Apartment Living

When I got divorced in ’77, it still took me a couple years to get back on the women wagon.

My ex-wife lied to me, connived behind my back, stabbed me in the back, and I was rewarded with deceit. The hard part was, I loved her so.

I moved out of my folks into an apartment with my buddy, Roomie.

This apartment complex was owned by Roomie’s boss’s mother, who also owned one of the local lumber yards. We used to joke saying that the complex was built with leftover stuff from the yard. All the apartments were the same: 2 bedrooms that shared a common toilet/bath area, but with their separate vanities.

There were eight units; 4 upstairs and 4 downstairs. The upstairs were all connected by a common deck, uncovered where we bbq frequently.

The downstairs was partially covered by stairs and the deck but had some green tropical gardens. The laundry room was downstairs which contained a coin operated washer and dryer and a large folding table.

There were also storage units; one for each apartment under the carport. There was one covered spot for each  unit, close to their assigned storage closet.

At the time I moved in, there was only one vacancy downstairs across from who we deemed Fat Judy.

Under us was Fat Judy’s gramma, and next to her was the vacancy. Next to Fat Judy was an unknown Hispanic woman, presumably single. I had seen her around, and she was nice looking but very shy.

Upstairs across from us was Debbie; a co worker of Roomie’s, whom he was also sleeping with.

Next to her was a single woman with tattoos named Darla. She was very thin, and friendly enough, but I did not press any engagements with her. She was always in a hurry.

Across from her and next to us was another Hispanic single woman; also very shy and usually in a hurry to get either to her car or to her apartment.

I don’t recall  now how it  happened, but somehow I got involved with Fat Judy. Probably because she was the most willing. As I mentioned, the other women were either too old, or busy with their own lives.

I had just shifted jobs from being a bicycle mechanic to office machine repair technician.

Roomie and I both had bikes from my former employer, and frequently went for afternoon rides, as Fat Judy often watched us leave on our daily journey towards fitness.

My former boss came by the office machine store one day stating that Fat Judy had been there and purchased a bicycle. He mentioned that she chatted about me constantly when she was buying it.

He held out his hands to his sides “I think she’s kinda stuck on you. Just sayin'”

Sure enough, when I got home, she was obviously waiting for me as she and her bicycle were parked by the back stairs; no way I could get by to my place without being seen.

“Can I go riding with you today?” she asked feebly as I passed her on the stairs.

“Sure, but you gotta keep up” I answered, almost annoyed.

I went inside, changed and brought my own bike down, and we headed out.

It was still hot as it was around 6:00 pm and traffic was heavy. I had to show her how to use the gears. She had no clue how to use a ten-speed; shift or brake.

We had not even gone a mile when she asked to stop and rest. She was sweating and out of breath.

I complimented her on catching on quickly to braking and shifting.

“I want to go back ” she said panting “I’ve had enough for one day.”

“Can you find your way by yourself?” I asked.

She seemed hurt “yeah” and she turned and went back. I noticed her upper thighs that weren’t covered by her shorts were very red. I’m sure her return trip was painful.

I finished my route, about 5 miles and was home by 6:45. When I arrived, she was waiting for me on the back steps.

Geez, get a life I thought trekking my bike up the stairs.

“Can I come in?” she asked meekly.

I kept on moving upstairs “I gotta take a shower, if you don ‘t mind waiting” I said.

I heard her scramble “that’s OK.”

I didn’t even look back as I hauled my bike into my room, got undressed and walked into the shower.

She was watching and saw me naked as I crossed the hall. Normally, I wore a robe. I was trying to scare her away.

I started showering and she came to the bathroom door and began to chat how she didn’t think that buying a bike was a good idea…that it took more out of her than she thought, and did I think she could get her money back for it.

I cleaned up and shut the water off, and stepped out to dry with her watching. I ignored her and dried myself off…extremely well.

“I don’t know if they will refund your money” I said “normally they don’t. They might give a partial refund it it’s brought back in pristeen condition, but there in business to make money, not do test rides. Did they offer you a test ride?”

She hung her head, and for the first time, I noticed she was wearing a white button up blouse and no bra. She had short black short that showed her nice fat legs. She had sandals that showed her nice feet. All these did not diminish the size of her ass.

“Yes they did” she said.

I walked by her to my room and got dressed.

She came in and removed her blouse, revealing her medium sized tits. I remember thinking strange that fat girls have tiny tits.

“OH no” I said  holding up my hands to her “put your shirt back on. Roomie and I do not have sex in our own place” I pointed to her “now please.”

She shook her head as she searched for the tag on her blouse “I am not doing well today.”

She found her tag and replaced her blouse.

Relieved, I finished getting dressed and she left the room.

Roomie came in as she passed by out the door.

“You didn’t!” he exclaimed after he closed the door after her.

I smiled “no, I didn’t. But she was certainly willing.” I explained what happened.

“She took her shirt off? In front of you?” he was amazed. “How big were they?”

I showed a look of indifference “smaller than I expected, but still a breast is a breast. No two are alike.”

He kinda looked away in a daze and nodded. “What are you gonna do? Sounds to me like she’s at home waiting for you with her legs spread.”

“I think she might be a little unstable” I replied after a moment of thought. Then, I looked at him “but  you’re right. She’s already sent the invitation” and I got up and left…down to her place.

As predicted, she answered the door with a smile wearing a robe “I didn’t think you’d come” she said, closing the door.

“Yes you did” I said “I’ll bet you got  nuthin’ on under that?” pointing at her robe.

She removed it revealing her naked body. Her nipples had hardened. She dropped the robe to the floor and using her index finger motion, led me to her bedroom where she lay on her back, legs apart knees up.

I dropped my shorts and offered her my cock to suck on. She was obviously surprised and waved it away “no” was all she said.

I pressed my cock into her vagina opening, finding her very wet. After a few thrusts, I was all the way in. I fucked her three times that night. So much that my dick was sore the next morning.

And so it went for a week.

The next weekend, a new neighbor moved in across the way from Fat Judy. I had finished my Saturday morning fuck with Fat Judy, and when I exited, the new girl was opening her door.

She turned as I closed the door and said “Hi, I’m Letty.”

“Good morning Letty” I said walking to her “I’m Glenn from upstairs” and I opened the door for her. “I’ll leave you as it looks like you’ve got plenty of help” I pointed to her three helpers thinking they were brothers and dad. She was good looking; long dark straight hair, large breasts, shapely, nice smile. She filled her jeans well.

“We’ll be bbq later” I said “c’mon up if you like.”

“Thanks” she said with a smile and little wave “maybe another time” and she went inside. The others followed with load after load.

I went upstairs and Roomie was making coffee, smoking a joint. I partook of both and he quizzed my adventure with Fat Judy.

“Well, she won’t get her mouth anywhere close to my dick” I started, “other than that, it’s great…but somehow incomplete.”

He told me about he and Debbie, who was really good looking, but also a very large woman;  not so much a fat ass, just overall big girl. Roomie describe screwing her as climbing onto a mound. Again, not so big breasts, but he said she sucked the skin off his cock…every night and sometimes more than once.

I changed the subject and mentioned Letty, the new neighbor, and described her and our brief encounter.

“Good think you met her before the other women” Roomie said “now they can’t make up shit about her.”

I laughed “so true, isn’t it?”

We got stoned and drank coffee and I decided to start laundry before the rest of the place woke up, and ruined the day for laundry.

In those days, one  load was enough for a week and I loaded the washer, and started it. Just as I pushed  my coins in, here came Fat Judy.

“I thought you would come back over” she said.

“I had laundry to do and I can’t do it at your place” I said getting annoyed.

“You can come over now” she said.

“I don’t think I’ll be coming over any more” I said, putting my basket on the washer.

That pushed her over the edge “and why not?” she yelled.

“Because you won’t suck my dick” I said back louder than would have been  necessary.

She quieted down and looked embarrassed “it’s wrong to do that” she said.

“What are you, a foot-washin’ Baptist?” I said.

Then, I ranted “You don’t mind that we’re technically committing adultery? You don’t mind that I suck on your clit? You better not quote biblical shit to me” and I picked up my basket and walked past her.

She was dumbfounded.

I went upstairs, and found Roomie working on his famous bbq marinade for the beef skirts.

I set the timer for half and hour to put the laundry in the drier when ready.

We smoked another J and had more coffee with Irish Cream.

I went down to move the clothes into the dryer and in came Fat Judy. She was upbeat and said “I changed my mind about the sucking. I’ll do it for you.”

I dropped my gym shorts and pushed her to her knees “OK lesson one, be brave in public” and I put my cock at her mouth and she took it in. She obviously knew how…musta had a bad experience before. I grabbed handfuls of her curly hair, and fucked her in the mouth, when someone came in the door.

It was Letty, carrying a laundry basket.

“Better get your money in” I said “Saturday is the busiest day.”

Judy jumped up and left, covering her face with embarrassment while I pulled up my shorts.

“I didn’t bring any change” Letty said, putting her basket on the washer.

I pulled out a couple quarters “first one’s on me” and I left. Before I was out of sight I called to her “bbq is still on for around six or so.”

“What can I bring?” she came out of the room.

“Bring your favorite beers” I said “enough for four. We’ll do the rest.”

She nodded and waved “I’ll be there” and turned back to the laundry room. I saw Fat Judy heading out of her apartment with a basket of laundry too.

I went upstairs and almost got knocked over by Darla who was skipping two steps to get down “sorry!” she said “in a hurry!” she ran to a waiting car, and they sped off.

I shook my head, and went inside “we’re gonna have a guest for the bbq” I called.

Roomie came from the kitchen with Debbie “oh yeah? Who?”

“The new girl, Letty” I said, putting down my basket on the couch, and sitting beside it, now smiling.

“What?” Roomie said, walking closer.

“I was moving my stuff into the dryer when Fat Judy came in to the laundry room.”

“Yeah? Go on”

“She said she changed her mind about the blowjobs, and I made her give me one right there. Letty walked in, and Fat Judy ran out the door” I was laughing so hard I could not finish, and did not have to as all three of us were laughing.

After we had gotten hold of ourselves I continued “even though she changed her mind, I’m still breaking up with her” and we all started laughing again.

I went back down in an hour to retrieve my dry clothes and there were baskets lined up. Letty’s was done and I put hers in the dryer and coined it. I left, and knocked on her door.

She called out “who is it?”

“It’s Glenn. I put  your clothes in the dryer. See you later?” and left.

I returned upstairs and folded my clothes, and put them away. I worked on the pico de gallo for the bbq.

Our standard bbq consisted of usually meat fajitas. We would trade off marinading them in our own recipe, always searching for the perfect blend of tenderizing agents that would break down the naturally tough beef skirts. All day at minimum for marinading, and longer if possible. We found that papaya juice was a necessary ingredient to tenderizing the meat.

Always some kind of tortilla chips; at times we fried our own. Sure lots of work, but quality unsurpassed.

We each also had our own recipe of pico de gallo, and chile con queso dip. These could also be used to embellish the meat on the flour tortillas. And of course, charro beans were a must. One could put them on tacos as well, or on the side.

Tonight, it would be Roomie, Debbie, Letty (if she showed) and I for the bbq. We always cooked on the deck and sometimes would eat there too if it wasn’t too hot and the skeeters weren’t too bad. We never smoked pot on deck…never.

‘Twas still early in the afternoon, and I went down for a nap as did Roomie; or maybe he went across the hall for his nap. I was up about 4 and did some final preps, including setting up the pit for the fire.

These were the days before the chimneys and the electric firestarters had not become widespread, although we had one.

Roomie was a mathematician, and always had a plan to build his fires with a pyramid using starter fluid.

I used the electric element, and eventually won out the starter fluid because the taste of naphtha usually passed into the meat.

We had inherited an old grill from my folks; a pot metal made with a shelf on the side, single grate, and the fire grate was adjustable with manually adjustable vents on the lid and the sides. Not bad, and we always argued the best combination of vent openings for optimizing air flow.

I had the pit ready, and was waiting inside for the others to show. Traditionally, we never start the fire until all expected guests arrive. That gives plenty of time to observe the progress of the fire, and drink beer.

A knock at the door told me it was Letty; it was.

“I have beer” she said “but I cannot lift it up the stairs” she pointed “it’s right there.”

“Not to worry” I said motioning her inside as I noticed she had some groceries as well.

I retrieved the ice chest, and manhandled it up the stairs. She did well; a nice assortment of Heineken, Miller, Michelob dark, and Lowenbrau. All complete with ice chest and lots of ice.

I went inside “well done on the beer assortment” I told her and my appreciation was genuine. “What else did you bring?”

She pulled a bottle of Blue Nun wine from one of her bags “I don’t do beer, and I like my sweet wine” she said proudly displaying her wine.

I nodded with approval as Roomie and Debbie walked in.

Introductions were made and Debbie and Letty spoke like old friends; giggling and laughing while they poured wine.

Roomie and I began our vigil with the fire.

The first step was done, building the pyramid. With the electric element, I built a layer of coals on the grill, then lay the element on top, then stacking however many remaining coal were necessary to complete the pile. Then, plug it in.

It took about fifteen minutes for the element to get red hot and catch a few of the coals it touched on fire; then unplug it and let it sit so any residual heat from it would continue to heat the charcoal. The element was removed after this, and usually the pyramid collapsed. This was here arguments ensued; one saying the element can remain until most of the coals are started, the other side stating that the heat from the now started fire would shorten the life of said element.

When the coals are all covered in gray, then the grill is placed on top, and meat is cooked.

This give plenty of time for beer consumption.

Roomie and I sat outside and watched the fire sampling the beers, and Letty and Debbie would come out and “check on us” from time to time. Each subsequent visit revealed them to be slightly more tipsy than the time before.

We were all feeling good when the meat came off and we chowed down on fajita tacos.

Letty pulled out some cheesecake for dessert, and we continued to eat.

Roomie rolled a joint after dessert, and we all partook…even Letty and she did not blink an eye as we all got stoned.

Eventually, we cleaned up the dishes and loaded the washer and let it work for us.

Debbie and Roomie snuggled on the couch. I sat on the couch across from them, and Letty sat next to me, but no so snuggly as the other two. We continued to chat when Letty stood up after a while and said “It’s time for me to go. Thanks for everything…”

Debbie and  Roomie left across the hall. Letty gave me a peck on the cheek “Keep the beer for next time” she said quietly and went to the stairs.

“I’ll keep it, but I won’t guarantee there will be any left for next time” I said jokingly.

She blew me a kiss and left.

I smoked another part of a J with a beer, and went to crash out. A loud knocking on the door woke me up later.

It was Fat Judy, and she was drunk mad.

“I know you had that slut over here tonight!” she said.

I made her a drink of vodka with a little Coke “here, calm down” I said “you and I are through. You had your chance, and you got your way, and now you reap the reward.”

She took the drink and pretty much chugged it down while I lectured. I then  made her another, and she chugged that one too.

By the time she finished the second one, she was resting her head back on the couch.

I helped her up. It’s hard to help a drunk, fat person who keeps telling you they love you and hanging on you.

I took her downstairs (quite a feat in itself) to her apartment, which was unlocked and took her to her bedroom and literally dropped her on her bed. She was out.

I thought for a minute and began removing her clothes. First her button up blouse. I unbuttoned it while she lay flat. I brought her to sitting position and removed it, and unbuttoned her bra, then removing it. I lay these garments on her bed neatly.

I next tried to figure out her shorts. There were zipped in the back. I had to roll her over to unzip, then work them off. Panties came right off over her fat ass.

I lay her out, spread her legs, and began fingering her puss until she was wet. She moaned a little.

I pulled my shorts off and fucked her a little. It didn’t take long before I was coming and I pulled out and shot my load onto her mouth.

Then, I dressed her again, pulled back the covers and put her under, leaving the cum on her face.

I locked the door when I left. That was the last time we ever spoke.

Oh, I ran into her from time to time, but she never approached me again about being together. She flaunted several suitors after that, but they were all geeks and dweebs.

Letty too, didn’t seem interested in any escalation of our relationship, and that was OK with me. I liked being unattached.

Roomie and I always bbqed on Saturday nights. Letty showed up from time to time and was always pleasant.

One particular Saturday night, we were sitting on the deck after eating in November, when several cop cars pulled up and came up the stairs. They were armed and serious.

The lead guy pointed to our door “I need you people to go inside right now and stay out of sight.”

We needed no second invitation and left immediately into our apartment.

They were there for a bust on Darla’s place. I never would have suspected but as it turned out, she had a meth lab and had been under surveillance for some time.

We never saw her again.

We made more tacos with the leftovers when there was another knock at the door.

I answered it and it was the Lt from the bust. “You guys can come out now. The police department appreciates your cooperation.”

“Glad to help” I said “you and your men want some fajita tacos? We got plenty” as Debbie walked up with a bag.

The serious Lt’s stone face broke into a big smile “sure, thanks!” He turned “hey gunny! Have the men stop here. We got some tacos!”

A couple of wahoos I heard as the crowd gathered around  the table. We brought out the chips and pico too. It’s a great way to make friends.

The Lt and I were chatting away from the rest and he asked me “you guys had no idea what was going on there?”

I shook my head sipping my beer “no, and you know what? I can tell you what every person in the complex does, when they’re here, when they’re gone and routines, except Darla. She was a mystery and from what I’ve seen, many of the women here don’t want to be public information so I left it alone…I had no idea they were making drugs. They were busy; always rushing around, but I figgered they were just busy folks…some people are.”

“They?” Lt quizzed.

“There was a skinny guy that I saw with her from time to time. Again, not unfriendly, just always in a hurry” I shrugged.

“Well, you won’t be seeing them again” he said “we’ll send a team over and empty out the apartment as it now belongs to the police department.”

“I’ll tell him” indicating Roomie “his boss’s mother owns this place. She’ll want to get it rented asap.”

He finished the last bite of his taco “Ok guys, let’s wrap it up” he offered his hand “Lt William Asher…friends call me Willie.”

“Glenn Van Deburg. Glenn will do” I shook his hand.

They disappeared in ten seconds.

I watched them go into the night and I turned to Roomie and Debbie and said “never a dull moment around here.”

The cops emptied Darla’s place and the next day there was a new woman moving in. I knew she was trouble from the moment I met her, and vowed to stay away from her.

She was gorgeous. Tall, slender, lots of curly red hair, legs that would not quit, large breasts that bounced intentionally, and a sly smile that sent chills up my spine.

Samantha was her name and she wanted to be called…you guessed it…surprise…Sam.

She had one guy helping her move in and I figgered it was a relative. He seemed like he had done this before. I did not offer to help and she seemed slightly  miffed at that. Scratch her off the bbq list…permanently.

My friends Rich and Paul however, did not heed my warning. Rich was a ladies man and loved one-night stands and was an expert at leaving crying women behind.

I did not know Paul’s love history, but they were at a bbq at our place when she came upstairs and they were smitten, and  fought over her almost immediately. I think this is what she lived for.

She ate it up and got miffed again when I did not offer her my chair…at my own table? Ha!

She invited them over for “drinks” and they disappeared into her lair.

One Friday, I was out late drinking with the guys from work, and I came home pretty wasted. I parked in my usual spot when our next door neighbor was headed up the stairs and grocery bag broke and all kinds of stuff came down the stairs at me.

“Oh shit!” she exclaimed then she saw me and said  “sorry!”

I waved “doncha worry, I’ll get this for you” and I grabbed a couple of cantaloupes and some boxes of pasta. I was relieved that there were no tampons or maxi pads or other feminine hygiene products involved.

I followed her and she met me at her door “thank you very much” she said “I’ll get it from here.”

I handed them off “there’s still some stuff down there…some chips I think” as she went into her apartment.

“That’s OK” she called back “I’ll get them. Thank you again.” She seemed nervous.

“Glad to help” and I went into my own place and went to sleep thinking of her. Nice looking, nothing special, but pleasant. Petite, lots of dark curly hair, glasses, nice swing in the back yard, small breasts, nice.

I was thinking that was the first time I had seen her coming or going. I figured she was a waitress working late.

The next day was Saturday, and I was up to go help a friend work on his lawn mowers. A trade I had learned a few years earlier had come in handy in later years. He paid me for it too.

Roomie’s car was there so I assumed he was at Debbie’s. I left and was gone for three hours, and I came back with forty bucks in cash.

I ran up the steps and there was my new friend from last night…almost like she was waiting for me.

“Hello again” I said “did you find all your stuff in decent shape?”

She laughed “yes, the only casualty was a box of lasagne noodles that became lasagne noodle pieces.”

I laughed with her “let me know when you make it. I have a couple boxes of noodles. I  make pretty good lasagne too.”

She was surprised “really? A man who cooks. That’s new for me.”

I fumbled for my keys “I learned a long time ago that if I wanted to eat stuff  I liked, I would have to cook it myself…and now I eat very well thank you.”

She smiled and stuck our her hand “I’m Lelah.”

I was momentarily mesmerized “Lelah. I like that. I’m Glenn” and I took her hand gently. “We bbq here every Saturday” I said “and you’re invited for this evening if you like.”

She seemed excited “can I bring anything?”

“Why don’t you make some lasagne? That would go good with burgers and steak” I replied.

She nodded “OK, but I’ll need those noodles.”

I opened the door “coming right up” and I made my way through the living room into the kitchen and pantry, retrieving a box of noodles for her.

“Here ya go!” as I returned to her at the door.

“See you about six?” I said “Roomie will be in and out with Debbie this afternoon. I will be too.”

“I’m looking forward to it” Lelah said, and went back to her apartment.

I did as well to shower. Fixing lawn mowers is dirty business.

That evening, Roomie and I decided on chuck eye steaks. They’re not a expensive cut of meat by any means, but if one gets them cut say no more than 1/2″, it’s a quick hunk of grilled beef. The burgers are more of a supplement to utilized the toppings.

I had  some extra lettuce in case Lelah needed a salad.

I started the fire at 5:30, figuring it would be 30 minutes before meat could go on the grill. Good thing too because Lelah was right on time.

As I was throwing on the chuck eyes, she came out with her foil-covered pan.

I jumped up “oh let me take it” and she passed it to me gladly.

“I’ll get the salad” she said and returned inside while I kicked the door to get Roomie to let me in.

He left the door open, and Debbie showed up too “something sure smells good” and she and Lelah introduced while Roomie and I  started the oven to keep the lasagne warm.

We put the burgers on first, being much bigger than the chuck eyes, and they cooked quickly, next the steaks and they took half the time.

We ate outside. Roomie had picked up some wine and we had a great time…steak and lasagne, what a concept.

We all patted each other on the back for being such good cooks. Roomie and I also had our own lasagne recipes, and we complimented Lelah heavily on hers. She was embarrassed for all the attention.

Rich and Paul came up with the redhead about the time we were finished, and they stopped and chatted briefly.

Debbie and Lelah wanted nothing to do with Red, and they cleared the table and went inside.

Red seemed interested only in being in the spotlight, and Roomie and I were chatting with Rich and Paul about their jobs and work. They were both in the oilfield and often worked days straight at a time. They had each finished a stretch of a couple days, and coincidentally they showed up at Red’s the same night.

There was a little tension in the air, and Red was thriving on it. The three retired to Red’s place, and Roomie and I went inside where Debbie and Lelah were doing dishes.

We helped finish clear off and clean up including putting away leftovers.

Roomie pulled out his pot supplies and rolled a fat J and fired it up. Debbie and I partook, offered Lelah but she refused, seemingly angry.

“You guys are smoking weed after the cops were all over this place last weekend?” she seemed genuinely surprised and shocked.

“If you’re uneasy about this, you can step out until we’re done” Roomie said calmly “we’re not making you stay, although you are welcome to do so.”

She looked at me for an answer, and I went towards the door, opening it “I hope you come back later, should you decide to leave. It’s safe enough here.” I ended up almost whispering the last few words.

“Oh, I guess it’s OK” she said, giving in and closing the door.

As she did, I saw Paul come out of Red’s. He seemed mad and I invited him in. He accepted, and drew heavily on the joint. I gave him a beer too.

“What’s up Paul?” I asked seriously. “You seem pissed off.”

I hardly finished my sentence when he started his rant. “Man, I can’t get anywhere with her because it seems that Rich is always around” he started “that woman is gorgeous. Rich always gets the good looking ones, and I get seconds and leftovers.”

“So you say that whenever you go to Red’s, Rich is always there? Like he had a heads up?” I said, acting innocently inquiring as to details.

“Yeah, like he already knew” Paul said slowly, thinking about the possibility.

“Like she lets him know you’re going to be there?” I pushed.

He nodded more convinced now “yeah, like she’s doing this on purpose” he drained his beer, shook my hand and left “thanks Glenn. I think I’ll find someone else. Rich has his hands full” he chuckled as he left.

I closed the door behind and and shrugged to the rest.

“That was pretty shrewd” Roomie said, and Debbie agreed.

“Lelah and I knew she is T-R-O-U-B-L-E.” She and Lelah laughed.

“Well, we wanted to go see a  movie” Debbie said gathering up her purse, and she and Roomie left across the hall.

I sat on the couch offering Lelah a seat next to me, and she sat close enough to where we were rubbing thighs.

She had a glass of wine, and I was finishing a beer. I sat my beer on the coffee table, and reached over to kick on the stereo softly.

I leaned back and put my arm around her and she nestled her face against my chest, as I began touching her curly hair.

After a few minutes of that, she said “that tickles” and she pushed up and kissed me softly. She was holding herself up when she turned around and lay on my lap, and pulled my face to hers.

I raised my knee and propped my right foot on the coffee table, raising her close to me. We made out for a couple minutes, and my cock was hard.

She guided my hand to her breast, and I stopped her.

Softly I said to her “Roomie and I have an agreement that we don’t have sex here in our place. That’s where they went. They didn’t go to no movie.”

She sat up, perplexed ” no women here?”

“We agreed not to bring women over and have sex here” I said calmly, still stroking her cheek “it breeds malcontent. It causes things that should be said not to be said. One of us having a woman here, and the other not causes the one without to do things he wouldn’t normally do like be quiet, not watch TV, not smoking pot, not cooking…etc. It’s just easier if we go elsewhere to be with a woman.”

“And how’s that working out for you?” she asked quietly.

“For him, it’s easy as they just head across the hall. For me, it’s different because I have to explain, like I just did, to the woman about our rule. I’m not that popular and this doesn’t come up very often, let me be clear.”

She smiled “c’mon over to my place and let’s finish this” she stood up and offered her little hand. I followed and only grabbed my keys to lock the door behind me.

She unlocked her door, and invited me inside. It was a very nice place furnished with stuff I would classify as rustic; manly. “Nice furniture” I said looking around.

Before I knew it, she was undressed, and grabbing my shirt while unbuttoning it.

Her breasts were small, but they were just that; small breasts. Perfectly proportioned; nice nipples that were now erect. She was smiling as I fumbled with my jeans and belt.

