieces of the plantation until there was only the 100 acres left in this current generation. Even the Aunts had been forced to sell off parcels over the years to pay for taxes. Granddaddy had brought the farm back into a brief period of prosperity by trying new crops and farming techniques but even he was forced, due to failing health, to lease out the fields when he could no longer care for the land as it needed.

The part of the land that connected the homestead with the hunting cabin had never been developed because the family had always used it as their private hunting ground and because the connecting strip really wasn’t good farm land even had you been able to scrape out some terraces. The hunting cabin set higher than the homestead and in the winter, if you got passed the evergreens that surrounded the cabin, you have a clear view of the Aunts house and surrounding outbuildings. But this wasn’t winter. The trees were completely leafed out and it wasn’t until I’d broken through the last line of them and the associated underbrush that I got a good look at things.

The old place certainly looked in better shape than it had last time I was there. I thought to myself, “If Mark has been able to do all of this then I’m properly grateful and I’ll tell him so if he’ll listen.” I pulled to a stop in what looked like new gravel over the old washed out parking area and before I could even step out of the truck the Aunts were descending on me.

Aunt Lilah, once tall now bent from a bad case of osteoarthritis and scoliosis, was in the lead. As she was the oldest she always positioned herself to be in the lead. A bit austere after having to help raise countless siblings and their descendants since she was a young girl, she never the less was also the quickest to offer a hug or pat for a job well done. Her tongue was as tart as a little green apple, but it could also sing the sweetest lullaby when you were young and scared and feeling like your mother had abandoned you.

Aunt Sheba was a short butterball. Once a reigning beauty, she’d had a short but painful marriage to a traveling salesman who had sweet talked her into disobeying her father. He’d found out and there’d be a shotgun wedding that had only lasted long enough for her to lose the baby to a case of diphtheria before it was a year old and her husband to a bar brawl less than a week after that. She’d moved home and was the aunt who didn’t have much confidence in the male species.

Aunt Bel was the baby of the family of eleven stair step children. Something had gone wrong at her birth and she was what they called a “blue baby.” The doctor got her breathing, much to their father’s disgust, but lack of oxygen had done its damage. Aunt Bel was special. Her favorite thing was to follow the weather for all sorts of different places. And she saw the beauty in everything, even in loss. She was the one that told me stories of how Momma was likely spending her time in Heaven; not just sitting on a cloud playing a harp, but growing flowers and learning to tend to fruit trees. She was the one that opened my eyes to what the Bible says Heaven is really going to be like … not boring but exciting and mentally and physically stimulating to go right along with the perfected bodies we will all have when we get there.

Aunt Lilah and Aunt Bel had never married. Aunt Sheba wished she’d never married. They shared a difficult childhood at the hands of a father that had a less than charitable opinion of women. It wasn’t stereotypical of the times. Aunt Sheba said one time, “Father was simply a mean man. We honored him the best we could with our obedience until the day he died but that doesn’t change the fact that he was a mean man. He sent our long suffering mother to an early grave with all of his demands and refusal to hire in any help. ‘Why spend the coin, that’s what I’m giving you children for,’ he’d say. If I’d been born in a different time I would surely have legally changed my name. All of us girls were given names to remind us of his opinion. If you think ours are bad child imagine how our sisters Tamar and Jael felt. The boys were all named Samson, Michael, Gabriel, Joseph, Jacob, and Gideon. There just wasn’t any escaping from it.”

In a flash those memories were thought and then gone as I was swept into their arms and urged to come inside. I sat for an hour, listening to them and answering their questions before promising I’d come back another time, that I needed to go to town for groceries.

“Oh child,” Aunt Lilah started. “The last grocery store in town closed last month. You are going to have to go to Greeneville or Ketchum if you need more than what you can pick up at the Bait and Tackle.”

That I hadn’t planned on and I was trying to decide whether to call Daddy and let him know or just to go ahead and go when Aunt Bel said, “Actually Del, it would be a big help if you’d run Marcellus over to Ketchum. There’s something wrong with his truck and with showers promised for this afternoon I hate the idea of him riding a bike all that way. I’m sure he’s over at his trailer if you’d just go tell him.”

Aunt Sheba said, “She’s right of course. Providential is what it is. Don’t let him fuss Del, he’s not one for letting people do him favors. Nearly as hard headed as Father was about that.”

They left me little choice but to do as they asked though I didn’t have a lot of confidence in Mark going along with their plan. I could feel their eyes watching from the kitchen table as I walked over to a beat up 1970s era single wide and knocked on the door. Suddenly I was airborne. I was knocked backwards off the stairs by a dog that had hit the door so hard the doorknob left a dent in my arm. Thankfully I’d taken a few self-defense courses and knew how to fall without getting anymore injured than I already was.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 2 (Part 3)

The main problem was the dog hadn’t stopped with the door and barreled down after me. Since I had worked so many night shifts Daddy had bought me a few stocking stuffers over the years to go with the self-defense classes. One was a small, battery operated tazer. I hit the dog on the side of the head and it rolled away yelping as I scrambled to my feet using my other hand to pull out the collapsible baton.

“Hey! What are you doing to my dog you *****?!!!” I turned to see what appeared to be a girl in trampy t-shirt and short-shorts barreling on me snarling worse that “her dog” had. I pulled the bull fighter routine, spinning out of her way, and then whacking her across the butt – hard – with the baton.

“Ow!! Momma!!! Call the cops. I’m going to sue this … “

I’d had enough. “Shut up Princess. I’m looking for Mark. Is he around or did you eat him for breakfast?”

A surprised cough of laughter had me glancing out of the corner of my eye to see Mark put a heavy chain on the dog and then padlock him to a stout tree. Suddenly Princess wasn’t the raging termagant anymore but a pathetic little girl crying, “Wait! Uncle Mark, you can’t! It was all her fault. She … she antagonized him and … and he was just … just defending me from her threats.”

“Stow it Cici. I warned you what would happen if this dog wasn’t properly trained after it went after that guy from the Farm Bureau. You’re lucky it was Del that it went after. She knows how to defend herself.”

“But Uncle Mark,” she continued to whine.

But Uncle Mark wasn’t having any of it. “Enough. Del, this is my niece Cici Riders.”

I blinked. There was no way that someone really named their kid Cici when their last name was Riders but apparently I was wrong. All I could say was, “You have my condolences” not sure which one I was talking to.

“Where’s your mother Cici?”

“Where else?” she rolled her eyes and then flipped her hair and stormed back inside, slamming the ancient door hard enough to crack one of the window panes. A baby started screaming inside. Mark cursed and started and then stopped, waging some war not to say anything.

“Go. Go, you know you need to. Just if you could come back …” He nodded once and then jerked the door back open and went inside. The walls of the trailer were so thin I could hear him stomping down what had to have been a hallway and then turning around and coming back. The little boy was in his arms and was clinging to Mark for everything he was worth.

The moment Mark came my direction the dog tried to dash right at him and the baby. Mentally I knew the dog was on a chain but emotionally there was no way I was just going to stand there. I pulled the tazer again and just the clacking made the dog back away growling.

“Lordy Mark, I don’t mean to tell you your business … “

“But you will anyway,” he deadpanned.

I turned to look at him and that’s when he saw that I was more shaken by the dog going after him and the baby in his arms than I had been when the dog came after me.

“Hey, you’re really shook. It can’t get off the chain. I have it hooked to a chest harness,” he said nodding at the black leather straps that wrapped the dog in several places beside its neck. “Cici keeps taking the training collar off of him so I locked this thing on.”

I swallowed twice, my mouth too dry to even come up with enough spit to wet my lips. “Mark, I don’t care if that dog is chained inside a suit of armor, that dog comes after that baby again and I’ll … I’ll … I’ll wind up in a lot of trouble is what will happen. I mean it though. Do me a favor and let’s walk over this way.”

He gave me a considering look. “Yeah, well … the dog is going tomorrow. I warned Cici she needed to train it to keep it but she didn’t change his water dish and she didn’t take him for a walk and he made a mess in the trailer this morning. I just hadn’t told her yet. Her old man keeps giving her these mutts that he says are for protection. She’s too irresponsible to have a dog and the things just wind up getting meaner because she isn’t consistent with their discipline. They’ve never gone near your Aunts. I swear.”

“Huh? Oh, I … uh, I guess I should have been worried about that but I’m not. Aunt Sheba keeps a loaded gun with her and even at her age she is one heck of a shot. I just … can’t … that dog … the baby …”

“Yeah … yeah. I usually keep Jessie with me unless I’m having to do something really loud. I was working with the chainsaw. Babies have sensitive ears,” he shrugged.

“Tell me about it. Of course that doesn’t count when it is their own crying and screaming making the noise. Micah was a real pistol when he was Jessie’s age,” I said rolling my eyes remembering wishing for a set of earplugs to at least deaden the sound when he was experimenting with the sound of his own voice.

“That’s right, you took care of Micah a lot. Look, I’ve … uh … “

“Yeah, actually I have a favor to ask. I know you are busy but when the Aunts get something into their head you know what they’re like.”

He nodded getting a guarded look in his eyes. “Well, they are determined that you ride with me to Ketchum, something about you were going there anyway and that the grocery stores in town here have all closed. You know the drill. ‘But Del … dear … it only makes sense …’,” I ended by mimicking Aunt Lilah’s forceful tone.

I was relieved to see that Mark wasn’t being defensive and was actually considering it. “Yeah, OK. I’ll … uh … need to bring a car seat for Jessie and … uh … I’ve got to stop by the u-pull-it yard. When did you have in mind to go?”

“Actually, that’s kind of the favor. I was wondering if you could do it now.”

He shrugged and said, “Sure. Why not. I gotta grab a couple of things and …,” he was trying to juggle Jessie while he picked up a box of tools.

“Will he come to me do you think? Or I can grab the other stuff if you’ll point it out.”

I thought I had gone too far but then he just sort of gave in. “Here, hold him tight, he wiggles a lot.” He went inside and came back out with a diaper bag followed by a screaming Cici and a woman that I could just barely recognize as Mark’s sister.

“Go back inside Dee.”

In wasted sort of voice the woman whined, “Mark, why do you have to keep at Cici like this? You antagonize her and then just leave her to me to deal with. Will you ever grow up and make something of yourself.”

Mark was getting that shuttered look on his face again and I thought this so unfair that I couldn’t help but open my mouth even though I knew it was none of my business. “Hi Dee. I don’t know if you remember me or not. Either way here it is. Those are my Aunts over in that house. Your daughter’s dog is a menace and attacked me. I could have just flat out killed it, I have my gun licensed and I’ve been forced to put down dangerous animals before. Mark gave her fair warning that if she didn’t start taking responsibility for her pet like a good owner does then he was going to find it a home where it could be trained to be something besides a useless monster. Now I’m giving you and your daughter fair warning. I’m back. My Aunts’ safety is my priority. I find another dangerous and out of control animal anywhere on this farm I’m not going to care who it belongs to. Do I need to be any more clear on this subject?”

Cici was standing there with her mouth hanging open trying to figure out what planet I had descended from. Dee was still playing catch up. “You’re … you’re the Nash girl.”

“Yes.”

“Y’all are … are here for a visit?”

“Actually we are here for the foreseeable future. Now if you don’t mind, Mark and I have business to attend to. Cici, you should bring a large pan of water outside for this dog. It’s hot. And I would stuff your buttocks back into those shorts before you do it or he might decide to make a snack of them.” I turned on my heel and casually walked over to the truck carrying Jessie and threw Mark the truck keys.

It took a few minutes to get situated, all under the heated and gator-tear streaked face of Cici the Terrible, but we eventually pulled out. Mark had offered me the keys but I asked him if he minded driving until my nerves settled down. “I drove most of the way here yesterday and I haven’t driven into Ketchum in like … ever. We always went to Greeneville when we needed something we couldn’t get in town.”

He shrugged and then got into the driver’s seat and got us going the right direction. “About … about …”

“None of my business Mark but honest to God you must have the patience of Job not to slap that girl from now until Juvember. I don’t know how you do it.”

I’d caught him off guard again. “This … this was a bad day. She always gets like this after she’s spent the weekend with her Dad. He got remarried and she found out her step mom is having a baby … twin boys. Her Dad won’t shut up about it and … well …”

“Yeah. I remember him,” I said and I didn’t need to say anymore.

“She wasn’t always like this. Just since the divorce. And Dee is just …”

“Suffering in her own way?”

He looked at me and said, “That’s a kinder way of putting it than most people do.”

“Dad reminded me of a few home truths. I won’t judge your sister. I didn’t walk in her shoes. But I don’t think she’s doing herself … or Cici … any favors. She should join a divorce support group or something. The church we used to go to had one.”

“You forget where you’re at Del. Most of the churches around here wouldn’t even welcome Dee through the front doors now that she is a divorcee.”

“You … tell me your kidding … you are kidding right … or exaggerating?.”

“Ok, a little. Your Aunts’ church … their preacher’s wife comes out about once a week and when she’s through with your aunts she’ll step over and say hello to Dee. If Dee knows she’s coming she’ll actually make an effort to get out of bed and do something with herself.”

“Maybe I was too rough then.”

“No. I went and talked to a couple of people I know down at the clinic. They say part of the problem was that I was enabling her, trying to fix something for her instead of helping her to fix it. I don’t know. Did you ever think your life would turn out the way it has?”

Understanding what he meant for him but not sure where he was going as far as me. Before I could say something he continued, “Taking care of Micah was just something you always did when we were kids but at least your Dad was there. Now he’s …,” he stopped and then looked at me.

It took a lot of my control but I said, “You mean he’s dying and I’m taking care of both of them – him and Micah? Working three jobs and praying that I can find another scholarship or grant that will let me finish my degree? That money is so tight that we’ve had to move back and live in a shack on the backside of my elderly Aunts’ farm? That my dying father has now gotten some wild hair …” I stopped before saying anything else and took a couple of steadying breaths.

“Things that bad?”

Trying to leave myself some hope I said, “They aren’t as bad as they could be. They aren’t great but Dad is still here and there’s a chance the insurance company will approve the new drug if I could ever get them to push the application through their stupid benefit/return committee or whatever they are calling it this week. We have a roof over our heads and I’ve got money for gas and groceries. There are some people that can’t say that.”

Mark nodded and conversation kind of petered out after that until we got to the Ketchum city limits. Looking around I asked Mark, “What’s up with all the cars? Geez you’d think this place was important or something.”

“First of the month. With all the small towns losing their stores, everyone has to go to the next nearest town that still has what they are looking for. Kechum and Greeneville are about the only two places within a hundred miles that have any variety to choose from.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 2 (Part 4)

I should have realized it. It was always the same on base that time of the month. If it wasn’t the active service personnel it was the retirees coming in. I stopped at the first branch of the national bank I did business with and asked Mark if he minded if I ran in. He said no since we could both tell that it was time for Jessie to have a diaper change.

I was between rushes and though the manager wasn’t happy about it but I cashed out both my checking and savings account. I was praying that I was doing the right thing. I figured if worse came to worse I’d just have to skip another semester of school and graduate a year later than I had planned.

I walked back out and apologized to Mark for taking so long. “No problem. They want you to put money in but they don’t like it when you want to take it back out again.” We both chuckled a little at that then he said, “If I give you directions, you think you could drop me and Jessie off at the junkyard and then come back for us when you’re finished?”

Realizing I had held him up longer than I had thought I looked for some way to atone and then hit on an idea. “Mark, don’t take this the wrong way but how are you going to do whatever it is you need to do trying to keep track of a baby?”

He was getting that defensive look on his face again. “Oh, don’t go all prune-faced on me. I’ve baby sat more kids than I can even remember. I have all sorts of training. You know I took care of Micah at this age and his claims and behavior to the contrary I never dropped him on his head. Look, I’ll give you my cell phone number. You can call and check on me as often as you want and I’ll even let Jessie drool on the phone so he can let you know he’s OK. This way you can get your work done in less time and not have to worry that Jessie is going to crawl off into something he isn’t supposed to. Besides, it’s hot, you don’t really want to deal with a cranky, hot baby in the middle of a dirty junkyard do you?”

“I don’t know Del. Don’t take this the wrong way but … “

“But I just got back in town and you don’t know me from Eve anymore.”

“Yeah … yeah, something like that.”

Looking around I spotted a membership club warehouse and I just happened to have a membership card for it. “OK, here’s a compromise. I’ll start my shopping over there,” I said pointing in the direction of the store. “I won’t be far off. If you finish before I do you can even walk over. I’ll give you my spare key to the truck and I’ll give you Daddy’s cell phone number too. I’d give you Micah’s but I’m not sure how much good it would do, he’s always forgetting to charge it or keep it on him.”

Daylight was wasting and Mark finally capitulated but he was pretty strung out about it I could tell. As a show of good will I called him as soon as I pulled into the parking lot to let him know I was there and then called him from inside the store to make sure there was still reception. He seemed to appreciate it and with that out of the way I got down to the reason why I had come in the first place.

Rather than put Jessie in a buggy seat Mark had told me I’d have to carry him around in his pack or he would chew on everything and really pitch a fit. That also made it easier for me because the large flatbed cart that I wanted to use didn’t have a child’s seat. First I steered the flatbed to the bakery section and asked if they knew of a source for used five gallon buckets in town.

The woman I spoke with said, “Honey, I’ve got a boatload of them in the back. I’d been holding onto them for this man that used to come collect them but it’s been two weeks and I’ve got to get these out of here. You want them, you can have them.” I made arrangement to pick them up out back after I had completed my shopping and then got down to it.

Up and down the aisles I went. I grabbed large bags of flour, white rice, corn meal, popcorn kernels (100 pounds of those), bulk packages of all the different pasta shapes, I grabbed canned meats that would help tide us over until Daddy and Micah could go hunting, bulk containers of a bunch of different condiments, several jars of peanut butter, commercial size cans of broths, about four hundred pounds of white sugar (bearing in mind Daddy’s ideas on preserving) and nearly the same in brown, large cans and jugs of different cooking oils, boxes of salt, large containers of several just-add-water type beverages, and more. I went over to the health and beauty area and picked up some bulk OTC meds and then finished stacking the flatbed with paper goods.

The woman running the check out gave me the eye and then had the nerve to ask, “What are you buying all of this for?”

“Just had a man give us some money and tell me to restock the home. In this day and age you can’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth.”

“Sure can’t,” she replied. “You sure you going to be able to pay for all of this?”

“Yes,” was the only answer I gave her and I didn’t care if it came out rude or not. She was rude for having asked in the first place.

I was happy to have so quickly knocked off a good part of my list, less happy about the prices. I carefully navigated the parking lot getting plenty of stares and a few snickers. Mark was waiting at the truck and just goggled at the loaded flatbed. But he told me to keep holding Jessie and that he would load it into the camper.

“Mark, put those frozen veggies into the cooler will you?”

“No problem. You all like your rabbit food I take it,” he said referring to the fact that I had bought six bulk bags of different types of frozen vegetables including one that was an oriental blend that would be great for stir fries.

After everything was loaded he said, “Here, I’ll take him and put him in the car seat. You drive. “

I got in and saw a messy pile of metal parts sitting in a cardboard box in the floorboard. I asked and he had found everything he needed on a single vehicle which made pulling it even easier. After Jessie was buckled in I asked him what he had on the rest of his list.

“I need to pick up some groceries and stop by the feed store if you have time. They didn’t deliver the last order and aren’t returning phone calls for some reason,” he said looking hot and sweaty.

“Hey, if you want we can stop and pick up something to drink and …”

“No, it’s OK.”

Thinking I knew what the problem was I said, “Well, how am I supposed to show my appreciation? You came all the way out here with me which meant I didn’t have to drag Daddy out which in turn kept me from worrying over him and making him crankier than he was already this morning.”

A cocked eyebrow was all I got until he said, “OK, where’s the Del I remember and what did you do to her?”

I laughed ‘cause he was spot on the money. “She grew up for real instead of just thinking she was grown up. Look Mark, you were no angel, that’s for sure, but I was way out of line for holding a grudge you didn’t deserve to begin with. We both just picked at each other too much. What, you’re 23 now?”

“Twenty-four.”

“And probably feeling like you’re eighty-four with all the responsibilities you’ve been forced to shoulder lately. At least I got out from under some of mine when I started school. Daddy saw what I was doing to myself over it and sat me down and had a long talk. We worked things out. If Micah hadn’t been bent on acting like an oversized donkey’s behind things would have been even easier on me.”

“Your aunts told me you worked three and four jobs all the time,” he said, not objecting when I pulled into the parking lot of a popular fast food burger joint.

“Normally just two or three but I’ll do just about anything to bring in some money. Daddy’s pension and income from the plant covered all of our household needs so long as I was careful at the grocery but it didn’t stretch far enough to cover anything else. Once Daddy retired Micah and I lost our health care benefits. The university required that I carry their plan but Daddy had to pay for his and Micah’s through a private insurer and when Daddy got sick that 20% ate up a lot more money than we expected, plus some of his meds weren’t covered by the plan we had. And … well, you know the drill. Living cheap and living well don’t have to mean the polar opposite of each other but work and creativity are the two things you have to have to make them meet in the middle.” I was a little embarrassed by how much information I’d just kind of spewed out there. I’m not normally that forthcoming but giving how the Aunts talked, Mark probably knew half of what I was telling him already.

“Yeah. I wish …” he trailed off.

“What?”

“I don’t know. When Dee and Butch were married …” he started.

“Butch is your brother-in-law right? I didn’t have much to do with him even before the dog incident.”

“Ex brother-in-law, please. Anyway when he and Dee were married money was pretty good up until the end and Dee never had to learn to budget and stuff like that. Butch handled all the bills, bought her clothes like she was some kind of Barbie doll, they had the maid to go to the grocery for them, heck her name wasn’t even on any of the accounts. After the divorce she didn’t have a clue and I wasn’t much better. She ran through the settlement money like it was water and everything fell apart before I even realized what was happening. Your aunts tried to warn me but I was so in deep with the trouble over Jessie that I just kind of blanked it out, thinking it couldn’t be as bad as they were painting it. Man, I wish someone would have sat me down when I was a kid and told me one day I was going to need to know all the stuff I used to think of as useless. I’d give a whole lot to be able to go back and change things.” Then he looked over at me and said, “A lot of things.”

Jessie chose that moment to get fussy so we got out of the truck to tend to him. We walked inside and I told him that he could pay me back some other day and that since this was probably the last time for a while that I’d be eating out to let us do it in peace without a lot of arguing over who was paying for what.

“Maybe there is some of the old Del in there after all,” was his way of accepting. While we ate and Mark fed Jessie a fruit and yogurt cup we planned out the rest of our stops.

We came out of wallyworld with three buggies full but no strange looks. Lots of people came to town on the first of the month to stock up and no one seemed to be leaving with anything less than at least one full buggy. Of course the buggies weren’t all full of food but of a lot of different things but when those little white plastic bags are tied shut you can’t tell what is in them can you?

The only problem I had was when I ran into the purchase limit in sporting goods. I could only buy two boxes of ammo; not two boxes of any one kind of ammo but two boxes of ammo period. Mark helped me out by buying two for me and then shook his head when I started to complain grumpily.

On the way out of the store he told me that he knew a guy at a pawn shop that was selling out and might could give me a price at least close to what Wallyworld’s was if I was interested. So Mark made the call, I called Daddy to confirm, and we swung by there and loaded up on almost all the .22lr the guy had left as well as shotgun shells and some reloading supplies so that Daddy and Micah could go back to loading their own shells. “Daddy has the other stuff he needs. I appreciate this Mark like you don’t know. Daddy has been really worried because he and Micah had blown most of the .22lr last time they were at the range and he kept forgetting to restock.”

“Micah knows how to hunt?”

“Yeah, I do too. Most of our family vacations that weren’t spent here were in places where we could hunt or fish. I hardly ever bought meat at the grocery except if it was on a really, really good sale.”

“How do you plan on running a freezer up at the cabin? Generator?”

“No. We dried or canned most all of the meat. Canning was about the only ‘women’s work’ Daddy ever paid much attention to but Granddaddy was like that too if you remember him. Actually what he wants to do is build a smokehouse but … but …,” I lost steam wondering if there would be time enough left for Daddy to finish all of his plans for the cabin.

“Hey, you OK?”

“Yeah,” I said trying to breathe around the heavy feeling in my chest and see through the incipient tears in my eyes. “It just sort of sneaks up on me every … every …,” another swallow and I could finish, “every once in a while. But I guess you understand better than most would. You were eight when your parents were killed weren’t you?”

“Yeah. Dee was in her senior year of high school. I don’t care what anyone says, it doesn’t get easier, it just becomes part of the landscape and you just learn to deal with it better.”

“Because you don’t have any choice.”

He nodded, “Because you don’t have any choice.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 2 (Part 5)

I dropped Mark and Jessie at the feed depot while I ran a couple of smaller errands down the road. First I stopped at a discount auto parts store and picked up all the fluids, belts, and other odds and ends Daddy had asked for and then used the Tom-Tom to find a pharmacy that would fill Daddy’s prescriptions and signed up to have them moved to the new location. While I was in there I saw a guy walk in that had a Harbor Freight logo on his pocket so I asked him where his store was located and could have kicked myself when he pointed across the street.

I lit out of there before my red face could catch anything on fire and tried to call Mark to tell him I was going to be a few minutes late but couldn’t pick up a signal. Fussing at the phone I drove across the road anyway, battling traffic that was turning into a nightmare I finally got to park and walked into a welcome blast of cold air. Everyone seemed to be glued to the TV when I walked in but given there weren’t any customers in the store so that didn’t seem too unusual. I just figured there was a game on or something and went about looking what I had come in for.

The lighting down in the basement and in the sub cellar was awful to nonexistent. If you’ve never tried to climb steep pitched stairs while carrying a lantern I wouldn’t recommend experimenting. I’d hardly touched my own money that I’d taken out except to pay for my personal stuff at wallyworld and to make change for Mark when they wouldn’t take anything bigger than a twenty at the register. I got lucky and this store had a pretty decent solar section; in my experience some of them didn’t.

I grabbed several solar powered security lights, some solar fence chargers so that I could raccoon proof the garbage cans, and a few other odds and ends that set me back enough to make me cringe. We’d collected quite a bit of solar equipment over the years especially once Daddy started working at the plant. The plant manager wrote off broken equipment and threw it away. It was more expensive to get it repaired. Daddy had a thing for dumpster diving and came home with more junk than I could find room for. A lot of it was stored at the Aunts and would need to be carted back to the cabin which I was not looking forward to.

It took forever for me to get the clerk’s attention to tell him I was ready to check out. He was only paying half attention to things and even dropped one of the solar lights so I had to go back and get another one and he still through the broken one in the bag. “What is up? Is the game that good?” I asked finally getting too irritated no to say something.

“Game? Oh … you must not have heard. There’s something going on up at the levies. Cops and even the military are up there. There’s a rumor that one of them violent environmental groups have taken the main gate hostage or something like that.”

“Up … at the … the levies?”

“Yeah, near the water treatment plant. Man, what those whacked out freaks won’t do for attention.”

“Uh … yeah.” I paid and after I had put the stuff in the back and shut the camper down I tried calling Mark and then Daddy, not being able to reach either one of them. Traffic was even worse. I was like a fish swimming upstream and I realized it was getting close to quitting time for a lot of businesses. I pulled into the Feed Depot to find Mark pacing around outside practically drilling a hole through his phone as he pushed the buttons. I beeped the horn and he jumped and then jogged over.

“Where have you been?!”

“I stopped at Harbor Freight. I tried to call. Has it been going through? I can’t get ahold of Daddy either.”

I saw the tension go out of his shoulders just a tad. “No. No and I can’t reach Dee or Cici. Look, now I’m the one that has a favor. You were pulling a pretty good load when you got here. Do … do you mind if … look, they refuse to deliver your aunts order because the price of fuel has jumped and their place is too far out of their way. They’ll let me borrow one of their trailers for free if I drop a load off at one of the neighbors who is in the same boat.”

“Well of course.”

“It’ll mean a trip back though to bring back the trailer.”

“Don’t worry about it. Daddy will probably think of some other stuff he wants. Look, I don’t want to rush but … do you mind if we make this our last stop? Or do you have …”

“No. No that’s fine with me. If you’ll take Jessie I’ll back the truck up and we’ll just go. It’s … er … it’s already loaded. I told them … uh …,” he stopped uncomfortably.