My erection broke through my underwear, and she was all over it. She pushed me to the couch and took my cock all the way in.

She moaned and groaned as she sucked and turned around so her ass was above my face. I went after her vagina.

She smelled like lavender, and I licked the best I could but could not get the angle.

“Don’t make me cum” I whispered “I want to be inside you.”

She stopped sucking and got on top, guiding my cock inside her vagina. I touched her breasts and she ground away at my dick.

“Your breasts are magnificent” I said pinching her nipples lightly.

She giggled “I can feel your cock all the way up. It’s huge!” she moved closer and began to kiss me. I hugged her tight and we made out for a long time.

I sat up on the couch and she bounced up and down flopping her boobs until I came inside her. I held her against me until I finished shooting my loads.

She climbed off and lay down. I just started at her body.

I shook my head as I stroked her body from cheek to toes “you are an absolutely beautiful woman” I whispered. Truly she was.

She smiled and sighed. “You’re the only man that ever said that to me. Where do you think this relationship will go?”

“Wherever we want it to go” I said, still touching her body. “You and I have control, and we have a mutual good thing going on. Let’s enjoy being together alone so to get to know one another at our own pace. We’re neighbors, and that doesn’t mean I’ll be coming over here now in every spare moment of my time.  We both have lives. We’ll have to find ways to work each other into our lives. It takes time, and we have plenty of that.”

I touched her cheek and kissed her forehead “you are so adorable.”

She blushed and gave a little shrug “thank you. I am refreshed that there are men still out there who treat women nicely.”

We snuggled together on her couch. She pulled an afghan from somewhere and covered us up, and we fell asleep.

We woke up during the night, and she pulled me to her bedroom, and we had sex again, then a hard sleep.

The sun woke us up, and we played for a little while, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, then we showered together.

I hadn’t had so much fun in all my life. I reminded myself to be careful.

She and I made omelettes. We impressed each other with our cooking ability.

She quizzed about my exes and I told a little about betrayal and deceit and outright lies.

“And before her?” she asked.

“Her sister” I answered “a year younger but much more fun.”

“Why did you end up with her big sister?” she continued.

“Big sister was easier” I answered without thinking, but it was true.

“Easier how?”

“Big sister was jealous of little sister because little sister got all the really cool guys. All big sister got was losers. For a brief while, I dated both of them. Big sister eventually threw herself at me, and I was unable to resist. She said and did everything I wanted to hear, and I fell for her. When I married her, she turned off all charms, and demanded to be boss…” I sighed thinking about how I had been duped.

Lelah touched my arm “I’m sorry. You’re a very trusting man. Any decent woman would be thrilled to be with you; I know I am.”

I reached over and kissed her cheek “where have you been hiding and why? or should I not ask?”

“You may ask, but I’m not sure I’m ready to tell you” she said pensively.

I nodded “I have not told you all either…and I’m OK with that for now.”

She threw her arms around my neck and hugged me and I could her her speak through her big smile “I knew you’d be like this.”

I hugged her back, and inside there was a piece of me that really didn’t want a long term relationship with a Hispanic woman. Hispanics have strange ideas about relationships and duty and loyalty and dedication and obligation and family and shit like that.

I had to remind myself of that.

I said good-bye and left. She seemed a little sad, and I didn’t know what else to do. “We’ll be watching the Cowboy game at noon” I said as I left “come over if you want.”

“You can watch it here” she said, a little stubborn.

“It’s a tradition” I said “c’mon. It’ll be  fun” with a smile.

I added “there may be others too and we might cook out. Every day is different!”

She took a few steps towards me, then stopped and put her hands on her hips with a big smile “you’re just full of surprises. Save me a place next to you.”

“I promise” I said, and closed the door.

Roomie was home. I had not realized it was 11:30.

“Have a good time?” he asked wryly. Debbie was there too, looking at me with a sly smile.

“I certainly did” utilizing my best Stan Laurel imitation with the nod. “She will be joining us for the game as well.”

“Great!” Roomie said “Paul will be here too with a new squeeze.”

“Let’s keep Red out if we can” I said, on a more somber note.

He nodded “agreed.”

“So what’re you making?” I asked them as they worked at the kitchen counter which was behind the partition.

“The usual. Pico and queso dip” Debbie replied.

“Sounds good” and I turned on the TV and connected the stereo to the television for the pre-game show.

Paul showed up just after that with his new girl, Becky.

Speaking strictly for myself, I would never bring a date to a friend’s house to watch a football game.

Becky was very tall; maybe 5’10” with very long straight blonde hair. She wore a little more makeup than she needed…for a football game. She had very tight fitting jeans that went all the way up to her butt. A loose fitting blouse that even without trying, I’m sure her boobs would have been easily visible. She had a nice smile and a certain air of comfort about her and I liked that.

She brought a pork chili dip that I could smell the minute it hit the doorway.

Paul brought beer; it’s what guys do.

Roomie had a pit group for the living room furniture and I swear we never ran out of places to sit. It consisted of two long couches and a love seat. All had removable cushions. Each place to sit had an ottoman. There was plenty of seating and plenty of places for folks to put their drinks and snacks.

Lelah came in a few minutes later and she made me proud how she interacted with the others. She brought a cheesecake that awarded her the center of attention since she said she made it herself…I was impressed, too.

We cued up our beers and snacks and places to sit and we all found comfy seating with out significant others and made an afternoon of it.

Joints appeared and were smoked and more munchies were loaded up.

Get togethers such as this always seem better when our team wins…they did.

Game over at three. The girls had started cleaning up before the end of the game as it was a runaway. We boys, being loyal fans, always watched until the clock ran out..ya just never know.

Paul and Becky left first.

We left the TV on and Roomie switched the channel to the Oilers game on the other channel, and made it clear that he would be watching that game until six.

In those days, Earl Campbell was the only reason to watch the Oilers, and they were contenders for several years while he was on the team.

Lelah had no interest and motioned me to go with her when she said her goodbyes to Roomie and Debbie.

I followed her outside, and we were met by an arguing Paul and Becky. We didn’t stop, we went to Lelah’s apartment. She closed the door after I passed through and started “you guys are gonna waste a whole Sunday watching football? One game I understand, but all afternoon?”

“I’m up for options” I said in earnest.

She started removing her clothes, and I locked the door.

I did same as I followed her into her bedroom. There seemed to a more serious air about this round of sex.

She fumbled with her nightstand and removed some things; I could not tell at first.

She motioned me over and took my rock hard cock, and rubbed something on it that was very slippery.

“I want you to fuck me in the ass” she said as she continued putting lube on my dick. “Start pushing in my anus slowly, adding a squirt of this every time you push your dick into my ass. OK?”

“OK, but I never did this before” I said.

“Neither have I, but I have been reading about it” she said as she got on all fours and aimed her anus at me.

I walked on  my knees across the bed and met her ass with a squirt of lube, then pushed my cock into her anus..past the the head.

“Easy!” she said “slowly! A little at a time. More lube.”

I worked it and it took a lot of lube to get my huge cock into her asshole halfway.

“You’re cock is so big!” she said.

I pulled out all the way and watched her anus close up. I lubed my dick and went in again and pulled out, this time putting lube before her anus closed. Now we’re going all the way with lube ahead of my dick.

Soon, my balls were slapping her butt cheeks as I thrust inside her.

“Oh yes!” she said over and over. She was moving her body back and forth “helping” me with the thrusts.

She finally buried her face into her pillow and stopped thrusting “fuck me hard now!” she turned and yelled.

I grabbed her hair, held her down, and fucked her in the ass until I shot my load. I held her down as I unloaded and felt the cum ooze around my cock. My erection faded, and I pulled out, and lay next to her breathless.

We must have cat napped because the next thing I knew, she was sucking my cock as I was hard again.

I let her go after it, and gave her control  until I came again. She swallowed every drop, and did not gag. She kept sucking as to drain any residual.

“That was the best sex I ever had” she said after she cuddled next to me. I brought my arm around her and pulled her close and she lay on my chest.

“Best ever for me too” I said, which was true since I had only been with three women; the ex, Fat Judy, and another will go into another time.

I had only heard stories about anal sex, and here I was doing it. “Where did you read about this?” I asked, my curiosity peaked now.

“Some girlfriends and I used to get magazines from one of the boyfriends about sex stories” she seemed embarrassed.

“You never actually done it with a man?” I asked casually.

“No.”

A moment of silence and she said “better than a crummy football game,  huh?”

“Fuckin’ A!” I answered, and we burst out laughing.

We napped again until after six. That time of year, it was almost dark by then. Thanksgiving was around the corner, and we discussed it briefly. I didn’t really know anything about her as far as her family was concerned, and I hadn’t divulged anything about mine either.

“What do you normally do for Thanksgiving?” she asked me as we made some sandwiches.

“This is my first Thanksgiving after my divorce” I said “in the past, I had to go to two Thanksgiving dinners. My mom reminded me the other day that I was be be there by 1:00 for dinner and she said we could watch the Cowboy game at three as long as we help clean up.”

“More football?” Lelah shook her head.

“The Cowboys always play on Thanksgiving Day” I said. “My aunt and uncle will be down too, and my two brothers; one of which is  married.”

I continued “Mom said you are certainly welcome to eat with us as part of the family.”

“Really? You told her about me?” she seemed very surprised.

I nodded “of course. Well, just a little. I just said that I kind of hit it off with one of the neighbor girls.”

“Hit it out of the park I should say” she corrected.

And I must admit, I was kind of falling for her, but promised myself I would not let on how I really felt as it had come back to bite me on the ass in the past.

Thanksgiving was that week. Lelah would not commit and I stopped bugging her about it and even stopped making myself so available to her.

I went to my folks’ to see what Mom needed to do the dinner; if she needed help. She surprised at my interest and explained to her that making turkey dinner was one of my favorite meals, and I wanted to see how she did her turkey and dressing because it was the best ever.

She smiled and mapped out how she planned the week’s goodies.

She casually asked about Lelah, and I could give her no specifics as to whether or not she would come.

I learned that Thanksgiving about roasting a turkey. Mom used a large paper bag into which she put the stuffed turkey. When she served it, she just tore the bag away. I never used the paper bag but went the Brown ‘n Bag route. It has proven to be very successful.

That was Mom’s last Thanksgiving as she was killed the following August in a car accident.

Lelah did not attend the Thanksgiving at my folks.

Mom talked me into moving back home, and returning to work on my degree. I did so after much discussion.

My dad was not for it much. He and I did not get along as I usually bucked him and his fuddy duddy old fashioned ideas.

I returned to college for the spring and summer semesters.

Roomie moved back to my town to another apartment. I did not hear any more from Lelah or anyone else except Debbie from the complex.

Roomie then got a job for a big corporation doing programming in north Texas and moved away in ’81.

I too, got another job and moved away for a year.

Fat Judy made her final pathetic attempt to reunite when Mom was killed. I saw her one more time after that as she got a job at the bank where her mother worked. Fat Judy just got fatter and more loudmouthed.

Those days were gone forever now.

We moved on and bought a house. Roomie found a nice Mormon girl and married her.

I lived alone for many years, spending three paychecks a month making the house payment.

 

 

On Smoking Pot

I started smoking pot when I was sixteen. I worked at a lawn mower shop and my mentor first turned me on to it. He actually sold me my first two ounces for twenty dollars (the good old days).

I went out riding around with some friends and they rolled joints and we smoked them. I didn’t get high the first few times I smoked. They did and got really wasted on the dope I had.

I went to visit a friend of mine over Christmas, and brought my pot along. He had to go to the dentist one day and I went along. We smoked a J of the stuff I had, and man the first time I felt like I was floating along in the car.

When we got to the dentist office, we had a case of the laughs and I had to go outside to calm down. When I returned, he had been called in.

After it was over, he said that they didn’t even have to vacuum out his mouth because of the cotton-mouth syndrome.

We also learned of a new concept called the Raving Munchies. It was a term unbeknownst to us until then.

We could have just eaten lunch, smoked a J, and gone to a burger joint and polished off a burger, fries, and large Coke.

He had been smoking longer than I and agreed that my dope was indeed good stuff.

After my return, I learned a lot about the dope season. Summertime was the hardest time to find dope, and the term was ‘dry’.

At the time I started, pounds could be purchase for $40, then later $50.

I had an opportunity to buy some of the legendary Panama Red, and did so. The seller however, would not give me a discount as I bought three ounces and paid $30 for the three. It was the best dope I ever had.

It’s been a long time since I have been involved now with pot but pounds now go for hundreds of dollars.

Always had to buy rolling papers. It took me while to learn how but I did so. Meanwhile, I bought a Rizla roller that worked very well. I ended up folding up the ends into a little boat so the dope would not fall out.

Of course, one has to clean the dope first by removing the seeds and stems. It is tedious work but one is always well rewarded for doing so. Seeds can explode and cause the coal to fall off. Seeds can fall out and burn holes in ones’ shirt (I had plenty of those ruined shirt. it is a sure sign of a doper when you see holes burned in the front of his shirt chest high).

Stems too, make it difficult as they don’t burn like the leaves and when ash is knocked off, the stem can cause the coal to fall out.

We ended up using a pipe that held a joint. I was several inches long and made of glass. It had a hole in both ends, and one held a finger over the end while drawing a hit. Then removing the finger from the end would allow all the smoke to be inhaled.

Bongs and water pipes are popular, but not as portable as the good ol’ J.

I made several batches of magic brownies back in the day. Brownies are a guaranteed high, and it takes longer to kick in as digestion must occur in order for the body to absorb the THC. Brownies tended to constipate me, I cannot speak for others. The dope must be exceptionally clean as well. I think I used a half ounce per batch.

My wife at the time was an addict, and we went through a pound like nothing. I figured out the guy I worked with was a doper too, and I asked him once “do you ever get high before coming to work?”

His answer “every day!”

We became great pot smoking buddies and I always brought at least one joint to work after that. We spent a lot of time on the road, so had ample opportunity to get high.

It was a struggle as I was only getting paid $2.25 an hour, and supported a lazy wife with rent, electric, food, and pot.

I would sneak off campus for lunch in high school with friends and we’d always get high. I had study hall immediately after lunch and usually would nap before English sixth period.

We had a band trip when we were seniors to Dallas. I told my folks I was staying at a friend’s, and he told his folks we was staying at my place giving us the opportunity to stay up all  night…and we did…and we smoked several joints and ended up making several stops at the Sambo’s restaurant which was open 24 hours…more pancakes and coffee. We were at Sambo’s for breakfast as the sun rose. My friend pulled out a foil pouch…with magic brownies. Another laughing attack as we consumed them.

Went to school and got on the buses. I slept all the way to Houston.

Another buddy loaned me his portable 8-track; battery operated. By the time we got to Houston, the batteries were so weak that it wouldn’t switch tracks. The buses stopped at a cafeteria in Houston and I snuck off to the drug store to buy batteries. 8 D batteries…man those things cost a fortune. We jammed the whole trip on REO Speedwagon (the first album), Sugarloaf, and Led Zeppelin.

Saturday night was my night. Having a job and paying my own way, my parents said little about my going out and staying out late on Saturdays.

It was nice having a job to buy gas and pay for pot and cigarettes. I started smoking cigarettes when I began smoking pot to cover the pot odor. I figured I could get away with smoking cigarettes.

For a while, I kept my dope stashed by a tree on the canal bank. It got to be a hassle to have to run over there, stop, roll joints and re-stash it, then leave. Stopping on the canal bank day or night was very visible too so began carrying my pot with me.

Buying rolling papers was a subtle way if raising one’s hand saying “I’m a pothead!” One could always go the local head shop where no one cared but would always try to sell you a bong, a pipe, roach clip, water pipe or other means of smoking.

The head shop always smelled of delicious types of incense. I bought and incense burner with the little cones of incense. It seemed a little expensive. It was a heavy ceramic orange owl. One removed the owl head and lit an incense cone placing it on the base, then replacing the head. The smoke would trail out through the eyes. It got very hot and it broke one day. It got so hot that leaving it on the coffee table would leave a burn mark on the table. I think I picked it up once to move it when it was lit, and I dropped it also breaking it.

My parents bought me a fluorescent black light one Christmas and I hung it in my room. I had a couple of black light posters too. Far out.

I put black light bulbs in the ceiling light in my brother’s and my room and when my folks would turn on the light to wake us up (I hated that) the black lights came on which did not wake us up at all. heh The incandescent bulbs did not make things glow like the other fluorescent did. I still have that one with the original bulb.

Ahh munchies. Burgers and fries were hard to beat. Pizza and beer also very good. Dairy Queen was all about decisions as there were so many choices. Any ice cream was good as were most candy bars. Chips and dips were also popular.

Of course, there is always the constant worry of getting busted. Cops were our enemies and we referred to them as “pigs”.

Driving around smoking pot certainly presents a certain amount of risk, and we were always on the lookout for cops.

Smoking pot can always make one paranoid which is a bad thing as it can be unreal and it can spread. The thought of getting busted is scary itself without seeing flashing lights in one’s rear-view mirror.

An alert driver can spot sign that one is about to get pulled over giving one time to stay calm and get rid of any live joints that may be in the car. At times, it may be necessary to toss out the baggie and any paraphernalia as well.

I had a burned out headlight and while cruising one night with John and Paul, an oncoming State Trooper passed by and turned around. We had just finished a joint but I threw out the baggie of dope. John was sporting a homemade water pipe that he tossed out the other side into the ditch.

Sure enough, the Trooper pulled me over and gave me a warning about the headlight. I had it fixed the next day. They didn’t even search the car.

Another time I had just purchased two ounces of dope (remember my first time?). When I pulled out of the driveway from my friends rented garage, a cop pulled me over immediately saying that I did not have my turn indicator on when I exited the parking lot. I thought that was chickenshit but kept my mouth shut.

The other cop searched the car but found nothing as I had the dope in my boot. They had no probable cause.

My friend pulled up too and they quizzed him too.

Close call, good thing I was not stoned at the time.

Another time I was taking Paul and Mike back to the bowling alley cruising down sixteenth street. I lit a cigarette and dropped it into my lap causing me to search for the smoke and I drove over a curb into someone’s yard then back into the street. Found the smoke, back to normal.

I dropped them off at the bowling alley and went back the same route to home. I passed by a cop close to where I had bumped into the yard. He was talking with some guy in another yard. I slowed down. The cop came after me and pulled me over.

The cop said that the guy he was talking to had a man wearing only a bath towel ring his doorbell. He chased the man away. The cop asked me to join him at the guys house.

I did so and the guy said “that’s not him but he drove up into someone’s yard after he passed by here.”

In my defence I calmly stated “I dropped a lit cigarette in my lap and was trying to get it before I got burned and yes, I jumped the curb and ran into that guys yard” I pointed at it on the next block.

The cop asked if there was anyone with me in the car. I said yes and he asked who they were and where they are now and I said I dropped them off at the bowling alley and the cop asked me to take him to talk to them.

The guys were certainly surprised when I showed up telling them a cop was outside wanting to interrogate them. “Just tell the truth” I told them.

They had a brief interrogation and the cop let them go and  asked me if I had seen anyone else in the area of the mystery naked man.

“No” I said “but you might check on the caller. I know that guy by reputation and he’s been labeled a looney tune.”
The cop chuckled and replied “yes, I’m starting to get the picture. You can go. Thanks for your cooperation.”

As high as I was before, I was now totally straight.

I rarely went to my lawn mower repair job stoned…to easy to  make mistakes and the boss was retired Air Force and it was his way or the highway.

Listening to music while stone is a whole other facet to the world of pot smoking. You either love it or  you hate it.

I ended up hooked on hard rock and it stuck for many years before I opened my mind to other types, and decided I liked it all.

Depending on who you’re with, one can get very philosophical while stoned, then realized when one is straight, it was all bullshit.

You will forget what you were saying in the middle of a sentence.

You will have laughing attacks that are a near death experience.

You will get hungry, even if you have eaten. Any food will do; especially greasy burgers, fries, beer, candy bars, soft drinks…it’s all good.

You will get the cotton-mouth in which your mouth gets very dry.

Smoking cigarettes is a joy unbounded after a J.

One gets very philosophical when high, only to realize when you’re straight again, it was all bullshit.

I have been unsuccessful at growing pot. A buddy of mine grew a plant and it was over six feet high, but someone stole it.

Sex and pot smoking? It certainly is was easier to get a girl in the sack when she was stoned and giggly. I can’t say it enhances the feeling.

I have certainly been really wasted on smoking dope, and can usually come down quickly as the situation presents itself; especially getting quizzed by parents or cops. Smoking pot never affected my driving except for little things like forgetting to turn on my headlights, forgetting the stoplight had turned green, etc.

Tricky word games can be fun when stoned, like Count Backyards From 100 Using Only Prime Numbers And Saying Captain Puff Puff after your number. That’s a good one.

Risk is a great board game while smoking and it can last for hours. Playing card games like poker, mescan sweat, guts, and black jack can be fun and rewarding.

We used to watch television with the sound off, and listen to music. Different but cool.

Sometimes, we do stupid shit too. I visited a friend in Oklahoma one Christmas, and a bunch of us went riding around in the country, smoking joints. It was cold and misting rain and they stopped at one of the crude oil pumps we used to call a “goose”. It was operating and not fenced so I climbed up, walked out onto the moving goose-neck and rode it for a few minutes. The rest of them called me “crazy Texan” and “dumb sombitch”.

I emerged unharmed.

I had a neighbor after I got married in the apartment complex that treated us with hashish from time to time. He rarely smoked pot unless it was really good stuff.

One day his cousin called us and asked us to go into his apartment and retrieve a large suitcase left on the bed.

We did so to find it contained several pounds of pot; twenty or so.

We took it with us and went to another friend’s for safekeeping until the cousin contacted us again. We took some samples; it was excellent.

The cousin called us and wanted us to give him a ride up past the checkpoint in Falfurrias Texas, where he would meet the smuggler now with the suitcase, and go further north.

Our neighbor, as it turned out was taking out the trash early that morning and got hauled off by federal agents. The took other suitcases of pot he had in the apartment, but somehow missed the one suitcase.

He was out on bail shortly after, and I know not what happened after that.

My friend John got busted smuggling 5 lbs through the checkpoint. He drove and old Dodge Dart and put a bicycle in the trunk with the lid tied down. The suitcase containing the dope was on the back seat.

It didn’t fool the Border Patrol guys at all.

He lost his scholarship to A&I university and got five years probation.

Now retired from 3M, he and his wife are enjoying their retirement.

I had a connection where I worked that would give me dope from time to time. It always made my wife nervous as she is a teacher and really did not want pot in the house. The last joint I had, I flushed it. Forty+ years of smoking dope, down the tubes.

I guess it was the right thing to do. As I got older, it seemed I got more paranoid when I got high, and was not as much fun. It’s always more fun when others smoke with you than when you smoke alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Boss’s Daughter

Many years ago, (1978) I worked at a lawn mower shop where the owner was a cranky retired Air Force major, with a fat half crazy wife and a homely daughter.

I don’t know why the boss got a wild hair to put his wife and daughter on the payroll.

I was too busy to concern myself with reasons. It was nice not to have to drop what I was doing and answer the phone. Along with all these luxuries, came a price.

The shop was not air conditioned except for the office, that the boss had constructed himself in order to let his wife and daughter work there. It was only 8X16 but air conditioned is air conditioned. Us mechanic folks were not allowed to ‘hang’ in the office unless we were gathering parts or going to the bathroom.

The daughter looked like she was living in the fifties. She had a cute baby face with too much white powder, and always wore too much lipstick to match her beautiful dark auburn hair. She had large breasts and they stuck straight out. She always wore below the knee length skirts; usually wool even in summer. From time to time, I would get a glimpse of her pure white legs when she bent over to pick up something off the floor.

She frequently wore black and white saddle shoes with turned down bobby socks. She was actually shapely, but she covered it all up.

In the winter, she wore a button down sweater over her denim shirts. Her sweater would only have the top button buttoned; the rest undone which looked ridiculous.

Sometimes she would start talking about stuff that made no sense to me.

She still lived with her parents until recently. They found her a mobile home to rent yet she still was at her folks house daily; in addition to working with them.

She had a teaching certificate and substituted at the high school. For some crazy reason, she chose to wear a wig when she substituted. Her mother always wore a wig as well.

I overheard discussions of the fact that she was unable to get on full time at any schools at the local school district.

Even so, I found Kathy attractive; and with a few little changes, she could be dynamite.

I was eighteen at the time; she was 23.

I walked into the office one hot afternoon and Kathy was crying with her mother. Apparently, she had been dumped or stood up by a guy…again.

I tried to back out but Kathleen, her mother asked me to join in the discussion.

Kathleen asked me “what is wrong with Kathy? We need a man’s opinion please. Tell us what is wrong with her….please.” Her voice trailed off.

I turned to face Kathy, tears still streaming down her face. I reached out to Kathleen for a Kleenex and she handed me a couple, and I began to wipe her tears away. She looked directly into my eyes while I spoke.

“There’s nothing wrong with Kathy” I began as I held her chin in one hand and dabbed her tears with the other “she’s a beautiful young woman.”

Her tears dried, I put the Kleenex down and took her hands “look at you. Your complexion is perfect; not a blemish on your skin. You have beautiful hair and features. You just need to accentuate them better.”

I stood back and pointed out her shoes “lose the black and white saddle shoes. Those are from the fifties. Lose the plaid wool skirt…also from the fifties. Too much lipstick. Fix your hair. I think the only thing that is wrong is that Kathy dresses for her family; not for anyone else.”

“What do you mean?” Kathleen asked, surprised.

“She’s a perfect daughter in your eyes” I continued “she dresses the way you taught her. Now she needs to dress for herself. She needs to want to be beautiful and attractive. A little bit of makeup in the right place here and there and I just might ask her out myself.”

Kathy smiled.

“Get rid of the denim shirts unless you’re wearing jeans. Wear pullover sweaters in the winter. And when you shop for jeans be sure you look at your butt in the mirror. They need to fit tight. Get your toes painted and buy some pretty sandals to show off your pretty feet. Don’t be afraid to show a little midriff either. Try wearing a halter top around the house. Wear shorts. Shave your legs. Go to Merle Norman. They can show you how to accentuate your pretty eyes and highlight your cheeks. Try curling your hair. Stop wearing wigs. Lots of women would give much to have your body. Make it work for you. You already have more than you need to be beautiful.”

Kathy never took her eyes off me.

“The last date she went on told her she talked too much” Kathleen said.

I looked at Kathy “if you’re trying to land a man, you need to stop talking about yourself. Figure out what’s important to you and find a way to ask him about the things that are important to you. If you have to laugh, cover your mouth and turn it into a giggle. Don’t get all philosophical about stuff, if you do keep it simple. Guys like to talk about themselves. Let him do so. If he asks you questions about you, keep your answers coy and slightly evasive. Look into his eyes when you answer. Any man will get caught up in those baby browns, and you will have them eating out of your hand.”

“One last thing” I said “and please don’t take this the wrong way “go see a psychiatrist. He can give you meds that will help you cope better with life.”

The boss came in and demanded “what’s going on here? All my help is enjoying the air conditioning and we have customers out there.”

He turned to me “we need gas for two mowers. Help them load up.”

“Yes sir” I replied and hastily exited into the hot shop.

I found myself with a slight hardon thinking about what I had said. Did you really say all that out loud? Your mouth just went into automatic. You really are attracted to her, aren’t you?

The rest of the afternoon, being Saturday was busy and I gladly was not called into the office again.

It was payday and the boss handed out checks at the end of the day as we were paid through the end of the day.

I noticed that Kathy had gone. I did not see her leave.

As the boss handed my my check he told me “I hope you realize the can of worms you opened.”

I looked at him right back in the eye and said “if  you want me to ignore your wife and daughter when they ask me questions, say so now and I will.”

He started at me for a second and wagged his head when he was annoyed and said “see  you Monday…if not sooner.”

I gave him a little salute, turned and left. I had no idea what that meant.

In those days, I cashed my paychecks at the grocery store where they charged me a dime to do so.

Kathy did not show up for work for a couple weeks. No one spoke to me about her absence, and I did not really miss her.

On Saturday evening a few weeks later, I arrived home a little late as there was a long line to cash check for some reason.

By the time I got home, it was just after six. Mom already had dinner on the table to I got permission to sit and eat before I cleaned up.

Spaghetti and meat sauce with good bread was served up and I complimented Mom on it as I shoveled it in.

During the course of the meal, there seemed a strange air about it. I could sense something was off, but I could not put my finger on it and said nothing. I would soon find out.

Mom started “Kathy called for you a while ago. She wants to meet you at Body’s (a local pub) at 7:30.”

I stopped eating. The family, my dad and mom and two brothers had heard me speak of Kathy frequently. Some of the stuff she had done over the past year certainly would have proven her a little nutty.

When she first started working there at the rental shop, she drew pictures on index cards of much of the equipment we rented. Her artwork would be compared to a child’s. The picture of the ditch digger looked like a dragon. (Frankly, I cannot draw freehand either. I would not begin to assume I could draw picture of any type of lawn equipment.)

So certainly my folks were eager to find out why the heck she called the house to invite me out for beers.

I told them about my discussion with Kathy and her mom a few weeks earlier. I went on saying that I could not believe the stuff that came out of my mouth about her.

“Were you lying to them?” Mom asked.

I shook my head “no…no, I don’t think so. I think I’m actually attracted to what she could be…”

My mom said “well you’re eighteen now, but you need to look at all facets of this situation; the boss’ daughter? Her mother works with you too? Have you thought of what could happen if this relationship went sour? You’d surely lose your job, and from what you tell me about your boss, he could become violent give how protective he is of her.”

I nodded slowly, while finishing my last bite of spaghetti. My brothers had excused and were cleaning their dishes while Mom and I wrapped up our conversation.

“You’re right” I said “I never thought about that. So how do I get hold of her to turn her down? Or is that wise? Perhaps I should just go as a friend, and have a beer with her.”

“Just be careful” she said as she stood up, as did I.

We were taught years ago to rinse out plates and let them soak in the sink. It was my turn to load the dishwasher too and I started my task.

“I’ll do this for you” Mom said. “You go get cleaned up for your date. I’m curious to see what she has to say.”

“As am I” I said as I kissed her cheek “but who says I’ll tell you what happens?” with a smile I slipped out of the kitchen, and off to get out of my grease covered jeans and chambray shirt.

In those days, I cleaned up real well. I was 6’2″, 150 lbs, shoulder length blond hair, blue eyes, and had been told that lots of girls were interested in me. As usual, the one I chased was extremely difficult to catch.

I put on clean blue jeans and my pull-on square toed boots. Green button up shirt…nothing special. I love the casual look. I let my hair dry naturally after I leave the house in my Camaro with the windows down for Saturday night.

Tonight would be different, however.

I stopped my my pal John’s and told him what I was doing.

He was shocked as he too, knew Kathy. She had substituted in his English class at school, and showed up wearing her wig…backwards.

He shook my hand laughingly “man, you do get yourself into some messes.”

He got in and we drove our usual route to smoke one joint. Two joints required an extension on the route as we figured folks might get suspicious if we kept driving by. Pothead logic.

We finished our J, and after we Visined up, I dropped him at his house “I’ll get by later” I said.

He shook his head “you may have your hands full. I won’t look for you” and waved as I drove off, heading for Body’s.

I was right on time, and she was already there. I saw her ’63 Falcon in the parking lot, and the place was filling up quickly for Saturday night.

She waved from across the room as I headed down the behind the stools at the bar, waving to Charlie the barkeep, my friend for a couple years. “What’ll you have?” he called out as I passed.

“A couple of your dark Michelobs to the booth with the lady” I pointed to her as I walked.

“You got it. Hey, she’s a real looker! Where…” he was cut off by a waitress dropping a tray of empty mugs.

I slid into the high-backed wooden booth opposite Kathy and could hardly believe the transformation.

She had rolled her hair into a very nice set of curls using a headband to show her forehead. Her hair had been trimmed so her curls barely touched her shoulders.

A touch of eye makeup and blush brought out her clean complexion. Hardly a trace of lipstick, yet I could tell she had some.

When I sat down, she smiled a smile I had never seen.

She stood up in the aisle “what do you think?”

She had a new dress. It was cut just above her knee. It was a lightweight spaghetti-strap sundress; white with a splash of blue irises across it. It revealed her milky white shoulders and a bit of cleavage. She had a sheer slip underneath as the light from behind her almost revealed all…but not quite.

She had new sandals with her toes and fingernails painted a not too dark color of red.

She turned around, and modeled like a professional revealing her now pronounced butt. I heard a couple of cat calls.

She sat down, embarrassed.

“You…look…absolutely…beautiful” I stammered and stared “just gorgeous” I said softly.

She hid her face with embarrassment “thank you” and she smiled that smile again.

I was unsure if she was indeed the same girl I had known three weeks ago.

There was an empty mug on the table as the waitress brought us the dark Michelobs from the bar. She dropped a basket of whole peanuts on the table “y’all want menus?” she cracked her gum as she asked.

“Nah” I said “we’ll order later.”

“K” she said and left.

“What were you drinking?” I asked Kathy.

“Oh, I just had a Coke while I was waiting.”

I started at her. This cannot be the same woman.

“So, where have you been the last few weeks?” I asked, taking a big slug from my mug.

She sipped a little beer. Many are deterred by the dark color, but if one closes their eyes, one cannot tell Michelob light from dark. “This is good!” she said nodding with approval. She set her mug down, and reached for napkin to wipe her lip.

“I took your advice about the clothes and makeup. I found what you might call a “charm school” and learned some new ways to handle myself. I also did find a psychiatrist who gave me some medication. My folks even commented that I was changed. What do you think?”

I tried to speak but was awestruck.

She smiled “first I went to the mall at the hair place. They showed me pics, and I liked this one.”

“So do I” agreeing with her.

“Then I went to Merle Norman and like you said, they found some combinations and possibilities. I chose this group of colors.” She stared right at me. Her body was moving as she had crossed her legs and was really swinging her loose foot.

“Nicely done” I said, waiting for more.

“I went to The Dixie store and found this dress and another with these sandals, and then to the nail care place” as she proudly held out her hand.

I took it and examined her nails closer. Not too short, not long either. “Very nice” I said as I brought it to my lips and kissed her hand lightly. Her hand smelled of a light dose of perfume.

“Thank you!” she said, surprised, not withdrawing her hand until I let go few seconds later.

“How do you like your new look?” I asked cautiously.

She giggled with her hand partly over her mouth, and changing positions in the booth “I like guys to look at me. It has never happened before.”

I felt the hardon coming back now.

She had broken out of this daughter that her mother had made, and become her own woman.

Even her mannerisms had changed. She was sitting across from me, elbows and hands on the table, with her fingers interlaced staring right at me with a little smirk.

She leaned a little closer to me and said “you’re the handsomest man in here. You should have seen all the girls turn their heads when you walked in” she took another drink, but watched me still.

“Are you going to introduce me to your friend?” Charlie had been in stealth mode and was transported to the side of our table with either of us noticing.

“Kathy, meet my friend Charlie” I said. He offered his hand and she gave him hers.

“Pleased to meet you Kathy” Charlie managed to get all the words out despite the fact that his tongue was on the floor.

“Likewise” she said flashing her newly acquired smirky smile.

“Well, I’ll leave you two alone. I just wanted to see who this good looking gal was…and to see if  you needed anything”.

I waved him off.

He tipped his derby and left.

“You made quite an impression on him” I said “he has never done that before.” Realizing what I had just done, I wished immediately to be stricken with lightning.

“Oh, you bring lots of girls here?” she asked, her tone changing.

“I come here a lot. My friends all have girlfriends” I was impressed on my quickness to respond.

“Some of my friend’s girls are very attractive too, but Charlie never comes out onto the floor from behind the bar.” I looked at her and her smirky smile reappeared..

The band came on and the first song they played was Johnny Rivers Slow Dancin’ Swayin’ To The Music.

I stood up and held out my hand to her.

She looked surprised “I don’t know how to dance.”

I held my hand out still “neither do I. Just hold me.”

She slid out, stood up, and took my hand. I led her to the dance floor and I pulled her close to dance. I was oblivious to everything and everyone around. I got a stronger whiff of her perfume.

We were the only ones on the dance floor. A crowd gathered around as our eyes locked on each others for the entire first dance.

I felt like Pepe Le Pew caught up in the fragrance of love. Swoon is a little weak, but close enough.

The band did a great rendition and went right into Nights Are Forever Without You

The lead singer said something about Kathy and I. I did not hear. Their next song was
I had never been swept off my feet before so quickly. I thought it not possible, and especially by her.
After some complaining from others, the band stepped up the pace with some Lynyrd Skynyrd, and all eyes followed Kathy and I across the room to our booth where Charlie was waiting.
“I had to run people outa your booth” he said. “You two made quite a sight. I saw some folks wiping their eyes.”
“Thanks Charlie” I said.
Kathy too looked at him and said ‘thanks’ with a tear in her eye.
“It’s obvious you two are absolutely nuts about each other” he said as he finished wiping the table. He winked and left.
Kathy and I sat for a moment and I reached across and she gave me her hand.
“You’re not the same girl I talked to three weeks ago” I said.
“I’m not the same person I was three weeks ago” she said softly.
She squeezed my hand, and I squeezed back.
I reached out my other hand to her, and she took it.
We sat staring into each others eyes for I don’t know how long.
Someone tapped my shoulder.
I awakened from reverie that contained only her.
The place was packed and a stranger standing in the aisle said “the band leader is asking for you two to come up. They got a special song for you two..”
I stood up and took her hand to help her out and folks took over the booth.
I had my hands on her hips and guided her to the floor.
“We’ve got a song for you two” he started “it’s no secret how you two feel about each other. How long have you been going out?”
“This is our first date” I said.
“Wow! Looks like it was meant to be” he said and he counted off the beat for the next song.
We locked together for the entirety of the song…hardly moving.
She whispered “let’s get out of here.”
I agreed but knew not where to go.
I led her back to the booth. They all got up but she just asked for her purse and it was handed to her.
As we passed the bar, I tossed a twenty to Charlie “take care of the waitress too please.”
He smiled and waved as he pocketed the twenty.
All eyes were upon us as we exited.
It had gotten close to 10:30 by the time we got to my car. We got in and our faces became glued together.
She smelled so good. Her lips were perfectly soft, and she tongued nicely. We touched each others faces, caressing…I found my hands began to wander to her breasts and I stopped.
I had to pull away knowing that Body’s had security that roamed the parking lot to keep folks from doing just what we were doing.
“What?” she seemed hurt.
“Security” I answered trying to rearrange my pants and the little fireman was eager to grow up. “They patrol the lot for people like us” with a little chuckle.
“I’ve got my own place” she whispered. Her eyes flicked from side to side as she looked directly into mine.
My mind was racing. My dick was hard.
I finally found my head.
This is not a good idea I thought to myself. Mom was right. This could all blow up in my face. Mom was always right about such things.
“What do you expect from me if we go to your place?” I asked as I stroked her cheek.
For the first time that evening, I saw the old Kathy.
She shrugged. “Whatever happens, happens. I’ll do whatever you want.”
A bell went off in my head.
“What does Kathy want?” I said, trying to get her to think a little, instead of acting on passions as I was doing.
My passions had gotten me into trouble before; crying, broken hearts, then anger at me. I did not want that to happen to her.
A little voice inside me was speaking now: yeah, she has changed, but what is she like when the medication wears off? Sure, take her home and screw her brains out. What will you do if one or both of her folks check on her? What happens when the makeup comes off?  She got all this done almost word for word what you suggested. She has not learned to think for herself or have original ideas about what she wants…blah blah blah. These words and more flashed through my head in an instant as we stared at each other.
“It’s too soon” I said touching her cheek “It’s too soon for us to be sleeping together.”
I sat back in my seat and took her hand “you have changed yourself into and absolutely beautiful woman, Kathy. Please don’t do this for me; do it for yourself. Keep working on yourself. Keep trying to improve and get on with the school district. Give yourself a chance to “shop around” a little. There are lots of good men out there. I am eighteen years old. I just graduated from high school. Yes, I am very attracted to you. Let’s not rush into a situation that could result in a sticky situation with your folks and me.”
She gently withdrew her hand, and turned away. She sighed and said “I did all this for you.”
“That is exactly my point” I said softly “you need to do it for yourself. What does Kathy want for herself? Who wants a boyfriend? You or your mother? Those things are for Kathy and Kathy alone to decide. Don’t be what anyone wants you to be except you. When you decide what that is, you will know what is right and good for you.”
“So, we’re through then? After all that happened tonight?”
“You’re missing the point” I answered quickly.
“No, I get it” she said. “But what about what happened between us this evening?” she looked back into my eyes and took my hand.
“It was magical” I said truthfully “I never had a woman sweep me off my feet like you did tonight.”
“So what is the problem?” she asked, stroking my hand.
“We went from a ‘see how you’re doin’ to just short of passionate lovemaking in three hours” I said. “Give ourselves a chance for romance instead of hopping into bed.”
She looked down “I’ve never been with a man. I give my virginity to you. I want you to make love to me.”
My little fireman was at full attention now.
“And then what?” I queried.
Again she shrugged “I just want to be loved and cared for.”
“Love and care for yourself first” I said “is the only way to start positively towards a meaningful relationship with a man. When a man sees that in you, it will happen.”
“Why can’t it happen now?” she argued.
“Because you have swung from vine to vine; meaning, your parents have taken care of you all your life and only in the past three weeks have you just landed on the ground…begun to care for yourself…” If you continue on this path, your life will open up to seemingly endless possibilities.”
She was silent, and I allowed her to think.
After a couple minutes she said with tears in her eyes “you’re right of course. How did you get to be so wise at your young age?”
She reached over and kissed my cheek, shedding tears “I’ll be in touch when I think I’m ready.” She fumbled around finding her purse and opened the door. “Thank you for a wonderful evening. I never felt that way before. I would like to do it again…someday with you.”
I just nodded silently as she closed the door and walked away.
That day never came.
I left the lawn mower shop a few months later. Kathy did not return to work there, but instead got a full time job teaching, according to her folks. She became very independent and quite frankly, I half expected to hear from her, even though I was involved with another woman at that time.
A couple years later, Kathleen killed herself with the boss’s Colt .45. It took her two shots to get the job done.
My brother and I were pallbearers at her funeral. I did not see Kathy. The family stayed in the seclusion at the ceremonies, including another sister that had recently moved back to town.
I never saw Kathy again…alive.
Two years later, Kathy too killed herself with her daddy’s Colt .45.
Her sister found my brother and I again to be pallbearers at her funeral as well.
I wept a little as we loaded the casket into the hearse, thinking what a waste.
After the interment, my brother and I were heading to our car when the old man chased me down. “I need to talk to your brother for a moment…please” he said to my brother.
My brother turned to me and said “I’ll wait for you at the car.”
The boss stuck out his hand a shook mine “I saw you shed some tears for Kathy” he started “she told us what happened that night you two went out, and what a wise gentleman you were…” his voice trailed off as his eyes filled with tears.
I did not know what to say or do for a moment.
He regained his composure and went on “she became totally independent” he looked me in the eye “as she should have…her mother never understood why all of a sudden Kathy didn’t need her the way she used to when she was growing up. You changed her into an independent woman. I thank  you for that.” He shook his head “she never got over her mother’s death. She just didn’t understand why…” He gripped my hand firmly “thanks for what you did for her. I know you did the right thing.”
He turned and walked away. I was not to see him again either, alive.
He spent the next few years alone and bitter. He grew a long beard like the gents from ZZ Top.
The last I heard, he had broken his leg, and died shortly thereafter; details were sketchy.
I took the skills I learned while working for him and use them to this day.
I think of Kathy often and wonder what caused her to take her own life, and couldn’t help wondering if somewhere in her darkness, I was to blame.

Part II

Part II

The prequel to the following chapters is here

https://extexanwannabe.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/nuthin-stays-the-same-3/

Chapter twenty one

The Haunted Farm

BJ started his story…

“Most of the folks around here are transplants from the city or what have you, but I’ve lived on my ranch all my life. It was my daddy’s before me. I used to roam all over this area; camping, exploring on horseback, and I knew every person, dog, cat, bear, wolf, bear, and nook and cranny within 50 miles personally; and they knew me.”
A family by the name of Woodcress, Arnie and Maude were their names…” his voice faded as he remembered his friends from long ago.

“I was fourteen at the time. Their property ran smack dab into my daddy’s. Arnie had five hundred acres or so and he just farmed; mostly alfalfa hay and barley or wheat. He was over six feet tall and really skinny. He always wore overalls and a baseball cap. He could toss an 80 lb hay bale six feet up onto a stack of bales. He had musta been twelve different kinds of pitchforks, and he almost always carried one.”

“Maude gardened and they had a small apple orchard…she made the best apple pie I ever had. I used to always stop by and she’d cut me a nice wedge. I would chop wood or do other menial tasks for a hunk of that pie. She would always sing this song…” he paused and looked at me “do you remember that old song ‘Charmin’ Billy?”

Val nodded “she can bake an apple pie, quick as a cat can blink its eye…”

“Exactly!” he said looking around and he leaned closer to Val, lowering his voice “you see, my real name is William…Billy. Maude used to call me Billy Boy.”

“Arnie was pretty self sufficient, but I would volunteer to help him with harvest, planting, anything I could.

They didn’t have any kids, and they always treated me like family. Arnie had this huge double barrel 10 gauge shotgun” he held out his hands “it must have been this long. He said he had killed bear with it, and he did have a huge grizzly bear rug by his fireplace. I had not a reason to doubt him, so I took his word for it.”

“You remember Skip telling you about his aunt?”

Val nodded.

“Her place is just across the intersection on the other side of the road. The Woodcresses lived further down about two miles.”

“Anyway, that winter, I think it was ’60 or ’61 we had a bad blizzard in January. The temps were in the negative twenties, and I don’t think I ever saw it snow that much since. My daddy lost lots of cattle and horses because of the storm. There was little warning, and it blew in quick like. ”
Earlier that afternoon, before the storm hit and I’m only telling you because I think it’s important even though it didn’t at the time, we had a visitor; a stranger stopped by the house. He was a tinker, as my daddy called the type; a traveling peddler. He had pots, pans, some guns, clothes, hats, gloves, some tools, knives, some ammo, trinkets, bobbles, and the like. Chances are, he had what you wanted.”

“He was driving on old Chevy pickup with a camper and he had every nook and cranny of that rig filled with stuff, with a small hollowed out spot for him and his dog…oh yeah, he had a hound dog too.”

“According to my ma…well lemme back up a little. I was at Arnie’s that afternoon, and my ma had told me about the peddler after I got home. I only saw the truck as I was coming home from Arnie’s.”

He stopped and took a long drink from his whiskey and continued “I was maybe five miles from home when my horse spooked. I couldn’t see why but she just started moving off the road and snorting. She tried to buck me off, and then I saw the truck coming. I was on the right side of the road, and the truck was tootling down the road slow and easy, but what I saw driving, wasn’t what my ma told me later; I saw an old lady driving that truck with a young girl in the front seat beside her; the old lady looked right at me, and I’ll tell you something, the look she gave me scared the pee out of me, and every time I think about it, I get chills and the hairs on my neck stand up. She looked like Death herself. Her eyes were black and she had white long stringy hair, and her skin was also white pulled tight across her face like…”

“A skull?” Val volunteered.

“Exactly!” BJ exclaimed as he rolled up his sleeve and held out his arm. Sure enough, he had goosebumps. He shuddered.

“My horse reared up a couple of times, and then she took off towards home. I looked back at the truck and I swear by all that’s holy, it was gone. Now I’m telling you Val, there’s no way in hell that any vehicle, short of a full race Merc, could have gone that fast to get to the next hill and end up out of site…no way. I let the horse have her way, and she galloped fully extended all the way home. That horse never ran that fast before then, or after that day.”

“When I got home, I told ma what I saw, and she just said that I was mistaken because it was a middle aged gentleman that drove the truck and there was no room for anyone else.”

“The blizzard hit a couple hours later, and the peddler was forgotten. The storm lasted for days. It was all we could do to keep a path between the house, barn, and stables clear for all the snow.”

“When we finally got ourselves shovelled out, and our own assessment of damages, I went to Arnie’s to see how they made it through. I was not prepared for what I found.”

He took a couple deep breaths, and a long drink of his bourbon, and Val filled his glass.

“When I got there, the barn was burned to the ground; it wasn’t even smoldering. Everything else looked normal.”

He leaned forward “I even smelled apple pie.” He leaned back. “It was unmistakeable.”

“The barnyard looked normal. No snow had been shovelled, there wasn’t very much as I recall, and there were no footprints that I noticed anywhere. That was odd and I got the chills again as I went up the steps to the side porch where the kitchen was and knocked.”

“There was no answer and I called for Maude and Arnie both. Nothing.”

“I went inside, and there was an apple pie on the kitchen table. It was still warm.”

Val felt a chill run up his spine and he shuddered too.

“I called out Maude’s name, but no answer. I looked all through the house; upstairs bedrooms and basement. Nothing. All the beds were made. The place was clean, no mess anywhere.”

“Their phone was not working, so I high-tailed it home and told ma and daddy. They called the sheriff and there was a blaze of cars up and back for hours. It turned out that they found two bodies in the barn ashes; a man’s and a woman’s.”

“I had all types of interviews with police, state police, sheriff department, you name it. They never arrested anyone.”

“They never said anything about the peddler either. No sign of the pickup was ever found.”

He took a deep breath and continued “it is said, and I cannot attest to this, but one can hear Maude singing ‘Billy Boy’ in the night…also, that Arnie has been seen dressed in his overalls, carrying his pitchfork in the barnyard.”

Val queried “how could there be a fresh baked pie? They had to have been dead for several days?”

“I know” BJ replied “the pie was still hot too.”

“Wow, that’s just too weird” Val said.

“No shit” BJ said as he drained his glass. “I have not been back there since that day…over fifty years. I still can’t forget it.”

“You’re not supposed to” Val said in his deep thought again.

“Whaddayamean?” BJ said.

“I mean that you’re the key to the whole mystery” Val said “the peddler that changed into the old lady? the disappearance of the pickup? the younger girl and the old lady? where’d they go? There’ s no coincidence with the symbol of the apple pie. They’re trying to send you a message.”

Val continued “There’s no coincidence in murder. Who owns the property now?”

“The county took possession of it. No one wanted to buy it. There never was a will.  Supposedly someone looked into buying it, spent the night, and ran screaming out of the house in the middle of the night, and went back to the big city. They wouldn’t come back no way, no how.”

“The county sent crews out a couple of times to tear the place down, but all the workers left scared shitless because they said they saw Arnie and Maude wandering the barnyard.”

Val continued “do you believe in ghosts?”

“You damn right I do” BJ said firmly.

Val still pondered his next oration “we should go visit…in the daytime first.”

Daytime?’” BJ nearly shrieked.

“We need to seriously consider it” Val pressed. “With that kind of legend, there are those who could take advantage of it and use that homestead for a hideout. Think about it..what better place to have a secret hideout if you know that no one will go near it?”

Bo, one of BJ’s hired hands that had come with him, spoke up “I ain’t never told anyone this boss, but once in a while, I ride my horse doin’ perimeter..you know, searching for stray calves? One evening, I was riding the fenceline by where Arnie’s land runs up against yours, and my horse got all spooky.”

He explained further “Rusty is a damn good horse. He don’t get spooked. Hell, he even likes to stomp on rattlers, and he ain’t afraid of nothin’. That afternoon though he was all jumpy, like he was walking through a field of snakes or hain’ts or somethin’. He snorted and whinnied and could hardly go in a straight line by the fence. He kept wantin’ to come back home.”

He shrugged ” I have heard other hands tell similar stores about getting too close to that place. That’s my two cents,for what it’s worth.”

Val let that sink in for a minute, then continued “the sheriff had some interesting news about Juliette and Anson and a recent sighting reported by none other than Skip and your son.”

Val waited for a response, and got none. He figured BJ was horrified at the thought at having to revisit his old nightmare.

After a long period of silence, BJ said “tell me Val; do you believe in ghosts?”

“I believe what I see, feel, and hear. If the spirit world manifests itself to me, then I’ll have no choice but to believe it. If the spirits of Arnie and Maude are still there, then maybe we can help them find their final rest.”

“You’re not serious?” BJ whispered. obviously frightened.

Val started “Look BJ, Arnie and Maude treated you like their own…in their own way. You were the closest thing to family they had. There is absolutely no reason you have to be afraid of their spirits. They’re not gonna hurt you.”

“It is said that people who die violently don’t rest until they find peace…what ever that may be. What if…”

“What if what” BJ said eagerly.

“What if…the bodies they found were not Arnie and Maude? They didn’t have DNA tests in those days…all they had was burned corpses and the law assumed the two bodies were them. What if the female was the old lady from the truck? That would mean that Maude is buried somewhere else on the property…definitely foul play involved.”

He drifted off then turned to Val “you said you knew every square inch within fifty miles…right?”

BJ nodded nervously.

“You would know where an out of the way place could hide a pickup all these years. Your family owned most of the land around here then. Who says that you continued your explorations after this incident?”

“You’re right” BJ said “I never went out again on horseback alone after that.”

“So that truck is likely still somewhere out there, just waiting to be found.” Val looked at BJ “you work on some good places to drop a truck…nicely hidden, out of the way..like a deep river bed, ravine or canyon…a place that no one would visit intentionally.”