“Like I said Mark, don’t sweat it. You’d do the same for me if things were reversed. Let’s just go. I’m a little worried.”

It took a few minutes and I had to change the ball on the hitch but we were finally on our way home with Mark driving since he knew the back roads.

“Mark?”

“Yeah.”

“The guys at Harbor Freight said something was going on at the levies. Did you hear anything about that?”

He nodded. “That’s why you want to get home?”

“Well …”

“Your Dad worked at a water treatment plant.” It was a statement and not a question.

“Yeah.”

After a second of uncomfortable silence Mark asked me a question I’d been dreading. “Why did you all move back?”

“Daddy … he just … sorta …”

“Del, you never did lie very well. Your dad was in the military. He was asking me how well your aunts were set up and stuff like that. I thought at the time he was worried about being a burden but … but now maybe I’m not so sure. So … what is it? Or have you been forbidden to say anything?”

“Forbidden? No. But …,” I stopped trying to find the words. “Mark I really don’t know what is going on. Daddy … Daddy … well, he thinks he overheard something that … that worried him. I don’t know the specific details but it involved Homeland Security. But the thing is … sometimes Daddy … well … his … his medication … it …” I stopped, still at a loss how to say it.

“You’re dad thinks something bad is going to happen but you aren’t necessarily convinced but you trust him enough to go along.”

Even thought that didn’t quite cover everything it was enough for me to say, “Yeah, basically, that’s it in a nutshell.”

“Do you think whatever is going on up at the levies has anything to do with it?”

“I don’t know Mark,” I said shaking my head slowly. “That is one heck of a coincidence either way you look at it. I’ll be honest and say it is setting off the wooly boogers inside my stomach.”

“It must be contagious then,” he muttered. After a few minutes of quiet concentration to get us out of town and onto one of the roads that would take us across farm country he said, “If those levies go everything you are looking at right now could suddenly get very wet. We had record levels of rainfall for the past two months and while we aren’t at flood stage another month would put us over it. Those levies are holding back more water than they usually do.”

“Great. I could have gone without hearing that all day.”

“Wait, I’m not done. Your aunts’ place sits higher than most since it was one of the original homesteads in the area and they had the sense to know where to build back then. But your uncle’s place, it sits in some bottom land. The levies go then so will everything they have. And if they lose the farm they’ll move in on your aunts’ place; and what’s more the old ladies will let them.”

“And you’re telling me this why?”

“If they move to your aunts’ place I’m leaving even if I have to put a sail on the trailer and paddle out.”

“Uh oh. That bad?”

“You don’t want to know. Let’s just say they put their noses into places they had no business putting them and leave it at that for now. Your aunts know how I feel but I’m just the hired hand and they’re family. But … and you didn’t hear this from me so don’t bring it up again … if you all have anything stored in the house or barn you’d better get it while the getting is good or you might not … if you get my drift.”

Oh brother I thought, on top of everything else this I did not need. “Thanks for the warning. And look, if worse does come to worse, don’t take off before talking to Daddy.” Added “please” when he looked like he would object. “Granddaddy bequeathed that back forty as our portion of his estate … to Micah and I as our mother’s beneficiaries. The aunts have the right to live there for the duration of their lives but that back forty is actually ours; we pay the taxes on it and everything and have since Granddaddy passed away.”

“I didn’t know that.”

I nodded, “Most people don’t but Uncle Clement’s family all should. The rest does belong to the Aunts free and clear as Granddaddy deeded it over to them right before he died to avoid a fight between his kids. What the Aunts plan on doing with the remaining sixty I can’t say. If Daddy knows he’s never said anything about it.”

“Well, I’d still get anything that is yours back to the cabin as soon as you could. If there isn’t anything to fight about then a fight should be less likely.”

“And you’ll talk to Daddy first?”

He would only go so far. “I’ll think about it. But I’ve got Jessie and Dee and Cici to think of. I can’t sit around waiting forever for your family to make up its mind about what it is going to do.”

I let his words roll off of me figuring he must have some reason for them but I also wondered where he thought he would go if something bad did happen. The rest of the trip back to the Aunts’ place was fairly quiet. Jessie was asleep and we were both wrapped up in our own thoughts. The only radio station that wasn’t bankrupt and still reached out as far as we were driving didn’t have a thing on it about the trouble out at the levies.

“Why don’t they say something?!” I fussed.

“Dale Rogers … the guy that owns and operates the station … wouldn’t know honest news if it smacked him across the face. He’s always bragging about his years in the Peace Corps and you can guess which side he supported in the last elections. His bark is pretty loud but he doesn’t have the guts to take something on without a crowd at his back. Most people consider him the town jester. He’s a lot more sound than substance.”

“Those types aren’t necessarily harmless.”

“Rogers is, at least so far as I’ve experienced. In a crowded room he’s a big man. Get him off on his own and the air comes right out of him.”

As we finally pulled in I saw Daddy and Micah loading stuff into Micah’s jeep and onto the small trailer that was attached to it. Daddy saw us and quickly walked over to the driver’s side when he saw Mark was driving.

“Mark, I hope you don’t mind. I asked Dee and she said it would be OK for us to borrow the trailer. I should have asked you when Del called earlier but it slipped my mind.”

“No sir, it’s fine but tomorrow I’ll need it to deliver something to a neighbor. My truck can’t handle this big trailer where I’m going.”

Daddy was gray faced with fatigue and even Micah was looking worried. Micah jogged over to my side of the door and whispered, “Del, make Dad say this is this is the last load. He looks weird and he puked up his lunch. I tried to make him go home after that but he got mad. I think he might have that stomach virus again.”

Mark turned his head and looked at Micah and then at me. I gave a slight shake of my head and then told Micah, “You know how determined Daddy can be but I’ll see what I can do. We’ve got stuff to put away in the coolers anyway. Why don’t you go tell the Aunts goodbye and I’ll take care of things.”

I sat there for a second trying to figure my next move when Mark said, “He doesn’t know does he?”

“Micah? No, Daddy doesn’t want him to know but it is getting to the point that it can’t be hidden any longer. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“The boy is going to be angry.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ve put myself in his place a million times but Daddy just won’t listen. It is going to come to a head pretty soon.”

“Tell you what, since I owe you a couple of favors how about when you need some help with your Dad and Micah you just ask.”

“Don’t offer if you don’t mean it Mark.”

He put his hand on my arm, “I mean it Del. This day hasn’t been anything like I expected it to be. Nothing can come of it but … but it’s been one of the best days I’ve had in a good long while.”

I started to ask him what he meant when Micah came tearing back over to the truck. “Del!! Aunt Lilah says to come quick! The news says there has been some kind of explosion at the old Curtis Levy!”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3: Transition (Part 1)

“The fat’s in the fire now,” Mark muttered as he looked at me. “A large hole in that part of the levy system will funnel a lot of flood water right down into the bottom lands.”

Micah interrupted what I hadn’t yet figured out how to say with an impatient, “Come on Del!!”

After a few seconds of confusion, I got Jessie out of the car seat while Mark grabbed the box I had put all the stuff for the Aunts in. We walked up to their porch but Mark wouldn’t come in. “Del … I have to go get Dee up. We need to start filling up water containers in case we lose the ‘lectric.”

“They aren’t here Dear,” Aunt Bel told him as she opened the door urging him to bring the box in and set in on the table. “We saw them drive off about two hours ago. Dee was dressed like she was going to town and Cici looked rather nice as well.”

I could see Mark holding back some choice words in deference to where he was and who he was in front of. “I hope she remembered to leave me a note this time,” he muttered under his breath.

“Dad?” I called.

“In here Del,” he answered and then turned to Mark as we walked into the room the Aunts used to watch television in since it had the most modern wiring. “Mark, good to see you son. Hope you two got your running done because I have a feeling … Del, Micah and I got the well going this morning after you left; the panels weren’t bad, the switch had corroded so if you want to help the Aunts fill some jugs of water up Micah and I are going to run this last load up and finish setting up the radio. I’m not going to take Mark’s trailer, what little bit is on it can be put into the truck.”

“If it fits. Daddy, the truck is pretty well loaded down.”

“We’ll make it fit even if we have to tie it on the camper top.”

Mark was slowly backing towards the door when I caught him. “Mark, hang on a second. Aunt Lilah, I’ll be right back.”

“Of course Dear. We’ll fill the jugs if you’ll move them to the canning table for us.”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied as I took Mark’s arm and steered him towards the outside.

“What …?” he started.

“Mark, I’m going to say something and I don’t want you to bite my head off. If things come down the way Daddy thinks they may … and he really hasn’t told me in words per se … and then you add in what you are concerned about with Uncle Clement’s and Aunt Esther’s family being forced to come here … Look, I’m not sure how we would do it but there is enough cleared land up near the cabin … I said wait and here me out,” I wound up having to put the flat of my hand on his chest to keep him from just taking Jessie and walking away. “I know … look, I know I haven’t ever given you much reason to trust me. Neither one of us was very nice to the other and most folks don’t really know the half of it. But we’re not kids anymore and we’ve both got more on our plates than we can handle alone. Unless you’ve got some place definite to go, please consider what I’m suggesting ‘cause I think it’ll help both of us.”

He stopped, gave me a look, reached for Jessie but didn’t turn tail when he had him. “Del … what are you planning? I can see it on your face. I do not need any trouble.”

“That’s the thing Mark, I don’t need any either. And Daddy is too sick to do everything whether Micah knows it or not. And I’m going to have to tell him sooner rather than later which is going to be … bad. And if the family descends on the Aunts and things are as bad as you let on, bad might not come anywhere near describing it. I … I can’t do this all by myself Mark. I need some help and once he finds out about Daddy I don’t know how Micah is going to react. And look, you’ve got Dee and Cici. I’m trying hard here not to tell you your business but something needs to be done about Cici.”

“What? You think you can turn her into a sweet little angel in ten lessons or less?” he asked snidely.

“No. But I’ll be an extra warm body to watch her and try and keep her out of trouble. And maybe, just maybe, having a female around that cares more than her mother seems to be able to do right now will help.”

“Del, you’re outta line. Dee …”

“Has problems Mark. She’s depressed or whatever it is. And maybe she has a lot of reason to be but she also has a teenage daughter that needs looking after. She can’t have a breakdown and raise a kid at the same time. It is one or the other and right now she’s in the middle of the breakdown it seems. I know you said this was a bad day for her but really, if things get like I think they may she can’t afford any more ‘bad days.’”

He was mad and I could tell it. “Del …”

“Mark, please. I know it is asking a lot. I’m just trying to show you I could help you right back; that you wouldn’t be the only one giving here.”

Mark got a momentarily confused look on his face. “I’m … that’s not it. Del, this is just too weird. You haven’t got a clue what my life is like. There is no way you could. There is stuff going on you don’t know about. On top of that I don’t think, until today, we’ve had a civil word to say to each other since we were little. Now you’re acting like … Del I just don’t know if I can … wrap my head around this on top of everything else on my plate right now.”

I put my hand on his arm, “I know Mark. Boy do I know. I’m having a hard time believing I’ve got the nerve to ask. And I know I’m asking a lot on top of everything else. But the one thing I’ve learned in life is that stuff happens … and it happens fast so you have to be flexible and search out decent friends to share your burdens with. It’s the only way to get from point A to point B. Right now the only thing I’m positive of is that things are going to get hard and that I’m going to need help. And the truth is that I don’t know if I can count on Micah, whether he’ll be a help or a hindrance. I don’t expect a commitment right this second but please, just say you’ll consider it.”

Like a man giving in just to get away he said, “Ok Del, OK. I’ll … I’ll think about it. But no promises and you can’t say that I told you any different down the road.”

Trying to smooth things over I told him, “I won’t. And I want you to know that even if things do get bad and you find another option that suits you better I’ll understand.”

“Sure you will,” he said rolling his eyes and going down the porch steps, his defensive armor going back into place.

“Mark,” I said getting his attention one last time. “I’ve had to learn too many times that you don’t always get what you want in life so you focus on what you need and pray the rest comes around every so often. You’ve told me you’ll think about it and I’ll take you at your word. We’ll stay friends either way. Deal?”

That got me an even weirder look but one tinged with a grudging acceptance that I really did mean what I said. I watched him walk away and then stop by the truck to grab the parts from the junkyard.

Personally I wasn’t sure what to make of my pushiness. Mark had been a thorn in my side for most of my life, or at least it felt like that. Yet here I was, one day back, and instead of avoiding him like the plague I was practically begging him to move his troubled family to live cheek-by-jowl with my own difficult family situation. I swear I thought I needed my head examined. At the same time I felt like if I hadn’t grabbed for the possibility I would have lost an opportunity that wouldn’t come around a second time. I hate that feeling because it usually means God is messing around and setting me up for something and I wasn’t too keen to have that going on on top of everything else.

My brother then yelled, “Del! You gotta see this!!”

Walking back into the house I said, “Try to be a little louder Micah, they can’t quite hear you over in Ketchum.”

“Ha ha, very funny. Seriously Del, you gotta come in and see this. It’s … it’s …,” his voice faded as he again became enthralled by the scene he was witnessing.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 2)

“This” turned out to be pictures of military vehicles leaving the vicinity at high speed as water behind the levy poured out. It looked like a scene from an old disaster movie but this time it wasn’t just a computer generated image. The news report was not live as apparently the area was already evacuated and there was no broadcast coverage from the air. Daddy said, “I don’t know if they lost any personnel in the explosion; they haven’t said. The reporter did say that supposedly they were in the middle of negotiations when it just blew. It’s no small section either. There is no saving th ….”

Suddenly a breaking news report came on from the primary national news anchor. Several dams across the nation had been hit as had several other levy systems and water treatment facilities, including Daddy’s former workplace. Some damage was caused by internal sabotage, some by direct attacks like car bombs; and a private jet was flown into the Flaming Gorge Dam. There were also reports of some transportation hubs, airports, and large electricity generating facilities having some type of malfunction. On the tail end of that the television did something funny and then when it came back on there was something my father said he hadn’t seen for years.

There was a picture of an American flag waving in the breeze and the national anthem was playing like they used to right before the television stations stopped broadcasting for the night. Then the emergency alert sound came on only there was no “this is a test and this is only a test.” Instead there were a set of instructions to be prepared for a national broadcast in five minutes from the president of the United States that would simulcast on television, radio, and internet providers.

The problem? Five minutes came and went. Ten minutes came and went. Then twenty, then forty. At forty-five minutes the waving flag continued to wave but the obnoxious sound replayed and then a voice – no one familiar, merely an announcer type voice – read a prepared statement that martial law had been declared pursuant to some Executive Order such and so and that further information would be forth coming, to please stay tuned, mind your Ps and Qs and to obey all federal and civil authorities as they responded to the situation and the other ones that were developing.

Daddy was getting pretty tense by that point. We’d been filling containers and making sure the Aunts were taken care of. I looked out the window a couple of times and saw Mark unloading the Aunts’ supplies from the Feed Depot trailer and into the old barn and then loading boxes of stuff I assumed was ours back onto the trailer, leaving the neighbor’s order on there as well.

Reaching a lull in what we could do while we waited I poured a mason jar of sweet iced tea and went out to where Mark was working.

“Hey.”

“Del, stop being so pushy … I told you …”

“Ratchet it back Mark, I just brought you some tea. It’s hotter than Beezlebub’s hot tub out here. Where is Jessie?”

Taking a bandana and wiping the sweat out of his eyes before stuffing it back into his rear pocket he gave me a long look. “It’s too hot out here for him. He’s asleep in his crib. Don’t worry, I’ve got a monitor,” he said showing me a walkie talkie looking thing attached to his belt.

“I wasn’t criticizing, I was just asking. Do you want this tea or not? The ice is already melting.”

He came around and I could see that his t-shirt was completely soaked even though it was getting later in the day. I was noticing what the wet t-shirt covered up too which wasn’t making it any easier for me to breathe out in the hot and stuffy barn. I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach with a ten pound bag of potatoes.

After taking the jar out of my hand he asked, “Any more news?”

I told him what was on and his shoulders slumped and he leaned against the truck’s tailgate. “Mark?” He definitely looked like a man just about at the point of breaking.

“They went to town. Dee needed her prescriptions refilled. I refused because she wouldn’t go back to the new therapist I’d arranged for her to visit that wanted to try some behavioral therapy options and try and get her off the pills for a while, maybe permanently. Now I don’t know where they are. If something has happened to them it’ll be my fault.”

“In what way? Because you cared enough about your sister and her health that you wanted her to try a different treatment for whatever is ailing her? I kicked myself a thousand times when Daddy had a bad reaction to one of the chemo drugs that a doctor I recommended gave to him. But on the other hand, after they did some testing the cancerous tumor in his stomach lining stopped growing. Daddy just told me, ‘no pain, no gain’ and never blamed me though for a while there he refused to do anything more to help himself.”

“Del, this is a little different. I sent her out to face a flood. Have they … have they shown any pictures at all of town?”

“Nothing since the flag came on the television. The Aunts said that they expect it is going to be as bad as the 1936 floods were. They didn’t explain but Daddy seemed to know what they were talking about and that was before his time. Do you know what they meant?”

He sighed, rubbed the little bit of coolness left in the jar across his forehead and then handed it back to me. “I think so. I want to finish getting y’alls stuff out of the barn. Your dad and Micah made a start but there is still a lot of it in here from the look of things. If you want to listen then come on, but stay out of my way while I work … and watch out, we’ve got birds roosting in the eaves again.”

“Where’s the barn cat? The Aunts always had a cat or two around that controlled the varmints.”

“The dog ran the last one off a couple of days ago. That’s another thing on my list to fix. Cici somehow must have talked Dee into taking that blasted dog with them. Knowing Dee she’ll just let the dog out someplace in the country and tell Cici some tale about it being free to hunt and live its life the way it wants like a wild creature should.”

I rolled my eyes at that, “More than likely if she did that, she might as well have sentenced that dog to death. You know the farmers around here have no tolerance for strays, especially mean ones that will go after their stock.”

“You know it. I know it. Dee knows it. But Cici just doesn’t want to acknowledge reality. Sometimes I think that girl … I don’t know what to do for her. I keep asking Dee to get her in counseling but Dee refuses to see that she needs it. I even went down to Cici’s school but no one would even talk to me since I wasn’t her guardian and, well, ‘my reputation preceded me’ if you want to know the truth. Cici can be a good kid when she wants to be and she has the wool pulled over a lot of people’s eyes which makes it even harder. But that isn’t what you said you wanted to know.” He pulled a dolly over by a stack of boxes and started moving things around and I just had to follow him the best I could.

“The 1936 flood was the worst disaster to strike this area pretty much in living memory. There were some floods in the 1960’s and 70’s before the levies were shored up and made a little taller but they didn’t do near the damage that the one in ’36 did. Your Aunts can tell you a thing or two about it but it was so bad that people just really don’t want to talk about it. Whole families drowned. Some little outpost-like towns were wiped from the map never to be rebuilt. The reason why Greeneville (named in honor of the first WPA worker to die on the job) even exists is because Ketchum was washed away and the WPA had to have some place to set up shop while the levies were being built.”

Trying to follow the story I asked, “The WPA, that’s one of those programs FDR created to put people to work correct? Wait, I remember now, you were a real history buff right? You were in a bunch of re-enactors clubs weren’t you?”

“I wish. I couldn’t afford it. I mostly hung out when they were doing their stuff. The men never seemed to care so long as I helped out and didn’t cause them any trouble and the women were always looking for someone to tote something around or as a guinea pig for their cooking. Lots of cool people in those groups and I learned a lot. They could tell really good stories too, like your aunts but different.”

Nodding my head in understanding I said, “So you expect the levy break to be along the same lines.”

Mark shook his head. “No. I expect it is going to be worse. See it used to be that people had the sense not to build too much on the flood plains but when the levies went in the wettest areas dried up instead of being flooded nearly every year. People forgot or got cocky. Now instead of just grazing land or fields you have a lot of subdivisions and homes on that land and those things mean people. Unless they were able to get an evacuation order out I can guarantee there are going to be people sitting on their roofs waiting to be rescued … and there are going to be fatalities.”

“Well, aren’t you calm about it all,” I said astonished at how uncaring he sounded.

Mark stopped took a breath and then leaned his head against a beam in the barn. “I’m not. My sister and niece are out there somewhere but … I’m realistic Del. It used to get me in all sorts of trouble. I just … I don’t have the luxury of … of …”

“Of believing that everything turns out right all the time.”

He looked at me with sad eyes, “Yeah, pretty much. I’m not fun to be around Del. I can’t play games and pretend. I see the ugly and the potentially ugly and I’m just too tired to dress it up.” Shaking his head, spraying sweat droplets around, he continued, “I’m pretty sure that Dee still has enough wits about her to head someplace where she can hook up with the National Guard or whoever they are going to send out here to tend to this mess but there is the poss … poss … “

I went over and put my hand on his shoulder. It was sweaty and he didn’t smell so hot but I didn’t seem to mind as much as I would have in the past. I had a clue what was happening because I’d felt this way before … and I wasn’t opposed to feeling this way exactly but I was sure as heck not going to be so reckless about it this time around and I sure wasn’t going to say anything until I knew whether my feelings were the least bit reciprocated.

“Mark you have Jessie to think of. You can’t go looking for them right now. But, if you haven’t heard from them in a day or … or so … let me know and I’ll babysit so that you can go to whatever passes for a check point to see … you know … if …”

He straightened up and looked at my hand and as I tried to move it he put his hand over mine. “Thanks. As for the rest of this, you’ve got to know this is a very bad idea. My life is poison right now. I’m not in any kind of position to …”

“Hold on fella. Let’s not … not jump the gun. Just because we might both be finding that our childhood ‘hate’ isn’t at all what it is now that we are grown doesn’t mean we have to be in any hurry for … well for whatever might be coming next. My life isn’t exactly all moon beams and unicorn farts right now either.”

That got a surprised bark of laughter out of him breaking the spell we had fallen under and he moved to put one of the last boxes in place when Daddy stepped into the barn. “Thanks Mark. I was wondering what you two were doing out here.”

“Hello Mr. Nash. Del was telling me what was on the tube. Anything new that I don’t want to hear?”

“Basically a repeat of 911 only on a much larger scale and with a lot less immediate coverage from what I understand. The radio stations have more information than the tv that is still in EAS mode but even they have basically admitted that everything is being censored.” His words momentarily shocked Mark and I speechless, we just kind of stood there with our mouths hanging open looking stupid. Then I look close at Daddy’s face. My father was tired and worried and I could tell he needed to go home and rest but that he would fight me if I was the one to suggest it.

“Daddy, Mark was telling me about the flood of 1936 around here.”

My father lifted an eyebrow in Mark’s direction. “Didn’t realize a young man your age would even think of that. I expect the water is going to reach all the way up to the county road just beyond the main gate.”

Mark nodded and said, “Even if it isn’t deep it is going to get wet and I doubt the ditches will hold it all. If you don’t mind my saying something Mr. Nash … well … like I was telling Del earlier, your aunts have some family with houses out in the bottom land. They might well descend on them in the very near future if they can’t hold the water back from their place.”

“And if things are as bad as they are looking there is no way they are going to be able to do it. They’ll be lucky to get out with anything at all. Might very well already be cut off.” Looking at me he said, “Esther’s family are all in town except for her son in law that kept the farm so I doubt they’ll come out this way … unless the town gets flooded which I suppose is a possibility. Clement’s family, now that’s different. I can see them moving in here and … Oh Lord, what a circus. All them Porter connections locked into a small parcel of land; there’ll be murder if they aren’t given work to keep them occupied and out of trouble. I don’t think the ones I know will do anything to hurt the Aunts and in fact may fight over who is going to take care of ‘em just to see who is in the will. But it might not be a bad idea for us to load up the last of the stuff out of the attic too and just live with the mess while we find places for everything Del.”

As I nodded, Mark said, “Yes sir. That’s kinda along the lines of why I’d like a favor sir. I was supposed to deliver this feed to Mr. Montgomery but his place is next to the Porter farm … well, it’s the Carlisle farm now. No way am I going to be able to do it. Doubt Mr. Montgomery is going to need it right this second anyhow. So, to keep it from being … accidentally … uh … mixed in with other stuff that might get moved in here I was wondering if …,” Mark ended hesitantly, afraid he’d gotten close to offending my father.

Daddy ignored the almost implied insult since I knew for a fact he felt the same way about some of them. “If we could store it up near the cabin? Sure. And son, no need to be so polite when we are talking amongst the three of us here. Del knows my feelings on certain of her Momma’s family and their feelings for me. And another thing … I have a feeling if they do move in here you’re going to be sitting in the hot seat. So, if things get where you can’t tolerate them, we’ll move this trailer up to the cabin yard and you and yours can stay up there for as long as you need to.”

“Mr. Nash …”

“Don’t Mr. Nash me. I know where you’re coming from son; been there myself though under different circumstances. That niece of yours might balk but I don’t think Dee will object. And Del is pretty handy with kids so you won’t have to worry so much about your boy. She took all those babysitting courses that the Red Cross and the local hospitals offered, has even taught a few. She knows CPR, first aid, and she’s had some wilderness training as well when she helped out with Micah’s scout troop a couple of years ago. And don’t go all defensive either. I knew your parents; they’d drop into my step-Dad’s store almost every week … when I was a boy I even delivered groceries to your grandmother before she moved out to be with her sister in that place down south of here. Just take it under advisement as an option. No one is talking about you moving the trailer tonight.”

I had a hard time not smirking. The apple sure didn’t fall far from the tree when you are talking about me and Daddy. I might look like my Momma but I am mostly my Daddy on the inside. The reason why I had felt so free to make the offer originally to Mark was because I figured once Daddy had a head of steam he’d suggest the same thing.

And while Mark might feel free to shoot his mouth off to me he was not the kind of guy, regardless of whatever reputation he was claiming, to be rude to my father so all he could let out of his mouth was a respectful, “I appreciate the offer sir and I will take it under advisement.”

Then Daddy turned to me, “Del, I know you and Mark were talking but I want to get back to the cabin. There’s groceries in the truck if I remember you correctly, and we haven’t even finished unpacking and now we’ve got all of this to find a place for. Worse, Aunt Bel said there’s rain in the forecast for tonight.”

Daddy’s timing was pretty good because about that second the little intercom squawked and Mark had to jog back to the trailer to check on Jessie. Daddy confirmed that the Aunts were as set as we could make them at the moment and had plenty of food down in their cellar and in their pantry. In two shakes of a lamb’s tale we were out of there. When Daddy’s foot gets itchy to get moving you move or you get left behind.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 3)

It was slow going back to the cabin; the truck was loaded down and I could feel it in how it was responding to the gas I was giving it to keep it going uphill. I shifted into a lower gear and that helped some but it was still nerve wracking since I wasn’t used to hauling such a big trailer up the steep incline and around the switch backs. The back way we came in wasn’t near as steep and the road was in better condition. This is one of the reasons that this part of the original acreage had never been developed. It sat up on a large granite outcropping covered with just enough dirt to for the hardwoods to develop in and then sink their roots into the rocky soil. Access from the original homestead was challenging, especially when the weather wasn’t optimal.

I pulled into the yard behind the jeep and caught my breath. “Daddy, how many more loads of this size you think we’re going to need to bring up?” I asked as I began to walk to the back of the truck and dig out the coolers to get things ready to go on my dehydrators.

“I’m not going to risk a trailer on that goat trail again. Too many bad pot holes and near wash outs; it needs grading worse than I thought it did and driving on it while it is wet isn’t doing the road bed any good at all. I think we’ll just tarp the trailer for now, leaving them barrels on there. We’ll take the truck down tomorrow – the back way if the road hasn’t dried more – and with the three of us loading and using a little ingenuity, I think we should only have one trip.”

“Are you sure? One more sounds … holy smokes!” I walked into the cabin and saw that there wasn’t a surface that hadn’t been covered in something. Most of the floor was hidden by stacks of boxes, wobbly piles of books leaned against walls, a few old trunks sat on their ends looking like they were about to pop open and disgorge their contents in the few empty spaces that remained. I started mumbling to myself. “Tell me that all of these boxes are labeled. Tell I’m not going to have to open every one of these stinking things to figure out what is in them. Tell me I’m going to have some help …”

“Oh don’t get your knickers in a knot Sis …”

“Micah!” Daddy’s warning voice drifted up from the basement stairs.