BJ nodded.

Val pointed at BJ then back at himself “you and me need to take a trip to Arnie’s farm. We gotta know if there are people squatting there…and if ghosts are real, my guess is that no one is actually there…but we can determine that later.”

“You ask too much of me” BJ said, shaking his head. “I still have dreams about those two.”

Val perked up “really? What kind of dreams?”

BJ exhaled loudly “it seems like I hear constantly in my dreams Maude singing “oh where have you been Billy Boy, Billy Boy”

“What else?” Val pressed.

“I see Arnie with his pitchfork frequently; in the barn, in the field, walking across the barnyard. Sometimes they are together talking, mostly by themselves. Sometimes they talk to me.”

“What do they say?”

“I don’t remember…really. Various things. Nothing that sticks with me.”

Val said “they’re calling to you for help.”

“What do they want?” BJ was not convinced.

“I don’t know, but it comes down to going over there to find out what it is. I think it will be apparent after we wander around some…if they’re there.”

BJ’s wife, Eunice spoke up “I’d never say nothing to anyone BJ, but I’ve heard you snore near every night now for forty years…I also hear you havin’ your bad dreams…lawdy lawdy you have some doozies. Many times, you sit straight up and are yelling ‘NO! NO! Darn near scare me to death.” She patted his hand “look this thing head on, love and settle it once and for all. What Val says makes sense and I know you know he’s right.” She kissed his forehead and sat back down.

He held his glass up for a refill, and Val obliged filling his as well.

“OK my friend. If you’re going along, I’ll do it.” He took a good swig of the fine bourbon. “When do we go?”

“As soon as we can get over there without worrying about getting snowed in” Val replied, sipping from his own glass “not today, but very soon.”

He continued “there is a certain strategy involved here too. We don’t want to be seen by anyone other than whomever is inhabiting the old Stevens place. If what I think is happening, they will follow us…for a while.”

“Who follows you?” asked Ginger who had been silent the whole time.

“Juliette and Anson” Val said.

Chapter twenty two

Even though BJ had agreed to go willingly to the Haunted Farm, he really didn’t want to go on the day Val chose to do the deed.

They agreed to meet at the intersection at noon, and take BJ’s truck on to the Farm.

No one else volunteered to go along.

As he left, Ginger shook her finger at him saying “you better not end up a ghost yourself on this adventure of yours” and she hugged him fiercely.

“That’s the plan” he said with a smile. “If we’re not back by dark, call the Sheriff.”

“Don’t make me do that” she said.

Val nodded, got into the truck, and left.

The boys had the gate open for him.

Charlie said “we’ll see you at supper, Dad” he was trying to be cheerful.

Val waved at all of them as he drove through the big gate.

He was a little early, and tried to drive slowly but found that his speed kept inching up the closer he got to the intersection.

It was a cloudy cold day, and it looked like it would snow. This time of year, it got dark at four o’clock when the sun went down behind the mountains to the west.

He waited and waited. Twelve thirty, one o’clock and no BJ. One thirty came and went.

Val had little patience on those whom he depended on to be part of the larger picture. He was getting disappointed in BJ at his tardiness.

What if he didn’t show at all?

He shook his head in disgust, yet he felt somewhat relieved…a little.

He peed by the side of his pickup, knowing full well that what he might be getting into, could possibly scare him enough to wet his pants.

Then he saw BJ’s pickup heading towards him.

He’s going way too fast for the snowy road Val thought.

BJ slowed appropriately as he approached, the stopped in front of Val.

“Glad you could make it” Val said with a weak smile.

“I drove into the ditch and blew a tire” BJ said sheepishly. “Sorry, I was driving too fast.”

“I’m glad that’s all it was” Val said, walking around to the other side of the pickup “still want to take your truck?”

BJ leaned over and unlocked the door “yeah, I got another spare.”

As Val got in, BJ continued “looks like it’s gonna snow.”

Val settled and replied “and we’re already a couple hours behind. I urge you to pee now before we get moving.”

BJ dropped the big Dodge in gear, and pulled down the road towards the haunted farm.

He drove much slower than when he was heading towards the intersection, Val noticed. At least he came. Although a bit hesitant…can’t blame him for that.

“Is there a plan?” BJ asked quietly, knowing full well there would be one.

“All I got is this” Val began “we go to the house, go inside and assess as necessary. My guess is that things will unfold all by themselves…if the spirits show.”
“Then what?” asked BJ.

“I truly think that if we keep our heads about us, we’ll know what to do. We are bound to be a little scared if we do see spirits or sense their presence, and we must remember that we are there to help them and must establish that early to them.”

“How do we do that?” BJ queried.

“You talk to them. They’re your friends. Call them by name, and tell them who you are…more than once and explain that we…we’re here to help them.” He paused, then continued “You must speak as if they are standing in front of you. I know it sounds very strange, but that is my plan.”

BJ nodded nervously as they headed down the road slowly.

Neither spoke for a few minutes, and it seemed to get that much more tense with the silence.

“We’re coming up on the Stevens place” BJ said indicating with his finger “on the left.”

They both looked at the house as they passed.

It was a large Victorian style house. Two story with the porch that went all the way around the house. Very run down and badly in need of a paint job, it was gray against the fallen snow.

BJ stopped. Silence.

“What?” said Val.

“I thought I saw a light inside” he pointed at the corner window “there on the corner.”

The only sound was the engine of the truck.

They both strained to see inside the house. Val got out and walked around the front of the truck, and looked over the fence. He thought he saw footprints that had been filled with snow on the driveway, but dismissed it as ‘it coulda been anything.’

He got back in and BJ said “anything?”

“I thought I saw some footprints filled in with snow” Val answered closing the door “but it would be very hard to tell. Besides, I really don’t want to waste much time here.”

BJ nodded “agreed” he said as he put the truck in gear and headed back down the road. “Only a couple miles” he said.

As they left, two pairs of eyes watched them from inside the Stevens farmhouse.

It had started to snow as they neared the Farm.

BJ pointed and said softly “there.”

There it was. A small wood frame farmhouse. A group of leafless trees was next to the house, and its lack of being kept up was very apparent.

BJ pulled up to the entrance gate; it was open. He stopped and turned off the truck.

They looked at each other and BJ offered his hand “if’n I don’t make it through this, I want you to know that you’re the bravest man I ever met.”

Val shook his hand “we’ll have us a good stiff drink later and laugh about this.”

They got out of the truck and BJ started loading up for bear; he grabbed his AR, and a shotgun.

Val said “you won’t need those” as he shook his head. “I’m just bringing a pistol” he patted his holster.

They walked to the front of the pickup, then went through the gate towards the farmhouse.

The driveway had no tracks, and had a foot of undisturbed snow. They trudged onward.

There was a huge tree in the front yard by the farmhouse, that had no leaves on it.

That’s creepy thought Val as they passed it.

The driveway went straight into the barnyard with the farmhouse on the right next to the garage. Some of the burned larger timbers from the barn were still sticking up, but otherwise there was no sign a building was ever there.

“Start talking” Val said as they stood at the side steps of the house.

“Maude! Arnie!” his voice was hoarse and he cleared his throat “it’s Billy…Billy Boy. We’ve come to  help!”

Val didn’t know what to expect would happen, and nothing did; at first.

The snow was falling harder now.

BJ and Val just stood looking around the barnyard. There was another structure across the yard from the house. Val figured it was a workshop of some type. He was thinking a wood shop when he heard it…

It was unmistakeable, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up.

“You hear that?” BJ asked nervously.

Val nodded. His lips moved, but no sound came out.

Coming from inside the house was a woman singing

Oh where have you been Billy Boy, Billy Boy

Oh where have you been charmin’ Billy

I have been to seek a wife

She’s the joy of my life

She’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Val turned towards the house, as did BJ.

The singing stopped.

They began the short trek to the stairs, and they started up to go inside.

When they reached the landing atop the six steps, BJ reached for the handle on the screen door. The screen was long ago collapsed, and the door was almost off its hinges. There was a fresh break at the door jamb. Someone has been in here recently thought Val.

BJ grabbed the screen door and pulled it open.

Val opened it the rest of the way as BJ put his hand on the doorknob to the house, and opened it.

It squeaked some, and dragged a little on the linoleum as it opened.

It was darker inside, and Val pulled out one of his flashlights as they entered.

BJ pulled his out too, and they entered the kitchen, closing the door behind them.

It was very dirty. The kitchen table was in the middle of the floor with two chairs. There were footprints and marks on the floor where the chair had been moved recently.

They stood and shone their lights around, as they walked through the kitchen.

BJ pointed to a closed door on the other side of the kitchen “that’s the door to the basement.”

Off to the left was a bathroom opposite the entrance to the basement.

Without being prodded BJ spoke up “Arnie! Maude! It’s Billy Boy! I am here with a friend to help!”

They walked into a small formal dining room. One of the windows was broken out, and there was a little visible damage on the wall and floor.

They walked back into the kitchen and stood looking around at the old appliances and woodstove.

Neither noticed the two people outside coming up the stairs. Since the screen door was out of the way, one of them grabbed the doorknob and flung open the door.

There were two of them, and they caught BJ and Val totally off guard, who weren’t expecting living souls.

“Well, we wondered who the hell was out driving around this afternoon” said the man. It was Anson. He had a very large caliber revolver pointed at BJ and Val. The woman was Juliette, who came in behind Anson.

Anson gestured with the gun for them to put their hands up, and they complied.

“Anson and Juliette” Val exclaimed “I’ve been thinking about you two a lot lately. You are staying at the Stevens place aren’t you?”

“Or spying is a better word…” Val knew he had said too much when the last word came out of his mouth.

Anson got really serious “oh, so you know. Well our plan is to keep doing what we’re doing, but it has to be a secret” he put his finger to his lips “and you don’t sound like the type that would keep quiet…”

All of a sudden, a cold chill went through the room. It was almost a breeze, but not quite. It grew from behind Anson and Juliette, and spread to Val and BJ in an instant.

Anson lurched forward suddenly, and a look of pain crossed his face as he screamed and fell to his knees, then to the floor, dropping the gun.

Juliette screamed too, and looked behind her to see nothing. “What the hell was that?” she managed to stammer.

BJ rushed over and got the gun.

Juliette was crying next to Anson “he’s bleeding badly from his back!”

Val went around the table to see what it was.

In Anson’s back were four puncture marks going across his back, bleeding profusely.

BJ too got down and looked at the wounds. Anson was not going to make it.

“Pitchfork!” BJ whispered loudly looking at Val.

Val looked at Juliette as did BJ.

Her locket was now visible.

BJ noticed it. “Where did you get that locket?” he demanded.

He looked at Val and said “that’s Maude’s locket.”

Juliette touched it and said “my mom gave it to me, and her mother gave it to her.”

BJ reached over and yanked it from her neck, studying it “for sure, this is Maude’s. Where did you get this?” he repeated.

Juliette sat back on her haunches muttering “what happened to Anson? There’s no pitchfork here.”

Val’s wheels were turning now. “Tell me about your mother.”

Juliette was quick to start talking “my mother killed herself not long ago. She gave me that locket a few years ago, telling me that it had belonged to her mother. My mother was kind of strange…she spent some time in mental institutions throughout her life. She said she wasn’t crazy enough to stay in the hospital, she just needed some ‘tweaking’ as she put it.”

“What do you know about your grandmother?” Val pressed her.

Juliette put a hand on her forehead and replied “my mother told me she was a witch.”

“Witch?” BJ said looking at Val. “Like a wicken?”

Juliette stammered “my mother told me she practiced dark arts…sacrifices and such.”

“That’s it!” Val exclaimed. “It was her grandma that you saw in the pickup and the girl was Juliette’s mother.” He stopped and looked at BJ, and continued.

“She came to Arnie and Maude’s and for whatever reason, tried to kill Arnie and probably succeeded killing Maude. Grandma took Maude’s locket  and gave it to Juliette’s mother. Grandma tried to kill Arnie or something like that out in the barn, and he set fire to the place killing the both of them.”

“Juliette’s mom wandered off and ended up at the Stevens’s place. Being in the early sixties, they took her in and raised her as their own child.”

He shrugged “who woulda said anything? When the old lady Stevens passed away, only Skip was around to claim any inheritance.”

Juliette seemed surprised “you’ve seen Skip?”

“He’s working on my ranch as a hand” BJ said. “He and my son are friends.”

“Skip is my son” Juliette said softly, staring off into nowhere.

Val was all over that “that explains a lot. Skip is working with you and Anson to feed intel to some large group of militia or something that wants to move into this area.”

Val looked at BJ “do you see? It’s a perfect plan. Skip is tight with your son, and gathers info that he passes to Juliette and Anson. There’s probably a fancy radio in the Stevens place that they use to pass along the info to their boss.”

“The Captain” Juliette corrected him, out of her reverie.

“So, you three tell the Captain what we hardworking folks are doing. Give them info on numbers, weapons, food, and supplies. Then the Captain and his army move in and take over.”

Val looked at BJ with his hands on his hips “great. As I suspected. They have been pumping info the them all along. No telling how much information they have on all of us in…”

He stopped at the chill again penetrated them from behind.

“Wh What’s that?” Juliette gasped and pointed behind BJ and Val.

Val and BJ turned around and again, the hairs on their arms stood up too. The door to the basement was opening by itself, and there stood a tall man in overalls pointing into the basement.

“Arnie!” BJ whispered loudly.

Val moved first, then BJ. They felt compelled to walk towards Arnie and the basement. As they approached, Arnie faded away, still pointing downward.

They stood at the top of the stairs. BJ gulped.

With their flashlights on, they started down the stairs.

Val pulled his spare out to give them a little more light. He led the way down.

Every stair creaked with each step.

The air was musty and moldy. Cobwebs hung down from the beams above. The handrail was leaning away from the staircase.

When they reached the floor, they shone their lights around the basement.

They saw nothing out of the ordinary. A workbench, an old ringer washing machine with a big table next to it, an old balloon tire bicycle, bunch of crates, a nice sewing machine station, a disconnected woodstove, windows just above eye level every fifteen feet or so all the way around, and a large chest deep freeze. Val was hoping they wouldn’t have to look inside the freezer.

A workbench with several vintage hand tools strewn about it, with a large vice bolted on the corner.

They studied for several  minutes and Val spoke up “notice anything unusual?”

“Nope” BJ replied “just my heart pounding.”

Val shone his lights on the walls “Look at the walls” he started “they’re all stone…except there” as he shone his light on a section made of wood.

“Why would anyone put a wood section in a stone wall, unless there was something behind it” Val asked hypothetically.

BJ shrugged.

Val went to the workbench and found a crowbar. “Here” he passed a light to BJ. “Shine your lights here.”

Val went to work on the wall, looking for a way to pry the boards off. He looked up and down one side, then started on the other side when he held out the crowbar to BJ and pulled his spare flashlight “hand me that flat blade screwdriver on the bench” he said.

He kept his hand and and BJ obliged him by handing the requested tool. “What’d you find?” BJ asked anxiously as Val poked around on the side of the protruding wooden planked wall.

Val looked up and the wall swung open slowly.

He pulled the door completely open, and they shined their lights inside.

On the floor next to the door was a skeleton in a very weathered dress.

Her gray hair was tied in a bun.

“Maude!” BJ whispered loudly and knelt down beside her.

Val looked at the inside of the door “look!” he pointed at the door.

Many scratches were on the door.

“They locked her in here” BJ said sadly. “She starved to death. No one ever knew she was in here.”

He stood up and said calmly “now we can bury her next to Arnie…where she belongs.”

He shone his light past her remains to see a stack of boxes and crates. On top, was a metal square can with a lid.

“Hold this” BJ said handing his light to Val.
BJ opened the can, and removed a folded document.

He opened it and began reading. After a minute he spoke “it’s their will. They left everything to me…” his voice faded off as he folded the document back up. “I gotta get this to the Sheriff…” he managed to chuckle a little “the county is probably going to want fifty years of back taxes.”

As they left the cellar, BJ turned and said “we’ll back to pay proper respects to you, Maude and lay you to rest.”

The chill again swept up the stairs as Val an BJ went back to the kitchen.

Juliette was lying on the floor.

“You can get up now” Val said at her.

She did not stir.

He walked to her and turned her over.

Her face was white as a ghost with a look of horror frozen on her face. Her eyes were wide open and her mouth agape.

Val jerked back quickly.

“What is it?” BJ asked.

“Juliette is dead. Looks like she died of fright” Val stammered.

He moved her body out of the way, and they went outside.

BJ spoke first “we have to dig up one of those graves because the witch is buried there. Arnie is not going to rest until we lay Maude to rest properly next to him.”

Val nodded “you ever tried to dig frozen ground? It’s like ice…worse.”

“There’s a way around it” BJ said.

“Maybe, but there’s not enough time today. We’ll need to come back tomorrow with some hands and take care of this” Val agreed. “We’ll also need to check out the Stevens place and deal with Skip.”

BJ rolled his eyes “man, what are we gonna do with him?”

“Give him means of transportation, some food and water then send him away…either that or execute him” Val replied dryly. “He can never be trusted again. We’ll need to bring him here to deal with his mother too…not looking forward to that either.”

They headed back up the driveway and BJ stopped and turned to the house “we’ll be back tomorrow Arnie and take care of Maude!”

They got to the truck and drove back to the intersection.

It was almost dark now.

“I need to get going” Val said heading to his truck. “Tomorrow at say ten?”

BJ nodded and held out his hand “Val, I am going to sleep much better tonight than I have in fifty years. See you tomorrow.”

They went their separate ways.

When Val arrived at the big gate, he honked a couple times to have a stream of people come out from the house and greet him.

A thousand questions as they drove back to the house and Val just said “I’ll tell you everything over dinner.”

The next morning, Val was up with the sun as was the rest of the household. All looked forward to an outing down the road.

After breakfast, the crew loaded up and headed for the intersection.

When they arrived, BJ was there with two loads of hands.They pulled a trailer with a Bobcat backhoe on it.

They had also crudely fashioned a three coffins.

BJ had made his plans, and they decided to take care of Maude first, then deal with Skip and Juliette.

Skip had no idea what had happened, and the plan was to spring it on him while the others were digging up the witch.

They took off and went straight to Arnie and Maude’s place. They went ahead and pulled into the barnyard.

The graves were behind the wood shop about fifty yards out under another tree.

The crew unloaded the Bobcat and drove it to the graves under the tree, and exhumed the coffin of whom was believed to be Maude all those years.

BJ and Val decided to take Skip inside and see his mother.

They went inside with Skip, and the rest were either at the graves, or wandering around the yard.

Val opened the door and led the other two in.

“We’re very sorry, Skip” BJ said. “Your mother and Anson surprised us last night…” He went on to describe what had happened.

Skip kept silent, after he got over the initial shock of seeing Juliette the way she was.

Val described what he had figured out about the conspiracy. Skip looked at the floor, and said nothing while Val laid out what those three had been doing for the past year.

Skip interrupted to try to make a case for himself “I knew it was wrong, and we were aiding bad guys to hurt good people” he started. “Yeah, there is a radio that we used to call the Captain every Monday with any useful information. The Captain would send a small group out from time to time and leave supplies for Mom and Anson.”

“How do they get here?” queried Val.

“Through the woods south of your place” he answered.

“When is the next scheduled supply drop?” Val pressed.

“As far as I know, Mom would request it. There’s not a schedule.” He sniffed “she’s all the family I have.”

BJ hollered out the door “Bring in two of them coffins!”

They cleared the table out of the way from the kitchen and let the hands box up Juliette and Anson.

“What’ll we do with them?” asked Skip.

“They’ll have to be buried at the Stevens place” Val answered “I doubt seriously if Maude or Arnie would tolerate them being buried on their property.”

After Anson and Juliette were hauled out, BJ requested the third coffin brought in, and they took it downstairs.

They carefully put Maude’s remains in the box and nailed it shut after BJ put her locket in with her.

The other crew had the witch dug up and were ready for Maude’s remains.

“What’ll we do with the witch’s coffin?” asked one of the hands.

BJ did not hesitate “haul it across the road into that field and burn the hell out of it” he pointed towards the road.

A few of the hands took the witch and others grabbed some firewood to extinguish her existence on the earth.

Anson and Juliette were loaded onto one of BJ’s trucks.

Maude was placed in her grave and buried.

The activity slowed down, and a few gathered at the grave where BJ was to speak.

Maude and Arnie, I have thought about what happened to you for fifty years. Now we have found you and have you back together for eternity.

We have solved the mystery and now you may both rest in peace…together.

May the Lord bless you and keep you, may his countenance shine upon you, may he grant you peace for evermore. Amen

The rest of the crew left the graveside as BJ, Val, Ginger, and Eunice stayed behind.

They said nothing.

Then the chill came again. It was like a thin, one-dimensional chard of ice that went through the four of them.

Across the grave appeared Arnie and Maude. They stood quietly, holding hands.

Ginger grabbed Val’s hand.

They all heard Maude’s sweet voice in our heads, but her apparition did not speak.

“Thank you Billy Boy. We’ll be watching over you. I left you a surprise in the kitchen Billy Boy.”

Arnie and Maude turned and walked away together, and they heard the song again

Can she bake an apple pie Billy Boy, Billy Boy

Can she bake an apple pie Charmin’ Billy

She can bake an apple pie

Quick as a cat can blink its eye

She’s a  young thing and cannot leave her mother

They faded away, as did the song.

The four were silent for a few moments.

Ginger was shaking.

Eunice buried her head in BJ’s chest as she wept softly.

“I’ll take that drink now” BJ said as he moved away from the grave towards the house.

As Val and Ginger followed, Ginger said “that was the scariest precious moment I shall ever see.”

As they got into the barnyard, BJ headed into the house to close it down. A few seconds later, he appeared on the steps, shaking his head “you ain’t gonna believe this” as he motioned to Val.

Val, Ginger, and Eunice went up the steps and into the house.

There, on the table was a fresh, hot apple pie.

CHAPTER TWENTY THREE

Eunice gasped, as did Ginger.

“Take the pie, and let’s go” Val suggested as he grabbed the hot  pie with his gloved hands.

As they got into the trucks, BJ said “to the Stevens place next, and you better not eat that pie” he said with a smile.

Skip made no attempt to escape, and got in with the rest of BJ’s hands.

The burning witch’s fire was still going, and had a long way to go, as the men had made quite a bonfire, per BJ’s instructions.

They drove to the Stevens place, and all disembarked.

BJ set the crews loose to bury Anson and Juliette in the field behind the house.

Skip showed them where the key was hidden, and they entered through the rear door.

The inside had been kept up well. The kitchen was well stocked. Skip showed them around the house. It had several bedrooms, all that had linens ready for guests.

The basement was a prepper’s dream. Guns, ammunition, and reloading equipment and supplies. Shelf after shelf of canned goods and other foods.

Skip led them to the radio room “the antenna is here” he showed them “we only raise it when we broadcast. We only call at midnight.”

He sat down, obviously dismayed as his predicament “what are you guys gonna do with me?” He looked at BJ and Val.

“That is a real good question” Val replied slowly “there aren’t many options.”

Val  continued, and now he was getting agitated “from the looks of  your supplies here, you three not only betrayed most of your neighbors, but the people you work for as well.”

Val gestured around at the supplies “you don’t need supplies. You never did.” He shook his head “if it was totally up to me, and it’s not, I’d just put a bullet in your brain. No more worries about whether or not you leaked any more intel after that.”

Skip looked up suddenly at BJ, eyes wide with fear.

BJ just glared at him.

Skip spoke “I was told to do the things I did, or they would hurt my mom.” He now had tears in his eyes. “What are your options?” he whispered.

“One: shoot you now and end any and all suspicion. Two: give you some food, water, and a horse and set you loose, so you can maybe come back and kill us some other day Three: Keep you with us as a prisoner…a weak option to be sure. We don’t need a mouth to feed that doesn’t pull his weight.”

Val went on as he stood up “personally, I’d just as soon shoot you now so we can move forward and end this waste of time.”

BJ Jr stepped forward “Dad! we can’t just kill him!”

“If you can’t see why, then you’ve missed the point, son” BJ answered quietly. “He has jeopardized all of us, including you by giving out information to another group, who will eventually attack us and try to take all we have worked for.”

BJ Jr hung his head, as did Skip.

“How did you want to do it?” BJ asked Val.

“Outside, where we can bury him with his mother and the other traitor” Val replied briskly and looked around at the others “are you people not getting this?”

Eunice spoke up “I don’t see how you can even talk about executing this young man, regardless of what he’s done.”

Val was angry now “you’ll change your tune when he brings back 200 armed men who will bend you over the kitchen table…”

BJ interrupted Val “all right! all right! Stop it you two!” He turned to Val. “Let’s just give him the horse and let him go. He’s my responsibility…”

Val’s turn to interrupt “he’s his own responsibility. He’s a grown man” he said quietly. “You deal with him.”

Val turned and went upstairs, then outside. His own entourage followed as they loaded up his truck.

Val was angry. Not because the others wanted to spare Skip’s life, but that they could not see the risk he represented staying alive.

He started the truck and BJ flagged him down “how about that drink?” he asked cheerfully.

Val nodded “c’mon over when you’re done. Don’t bring Skip to my home again.”

“Agreed” said BJ with a smile.

Val backed out and left.

The trip back was a very long discussion about the events that had occurred that day…so far: ghosts, traitors, graves, witches, ceremonies, executions…and then there was the apple pie.

When they arrived at the big gate, Charlie jumped out and opened it. No new tracks; vehicular or pedestrian were apparent.

Charlie locked up behind, and they drove into the garage.

Into the house they went to have some lunch.They were halfway through when they heard a horn honk. Val peeked out and it was BJ at the gate. “I’ll go” he said as Charlie and Kyle were starting to get up.

Val donned his coat and went out to let them in.

Once inside, more discussion about the day’s events. Only BJ and Eunice were in the truck. They were treated lunch as well.

BJ brought some bourbon and those who wanted, imbibed.

“I could tell you were pissed off about Skip” BJ said, sipping his bourbon “I understand.”

Val replied “I too understand why you did what you did, even understanding the risk” he held up his glass “after thinking about it, I let it go…your house is at the front door to this party. Any repercussions from Skip’s release, it’s going to affect you first.”

BJ contemplated that and said “I get that, Val and I do understand the risk. I know that kid. He’s not a bad person.”

Val drained his glass and BJ poured another while Ginger brought BJ the last of the pie; enough for Eunice as well.

Randie spoke up “that is the best pie I ever had. Was it really made by a ghost?”

BJ nodded still chewing a bite, then swallowing it. “There is no other explanation young lady…and even that is not an explanation that holds favor in the eyes of science.” He took another bite, and sipped a little bourbon with it this time.