Micah rolled his eyes but he did talk more respectfully to me after that. “All of them are labeled … well, except the boxes of stuff the Aunts wanted us to bring up here. Daddy wouldn’t tell them no because he said it wasn’t worth the time arguing about it. You’ll just have to go through those. What all did you get at the grocery store ‘cause I’m …”

“Starving. Yes, I know. It’s your perpetual state of being. I got a couple of pizzas for tonight and fresh eggs and slab bacon for in the morning. Hopefully by then I’ll have a better handle on what I’ve got to work with. You said something about Dad not feeling good?”

“Yeah. I tried to talk to him about it but he got all weird and stuff. I’m not a little kid. I’m not going to flip out if he tells me he’s got the runs or something. I wish he would stop treating me like I don’t have any common sense.”

Mentally stepping carefully, and avoiding some of the more obvious come backs I was dying to make I said, “Micah, you know Dad hasn’t been …” but he was already off like a shot so I was saved from hiding the truth if not outright lying to keep Daddy’s secret, but I didn’t think I had much more time. Micah did have common sense, he just didn’t always exercise it. If even he had started to notice then we didn’t have much time left. That thought just wouldn’t leave me alone as I helped to unload trailer, truck, and jeep and try and squeeze everything into some sensible order.

Dinner for Micah and I was the pizza cooked in the ancient enamel stove in the kitchen after I had finally gotten it clean to my standards. I had already gone through a gallon of vinegar just cleaning the kitchen, bedrooms, and getting some laundry finished in the manual laundry tumbler. It was a good thing that I picked up all those jugs of the stuff from the warehouse store; I was going to need it. For Daddy I had bought some yogurt, reserving some of the plain yogurt so I could make our own, and a couple of cases of liquid diet supplements as well as the liquid vitamins that the pharmacist had recommended.

Getting Daddy to eat was occasionally a challenge but he really liked the various rice puddings that I had started to make when he first got sick so I made a really simple version by taking a cup of instant rice, some cinnamon, and a little bit of sugar, and mixing in a cup of boiling water. I could have added some dried fruit but preferred it plain except for a little sweetening and spices.

Daddy and Micah sat and listened to the radio while I did what I could to organize the mess. The cabin’s main good point in my opinion is that for its size it had as much if not more storage space than many larger homes had. It had been designed by some long ago ancestress for her son and his wife to move into, in fact the hunting camp used to be called the Honeymoon House. Children, newly married, could live in the cabin for a year or two until they saved up enough money to either pay off the obligation to their parents or until they could afford to move to a farm of their own … or as often until they emigrated out of the area.

There was a walk in pantry which started as a lean-to built onto the back of the kitchen, eventually being hardened and a door cut into so that it could be entered from inside. Then there was the basement pantry as well as a root cellar accessible by both a door in the basement and doors currently hidden off the porch by an overgrown snowball bush.

There were three bedrooms and a loft that could also be used as sleeping space but for now the loft was full of shelves where books and that sort of thing could be stored. The bedrooms weren’t huge but they weren’t tiny like many cabins I’ve been in, before and since. There had been a small, fourth bedroom at one point but it was converted to a semi-modern bathroom in the 50s. Micah’s primary complaint was that the bathroom was pink … Pepto-Bismol pink; the tub, toilet, and sink as well as most of the tile work on the walls was the same … er … interesting shade. It wasn’t the best looking bathroom but it was one heck of a lot better than using the outhouse which we used during the daytime to try and save the water that had to be transferred to the cistern that helped the indoor toilet to flush.

The wood floors needed sanding and polishing but I put rugs down on the floor to cover the worst areas. There was a large coat closet in the front room as well as two large, cedar-lined linen closets towards the back of the house. These I filled with all of our own clothes, bathing linens, blankets and quilts, as well as the boxes of old linens and laces that the Aunts apparently expected me to make something of.

The main living spaces included a front entry room that could be shut off from the rest of the house. It had been an open porch at one time but Daddy had to rebuild the floor a few years earlier and he figured he might as well make it a full renovation. When he was done the room helped to cut down on loss of heat during the winter and gave us a place to put our damp outdoor gear rather than create puddles on the wooden floors.

It also added some badly needed security. The door was part of a couple of sets that he got from a really old church that was being demolished. The doors were all solid mahogany and nearly three inches thick. It took the combined strength of Daddy, Micah, me, and a team of Tennessee mules to get the blasted thing hung and the ones he repurposed for the basement door and the sub cellar door were even worse since we had to set up a block and tackle rig inside. The hinges were made by a local black smith that Daddy used to go to school with back in the Dark Ages and they are massive. Don’t even get me started on the blasted door frames that the doors actually hang in. But I have to admit that they are pretty and swing really nice, they just have to have additional door hardware at the top to keep them from slamming open or closed and maiming someone, if not outright killing them. The locks on those doors are something else too but I won’t go into that right now, suffice it to say that the church had been in a bad part of town and had security out the ying yang.

Daddy also got a couple of the stained glass windows from that church. They were in sad shape and though I’ve put my hand to repairing windows like that with new leading these were in such poor shape that Daddy just had me dismantle the pieces of glass and reset them the best I could. I couldn’t replicate the nearly tiffany-like quality but I don’t think I did too badly. I used most of the glass in two windows up in the loft and one of the windows in the study but still had enough left over to add to a project where I was re-glazing the transom windows in the house. The transom windows allowed us to direct the heat up to the ceiling and out of the house and all it takes is a gentle breeze to really move it along.

The other main living areas are the family room; a “fancy parlor” that was turned into a man’s study over the years as parlors went out of fashion; and, the large kitchen with a fireplace you can cook in, a wood stove that only gets used in the winter, and the old enamel stove that had been converted to propane. There is also a real dining room that holds a table that will seat ten if you put in all the leaves.

The room that I liked best was one that reminds me of either a housekeeper’s study or a butler’s pantry. It is a small hallway between the kitchen and the dining room where the dishes and table linens are kept. The traditional liquor cabinet is in there as well and the lock on it still works despite the fact that it must be almost a hundred years old, having been put on there about the Prohibition era. There is also a little drop down desk top in there and that is where the housekeeper or the lady of the house could sit and work out the menus or enter items into the household inventories. It has been my favorite nook for as long as I can remember.

Daddy has refused to use the master bedroom ever since Momma died; he said the memories were too painful because he and Momma shared that room the first year they were married. I was even born in that room but not on purpose. Daddy was on a remote TDY doing some kind of training and he brought Momma to her family to look after her until he could get back. A big storm came up and knocked the phone out … we don’t even have phones at the cabin any more as the poles and lines were never repaired … by the time Granddaddy could get to the cabin to check on her it was too late and I had arrived. Needless to say Daddy almost came unglued when he found out and harsh words were nearly said. Daddy and Uncle Clement’s son did get into it but that was another bit of family drama … Uncle Clement’s oldest son, only a few years younger than Daddy, has all the tact of a bull moose in rut.

But because of space Daddy put me in the master bedroom – Micah used to be in there with me until we got too old to share a room. I spent more time putting Daddy and Micah’s stuff away than I did my own. I liked the room; there just wasn’t any furniture in there at the moment except for a cot and the chiffarobe where I put my own clothes.

The basement of the cabin was a work-in-progress. I know Daddy had always had some idea of finishing it off and making more living space out of it. But at that time all it held was all the boxes and stuff that I was bringing in out of the weather until I could find a space for it upstairs. The basement pantry and root cellar opened off of one end of the basement and the sub cellar door was under a rug on the opposite end of the room.

The sub cellar used to be one of the scariest places in the world for me. There was no light down there and you could only access it by these steep, rickety wooden stairs. With the door shut it always made me feel like I was in a crypt though not because of the smell, just from the feeling of earth and substance above my head.

Actually Daddy said that we were some of the luckiest people he knew because our basement and cellar were completely dry. The basement was a well-dug structure that had up to that point lasted nearly two hundred years and was lined in the main section with bricks of local “pink” granite. The sub cellar was actually a “dry cave” that the original cabin had been built on top of. A few old family journals still survive from the pre-Civil War days and in a few of them you can discover bits and pieces of family history if you take the time to decipher them. Seems that a small cave opening was on the surface, more of a fissure really, and that early hunters had used it because the deeper you went the cooler it became. One of those early hunter-explorers eventually was granted the deed to the land for some military service or other but built his home in a more attractive area of all of the acreage he eventually came to own. He continued to use the area of the cave as a hunting camp. It was either this man’s third or fourth wife that came up with the idea for the Honeymoon House, probably out of sheer desperation given the number of people that lived in the “big house” at the time. After a couple of generations of use the cabin was repurposed back into a hunting camp or a place where the men could get away to. Stories abound that it was also a hiding place during the Civil War where the family kept their valuables and some food and grain.

All I knew for sure at the time was that the cabin was sturdy despite its age, and that there was plenty of room for the three of us as well as all of the junk that Daddy and Micah tended to accumulate.

I was exhausted by ten o’clock and collapsed in bed but Daddy and Micah continued to sit up and listen to the radio. I woke with a start about 4:45 the next morning. There was taping on my window. I got up, grabbed my pistol – Daddy insisted that even though we weren’t in the city any longer he still wanted to keep the same habits – and crept over to the shutters.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 4)

“Psst. Mr. Nash, it’s Mark Griffey.” I almost couldn’t hear him through the thick glass and wooden shutters. I did hear his frustrated curse as I was sliding the window open.

“You think my Dad is going to really appreciate that kind of talk Mark?”

I heard him start and lose his balance for a moment as he slid in the abundant wet leaves that had piled up around the house. “Del? Give me a heart attack next time why don’t you. I didn’t mean to wake you. I thought this was your Dad’s room.”

“No, Daddy won’t stay in the master bedroom so I’m the one that uses it. What’s up?”

“Look, I hate to disturb your Dad but … I mean I know he wasn’t feeling so hot yester …”

Daddy must have been up getting the coffee going and he had us both jumping like frogs when he came into the room and said, “I was already up. Come around to the kitchen door. Del … get some clothes on and then come out and get some breakfast started.”

I hurriedly dragged on a pair of work jeans and t-shirt, slid my house slippers on and then went to the kitchen. I looked around but only Daddy and Mark were sitting at the breakfast nook. “Micah is still asleep but nine will get you ten the boy will wake up when he smells the bacon frying. He was already talking about it when we went to bed last night.”

It was said with a laugh and I smiled but Mark still had a real serious look on his face. He was already nursing a cup of coffee that Daddy had set him up with and as I got the biscuits going and then the eggs and bacon I finally heard the reason for his glum expression.

“A neighbor brought Dee and Cici home right before dark last night.” Daddy said that was good news and Mark nodded but he also said they brought lots of bad news with them. “Things are really bad in town and worse out in the bottom lands. Small bombs went off throughout the day all up and down the levy system, the news just isn’t getting out because of all the other stuff that is going on around the country.”

“We heard. They are saying that it was a timed attack by unknown terrorists and that there isn’t a piece of this country’s infrastructure that hasn’t been affected. Lots of computer hacking going on as well.”

“Yeah. But I’ll be honest and say none of that is something I can do about right now. Mr. Nash, were you serious about it being all right for me to move my family up here? I’ll work out some kind of payment, really I will, I … I just don’t know when I’ll be able to …”

“Whoa son. If things are that bad we don’t need to talk about payment right this second, first let’s hear what has changed between yesterday and today.”

Mark raked his hands through his hair, something that it appeared he’d been doing a lot of. “I was wrong, Esther’s family showed up first, I guess it was about thirty minutes after Dee and Cici got home. They said they had a foot of water in the house by the time they got everything they could loaded and got out. And when I say Esther’s family I mean the whole kit and kaboodle of ‘em. You know her kids had moved back home with their families because they both lost their jobs.”

Daddy rolled his eyes, “Must be bad if they moved back to their Momma’s as both of them had moved away to what was supposed to be high-paying jobs. Guess I’ll have to listen to that when I go down there today.”

“Wait … it gets better. About midnight Esther’s ex-son in law shows up with his kids. Esther’s daughter, the one that run off, she’s still out in Las Vegas but Rudy Carlisle still makes sure that the kids see Esther regular because he doesn’t really have any family of his own left. His farm is flooding out and it is going to get into the basement of the house he had built about ten years ago … probably not up into the house itself but you know it is still going to be a mess. He’s got all that cattle and equipment. Apparently he’s managed to move everything to the highest ten acres but he has to stay there and keep watch over it, especially the animals … he and his brother will so the kids are staying with Esther.”

I said, “The house must be full to bursting. That’s got to be close to twenty people if you add them all up.”

A nod and groan from Mark let me know I was spot on but he still wasn’t finished. “Then at two this morning Clement’s youngest son and his family showed up and we hear that the older one is trying to make his way there too though he still hasn’t arrived.”

Daddy snorted and said, “Run while you’ve got a chance boy, that’s all I’m going to say.”

Another tired sigh and then I could see that Mark was bracing himself to keep going. “That’s the problem sir. Well … I didn’t really own that trailer, you’re aunts were holding a note on it. They were going to let me work the cost of it off after I had come up with a down payment, but I never could get ahead between one thing and another. And Clement’s son, JD, just kind of … kind of …”

Mark was caught between anger and shock. Even Daddy was sitting there with his mouth hanging open.

I asked softly, “Mark please tell me that the Aunts didn’t just let JD kick you all out of the trailer.”

Mark answered just as quietly, “I don’t think they really know what is going on. I know you think your aunts are … are invincible or something … but they are really just three old ladies and their family descended on them and … and … I don’t know if they have it worked out quite what is happening. I don’t want to create a situation. The old ladies have really saved my life this past year. But I’m to the point where I’m being left with little choice.”

“What is it you want son? Some back up with JD?”

“Huh? No sir, I don’t want a fight. I can’t really afford one. My ex would use it to … it would be fuel for her to take Jessie. No sir, actually I have an old travel trailer I was living in and had had it for sale but no one even made an offer on it. It is kind of like that old Streamline of yours except that it still has the beds and such in it. I can set up a tarp and outdoor kitchen – it’s what we were doing for a while – I just … I don’t have any place to park it.”

I looked back and forth between Daddy and Mark and then had to jump up to save the biscuits and the scrambled eggs. The eggs were a little dry so I took some Velveeta and melted it while Daddy explained to Mark that he did too have some place he could park it. We’d move our Streamline to the back side of the yard and he could have the level place in the front near the road.

Mark nearly collapsed with relief but insisted on talking to Daddy about “lot rent.” Daddy of course was of a mind to tell him off for throwing his charity in his face but understanding I said, “Daddy, I know you don’t want rent per se but what about some help with some of the heavy lifting? There’s some stuff that needs doing that I’m just not strong enough to help you and Micah with and I’m not afraid to admit it.”

So it was decided that Mark would continue to try and work for the aunts, assuming that was possible, and he’d also give Daddy a hand with some of the projects at the cabin. It left both men with some pride but I knew from watching him over the next couple of days that his predicament still smarted quite a bit. But the shock of how quickly things had deteriorated in this country took precedent over our personal problems … at least until what had happened became our personal problem.

The day after Mark had moved his family up to the cabin area he and I ran to Greeneville for some supplies that Daddy had ordered. The town wasn’t completely flooded like Ketchum but there was still significant areas of standing water and it was only because of how high Mark’s truck was off the ground … a leftover from the days before he got married and had some money to baby his truck with … that we were able to travel freely.

The first place we stopped was the hardware store. “Not taking anything but cash or local checks,” said the irritable man standing guard at the door.

Cheekily I responded, “Then it’s a good thing that is all we have to spend isn’t it?” I sailed past him like the QE2 with Mark shaking his head and throwing the man a look of sympathy.

“Del, give the guy a break. He’s got a thankless job.”

“I’ll give him a break all right. There was no reason for him to be so snotty. We hadn’t even stepped foot on the stoop of the store yet. He was the one being rude, not me. We’re the customers.”

“Whatever you say. Try and not get into any fights though. Your Dad will have my skin if you do.”

I turned around and gave him a white hot look to let him know that I didn’t find that funny. To be honest I was in a rotten mood. It had only been 24 hours and Cici was already on my last nerve. She seemed to take it into her head that her main goal in life was to egg Micah on as far as she could and Micah the big dope was hooked on her line every time she started up. Dee also wasn’t helping though Mark said she was actually much more with it than she normally was.

I let the tension out of my shoulders and said, “Hang on a sec.” I walked back out of the store and told the guy that it wasn’t his problem that things were like they were and I had no business being a snot and then I apologized then I went back into the store.

“What did the guy say?” Mark was interested in knowing.

“Nothing. He’s probably as cranky as I am but at least I apologized and … and I’ll try and not take my mood out on other people. Normally I’m better than this.”

“You’re just strung out because your Dad said he would tell Micah the way things really stood while you’re in town,” Mark said trying to be understanding.

OK fine, so it wasn’t Cici and Dee that were upsetting me that day. I had no idea what I was going to come home to but someone had to get the supplies. It just couldn’t be put off any more.

I shrugged, too choked up to say anything one way or the other so Mark walked up to the counter at the back of the store and produced the purchase order. The man, calmer of temper than the one at the door said, “Were you told we could only accept cash or …”

Mark broke in, “Yeah. What’s up with that? We’re just checking to see if an order is in.”

“Credit card machines are all down. So are the ones that do the check approval. Here let me check the stock room to see if we got your stuff in.”

While the guy stepped out I looked around. “Gee Mark, it looks like locusts have been through this place.”

Before Mark could answer the guy came back pushing a dolly of boxes. “You ain’t kidding. Before we started refusing to take anything but cash or local checks we had the busiest day we’d had in years. Tarps, plywood, and other types of hardware mostly but some of the junky Chinese stuff even sold. Sears down the street sold out of generators, chainsaws, and some of their other tools. Tomorrow all we are going to accept is cash because the bank is having a hard time being able to tell us whether a check is good or not.” He grunted as he pulled another small cart of boxes in from the back. “This is about three-quarters of your order, I don’t know when or if the rest of it will come in. It’s …,” the guy gulped. “The boss talked to some of his suppliers and they are all saying the same thing. Until they get the computers and phone lines back up and running the merchandise pipelines are pretty much shut down. A lot of them don’t even have power right now. The boss is out trying to get more fuel for the generators we have because he says if things don’t straighten up in about two weeks the coal-powered plant that provides power through the co-op won’t be able to generate anything and we’ll lose our electricity too. Better back the truck into the rear loading dock and let us put it in back there so you don’t have to answer too many questions. And look, you didn’t hear it from me but my wife works over at the meat market over off of 2nd and they are selling all their meat at a discount before they have to shut down their coolers … but you have to go around to the back. That ought to go a fair piece to helping you fill up these jars.”

We did as asked and thanked him for the information. “Mark?”

“If you are asking me whether we should hit the meat processors I say it is worth a try. I mean assuming …”

“I’ve got the money. I want to swing in here to the grocery … er, maybe not,” I said as we drove by one of the two major grocery store chains still open and saw a couple of women fighting in the parking lot and four cop cars trying to keep the peace.

Mark got a look on his face and then asked, “Del, you remember Kermit McGee?”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 5)

After thinking a minute I said, “Older than me but younger than you? Got into a lot of trouble with some out of town girl after leaving home?”

He winced a little at that but said, “Yeah. That’s Kermit. He works at the propane store and I want to stop in there for a sec.”

I shrugged and said, “You’re driving.”

I watched as Mark got out and then walked in to a small store front at the road in front of a heavily fenced area. Mark jogged back out and said, “Hang on.” While he put the truck in gear he asked, “Can you break another bill for me? Why your aunts always insist on paying me with these big bills I don’t know.”

I nodded my head and he drove the truck through a hastily opened and closed gate. Both of the guys looked vaguely familiar but not enough so that I could have called them by name.

“Del, you remember Kermit,” he said pointing to the tall, skinny one. “And you might remember Royal, his sister is your age.”

Then it clicked and my eyes must have widened. The guy just laughed, “Yeah, Suze leaves an impression all right. She still thinks she is God’s gift to the pom pom and has already had that little girl of hers in beauty contests. Don’t hold it against me though.”

I smiled weakly and that only seemed to make Royal laugh harder. Mark touched my arm to get my attention. “Uh, why don’t you go read a magazine or something. This won’t take long.”

My stomach did a flip flop. Whatever it was, it was Mark’s business, I just prayed he wasn’t going to get me in trouble along with him. Luckily for my digestion it really was only a few minutes and we pulled out. The truck felt a lot heavier.

We pulled into the small parking lot of the meat market and Mark asked, “Aren’t you going to ask?”

“No. If you think it is my business you’ll tell me.”

That got a snort, “Well, telling you now or when we get back to the cabin it won’t matter. Kermit owed me a favor. I hooked him up with the lawyer that helped me to get full custody of Jessie. His little girl is a couple of months younger than Jessie and his parents are helping him out but they don’t have money if you know what I mean. Kermit’s dad is on disability for a back injury he got at the mill. Her parents had some high-priced lawyer woman … he didn’t get sole custody but neither did she and he has the little girl right now and through the rest of the summer.”

“I guess I never thought about it from the guy’s perspective. Most of the stories I’ve heard about … you know … it was the guy that didn’t want the responsibility or doubted that the kid was his, that sort of thing.”

“I could get mad about what you just said but I won’t. Stupid people do stupid things and I was pretty stupid there for a while, so was Kelly. The realities of being a mother were nothing like she expected it to be. Jessie made me grow up, I had to.”

Not quite knowing how to tread but wanting to know I said, “Daddy said that Jessie’s mom … er, Kelly … has come back and wants to get full custody.”

“Had, not has. The judge said he will take her application for reinstating her custody only after she completes some parenting classes, and anger management class, and can show that she can financially provide a better home for Jessie than the one he currently has with me. Kelly got really mad, said some things, and got slapped with a contempt of court judgment so for now everything is in a holding pattern. The judge’s office isn’t even taking calls from Kelly’s lawyer until she pays the fine for the contempt. The more time I have to try and get stabilized the better my chances remain. It’s one of the reasons why I just … I’ve changed the way I think about things I guess. Now when it comes down to fighting I have to think about Jessie first and whether it will endanger my custody of him or whether it is going to eat into the little bit of savings I’ve managed to hold onto after the lawyer was paid.”

“Ok. About the stuff in the truck,” I asked, getting uncomfortable with the other subject.

“Like I said, Kermit owed me a favor. Royal … well, he wanted a little something to look the other way. I have enough in savings to cover it when things get back to normal but I wanted to … um … bump the line a little bit.”

“Mark?” I asked getting a little worried despite my attempt to keep my nose out of it.

“Relax. It’s just some filled thirty-pound propane tanks.”

Oh. Just some “filled thirty-pound propane tanks” that we hadn’t paid for. Jeesh. But I didn’t have time to make anything of it because we were walking into the meat market. I let Mark do the talking and again we were directed to the back where we found the processing coolers. All we had was a tarp but since we were going straight home the butcher said we could pack everything in ice and wrap the tarp around the meat.

Talk about haggling. I was shaking by the time we were through but we had what amounted to a side and a half of beef. It cost a little over five hundred dollars and I nearly puked handing over that much money but Mark said, “Look. I know it is a lot of money and here is two hundred that I was going to spend on groceries to put towards the quarter for my family. I’ll help process the bigger pieces of meat and we can use the propane to get the stuff into the jars. At this price I wish I could have afforded to buy more, I have a feeling we can make a killing in a month or so if they haven’t gotten the trucks running again.”

“Oh come on Mark, lots of people around here can.”

“A lot of people around here used to can. Now most people use their freezers and if the power goes out for any length of time …”

I didn’t like the picture that Mark was painting. “OK. Fine. But people around here hunt. This isn’t exactly the big city and it sure as heck is some of the more …”

“Del, you aren’t getting it. I think your Dad does. He got out while the getting was good and he came here to try and … and … have a base of operations to work from. Let’s say you are right and the power stays on long enough for people to get most of their stuff from the freezer into jars. Let’s even say that most people around here are prepared to hunt. Let’s start with the fact that right now isn’t really the right time to be hunting although people will do it. And what happens when all of these hunters start blasting away because they need to feed their families? They’ll empty the woods is what, leaving nothing for the next few seasons. But I don’t think they’ll do that until they’ve depleted the herds of domesticated animals … of course they may have to do that anyway if the animals aren’t to starve to death. As wet as things are it is going to take a long time for everything to dry up and most of the feed crops are underwater.”

“Ok … ok … I get it already. And yeah, I know what you are talking about. Daddy has spent years drilling the possibilities of the zombiepocalypse into my head. Just excuse the heck out of me if it is a lot to have to deal with on top of what is already on my plate and …”

I had to stop. I was not ready to cry in front of Mark. Frankly I didn’t like crying in front of anyone ever, but something made me really detest the idea of doing it in front of my former … definitely former … nemesis. I took some calming breaths and then said, “I’m sorry Mark. I shouldn’t have shouted. I’m just stressed out but that is no reason to take it out on you.”

He just looked at me like I’d grown two extra heads with six eyes each. I said, “What?! I was apologizing for being …”

“No … no … it’s … looks it’s not that. I just didn’t expect … I … I didn’t even think. Lord Del, you’re nothing like you used to be.”

“Oh yes I am,” I laughed a little brokenly. “But I’m not a little kid anymore that can get away with believing in the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, Santa Claus, or that there aren’t any consequences to the things I do and say. I try and catch myself before I spout off but when I fail at that I try to at least have the grace to apologize when I’m out of line.”

“Aw Del, now you make me feel bad. I’ll try and not bait you so much. I … well I ought to have more sympathy all things considered,” he said ruefully.

“Don’t worry about it Mark. It just is what it is for me right now. But let’s get this meat home. I’m anxious about what I’m going to find when I get there.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 6)

I hadn’t been able to eat a thing while we were out even though Mark offered to get us shakes or something like that. Even had I accepted his offer or wanted to most places had signs on them that they were closed because of water issues … or because they had run out of food. The emptying of the distribution system was already being felt as hundreds, if not thousands, of “outsiders” had already pillaged much of Greenville.

The closer we got to the cabin the tenser I got. Suddenly Mark wrenched the wheel of the pickup jerking us into a pull out on the highway. “Del … look … I’m really bad at this. I don’t … I don’t have a lot to offer but as often as Dee has cried on my shoulder the last couple of years I know I won’t melt if you need …”

“Oh Mark. If I start crying I might not find the strength to stop for a good long while but I appreciate the offer. The only way I’m going to get through this is just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’ve wanted to tell Micah for ages now and Daddy always said no and now that he’s agreed to tell him I’m turning into a coward.”

“Not a coward, you’re just worried about your family.”

“Yes … a coward. There are some things that it isn’t healthy to hide from yourself Mark and this is one of them for me. I’ve spent what feels like my whole life running as hard as I could between pillar and post. I thought I was a realist but the truth is the reality I believed in was one I carefully crafted for myself. Now everything is … is cracking and one day it is going to shatter and I just don’t know … I just don’t know how I’m going to find the strength to deal with it all. And I’m scared. Daddy has always … he was my first line of defense. How do I take care of Micah and keep on doing all of the things that … Honestly Mark, how do I do it? How have you been able to do it?”

“Don’t use me as an example Del. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes. And you might too but if you are like the runt of a kid that used to get on my last nerve because you insisted on proving you could do all the things people said you couldn’t you’ll be OK. “

“Not to be insulting but if someone had told me even a week ago this would be going on between the two of us I would have called them crazy … or something ruder. Del … I can’t do what I’d like to do right now; my life is too messed up and I have Jessie to think of … and Dee and Cici. But … if I was free to do what I want to do I’d be telling you that I … I’d really like to see you, take you out on dates, kiss you.”

Mark stopped and laughed, “You look like a deer in the headlights. I suppose I’m about to get slugged for being out of line.”

“No,” I said hesitantly. “No, not slugged for being out of line. And I have … have responsibilities of my own right now. Mark I made a huge mistake once and I’ve operated very carefully ever since. I need … slow … slow and steady so I can see that whatever this is is something that I can trust.”

“A mistake? With a guy?”

I had to roll my eyes. “What? Did you think I meant a mistake with a cheeseburger or something? Yes, a guy. It was right after we moved away last time. I got taken by a con job hook, line, and sinker and some embarrassing stuff happened and no, I’m not talking about it right now. I’m sick enough to my stomach as it is. Let’s just drop this and get home. I don’t know if I can stand the waiting anymore.”