Val changed the subject entirely “well now we have two more homes in which we could house people. You got forty hands or so. Why not put them at Arnie’s or the Stevens place?”

BJ almost choked “there ain’t no a one person that works for me that would stay at Arnie and Maude’s house…ever. What we saw today will spread through the ranks, and that place will be unwritten off limits.”

He continued “I hear what you’re saying though…’bout keeping them occupied. The Stevens house…might not be as much a problem given what we found there. It would be a great HQ for reloading ammunition. There were two first class reloaders, lots of powder, primers, bullets, and brass. After you left, we found half a dozen M1 Garands in a closet. They were in pretty good shape too. Cases of clips.”

Val perked up “we’ll need one of those here. Helluva rifle. I have one here too.”

“I’ll see that you get one then, unless you get it first. As far as I’m concerned, until someone lives there permanent, it’s anyone’s property.”

“Then you would do well to recruit half dozen guys and reload several thousand rounds, and keep the place occupied. Rotate them through.”

“I’ll do that” BJ said, pouring another glass of the fine bourbon. “Starting tomorrow, I’ll start a rotation. You send a couple of your people too to learn how to reload and pick up one of them rifles.”

Val nodded, draining his glass with BJ filling it immediately.

Val looked around at his group “any volunteers?”

Christopher and Kyle at the same time said “I will.”

“There ya go” Val said, starting to feel the effects of the bourbon.

“I’ll tell you somethin’ else Val” BJ started “I like how your mind works. You got that conspiracy thing figured out a long time ago. And you latched right on to that ghost thing and pursued it further than anyone else, then solved it.” He held up his glass at Val “nicely done.”

They chatted a while longer about some various strategies that needed to be addressed.

The ladies cleaned up the lunch leftovers, and he boys went outside and did their chores.

BJ and Eunice left after a couple hours of drinking bourbon. Things seemed back to normal between Val and BJ at that time.

Val had a long nap after they left, and slept off the bourbon. He slept until the next morning. The first restful sleep he had in a while.

Chapter twenty five

The days and weeks went by. January passed and turned into February. The harshness of winter seemed to ebb. The overnights at zero were gone now. The days began to get a little longer, and a little warmer.

Kyle, Charlie, and Christopher had rotated shifts reloading ammo at the Stevens place.

True to his word, BJ gave one of the M1 Garands to Val and company. Val showed Ginger how to disassemble and fire the rifle. Given her expertise, she caught on quite well and became proficient. They had thousands of rounds of ammo, and had loaded a couple hundred of the eight round clips.

BJ let Skip go with a few days supply of food and water. He took his own horse, and headed down the road. The same direction the bikers had come from late last year.

It seemed cruel to turn loose a young man into the elements with only a horse and some supplies, but BJ felt the lad was smart enough to make it to wherever or whomever he was working. BJ added that Skip did show them how to use the radio at the Stevens place.

The sheriff came by to get Val’s side of the Haunted Farm story. He shuddered during the oration, and made several comments to Val’s ‘sticking it out’ to get the truth. The sheriff was grateful that the mystery was  solved. He was given the will of Arnie and Maude and saw to it that the county made a copy.

The sheriff was informed of the Skip situation, and the history of the Stevens place, and what had been found there.

Strangely enough, the county wasn’t interested in collecting back taxes on Arnie and Maude’s place.

At the onset of March, Val began making preparations for spring gardening. He had the kids drag out the railroad ties he had in the barn, and start two new raised gardens, bringing the total to five.

He had them haul topsoil from the forest floor, then encouraged them to urinate on the gardens. “Urine contains urea which breaks down into uric acid; a good fertilizer” he would always tell them.

He also wanted to plant corn in the field where the big gate was.

BJ offered the used of his tractor, disk, and plow to prepare the soil, and even  people to run the equipment and help planting and weeding. Val could not turn that down, and waited for May for the soil to thaw…if not earlier. He figured he had enough corn seed to plant several thousand corn plants.

BJ and Val also discussed planting alfalfa. “That’s the best stuff for feeding the cattle and horses” BJ would say. He again offered the use of his seed drill and tractor to plant the alfalfa. “If we’re lucky…and we are, we can get three cuttings from the alfalfa in one season, providing the rain is substantial” BJ would say.

They also entertained the idea of raising wheat. Val had several buckets of white and red wheat, but knew nothing about growing or processing it. They knew that their bags of flour would only last so long.

BJ sent some of his hands to work at Arnie and Maude’s to clean up the orchard by the old farmhouse. The hands were not required to stay overnight.

He felt that the apples would be a nice addition to Val’s canning day. Val did not disagree.

The gardens would produce beets, tomatoes, many varieties of peppers, several types of squash, pickles, garlic, several types of beans, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and more. T

They started many plants in the greenhouse between the barn and the garage. It wasn’t very big, but enough to start the peppers and tomatoes.

A return trip to Maude’s basement revealed many more cases of canning jars. Also, Arnie had made his own moonshine and there were several cases of that.

Val also discussed his suspicions of increased raiding or infiltrating with BJ and the sheriff. They both agreed that they should all be wary of any strangers, and when the weather warmed enough to get seeds and plants into the ground, they should all keep sentries walking twenty four hours a day.

Val often went into deep thought about how to go about guarding his land and structures, and was torn between sending his own people to help BJ, being that BJ’s ranch was the front door to the entire area.

On the other hand, BJ had forty or so hands working for him, all armed well with plenty of hands to walk perimeter.

At Val’s, there was only seven bodies at Val’s place to manage the planting, chickens, sentry posts, garden management, and other responsibilities associated with keeping everyone fed, safe, and healthy.

Val decided to keep his own people home. During the day, everybody except one would work the gardens and chores. The one would either sit in the lookout, or walk (or ride) the roads.

As the snow melted, it was next to impossible to tell if vehicles had come close or no, but it didn’t matter. Any time any of BJ’s crew got close, they always stopped at the big gate to “check up”.

As April entered, the ground became more workable, and they were very close to begin planting seedlings from the greenhouse, but were still waiting for the temps to stop dropping below freezing at night.

The warmer nights now used less firewood, and they began to have a small mountain of such.

Kyle headed up a weekly shooting gallery that all participated in honing their skills with firearms.

BJ and Val had more discussions about the corn field. They walked the field and drew out a grid. They planned to plant their corn close together.

Val helped with the tractor pulling the disk and plough.

Punch a hole, drop in a kernel, bury it, move to the next was their plan. It took a couple of days, but with a dozen or so people, it wasn’t that hard. Ginger was good about bringing sandwiches and drink for all. It wasn’t like people were on a clock and all were allowed to come and go as they pleased.

The kids pumped water and pulled a small tank with the four wheeler between the rows and watered the seeds good.

Val figured that about a week and another soaking to get the kernels wet would be enough unless they got some rain. He guessed they had around six thousand corn plants.

Val figured ninety days for harvesting.

The rest of the gardens went in one at a time. The put 12 foot fences around the gardens and they got a game fence around the corn field too. That was a lot of work. Val had seen deer jump twelve foot fences back in Texas so he added two more feet on the corn field fence. The garden fences he worried less as there is not enough room for running start.

Val and Ginger stood one evening in late May looking at the corn field. They said nothing and just looked at the freshly planted field. Val saw movement out of the corner of his eye and saw Kyle waving from the big gate.

Val answered with a little salute. Ginger squeezed his hand, but said nothing.

This would be the last happy memory the two of them would share for a long time.

Chapter Twenty Six

It was the first week of June when they saw the first corn plant sprouting in the field. It was an exciting moment as other sprouts in the gardens were noticed.

Val nodded approvingly it’s really starting to come together.

Ginger bounced out the back door yelling “Val! It’s BJ! They’re under attack!” She held out the satphone to Val.

Val dropped his shovel and ran towards her.

“Tell me!” he spoke loudly into the phone.

“It’s the bikers again!” BJ yelled back nervously “but they’ve got trucks and more troops on the ground.”

“We’re on our way!” Val said.

He picked his radio from his belt “we have a code red! Everyone meet at the back door immediately with full gear!”

He went inside and grabbed his vest that contained all his mags. He holstered his Glock 21, took the 45-70, and the Ruger Mini-30.

Ginger took the M1 Garand with a can full of magazines.

The boys came running up breathless “what’s going on?” Charlie seemed nervous looking behind him.

Calmly Val explained “BJ’s ranch is being attached right now” he looked at all of them in their eyes. “We have an opportunity to squash these people right now.”

He turned to Kyle “Kyle, take the four wheeler and go cross country to that spot you found by the hillside across from BJ’s ranch house.”

Kyle nodded as he donned his vest.

“Charlie” Val said “you go with him and do whatever he says. Take one of the 30-30s.”

Charlie nodded nervously.

“The rest of us will take the truck. Let’s go now” Val announced heading out the back door towards the barn “Christopher, open the big gate.”

Val, Ginger, and Randie hopped into the truck and Val tore out of the garage, spinning the tires still in 4WD.

When he reached the big gate, he stopped just long enough for Christopher to jump into the back seat. Val barely stopped long enough for the door to close, and he tore off again.

As he sped down the road, Ginger asked “what’s the plan?”

Val thought for a moment “we’ll stop at the hill like we did before and take to the ditch where we can get cover and fire from there.”

“What it they are already on the hill?” she queried.

“Then we’ll stop and all will jump into the back and fire over the roof, and we’ll move forward after we take them out.”

He continued “by then, Kyle and Charlie will be onsite, and those guys will be caught in a crossfire. We have to take the hill and maintain control. We can see a long way from there.”

He checked his speed…70. You must be crazy driving this fast.

He didn’t slow down, however. He reached the intersection in record time, and slowed enough to barely keep from taking the corner on two wheels.

Behind him, the road was not visible due to the dust from his high speed run. Now, the gravel road would announce their upcoming arrival. He cared not, and kicked it up to 70.

After a harrowing fifteen minutes, Val slowed as he approached the last hill before the big one.

He stopped, and the crouched going up the hill. The last few feet, they crawled as they heard gunfire.

The biker gang was on top of the hill with several bikes parked atop. They were facing the other direction.

“Everyone pick your target and don’t miss” Val said as he cocked his Rossi. He moved to the left edge of the group. Ginger stayed in the middle and layed out several clips for her 30-06. Randie next with a Mini-14, and Christopher with another 30-30.

There were 6 or 8 bikers on top shooting towards the house and Val’s gang opened fire. The gang on the hill never knew what hit them. All of them dropped without even seeing who shot them.

Val jumped up “back to the truck and into the back!”

Val started the pickup and crested the hill, and to the next one.

When they got halfway up, Val stopped and turned sideways, driver’s side on the upper side.

When the others were scrambling to get out, Val heard the rumble of a Harley getting closer.

He pulled out his Mini-30 and ran up the hill to be met by two bikers cresting the top. He flicked off the safety, and fired two rounds into each rider. They went right down. He waved the rest of them up and he stood at the top of the hill firing at others who were attempting to come up the hill.

He saw Kyle and Charlie in their spot.

The road below was a mess of fallen motorcycles and dead riders. So many, that getting past the Harleys was difficult, if not impossible. The ditches were too deep for anything but a dirt bike to get past.

Idiots Val thought. You can’t shoot from a motorcycle and be accurate. Those guys will all die.

BJ’s house was nothing but guns firing sticking out windows. The air was full of smoke and dust.

Val’s group were all in prone positions shooting past the house at a group of on coming foot soldiers coming from further up the road.

The bike in front of him took a couple of rounds, and Val hit the dirt forgetting that he could be seen as well.

He went below and around his group to the ditch, jumped across, and went into the field behind the trees that lined the road. He worked his way firing and moving from tree to tree, trying to move towards Kyle and Charlie. He fired from a high position, then low, then to the next tree.

The closer he got to them, the more fire he took when he stopped at the next tree. He had only gone through two mags by the time he reached the boys.

“You guys OK?” he yelled at them. They had good cover behind a small hill  in front of a larger hill. It was long enough to let them move around side to side.

“We’re OK!” Charlie yelled from behind cover. “Their numbers are dropping!” he added. “Some are retreating!”

Val listened and there was much less fire from the insurgents. The hill was still firing away as was BJ’s house.

Val ran to the ditch and dropped to his belly and crawled towards the enemy. At the time, he did not know why he did what he did, but when questioned about his foolish move later, he just answered “I thought I could kill a bunch of them running away.”

He crawled past the bunker where the boys were, and past the end of BJ’s house across the street. He kept on. He counted 100 elbow crawls when he poised at the top of the ditch.

There was a group of six soldiers at thirty feet in front of him. He fired and took them all out. He fired half his magazine. He dropped back down to the bottom and checked his mags. Still had four more with thirty rounds each. His .45 untouched, he had four mags of 13 for that plus one in the pistol.

He moved forward again 30 crawls; he stopped and listened and heard no more gunfire. He rose up, planted himself at the top of the ditch to see a few scattered soldiers carrying some limping wounded. He took aim, then backed off his shot.

“Freeze you fucker, or you’re dead!” a voice said from behind and to the side of him.

Val complied.

“Drop the weapon!” the voice further commanded.

Again, Val obeyed.

“The only reason you’re alive is you didn’t shoot the guys helping our wounded” the voice continued “now stand up with your hands where I can see ’em.”

Val stood to his full six feet with his hands slightly raised, and turned around.

There were two of the enemy men, one of them was Skip.

Skip recognized him immediately, raised his pistol to his partner’s head, and pulled the trigger. His pal dropped to the ground.

Skip then holstered his pistol.

“Never say I never did nothin’ for you” he said quietly as he ran off into the brush.

Val quickly gathered his gun, and ran back down the ditch towards the others. He had crawled much further than he thought.

Charlie was out in the road yelling “hold your fire! Hold your fire!” as Val approached them.

He was out of breath when he reached Charlie who scolded him “what the hell were you doing Dad? You coulda been killed! What were you thinking?” He got right in Val’s face.

A few seconds later, Val was surrounded by his own family, and members of BJ’s. All had something to say about his move up the ditch.

His only reply was “I killed six more, and Skip saved my life.”

There were a few gasps.

“He coulda killed me, but shot his companion himself, and left.”

Val turned to BJ and said “this ain’t workin’ pal. You cannot defend your house from your house. You must expand your perimeter and start defending it from there, instead of them being able to ride up to within 20 feet of your front door.”

“What would you suggest?” BJ said slowly; obviously thinking.

“Expand your front to the bridge. Everyone coming down that road has to cross it or the creek, and that depends on how much water is in it. Get a bunch of your strong hands and build some three sided bunkers here and there along the front line. Use pines from the woods…like a log cabin with three sides and maybe partial roof…dunno. Are you sure you don’t have any ex military folks here? They can help with strategies. Meanwhile, get some volunteers and pull guns and ammo from the bodies and drive the bikes to the other side of the bridge and burn everything.”

One of his hands ran up to BJ “we lost four guys today sir”.

A  hush crept over the group.

“Who?” commanded BJ.

The hand named four names that Val did not know. Eunice put her face in her hands and sobbed. BJ winced.

He then yelled out “anyone here ever been in the armed forces see me at the house after we clean up this mess in front! We are not gonna tolerate this crap again!”

He looked at Val “what you did was stupid today, and you were lucky. We need that kind of aggressive action to knock down these insurgents. I shoulda paid attention to my dream…” he stopped and had a foolish look on his face.

“Dream?” Val asked, taking a step closer.

“Arnie came to me last night and said today bad things were going to happen, and good things were going to happen.”

“You might wanna pay attention to any dreams to apparitions you have from now on” Val said “after what we’ve seen?” He shook his head.

“Noted” BJ said “OK let’s clean this up so we can get to work!”

The hands jumped into action. The boys went after pulling guns from the dead. Turns out there were thirty-two enemy dead. They left none alive.

Charlie ran up and said “look Dad. What’s this?” he held out an AK-47.

“That’s an AK-47. One of the best weapon ever made.” Val took it, flicked off the safety, yelled “fire in the hole!” and pulled the trigger. It fired several rounds.

“Holy shit!” Val exclaimed “this is full auto! Where did you get this gun?”

Charlie pointed “from those guys you shot.”

“Check out the rest of them and bring all their weapons to me…ammo too” Val asked.

Charlie ran off toward the unlucky six. Christopher was already rummaging through them too.

The rest of BJ’s hands were riding the hogs to the other side of the bridge, walking back.

They stripped and hauled the enemy dead to the other side of the bikes “drain the oil and gas!” Val told them “then burn everything!”

“Do  you think that’s a good idea?” BJ asked Val “to block the road? What about the sheriff?”

“That will send a message to everyone” Val replied “and the sheriff will understand. We might not be as lucky next time.”

“Lucky?” BJ was angry “LUCKY!? We lost four good men today! There’s nothing lucky about that!”

Val glared back “I was spared by luck. The bad guys lost thirty times what we did; all their guns, ammo, and bikes too. These guys that died today were just bait. The leaders of the others are testing our defences, and these men were sacrificed for recon.”

Val paused and looked down the road and continued speaking calmer “If they had unleashed everything on us today, we would have been slaughtered.”

Val walked away, stopped and turned to BJ “we’ll always answer your call for help.” He pointed down the road “if you’re really serious about stopping them, take out the damn bridge…then make a plan to rebuild it as necessary.”

Charlie and Christopher ran up carrying some more AKs. “Look Dad, they’re all the same!” He showed Val the other rifles. There were thirty thirty round magazines, and all the guns were full auto.

Val walked back over to BJ, holding out the gun “these guns are not standard issue. These weapons came from an arms dealer. These guys could be professional mercenaries.”

“So?” BJ asked.

“So, things are worse than we thought” Val replied “get your bunkers built pronto.”

Val rounded up his crew and headed up the hill towards the truck when BJ stopped them “wait! I’ve got something for you.”

One of his hands was dragging a box “some beef and bacon for you. You want these AKs?”

Val responded “keep the guns. You’ll need them. Thanks for the meat.”

Christopher took the box, and the rest went up the hill and got into the truck.

Val drove home…slower this time. The truck was quiet.

No one said a word as they drove the entire trip back.

They locked the big gate, and the truck went into the garage.

“I’ll start some supper” Ginger said, and she and Randie went into the house.

As Val and the boys unloaded the truck, Charlie finally said “Dad, I never killed anyone before.” He stopped and ran outside around the corner and threw up.

Christopher and Kyle followed, and they too vomited.

This shit is just beginning Val thought as he vomited too.

 

Chapter twenty seven

When Val finished throwing up, the boys were watching him as he spat on the ground. “If killing doesn’t bother us, then we’re no better than them” he said as he wiped his mouth. “You kill a man, and you take away all he has, and all he’s ever gonna have.”

He looked at the three boys, and could tell they were whipped; physically and emotionally. Their faces were dirty and blank. They stared at nothing they could see.

“I’m not really very hungry Dad” Charlie was the first of the three to speak.

Val walked to him, put his arm around him and said “you guys go on and see if you can get some sleep. It’ll be a while before supper is ready. Get some rest, and you can eat later. I’ll do the first watch tonight.”

They nodded and turned towards the house.

Val checked his gear, and went through his ammo and guns. When he finished, he went into the house also.

Ginger was sitting at the table, staring into space. He could smell some beef cooking. The house was quiet.

“All the kids went to bed” she almost whispered as he sat down. She held out her hand, and Val took it softly. “I thought it would be different” she said looking at him but not seeing him. “The kids are wigged out about it” she seemed to ramble.

He squeezed her hand and said “go on and lay down. I’ll watch dinner, and you can eat later.”

She did nothing.

“Go on” he said getting up. He helped her up and she stumbled her way to the bedroom.

She went to sleep almost immediately.

Val went back to the kitchen and sat down.

He sat for a while and the shadows from the sun got longer and the room got almost dark. Val lit the lantern and left it on the table as he went outside.

The roast will take another hour or so he thought. I’ll start walking some perimeter.

He kept his Mini-30 and double checked his mags, and reloaded as needed. He gathered up a radio and left one on the kitchen table.

He went outside and was greeted by Shep, who followed him to the big gate.

He took a long look at the property beyond the big gate as the sun set to his right behind the woods.

He became lost in thought for a while as he pondered how his life had changed in the past nine months, and how he had changed other’s lives.

Shep growled softly and stared to the south.

Val lowered to a crouching position slowly and stared also in the same direction.

There was a half moon out, so it wasn’t completely dark. The land was free and clear straight south with the woods bordering the open area on the east and west. The road cut down the center of the clearing. The only notable landmark was the big oak tree along side the road about half mile south of the big gate. That was where Val focused his attention.

If anyone is there, I’ll be able to see him move into the moonlight Val thought as he crouched motionless. I had probably take my own advice and build my own three sided bunkers by the gate.

The only cover he had at his position, was one of the big gate posts.

He continued his vigil, and saw nothing.

Shep stared, yet stopped growling.

For several more minutes they watched and kept still, seeing or hearing nothing else. Nothing moved.

Then Shep growled again. This time, he was looking at the woods to the west behind the house.

Val heard it too. Something coming through the brush…something big…moving fast.

It was a black bear, and it tore out of the south corner of the woods where the fence stopped.

The bear ran across the clearing, cutting the open area in half, like the hypotenuse of a right triangle.

Val thought that it didn’t look like the bear was going that fast, but he knew that if he himself were running in front of the bear, he would have been overtaken quickly. He was happy to watch…this time.

Val held Shep still; Shep didn’t seem to care and made no move to go after said bear.

The bear reached the road past the oak tree and slowed down.

Val looked back at the woods to see if something had spooked the bear. It would have to be pretty big Val thought, still watching the woods.

The bear lumbered to the south and disappeared after a couple minutes.

It’s probably good to have a bear around Val thought they can be hard to bring down, and they usually cause one’s adrenalin to increase in volume quickly. Just gotta stay outa their way.

He hear one of his earbuds crackle “You OK dad?” It was Charlie.

“10-4” Val replied. “Just saw a bear run from the woods down the road past the oak tree.”

Silence.

“Something must have scared it, but I didn’t see anything else” Val continued.

“K. We all ate and we’re ready to walk some perimeter” Charlie went on “we had a good nap too. Where do you want us to start?”

Val looked at his watch; midnight. “I want you with your brother, and Kyle with Randie. Alternate between walking the barnyard, to the big gate, and down the fenceline. Somebody come in a wake me after four hours.”

Val stood up, and headed back to the house. He was greeted by the kids. Their disposition was 100% improved from earlier. He vowed to remember how a nap can change one’s demeanour.

“Any orders?” Kyle asked.

“Don’t shoot any bears unless they’re coming after you” Val said. “See you later” he paused and added “this ain’t no drill. Keep your eyes open” he dug into his pocket and dug out a handfull of Jolly Ranchers, giving them each a few.

He went into the house removed his gear, and left it strategically placed by the back door, and went to bed where Ginger was waiting. They snuggled for a minute, and Val was asleep in two minutes.

 

Chapter twenty eight

Val was awakened by Randie screaming outside and gunfire. He jumped out of bed, ran to the back door picking up his 45-70, and ran towards the noise.

He ran to the big gate where the commotion was.

Kyle, Christopher, and Randie were at the gate pointing down the road where Charlie was being confronted by the bear. None of them had a big bore rifle; only semi-autos.

Christopher was taking pot shots at the bear, but at the angle, it was dangerous for Charlie.

The bear was standing on its hind legs, swinging at Charlie who was out of reach. He was white with fright and could barely back up. His sidearm was holstered. He wasn’t holding his rifle.

Val knew time was very short.

He set the barrel of the big 45-70 on the gate railing and aimed at the side of the beast. It was a 50 yard shot. He aimed carefully and squeezed the trigger. The bear came down on all fours but still moved toward Charlie.

Val immediately cocked another round into the chamber and fired at the bear’s front shoulder. This time the leg of the bear crumpled to the ground and the bear with it.

He yelled at Charlie “RUN!” as he pumped another round into the chamber.

Charlie became unfrozen and retreated to the west.

The bear struggled to get up, and managed to get up on three legs, move towards Charlie.

“Open the gate!” Val screamed and Kyle swung it open as it was already unlocked.

Val ran through the gate as far as he dared and began yelling at the bear.

Charlie ran the best he could…he wasn’t much of an athlete.

The bear stopped and faced Val who was now 25 yards from the bear.

Val yelled and raised his rifle and other arm in the air.

The bear went on his hind legs, and Val aimed mid chest and fired.

This time the bear dropped to the ground and never moved again.

Val ran out to Charlie who was out of breath and just hugged him for a couple minutes.

“You OK?” Val said.

Charlie nodded.

“Go find your rifle” Val suggested as they headed to the gate.

Randie clapped as they approached.

Val was a little angry.

‘You three stood here and did nothing while that bear moved on your brother?” he pointed at the animal. The three of you could have walked through the gate and taken it on an killed it easily.” He started to yell “you have more than enough bullets here to kill a bear that size!”

They hung their heads, knowing that their hesitation could have cost Charlie his life.

“It’s OK to be scared” Val continued, a little more subdued “I’m scared too…every day. You can’t have courage without fear.”

He started towards the house, stopped and turned “you four get your butts into the house and pick out a long gun. One gun for each pair of sentries.”

They all jumped and followed Val to the house while Val continued to rant “sure the semi-autos are fine for multiple shots at people, but the long gun is going to be our friend when the attackers are still far away. The larger caliber hits harder, goes faster and farther than the semi-autos. This gives us a little advantage since” he stopped and glared at all of the kids “since all of you are good shots. Make use of your talents.”

He turned and went inside. The kids followed.

“Pick a gun that all of you can handle” Val suggested as he picked up his satphone.

“What’re you doing?” Ginger asked.

“Calling BJ to get this bear” he replied calmly. “I only ate it once and didn’t care for it.”

BJ sent a crew and they picked up the bear. They seemed very happy about it.

Val just shook his head “I guess I’ve never been hungry enough to eat bear.”

BJ told Val he would send a group over to start planting the corn field in the next day or so.

BJ added “that bear was female. More than likely, she has a couple of cubs running around here somewhere. Be on the lookout because they’re probably too young to feed themselves.”
Val just rolled his eyes “great” he said unenthusiastically.

Part III

Chapter Twenty nine

Charlie obviously had some carry over fear for several days after what became talked about as “The Bear Incident” by the other kids. He was very quiet and pensive, and even woke up with nightmares a couple of times.

Val went downstairs, and just sat and read to him.

A Tale Of Two Cities would put anyone to sleep, and it worked on Charlie as well.

He next needed to get out and work the usual recon to the intersection. Kyle accompanied him in the four wheeler, while Charlie and Christopher were scheduled to do a ‘woods walk’ with Randie.

Kyle took the mini-30, and Val took the Rossi. Each carried a Glock 21 for their sidearm with several mags each. Kyle had 6 mags for the rifle. Val carried a bandolier with about thirty rounds of 30-30 ammo.

Kyle was driving and shook his head “dad, I’ll never know how you didn’t pee in your pants when that bear reared up at you. I wet myself a little.”

Val put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder and said “someday when you have children of your own, you’ll understand about what your children mean to you, and that you will allow nothing to hurt them as long as you’re alive and kicking.”

Kyle nodded, then looked away. Val figured Kyle was thinking of his own father and how he sacrificed  himself to save the others to the best of his ability.

Val continued “and the only reason I didn’t pee in my pants was because I already peed in the house earlier” he chuckled and Kyle smiled.

Val and Kyle crawled up the hill and spied on the intersection. They could barely see the Steven’s place down the road past the intersection. Not a speck of dust was stirring, nor were there sign of activity on the road that came up from BJ’s on the right, then turned towards the Steven’s place.

There wasn’t much of a road that came to Val’s, but a sharp eyed person could tell that there was a little wear that left telltale weeds in between the faint tire tracks.

They lay there several minutes, passing the binoculars back and forth.

“Is anyone at the Steven’s place?” Kyle asked looking at the old farmhouse.

“I don’t know if BJ has someone over there or not” Val replied “why?”

“Dunno. I thought I saw something shiny reflect in the sunlight…just for a second, but I haven’t seen anything move since.”

Val too, started at the farmhouse for about twenty minutes.

“Sorry dad” Kyle started “I guess it was nothing” as he passed the binoculars back to Val.

Then they both saw the flash.

“That’s a car door opening and closing” Val said quietly as he looked through the glasses. “Still can’t see though what it is. You look, your eyes are better than mine” he passed the glasses back.

Kyle laid his rifle down and steadied the field glasses with both hands.

“I see one…two…no three people moving from the house to the car…just barely…they’re loading or unloading something…can’t see because they’re between the house and the car.”

Kyle looked at Val with wide eyes “what do we do?”

Val almost sighed “we gotta find out who they are and what they’re doing.”

“Let’s go” he said as he got up and moved around the side of the hill towards the woods, which were about fifty yards away. He didn’t want to go all the way to the woods but he wanted an out if necessary.

Kyle followed as they walked along the side of the hill until they were blocked from view by the garage at the Steven’s house.

“OK, from here, we’ll just go towards the garage” Val said as he moved towards the Steven’s garage.

Val sensed Kyle’s hesitation and explained “look, we have to find out what they’re up to. It could even be BJ’s men. If not, we need to come up with something quick to stop them. If something goes wrong, we’ll high tail it into the woods. If they follow us, we’ll have the advantage…cover. They’ll be in the open.”

“K” Kyle said reluctantly.

Val continued “I need you to back me up…whatever it takes. See that tree there by the garage?”

Kyle squinted and nodded.

“When we get close enough, you go to the tree and you cover me. Get a clear view of them. I just might go up and have a conversation. They won’t expecting anyone to show up, much less a sniper. OK?”

Kyle nodded with a tad more enthusiasm this time.

 

Chapter Thirty

Val and Kyle crept through the brush and grass, making their way towards the Steven’s farm. They moved quickly when they were far, and slowed their approach the closer they got to the garage.

They could hear muffled voices now. Val motioned Kyle to take his new position at the tree on the other side of the garage, giving him a clear view of the yard between the house and the garage.

When Kyle was in position, he indicated he was ready, and Val proceeded to make his way around the garage. This put him on the driver’s side of the car at about ten yards.

He could hear them now speaking in partial sentences…”more? heavy…boxes”

Val decided worked his way a little closer until he could clearly see the three men. They were hauling ammo cans of the 30-06. He didn’t recognize the car as being of BJ’s nor did he recognize any of them. They were all wearing camos, and they all had sidearms.

He waited until all three guys were coming out carrying a can of the heavy ammo.

Val pulled his.45 and stood up and walked straight to the car, and he started yelling “what the hell are you guys doing stealing my ammo!” He stood so that Kyle would have a clean shot if necessary.

All three of the men froze.

“Just keep holding those ammo cans you want so much and start talking” he spoke loudly, alternatively pointing his pistol at each of them.

No one spoke.

“You! Talk!” Val yelled pointing his gun at the first man, who had a crazy look on his face.

“This ain’t your place mister” the first man said, dropping his ammo can to the ground.

Val put a bullet in his head, and he dropped right to the ground.

He aimed at the other two who said nothing.

Then Val noticed the AK-47s on the porch. The same that was used on the attack at BJ’s.

He fired at the second man killing him, and another shot rang out as the third man dropped as well.

Val didn’t notice that there were four AKs on the porch.

He heard footsteps on the wooden floor inside the house, and he ran to the front of the car as he heard gunfire as the door in the house opened.

Another shot rang out from the field and then silence.

“Clear!” called Kyle.

Val looked around and saw no signs of any more men.

He motioned for Kyle to come up.

They stripped the dead of their ammo and put their guns in the car.

“Let’s go!” Val said and they high tailed it back to the house, taking all the loaded ammo with them.

“What’re we gonna do?” Kyle asked nervously as Val sped toward home.

“We’ll take their guns and ammo, and we’ll go back, load up the bodies, and burn the car somewhere else.”

The old Chrysler Newport rode nicely as they raced over the dirt road.

“Man, they don’t make cars like this any more” Val said out loud.

“I believe it” Kyle said “this thing is an antique.”

Val chuckled as they sped on, realising that whoever was guarding the big gate would not recognize them.

He slowed as he topped the last rise before the big gate and stopped past the oak tree.

He got out and yelled “hooty hoot! hooty hoot!”

Charlie happened to be at the big gate and waved them on.

He had the gate opened and Val drove right through and around to the back door where they unloaded the ammo cans; there were around thirty of them.

“You might want to randomly check these to see if they’re all the 30-06 rounds for the M1 Garand” Val said to Ginger “we’ll have to go back and burn this car and the former occupants.”

“What do you think they were doing?” Ginger asked.

Val stopped in his tracks, turned, and looked at her “I haven’t thought about that. These guys probably just ran across the empty house and started looting. Who knows where else they had been before the Steven’s farm?”

His eyes grew wide “Arnie’s! They probably went there first! We gotta go now!”

“Just stack cans on the porch” Val said “we have to leave now.”

The group hurried and unloaded the rest in just a minute or so. Kyle brought a can of gasoline mixed with oil from the barn “this what you wanted?”

“Exactly” Val replied and got into the car.

Val already had the car started when the last can was unloaded, and Kyle jumped in. They raced to the big gate only to realize that Charlie hadn’t gotten there yet. Kyle got out and opened the gate as Charlie arrived.

Val passed through, Kyle got in, and they took off back to the Steven’s farm. Dust was still in the air from their previous passing.

Might as well draw a map for the bad guys Val thought, not slowing down.

They reached the Steven’s farm and nothing had changed. They loaded a body into the front two in the back and were putting one in the trunk when they discovered a bunch of ladies clothes strewn about in the trunk. Some short pieces of rope around fifteen inches were also back there.

Val hesitated and thought for a moment.

“What is it?” Kyle quizzed.

“Women’s clothes” Val said “this is out of place.”

They put the last body in the trunk, and headed to Arnie’s, which was only minutes away.

They pulled into Arnie’s driveway.

Val saw nothing out of the ordinary, and drove across the barnyard into what used to be the barn, and parked the car. They got out and pulled the body from the trunk, and placed it in the driver’s seat.

The shadows were getting long in the late afternoon.

Kyle took the gas can and started to open it when Val said “hold up on that. Let’s check out the inside of the house first.”

Kyle stopped moving immediately “I’m not going in there.”

Val sighed “the go get the four wheeler while I check out the house and torch the car.”

Kyle nodded and walked briskly down the driveway, looking over his shoulder every few steps.

Val went up the steps into the house. The kitchen was in disarray. Trash on the floor, empty cans of food, pop cans, beer cans, paper cups strewn all over.

Then he felt it again; a very slight breeze that stirred up some of the lighter pieces of garbage, and he felt the thin blade of ice moved from behind him, through him to the front. He knew what was next.

Arnie appeared across from Val at the other side of the kitchen. He set his pitchfork on the floor, put both hands on top of it and Val heard “help her.”

Arnie vanished.

Val had goosebumps on his skin, inside, all over his innards, and every square inch of his exterior.

He walked through the kitchen saying “hello! Is anyone here? I’m Val Knudson and am here to help.”

He walked past the basement door which was closed, and headed into the dining room. There he found more trash, and the dining room table had been what looked like the scene of many meals.

He continued on through the living room where he found some blankets and sheets on the couch.

He walked on towards the bedroom and called again “hello? I’m Val and I’m here to  help you. Don’t be afraid. The men who hurt you are dead. We have to leave here now. C’mon! I don’t have time to search for you.”

The next room at the beginning of the hallway was open. He peeked in. The bed had been slept in.

The next bedroom door was closed. “This is Val. I’m going to open the door and you and I will leave. We have transportation outside that my son and I will take you to our home. You’ll be safe there. You are not safe here. The rest of those bad guys will be back soon, and we don’t want to be here when they arrive. I’m coming in.”

He turned the knob slowly, and fractionally opened the door.

He heard sobbing and light whimpering from under the bed.

“C’mon out honey. I’m not going to  hurt you. We have to leave now. Please come out.”

He heard stirring from under the bed and the girl began to cry as she crawled out “Ppplease don’t hurt me mister. I’ll do anything you want…just don’t hurt me.”

Val noticed blood on the bed as he held out his hand to her “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll never let anyone hurt you again sweetheart.”

She stood up and wrapped her arms around Val tightly. She was maybe five foot three, dirty blonde hair, pretty face, small features, thin build, wearing next to nothing. Her clothes were rags. She could not have been more than sixteen or seventeen.

Val pried her away smiled and said “my name is Val” he held out his hand to her. She sobbed, took his hand and said “I’m Lisa” she was wiping tears.

She staggered,  Val caught her and picked her up.

She cried, laying her face against his chest.

“Are those your clothes in the back of the car?” Val asked as he went down the steps outside. “Do you want any of them before I torch it?”

She nodded.

Val retrieved the loose clothes and brought them to her.

He returned to the car, splashing his gas and oil mix inside the car.

He slid under the back of the car, and punched a  hole in the gas tank with his K bar knife, letting it spill  under the car.

He opened the hood and cut the gas line to the carburator, and splashed the last of the gas on the engine.

He heard a noise behind him; it was Lisa. He took her hand and they stepped back a few steps. He handed her the matches.

She lit one, and flicked it into the car.

The inside of the car burst into a ball of flames and smoke.

Val and Lisa walked towards the porch where she held him around his waist while they walked.

She shook her head “did you kill them?”

Val nodded “my son and I did.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s on his way here with our ride.”

“Did they suffer?” she pointed at the car.

“No, they died instantly.”

“They should have suffered for what they did to me” she said.

Val pulled a Kleenex from his pocket and handed it to her “no one will hurt you again” he said.

Kyle pulled up in the four wheeler just then, almost coming into the driveway on two wheels.

He was very surprised to see their guest.

Lisa cowered behind Val “It’s OK” he said to her “This is one of my sons, Kyle.”

Kyle stopped in front of them. Val helped Lisa into the front and he got in the back “Don’t you want to drive?” Kyle asked.

“No, I need to be here to watch our six” Val said as he put away Lisa’s clothes. “Kyle, meet Lisa. Lisa, youngest son Kyle.”

Kyle nodded at her with a smile and Lisa managed a weak smile.

As they made a U in the barnyard, Kyle said “did you see ’em?”

“I sure did” Val said “how do you think I knew she was there?”

Lisa turned and looked at Val “you saw the ghost?”

“Sure did and his name is Arnie. He and his wife used to live there.”

Lisa reached back and grabbed Val’s hand “Arnie saved my life. Those guys ran away when they saw him” she chuckled “one of them peed in his pants.”

“He saved our lives too” Val said with certainty.

Kyle made the turn onto the road and headed home.

Val yelled “open ‘er up!”

Kyle cranked it on as they sped through the dusk.

 

Chapter Thirty One

Kyle slowed down as they approached the big gate to give Charlie a chance to identify them. It was dusk and Charlie flashed the signal; once, thrice, twice to ok the approach.

He had the gate open when they reached it, and Kyle stopped briefly to greet Charlie.

“Anything going on?” Kyle asked.

Charlie shook his head, while looking at Lisa “nope, notta thing.”

“This is our new houseguest” Val said “Lisa meet another son Charlie.”

Charlie came closer holding out his hand, and Lisa took it gently “good to meet you Charlie.”

Charlie back away “pleasure is mine.”

“Where’s your brother?” Val asked.

“He and Randie are walking perimeter across the road” he replied moving away, signalling Kyle to pull on through so he could close it.

Val was glad to see that they kept the gate open only as long as necessary; a paranoia he had passed on to them.

Kyle went through and headed around back to the porch, where Ginger was waiting.

Kyle turned off the vehicle and Ginger said “Hi I’m Ginger. Come on inside and let’s get you a bath.”

Lisa looked at Val who said “It’s OK. She’ll take care of you, and get you fed. You’re safe now” he smiled at her.

She threw her arms around Val’s neck and sobbed “thank you for saving me.”

He took her face in his hands and kissed her forehead “There there now. No one will hurt you again.”

She got out and Ginger escorted her inside. Ginger turned and said “you guys go on and leave us girls with some privacy.”

As Ginger and Lisa went inside, Lisa turned and gave Val a little wave with a smile.

Chapter Thirty Two

Val joined the group at the big gate where Kyle was filling them in on the day’s adventure.

“Is that girl gonna live with us?” asked Charlie.

Val nodded “if she wants to.”

“What happened to her? Did those dead guys hurt her?” Charlie pressed.

“That poor young woman has been abused in more ways then we could possible imagine. She is very strong to be on an even keel after what she has gone through. Ginger is going to get her a bath and find out how badly she’s hurt. You all just keep your distance from her for a while. Be nice, but don’t rush up to talk or shake hands or whatever. Give her a chance to get used to being around us..OK?”

Charlie nodded.

“Wow, Dad! You saw the ghost again?” Charlie asked, changing the subject.

Val nodded “Yep. No matter how many times I see him, it still gives me the willies.” He shook his head.

“What did you do with the AKs?” he asked Kyle.

“Oh” he began “they’re in the four wheeler. We need to go through ’em” as he turned towards the house.

“I’ll go too” Val said, and they went to the barn.

“Four full auto AK-47s” Val was speaking out loud “how many mags are there?”

Kyle was putting the mags into an ammo can. “Looks like fourteen” he said “I’m gonna need another can.”

Val was doing math “That’s just over four hundred rounds” he was still thinking. “it’ll shoot the same round as the mini-30 too, and I got a bunch of those.”

“You talkin’ to me?” Kyle stopped and asked.

“No, just doing some thinking out loud” Val replied “the bullets that the AK and the mini-30 use are the same, but the mags are different. Whichever of you boys wants to use the AK, you’ll have to keep all the mags close by. Full auto can really go through rounds but know this; if’n you’re emptying mags from a full auto AK at a bad guy, chances are he’s  not going to be poking his head up.”

Kyle nodded with understanding.

“For now” Val started “you are in charge of these weapons. You can use them or delegate them to someone else or store them.”

Kyle gathered the guns and Val picked up the cans with the mags, and they went back to the house.

Kyle went straight downstairs “I’ll put them away for now” he said to Val “They’ll be under the stairs.”

Val was going to follow when Ginger stopped him “Val!” she whispered loudly.

Val stopped and placed the ammo at the top of the stairs and went to her.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“It’s Lisa” she said, sitting down.

Val sat down too.

Ginger had tears in her eyes, but she was in control. “Emotionally, she seems OK” she began “those animals abused her in ways I won’t describe. She has many cigarette burns all over her body…all over” she emphasized “her being raped was nothing compared to her other wounds.”

“Any infections?” Val tried to remain calm.

“No, most of them are fresh…maybe a couple days or so. The human body is very good at taking care of itself. Physically, she’ll be fine. She seems attached to you for some reason.”

“Rescuer…victim” Val said “classic. OK, then we’ll have to deal with her needs as they arise. We’ll just treat her as one of us. She’ll be expected to do chores, learn to shoot like us.

“Where will she sleep?” Ginger asked.

“On the couch for now” Val said getting up. We may have to split and move some of us to the bunkhouse.”

“Oh really? Whom?”

“Well we’re about full in here, and there’s seven of us and only one bathroom. The bunkhouse is perfectly safe and rodent free…” he stopped because he know it would be a difficult decision to ask a couple to move out as no one would volunteer to do so. “We’ll discuss it later if it becomes necessary” he said, ending the subject for the time being.

“Now” he started, changing the subject “I told Christopher I’d do a shift this evening” and he stood up and put on his gear.

“Do you want me to walk with you?” she asked, also getting up.

“You can if you want” he replied “just be sure that Christopher and Randie get fed.”

She nodded, and Val went outside to find the kids, who were just coming around the corner by the driveway.

“Nothing going on dad” Christopher said as he approached.

“Good. Ginger will make sure you are fed if you’re hungry. The rest of you get some sleep. We may need to go on an adventure very soon. Keep your gear packed and ready.”

“Where we goin’?” asked Kyle, stopping.

Val almost wished he had said nothing. He sighed “this business with that militia group is not over and we have escalated it today. They are going to wonder what happened to their guys…and the car. We will likely have to take the fight to them.”

The group got solemn.

“G’wan now” Val said “get fed and get some sleep.”

They trudged away slowly and Val said after them “Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan.”

They disappeared around the corner, and he walked to the big gate and began to make his plan.

 

Chapter Thirty Three

Val looked off down the road to the south and began to formulate an attack plan…or ambush rather.

He had no idea how many of these militia there were. I will have to talk to Lisa about approximate numbers.

He figured he would need all six of his people and Lisa should go just because he probably would be unable to shake her loose, being clingy and all.

We should take as many of BJ’s people as possible, even at risk of leaving his place unattended.

What he also did not know was how many vehicles the militia had, but he had an idea of where to ambush them. I gotta talk to Lisa, then BJ before I can set this in stone.

His pondering was interrupted by Ginger, whom he did not hear come up behind him. He was startled.

“Oh, I’m so sorry” she said touching his arm. “I thought you heard me. You always do.”

Val recovered and answered “it’s OK. I’m thinking.”

“About your attack on the bad guys?” she quizzed “Kyle and the rest were talking about what you said about taking the fight to them.”

Val nodded slowly. “I hate the risk of it, but if we leave it alone, they will come looking and they will have the advantage of surprise. This way, we can surprise them, and if we’re lucky, wipe them out and make the whole area safe again.”

They were quiet for a couple minutes as they looked up and down the fenceline.

Crickets chirped and somewhere in the woods, a hoot owl let them know his presence.

It was a clear sky and the half moon provided lots of light.

“So what’s your plan?” Ginger asked, breaking the silence.

“I need to talk to Lisa then BJ before I plan any further” he explained. “I’ll need to talk to her when she gets up tomorrow, and then make a run to BJ’s. We may have to implement this thing quickly…or at least be ready for them.”

“Where would you have the ambush?” she asked.

“More than likely, at one of the farms further south of The Haunted Farm. BJ will know.”

“What do you need from her?” Ginger pressed.

“I need to know what she can tell me about them. Obviously, she has been with them a little while. If those guys are in Blackthorn, then they have probably taken over the town and doing God knows what to those people. She may have just enough info for me to make a decision about whether or not we can pull this off. Numbers are the most important thing that I need. At least I hope she can get me an idea.”

Ginger nodded with approval, and sighed. “All of a sudden, I feel very tired.”

“Go on and get some sleep” Val told her “I’m not gonna stand out here all night.”

She squeezed his hand “you better not” and she went back to the house.

Val spent the next couple of hours thinking, planning, counting, strategizing ways to ambush a hundred heavily armed, trained troops.

Christopher came out and relieved  him and Val said “we’re gonna make a trip tomorrow to BJ’s.”

Christopher yawned and nodded “OK.”

Val went back inside to bed and had a disturbing sleep.

Chapter Thirty Four

Val awoke as the sun first peeked in the east window in his room. Ginger stirred and groaned, but stayed in bed.

Val shook out the cobwebs and remembered what he was going to do, and proceeded to get ready.

He entered the living room where Lisa was still sleeping.

He went to the kitchen and fired up the stove. He prepared coffee and hot water for tea. He started the skillet for toast, and went downstairs to get eggs.

Shep was wagging his tail eagerly waiting for breakfast when Lisa came into the kitchen rubbing her eyes with a yawn.

“I’m hungry” she said as she sat down.

“Breakfast will be ready soon” Val said as he went downstairs to retrieve some eggs.

He came up and was starting the toast when Christopher and Randie came out.

“Lisa” Val began “I need something from you…information. Everything you can tell me about the bad guys. I need to know approximate numbers, kinds of trucks or cars and  numbers of those…whatever you can tell me.”

“Why do you need to know?” she asked, her voice trembling.

Val sat down next to her “after we killed those four men yesterday, the rest of the gang will come looking for them. These were four heavily armed mercenaries who were assumed to be able to more than take care of themselves. The powers that be will figure that something big took them out, and they will probably come looking. We need to know what we’re up against because we’re going to have to ambush them. I need your help with whatever you can tell me sweetheart” he patted her hand.

She had tears in her eyes as Ginger came in, followed by Charlie.

Val got up and started the toast and eggs.

Lisa sniffed “it all started late last year…just before it started snowing. A bunch of men with guns came into town. There was one big truck that carried a lot of soldiers; like an Army truck. The rest were mostly pickups but a few cars. I don’t know how many cars…they filled up both sides of the street downtown and then some. Most of the cars had three or four men in them. There were a few women with them.”

She took a deep breath as Val dished out some toast to her and others. He poured coffee for himself and Ginger and offered hot water for tea to the rest.

She continued “at first we just thought they were passing through then they started walking the streets with their guns. There’s only one hotel in town and it couldn’t begin to hold all of them, so they started invading people’s homes and doing what they wanted. They started shooting men who protested, and then they were just taking women and doing whatever they wanted…even  children.” She stopped and sobbed.

Ginger came over and gave her tissues.

Val continued making and serving breakfast.

When Lisa regained her composure, she went on “we only had like two cops in town, and I never saw them after the soldiers arrived. It didn’t take long before the soldiers ran the town. They made whoever they wanted do whatever they wanted. They came to our house and they took turns with  my mother and me…they took my brother away. I  haven’t seen him since. My mother and I had talked about what would happen before, and we agreed not to resist. They did that to every house in town. They took all the guns…oh yeah a few of the guys got together and fought some, but there were too many soldiers. A few of the soldiers were killed at first, but they ended killing all the rebels; as they called them.”

Val finished cooking eggs and passed them around. The rest were quietly eating and listening.

Lisa continued “we had no choice so we just did whatever they wanted. Winter came, and they just stayed. A couple weeks ago, a few of the guys who used to…come to our house wanted to “go  exploring” they called it. They needed permission from some guy they called “Captain” before they could go. When they got permission, they got a car,  took me, and we all left heading north. We stopped at all farmhouses on the way up. They made me go up and beg for food, and find out  how many people were there, guns, food store, all information I could get. Then, they would attack the place at  night; kill everyone and stay  until they either got bored or ran out of food. Then we’d go on to the next one and do it again.”

She stopped and gulped down some eggs, and chugged some tea. She went on “then we went to that haunted place” she shuddered “that was really very strange. I was  more scared of the ghosts than I was of them. The ghosts didn’t show themselves to the men at first. A couple of them had gone to the other house, came back and said there was a huge stash of food, guns, a big radio, and ammo there but no one home and needed help to load up the stuff. They were real excited about the radio about how ‘the Captain’ would like it. They planned to go the next morning. That night, the ghost of the old man appeared while the guys were drinking in the other room. I heard them panic and yelling about ‘ghost! what the hell!’ they were really scared. Then, the old woman appeared in my room while the last guy was..on top of me, and she said “don’t worry child. Help is on the way.” The guy was so scared that he got off me and just peed right there on the floor; he was so scared. He left the room, I crawled under the bed, and stayed there until you came the next day.”

Val pondered a moment as the rest of them finished eating “that’s what I needed to know” he started “that’s useful  information. Now we’re gonna go to BJ’s.”

He stood up, as did the rest. Ginger and Randie began clearing the table “do you want us to go?” she asked.

“Yep, we all need to go because we’re all going to be a part of the ambush. You can leave the dishes for later” he added. “We need to go now.”

“Go potty and grab your gear” Val ordered “we leave in ten.”

He got his 30-30, the bandolier, and his Glock 21 with six mags.

He then went to the garage and started the big Ford, driving it outside by the back door and waited for the rest.

“Where do we put our gear?” Charlie asked, standing outside.

“In the box” Val said “unless your sitting next to a window.”

Lisa got in next to Val, and Ginger rode shotgun. The rest got into the back; Charlie and Kyle sat next to windows with their rifles. The rest of the gear was in the box in the back.

Kyle jumped out to open the big gate, Val drove through, Kyle locked it and returned to the truck. “The corn is looking good, Dad” he said as he closed the door.

Val looked briefly at the six inch high corn plants “sure is. We could use some rain to help them out” as he put the truck in gear and drove south towards the intersection.

The rest of them had learned to be observant and look for sign. Nothing was reported as they met the intersection, and turned right towards BJ’s.

Val had not called him first…he wondered if he should have “get the phone out and call BJ telling him we’re on our way” he said to Ginger.

She looked sheepish as she replied “it’s in the gear.”

Val pressed the brake immediately and stopped “please get it.”

Kyle and Charlie were on higher alert and their heads panned around while Ginger dug out the satphone.

When she closed the door, Val pressed hard on the gas, and they were off again.

Ginger called BJ and they were waiting for them outside when Val pulled up.

BJ with his usual smile greeted them “y’all just come on in” he said waving them in from the front porch.

They piled out and headed inside. Eunice had a nice breakfast spread and suddenly, they were all hungry again.

“What’s this?” BJ said indicating towards Lisa, who was reaching for some bacon.

“I’m Lisa” she said taking a bite “Val and Kyle rescued me from the soldiers and the ghosts.”

BJ’s eyes grew wide “you saw Arnie and Maude?” he was bewildered.

“Yes, both of them and they spoke to me” she said crunching away on the bacon.

BJ’s gaze turned to Val “what’s going on?” he said slowly.

Val became suspicious “you first” he said buttering a biscuit.

“I had a dream last night” BJ began “about Arnie.”

The table went silent.

“Go on” Val suggested.

BJ sighed “he told me this: “They’s a comin’! You can catch them at the ravine. They’s a comin’!”

“What’s the ravine?” Val asked very interested.

“That’s south of Arnie and Maude’s place about 5 miles” he said “it’s just a crack in the earth that starts by the tree line, goes west, widens to about fifty feet, goes under the road and ends in the field on the other side of the road about 100 yards in. It gets really deep by the road…sometimes you can’t see the bottom in the daytime unless the sun is right overhead.”.