Well, whatever I expected nothing prepared me for what I had to deal with. First thing I noticed when I came into the yard was Micah trying to get up off the ground and my Dad squaring off with two men. I won’t repeat what Mark said but I pretty much agreed with him and we both jumped out of the truck.

“Daddy!”

I got no answer because the two men had just charged him and Mark was barreling into the middle of the fray.

“Micah!” I said as I turned as a young guy that I hadn’t seen before had taken him to the ground again.

Well, as a big sister I just wasn’t going to stand around wringing my hands. I didn’t know these men from Adam. Out popped my blackjack and with a mighty swing I caught the wiry blonde in the ribs hard enough to make him howl and roll away from my brother. Before he could come to terms with what I had just done I popped him on both of his knees hard enough to make him shriek and then I kicked him in the side of his head to shut him up.

I turned to find Daddy being rode hard by the older of the two other men and Mark holding his own with the younger one. I was done being nice. The tazer was in my hand and I ran up behind the guy after my dad and gave him a hefty dose of Mr. Sparkles right in his kidney zone, knocking him to his knees. The blackjack makes a nice bat and I landed one right up side his head.

Daddy was wheezing and pointing so I turned to find Mark had the other guy in a head lock. He was saying raggedly, “Are you fools going to calm down?!”

“Mark? I don’t think he can talk. You are cutting his air supply off.”

Mark turned loose of the now purple face man and he dropped to the ground gagging.

I was livid. “That’s it I’m calling the sheriff. I swear we never had this much trouble in the city. I …”

But Daddy stopped me. “No you’re not girl. They’d only call it a domestic dispute.”

“Domestic …? Oh no.” I toed over the older guy and looked down into a face that I finally vaguely recognized as belonging to my cousin … Uncle Clement’s oldest son Roy. Mark explained that the two other men were his sons.

Roy was only a couple of years younger that Daddy and I felt a little bad about zapping him after I found out who he was … but that only lasted as long as it took him to open his mouth.

“Letting your little girl fight your battles for you these days? You might as well just go ahead and die now cause you ain’t a man anymore.” The blackjack “slipped” and it kind of brushed his mouth … hard enough to draw blood.

While my erstwhile cousin checked to see if I had loosened any teeth I said, “Look, I don’t know what your damage is but family or not I’m not going to stand here and let you just insult my Daddy. What the heck are you doing up here anyway?”

One of the boys took a run at me but I’d been through too many self-defense classes not to easily be able to avoid the attack from behind and used the blackjack to advantage again before either Daddy or Mark had to intervene. “Roy, I don’t know what is going on but tell your boys that I’m done playing. If I get attacked again I’ll use lethal force if necessary and you better believe I’m serious as a heart attack. I’m done messing around here.”

Even Daddy sat up and gave me a look when I said that but I made doggone good and sure that I was setting the precedent here. I wasn’t going to be run roughshod over and they had to believe that I would do just what I said I would.

“You better tell your daughter to …”

Daddy may not have approved of the threat I had just made but he was man enough to back me up. “Roy, you better rethink your strategy. Del is a grown woman and a good shot. And she doesn’t give second warnings.”

“Yeah, that’s right. You take something away from three poor old women and expect the men in their family to sit back and just say nothing.”

Close to really freaking out I asked, “What in the Sam Hill are you talking about Roy?!”

Daddy, trying to take control of the situation and back off from what could have degenerated into a literal blood bath said, “This land. Roy here didn’t know that your Granddaddy had willed it to you kids. Seems he was under the impression that he could just move in here and take over.”

“Well shut my mouth Roy. Granddaddy had always intended for Momma to inherit this portion of the farm and Uncle Clement and Aunt Esther knew that. No one ever made a fuss when he changed it to Micah and I with Daddy as guardian of the asset until we came of age. How could you not know it?”

He mumbled something that made Daddy angry and when I asked him to talk plainer so I could understand him he practically shouted, “Your Momma’s dead. Why should you get anything at all?”

“Roy, you are so stupid. Or are you just trying to intimidate us to make us give you what you want. I can guarantee you it isn’t going to work so don’t even waste your time trying. You know good and well that Granddaddy had that clause in his will that if someone objected to what his wishes were they would lose whatever they were bequeathed. Your Daddy sold his portion and you know that too. Aunt Esther spent hers on who knows what. The farm itself is in a life estate for the Aunts and what they choose to do with it is their business.”

“I’m telling you girl I deserve something for sticking by those old biddies all these years and I’m going to get what is coming to me.” At that he grabbed his two boys and hauled their sorry rear ends down the trail.

Trust me, it took everything I had not to say the obvious but I was sure thinking it. He’d get what he deserved all right if he ever came back around again with trouble in mind. Instead I turned to patching up everyone.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 7)

“Where are Dee and Cici?”

“They went down to see the preacher’s wife. She was coming to tea,” Micah answered. I could tell he’d been crying and it wasn’t from the punches he’d endured. Micah was tough and knew how to fight, the other guy was simply older, bigger, and more experienced.

Daddy and Mark stepped away to fill each other in on what was going on and Micah looked at me and asked quietly, “Is it true Del? Is Daddy … is he … has he got stomach cancer?”

“Yes,” I answered just as quietly.

“Why Del? Why didn’t you tell me?!”

“There were so many times I wanted to but Daddy made me promise not to. He said he would tell you himself when he thought it was the right thing to do.”

“It’s … it’s not fair Del. It’s not fair,” he said back again to being closer to a boy than a man.

“No, it’s not fair but … but I’ve never really been a big believer in life being fair. I’ve seen too many times that it isn’t.”

“Gee, thanks Del. That makes me feel better.”

“I didn’t say it to make you feel better. You said it isn’t fair and I was agreeing with you. If you don’t think I haven’t spent my time being angry and sad and frustrated over this then you’re wrong. I’ve done all I can Micah … at least all I could to try and make Daddy better. I’ve taken him to doctors and specialists, tried alternative medicines to build up his system, prayed til I felt like my eyes were bleeding … sometimes we just don’t get out of life what we want. And it hurts.” I was struggling not to cry again. I seemed to be spending a lot of time doing that.

“Del? What are we going to do? There has to be another doctor or a medicine …”

“I thought you said Daddy told you everything.”

“He … he did … but there has to be something else. There has to be.”

I didn’t know what to tell him. I thought the same way about half the time but the other half of the time I knew that sometimes you just had to accept what is rather than pine away for what you want things to be.

“You want to talk?” I asked him.

“No. Yes. Not right now. I can’t stand to think about it anymore. Do you think we need to get Daddy to a hospital? That guy … Roy … he hit Daddy a couple of times.”

“Roy is Uncle Clement’s son and a big a jerk as any we have in the family. The Aunts told me he also has a liquor problem so avoid him if you can … his sons too because they don’t look much better. As for trying to get Daddy to go to the doctor, it isn’t easy at the best of times and I suspect he is too fired up right now to listen. Let’s see how he feels later on. If I have to I’ll get Mark to help me talk Daddy around … or even the Aunts.”

Dee and Cici chose that moment to drive into the yard in their ancient Chevette telling us that Roy was saying some awful things down at the farm and making a big scene in front of the preacher’s wife and everything.

That was it, my temper has always been a thing that I had only a loose control over but I was in the truck and skidding to a halt in front of the Aunts’ house before I even came to myself.

“Roy! I warned you if you tried to make trouble for my family …”

Mark’s truck pulled in behind me and he was out and grabbing me around the waist. “Whoa there Del. Your Daddy sent me after you to make sure …”

“To make sure I didn’t get hurt or to make sure I didn’t skin Roy Porter and staple his carcass to the barn wall?!”

The Aunts came out onto the porch. Aunt Bel was wringing her hands and Aunt Lilah looked like she’d swallowed a mouth full of alum but Aunt Sheba stepped down the stairs and said, “Girl, calm yourself.”

“Calm my …?!” But at a look from her I gulped air and tried to do just that. “Roy may be my cousin Aunt Sheba but blood doesn’t cover everything. He and his two sons came up to the cabin looking for trouble, claiming not to know that Granddaddy had bequeathed it to Micah and I. I don’t know what all was said because by the time I got there they’d already worked Micah over and he’s just a 16 year old kid and it was two to one against Daddy and you know he is sick and doesn’t need that.” That last sentence was ground out because I was real close to going into a black rage again.

“Is this true Mark?” Aunt Lilah asked.

Roy called from the corner of the house, “Are you going to believe him or me?!”

“Don’t mouth off at me Roy Porter. I won’t have it,” she answered him back. “I asked you a question Mark.”

“Yes ma’am; those are the facts as I know ‘em to be. Del’s Daddy isn’t looking too good right now and Micah is pretty strung out because he just found out just how bad off Mr. Nash really is if you catch my meaning. They don’t need any trouble but Roy came looking for some all the same.”

Aunt Sheba looked me in the face and said, “You know we can’t turn him out Del, he doesn’t have any place to go.”

“You do what you think is right, it’s not my place to tell you anything and I know it. But you watch your back. I’ve had a long hard time forgiving him for showing up to Momma’s funeral drunk and I don’t care if people tried to excuse it by saying he was grief stricken. Granddaddy nearly struck him out of the will for that alone. But if Roy wants to turn this into a blood feud, I’m both Porter and Nash enough to give him one.”

Mark was pulling me backwards to the truck. “Get in the truck Del,” he said in my ear. “Get in the truck and go home. Your aunts are embarrassed enough. The preacher’s wife is still sitting in the parlor, you should see her face through the window. And Esther looks like she is about to have a stroke or something. Come on, your dad is probably worried sick.”

“No one … I mean no one messes with my family Mark. They’re all I really have in this world and Momma wouldn’t want me to stand for it either,” I said forgetting to whisper.

“Well, these people are your family too,” he reminded me.

“They can be my family, or they can be my enemy. The choice is theirs to make.” I got into the truck and as soon as Mark was sure I was driving back to the cabin he followed.

No, I’m not exactly proud of the way I spoke that day. Having a hot temper is no excuse. Being scared to death for my father and brother isn’t any excuse either. I knew I was upsetting the three old ladies that I loved to pieces but that didn’t stop me from being angry at them for harboring Roy and his family when they’d just seen what they were capable of.

I know I wasn’t doing anything to make our lives easier but at the same time something in me felt compelled to draw the line when and how I did. I was worried that showing any weakness would only make us more of a target in the days ahead.

When I turned the engine off there was nearly absolute silence in the clearing. I knew that Mark had parked and was talking to Daddy but I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of the truck. I must have laid my head on the steering wheel and sat like that for ten minutes before Daddy walked up. “You done?”

“I don’t know. I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to puke or not.”

“Well, if you are better get it done and over with. Mark showed us the meat y’all brought back from town. It isn’t exactly what I sent you to get but it’ll do for now. You’ve set yourself a rough task of getting that all preserved up before it goes bad.”

I couldn’t believe that Daddy was just letting it go. I finally looked him in the face. “Girl, you’re too much like me. A little more of your Momma in you would have softened the edges but, maybe made you too soft to deal with what you’ve had to do in this life. I was always grateful that I was able to count on you, I just hope I haven’t ruined you for any man.”

That was Daddy, a real modern man on one hand, treating me as he would a son, not questioning the issue of equality at all … and two seconds later about as archaic a father as any girl has ever had to deal with. I loved him so much and in that second I really started to get a picture of how much it was going to hurt when I lost him.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 8)

Nothing else was said about Roy as we were all too busy dealing with that meat. Mark and I did most of the work. Daddy wasn’t feeling well and it was no wonder and Micah wouldn’t get more than three or four feet from him. It was pretty heartbreaking for me to watch but I hadn’t realized anyone else was noticing.

Unexpectedly Dee came around and patted me on the back and started helping. It must have surprised Mark as well because I could see him looking at her from the corner of his eye more often than not.

“I’m pretty useless Del but I can wash the jars. Mark, I doubt you remember the stories but Momma didn’t can when you were little because she had a pressure cooker explode on her and it gave her an excuse to stop. She also thought it wasn’t worth the time and effort when you could go to the grocery store and get what you wanted. But … well if what I saw in town keeps up it is going to be a while before things get back to normal so this makes sense. But even when I was married I didn’t have a freezer that could hold all of this meat. You sure you’ve got enough jars?”

Mark didn’t set her straight and I wasn’t about to as far as how long it might be before “things got back to normal.” I think Mark was even more convinced than I was that we were headed for rough times in this country.

Cici for her part was being herself. Creeping around and trying to get out of every little job that Mark set for her. She kept it up even after he told her, “Cici if you want to eat you will do your share and you will do it right.”

We were at it for hours. Mark, with some help from Daddy (and Micah), did most of the cutting and grinding. Dee actually helped quite a bit with prepping the jars, lids, and rings and I made sure to thank her for it. She seemed to stand a little straighter when she realized I was serious and that she was truly contributing to the group’s welfare since some of this was for her family.

We worked outside for as long as we could but as soon as dark fell I could see that Dee and Cici were both drooping, unused to the amount of labor involved. I told Mark to tell them to scat and him too, that I would do the rest.

“No you won’t.”

“Yes, I will. I’m going to tell Daddy and Micah to budge off too. There really isn’t anything else you can do anyway. I’ve got both my canners going and that is going to take a while and right now I’m just trying to get some soups and other mixes ready when these two batches come off. I wish I had fresh vegetables to use instead of just my dried ones. At least I still have plenty of potatoes from our other run to town.”

“Your aunts have a pretty good-sized garden. Miz Bel only has to look at something and it seems it grows like crazy. You could …”

“No!” I said a little more forcefully than I meant to. Moderating my voice I said, “I’m sorry I snapped Mark but no, I’m not going to the Aunts for any kind of help. They made it clear what side they are taking.”

“You really going to hold this against those three old ladies? They’re between a rock and a hard place.”

“So am I. I won’t be nasty to them Mark but I’m against being beholden to them under the circumstances as well.”

He cocked an eyebrow and said, “Your Dad mentioned that they’ve already sent up a bunch of jars of canned vegetables and stuff for the house.”

“That was when we were first moving in.”

“And that makes a difference?” he asked.

Grinding my teeth and finally settling back down I told him, “I know to someone else it is going to sound stupid but that is the way I feel. No one down there said squat, asking how Daddy was, worrying that Roy had really hurt him. They didn’t ask about what shape Micah was in either. All they wanted to know was whether what little I did say was the truth and then tell me to my face that they were still keeping Roy under their roof despite the danger I think he represents, not just to my family but to all of us.”

“Well, if you want to know the truth, I do understand how you feel but that’s me and I’ve been known to be stupid a time or two. Those three old ladies are all about family. I don’t know if they’ve got it in them to cut anyone off especially if they think sending them back out into the world may be the last time they ever see them.”

“Well I thought we were supposed to be family too and Roy attacked us, not the other way around.”

“Hey, like I said, I understand but I can sorta see your aunts’ side as well. Doesn’t mean I agree with it but I can see it.”

I was quiet for a couple of minutes, “And I guess I can see it too. It just hurts. No one asked … no one came out to intervene when Roy started back up. You know how that looks?”

“Sure I do. And I told you I didn’t get along with some of your cousins if I have to be around them too much. Small doses is ok because I can tolerate their jabs about how far down in the world I’ve come but a steady diet of it is too much.”

“I’m sorry Mark. I didn’t know. I wasn’t around them much growing up, just bits and pieces and they were always off with their friends and I tended to stay hanging out at the Aunts’ or with Daddy and Micah. I knew Uncle Clement better than I know Aunt Esther, she always looked down on me being homeschooled. Matter of fact you used to rib me about it too.”

“That’s because I was jealous. I hated being cooped up in a classroom all day.”

Startled enough that I sloshed hot broth on my hand making me set the pot down with more force than I had intended. “Ow!”

“You OK?”

“Yeah, it’s no big deal.” He was holding my hand and turning it in the light of the lantern to see if it was burned when Daddy came outside to check on things.

“Mr. Nash, Del sloshed some hot broth on her hand,” Mark told him as he walked up.

“Tattle tale,” I whispered under my breath because sure enough they started looking at my hand like a couple of meat examiners. “Oh, that’s enough. It’s just a little red. I’ve had worse. I’ll put some cream on it in a little while after I get this batch finished.”

“You’ll march yourself in there and put some cream on it now,” was Daddy’s reply.

Knowing better than to cause a ruckus when Daddy was in a mood I went and pulled out the first aid kit I had put in the butler’s pantry. Micah cornered me as I was standing there fuming about getting bossed around by a couple of men I knew for a fact wouldn’t let me give them a little first aid if they were dripping blood all over the place.

“Del …”

“Please don’t cry Micah. I know that is an awful thing to ask but … but I don’t know if I can handle it right now.”

“I know, I’m not a little kid … I still just don’t understand why y’all didn’t tell me before. Now I’ve got to face everything all at once.”

Leaning against the wall and speaking quietly in case Daddy came back in I told him, “Hindsight is 20/20 Bubby. I didn’t want to believe that things were ever going to get to this point and I don’t guess Daddy ever thought they would either. He was just trying to protect you from the worst of it … and maybe protect himself too.”

“Protect himself?”

“Yeah. I mean think about it. If Daddy admitted to you how sick he was that would have meant admitting it to himself.”

After a confused moment the light dawned. “You mean as long as I didn’t know about how sick he was he didn’t have to think about how sick he was; he could … could … ignore it sort of.”

“Yeah, at least that is what I think has been going on. But it is to the point he can’t ignore it anymore. Maybe … maybe if the world wasn’t going crazy he could have put it off a little longer but that isn’t the way it is and … and as cruel as this sounds we don’t have any choice but to deal with things the way they are. Wishing isn’t going to change a dang thing.” That last was said with more anger than I had meant to let show.

“I … I didn’t know you were … well … you sound angry.”

Shaking my head at the futility of it I told him, “I’m a lot of things Micah and it’s been like this for me a while. I wish I could have shared more with you but I’ve already explained that. Yes I’m angry and you’ll go through times where you get angry too. The doctors I spoke with told me that it is just part of the whole process. Right now I’m just tired and overwhelmed and my anger isn’t at Daddy being sick so much as at everything else that is going on that only makes that situation worse, harder to deal with. I swear I could have really killed Roy today.”

“I know. I haven’t seen you like that since that store that you were working at got robbed.”

“I … look Micah … all I can do is promise that I’m trying to control myself but sometimes my feelings get away from me. If there was an enemy I could focus all of my anger on I might be better off but there isn’t, not really, not right now. I also know I need all of that energy to take care of things here, around the house and Daddy and you and …”

“I’ve been a pain in the butt haven’t I?” he asked in about as repentant a voice as I’d ever heard him use.

I looked at him and snorted and said, “Yeah, but nothing too awful I guess. Not really. Certainly not too much worse than your average teenage male of the species.” After we both rolled our eyes in feigned humor I continued, “But if you could, you know, just tone it down a bit and not go off wild and crazy and get into jams … this just isn’t a good time for that sort of stuff and you’re getting a little too old for it. OK?”

Not as grudgingly as I had expected he replied, “Yeah, sure, I get it. I can’t promise not to get into fights with that Cici. Man, if you think I’m bad you must think she is a holy terror.”

“We’ll keep that between me and you please. I … we … are going to need Mark’s help and he needs ours too. It means a few compromises here and there. I’m hoping Cici will tone it back some as well when she finally accepts and understands what is really going on in the world right now. She’s fourteen, that’s old enough to start growing up.”

Realizing I’d been inside more than I had intended I brushed past Micah with a one-armed hug and then went back outside to find that Mark and Daddy had unloaded one canner and was reloading it with the jars I had already prepped.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 9)

Daddy asked quietly, “He seem OK?”

“Better than I expected. But he’s hurt that we didn’t tell him sooner and you know he’ll eventually get over the shock and get angry.”

Daddy just nodded, sighed and then said he was going to go lay down for a while but to call him if I needed anything.

After Daddy was out of earshot Mark asked, “He’s just going to leave you to handle all of this?”

I gave a small laugh and told him, “Daddy hasn’t had a choice in letting me handle things for a long time Mark. He had to trust that I could help take care of Micah, homeschool myself, and generally be the woman of the house before I was even a pre-teen. You didn’t see it because when we were here the Aunts were always interfering … with the best of intentions … with the way we normally did things. I always got more frustrated with their low expectations than I did with Daddy’s high ones.”

“But still … I guess I just don’t get it. I mean, look at Cici.”

I snorted and said, “Yeah, let’s look at Cici. It isn’t that I don’t feel for your little princess but I don’t see how it’s doing her any good to let her run wild like she has. That’s like telling her you don’t have any other expectations for her than for her to be the way she is right now. I’m going to tell you something Mark and I know it is going to hurt your feelings some but here it is … I’ve got a 16 year old brother that has already noticed that Cici is a girl and trouble at the same time. I don’t think he is stupid enough to do anything about it, apparently she hasn’t made the best impression on him, but then again I’m probably going to warn him off if she keeps it up.”

“For God’s sake Del, she’s a little girl!” Yep, he was angry.

“She’s not a ‘little girl’ Mark, she is fourteen. And she walks around dressed like she’s got it all for sale at bargain prices.”

“Hey!”

I wouldn’t let up. “Those jeans shorts she has aren’t old Mark, she’s cut them that short on purpose … what passes for a hem on them goes right to the bottom of the pocket. And that tank top she wears? And the bra underneath that is some kind of peek-a-boo barely there thing? Come on, you aren’t blind.”

He said, “I said something to Dee but she said that is what is in style and what all her friends wear.”

“Well I can tell you that isn’t what is in style right now … except for the slut patrol types. I ought to know, one of my jobs was at the Mall and I saw it all on campus too. And if her friends are wearing that then maybe she has the wrong kinds of friends.”

He was angry but it was more because I was pointing out the truth in a way he couldn’t ignore. He slumped down on a stump and groaned, “What am I supposed to do about it Del? I can barely keep up with raising Jessie. How am I supposed to raise Cici too? And that was even if she would let me.”

“Well there is part of your problem right there. Cici is still too young to decide how she is going to be raised. Heck, Micah is just now reaching the beginning of understanding that sort of stuff and he’s going on seventeen. Can’t you remember how it was for yourself? I sure do. I was mature for my age, had a lot of responsibilities, but I would have made a mess of things more than once if I hadn’t had the absolute boundaries that Daddy set for me. It gave me an excuse to use when I was in a situation I could admit that I couldn’t handle.” I put the next bunch of meat in the pan to sear and then continued, “I couldn’t admit it then, I think when you are a teenager you are still too full of yourself, but I can say now that I’m glad my Dad was like he was, is like he is. I was given a lot of leeway because of the way our life was but at the same time Daddy was really strict and I knew where the line was … and is … because he was consistent about it. I still live under Daddy’s roof and I’ll honor him with my obedience until that changes and I’m nowhere near embarrassed to say that.”

“I didn’t have that. Even before my parents died things were … different for me. Dad worked a lot and was older, worried about where the money would come from when he retired. Actually he was always going on about money. He and Mom fought about it a lot. They didn’t have a lot of time for kid stuff and mostly thought they were too old for it. Then … after they died and Dee got married … well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I wasn’t too happy. I acted out a lot and was too angry to explain to people why. Come to think of it I guess that is why I used to ride your case so much, you had what I wanted.”

We both shook our heads but I’d had enough of the heavy conversation so I said, “My, my don’t we sound all grown up and stuff.”

Mark grinned and said, “I don’t mind growing up, I’m just tired of feeling old. There are days my life feels over with before it even had a chance to start … oh … I … Del I didn’t mean to …”

“Relax Mark. A few months back I would have been hyper sensitive about accidental words like that but it isn’t your fault my life is like it is or that Daddy is sick. I’m just … look, I’m just glad I have a friend. Is that OK?”

“Yeah … yeah it is. I have to admit it is nice to have someone to talk to about Dee and Cici; someone that will tell me the truth and not just what I want to hear. Look, I’ll be right back but I need to check on Jessie. He’s been sleeping a long time and that’s not like him.”

I was in the middle of changing out the other canner when Mark came back to help. “Everything OK?” I asked.

“Yeah, Dee gave him some teething drops before she put him to bed. I usually like to … uh …” he stopped, embarrassed.

“What?”

His answer came out so fast that it nearly sounded like one long word. “I usually like to give him his bath and read him a bedtime story before putting him to bed.”

Trying to put him at his ease I said, “That’s cool. Daddy and I took turns doing the same thing for Micah. Jessie probably eats it up, I know Micah did even though there were nights when he didn’t seem like he was listening. If we didn’t read him a bedtime story he would pitch a real fit.”

Mark shrugged and didn’t say anything but did seem to relax. We were at it until about two in the morning before we were both just too tired to continue. We took what meat was left and divided it between the RVs propane refrigerator and the solar cooler in the cabin’s kitchen and then we parted company both of us hoping that we could get enough sleep to be able to face whatever was coming the next day.

I took a spit bath and then checked on Daddy who it looked like had been forced to take a pain pill before crawling in my bed. It didn’t feel like I had been asleep more than a few minutes when my forgotten cell phone went off. I answered it automatically even though I hadn’t received a call on it in days.

“Hello?” I mumbled after seeing it was the Aunts’ number on the caller ID.

“Delilah, I expect to see you here at eight o’clock.”

“Wait. Aunt Esther? See me where? At the farm?”

“No, on the moon … of course at the farm girl. Where else would I mean?”

The details of yesterday settled into place and I said, “Aunt Esther I’m not going to fight about Roy and …”

“Good. There has been quite enough of that already. Roy got roaring drunk last night and behaved like a complete fool and is, thank God, sleeping it off in the trailer with JD and his family and will likely be that way for most of the day.”

“Then why …?”

“It should be obvious.”

Trying to maintain my cool I said, “Well it’s not.”

“Something simply must be done around here. There isn’t enough room so some of this stuff is going to have to go. There isn’t room for everything.”

“What stuff and where do you intend it to go?”

“Oh for heaven’s sake girl, just be here when I told you to. And bring the truck.” Click. I was left holding a phone that now only had one person speaking into it.

“Argh!”

“Del?” It was Micah. “What did Aunt Esther want?”

“To make my life a bigger misery than it already is.” He grinned hesitantly and I told him I’d fix him breakfast before I left but it would have to be something easy like pancakes because I only had an hour before I was expected at the palace. That did get a laugh out of him and I heard Daddy laugh too when he relayed what I’d said.

I was happy to see that Daddy was able to eat. I told him, “I don’t know what Aunt Esther is doing but I won’t be any longer than I have to. I’ve got too much to do around here.”

“Del,” then he sighed.

“Don’t worry Daddy, if I feel a fight coming on I’ll just leave and to heck with the rest.”

“No Darling, that’s not it. I’m trying to think of a nice way to say this.” He ate another bite of pancake while I waited. “I don’t want you to tell the family down there what we are up to and what we have or don’t have. I’m not asking you to outright lie but …”

“I get it Daddy … OPSEC.”

That got me a smile and a syrupy kiss on the forehead. “That’s my girl. I knew you’d understand. Now see if you can get Mark to come in and eat some of these flapjacks; you’ve made enough to feed an army. While you’re gone I’ll get going on canning the last of the meat. Might make some of my world famous chili and some sloppy joe mix if you haven’t gotten around to that yet.”

Mark was outside walking around with Jessie pointing to a squirrel. Mark wasn’t averse to the pancakes. He did walk over to the truck with me and while I was climbing in the cab asked, “Did you say Esther called on the phone?”

“Yeah, which is weird because the phones have been down.”

“Radio said they were going to try and at least get the cell towers back up and running locally but that they’d only work intermittently and to try and text rather than tie up the voice lines. I’ll stay up here and work with your dad but I’ll have my phone if you need a hand. You fight pretty well for a girl but you are still just a girl.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. “Yeah, and you’re a guy and if it turns into a hen house fight you’ll be next to useless because I doubt you could ever bring yourself to even say boo much less hit a woman.”

“That’s not what my ex claimed,” he said, suddenly gloomy.

“Well then I guess it is a good thing she ran away and you aren’t stuck trying to figure out how to make it work isn’t it? Where are Dee and Cici?”

“Don’t expect to see them until lunch time. They wake up late and it takes them forever to get dressed and look presentable.”

I let that one go because it would have been too easy and headed down to the farm. As soon as I was out of the tree line I saw the mess I hadn’t really taken in the day before. It’s a wonder I didn’t hit another vehicle because they were parked all over the place. Trucks, cars, a minivan, trailers, four wheelers, and couple of dirt bikes … it looked like the leavings of a used car lot except for what turned out to be Aunt Esther’s Cadillac sitting in the shade of the barn covered by a large tarp.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 3 (Part 10)

My foot hadn’t hit the bottom step before Aunt Esther was out the door and saying, “You’re late.”

“Five minutes Aunt Esther and you’re lucky it wasn’t longer. You didn’t exactly give me a lot of notice and I have my own responsibilities that come first.”

Aunt Esther’s trademark sniff was her only reply before telling me, “Well don’t just stand there girl. There’s work to be done.”

I agreed to give her two hours of my time and her lips thinned so much that nearly she wiped all of her lipstick off onto her teeth but I wasn’t budging.

At the end of two hours the bed of the pickup was loaded and so was the back of the extended cab. The biggest items were an antique bedstead that had seen much better days and an old mattress and feather tick. I wasn’t going to take that until Aunt Lilah took me to another room and told me, “Del, now listen to me. This may not have been how my sisters and I had ever envisioned our things being parceled out, frankly we didn’t think we would ever see it because it wouldn’t happen until after the last one of us passed on, but we’ve discussed it and this may be better. At least this way we have some say in who gets what. And you take what we give you if for no other reason than we ask you to in your mommas’s memory.”

The guilt trip only made me feel worse and I was still uncomfortable. It got worse when box after box of home canned goodies went into the truck bed. Then Alainna, one of Aunt Esther’s daughters said, “Don’t be stupid Delilah. This stuff is nearly a year old and they’d just wind up giving it away to their church as charity. We need to clear that room out so we can store everyone’s nice things there. And besides it’s not like your family has anything. Better to be charitable with your own family ahead of strangers. I don’t even know how safe this stuff is. Mother much prefers real, store-bought items. Not to mention you know Aunt Sheba is going to make us all work in that ridiculously big garden they insist on keeping, growing more of it that they’ll just have to give away too. At least I’ll be able to fix a decent salad. I brought my own dressing that I ordered from …”

I just stopped listening to keep my head from exploding. First off “Alainna” had been plain old Ali when we were growing up but somewhere along the last couple of years it looked like she’d started down the same road as Aunt Esther and refused to even respond unless you called her by her “proper name.” Secondly, I hated for people to call me Delilah. I know Momma meant well by naming me after all three aunts that raised her but not even the Aunts liked their names. Mostly however, I hated that everyone treated us like the poor-as-church-mice members of the family. To prevent myself from correcting that misconception I had to keep repeating to myself OPSEC, OPSEC, OPSEC.

As soon as two hours was up I was out of there despite the pleas and outright commands to stay and help. No, I’d definitely had enough and the load in the truck only added to my already long list of things that had to be done that day.

I drove back to the cabin to find that they had just loaded the last quart jars. “Del, we’ll turn what is left into sausage and jerky. Dig out those seasonings so we can … Jumping Jehoshaphat girl! What on God’s green earth do you have in here? Micah, come help your sister!”

Mark and Micah stood there and goggled at the load in the truck before starting to unload it all onto the front porch while I explained what had happened. “What was I supposed to say Daddy? I was stuck no matter what came out of my mouth.”

“Don’t worry about it Del, I got sucked into the same thing when we were getting our belongings from the barn and the house that first day. It is darned hard to tell the Aunts no when they get their dander up. Besides, you need a bed and that’ll do as well as any and save us a trip to town to hunt one up. But this needs to be it. We don’t have the room here for much else until I get the shed built and that is going to have to wait until after …”

He never finished what he was going to say. He suddenly turned green, took four steps and puked into the bushes. When he stood up and caught his breath I saw a patch of red on the handkerchief he’d used to wipe his mouth. He shoved it in his pocket fast but not before accepting that I’d seen it.

“Daddy?”

“Let it go Del. There’s nothing to be done about it.”

For the next three days Daddy ran a low grade fever so he stayed on the porch playing foreman when he wasn’t lying down resting the best he could. Micah did have his moments of anger but he dealt with them better than I ever gave him credit for being able to. Mark was a lifesaver and Jessie was a good distraction for us all. Even Dee and Cici started pulling their weight although there was one bad day where Cici went ballistic because her father refused to let her come live with him in town because it would be “too disruptive” to his schedule.

By necessity Cici had to change what she was wearing unless she wanted to die of infected chigger and mosquito bites. But it also, strangely enough, coincided with a bit of rudeness on Micah’s part. I had given Micah the compost bucket to empty and then had stepped outside to ask him to bring in a bucket of water so that I could mop the kitchens and bathroom floors when I heard him exclaim, “Keep your distance Jailbait. I’ve got enough troubles without you trying to get me into more. And if you don’t knock it off I’ll say something to Mark.”

“He won’t believe you,” came the arrogant reply.

“I don’t care if he believes me or not, I’ll still have my say. And Del will believe me. She’s already warned me that girls that dress like you do are out for the wrong kind of attention and for me to keep my fly zipped.”

That isn’t exactly how I phrased it but it came down to the same thing and I was glad that he had gotten the message. I just prayed he wouldn’t say it like that to Mark if it ever came down to it.

JD did come up once to talk to Daddy. I’m not sure what was said but I think an understanding was reached. Daddy invited him to stay for lunch and I fixed cornbread, pinto beans, and stewed potatoes and was actually complemented on it though I’m not sure his wife was going to appreciate it too much given how much he had eaten.

The day after that Rudy came up to sit with Daddy a bit and brought nearly two dozen hens that he said he would have to cull unless we took them.

“You doing OK Rudy?” Daddy asked.

“Better than a lot of folks. Water has gone down some on our land but the rain is keeping it from going down very fast. My cattle all have wet feet and I’ve had to pen my hogs I have left in with my brother-in-law two counties over, the flooding completely missed his place but even he’s lucky he had all his feed order come in. Fuel is getting expensive though the government has instituted price controls and rationing.” Rudy turned to Mark who had started digging fence posts for a chicken run just to stay out of the way. “Mark, hope there isn’t any hard feelings over … well … over that trouble we had.”

Mark swallowed and said, “No … no hard feelings. It is done and over with and bigger problems are going on. No sense in wasting the energy on a feud.”

“Good man.” He looked over at me and then at Daddy and said, “You need someone to vouch that Mark Griffey is a hard worker and I know lots of people who would step up, me included.”

Rudy was lucky I was too tired to be in a fighting mood because the iron skillet in my hand sure did want to test out the strength of his skull at that moment. Daddy paid him no mind for which I was grateful. Whatever, if anything, was building between Mark and I needed to grow slow and not get goosed along before we were ready for it.

The day after that all heck broke loose all over again. Another round of attacks on the US occurred, this time on several population centers, before they had even found out who had been responsible for the first one.

Daddy wiped his forehead and said, “Thank God they were only using conventional weapons. Lord knows what they’ll throw at us if it happens again.”

“That you know of,” Mark said, taking a sip of his sweet tea as we sat on the porch listening to what reports were being released.

“Eh?”

“That you know of,” he said with more confidence. “You said yourself that we can’t believe everything we hear on the radio and that most of what is on the TV is garbage to keep people from being too scared. If they aren’t telling us everything ‘for our own good’ then what is to keep them from hiding that one or more of these attacks have been with something besides conventional weapons?”

Dad screwed up his face in thought. “Well, you’re right of course but anything too big they would lose control of real quick. There’s already a lot of finger pointing going on and this would be a prize for the opposition to use against those in power.” Daddy stopped and I could see him thinking.

“We aren’t really near anything important … closest thing would be Ft. Campbell but I’m not too worried about it at this point. I don’t think it is that they want to wipe out the US so much as they want to wipe out the perceived reputation the US has. What they’ve failed to take into account is that without the US, the economic rubik’s cube that the world is made up of will fall apart. We are a consumer nation but we also have significant natural resources. Take us out of the picture and things will completely collapse.”

“That’s all well and good Daddy,” I said unable to keep my two cents to myself. “But a lot of these jihadists already live a primitive or at least very low on the economic rung life.”

“I don’t disagree with you Baby Girl but you’ve made a huge jump.”

“Huh?”

“No one has claimed responsibility yet. Maybe they didn’t really expect it to work. Maybe they scared themselves silly. Maybe … maybe their leaders are ticked off at an unauthorized plan. Who knows.”

“But who else would it be?”

“Sweetheart, the US isn’t high on people’s friends’ list the last couple of years. There’s that nutcase down in South America. But I would say he is more of a conspirator than someone with the actual weight and ability to pull something like this off. There are the drug cartels in Mexico but they are too much like bulls in a china shop. The Asians have the tech savvy to pull something like this off but China in particular doesn’t have a lot of reason to at the moment. They need our dollars coming in now that they’ve had to face their own ruptured industry bubbles, not to mention they’ve got enough of their own civil unrest to deal with to keep them busy. Their strong man doesn’t need another front to fight. Russia? Maybe, but again there isn’t a lot of logic to that given current circumstances. They’re trying to prove they aren’t meddling, this would prove the exact opposite; not to mention this is not their normal MO at all. I’ve also considered some version of homegrown terrorism.”

“Ew.”

“But possible,” Mark said immediately after my sound of disgust. “And to add another to your list that goes with that what about some of those environmental wacko’s? You know the really violent ones – eco-terrorists – like you used to see in shows like Whale Wars and the ones that tried to blow up that chemistry lab at that university?”

“Yep,” Daddy replied. “They’ve got just about everything that they would need to pull this off. One, they’ve got the money. Lots of people donate to these groups; well-meaning though they may be their donations could get misused. Look how many people in Hollywood or these kids of millionaires call themselves environmentalists. Two, they’ve got the tech savvy. They recruit in the high schools and colleges, usually from the honor roll students. They are as bad as a cult when it comes to some of their recruitment tactics. Three, opportunity. A lot of ‘environmentalists’ work in the fields that have been the hardest hit by these attacks. Four, motive; some of the worst events in history have started with the best of intentions.”

Daddy was tired after we talked and was going to go lay down for a while. We hadn’t heard from anyone at the farm in a couple of days so Daddy asked Mark and I to go down and scout things out. “Stick to the trees on the way down if you want to. Don’t let ‘em drag you into anything. I just find it passing strange that we haven’t had any of ‘em come up here since Rudy came by.”

Mark and I were just kind of goofing as we walked down, but it was a quiet goofing around. It was too hot for one thing and another neither one of us was really eager to run into anyone from the farm. It had been nice to be all but cut off from civilization. Cici and Dee had fussed a bit at first but that had gone by the wayside, especially after I started telling Cici that if she was bored there were lots of chores I could find for her to do. Dee still existed mostly in la-la land but she did seem more balanced than when I had first met her.

We were hushing each other as we reached the last bend before the road turned straight as it connected with the drive that ran beside the house and eventually out to the county road. Mark was the first to notice and jabbed me in the ribs to shut up the last of my giggles.

He pulled me further into the trees to the side of the road and we fought the underbrush to get closer to the house. Mark whispered, “I see the cars but where are the people? Dinner should … be … have you ever known your aunts to let their animals roam free like this?”

“Oh Lord no, the garden.”

Mark craned his neck, “Don’t see … yeah, there are a couple of geese in the garden and I think a chicken but the gate is closed and the fence still up. Maybe one of the kids let the animals out.”

“Mark,” I said looking out from under the arm he’d thrown out to stop me from going any further. “Why is the screen door swinging open and shut like that? Aunt Lilah will have someone’s head on a platter. You know how she is.”

“Yeah,” he said too quietly. Turning to me he said, “Stay here I’m going to …”

“You did not just tell me to stay here. Because I know you are smarter than to think that for even one second …”

“Del, enough,” he said with the same kind of authority that had clued me in to not push my father any further. “I’ll signal you to come up as soon as I make sure it is safe. Something is going on and I can’t see what it is if I have to worry about watching both our backs.”

Though it went against everything I wanted to do I nodded. “Thank you. Look, you take the rifle and let me borrow your pistol. I don’t want to freak anyone out if they are just all sitting at the dinner table and have lost track of time.“

We made the switch and I watched him cautiously circle around the yard until he could come out closer to the farm house by passing behind the animal barn and the chicken coop. I saw him grab the screen door and then the main door and push it open.

I nearly jumped as bad as he did as I watched Mark nearly fall backwards off the porch as a goat came pushing out. He turned and looked my direction but didn’t call me to come on. What worried me worse was to see him place the pistol in his right hand and cover his nose and mouth with the crook of his left elbow, toe open the door and go inside.

I felt like a rubber band that was being stretched to the breaking point and when Mark came stumbling out of the door and leaned over the railing of the porch, visibly puking I couldn’t stop myself. I ran forward, straight out of the woods and across the yard.

Mark saw me coming, the rifle slowed me down even though I still felt like I was flying, and met me before I could go into the house.

“Back up Del. Back up. You are not going in there.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4: Exposition and Codetta (1)

It is a good thing Mark knew all the dirty tricks that girls are taught to use or I could have done him real damage. Also a good thing I was wearing tennis shoes and not the boots I normally wore at chore time. Good thing for me that he wasn’t a guy bent on holding a grudge or one that enjoyed taking advantage of his size and strength or he could have done me some damage.

It took a good ten minutes for me to wind down and stop fighting. Felt like longer truth be told. He was the victor despite all my efforts but he was gracious enough to never rub my nose in the way I acted and even said he understood. I can see now that he was doing what he thought best. I’m still not sure even today that I completely agree with him, maybe the shock of that day would have prepared me for events in the future, but I’ve told myself many times since then that that, in part, is what makes men and women different and that I’m just going to have to live with it.

In the battle of wills I did manage to fight my way closer to the farmhouse, and as my strength gave out before my fight did, Mark had to hold me tightly even after I had conceded his strength topped mine. He had me around the middle as I faced the open doorway. I faced it like I could force whatever was on the other side to reveal itself to me. But suddenly, even from several yards away, a smell wafting out of the door caused me to pause.

I know what a muddy barnyard can smell like. I had to rake enough of them growing up. I’d also worked enough 4H petting zoos to know that what I was smelling wasn’t quite right. The smell wafting from the house was … different. There was the smell of overripe manure true, but a rancid and sickly-sweet smell accompanied it.

I stilled, trying to identify the odor. Mark started pulling me away from the house again but as I turned to tell him to let me loose we bumped into someone’s pick up. Mark fumbled with the door latch which was unlocked, pulled a set of keys from the sunshade with a muttered, “Thank you God,” and he pinned me against the door with his hip while he started the truck up.

“Mark … blast you … let me …”

He grabbed me by the shoulders and got down in my face and said earnestly, “Listen to me Del. I need to know you won’t run away. I need to be able to trust you and you need to trust me.”

If he’d said anything else, I would have likely continued to do what I wanted regardless of good sense but the word “trust” caught my attention just enough to make me pause and think. He let loose but started holding my hand; not as a leash to crush me into submission but twining our fingers together gently like you do when you are joined in something and you’re offering and trying to receive support.

He leaned further in and grabbed the mic off of a CB radio that sat on the doghouse between driver and passenger seats.

“Breaker, breaker. This is Mark Griffey. If anyone is listening and can respond we have an emergency at the Missus Porter’s farm. Please, anyone out there that can get a message to the … the … I guess the Sheriff is who we need first.”

The noise seemed to die back on the channel and then a rumbling voice came on saying, “This is Big John son. Sheriff and some state troopers are across the street grabbing a bite to eat. Someone is running for ‘em as we speak. What’s got you so shook?”

“Sir …” he squeezed my hand. “Sir we’ve got several … several dead folks here. I don’t … don’t know how many. I couldn’t stay in the house. We came to check on ‘em and …”

Another voice broke in, “This is Sheriff Noble. Slow down son and start again for me.”

“I … Del Nash and I … we came to check on everyone because it had been a couple of days since we’d seen them. It’s … it’s bad Sheriff. I honestly don’t know for sure what has happened. It’s more than either one of us can handle and …”

“Easy there. Can you tell me if it was violence or something else?”

Mark tilted his head and closed his eyes like seeing it again, even in his head, was making him sick. “I … I don’t think … well, what I saw I don’t think it was … Sheriff, I just don’t know. The doors were left open and a goat came out and there sounded like there was something else in there but I don’t know. I … I was too busy trying not to …” he was breathing heavy and couldn’t finish.

A brief pause and the Sheriff said, “Mark, stay out of the house and don’t let anyone enter it. I’m about 30 minutes out but you’ll likely see Ryland Harris sooner. You understand? I don’t want anyone in there until I get there.”

“Yes sir.”

Mark hung up the mic and leaned against the side of the truck, white as a freshly bleached sheet. “Mark?” I asked, shaking after having my worst fears confirmed.

“You aren’t going in there Del. You heard the sheriff.”

“OK. I don’t like it but,” and I struggled to find some way to both deny and accept what Mark had said. “Ok, ok. I won’t go in. I’m … I’m not even going to think about what you said. You can’t know for sure. You can’t. So … so you didn’t say it. That’s all, you can’t know for sure but the Sheriff said that he didn’t want anyone in there. He’ll bring help and then everything will be OK.”

My denial was illogical and I sensed it even before the words were formed on my lips but I let it stand. To distract myself from being logical I asked, “Who is Ryland Harris? Is he an EMT or LEO or something?”

He changed from holding my hand to putting his arm around my shoulders and to this day I’m not sure whether it was for my benefit or his. “No. He moved to town about the time you graduated and moved away I guess. He’s got kin that are nice people so everyone kind of let him in the town’s inner social circle without thinking. He was OK at first, sure had me fooled. Turns out however the guy thinks he is God’s gift to the world. He’s always in people’s business. He’s “helpful” for his own purpose if you catch my drift. Last year he tried to convince folks that your aunts were too old and feeble to live out here on their own, that they should be moved to a nursing home for their own good. Nearly worked too until someone got wind that he had been trying to buy the farm from them and they weren’t cooperating. Lot’s of people turned on him for a while but when your aunts hired me he acted all relieved and made out he wouldn’t worry so much anymore. He’s such a smooth talker plenty of people fell for his act and actually apologized for thinking the worst.”

“Mark?” finally remembering that I’m too much of a realist to hide from what I would need to face for long.

“Del, I already told you that I can’t let you …”

“Then … then at least have the decency to let me know …”

Mark shook his head. “Del, I don’t know for sure what I was seeing. You said as much yourself. I know that there isn’t anything in there I can do anything about. I can guess what might have happened but it doesn’t make sense. It … it looks like some kind of … well, at least what I did see … looks like they were sick. I saw a couple in bed and then on the bathroom floor … in the kitch …” he shuddered and swallowed real hard. “We’ve got to … your dad … someone needs to …”

Before he could finish a big wheeled, customized truck drove up to the gate and I saw Rudy Carlisle get out with a bunch of good ol’ boys with rifles and shotguns visible in every hand. Beyond that point my memory only wants to work in flashes.

The good ol’ boys lining up at the gate facing out like some kind of militia brigade and Rudy talking to Mark, throwing a bottle of something at him.

Another man driving up and getting all bent out of shape when Rudy wouldn’t let him pass.

The sheriff and some national guardsmen showing up and the Sheriff patting Rudy on the back and nodding.

A young national guardsmen rushing out of the house and doing the same thing Mark had done and even the Sheriff looking green and wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

Being startled when I came to myself again with Micah in my arms, his face wet with tears.

Mark being sprayed down with something by someone in a hazmat suit and then Micah and I receiving the same treatment while an antiseptic smell drifted up into my sinuses.

Daddy showing up just as the Coroner’s van and ambulances did but not being allowed inside the taped off area where Mark, Micah, and I stood.

Overhearing Mark say to Daddy from our side of the tape, “I know Mr. Nash but Dr. Battles said your immune system is probably compromised so you can’t get anywhere near the house or yard.”

Empty body bags going in, filled ones coming out. A couple of gurney’s going in and coming out at the same time.

I remember my ears ringing, my head feeling like it was full of helium and my stomach feeling full of lead. Finally Dr. Battles came over but not returning the handshake Daddy offered.

“No offense but best not take any chances. This is the worst case we’ve seen so far. CDC people are on their way here.”

Dad asked, “Not a robbery?”

“Well, I’m not going to say for certain that something didn’t happen because it looks like some ransacking has occurred, but I’ll leave that to the Sheriff. My professional opinion from what I’ve seen of the bodies however is that none of the deaths are directly related to … Mark, sit Miss Nash on that stump before she’s sitting on the ground.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4 -2

Cryptosporidiosis … E. Coli … shigella … and Lord only knows what else that had been lurking to strike the unwary in the flood waters that swept through the farms and towns in the area. I knew first hand that just because something was so small you couldn’t see it that that in no way meant that it wasn’t dangerous or even deadly. But I still walked around in emotional shock for nearly a week as the farm, and its remaining inhabitants, remained quarantined.

First it hit the town of Kechum hard and fast. We hadn’t heard it on the radio because we’d been listening to local stations and they’d done everything they could to keep the situation from becoming a news story. They did double their warnings about the need to boil water and be careful about personal hygiene but most people treated it like background noise, including my own family. As far as I know they never determined whether it was an engineered tragedy to go along with the levy destruction or if it was just a natural consequence of all the water moving into the town having first run through pastures and manure-sprayed fields and causing septic systems to spew out raw sewage on top of everything else.

The speed that the symptoms moved caught even the best trained medical staff in the area off guard. It was only the day before we found the family that the first case had been reported outside of the city limits. With the CDC involved, using one of their mobile labs, it only took four days for them to hypothesize a chain of infection. It’s a wonder that they were able to because they were dealing with staff shortages. Similarly strange illnesses were popping up all around the country and they were in the process of trying to find out if it was due to infrastructure break down or if it was intentional terrorism.

In our arm of the flow chart patient zero was Roy. He’d brought it in after a night of drinking with some buddies from Kechum after the Aunts had supposedly laid down the law on what they would tolerate out of their guests, family or no, and what they wouldn’t stand for. He’d simply blown them off, secure in the knowledge that they’d never really cut him off. One of Roy’s sons is who gave that vital clue. Roy couldn’t answer, he’d never answer for any of the things he’d done, at least not on this side of the veil.

From Roy it travelled to JD and his family and then from those in the trailer into the farm house via the buffet meal set up that was being used since there were too few chairs and tables for everyone to eat at the same time, and the outhouse which was also communal. The swabs taken by the investigators showed massive contamination of most surfaces including the toilets, the eating utensils, the kitchen phone, drinking glasses, door knobs, and the surfaces of the jugs holding the drinking water.

I’m not sure I believe the terrorism angle though it was never ruled out. No enemy could have devised such an intentional and insidious destruction. Both cryptosporidiosis and e. coli are spread through fecal matter, usually in contaminated water. Shigella is the same only more contagious. Brought in and transferred to previously clean surfaces and then somehow being ingested … it was like a domino effect. They were boiling their drinking water but weren’t sanitizing everything. People would touch a contaminated surface and then touch their face or the part of the fork that went into their mouth. Bleach doesn’t really work on the cryptosporidium protozoa so even if they had sprayed surfaces with bleach it wouldn’t have helped. You have to keep everything clean, clean, clean using boiling water.

E. Coli is a bacteria. Mark and I theorized that someone had it on their hands from the animals or some other source, picked vegetables out in the garden and then didn’t wash the vegetables well enough … probably making the mistake of thinking that if they didn’t look dirty they weren’t dirty.

Shigella is just insidious. It will close a day care center faster than most childhood illnesses and then it is taken home to the families of the little germ and disease factories. Shigella is as vicious as norovirus and that is saying something.

Not a single person on the farm had been spared infection by one of the three and there were several co-infections. As more people fell ill it left fewer to act as caregivers. With fewer caregivers, dehydration was added to the risk factors. When I asked why no one had sent word to us that they needed help I never really got an answer. And the few times that I’ve asked the question since then it’s mostly been rhetorical on my part.

The authorities placed the farm under quarantine, the animals were hauled away as a possible source of contamination, the gates locked and warning signs put all over the fence that ran along the county road. The mess that remained was left to us to decide how we wished to deal with it. We could either let it go, retreat to the cabin and be free to travel or we could travel between the cabin and the farm trying to save what we could and share in the quarantine.

After a night of serious discussion with Daddy we decided we were socially trapped one way or the other as Ryland Harris had already gossiped our circumstances across three counties and a lot of people had been talking about it on the radio. People said they wouldn’t want us coming near for fear that we would spread the sickness to them and theirs. Then there was the issue of keeping the farmhouse secure from further looting and potential vandalism, a problem we had been warned of by the Sheriff. Daddy wasn’t completely happy with the plan we eventually cobbled together but couldn’t find any real fault with it either.

Dee and Cici stayed at the cabin to keep an eye on things up there during the hours Mark and I worked at the farm. They would be responsible for Jessie’s care as well. Micah would keep an eye on Daddy … whether it was stress, heat, or the cancer I don’t know but I’d noticed that he had deteriorated a little … and he would try and make sure that Cici didn’t do something wild like try and run away or come down to the farm. She was one unhappy girl but there was nothing that we could do about it right then.

I’ve worked in some pretty nasty and dirty settings. My motto when I was job hunting was that there was no job beneath me. The year I worked on the cleaning crew that turned the dorms out at the end of the each semester was a real eye opener. I’ve mucked stalls. I’ve cleaned animal cages and rental properties; even rehabbed garbage dumpsters but nothing prepared me for what Mark and I went through during that week.

Our primary concern was sanitation. It wasn’t just keeping the little beasties from getting into our nose, mouth, etc. It was making sure we didn’t transfer any of that stuff up to the hunting camp, certainly not into the cabin or trailer. We used heavy duty latex cleaning gloves on our hands, wore a dust mask and goggles, and wore the same type of rubber boots that you wear to rake muck in. We started out wearing rain ponchos but that became dangerous when we started to dispose of all of the contaminated stuff using a bonfire as our tool.

We had to air out the house for several hours before we could start – there aren’t words to really convey how awful the smell was – but once we did manage to make it so we could at least breathe without heaving we accomplished a lot. All of the soiled bedding and dirty linens were pulled into the front yard and burned. Nothing potentially contaminated was spared including mattresses, floor rugs, and curtains. I had to turn off all sentimentality to do this as some of the linens were quilts I’d grown up snuggling in, that I knew my mother had grown up snuggling in.

If it looked like someone had sneezed, spit, vomited on it or … er, worse … we hauled it out and put it on the pyre. The farm house didn’t have much carpet but what there was got ripped out leaving bare floors behind that I then spent much of the day by gently sponge cleaning with a solution of one quarter cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water and then letting it air dry. If there had been an obvious spill of … bodily fluids … I would use a stronger solution.

We were nearly finished with that first day when the same truck, the one I came to realize belonged to Rudy’s oldest son, showed up at the gate and honked. Mark picked up his rifle and slowly walked over but relaxed when Rudy himself stepped down from the cab and shouted, “Halloooo the house.”

With Rudy on one side of the gate and Mark on the other they talked for about fifteen minutes. I had thrown the last pile of disgusting sheets on the fire when both men waved me over with their hats. When I got there Rudy asked, “How you holding up Honey?”

“About as well as can be expected I guess. Since you’re here your kids … ?”

“Have a couple of more days at the hospital. They were badly dehydrated. And the people from the CDC are using them as some kind of control group and asking them all kinds of stupid questions they’re too young to answer. But …well, I dated one of the nurses that is looking after them and she says that the doctors are happy with their progress and not just feeding me a line to keep me from making noise.”

I “hmmm’d” a response to that still unsure how to be happy while still being devastated. “How’s Aunt Esther?”

“Well, she and Aunt Lilah … about as well as you’d expect folks their age to be under the circumstances I suppose. Both are … well, in shock pretty much. From what Junior, Roy’s oldest boy, says both of them were the last two to succumb. Losing Sheba and Bel, that’s been harder on Lilah than … than the rest of it put together.”

My chest felt like it was going to cave in and both men gave me a moment to breathe through the feeling of needing to cry.

Mark was the next one to talk. “Del, they … “

Rudy broke in, “It’s my responsibility Mark. Let me tell her.” I knew I probably wasn’t going to like what was coming next just by the way he was holding himself, like he expected me to not like what he had to say. “Del, they don’t have any more room in those refrigeration trucks. It was either let all of ‘em get hauled away to who knows where or let ‘em get buried up at the Church Road cemetery in a … well what amounts to in a mass grave. I didn’t like it but the alternative might have been the last straw for Lilah. I talked to her briefly and she’s weak, but her mind is sound and she understands. Said something about ‘dust to dust’ if I was hearing her right; she didn’t have her teeth in. But, if it was going to be done I had to make the decision immediately. I just come from the burying.”