“Now you tell me what’s going on” BJ insisted.

Val told him of how he and Kyle killed the four guys stealing ammo from the Stevens place, and their subsequent rescue of Lisa, and the information she had passed them earlier.

BJ stood up and started pacing “So, Arnie is warning us that they’re on the way, and we gotta ambush them at the ravine” he was thinking out loud “yeah, that’s a good idea..perfect place for us, not so for them..heh heh. We’ll need everyone that can shoot…some oil and gasoline, a chainsaw…”

“Chainsaw?” Val queried.

BJ stopped pacing and looked at Val “yeah, there’s a huge oak tree just north of the ravine; I mean it’s like 150 years old. We cut it down to block the road, and put a firewall at the ass end of their parade, they’ll have no escape. We put oil and gasoline on the east side of the road, and they’ll no where to go except the west side and we’ll nail ’em there.”

“But it’ll take all of us…if it’s like you say, they’re military trained. Surprise is our only advantage.”

“We can’t chop the tree down before they get there” Val said “we’ll have to pre cut the tree almost to the point of falling, then rig a grenade or something to finish the tree.”

“Not a problem. I’ve got guys here that can fell a tree on a dime” BJ said proudly.

“All right so we mix up a bunch of gas and oil, pour it on the east side of the road..a good healthy dose to burn hot and high, and another batch to light up at the caboose to keep them from escaping to the rear. Our shooters will be on the west side and we’ll mow them down.”

BJ started pacing again “a few pipe bombs might be useful…a few grenades would help too…”

“Why?” Val asked.

“To throw under the trucks if we can’t drive them out…we’ll need to be thinking ahead of them on this. If we catch them by surprise, we’ll need to stay a step or two ahead of whatever they may come up with” he continued pacing.

Val spoke up “I don’t think a line of fire across the road will stop them from backing through it.”

“No, that’s true” BJ said “we’ll need like a five gallon can of gas and oil to explode and burn…that’s going to be dangerous for whomever has to ignite it…they will need to get to safe distance very quickly. There is also a question of how long the caravan is. We’re not gonna know that…”

Val offered “how’s the terrain on the west side in that area?”

“Whaddayamean?” BJ responded. “It’s all cleared land…farms. Why?”

“Well, you got men and horses. Why not send out a recon patrol on horseback? They could see where they are, and count cars.”

“That’s a great idea, Val!” BJ exclaimed  then he yelled across the room “someone get Bo for me…now!”

Bo showed up less than a minute later “you called, boss?”

“Yeah, you know the farms by the highway north of Blackthorne? On the west side?”

“Sure do.”

“I need you to get another rider and scope out the highway…UNDETECTED. I need you to look for a caravan of vehicles heading north. I need to know how many vehicles there are, and I need to know yesterday.”

“I’m on it boss” he said and left hurriedly.

“Someone get Jasper for me!” Val called out to no one.

Jasper showed up quickly “yes sir?”

“I need you to get every able bodied man together with guns and ammo. We’ll need vehicles to haul them. We’ll need to bring several 5 gallon jerry cans mixed with about 1 gallon of oil to 4 gallons of gas. We’ll need a dozen hand grenades too. See to it and get whatever help you need. And get those two guys that cut down our trees. I have a job for them.”

“OK” replied Jasper as he left.

A few  minutes later, two more men showed up.

“Val, meet my lumberjacks Roy and Quinn” BJ said.

They nodded to Val.

BJ told them “you guys know that monster oak on the highway by the ravine?”

They both nodded.

“I need you to cut, slice, and dice that tree to get it to the  point just where it’s ready to fall across the road and block access to the  north. Does that make sense?”

“OK. Grab your gear, your guns, take some food and water and take care of that, and stay out of sight when you’re done. I want it to be so that a hand grenade detonated in the crack will make it fall.”

“Not a problem boss” said Roy.

“This is critical to our mission guys; there can be no mistakes.”

“It’ll be done boss” said Quinn.

They turned and left.

“Now, how much gear did you bring?” BJ asked.

Val replied “well, if I had known about the Arnie dream, I would have brought the AKs we confiscated.”

“There’s probably enough time to go back and get them” BJ said “and we’ll meet you at Arnie’s.”

“OK” Val said, standing up, as did the rest of his group. “We’ll see you there.”

BJ and crew loaded up and left quickly, and headed home.

“So what are we going to do at the ambush?” asked Ginger.

“I think you should set up in the field to the east and shoot from there” Val said glancing over at her. “Lisa, you go with Ginger and spot for her. You’ll be safe enough.”

“What about the rest of us?” Charlie asked.

“It’s gonna depend on what kinda gun you’re shooting” Val said matter of factly. If you carry a long gun, like the 30-30, you’ll need to be back a little from the guys on the front line. The guys on the front line will use the semi-auto weapons; AKs and pistols. Take every magazine you can with you if you choose the semi-autos.”

“Where are you gonna be?” asked Charlie.

“On the front line with the AK and my Glock” Val replied without hesitation.

“Why you?” Ginger asked angrily “although I know the answer” she had tears in her eyes.

“A lot of people are going to die today” Val started “we can stop these animals right now if we give them the same shit they have been dishing out to innocent folks. The only way is to get in their face and let them have it hard. There’s going to be more of them than us. We’ll only win if all of us kill at least two of them.”

Val stopped the truck at the intersection looking at all of them. “No one has to go if they don’t want to. No one will ever call you a coward for not going. Yeah, it’s going to be dangerous…we have a huge advantage: the element of surprise. I would rather do this than sit in my living room window and defend my house from the inside.”

He put the truck in gear and headed for the big gate.

“Shit” Val said getting out “don’t close your doors if you’re going with me.” He pulled his Glock and loaded one into the chamber.

Christopher, Kyle, and Charlie went along.

They hopped the fence and split up; Charlie went with Val and the other two went around the other way. Val went towards the driveway.

He peeked around the corner of the front of the house, looking towards the back yard, and saw the Sheriff’s car parked, idling.

“It’s all right!” Val yelled at the girls. “Drive on in” he told them.

The sheriff got out of the car, seeing the boys coming from the other direction before he noticed Val and Charlie.

“Well!” he said jokingly “I wasn’t expecting this kind of welcome!” He smiled as Val approached and they shook hands.

Ginger then pulled the Ford around the sheriff’s car and parked.

“What’s going on?” asked the sheriff.

Val informed him of their plan, while the rest continued loading up the truck.

“Why wasn’t I told?” the sheriff asked.

“We just now made this plan” Val said “I never even thought about letting you know. We’ve pretty much been on our own  you know.”

The sheriff shook his head and looked at the ground “these guys are a bad bunch, Val. Of course I’ll come along.”

He walked around to the rear of the car and opened the trunk “I’ve got a little equalizer that may help. I used to be a pretty good shot.”

Val looked and the sheriff had a .50 caliber semi-automatic rifle.

“You can shoot that?” Val quizzed.

“There’s a farmhouse south of the ravine” the sheriff began “there’s probably no one in it. I’ll hole up there and shoot from the south at any of them trying to sneak out the back.”

“If it were up to me” Val began “I’d rather see you closer to the front…crossfire and all. You have a semi-auto rifle…besides that one?”

“Yeah, I got a Bushmaster” he replied, closing the trunk. “And plenty of ammo.”

“OK, well we’re leaving now” Val said as the rest were waiting.

Ginger came out with some food for all; buttered bread. “That’s all that is prepared” she said.

The sheriff took his own car, and led the way towards the intersection. Kyle locked the big gate.

Chapter Thirty Five

When they reached the intersection, they met the tail end of BJ’s caravan and followed to Arnie’s.

It looked like BJ had brought everyone, although he did not see Eunice. It was fairly orderly as BJ was in total command of his men. He was glad to see the sheriff as were many others.

“My riders came back and said the caravan had just left Blackthorne and were driving slow. We probably have a couple of hours so we better hustle.”

“We’re gonna have to cram the trucks full as we can because we can’t have any sign of life around there when this begins” BJ continued. We have drivers to return the vehicles here and wait.”

“Val, I want you to use your 30-30 and hide behind the big tree. That tree is going to fall at an angle back towards the ravine. You’ll have plenty of cover. Give your AK to someone else. You pick off anyone hiding on that side of the trucks. My man Jensen can use your AK. He’s quite proficient.”

“Sheriff, if you don’t mind, I’d like  you to work with Val on the front of the line. That oak tree is huge and its branches will be full and very brushy. You’ll have about 100 feet to run back and forth along it and pick your  targets.”

“The rest will be in the ditch covered with dead grass and  hay. We are told there are twenty vehicles, with a troop carrier in the lead. The rest are pickups and should be easy prey. Our plan is to have Jimmy, toss a grenade into the last vehicle, disabling it, and possibly disabling the next to last vehicle as well. Grenades into the pickups will certainly kill all in the bed. Anyone jumping out the back will be on fire, jumping out the front will be shot. Got it?”

Heads nodded.
“OK, you have your assignments, let’s get  moving. The lumberjack crew has finished their job already…let’s GO!”

Val’s big F250 was maxed out with fourteen in the back, after they removed the box. The cab carried all seven of his crew.

They managed to only use four trucks to haul about forty armed men.

“What are you gonna do with the pickup dad?” asked Charlie.

“I was going to ask Lisa if she’d drive it back to Arnie’s and wait for us” he said turning to look at her.

“I want to stay with you” she said, her tears welling up.

“BJ has a couple riders on horseback that will come get you when this is over, and you can drive back and pick us up. I need you to do this for me.”

She looked at the floor “OK” she said begrudgingly. “But you better come back” she said almost angrily.

“If I don’t, you can still stay at the house as long as you want. You’ll be safe there.”

“We have to do this thing today for the good of all and for Blackthorne” Val went on “Our victory today will ensure they’re release from these soldiers. All of us are a small part of a big picture.”

Upon reaching their destination, Lisa scooted the seat up as far as she could, then jumped out and hugged Val, then got back in and left. Eunice was there after all driving another truck back, as were a couple other of the guys from BJ’s house help.

The tree had a huge wedge removed from one side and a rather large piece opposite. That tree must have been four feet in diameter.

They had place a grenade, wedged into the rear slice out of the trunk. It was wedged tightly with a long twine tied to it which would be pulled by BJ. He would decide when to blow the tree.

The gasoline/oil trail started there. The explosion of the grenade would ignite the gasoline trail across the road, then along side the road for fifty yards, the caravan would stop and the ambush would begin.

A slight breeze had picked up. Val looked up at the tree, watching the breeze catch it. If that tree falls too early, this is all for naught Val thought.

The men in the west side ditch had brought hay bales and covered themselves with the dead stuff. Most of them wore camo, and they were fairly well disguised.

Ginger stationed herself about 25 yards out on a tree stump with her M1. Her shots would be well above the attacking men from the ditch.

The sheriff and Val lay in the ditch by BJ waiting.

Val double checked to be sure he had one in the chamber…he did.

Kyle, Charlie, Christopher, and even Randie lay in the ditch.

They all waited.

It seemed like a long time before they heard the engine from the troop carrier.

Val heard it get closer and closer. The whine of the transmission was unmistakable, yet it was still fifty yards away. BJ’s lookout in the weeds was supposed to whistle when to blow the grenade.

The whine of the transmission was getting louder. Calm. Stay ready. Be patient. Val told himself. He glad he had relieved himself as situations like this made him wanna pee.

The whine now seemed on top of them. Still no whistle.

Then it came; the whistle.

BJ wasted  no time and pulled the cord on the grenade.

The grenade exploded, but the tree did not fall. The explosion ignited the gasoline/oil mix and lit across the road, then down the road for fifty yards. It caught quickly.

The troop carrier stopped.

The breeze, now stronger, rustled the trees, and Val heard the big truck crack loudly.

“Go! Go!” screamed some voices from inside the troop carrier.

The driver, caught off guard hesitated before he made the mistake of trying to drive  under the huge tree.

The tree caught the troop carrier on the rear section of the truck.

Val and the sheriff, only a few yards away from the front of the truck, jumped out and fired into the cab. The driver and passenger were killed and Val went to the other side and looked through the brush.

A few troops had jumped out through the fire and had made it into the field.

Val killed two, and the sheriff got the other.

They continued firing down the road at anyone thinking of doing the same thing.

The other side of the road was madness.

Jimmy, as planned jumped up and tossed a grenade into a pickup bed full of soldiers.

Jimmy rolled back into the ditch and the explosion killed all in the pickup bed.

The others next to Jimmy opened fire, killing the driver and passengers in the cab.

Jimmy was unable to run through the firing to grenade the next vehicle, and those soldiers began to fire back.

From the rear, Ginger was taking them out one at a time. One of the soldiers pointed to the field, and a couple of guns pointed Ginger’s way.

Jimmy pulled the pin on his next grenade, flicked the lever off, stood up, and tossed it toward the second pickup. Jimmy hit the deck, and the grenade exploded in mid air, killing the rest of the troops.

The next truck was where Charlie and the gang were. They laid out a barrage of fire so heavy that that truck was shot up like Bonnie and Clyde’s car.

Kyle had ended up with the AK and when he saw that truck was gone, he moved to the next one which was under heavy fire from BJ’s men. Kyle unloaded a whole mag at the tailgate, and slightly above. Then a couple shots at the driver’s side of the cab.

The next truck up tried to turn around as it had been behind the troop carrier. When it backed up, it blew a tire because of the fire, and the whole truck went into the ravine; all hands went down with it.

Val stayed where he was, reloading his 30-30 in case a ‘sleeper’ came bounding out. There was, but not for long. It’s hard to run when one’s feet are on fire. That was the last shot.

The sheriff went around to the west side. Val stayed behind for another minute, and saw no more escape attempts.

He too walked around to check on the kids. All were unhurt. He ran out to Ginger where she had been hit in the shoulder; a through and through. She was going into shock and Val got her down and elevated her feet. He dug into his pack and pulled out a light blanket.

“Easy now Ginger. You got shot and the bullet went right through your left shoulder. You’re gonna be fine” Val tried to calm her although it was he that needed calming.

He heard footsteps behind him and it was Kyle.

“Mom! Mom!” he cried kneeling next to her. “What’s wrong with her?”

“She’s been shot and she’s in shock” Val replied calmly. “She’ll be fine. The bullet went through her shoulder. There’s no broken bones. She’ll be OK, son. I need you to be calm now too. Go find BJ and see if there’s any medical supplies along and a medic…now.”

A few minutes later, a crew of two showed up with a stretcher “it’s OK Val. We got her. We’ll take her to Arnie’s. Eunice is a nurse. She’ll know what to do.”

They loaded her up and took her to an awaiting truck. He noticed his Ford was there and was greeted by a very excited young woman who practically jumped into his arms.

“You’re OK! You’re OK!” she yelled and hugged him like he was back from the dead.

The truck with Ginger roared off.

BJ walked up “sorry to hear about Ginger” he started “Eunice will know what to do. We got other wounded, and one dead.”

“Oh no” Val said “who?”

“Jimmy” he said softly “that last grenade exploded in mid air hit him in the head with a piece of shrapnel. He probably never knew what hit him. He was pretty much responsible for taking out the last two trucks.”

Two men came running up to BJ “we counted sixty two dead and one still alive. I got six others picking up weapons and ammo.”

“The one alive; is he talking?” asked Val.

“He says the f word a lot, but that’s all” said one of the guys.

Val turned to BJ “get your lumberjacks on that tree. We need to clear this road. I say dump all the bodies and vehicles into the ravine and burn them…save the tree though. That damn thing will provide us with firewood for many winters…BBQs.”

BJ said “I’ll get that taken care of.”

Val turned to the guys “take me to the live one.”

“OK, but I doubt if you’ll get much out of him.”

Val waved at Lisa to come with him, and she bounded over quickly.

“We’re gonna go talk to one of the guys that made it. See if you recognize him.”

They were led past the first two vehicles to a figure sitting in the ditch, being guarded by two of BJ’s guys.

“Over there” he pointed.

Val walked over with Lisa behind him, holding onto his vest.

The prisoner’s hands were tied behind his back with duct tape as were  his feet.

“Who do we have here?” Val asked, pulling out his canteen and taking a drink. He offered the prisoner a drink, but he did not respond. He just glared straight ahead.

Val held the canteen to the prisoner’s mouth “wanna drink?”

The prisoner looked at Val for the first time, and opened his mouth. Val put the canteen and poured several swallows into the prisoner’s mouth.

He pulled it away, capping it and putting it back into his belt.

“Do you recognize him?” Val said, looking at the prisoner but speaking to Lisa. She tugged on his vest, pulling him rearward. “If he tries to stand up, shoot him in the dick” Val told the two guards. They nodded, refreshing their aim.

Lisa looked like a six year old; pouty lips, sad droop eyes, and talking slow “that’s the Captain.”

“Sure?”

She nodded slowly.

“Do you wanna go back to the others? I’ll take care of this guy.”

She shook her head “don’t let him hurt me again.”

“I won’t.”

He walked the few steps back to the Captain “this young lady has identified you as the Captain of this band of fools…dead band of fools I should say.”

The Captain changed his look a little as of defeat, but said nothing.

“Why is it that you are alive, and sixty-two of your men are dead? Are you just the luckiest sombitch on earth or what?”

The Captain was silent.

“Did you order that biker gang to attack us last year?”

“Fucking amateurs” he replied with disgust.

“Boy, I’ll say” Val said “what kind of idiot rides around on a motorcycle, driving with one hand, and shooting with the other?”

“Who’s the little piece of chicken behind you?” asked the Captain, leaning to catch her eye, but stopping when one of the guard poked his gun at him.

“Did you get any of that?” the Captain asked Val. “Man when they’re that young, it’s really sweet…then her mother wasn’t bad either. Neither of them ever resisted. How’d you get her?”

“We found her in the haunted house after we killed your four mercs stealing our M1 ammo.”

“Haunted house? Are you fucking kidding me? I was right; the whole lot of you are just a bunch of hicktown superstitious  farmers.”

“Hicktown farmers that just wiped out most of your men” Val reminded  him “I’ll tell you something else Captain, if it weren’t for the ghosts, we wouldn’t have known you were coming. How could we have known? Also, your four brave mercs all pissed in their pants when they saw the ghosts.”

Val pulled out his Bowie knife. He walked behind the Captain and cut the tape.

“Stand up and take off your jacket” Val ordered, knocking the Captains cap off as well.

The two guards re-established their dominance by sticking the rifles closer to the Captain as he removed his jacket, tossing it to the ground.

“You never answered my question; did you get any of that little girl’s pussy?”

Val shook his head “where I come from, we don’t rape little girls.” Val pulled out his Glock and shot the Captain in the knee.

The Captain screamed in pain and fell over on his side.

Val stood up and pointed to the nearest pickup “someone try this truck and see if it runs, and find me a hunk of rope too please.”

One of the guys opened the door and pulled out the body, and started the truck. He looked at Val and stuck his thumb up.

“Seems a damned shame to destroy a perfectly good truck” Val said to the driver, try the next one.

The next truck started but was missing real bad “I’ll take that one” as one of the men ran up to him with some rope.

Val proceeded to tie one end of the rope to the Captain’s feet.

“Bring the bed of the truck as close as you can get to me” Val called to the driver.

The truck spattered and blew smoke and steam as the driver maneuvered the ass end of the truck reasonable within reach of Val where he tied the other end of the rope to the trailer hitch. He cut the excess off so that there was only about eight feet of rope holding the Captain to the truck.

“How far to the ravine?” Val asked the driver.

“About twenty five feet” the driver replied.

A crowd of BJ’s men and BJ gathered.

“Aim the truck at the ravine, tie the steering wheel to the brake pedal, then put it in gear when I say.”

The driver nodded, and in a few minutes gave Val a thumbs up.

“Is there any gasoline left?” Val asked no one in particular as others loaded up bodies.

A guy showed up with some gasoline.

“Pour some on the bodies” Val said and with some help, it got done.

“Fire it up” Val said and a match set fire to the truck.

Val went back to the Captain “The fall into the ravine might not kill you, and to tell you the truth, I  hope it doesn’t. I want you to think about the women and children you have raped, and the men you have murdered while you lie suffering in the bottom of that ravine.”

He gave the driver a thumbs up and the truck was put in gear. It went very slowly as it moved across the crest of the road, then picking up a little speed as it moved over the side, and finally into the ravine.

The truck went over the edge, pulling the Captain and slingshotting  him when it pulled him into the air of the ravine. Some of the bodies came loose and fell away from the truck, but all could hear the crash when it hit the bottom.

The group was speechless as they watched it burn briefly.

No one saw the now very old Chevy pickup at the bottom of the ravine,under where truck landed.

Val felt a hand creep into his own. It was Lisa. She said nothing as she watched and squeezed his hand.

BJ broke the silence “OK, let’s salvage this truck, and dump the rest in the ravine with the rest of the dead. Let’s go! I’m hungry! And thirsty!”

The men laughed as did Val briefly then remembered Ginger’s plight.

“You all go back to the truck and wait” Val instructed his crew “I’m gonna help with the clean up.”

He got no argument as the five headed back to the truck.

Val help toss a few loose bodies into the ravine.

They got the big truck running after the lumberjacks cut the tree off, and backed it in as well.

They kept the Ford that was still running and BJ said “Val, why don’t  you just take the  Ford. It’s the same model you already have. You could use it for spare parts. I ain’t got no room for another pickup.”

Val shrugged and got into the other Ford F250. It wasn’t a four door, but who cared?

“Hold a minute BJ!” Val called “this ain’t over yet” as he got out and walked back to BJ’s truck.

“Whaddayamean Val?” BJ replied.

“I mean we gotta go into Blackthorne and finish what we started here, and free the citizens.”

BJ thought for a second “you’re right. I s’pose you have a plan?”

Val sighed. “No, but we gotta do something fast; and it has to be done at night since we destroyed all their vehicles, otherwise we could have got into town and surprised them…again.”

“Go on” BJ was listening.

“We wouldn’t need a lot of guys, but those that went,  including you, me, and the sheriff, would have to be familiar with close quarter combat. There probably won’t be very many soldiers left and they’re probably the bottom of the barrel.”

BJ nodded in agreement “yeah, and that’s why we can’t wait long. No telling what the low lifes would do to the townsfolk; especially if they think the others aren’t coming back.”

Val went on “I’m the first to admit that I am not versed in hand to hand combat. I’m a shooter. There’s a definite advantage to being silent.”

“A couple of my guys are into archery” BJ said.

“Count them in then. We’ll have to take Lisa too unless you know the town well.”

“I do” BJ said “there ain’t but one stoplight and one main street where all the businesses are. The rest is residential and that’s not much. When did you want to do this?”

“I hate to say this, but we need to do this tonight. The town will be expecting the return anytime, and may be waiting and not suspecting anyone except their fellow soldiers.”

“I agree, unfortunately. We still have that Ford left. It has a few bullet holes.” BJ continued “our guys were mostly dressed like theirs; camo and such…a few with helmets. We could make a good run at it…” he stopped and went into thought.

Val did not interrupt BJ’s train of thought as usually, he came up with some  sound ideas.

“You know, I was thinking that I know most of the folks in Blackthorne, and they know me. A few of them used to work for me…I was thinking that I got an old battery powered bullhorn and maybe I could drive through town telling the townfolk what happened and ask for the surrender of the other soldiers…or something like that. We’d have our guys in the back armed…”

Val interrupted “the first casualty would be you, my friend. After we kill the bad guys, then you can run for mayor. The hard part is not knowing how many bad guys there are. That’s why I took the Captain’s jacket and cap; they’re one of a kind…we need someone to impersonate him, and maybe draw out the others when they see how few are left…something like that?”

BJ thought for another minute. “No, too dangerous. How about this? We start at the ass end of town at the residences and recruit all the men we can. We bring extra guns. Anyone who comes with us will have more intel than us. Our force could grow substantially in a short time and we could take out the rest quicker than just wandering around waiting for them to come out of their holes.”

Val thought too and nodded “we’ll need Lisa and you. Once we get a couple of guys, they can get the others easier to join us. They’ll likely know exactly where the rest are hiding. I like it.”

“Need me for what?” Lisa had come up behind Val stealthily.

Val turned to her and said “we have to go to Blackthorne…we have to let the citizens know the Captain and his men are defeated. We need to kill the rest of the Captain’s men still in town. We’ll need you to help get a few folks trust so we can get some of the town men to join us and tell us where the rest of the Captain’s men are. After that, we’re done. Whaddaya say?”

She seemed hurt at first then she smiled “OK. I know right where to go first; my aunt’s house. She’s kinda old but she’s a good cook. A few of the soldiers would bring her food and she would cook for them. She saw them take me away last week. We can start there and then her neighbors, Jack and Annie will get on board. The rest will be easy.”

“I know Jack Barstow” BJ said. “He’s a good man, and as I recall a pretty good shot. I would bet that he’s even got guns hidden…if he’s still alive. The plan sounds good. Let’s go back to Arnie’s and see who’s left to go with us.”

Val and Lisa walked back to the other truck, where Lisa jumped inside. “Shotgun!”

“We’ll meet you guys at Arnie’s unless you go back home” Val said as Christopher got into the driver’s seat.

“What were you guys talking about?” Christopher asked.

“We have another mission to do now” Val replied “we need to go to Blackthorne to let the citizens know that the Captain and most of his men are dead. We’re going to have to find the rest of the Captain’s men to and get rid of them.”

“I think we’ll go straight home” Christopher said.

“I need you to stop at Arnie’s” Val said “if Ginger is feeling better, you’ll need to take her home.”

“OK dad” Chris replied.

Kyle got out of the other truck, and squeezed Lisa over “I need to see my mom.”

“OK, see you when we get there” Val told his boys, and they headed back up the road to Arnie’s.

BJ was a speck by the time Val got on the road.

“You guys are going out again?” Kyle asked, unbelieving.

“Look Kyle” Val began “these guys were a threat to the whole area; two maybe three counties. We’ve mostly stopped them, and we’ve got to let folks know so they can come out of their holes and get back to livin’.”

“K”

Val sped on and got to Arnie’s in just a few minutes where there were still a couple of trucks besides BJ there.

“I’m not gonna go in there” Lisa stated firmly.

“That’s fine” Val said “remember, Maude and Arnie saved your life…and ours too most likely. A thank you to them would be in order. They’re on our side. They can’t help that they’re dead, but you suit yourself.”

He closed the door, and went inside.

Kyle had already gone inside.

He was met at the door by the smell of fresh apple pie. He walked in where Ginger and Kyle were having a tender mother/son moment.

BJ was eating a piece of pie. He looked up at Val “help yourself. Courtesy of Maude.”

He walked to Ginger and Kyle and participated in the group hug.