“What?! But …” I thought no viewing, no funeral services, no graveside service, nothing. And then it finally clicked what Aunt Lilah had always said.

“Child, the only time you can really do something for the people you care about is when they’re still alive. Viewings and funerals and all that don’t mean a hill of beans to the dead; they’re already where they were going and what is left is nothing but a husk. The rest of it is just something to ease the pain for those of us that get left behind.”

I guess both men were waiting for me to cry or fuss or something and when I didn’t Mark put his hand on my shoulder and shook it a little to make sure I was still there in mind as well as body.

“If Aunt Lilah of all people understands then I won’t say nothing about it Rudy but … but when there is time do you think it would be possible to have some kind of memorial service? For the family that is left? I never knew JD too well, his wife and kids not at all, but there’s bound to be some people on that side of the family that would want to come and I know that the Aunts had lots of church friends and … and …”

“I think that is a fine idea Dellie girl. It might have to wait a long while though. Esther … well Ali and my kids are just about all she has left now and to be honest, I just don’t know how’s she going to come out of it. She’s strange about things like that. Her mind is … well, she ain’t real there from what I can tell. It’s so bad that Dr. Battles has ordered some kind of test to check and see if she’s had a stroke in addition to everything else.”

I’d never really had a close relationship with Aunt Esther despite she and my mother looking very similar when I was younger, but even I realized how horrible that would be for her. She was a handsome woman and had always kept herself up real well even as a widow. She also hated anything to do with sickness and disease, probably a leftover phobia from her own mother.

Rudy broke into my thoughts to ask, “You two need groceries? There isn’t much around, world is going to hell in a handbasket and suddenly everyone is panicking, but I’ll do what I can. I’ve got some stuff at my place that I can bring over.”

Mark left me to take the lead on the subject and I said, “Don’t worry about it Rudy. I know how to use the feed wheat and corn to make do and the water up at the cabin gets cleaned with a UV light when we run the pump and just to be on the safe side it is boiled too.

“Have the same system at my place. Or I’ve got the system, but not the place. Water has receded but the house isn’t livable. Basement is still full of water and mud and in this heat the wall paper is sliding off the walls from the resulting humidity. Which … well, that’s something else I came to talk to you about. I’ve already mentioned it to your Da girl because I didn’t want it to come as a shock to him and because I didn’t want him to have to worry about anyone encroaching on what your grandfather had left you and Micah.”

I was too tired and sad to have much energy for more secrets and drama but I knew I needed to hear what he was telling me.

“See, last year when Ryland started pestering them about selling the land and then went so far as to … well, I assume Mark told you what happened.” At my nod he continued. “The old ladies knew then they needed to make some kind of decision and they talked to that retired Judge that goes to their church. He helped them to set it up. The life estate is to remain in place until all three of ladies pass … and only Aunt Lilah is left at this point. When the last one passes the farmhouse and land will go into a family trust that they asked me to be one of the executors of. The profit from the estate, after expenses, insurance, taxes and the like are taken out will be shared equally between the blood descendants of the family. For instance, I won’t get a thing but my four kids will get a share; it will skip your father but you and Micah will get a share. Esther will get a share, as well as Ali, but whoever Ali marries won’t. Roy’s son will but that no count wife … never mind, shouldn’t be talking like that at a time like this. Anyway, do you understand what I’m trying to say?”

Thinking about it I asked, “And you told Daddy all of this?”

“Yeah. That day I came up to visit. After the stunt Roy pulled, I figured he deserved to know but I asked him not to say anything because the Aunts said they’d let everyone know when it was time. So I’m holding you to the same thing. If Lilah wants to say something, or she becomes incapacitated then we’ll get the lawyer in with his papers, until that time things should stand as they are.”

“What about the farmhouse?”

“The Aunts said they’d prefer to have someone from the family living in it but if not it could be rented out to a caretaker for the property with the rent being considered part of the estate’s profit and treated accordingly. Upkeep and maintenance of the house would be considered an expense of the estate unless it is something beyond normal wear and tear and that would be the responsibility of whoever was living there at the time.”

I sighed. “I suppose that business where the house was being emptied to make room for the family was their way of settling some of the estate early.”

“That’s the way I understand it.”

All I could do was nod my head and say, “Well, if the paperwork proves out then so be it. It was always their property to do with as they saw fit.”

“Actually … well, I’m not the only executor they listed.”

“Oh? Aunt Esther really doesn’t …”

“Not Esther … you.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4 - 3

“Me?! Why on earth would they do that?!” I asked sharply, wondering what I’d ever done to them to make them pay me back in such a hard way.

“Seems they think you and I can work out the differences that might arise in the family over the distribution.”

All I could think in my head was, “Just kill me now and get it over with. There goes the plans for the rest of my life.” But I didn’t say it aloud because it would have made me sound ungrateful and it turned out to be more prophetic than I had any way of knowing. I guess my face must have showed my opinion of the job I was gonna get handed because both Rudy and Mark chuckled. Then we all sighed and prayed that it was down the road a long way before we had to deal with it. Rudy left saying that so long as he could get fuel he’d stop by every other day or so and keep us up to date on what was going on and we told him to let everyone know we were praying for them.

I was able to keep my spine stiff until Rudy went out of sight and then I took a few steps back towards the fire that was beginning to die down and felt the weight on my shoulders bow them back down. Mark came up behind me and asked, “You ok? Or is that a stupid question?”

A snappy comeback just wouldn’t leave my lips. Instead I said, “I have to be ok. I don’t have any choice.”

He knew what I meant and nodded. It was time to secure the house and return to the cabin before they started worrying about us so we both put our backs into finishing up. After we’d completed what we’d set out to do for the day we headed back up. “Girls on the right, boys on the left,” Mark said. To keep from contaminating anything outside of the farmyard every day we would come down and change into our work clothes and hang a shower bag on a branch. Then at the end of the day we would reverse things only we’d shower before changing into our clean clothes, dump the work clothes into a laundry bag, walk up to the cabin and then dump it all straight into a barrel of boiling water that Micah prepared in our absence.

On the second day we removed everything from the kitchen and the bathroom that wasn’t nailed in place. It meant using the water out of the hand pump which was very poor quality … it had lots of silt in the water … but I strained it through some cheese cloth before bringing it to a boil. I put the dishes and utensils in mesh bags I’d brought from home, in scouts we’d called them “dunk bags,” and set them down in the boiling water for five minutes then I would move them to a very hot rinse barrel that had bleach added. From there I would hang the mesh bags on the clothes line to allow the dishes or whatever to drip dry. Metal pots I dipped using hangers that I had bent straight except for a hook.

After all the cookware, dishes, and doo dads and decorations in the kitchen had been cleaned we went to town on the rest of the interior. This sanitizing solution was made of peroxide and water mixed together at 1:1 and then put it in a spray bottle. Everything that people might have touched and some they mostly likely hadn’t were cleaned with this homemade disinfectant. We did the same for the bathrooms.

It was dark by the time we got home that night and I was very grateful that Dee was being so accommodating about not only cooking for her crowd but for mine as well. I told her so and I swear she actually blushed. A grown woman with more than ten years on me; I had a hard time believing it but I didn’t want to say anything in fear of undoing whatever good I’d managed to do without trying.

The third day was a trial in more ways than one. Mark didn’t cotton to the idea of me working in the yard in his words “like a field hand.” I was too tired to really argue with him, but I asked him if he was sure he hadn’t caught something from Aunt Esther because he knew good and well I’d been raised to do manual labor the same as my mother before me. He hunched his shoulders stubbornly and started for the barn leaving me to shake my head at the strangeness of some men, him in particular, and to finish up in the house alone.

I lost track of time. Suddenly a huge BOOM nearly had me coming out of my skin. It was a shotgun blast close by. I knew immediately something wasn’t right because all Mark had brought was his rifle. My pistol was in my hand and I was looking out the window trying to see what was going on when I heard stealthy footsteps on the stairs. Mark knew where I was so there was no reason for him to be sneaking up on me … and he would also know he needed to do a better job than that if he was going to succeed so I figured that it couldn’t be Mark.

A rifle shot from outside had whoever it was turning around in a rush and going back down. I stuck my head out of the room in time to see a roughly dressed man head out the front door with what looked like an old Remington double barrel in his hands.

I came down the stairs even more quietly than the man had tried to be going up. I heard a step on the porch and before I could step back Mark and I nearly shot each other. Both of us pulled our weapons up and back as quickly as we had aimed but we’d given each other a scare.

Mark stepped the rest of the way into the house and then pushed me over into the hallway. “Are you ok?” he asked quietly, still shook up.

Just as shook I whispered back, “Yes, but what is going on? Who was that man?”

“Men. Plural. There is two of them. I don’t know their names but I recognize them as some that used to hang out with Roy. I think they live on the far side of Kechum. They must be here looking to steal something. They’re the type if I’ve got them pegged. I was in the barn when I heard someone getting into one of the trucks. I came out of the barn and just barely jumped back in time to avoid getting blasted. Both of them have shotguns.”

I spotted them heading towards the barn. “Look.”

He swore. “They must have seen your Aunt Esther’s Cadillac. I just moved it not thirty minutes ago and hadn’t bothered to lock the doors yet. It’s got a full tank of gas confound it.”

“Is the door on the back of the barn still nailed shut?”

“That door’s been nailed shut since Noah was a kid. What’s that got to do … oh …” he grinned wickedly. “You sure you’re up for this? It’s gonna take two of us to shut and throw the bar fast enough to avoid getting shot.”

“Stop asking or I’ll have it done before you’re ready.”

Well, it didn’t exactly come off without a hitch but the plan worked. I had to dig a shallow piece of buckshot out of Mark’s forearm, but he said it was worth it. We left them in there to suffer and they quickly ran out of shells trying to shoot their way out. Not only that, the fools disturbed a large nest of barn wasps up in the eaves and spent quite a few minutes screaming and hollering and calling us every name in the book before wising up enough to shut up so the wasps would stop freaking out.

Mark and I were still trying to figure out what to do when Rudy pulled up at the gate. I ran down and told him, “Rudy, there are two men … Mark says they were friends of Roy’s … that came here with shotguns to do some stealing or something. They’ve taken a couple of shots at Mark and I’ve already dug a piece of buck shot out of his arm. What …”

I didn’t get to finish before Rudy was on the radio calling the Sheriff. When he was finished Rudy made a rude gesture at the quarantine signs and hoped over the gate with his own rifle, one of those flat black ones that looked like it could deliver a payload of pain and death at the bare press of its master’s finger on the trigger.

“Rudy …”

“Don’t worry about it Sugar. From what your Daddy told me … close your mouth before you catch some flies, he does know how to work that radio you know, not just listen to it … you and Mark have got everything pretty well sanitized in the house and since I don’t intend on drinking the water or licking my boots I should be OK.”

I was beginning to remember that one of the reasons that Esther and Rudy hadn’t always gotten along was because Rudy could be extremely … earthy … with his vocabulary and way of dealing with things. Another example of this came when as Mark was explaining what had happened and we got to the part about the wasps Rudy pointed his gun and fired a little to the left of where Mark had told him the wasp nest was in the eaves.

“There?”

Mark was trying not to smile and said, “Close but a little more to the left.”

Rudy fired again but to the right of the wasp nest that time. The two men in the barn were screaming and hollering again when Rudy asked so that he could be heard over the noise, “There?”

Mark snickered, “Close enough.”

The sheriff pulled in at a run as both Daddy and Micah came out of the bushes with guns drawn. Both men looked at Rudy then at the barn where muffled crying and begging for mercy could be heard punctuated by squeals of pain. The sheriff looked at Rudy and shook his head while saying, “Son, you just won’t do … you just won’t do.”

I tried to get Daddy to get back out of the farm yard but he wouldn’t, telling me basically the same thing that Rudy had said only giving me a look that dared me to try and make him go back to the cabin and that if I did try I would surely find out I wasn’t too old to spank.

The men were left in the barn for another ten minutes because neither the sheriff nor his two deputies that showed up right afterwards wanted to risk getting stung. Before the men were allowed to come out they were told to throw their weapons out. They sobbed, “We don’t have ‘em, they’re in the hay some wheres. We lost ‘em trying to get away from them blankety blankety blankety wasps.” Of course they hadn’t said “blankety” but I don’t find it necessary to repeat their foulness.

The whole incident may have ended like a scene from the Three Stooges but the reality was that Mark and I could have been dead real easy. The Sheriff looked at Mark and I very seriously and said, “Now I want you two … the rest of you as well … to listen to me. Things are bad and to be honest they’re gonna git worse before they git better. The governor’s sent down the word … if you shoot a looter you can’t be prosecuted. Those types are leaving the cities – big ‘uns and small - as people have taken him at his word and now they are coming into the countryside. Can’t shoot someone just for trespassing of course so don’t take it that way, but if they bring a weapon to bear on you, the only sane thing left for you to do is to defend yourself with like force. You understand what I’m saying?”

I said, “You mean we should have shot those two idiots and saved you the time and cost of taking care of them until they get their day in court.”

Daddy rolled his eyes then look heavenward as if in supplication for patience. Rudy, Mark, and Micah tried to cover their startled laughs with a fake cough. The sheriff just raised an eyebrow and responded, “Well, that’s one way of putting it I’m sure.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4 - 4

Trust me, it’s not as if I hadn’t thought about shooting them. I had been hunting since I was old enough to point and aim a Jr. rifle and I had taken several self-defense courses as well as some weapons training that Daddy had insisted on since it allowed me to use the firing range on base. I’d even used force on opponents including using the tazer, my nightstick, and even pepper spray on a couple of drunken frat boys; but I’d just never used deadly force. And I’d never aimed a gun at another human being before that day either.

Sheriff said as he was leaving, “Farm is still under quarantine. That’s not my perview to change. I’ll inform ‘em what all y’all have done to clean the place up and see what they say. But it might not be a bad idea to just relax on that until you get some family in here to live full time. Quarantine won’t stop all the ijits but it might stop some of ‘em.”

I could see Rudy and Daddy with their heads together while Mark and I explained what had happened to Micah and then watch him take off back up to the cabin to let Dee and Cici know that everything was OK.

Daddy called, “You two come over here a minute. Rudy needs to leave but he’s got a proposition he wants to lay out.”

Basically Rudy said that his place was a total loss and he needed to finish moving all of his things out. His kids needed a place to stay as well as they were getting out of the hospital in two days as was Ali. Aunt Esther and Aunt Lilah weren’t in any shape to leave the hospital yet but should be by the following week and they’d need a place already set up for them. He proposed to move into the farmhouse lock, stock, and barrel at least for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve done my final assessment. My fields are shot for the season and maybe longer. I have to see how much of the topsoil was washed away by the flood. I have just enough diesel left to work the fields here and that will get the stock through the winter and maybe have some left to sell. My brother has a small working set up for bio-diesel. I could trade him feed for his livestock for some of his homebrew fuel. We’ll get by without losing either farm but just barely. I know the farm here isn’t encumbered and I just finished paying off my fertilizer loan so I’m mostly free and clear as well except for the new combine and I was thinking about letting it go back anyway.”

Everyone was looking at me, “What?! How did this turn into my decision?”

Daddy said, “Del, don’t be hardheaded. It can’t be the men against the women. And it can’t look like Rudy is just moving in and taking over. You are the other executor …”

“Speaking of which I haven’t agreed to that and furthermore Aunt Lilah isn’t dead.”

The men just kept looking at me. “Oh for … no, I don’t have any objections. It sounds as good a plan as any and better than most that I’ve been trying to come up in my own head. To be honest I’m tired of traipsing down here every day when I’ve got my own work waiting on me at the cabin.”

Rudy relaxed and smiled. “Why don’t you show me the house and tell me what’s needed.”

Mark glowered a little but Daddy clapped him on the back and told him that Rudy wouldn’t run off with me and he wanted to hear the story of the wasps again now that he was calm enough to appreciate it.

In the house Rudy asked me, “Did the basement get wet?”

“There was a small seep for two days but as soon as the water receded out of the ditch on this side of the road it dried back up. It’s dry as a bone down there now as far as I can tell.”

“Anything ruined?”

“From the flood? No. But as you can see …” I showed him around pointing out everything we’d had to do to clean it up.

Rudy sighed and said, “We’ll make it work, it is just going to look strange to see the stuff from my house spread out in this house.” He caught sight of the garden through the kitchen window. “How’s the garden doing?”

“Better than it should be considering how it’s been neglected. It needs to be hoed but I don’t have the time Rudy I …” Mark walked into the kitchen to let me know that Daddy had gone back to the cabin. That gave Rudy a chance to explain what he meant.

“I wasn’t asking you and Mark to do it. Can the garden work wait until I can get the kids out here?”

“Are they going to be in shape to do any kind of work?”

“The kids are doing so much better they are driving the nurses nuts. My oldest has actually been begging me to find him work so he can have something to do. To keep things off his mind I suppose. Mostly it was just dehydration and they’ve gotten over the effects fairly quickly. Had it gone further … but it didn’t and I don’t let my mind walk those fields if I can help it. Ali is really milking the whole situation but she’ll do her share or she won’t eat. I’m not the Aunts or Esther and anyone with sense knows it, including my kids. I’m not going to let them turn out like their mother without a fight. Life isn’t all fun and games and … sorry, that soap box trips me up fairly regular,” he said slightly abashed.

“Relax Rudy, Daddy is the same way. He would give Micah a lot of leeway that I didn’t get but he could ride him pretty hard too. Chores came first before any kind of entertainment in our home no matter where we were hanging our hats at the time.” I could tell Mark was getting a little uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation so I said, “So anyway, I did pick a few things out of the garden just because I can’t stand seeing it rot. I keep thinking what Aunt Bel would say. What do you want me to do with it?”

“Esther and Ali have one thing right. That garden is too big for the number of people it is supposed to serve right now. If things don’t get better in the economy we might have to keep it that size, may even have to expand it, but right now it is too much to handle. I hate to ask but I know it won’t go to waste up at your place. Can you just go through and pick anything that is going to spoil for the next few days? Rotting vegetables will only attract more varmints and pests. I’ve got a lady that came in to clean my place a couple of times a week, cook meals when the kids were there, that sort of thing. She’s a farm girl herself and is calm and levelheaded and has helped me out of a couple of jams when I had to be away from the house more than expected. She lives with her brother and he’s got a houseful, most of them women which while she hasn’t outright said seems to be a little rough for Cheryl right now. I think she’d be willing to move in here full time. That would mean that there’d be someone to keep an eye on the kids and on Lilah and Esther when they get to come home because as I understand it the two of them – older and all that with their existing health problems – are going to be a lot longer coming back to full strength.”

Rudy left after that and Mark and I locked up, cleaned up, and headed back to the cabin.

Mark asked, “What do you think of Rudy?”

I shrugged, “I guess he is OK. He’s about like the rest of the family. I will admit he fits in better than his wife did and she is the one that is blood related to me.”

“Oh.”

“What oh? Did you expect me to say he is charming and nice? ‘Cause he’s not. He’s all right but he’s got a worse mouth on him than I do and that’s saying something.”

“Oh.” Same word but it sure sounded different to my ears … like he’d liked the second answer a whole lot better than the first one. We got passed the next switch back when Mark asked, “Why does your dad keep including me in all the decision making? I don’t have a stake in this and no standing in your family.”

“Well, Daddy must not see it like that. His definition of ‘family’ doesn’t always mean blood relations. Besides, you’re living with us so that counts for something doesn’t it?”

“But I don’t own anything.”

I snorted, “Neither technically does Daddy if you want to get right down to it but I value his opinion and advice and I’m coming to learn I can do the same with you. If it really makes you that uncomfortable just talk to him about it.”

“Huh? No … no that’s not what I meant. I just … well, I didn’t understand. I don’t want pity that’s for sure.”

Slightly irritated at the reemergence of his defensive armor I told him, “You’ve got screws loose. I doubt you’d ever get pity from anyone in our family. They might make you pity yourself but …”

For some reason we both started chuckling at that but then we fell silent. I don’t know why he did, but for me it was because I just remembered how much smaller my family had become. Life sometimes hits with little warning. I’ve grown somewhat accustomed to the idea of that being a truism but I’ve never quite gotten over feeling the need to fight it.

r night.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4 - 5

No matter how tired we were we finished up our chores at the cabin and then got up the next morning to try and finish up what needed finishing up. We brought the truck down instead of walking however. While Mark siphoned all of the gas from the vehicles after lining them up more neatly than they’d been up to that point I went picking in the garden. I became irritated at myself for having forgotten to bring bushel baskets and went to the barn to see if there was anything there I could use.

I walked in and found Mark had popped open the Cadillac’s trunk and was looking down inside it. “Mark?”

He jumped guiltily but then said, “I didn’t know this was here. Esther is plain crazy.”

I walked over to see what had caused him to make the comment to find he’d shoved a tarp out of the way. “I noticed the Caddie’s wheel was flat. I didn’t want to listen to Esther’s complaining that it was my fault so I was just going to put the spare on until I could get the tire patched. When I opened the trunk to get the jack out … I can’t believe she just left this stuff in the trunk and didn’t even lock the car.”

Looking down into the wheel well where the spare was supposed to be I saw Aunt Esther’s jewelry boxes. Yes, that was boxes, plural. And my aunt didn’t wear the cheap costume stuff either. I remember my father saying something once. “Esther sets a high price on her love.” I thought he was being philosophical at the time, what I was looking at made me rethink that however.

Mark asked, “I …we … We can’t just leave it in there Del. My Lord, your aunt is off her rocker. I’ve seen some of that stuff she wears. If I had known this stuff was in here I … your aunt is nuts!”

The look on Mark’s face was enough to make me giggle for the first time in days. “Breathe … if you really want me to I’ll take it in the house and hide it down in the basement. There’s a place that the Aunts keep stuff sometimes.”

“Yeah but don’t tell me where it is. I don’t want anyone to think I have anything to do with this stuff,” he shuddered.

“Oh honestly Mark.”

“I’m serious. You …,” he stopped and then calmed back down. “Look, you want to know why I’m so surprised about whatever this is between us?”

I laughed again, “I know Mark, I know. We used to drive each other crazy.”

In a serious voice Mark said, “No. I’m going to lay it out for you. If you don’t want to have anything to … Well, here it is and you need to know so you can understand. When Kelly told me she was pregnant I said some pretty nasty things. She had claimed she was on the Pill so I didn’t act as responsibly as a guy should if you … well, I made lots of excuses and asked questions that would have been better off asking when I could be politer about it all. I honestly don’t know if she planned the pregnancy or not but I found out later that a lot of people had thought that my family was wealthy because most of the guys in the frat I belonged to were … guilty by association I guess … and Kelly had said some things to a few of her friends. She didn’t like going to college but her parents said it was either that or she was on her own. I guess she thought marriage, or at least having a baby of a wealthy man, would get her the freedom she wanted.”

He leaned against the Cadillac with arms crossed looking into the past, examining what had gotten him where he was in his life. “I told Dee and she said of course that I had to marry Kelly. Dee was still dealing with feeling ashamed of the divorce and was afraid the social stigma of a bastard in the family would be just too much to survive. So I asked Kelly to marry me and she was so happy I started thinking that it wasn’t going to be as hard as I had worried it would. Then we told her parents and they flat out refused to give their consent – didn’t seem to matter that we were both of legal age at the time – and that I could support Kelly and the baby financially. When I tried to explain that I didn’t have much money Kelly called me a liar and her parents believed her. That’s when they tried to take me to court and all of it came out. Kelly’s parents were shocked to find out some of the things their daughter had been up to at school and … and a few other things that we don’t need to go into. They kind of washed their hands of the whole situation and all but disowned Kelly in the process. By that time Kelly had pretty much run through all the sympathy of her school friends and she came to me one day and we talked and … well, somewhere along the way I’d started loving the baby and wanting to be a father. She … she acted all sorry and scared, and she may have been for real with no financial support to speak of and a baby on the way, and we agreed to get married after all.”

“Things weren’t too bad after Kelly and I got married. For the people that cared about those things, they figured getting married fixed the sin of her getting pregnant with Jessie out of wedlock. For those that didn’t think it fixed anything, I don’t think anything would have fixed it and there was lots of doom and gloom being prophesized for us. For those that hadn’t cared one way or the other they just tried to be happy for us and keep any misgivings they had to themselves. Actually what happened was that for a while it seemed that things were going really well. Then Jessie was born and Kelly … changed.”

Mark’s face changed as well. He’d been impassive before, like he was telling someone else’s story, now he looked confused and angry despite the fact that Jessie was a year and a half old. “What I didn’t know at the time was that she had been changing before Jessie was born. We didn’t kid ourselves that we were in love. If we had ever been in love we fell out of it, or I did, when she tried to blackmail me the first go around before we got married. But I thought we’d come to an understanding; we would do that co-parenting thing for Jessie’s sake and the rest we would have to deal with some time down the road. But she hated being on a budget and she hated having to give up so much of what she’d had access to when she was still just her parents’ daughter.”

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be getting from his story and I squirmed, figuratively, to hear about his marriage. I still hadn’t reconciled that to the picture I wanted to have of him. I wasn’t stupid, I knew he hadn’t found Jessie under a cabbage leaf, but I wanted to ignore what I considered the unpleasant stuff. Obviously I still had personal issues but it was hard accepting the fact that maybe I wasn’t as mature on the inside as I tried to be on the outside.

“It all came to a head one day. I got laid off of one of the four part time jobs I was trying to juggle to keep a roof over our heads and came home from work early. Kelly was over at her mom’s with Jessie. I got the mail out of the box and went inside to get something to drink. It was all there Del. What I had thought was just junk mail turned out to be something totally different. We had late notices and demands for payment for all of the people that Kelly had said she had paid off or was in the process of paying off. It’s a small town and most of these folks were local. The looks and cold shoulders I’d been getting from some of them started to make sense. I started calling around, found out things that made me furious. I took the two paychecks that hadn’t been deposited yet, cashed them, and started driving around town trying to take care of things and make arrangements for payments. “

He swiped a hand over his face to wipe the sweat away and maybe to give himself a moment to gain control of the hurt I could hear buried in his voice. “Some of the people were nice and believed me when I said I didn’t know what had been going on. Some of them laughed at me scornfully and blamed me for not knowing what was going on under my own roof, under my own nose. A few didn’t believe me and still don’t. I didn’t know what to do. When Kelly called to tell me she was staying the night with her parents I tried to stay calm so that she wouldn’t know that I knew. I went to Dee and asked for a loan and that’s when I found out she’d run through all of the settlement money from the divorce and was just about to be evicted from the house she was renting. I hadn’t seen her except when I’d been invited over and she wasn’t prepared, she couldn’t hide … she was a mess Del, much worse than she is now if you can believe it.”

He fell silent. I reached out and touched his hand and he jumped and pulled away from me, adding a few extra feet to the distance that had separated us. “Now I didn’t just have my own mess to clean up but Dee’s as well. I didn’t want to do it but I felt I had no choice. I went to talk to Kelly … but she wasn’t at her parents’ house, and neither was Jessie. Only Kelly’s father was home. He’s not a bad man, not really. After he accepted that I was trying to make up for my mistake, to make it right, he loosened up a bit and had even helped me to find two of the part time jobs that I had.”

“Not being able to find Jessie freaked me out a little. I got scared and … well, I spilled it all. All of it. Getting laid off, the unpaid bills, the confusion, finding out about Dee … all of it. He called his wife and she didn’t know where Kelly was either. Then we all started calling around, no one knew where she was at. We tried calling the police but Kelly is an adult and had every right to have Jessie with her wherever she was. About four in the morning her mother got a call on her cell phone. A tearful Kelly was calling because she’d been busted; a party she’d been at had been raided and drugs had been found. She begged her mother not to tell anyone and just to come bail her out but to say that she’d been with her if anyone asked.”

“That’s … that’s when the nightmare really started. Kelly’s dad was … could be … a scary man. Not a bad man, just scary. He wouldn’t let his wife bail Kelly out, practically threatened her with divorce if he found out she assisted Kelly in any way even if that meant sending a friend over to bail her out. Then he and I went down to the jail and talked to the arresting officers. No baby had been found at the party. They questioned her without letting her know where their information had come from and she denied she even had a child. Then she claimed the child was with her parents and the cops told her that was a lie too. In the end it turns out she left Jessie with a friend and that the friend had grown tired of waiting for Kelly to pick him up so had left him with one of their friends.”

“Kelly was charged with child endangerment and a bunch of people suddenly got involved like social services. I lost Jessie for about two weeks until they finished their investigation and I was later told that had they had a home to put him in it would likely have been for a lot longer. Kelly’s mom and dad helped me get the house ready for a home visit and that’s when we uncovered evidence that Kelly had been stealing … from her mother a piece of jewelry she had thought she lost, a lot of expensive items with the tag still on them … a lot of it shoplifted more than likely.

After her father confronted her Kelly got scared and then found some lawyer that turned everything around on me and said that Kelly was suffering from postpartum syndrome or something like that and made me out to be … well, what do you think she tried to say I did? Everyone had an opinion on who was more at fault, Kelly or I. And I felt so guilty and angry and hurt that I said some things that did not help my case at all.

Finally this woman lawyer who had heard my story from a friend came to me and said that she’d take my case on for pro bono but only if I shut up and stopped making her job harder than it had to be. She really knew her stuff. Stopped allowing the case to be ruled by innuendo and he said/she said and made it be about the evidence. She found out things about Kelly I never knew and got lots of depositions from people that we owed money to that they’d never spoken with me only with Kelly. But the dye was already cast and a lot of the damage Kelly had done couldn’t be undone.”

“And she kept talking, telling people horrible things that I’m not going to repeat because they make me so angry. The divorce was finalized pretty quickly all things considered but it left me with a lot of debt and a lot of hard feelings. Part of the deal with the lawyer was that I had to agree to join a divorce support group and attend so many counseling sessions. I hated her at first for it but in the end it really did help me get my head on straight and I got some good advice from people that had gone through the same things as I had. And I got sole custody of Jessie and everything was worth that.”

Hesitantly I asked, “Where … where were Kelly’s parents in all of this?”

“They love Kelly, she’s their only kid. But the stress of it was too much for her mother. She had a minor heart attack and Kelly’s dad thought it was time they retired and moved to Florida. I think he did it to get his wife away from Kelly’s manipulation as much as anything else. They’re still good about keeping up with Jessie, send him presents and stuff for no particular reason. And I talk to Kelly’s dad about once a month but it is hard on both of us; even so I feel I owe it to him and Jessie to try. And I make sure they get pictures of him and stuff … email and things like that to save on postage and phone bills. They’re probably worried sick about him but I don’t know what I can do right now.”

“We have satellite internet connection at the cabin, it is the only kind we can get while we’re up there so we have it bundled in and keep up the payments. Last time I checked most websites seem to be down and a lot of service providers seem to be in and out too. I wound up just turning off my laptop to save power and haven’t had time to check if …”

He just looked at me. “Didn’t you hear a word I was saying? I told you what some people think of me. They don’t just think it Del, they act like it too. My life is a mess Del and you’re going on about having satellite at the cabin.”

I took a deep breath, “Yeah, I heard what you said. It made me … uncomfortable. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been here for me when I needed you to be Mark. My life isn’t exactly … my dad is dying and I’ve got a sixteen year old brother to be responsible for and now I find out the Aunts wanted me to be an executor of their estate and … and … the world is coming down around our ears. You heard the radio last night. Every day we go back to the cabin and find out about the next bad thing that has happened. Sometimes it’s something that affects us directly and sometimes it is happening on the other side of the world and I am to the point that as awful as it sounds I could care freaking less. I’ve got enough on my own plate without having to worry that somebody dumped something in the Yellow River that is killing all of the fish. I know people depend on those fish to put food on their table, to keep their families from starving, but I just had to say goodbye to several of my own family members without benefit of church, preacher, or anything else. And there is more loss to come.”
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 4 - 6

“So,” he said slowly, “you don’t care about my story.”

“No!” I cried, upset that I’d given him that impression. “That’s not what I mean. I mean that … that … that while I care it doesn’t change things, or not much. It helps me to understand a little better but it doesn’t really change things. There are still some crazy people out there doing their best to destroy my country and set off world war three, my family members are still dead all for the sake of someone not washing their hands properly, my dad is still dying a slow and painful death … and you are still more than my friend but I still don’t know how much more or even what that means, or what to do about it.”

He gave an anti-climatic “Oh.”

He started puttering and I was sure that I’d really messed things up but then he looked over at me and said, “Despite the way I treated you when we were kids you really don’t believe all those stories that Kelly told people do you.”

It was a statement and not a question. “Of course I don’t. You may not be an angel but I’ve never known you to be physically abusive, lazy, or whatever else I read between the lines of what you were saying. I gave you plenty of opportunity to go off on me when we were kids and you never did. I don’t know what … look, I’m bad at this. I’ve made mistakes myself but it looks like both of us learned from our mistakes and we’ve turned our backs on whatever it was that caused us to make the mistakes and we are trying to move forward. You aren’t sitting around crowing about the wild and wooly sex you used to have in your frat and I’m … I’m trying to be more careful, look before I leap, think before I speak, that sort of thing. The Aunts taught me all sorts of homilies and Bible verses for situations like this, I should remember them, but I can’t right now. I’ll go looking for them tonight. Just … just …”

“That guy really hurt you didn’t he?”

Startled I said, “What?!”

“The guy … the one you said you made a mistake with … he really hurt you. It makes you scared to think about … stuff.”

“Well if by stuff you mean making an idiot out of myself all over again, then yes.”

I knew somehow that having shared with me Mark expected the same out of me but I was scared to death. Mark was the victim but in my story I was the “other woman” and I still hadn’t gotten over it. But it was now or never. I owed Mark that much.

“He was married.”

It was Mark’s turn to yelp, “What?!”

“He was good looking, in three of my classes, my age … and married. I didn’t know. I know that sounds like a lie. No one else believed me either except for Daddy and Micah. A lot of my friends that I had at the time … they turned on me. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know he was married either, that he’d lied to them too but everyone thought that I should have known. We’d been dating about three months; I’d introduced him to my father for God’s sake before we even went out on the first date. I was trying so hard to do everything right and still ...” Remembering how awful that day had felt I got embarrassed and because I was embarrassed I got angry. “You want to know how I found out? That he was married?”

“Del …”

“I’d just gotten home from one of Daddy’s first doctor’s appointments and we’d gotten the initial inklings that his stomach problems were a lot worse than acid reflux. She’d been lying in wait and rushed me before I had done much more than gotten out of the car. She started hitting me … his pregnant, under age wife started hitting me I should say and I didn’t know how to defend myself without hurting her. She was crying so hard she’d made herself sick. I’ve dealt with hysterical children before but nothing like that. She was really and truly off her rocker, screaming at the top of her lungs. I was sure there had to be a mistake. I called … him … and instead of coming himself he sent his mother over to deal with her. What a coward and I completely didn’t see it until it was too late.”

“Del …”

“No wait, it gets better. A neighbor had called the cops but the story somehow got turned around that I was the one abusing her. Everyone was looking at me like they’d seen me for the first time. Then another cop car showed up and one of those guys was in a night class with me and … him. He couldn’t get personally involved of course but he was able to help straighten the stories out … but it was too late. You’re right; people only believe what they want to believe. Add into that I was a completely gullible idiot that missed all of the signs because I didn’t want to see them and … and … “

“Del …”

“What?”

“Micah already told me. About everything but the married part, or maybe he said it and I didn’t hear it. I dunno. Either way, it’s OK.”

I was left speechless. I wanted to be furious with Micah, for telling my personal business, but I hadn’t ever told him he couldn’t say anything. He knew I didn’t talk about it however. I was left floundering like a catfish hung up in the muddy shallows.

“Del, if it doesn’t matter what I did I can at least give you the same courtesy. At least you didn’t get pregnant.”

“Humph, not unless Immaculate Conception got put on my list of things to worry about.”

He looked at me and then said, “You’re kidding.”

“No. I told you I’d been trying so hard to do the right thing and apparently he wasn’t going without because I wasn’t the only girl he was stringing along. It’s the only good thing that I can say came out of it.”

“Uh …” Mark said with his mouth hanging open like I was some weird species.

Rather than deal with a conversation going a direction I was far from ready for it to go I picked up the three heavy jewelry boxes and took them inside and then down to the basement and hid them in the cubby hole hidden behind one of the shelves in the darkest corner. Then I returned to the garden and worked until Mark reminded me of the time.

We were loading the last bushel basket into the back of the truck when Micah came skidding and breathless out of the trees. “Y’all need to come back right now. The world has gone crazy. There has been some kind of nuclear accident in Iran and a lot of people are hurt and dying. Apparently they tried to get off a bomb on Israel only something went wrong and it went off right after it took off. All the countries over there … it was a really big bomb, some reports are saying that it was over 50 megatons, bigger even than that big Russian bomb Daddy told us about the other night."
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 5 - 1

Mark and I both must have just frozen in shock because Micah yelled, “What are you guys doing?! Dad says come on right now! We’ve got things to do!!”

Mark wouldn’t let Micah ride in the bed of his truck because of the condition of the road so he stuffed himself in the cab between the two of us. It wasn’t comfortable – we’d thrown some things in the back and floor board from the barn since it was likely that Rudy would have newer or better versions – and that only made the drive back to the cabin tenser.

I asked, “Micah, did they say when it happened?”

“Dad seems to think it was sometime around 9 pm last night our time which would put it at 4:30 am in Iran, or right around first morning prayer time for practicing Muslims. Iran is eight and a half hours ahead of us … I think. The way Dad did the math makes it sound about right with the reports they are letting out.”

Mark was busy concentrating on driving but when I looked over it wasn’t hard to see how pale he was. Even his farmer’s tan seemed to have faded several shades.

Daddy met us on the porch. “Go ahead and start bringing that stuff inside. I’ve got the radio by the window so we’ll be able to hear it. Dee, would you and Cici also help please?”

Daddy always treated Dee with respect and she no longer jumped every time he talked to her, like a little dog waiting for a kick it knew it couldn’t escape, but she still wasn’t much of a proactive thinker so we had to be specific when we asked her to do stuff. For example, Dee really did do the cooking but I was the one that prepped all the ingredients and directions the night before. It just saved all of us time if we could avoid her dithering or getting rattled. Sometimes you just have to accept people how they are and care about them for who they are and not how much or how little work they create.

As we formed a fireman’s line to get the bushel baskets and bags into the house so that they could be taken down to the root cellar (until I could process their contents) Mark asked Daddy to tell us what was going on.

“There is a lot of speculation right now. Can’t even get too close to the blast area but they are getting some infrared satellite images … a lot of dust in the air so pictures aren’t one hundred percent reliable. They are gauging the size of the bomb on recent intelligence rumors and on the damage zone from the satellite images. “

Dad grimaced when he was passed one of the bushel baskets and Mark grabbed one of the plastic chairs and put it up on the porch. When Daddy got an affronted look on his face Mark was quick to say, “If you want the truth sir I’d ruther you be the brains of the operation and tell us what we need to do and let us be the mules.”

Daddy’s indignation turned into a snort of laughter, but not one full of good humor and he continued speaking after taking a sip of one of the medicines that the pharmacist had made up for him that he kept in a hip flask. “What I suspect is that the designers of the bomb wanted something big and flashy but wanted to minimize fall out, especially when we can pretty much say for certain that Israel was its target. They wanted total destruction and victory with not too many consequences attached to it. So they used the design of the Tsar Bomb the Russians detonated back in 1961. For all of its size … it was 50 megaton … it was the cleanest bomb of its type detonated.”

Mark was trying to not be impatient with the history lesson and be respectful but I could tell he wanted Daddy to get going. “But what does that mean for us?”

“I’m getting there, son. It isn’t just cut and dried. See, designing a bomb is a whole different issue than being able to deliver the payload. The Tsar Bomb was so heavy that they had to modify the plane to carry it and there were all sorts of controls put in place as far as only letting it go off in the exact kind of weather and still they nearly underestimated being able to get the plane and the observation plane out of the area safely.”

I said, “That might not have mattered to the Iranians. How many suicide bombers do they have available at last count?”

“Honey, delivering one of those big nuclear payloads is different than what a suicide bomber does. The small dirty bomb that could be carried around in a large suitcase isn’t what we are talking about here. We’re talking about a bomb casing that is big enough that you’d have to fly it on a modified plane, especially if you were trying to avoid detection. And to do that you need to be highly trained and that usually means someone with a good head on their shoulders, common sense, and a free thinker. They might find a patriotic crew to deliver the payload but getting them to turn suicide while doing it is another matter. What I think happened, and this is just speculation, is that they underestimated the weight issues of the bomb itself, only doctored the plane just enough to technically be able to get away with what they were trying to do, may have been forced to use a young-and-dumb pilot that they could manipulate, and then some minor technical problem may have overwhelmed their too small allowance for error and the plane came down not too far from where it took off from.”

Mark said, “Or … maybe some other country got wind of it and took it out through sabotage.”

Nodding Daddy replied, “That’s always a possibility but if that were the case you’d think the sabotage would have occurred before takeoff to prevent any detonation at all and not afterwards. OK, now that the food’s in the house let’s get the cisterns filled and then plug the caps and cover them with tarps.”

While Micah ran to get the camouflage tarps we had Daddy asked Mark to get on the roof and make sure the spark suppressor and chimney caps were in place and in working order. He had to raise his voice a little to be heard but while we worked he kept talking. “Whatever happened, however it happened will come out in the end most likely but right now we need to be concerned about what could be coming next and to do that we need to see what damage has already taken place. It was definitely an above ground explosion, which could give credence to sabotage being involved, or it could just mean that someone goofed. The fireball was reported as being visible for up to 600 miles from the center. Lots of people blinded and wandering around getting hurt. The medical health facilities over there have already collapsed, even the military bases.”

He took another sip of the chalk like liquid and continued. “The bomb fell outside of Tehran so the whole of the Caspian Sea could see it. We’ve got troops on the border with Iraq so some of this may be coming from them. How bad off they are isn’t being communicated in any way, nor is info on the locals. Pretty much to be expected as most of the reporting is military or government run in whatever area; all regular media reporters are either MIA or have been shut down and shut up. Not even Al Jazeera seems to be reporting regularly as most of their equipment is toast. There are reports that the mushroom cloud was about 40 miles high and about 25 miles wide at its base. Even though the explosion was technically an airburst it still measured a 5 on the Richter Scale. From what they are reporting, which ties in with the Tsar bomb, everything within 40 to 60 miles of the blast has been completely destroyed. And a lot of stuff outside of that zone is badly damaged.”

“Daddy, what about fall out? Are we going to see anything?” I asked. You used to hear so many crazy things and I never knew what was the truth and what was speculation?

“We may but nothing that should affect us too much if any, if we use commonsense. By the time the leading edge of the fall out pattern gets to us most of the half-life of the fall out will be used up and it will be so dispersed the density of radioactive particles should make our risk even smaller.”

Dee asked in a frightened voice, “Are you sure?”

“About as sure as I can be with what I know. But there isn’t anything wrong with being careful and that’s what we are doing right now. I figure we have about a week to prepare, maybe a few days more, before we see the leading edge of any fall out.” And prepare is exactly what we did.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 5 - 2

Rudy showed up that night at the farm with his four kids plus Ali, Aunt Lilah, Aunt Esther, and the woman named Cheryl that would assist with child care and the garden. The next morning early he came up with his oldest kid who at sixteen turned out to be great friend material for Micah. Sam had a good head on his shoulders and asked questions that showed more commonsense than most sixteen year old boys tended to have. When Micah took Sam outside so he could see where the cisterns were buried (with Cici in tow), Rudy asked the brutal questions.

“How many you figure have already died?”

“Millions. Bunch more are gonna die before too long and not just from fall out. It ain’t the dead that are going to be the problem, it’s the injured and the scared spitless that don’t know what they are doing and the just plain stupid. Refugees are already running in all directions, even those who would be better served staying put and hunkering down. People are actually looting the already radioactive areas. It’s gonna destabilize the whole region and that’s going to send shock waves all over the world, especially over oil. Russia and China are already making a lot of noise about going in to try and get ‘what they need for their people’s survival.’ Then there is the other environmental stuff like all those burning oil fields and fall out patterns and they’ll affect already fragile ecosystems. With the internet down … or being shut down since so many Executive Orders have come out I can’t keep track of them all … I can only guess at the fallout pattern but if I remember right it moves to the east in a narrow oval pattern because of the earth’s rotation and not straight out in all directions like most people seem to think.”

“To the east? That means trouble for Asia.”

Dad humphed, “Yeah, but only parts. I still say greater damage is going to be done from infrastructure overload caused by refugees than fallout or EMP.”

“About that EMP thing … how come we aren’t hearing more about it?”

“Didn’t detonate high enough for the waves to disburse very far and short out a very large area.”

Rudy nodded like he was beginning to understand what Daddy was explaining. "But it did do some damage, or so the radio said. Think someone will throw something our way? We’ve got the basement but I have a whole lotta people and livestock to think of. Don’t want either to die a slow, painful death.”

“Rudy if I had the answer to that I could set my kids and their descendants up for life and I’d be sleeping easier from here on out. It is just too hard to tell. The world’s a no-fly zone right now except for closely monitored active duty personnel. The military has basically told Homeland Security to shut up and get out of the way so they can do their job. Every country in the world that has a military is doing the same thing; guarding not only their borders but making sure their neighbors aren’t pulling anything hinky. Several someone’s in the Pentagon have gone on a tear if you read between the lines and a lot of the civilian administration has been kicked to the curb. Things are happening so quickly you have to wonder if someone hasn’t been planning this for quite some time. Both our northern and southern borders are now militarized and the coastal areas are about the same. All the stops have been pulled out. Sounds like local militias have also been allowed to come online and help out. I don’t know, at some point they may stand down and they may not.”

“Evacuations? Of potential strike zones and of our people overseas?”

“You’ve heard the same thing I have. On hold until they can screen everything in-bound. Stateside it looks like you’ve got a few that are picking up and going to visit Granny out in the sticks – look what I did with my two – but most people seem to be standing in a wait-and-see pattern. The interstates are being monitored but they ain’t really clogged up right now, mostly the opposite as people sit by their radio and tv waiting to see what is going to happen next. Some US cities are seeing rioting but it’s mostly the places that use any excuse to riot … like the fools ain’t got nothing better to do right now.” Daddy shook his head at the perfidy of the human race.

“So, you think I’m over reacting?”

“I’m not saying anything one way or the other Rudy. Everyone is going to have to make their own choices. We’ve got a lot of work to do here at the cabin to keep us busy. Part of it will cover our tail feathers one way or the other and part of it is just basic survival. I guess I’m watching and waiting myself. And so is everyone else.” Daddy stopped to take another sip; stress makes his stomach upset even in the best of times and this was far from the best. “The warnings being put out are pretty stiff. Anything that even looks like it is big enough to give us problems will be shot down or sunk regardless of who it belongs to. Did you hear they shot down that private jet that belonged to … what’s his name … I keep forgetting … the actor that was in that big action flick from last summer.”

Rudy snorted and said, “I sure did. Lord you would have thought they had shot down Ali’s beloved or something the way she carried on. I have a feeling me and that girl are in for a show down here right soon. Hey, guess what I heard at the hospital?”

At Daddy’s raised eyebrow Rudy said, “The woman in billing, well her daughter is being recalled stateside from Germany and her son is coming back in from Thule, Greenland. They are both battle trained medical staff. She said that they told her that it was going to be a fight to get home because a lot of the countries that couldn’t wait to see the last of our troops are now squawking that we are deserting them by bringing our boys and girls home and are trying to blockade the bases.”

“Logic and consistency is not part of most people’s vocabulary,” I told them as I brought Daddy another battery to hook up to the radio.

“Nope,” Rudy agreed. “And it ain’t just the foreigners. I stopped by the feed store on the way out to here and the place had been ransacked; nothing left worth my time and effort to dig out of the mess. Not much left at any store. Even that junky little Dollar Store over on Main had been turned inside out. At the grocery store two women were fighting over the last can of pork n’ beans, and not Van Camp’s either but the cheap ones that taste like …”

“Rudy! Want some more tea?” I asked to keep him from forcing Daddy to remind him there were females around.

“Wha …? Oh sure Dellie, and I wouldn’t say no to one of them funny biscuits you offered Sam either.”

I smiled to myself. Sam had inhaled his after watching Micah and Cici wolf down theirs. Rudy had originally turned one down I suspect because they looked “funny.” Actually they weren’t biscuits per se but very small loaves of sprouted bread. It is called Essene Bread and I found when looking for food that was both affordable and easier on Daddy’s stomach, I just doctor my version up with honey and sometimes a little dried fruit or finely ground nuts. I liked it also because it maximized the nutritional content which was something Daddy struggled with since his appetite had taken to leaving him for days on end.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 5 - 3

After Rudy and Sam left we got back to taking care of business. Our primary concern was water. The cave beneath the basement area was a dry one, not even a little mineral seep in it. Way, way back there used to be a little snow melt stream that ran near the cabin that had fish in it but that had dried up back when the TVA did some project or other and changed the landscape. My great grandfather, brother to the Aunts, had installed the first cistern. My grandfather and his brothers had drilled the well we used for the cabin, one of the deepest in the county and a real feat of engineering back in the day. There used to be an old hand pump in the kitchen that drew water from the cistern but my grandmother made Granddaddy put in “modern” plumbing when they lived in the cabin and the old hand pump sat on the front porch decorating a barrel that Momma had grown herbs in.

Daddy is the one that added the two extra in-ground cisterns. I remember the vacation we did it; everyone thought it was a waste of money. All three cisterns were filled and kept that way by turning on the float switch down inside them. When the float dropped to a certain level the pump that drew from the well would be activated. That was an extra drain on our solar system than we didn’t normally have and we had to be even more careful not to over discharge the battery bank.

Daddy fussed at himself a good deal for not following his plan of doubling the number of batteries the preceding year but cash had been short after paying doctor bills and because Micah hadn’t been able to find a little job to help out at all.

“Relax Daddy, you increased them by three-quarters; we just ran out of time to catch up,” I told him, concerned the stress wasn’t helping his health.

“Seems like I’m running out of time for a lot of things,” he replied more matter of factly than I could bear.

He didn’t often allude to the cancer and when he did I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to act. I tried to be as honest about it as he was but it always felt like I was being stabbed with a dull butter knife.

Mark split his time between the cabin and the farm since technically he was still employed by Aunt Lilah. He brought us news of what they had and how they were setting up but was careful not to share the extent of what we had, not that anybody was interested. He said that they didn’t seem to think we had anything and Daddy said, “That suits me just fine son. Let ‘em go on thinking that.”

I was truthfully glad of a little break from Mark. I enjoyed working with him and I missed him when he wasn’t around but at the same time I needed a breather from all the heavy emotions and confusion being with him would sometimes cause me. And it isn’t like I didn’t have work to keep me busy … and I was doing most of it by myself because Dee had taken to going down and helping with Aunt Lilah and Aunt Esther and Cici went down to spend time with Rudy’s two younger girls.

They were fed lunch down there which meant savings to me and kept me from having to entertain them and worry about Cici getting into trouble. I canned all of the produce we had hauled up from the farm and inventoried and reorganized all of our food. We had eighteen months of food for six. I was counting Cici and Jessie as one person, and trying hard not to wonder if Daddy would still be with us to worry about.

If I used the feed to piece out what we had then it could easily be stretched much farther. I reminded myself that was assuming mice didn’t get into it and other things didn’t spoil. When I wasn’t canning or drying stuff I was out in the woods trying to find the wild foods I’d been raised on and hoping that this wasn’t the last chance to take advantage of them.

The forty acres that the cabin sat on was practically virgin. Wood was harvested from the acres but it had never been cut over. In fact we had some trees large enough to get them on the forestry register but Daddy told us to keep that to ourselves as we didn’t need any more governmental interference in our lives than we already had. I would put Jessie in a sling on my back and then I would go out foraging while Daddy took a nap or was involved in some project or other with Micah and “no females were necessary.”

I marked the maples, birch, and box elders we had used in years past to get sap from that was then boiled down into syrup. We didn’t do it every year but we did it often enough that I knew both the work and the rewards of the process.

In just a couple of days I picked gallons of blackberries in the fence row that ran along the back road of our plot; sometimes Micah and Daddy would come too with Micah pushing the wheelbarrow so that we didn’t have to carry the buckets all the way back.

Found the old raspberry hedge that was a left over from my grandmother’s time and managed to get a couple of gallons of them as well though it was obvious that the old canes needed to be cut out pretty badly if I ever wanted a decent harvest in the future. If a chicken got out of the coop I could pretty much guarantee they were back into the briars having at the lowest hanging fruit and bugs that like to suck on the overripe berries.

I mixed wild greens in with the ones that came from the farm to stretch the domesticated ones farther. Bee balm, chickweed, dandelion, plantain and lamb’s quarter were what I saw most but there was plenty of other wild greens to be had.

I marked patches of amaranth hoping that I could get to the seed heads once they dried before the birds did. The black cherry trees were out doing themselves and I managed to have enough to put some fresh on the table and to set some aside for preserving. The wild blueberries weren’t as plentiful as I had seen them but they weren’t too bad either. Down a couple of the old trails where the ground was too wasted for much of anything else I thinned out nearly a half-bushel of burdock. It was too late to use the leaves that were really only palatable in the spring, but the roots made a nice addition to the jars down in the cellar.

I found a patch of chicory that I had planted several years previously at Aunt Bel’s suggestion. I’m just not partial to plain coffee and Aunt Bel showed me how the people of Louisiana would mix their coffee with the roasted and ground roots of chicory and then brew that up. I developed a real fondness for it but it was price prohibitive to buy, and that’s when you could find it. I figured if we were going to be living like the pioneers for a while I should at least get some advantage from it. I used to have a pretty good sideline going drying the roots and selling them on ebay before all the new tax rules destroyed the market.

I found a little patch of wild chives and brought back enough to have two whole trays on my drier of just that. Since I had used kitchen shears to cut them off the chives could produce another two or three cuttings for me so then there would be enough to use fresh.

The daylilies that my mother had planted had gone native. All through the forest and up and down the roads and paths you could find the remains of where they had bloomed. I thought, “You just wait until next spring. I’ll come get some buds and blooms and then we’ll see how hard Daddy laughs when Mark gets a load of that on his plate.”

As the days passed I was having a lot of fun trying to get Mark’s goat and see if he would eat the wild food that I brought in. It was almost too easy to forget how serious this business really was although things here and there would remind me. For instance, Daddy insisted we keep all of our electronics, when not in use, down in the basement inside a couple of galvanized trash cans.

“Dad …,” Micah complained.

“Don’t want to hear it Micah. I don’t care what Cici does or Dee or Rudy or anyone else. In this house it is still my rules. Here,” he said handing Micah a book with a place marked in it. “It’s called a Faraday cage and supposedly it helps to protect your electronic gear in case of an EMP.”

Micah shut up after that; I don’t know if it was the reminder of why we were doing it or the fact that he knew Daddy would quiz him to make sure that he had read whatever it was Daddy assigned him.

For me, once it became obvious that the internet was pretty much gone, it was fairly easy to let go of all the trappings of the 21st century. I liked not having to have the cell phone tied to me like a leash. It was a relief to not have to follow everyone else’s schedule, juggling all of my jobs, to keep food on the table. If I wanted food on the table all I had to do was go out the back door and out into the woods or down into our own cellar.

But with that I knew that I couldn’t support our newly enlarged family on forage alone but it didn’t hurt either so I kept at it. I went so far as to ask Daddy if he minded if I went down to the farm and asked if I could pick the elderberry bushes. “If you must,” was his reply. That was Daddy’s way of saying, “Fine but you better do something in return so we aren’t beholden.” That’s the day I met Cheryl.

Cheryl Cosgrove, a couple of years older than Ali if I had to guess though I never asked. Nice woman but the kind that always seems to look road hard and hung up wet no matter her mood or her dress. From what I’ve learned since it wasn’t by her choice but because her childhood was pretty bad. She was raised by a single mother and as the oldest she was left to raise her three younger brothers when her mother abandoned them in the care of their aunt who resented them except for the money the state gave her for their care. Cheryl pointed me in the direction of the barn when I came down to ask Rudy’s permission.

“Looking for Mark?” he asked pointedly.

“No,” I said more crossly than I had intended. I was embarrassed that he’d noticed the fondness I was developing. “Actually I came to ask permission to pick the elderberries out of the hedge by the orchard.”

“Dellie, you don’t need my permission to do something like that.” He’d said it in such a way that I got the idea I’d hurt his feelings.

“I’d rather have it than assume anything Rudy. Last thing we need to do is to go getting irritated at each other when things are like they are.”

“Hmm. ‘Spose you’re right. Leastways I know it’s you. I had to run two women out of the garden last night. Thought it was you at first when I heard ‘em.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. I knew ‘em of course. They live on the other side of the Montgomery place. They said that they hadn’t realized we had moved in and they just wanted to get things before they rotted and were wasted.”

Not knowing the women in question I said, “Did you ask why they felt the need to do it in the dark of the night like a couple of thieves?”

“Your lack of faith in your fellow man is showing Dellie girl,” Rudy laughed.

Mark chose that moment to walk in. He didn’t look happy to see me and turned to leave. “Oh relax son, she isn’t here to check up on you. Crazy thing asked me if it was all right if she did some picking out in the hedge row. Walk her out there will you and make sure no one’s hiding or spying?”

I wanted to kick Rudy in the shins. “I swear he makes me so cross sometimes. I do not need a babysitter,” I grumbled.

“Where’s Jessie?” Mark demanded.

“With Cici and Dee. If you look to your right you can see them trying to get your attention up on the porch with Aunt Lilah.”

Mark looked where I had suggested and then said, “Wait here.”

I didn’t appreciate his foulness at the time but it was a good thing that I did as he asked. When he jogged back I told him, “It’s too hot to be doing that. Want something to drink before we get into the thicket?”

“Got a bottle back at the barn.”

“And I’ve got one in this basket,” I persisted.

I handed him an aluminum drinking bottle to him and he nearly shot the first sip out of his nose. I was having a hard time not laughing.

“You know, you could have warned me. I was expecting warm water and suddenly got a mouth of cold ginger ale. You’re just plain mean. My sinuses are burning now.”

“Oh cry me a river. Next time don’t act so cranky just because we run into each other. I … What on earth?!!”

I had stopped with my mouth hanging open because about half the orchard looked like it had had a rototiller run through it.”

I no sooner had shut my mouth than an awful snorting came out of the tall grass of the hedge and out charged a good size boar. I had time to scream but that was about it. Mark knocked me to the side and then fired as the beast went passed us. The stinking thing was so big, the skull was that thick, that it took two shots to bring it down. Mark was kneeling down at my side when Rudy and Sam came running into the orchard.

“Any more where that one came from?” Sam asked, eyes scanning the tall grass on all sides of us.

The three of them checked things out while I nursed a very bruised foot; the boar had stepped on me with his hind leg as I danced out of his way. Sam asked, “You OK Del? Is it broke?”

“It better not be,” I grumped. “I’ve got too much to do and the last thing we need is another doctor bill. Help me up please and let me see if I can put some weight on it.”

His “help” nearly had me flying. Micah was the same; boys always seem to forget just how strong they are when they first start growing into their height. I shooed them all away and told them they better not let all of that pork go to waste.

Rudy looked at Mark and real friendly said, “Bossy ain’t she?”

Mark snickered and I turned to go after the elderberries like I had planned. Stumbling a bit in the clods of dirt that had been rooted up. My foot did hurt but I would have been boiled in oil before I let them know it. As I headed to the far side of the hedge row I heard Rudy tell Sam, “Go let ‘em know what’s happened and then call Del’s father and brother and see if they want to come down and help us with this hog. Looks to be one of Montgomery’s from the size and ear notch. Then send your sisters out here to pick this fruit off the ground. Tell ‘em to put the rotten stuff in a bucket to throw to our pigs and take the ripe into the house for Cheryl to do something with. And while you’re at it tell Cheryl your Aunt Ali ain’t too sick to work.”

While I was in the hedge I pulled some wild garlic and some huckleberries too. Not a combination I would ever mix but both were put to good separate purposes as time went by.

I had filled the containers I had brought and was telling Rudy that if it was all right with him I’d be back the next day. He nodded his head and then said to Daddy who had arrived post haste to take advantage of the unexpected blessing of the hog, “Please tell your daughter not to be so hardheaded. She’s the only one I know what still does things the way the Aunts did them. And tell her to take what fruit out of the trees she wants too. It’s just going to fall and rot and draw more animals and I ain’t got time to waste running them out.”

They were taking care of the boar and it was a hot and bloody job. It wasn’t cool enough to do it properly and there wasn’t power enough to run a cooler to store it so they were butchering it and throwing it straight on Rudy’s big cooker.

I turned to a woman that I’d only been briefly introduced to and said, “Here Ms. Cosgrove, take some of this wild garlic and if you can get them to get out of your way, bury some of the bulbs down in that roast before they throw it on the smoker.”

Rudy looked up and said, “See, I told you she was bossy Cheryl. Better watch out.”

I could feel my face heat up as the blush came on strong. It had come out sounding bossier than I meant it. Cheryl turned out to be a lot happier than her physical appearance would lead you to believe. “Don’t listen to him Del, I think it’s a good idea … I can call you Del? Good and I wish you would call me Cheryl. I’m partial to good manners but not to ceremony if you get my drift.” Looking up and over my shoulder she said, “Looks like your Aunt is calling you to come over.”

I turned around and headed to the porch where Aunt Lilah sat with a shawl across her lap despite the heat. “I know you won’t stop til you have to child but you take care of that foot with a good soak tonight. As soon as you get that boot off it’s probably going to blow up like a balloon.”

“Yes ma’am,” I answered while looking her over. “Aunt Lilah …”

“I’m all right Del, just … just tired.”

“I’m … really sorry about Aunt Sheba and Aunt Bel.”

“Don’t be Sugar. My sisters had good long lives and now … now they are resting in the arms of our Savior. And when it is my turn to get there I’ll ask why I had to watch so many of my loved ones go be … be … fore ….”

Dee came over and said, “There now Miz Porter. You know what the doctor said. Del, maybe you better take Jessie and go on home. Your aunt needs to go lie down for a bit I think.”

I felt bad enough for Aunt Lilah and only felt worse when a spurt of resentment rose up in me over no one asking me how I was supposed to carry everything in my arms back up to the cabin, along with Jessie, and on a sore foot. I didn’t blame Aunt Lilah but it was the first time that I had really gotten irritated with Dee over the fact that she could have asked Cici to help me back to the house or to look after Jessie instead of just sitting there in the shade of the porch drinking a warm soda.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 5 - 4

I got back to the house by myself, after all what choice did I have unless I wanted to sit down in the dirt and throw a tantrum, but I was in a foul mood. I sat Jessie down in his highchair just long enough to take the berries and stuff down into the cool of the basement and decided that since I was in for a penny might as well go for a pound. I should have soaked my foot but instead I asked Jessie, “Want to go for a walk champ?”

I got a huge grin and his arms stretched up and then, “Dewwie!”

“Did you just …? Well, don’t that just make me feel all kinds of better. Come on Sweetheart, let’s fill your cup with water and then we’ll go see what else we can get into.”

With the sling so that Jessie road on my back I picked some mint to make tea with and picked a bucketful of mulberries staining my fingers purple in the process. I saw mushrooms of all shapes and sizes but I’d never been picking except with one of the Aunts so as much as I would have liked to sit and nibble on one I gave them a wide berth. I made note of a patch of mustard so that I’d be able to come back for the seeds after the flowers had dried and also spotted some wild onions but I already had a fifty pound bag of onions down in the cellar that I needed to do something with.

The pork was wonderful that night at dinner. Of course Cici had to make some comment about wishing she could live someplace so she could eat like that all the time. I kicked Micah under the table before he could comment and start yet another argument with her and then ignored her whining when she was told that it was time to do the dishes. I took the leftover pork to the outdoor kitchen and started canning it in pint jars. I turned to get a case of clean jars and found Mark leaning on the porch railing.

“Do you ever get tired?”

“Is that supposed to be funny?” I asked, honestly not knowing.

He looked at me and sighed. “No, just an observation. I know that has to be done tonight I just wish there was some way … I don’t know … you’ve been going since before the sun came up.”

“So have you,” I pointed out.

“I know, that’s how I know how tired you have to be. I have to be back at the farm first thing or … or I’d …”

I realized he was feeling bad about not being able to help me. “Don’t worry about it Mark. I don’t need much sleep, never have. Four or five hours and I’m good to go. Was Micah able to get Daddy to get in his chair and relax?”

“I think so, your dad is pretty beat. The heat today was fierce and then add the fire under the boiler and the one in the cooker … I felt like I was roasting. Look, I know you’re busy but you got a sec?”

“Yeah. Can I keep filling these jars?”

“Sure. I was just going to ask you something.”

At my nod he asked, “Has … has Dee or Cici said anything to you about Cici’s dad coming out to the farm?”

“No,” I replied. “Has he?”

“Yeah. I found out from Sam that he’s come up to the gate a couple of times when I was off out of sight. It worries me that neither one of them has said anything to me about it. Usually … well usually Cici doesn’t shut up about her father after she has seen him. It … it … would you … would you try and see if they are holding back on something?”

Slowly I said, “Sure … I guess.”

Before I could ask why he said, “They’ve pulled something like this before, right before Dee’s ex went and married that girl he is married to now. Dee got her hopes all up about a reconciliation and … and then got destroyed when she found out he was just stringing her along. Something is just … fishy … and I don’t like it. And … and thanks … for keeping an eye on Jessie.”

“Now that I like,” I said smiling at the memory of the afternoon.

“What?”

“He said my name. Well, he said ‘Dewwie’ but I think he meant it to be my name.”

Mark smiled, “Don’t let Dee hear about it, he still won’t call her anything. He’ll lift his arms to her but the only thing he does when she asks him to say her name is blow raspberries.” He chuckled like it was funny but I could imagine how hurtful that must have been for Dee.

I went back to preserving the pork and the other stuff that I had picked that day and Mark went off to the trailer followed shortly by Dee and Cici. Micah came out to tell me goodnight and said Daddy was still in his recliner listening to the radio. I went up to the window and knocked.

Daddy lifted the window a little higher and I asked, “Any more news?”

“About like it’s been for a week now,” he answered letting me hear how tired he was.

“Is that good or bad?”

“Any extra time we have to prepare is good. Any more time people have to stop and think before the crazies get out of hand is good. I just hope people are really using this time wisely but …,” leaving the sentence to drift away.

“But?” I asked, hoping he’d finish his thought.

“Del Honey, I think people think we’ve dodged a bullet. Or they are too tied up trying to survive what is going on right now that they aren’t thinking about the possibility of tomorrow being worse. It ain’t just one thing that has happened. Lot’s of places are a mess right now from those terrorist attacks … that we still don’t know who started.”

Concerned I asked, “Daddy, what more can I do to help?”

Daddy looked at me through the dirty window pane and said, “You look like your mother more every day.” Then he shook his head. “Del, I’m … I’m getting worse. I can feel it. I think I’ve got a while yet but only God knows for sure. I’m doing my best for Micah right now but there’s going to come a time when … when I can’t. I need to know, now more than ever, that you’ll be there for him.”

“Of course I will Daddy. Haven’t I always?”

“Yes honey, you’ve been both sister and mother to him but … he’s getting to an age … he’s going to need you now the same as ever only he’s not going to know that. He’s going to be a man soon enough, or have the opportunity to become one and it is going to try your patience. My mother and sisters threatened to send me off more than a few times. Some young men are like that, they just have to sow some wild oats before they can make anything of themselves.”

“Were you like that?”

“For a while when I was about your brother’s age and a little older, then I met your mother and … and it was the best time in my life. She made me want to be the best that I could be. But if not for her I could have made a real hash of things. Del, we’ve already talked about Mark’s niece. You know how I feel. You stay on top of that so that your brother doesn’t find himself in a peck of trouble … and you know what I mean by that.”

Daddy went back to half dozing while listening to the radio as it slowly discharged the power it had built up from the sun during the day and I went back to doing what I could to help my family meet the challenges that seemed to loom over us like the Grim Reaper.

It wasn’t until after I’d put the last jar to cool and everyone else had gone to bed that I dared to take my boot off. My foot had swollen a little in the boot and it was a challenge to get it off without hurting so bad I woke the others up. I knew as soon as I looked at it I was going to pay for my stubborn refusal to soak the foot right away and continuing to work. It didn’t take long for the foot to discolor and swell up even more. I washed up and got into bed after taking one of the milder pain pills that Daddy had been prescribed and which no longer worked for him when things got bad. I lay down, elevated my foot and tried my best to get some rest.
 

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 5 -5

It wasn’t the alarm that woke me up but voices in the kitchen and the feeling of being warm. I turned my head and saw daylight peeping around the shutter.

“Crud!” I thought I had over slept and without thinking I sat up and put my foot on the floor. Bad mistake. I clinched my teeth to keep from shrieking and then breathed through my nose to get the rest of it under control. I got dressed as fast as I could including socks and my tennis shoes – the boots were hopeless – and then tried to walk into the kitchen without lurching like Igor.

My brother said, “Breakfast is in the warming tray Del.”

I opened my mouth to apologize for over sleeping but Daddy didn’t give me a chance. “How’s that foot? And before you come up with some story I saw those pain pills on the dresser and your foot all hiked up on that pillow.”

Taking a deep breath I said, “It’s been better but it certainly isn’t anything that is going to get in the way.”

Daddy looked away and Micah hunched his shoulders like he was waiting for an explosion. Instead Daddy sighed, “If things weren’t like they were I’d bend you over my knee and paddle your behind for lying to me. “ He wasn’t angry, he was sad. “I … I wish it didn’t have to be this way Del but you’re grown enough to know your limits. Micah, walk down with her and carry the buckets. Del, have Sam call up here and tell us when you’re ready to come home, you hear?”

I answered quietly, “Yes sir. Daddy …”

“No more Del. It hurts to know you are hurting and I can’t order you to get off your feet. We both know what has to be done, I just wish I could take it off your shoulders.”

As we walked down Micah asked, “Does it really hurt Del?”

“Between me and you, yeah, but don’t say anything more to Daddy. We all have to do what we have to do.”

“You really think there is going to be a war?” he asked sounded worried and not a little scared.

“Sure seems like someone is trying to start one.”

“Do we have enough food? What about fuel and …”

“Micah, we’ll just have to do the best we can with what we have. I’m working on the food. Daddy has the power pretty well set up. No reason to go to town so the fuel isn’t that big of an issue right now. Just help Daddy get the wood pile built up. I’m using more propane than I had figured on so I want to start using the wood stove to cook on and leave the propane for the canning.”

“Mark has all of those …”

“The Nash family doesn’t go begging Micah. Not ever,” I reminded him sharply. “You act like we’re entitled to that propane.”

“Wait! That’s … that’s not what I meant.”

I said quietly, “Then be careful what you say. I know I’m not the best example but we are both going to have to start being more careful of what we say before we say it.”

That day I filled many a five gallon bucket from the mature, standard-size fruit trees in the orchard. Apricots, apples, cherries, nectarines, and peaches … and I had to fight the dratted birds nearly every step of the way. The reason there were so many of them was because all of their normal feeding places had been flooded out so the few that remained got hit hard. I’d heard on the farm report that the skies were literally black with birds over the crop fields and that farmers were using shot guns to bring down as many as they could with a single blow.

Rudy sent his girls to go out to the orchard and help, and then told Cici, “You can get up off your butt too missy. You put your feet under my table you are going to earn it.”

I heard a quietly mumbled, “Yeah well I won’t be here much longer to boss around you bleepity bleep.” That girl had a foul mouth like you wouldn’t believe when she thought no one would hear her.

Alarm bells at her comment went off and while everyone was taking a break for lunch I went to find Mark. But apparently Mark had already heard. His temper was hotter than the broiling mid-day sun.

“Uh, Mark?” I asked tentatively.

“Del I’m no one you want to be around right now.”

“Would this happen to have anything to do with what we talked about last night?”

“Yeah, how do you know?”

“Only family is capable of making us as mad as you are right now. It must be something bad. I overheard Cici muttering something under her breath but maybe you don’t want to hear about it right now.”

He wiped his face on his shirt sleeve and said, “Might as well tell me.”

“She muttered something about not being around here long.”

Mark turned and started moving hay bales again but then finally stopped and said, “You want to know what that sister of mine is planning?”

Afraid to say anything at all I kept my mouth shut. Good thing too because he kept going with a head full of steam like a runaway locomotive. “She’s moving back in with that … after all I’ve done … after … that young chick left him. I could feel sorry for him if they hadn’t worked it this way. She did him the same way that Kelly did me only she got caught in the flood and they just found her body a few days ago. He’s all broken up. And I do feel bad about those babies she was carrying but I’m just so … so furious right now.”

He picked up a pitchfork and stabbed it into a handy bale. “They were just going to sneak off today when he comes to pick them up. She said, ‘I left you a note.’ Like that is supposed to be good enough, supposed to make things better.”

“Mark, stop. It is too hot, you’re going to make yourself sick,” I begged him.

Then from behind me I heard Rudy, “Let him go Dellie. The man’s got a right to be angry. He’ll burn it off and then be able to sleep tonight which will help some. I saw the spineless wonder just pull up to the gate. Do you want to say anything to him Mark?”

“No. If I start it might turn into something none of us needs right now. Let ‘em go but I’m done. I did what I could, tried to help, and here she is just slapping me in the face like …” I tried to put my hand on his arm but he jerked away. “Don’t. And stop telling me what I should and shouldn’t do. You haven’t got a clue what my life is like with your cute and cuddly family and …”

I could have slapped him but instead I lifted my chin and walked out. Rudy stepped out after me and said, “He’s hurting Del and angry. Give him time to work it off and cool down and …”

“Look who is talking about being bossy. Stop playing Dear Abby,” I told Rudy. “It isn’t necessary and I’ve got work to do myself. And someone is going to have to look after Jessie.”

I walked over to the porch and took Jessie from Dee’s arms. “I wasn’t finished telling him goodbye,” she objected.

“Yes … you were.”

“Isn’t … isn’t Mark going to come tell us good bye?”

“Why should he? You weren’t going to give him that courtesy. You were just going to run off.”

“I left him a note,” she said with her eyes filling with tears.

“So he told me. I still say you are a coward. But a word to the wise Dee … You better make it stick this time. I think you might just have burnt the bridge to the only support you were ever likely to get. And another thing … you go sharing our business with anyone … and I mean anyone … you or Cici … and I can guarantee that your life as you know it is going to get very uncomfortable. You got that?”

I think I managed to scare her. I’m also real glad that Dee never took notice of or really was exposed to how prepared we were. It isn’t so much that I was worried about Dee, she could barely help herself out of bed in the mornings, it was Cici and her father that I didn’t want to have to deal with. Part of me worried that Cici’s ignorance hid some cunning or cleverness. She and Dee both would come to regret their choice but it would be a while before we learned how much.

I asked Sam to call up to the cabin and Micah drove down and helped to load the buckets … and Jessie … and we went back up to the cabin. Before we’d even arrived Mark was on the radio with Daddy explaining things and asking him to say thank you to me for thinking of his son. What was I supposed to do? Just let that poor baby get handed around until Mark got his head straight enough to realize he had more problems than an ungrateful sister and a trashy niece?

I spent the rest of the afternoon prepping and bottling all of the soft fruit and putting the best of the apples that had no bruises or blemishes into cartons for the fruit cellar. The summer apples would last just until the fall apples were ready for harvest and then those could be stored in the cellar and last the whole winter.

Dinner that night wasn’t fancy; twice baked potatoes topped with enough chili and cheese to turn them into a meal. My foot hurt too bad to have an appetite but I forced myself to eat just to make a show of it for Daddy and Micah. Mark came dragging up as I stood washing the dishes and stopped to talk to Daddy on the porch.

I heard, “Mr. Nash …”

“Doesn’t make sense otherwise Mark. Micah has been itching to sleep up in the loft since he was too young to climb the stairs. He’s actually the one that raised this and a right good idea I think it. You move in here, we’ll have tighter security.”

I nearly dropped a dish at what Daddy and Micah were planning and I couldn’t believe they would just invite another male, two if you count Jessie, in here without even discussing it with me first.

“Mr. Nash … I …”

“You gonna tell me that trailer is comfortable? That you don’t worry at how hot it is at night for Jessie? I heard Dee saying that he was up and down all night long and had heat rash.”

“He doesn’t have it now,” Mark said defensively.

“I know it. Del put something on him; cornstarch I think.”

“Oh she …”

“Son, listen to me. Things … what I heard on the radio today … we need to tighten up our plans around here and you are part of them. I invited you into this family; I’m not going to see you turned out just because your circumstances have changed. This isn’t charity, it is finding allies and building stronger walls.”

There was a little more back and forth that I tried not to hear and then some agreement must have been made because all was quiet and then Mark came into the kitchen where I was putting his dinner on the table.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said quietly.

“No, I chose to. You want salt and pepper?”

“What? No … no this is good. Thanks.” He took several bites while I scalded the counters and then the dish rag. “What do you think of this plan of your dad’s?”

“The only thing I heard is what came in the window just now.”

After he thought about that he startled and said, “Hey … are you telling me that you didn’t know?”

“If Daddy wants it that’s good enough for me so don’t get all bent out of shape,” I said, lying and little more to cover up the fact that I was angry at not having any part of the decision.

I hung up the apron, thought about working on the inventory, and then decided I was just too tired. I washed up and then went to my room to the sounds of Micah’s excited stomping up and down the steep stairs, taking his stuff to the loft, and Mark trying to juggle Jessie and bring his stuff in from the trailer.

“Oh for Pete’s sake,” I grumbled. I got up from where I had been sitting with my foot propped up on a poofy little ottoman and limped out to take Jessie from him. “Use two hands, it’ll go faster. I’ll get him to sleep if you fix his bassinet up.” And I left him there with his mouth hanging open and a suddenly free hand.

They were at it so long that I grew so tired I couldn’t stay in the chair anymore and laid down on the bed with a very sleepy little boy. I must have gone to sleep because suddenly I sensed someone stooping over me. I sleep with my nightstick under my pillow and had it out when whoever it was suddenly all but fell backwards.

“I warned you Dude,” Micah snickered from the door way. “Not even Daddy goes near Del until she is all the way awake.

I was definitely awake at that point and looked daggers at both of them. “What are you two lunatics doing scaring me like that?”

Mark, still shook up at my snake like reaction said, “I didn’t want to wake you. I was just going to get Jessie.”

“Well you could have been anyone. He was lying here beside me. What if you were some kidnapper or something and …”

For some reason Mark grinned and shook his head. “Lesson learned. You are worse than a mother bear with a sore head. Let me take him though so we can all get some sleep. I’m surprised he didn’t wake you up, he never has slept very well.”

“I don’t know why you say that. He’s never given me any trouble. Dee just needed to let him out of the playpen more to exercise and get some fresh air.” I stopped as I realized what I’d said.

“Yeah,” Mark said. “Look … about … about earlier today …”

“Forget it Mark. Rudy …”

“Rudy can say what he wants and it was how I was feeling but that doesn’t mean that I should have taken it out on you. Just … just thanks for thinking of Jessie … and the dinner … and all that stuff. If … if you’re sure me being in the house …”

“The decision has already been made so let’s just learn how to make it work.” Turning to Micah as I stood up to get my night clothes on I asked, “Where’s Daddy? I don’t hear him.”

“Took one of those big pain pills and went to bed after he was sure that Mark was really going to move in. I think it makes him feel like he can take the pills if he knows there is someone else around with a clear head.” I looked at Mark and it clicked. Daddy was never going to give me a choice about this because he was doing it as a protector, knowing that he was getting sicker and knowing that we would need the help he wasn’t going to be able to give.

“Mark?” I asked. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say but I changed it to, “Have you got everything you need? The Aunts gave us enough sheets and blankets to build a sail for the Ark.”

He answered like he knew that I’d started to say something else, “We’re fine. I’ll finish moving everything else tomorrow. Rudy’s brother showed up which was why I was later than normal. Another bit of the levy system caved and reflooded the area that had just dried out. He had the last of the cattle and his biodiesel equipment and they plan for him to live in the trailer across from the farmhouse. He’s got a wife and two kids and they’ve lost just about everything but what they brought with them. Rudy asked me to understand about them needing time to work things out so I’ll be free to help you all up here for the foreseeable future.”

Micah said, “I’ll be glad too. Dad freaked me out a couple of times today.” Then he said good night and went off to his new “manly” space in the loft.

I looked at Mark and said, “This really bothers you, living here.”

“Huh? No. Not really.” When I just kept looking at him he said, “OK, it … it bothers me but not for the reasons you think. If I could pay my own way …”

“Mark, what if we lived in a world without money?”

Mark gave me a look. “Is this going to be one of your long drawn out debates because I have to say, I’m not up for it.”

“No … and don’t be silly. You just don’t like it when you lose a discussion. I’m trying to draw an illustration here.”

“Uh huh, is that what you’re calling it now?”

“Mark …,” I said warningly. “Cooperate and this will be over with quicker and we’ll both be able to get to sleep.”

“Fine. Whatever. What if we lived in a world without money,” he said, giving in to humor me because we both knew I could be like a dog with a bone when I wanted to make a point.

Getting back on track I said, “Seriously. What if we did? Money is nothing more than bits of paper and metal, the only reason it has value is because we say it does because we accept it in exchange for goods and services. What if, for whatever reason, we could no longer exchange those bits of paper and metal, what if they lost their accepted value?”

“We’d be back to the caveman days I guess.”

“We’d be back to the days of barter Goofus and you don’t have to be a caveman to get that concept and you know it. Stop acting like you don’t understand because I know you are a lot smarter than you like people to think. We graduated from the same high school remember and you left college to support a wife and a child not because you flunked out,” I griped which brought a faint pink tinge to his face. “Look, Daddy could have all the money in the world and it wouldn’t matter because there isn’t anything for him to spend it on around here. You heard Rudy … stuff is gone, stores are ransacked or empty, the cash economy has gone on holiday. Even if you paid us in hard currency what good would that do? You are bringing more to the table by not paying us in cash than if you were. All of us have needs … you and Jessie, me and my family.”

“I know what you are trying to say Del.”

“Do you? Have you looked at it from the other side? I need help Mark. Daddy is sick and can’t do the physical stuff he used to. Micah has suddenly grown up a lot and is as strong an ox but he’s not … not a thinker … yet. I hope he’ll grow into one but he hasn’t ever had to so he’s got a sharp learning curve ahead of him and I … I can’t wait on him. I need someone that can see the big picture but that can also see all the small stuff that needs doing and be able to prioritize it into an efficient chore list and then go get it done without someone standing over them making sure it gets done right. I doubt the Aunts had to give you much of a daily to do list. I bet you just looked and said this is what needs to be done today and this is the order it needs to be done in. And they paid you decent money to do it too. I can’t afford to pay for those kinds of skills. All I’ve got to offer is a place to stay, food in your belly, and some help with your son. How do you think that makes me feel? If I let it, and sometimes when I don’t, it makes me feel like I’m taking advantage of … of this … this friendship or whatever is between us.”

He was leaning against the door jamb holding a sleeping Jessie and just looking at me. He shook his head and said, “You’ve got the weirdest way of making things make sense. You were the same way when we were kids. I used to irritate you just to make you run off at the mouth.” Then he turned and went across the hall to the room beside Daddy’s and shut the door quietly.

My foot hurt. I was too awake to fall back to sleep and too tired to do much good at anything else. I changed in the dark, the solar lamp I used close to running out of juice, and laid back on the bed. At some point I must have gone to sleep without expecting to because my alarm went off at four like normal startling me more than it normally did.

I walked into the kitchen to find Daddy already there and looking glum. “I was just coming to wake you and the boys. Russia and China had some kind of confrontation, likely over the remaining operational oil wells in the Middle East. They’ve both been eyeing the region like a couple of starving dogs for nearly a decade now and this must have pushed it over the edge.”

“Nuclear?” I asked scared despite my promise to not be.

“No, conventional so far but this ain’t good. Even if no more nuclear bombs are used there are enough conventional, chemical, and biological weapons to bring the world to its knees several times over. And there was another wave of sabotage in this country over night. Cities that thought they were safe and that the trouble was over are paying the price for it. The pots boiling Del and is just about to foam over.”
 
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