Eunice spoke “your gal is a real trooper” she began as she was packing her medical supplies “I put her on a wide open IV, and she was up after just a few minutes. I suggest that she keep her feet elevated above her heart for a while though…just to be sure.”

“Thanks Eunice” Val whispered with a smile.

“Let’s go home” Ginger said.

“Oh well, there’s been a change of plans about that” Val began and explained the necessity of going into Blackthorne.

“You and the boys go on back home and you get some rest. We’re not expecting a lot of resistance in town. Put up a sentry at the big gate and wait. We should be done in…what BJ? a couple of hours?”

“Yeah” he said as he chewed some pie “it’s only a few miles past that last farmhouse, and we’ll go in the back way.”

Ginger was not pleased, nor Eunice.

“When are you going to stop playing hero? Ginger asked maliciously.

Eunice looked at her, shocked.

Without hesitation Val replied calmly “when there are no more bad guys.”

Ginger’s face softened “you’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just tired of my men being on the front lines.”

Then, it happened again. Val, BJ, Ginger, Kyle, Eunice all felt it. The ever so slight breeze stirred some trash that was on the floor, followed by the icy cold molecular thin plane that went through Val from back to front.

He knew what it was, but he also knew he would never get used to it.

Arnie appeared at the entrance to the basement and spoke “the people need you now.”

He faded out.

The ladies were white as sheets and frozen.

Val broke the silence “well there you have it. Our orders from Arnie are to leave for Blackthorne now.”

No one spoke or moved.

Again, Val spoke “I dunno, but if we don’t do what he asks, he’s likely to do something really spooky. Let’s go” and he went to the door and the others followed.

Outside, Ginger and Kyle got into the truck with Charlie and Christopher. Val walked over and said “drive safely, and Kyle, take care of your mom. You heard Eunice on what to do.”

A voice behind Val said “oh I’m going with them” Eunice said as she got into the back seat and turned to BJ “you come and get me at their place when you’re done, OK honey?”

BJ responded with a quick peck on her lips “be back before you know it.”

Christopher started the truck and they drove off towards home.

“Well, who should go besides us three?” BJ asked. “We got three trucks and fifteen men.”

“Ask for volunteers” Val suggested “we’ll need a second truck parked outside of town..in case this one gets disabled…maybe just five guys. Still, we three will go alone into town. They just park and wait. If we’re not out in say a couple of hours, time to go home.”

BJ went to his men and ended up with lots of volunteers. Those that weren’t chosen seemed really disappointed they weren’t going.

“OK!” Val said “bring ’em all.”

Bo spoke up to Val “Val, I know most of those folks in town; grew up with ’em. They all know me too.”

Others chimed in “me too.”

“OK then you guys go to homes where you know they know you and do your own recruiting. Bring some extra pistols for those who may not have any. Leave one man and one truck on the outside of town…just in case. Questions?”

None.

“Let’s do it!” Val said climbing into the cab with Lisa, who was still sitting in the middle.

BJ climbed in too, and they led the pack south to Blackthorne.

Chapter Thirty Seven

It was dark now, yet still not late in the evening as Val led the group to town.

“You ever been to Blackthorne?” BJ asked Val.

“Been there once” said Val “went to the hardware store.”

“Oh, you mean the 7-11 that also is the cafe, sells gas and ice cream. Yep, one stop shopping. Feller owns it by the name of Gretz. Kind of a fiesty old fart but a decent businessman.”

“Maybe you should go to his place, and we’ll meet you somewhere” Val said.

“What about the fire station?” Lisa suggested “it’s at the end of town, and there’s no one there.”

“Good idea Lisa” said BJ “I’ll tell the others when we split up.”

About fifteen minutes later BJ said “OK start slowing down. We’re gonna stop up here on the left. Make a left as soon as we pass the railroad tracks.”

Val slowed, passed the tracks, then turned onto the dirt road. The others did same.

“Stop here” BJ said, and he got out and flagged down the others.

“Where to your aunt’s?” Val asked Lisa.

“Straight down the road and it will turn right into a neighborhood. I suggest you turn off your lights when we make the turn. Pull up a block or so and stop. Her house will be right there.”

BJ returned “all set. Do we know where we’re going?”

Val put it in gear “yep.”

Val drove slowly down the road, as there was no moon out. When he finished the turn, he turned off the lights and drove slowly on the pavement. He passed one intersection, and Lisa pointed “pull up there on the right. That’s her house with the car in the driveway.”

Val stopped and turned off the engine. He reached up and turned the dome light to off, and he and BJ opened the doors.

They all got out and Lisa all but ran to her aunt’s around the side. She disappeared.

They kept to the inside of the street and said nothing.

Suddenly, a voice came from the house next door through a darkened window “who the hell is that out there!” They did not seem to care about being quiet.

“That you Jack?” BJ answered back.

“Who the hell are you?”

“It’s BJ!”

“No fucking way, man!”

“Goddammit Jack, it’s me!”

“What was the final score of our senior homecoming game?”

“49-0. How could I forget that? You fumbled how many times.”

They heard footsteps across the wooden floor inside, and the front door opened. A figure walked briskly up to BJ and hugged him “it’s been too long old friend.”

Val thought he heard sobbing but said nothing when Lisa appeared with her aunt and more figures came out of Jack’s house.

“Aunt Rita, this is Val. He saved my life” Lisa dragged the woman over to Val and she just fell on him crying.

Val hugged her back “easy now Rita. The worst is over.”

She buried her head in his chest as he held her.

“I’m Val Knudson” he said “we live about…”

Jack interrupted “you’re Val?” He broke away from BJ, walked over the Val and offered his hand “I’ve heard some good things about you friend. Name’s Jack Barstow.”

“Very pleased to meet you Jack” Val said prying his hand off of Rita, who had calmed down.

The others gathered around.

“We’re having a meeting about how to take out these fuckers” Jack said.

“We brought fifteen men with extra arms. We’re gonna meet them at the fire station. We gotta go  house to house and find the rest of the soldiers” Val said.

Some of them chuckled and one of the spoke up “I’m Thomas. We know where they are. They holed up at the hotel after the Captain took the rest earlier today. They took a couple of women and they’re probably wasted beyond recognition by now. We figured they figured the Captain would have been back by now. There are others planning as we speak.”

“No time to waste. Let’s get to the fire station and coordinate our attack” BJ said and the back of the truck filled up.

“You stay here with  your aunt” Val told Lisa. “You’ve been more than helpful.”

She sobbed “but I want to be with you.”

“Your much safer here. We’ll be back when we’re done.”

“Promise?” she said as he pulled away.

“I never lie” Val said.

“Up here turn right” BJ instructed “the fire station is on the corner. Just park on the back side. We’ll wait there.”

Val did as he was told and there was a rather large crowd gathered already.

Val pulled up and BJ stuck his head out “don’t shoot! It’s BJ Bronson! We’re here to help!”

Damn! Didn’t think to remember we’re driving the Captain’s truck Val thought.

“We almost shot your ass!” said a voice. “That’s the Captain’s truck!”

“That you Gretz?” said BJ getting out.

Val got out too and announced “there’s a box in the truck here with guns and ammo. If you need, take one.”

Many men jumped in and helped themselves.

Gretz and BJ were shaking hands “sure am glad to see you, you old fart” Gretz told BJ.

“Guys” BJ said “I hate to interrupt the reunion, but we’ve got one more task to do. We have more than enough to get the job done, so let’s not wait for the rest.”
“Fuckin’ A!” a voice said.

The “lynching party” headed down the street towards the hotel, and were joined by yet another mob. These people were angry, and only wanted death to the soldiers that were left.

Val almost felt sorry for them, because they had no chance of survival whatsoever, and would likely all die slow deaths.

By the time they reached the hotel, they numbered probably fifty. There was no stopping them and they started running to the rooms, kicking them open and dragging out all inhabitants.

A couple of the rooms had women in them and they were allowed to get dressed.

In all, there were twelve soldiers left; two of them were so drunk that they were passed out.

Not a shot was fired.

The mob lined up the prisoners in the parking lot and surrounded them; everyone was itching to shoot.

Val worked his way through the crowd and stood in front of the crouched prisoners.

“Most of you don’t know me…I’m Val Knudson. I’m not gonna stop you from killing these animals, but I have one question to ask them before they are….expired.”

A chuckle went through the crowd.

He paced  in front of the prisoners and asked “what happened to Skip?”

None of the prisoners responded.

“You remember Skip? He was feeding your group information from the Steven’s place? A kid about nineteen? Blonde hair?”

Silence.

“No one huh?”

“OK. Do with them what you want but I suggest you line ’em up somewhere else. You guys are gonna shoot each other like this.”

A chuckle again went through the mob, and Val worked his way out.

BJ followed “where you goin’?”

Val turned “my work here is done. I’m going to Lisa’s as promised, then I’m going  home. It’s been a long day.”

“Why don’t you wait at Lisa’s for a little while until I get finished. There are some folks who may want to talk to you.”

“OK” Val said “I’ll wait a little while” and he turned and went down the street when Jack ran up beside him.

“You guys saved our asses today” Jack said trying to keep up with Val.

“We saved our asses too” Val said “eventually, they would have headed our direction and one by one taken us out.”

He stopped “I saw sixty-three men die today, in a matter of minutes.” He started walking again.

“We lost a few in the past six months too, Val” Jack acknowledged. “Since those assholes got here, we lost many wives, daughters, and in some cases men and boys. We thought Lisa Lynne was gone for sure. I also heard you took in a couple of strays and adopted them as well. You’re a good man, Val. We could use your help.”

They arrived at the fire station, and Val got in, as did Jack.

“How can I help you?” Val asked, putting the truck in gear.

“I knew that about you” Jack said.

They heard a barrage of gunshots, then nothing.

“Make that seventy-five men” Val said turning onto the street.

He pulled in front of Rita’s and was met by both of them bearing sandwiches.

Lisa set the plate on the top of the pickup toolbox and again, jumped into Val’s arms, wrapping her legs around him. “I’m so glad you’re OK?” she squealed.

“Yes, I’m fine, now you settle down” he said as he put her back on the ground.

Jack was already knee deep in a sandwich, then disappeared in his house.

“What happened?” Rita said.

“We were joined by two more mobs by the time we got to the hotel. The mob just started kicking in doors, and dragging out the bad guys. I left. I seen enough killing today. You heard the shots.”

Jack came out carrying something. It was an ice chest with cold beer.

“Thought you might could use one or two of these” Jack said, opening a beer and handing it to Val.

“You and I could be friends” Val said taking a long drink. He couldn’t remember the last time he had a frosty brew. “How are you keeping it cold?”

“Propane refrigerator. 1000 gallon tank buried in the yard.”

About then, the rest of the mob, and their families were coming down the street yelling “BJ for Mayor! BJ for Mayor!”

Rita touched Val’s arm “you’ve done us all a great service today Val Knudson. We all owe you for what you’ve done; especially for bringing back my Lisa Lynne. She’s taken quite a shine to you.”

The sandwiches disappeared quickly, and Rita did what she could to make some more. Jack didn’t volunteer any of his beer.

BJ stood up on the truck box and quieted the crowd.

“This is a great day for the citizens of Blackthorne and surrounding areas. We can now go on with our lives, and move forward. I urge all of you to arm yourselves, and begin guarding your town yourselves. The only way to get through this is if we work together. We can do it as our fathers and grandfathers did before us. There are thousands of acres of farmable land around here. That’s more than enough to survive, and we have to work together to make it work.

My friend Val here, planted five acres of corn a month ago, and they’re six inches tall now. Most of you have gardens. That’s good. The pioneer spirit lives on in spite of what has happened.

I urge you to help one another…to share what food you have, to pool together your resources…have cookouts for everyone…start letting your eggs hatch to raise chickens. I’ll be bringing in some cattle to Ralph the butcher to dole out among you.”

The crowd clapped and cheered for that.

Val spoke up “what’s your food status as of right now?”

Voices popped up here and there

“I have a lot of flour, sugar for baking but that’s it.”

Another said “I have lots of canned fruits but no bread.”

“I have many cans of vegetables that I have grown myself.”

The people talked for a long while…

Val hollered “sounds like if you share what have with your neighbors, you’ll be OK for a little while. Does anyone know anything about raising wheat? I have full buckets of red wheat and white wheat, but know nothing about planting or raising it.”

One guy spoke up “my daddy raised wheat when I was a kid. It’s a lot easier if you have a combine to harvest it, but I did my share of cutting and stacking sheaves. It can be done. I’ve got some land that we could get planted. We could do winter wheat; it plants in the fall and comes up in the spring.”

Val’s reply was “I’ll make the arrangements for you to get some wheat. Thanks. Any more questions?”

Another man came forward and said “that truck you’re drivin’…it was mine before it was the Captain’s.”

Val reached inside, pulled the keys, and handed them over to the man “anyone protest that this is not his truck?”

Several voices vouched.

“It’s got a few new bullet holes, but it still runs good” Val said, then his voice lowered “it’s got a little shimmy at seventy-five. You might wanna check that front end” he smiled and the man laughed too.

He turned to BJ “guess I’m going home with you.””

The crowed chuckled and began to break up, chattering away.

Lisa was still clutching Val’s hand, and Rita walked up to the, joined by BJ and some of his crew.

“So what now for you?” Rita asked Val.

“It’s been a really long couple of days…I need to go home to check on the family.” He looked at BJ “we’ll be back in a couple of days to check in on you.”

Rita gave he and BJ a hug and kiss on the cheek. “Thank you so much for bringing my baby home” she stroked Lisa’s face.

“We should go” BJ said “I distinctly heard you tell Ginger this would take a couple of hours and we’re past that now.”

“Agreed” Val replied.

“Can I go too?” Lisa whined.

“You need to stay with me darlin'” said Rita, patting her shoulder.

Lisa squeezed Val’s hand “but I wanna go with Val.”

BJ sighed as the rest of them waited.

“Come and stay with us a couple of days or so until we return, and then you can come back, OK?”

Lisa nodded and smiled.

“OK then, let’s go” BJ said. He offered his hand to Lisa “come with me honey and let Val catch up in a few minutes.”

She did with no complaint.

As they walked away, Val turned to Rita and said “she’s not herself, is she?”

“Lord, no” said Rita, putting her hand over her mouth. “Something has snapped in her. I never seen her cling to anyone like she has to you. She’s not the same girl that was inside her six months ago.”

She turned to Val and grabbed his arm “you take good care of her Val Knudsen. That child has gone through in her seventeen years what most women wouldn’t go through in three lifetimes.”

“I promise nothing will happen to her. You never know about people, Rita. They can bounce back. We’ll give her that opportunity. See you in a few days.”

Val turned and walked briskly to catch up with the rest since he did not know where the truck was.

He caught up with them at the fire station. They continued straight across main street, and through a guy’s yard to the dirt road where the trucks were parked.

Lisa stuck to Val like glue. They returned home in the back of BJ’s truck.

All the men had their own war story of the events that had occurred on this day.

By the time they reached the big gate, the truck was quiet.

Charlie let them in, and gave Val a fist bump as they passed through to the rear of the house where the rest of them were waiting.

Ginger ran to the truck before Val got out, jumping up and down covering  him with kisses when he got down.

She had a meal ready with bourbon for dessert, although many did not partake as it had been a very long day.

Eunice mentioned that Ginger had recovered fully, and there was nothing to be concerned about.

Val realized he was very tired, and began nodding off.

BJ and crew left, and Val was asleep before they passed through the big gate.

 

Chapter Thirty Eight

When Val woke up, the sun was high. He had heard nothing since he zonked out.

Ginger had gotten up too. The bedroom door was closed.

Val changed clothes, put his boots on and went out into the living room.

The kids were mostly sitting at the table.

Lisa jumped up to greet him with a huge hug and smile.

Oh, yeah. Now I remember Val thought patting her back.

Ginger gave him same, but with a little eye roll.

“Good morning all” Val said as he sat down next to Lisa as she insisted. “What’s happening today?”

Christopher spoke up “Kyle is out at the big gate. Charlie and I did watch last night. It’s been quiet. We haven’t made our run to the intersection yet. We thought you might have a better handle on what you might be looking for so we waited.”

“Good idea” Val said munching on some bacon. “If you’re rested, I want you to begin firearms training with Lisa today. Start her on the .22 and move her up as you see fit.”

“What’re you gonna do?” asked Lisa, obviously a little frustrated.

“I’m gonna make my run to the intersection and sit and watch until I’m satisfied.”

Val continued talking to the guys “the rest of you clean them AKs today. Check your ammo supply and reload a bunch more of the 7.62. Take turns and get as much done as you can. The full autos are great, but they go through the ammo very fast.”

Christopher nodded “I shot all my mags in just a few minutes, but by then the battle was pretty much over.”

“Good thing or you might have been in trouble.”

“How’d you sleep?” Ginger asked.

“Never heard a thing” Val said, finishing his coffee. He shook his head then said “yesterday was a very, very long day” he reached for another piece of toast and jam.

“It doesn’t surprise me that you were so tired” Ginger said, her tone a little softer. “You guys were full at it for almost twenty hours.”

Val remembered and then said “so, what did you think of our encounter with the ghost of Arnie?”

Christopher was astonished “you saw the ghost again?”

“And Ginger. And Kyle too” Val said factually.

“That was one of the scariest moments of my life” Ginger said, her voice almost quivering “even though I knew he wouldn’t hurt us.”

Val agreed “I thought the same thing when I saw him. I’ll never get used to that cold chill.”

“Really creepy” Christopher said “Kyle didn’t say anything about it to me.”

Val smiled “no, he probably won’t.”

Ginger got up and started heating some water for dishes, and the others helped clear the table “we’ll need some more bread today Val. Would you help me make some?”

“Sure, after I’m back from my excursion, unless you want to go too.”

She turned and smiled “I’d like that.”

“Just leave that for now. I’ll help you when we get back” Val told her getting up.

Ginger seemed eager.

Val knew what the subject was and felt it would be better for the two of them to be alone to discuss what to do with Lisa.

Val grabbed his Glock and brought the 30-30. Ginger took just the M1. They loaded up the four wheeler and left.

Kyle was setting up targets on the fenceline when they passed through the big gate.

Val drove slow so they could hear each other and Ginger began “we gotta do something about Lisa. I cannot have her pawing and clinging to you like she does. She has gone through a huge psychological trauma, and she is not dealing with it.”

Val did not hesitate to reply and told Ginger what Rita had said about Lisa, and that she would need time or another shock to get the old Lisa back.

Just then, Val saw something on the side of the road; a darker color in a heap. He slowed and approached slowly. He pulled out his Glock and flicked off the safety.

It was a person lying on the side of the road; a man in camos.

Val pulled up along side, and the figure moved its shoulder, but otherwise no movement.

Val stopped and got out. Ginger stayed on the other side of the four wheeler keeping her gun on the figure, and still looking around in case it was a decoy.

Val knelt down and touched the man’s shoulder when he noticed the blonde hair.

He turned to Ginger “it’s Skip!”

He put his gun back in the holster and gently rolled Skip on his back.

Ginger brought her canteen.

“Hey Skip” Val said, holding him up “take a little sip here pal.”

Skip opened his eyes, and squinted into the sun “Val?” his voice was a whisper.

Ginger put the canteen to his lips and poured a little in.

“Just swish it around in your mouth and spit it out” she said, and he complied.

She gave him another “do it again” and he did same.

“Now just a small swallow” she said and he nodded, taking a drink.

He exhaled loudly and said “man, I’m glad to see you two.”

He took another drink and Val asked “are you injured?”

Skip nodded as he took another drink “I stepped in a hole a ways back and I think my ankle is broken. Hurts like hell.”

He was wearing combat style boots, and Val and Ginger switched positions. Val unlaced and removed his left boot.

It was swollen, not a lot. No bones poking through. He put his hand around the ankle gently and said “move your foot up and down then sideways.”

Kyle did so and winced.

“It’s not broken” Val said “or I would have felt broken pieces grinding together. It’s a sprain. Let’s get you into the four wheeler and go home.”
They helped Skip into the passenger side, and Ginger got into the back.

Val turned around, and Skip was still sipping the water “I was with the Captain’s group yesterday” he started but I jumped off the last truck and rolled into the ditch. I guess they didn’t care. I couldn’t go through with what they were going to do and had been doing. I didn’t sign up to kill and rape women and children” he shook his head. “So I watched from afar when you guys attacked them and silently cheered you on.” He winced as they hit a bump. “What’s new at your house?” he asked.

“Well we got some new guests” Val began “one of which we rescued from the Captain’s men at Arnie’s place.

Skip’s eyes grew wide “you found Lisa?”

Val was surprised “why yes” and he relayed the story of how she came to live with them.

Val thought that Skip was close to tears.

“Is she OK?” Skip asked.

“As good as can be expected.”

They arrived at the big gate and Christopher let them in. “Hi Skip. Didn’t think we’d ever see you again” he said.

Skip smiled “thanks Christopher. Neither did I.”

They heard gunshots as target practice was in full swing.

They pulled around to the back of the house by the back door, and Lisa turned briefly to see. When she recognized Skip, she dropped her weapon and ran to the four wheeler.

Val turned off the engine and Lisa was talking, hugging, kissing Skip.

“Skip I’m so glad to see you” hug “I thought you were dead” kiss “are you hurt? I’ll take care of you…I missed you so”

They brought him inside and lay him on the couch. Val bandaged his foot with an Ace bandage and some tape.

Lisa sat with Skip the whole time stroking his hair, and touching his face “I’m so glad you’re all right” she said over and over.

Val put his hands together and said “OK then here’s what we’re gonna do. You can’t stay here, Skip. You need to be off your feet for several days and let your body heal itself. We’ll take you and Lisa into Blackthorne to Rita’s and you can recover there. How does that sound? Rita is one helluva cook from what I’ve heard, and you need some fattening up.”

Lisa put her hands together and held them to her chest “that sounds wonderful.”

“I’ll call BJ and let him know that you’re back in our good graces…after saving my life.”

“Sounds good to me Val” he said, gazing into Lisa’s eyes.

“Kyle bring the Ford to the back here. We’re going to town.”

Kyle put the four wheeler away and brought the Ford from the garage.

They loaded Skip, Lisa, Ginger and Val. The others stayed behind.

“We should be back in about an hour” Val said to Christopher as they passed through the big gate.

Val drove quickly, and as he approached his observation hill, he slowed as he crested the top then stopped.

He got out and with his binoculars, he looked at the little valley below. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he got back in and raced to Blackthorne.

They passed the ravine and there was still smoke coming from where the trucks had gone in.

They arrived in Blackthorne shortly thereafter, and proceeded to take the back way in to Rita’s. Since no one knew Val’s truck, no need to parade down main street.

When they arrived at Rita’s, she came out as they pulled into her driveway.

“Oh my sweet Lord!” she exclaimed when she saw Skip “you’re alive Skip? We thought for sure you were long gone!” as she helped open his door.

Between the four of them, they got Skip inside without too much commotion. Val was worried that he might be recognized as one the Captain’s men, and it could cause some issues.

Rita directed them to a spare room, and they got him settled in.

“Doncha worry Skip, we’ll get you back on  your feet in no time ‘tall” Rita told him as he got propped up in his new quarters.

“We’ll see you when you’re better” Val said as they left.
“Thanks again, Val” Skip said and gave a little wave.

When they got outside, Jack was waiting there with a few friends.

“Who’d you bring in?” Jack asked abruptly.

“Skip Stevens” Val answered immediately.

“You did know that he was working with the Captain, don’t you?”

“No one knows that more than I. We banished him from BJ’s home when we found out he was passing information to the Captain about our numbers. BJ’s home was attacked a few months later by the Captain’s men. I got cornered by one of the Captain’s men and Skip blew his head off.”

“Where I come from ‘birds of a feather flock together'” Jack said and the others nodded and mumbled in agreement.

Val continued “he abandoned the Captain’s men before we attacked them. He wanted no part in killing and I would be willing to bet that he never raped anyone either. That little girl in there is in love with him.”

“Well I can’t really say much about her state of mind” Jack went on “but I’ll tell you what Val Knudson, if you vouch for that kid I’ll side with you. We had enough killin’ around here.”

“I vouch for him, Jack. You give him a chance, and he’ll prove that he’s a good kid.”

“Who’s the pretty lady?” Jack asked, indicating Ginger.

Ginger stepped down the stairs holding out her hand “I’m Ginger. Val’s wife. Pleased to meet you Jack.”

She introduced herself to the others, as did Val.

Jack disappeared, and returned with some frosty brews.

They all opened the bottles and Val held his up saying “to peace and prosperity”.
“Here here” they all agreed and tinked their bottles together.

They got in to leave, and Rita came outside with a basket “here’s some goodies for you.” She passed them to  Ginger.

Rita whispered “I think this is just what Lisa Lynne needed to bring her back.” She back away and said “y’all don’t be strangers now” she smiled and waved as they pulled away.

As they drove back on the dirt road Ginger was obviously relieved “well that worked out didn’t it?”

“Hm, yes it did?” Val answered but he was deep in thought.

“Now what?” Ginger asked almost irritated.

“Who was Skip talking to on the radio when he made his reports?” Val posed the question.

“The Captain” she answered.

“So where’s the radio?”

They were silent for the rest of the drive home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nuthin’ Stays The Same

Part I

Val awoke to noticeably cold air in the room, quickly realizing he had not put an extra log in the woodstove at bedtime.

His dog, Shep, was wagging his tail wanting to be fed. Shep had turned out to be a good watchdog after wandering on the property a year ago or so. Just a mutt, Shep was easy enough to remember without the agony of finding an ‘appropriate’ name.

Val groaned as he threw aside his quilt to find his pants and flannel shirt. He found his flashlight next to his bedside, and remembered he had hung his jeans next to the stove last night.

Why the hell didn’t you stoke up the stove? he asked himself, donning his jeans then his shirt and boots.

I gotta rethink having a nightcap from now on. It’ll just take one time and I’ll be so crashed out that someone could walk right in, and kill me and take this whole place for their own.

He thought while he laced up his boots about the passing of his wife a few months earlier. After the SHTF, she only had so much of her thyroid medicine, and it didn’t last but ninety days. She dwindled down to nothing before she died.

He tried to shake it off as the tears tried to fill his eyes. He often thought about doing away with himself too, just to end the constant pain of memories.

He never knew what happened to his children, being over five hundred miles away, it would be suicide to go on a journey into a major metropolitan area by himself…on foot. His boys were mostly grown, the youngest being sixteen now.

Val often thought himself a failure as a father, leaving his boys for his new wife; now she’s gone.

He tied his boots tight, and went into the kitchen for the woodbox. Finding a couple of logs, he tossed them into the stove with some kindling and lit it.

Guess I’ll have to chop some more wood…

He looked out the window into the woods behind the house. The sun was just coming up and the frost in the forest looked a little too much like the back drop for a scary movie.

As the fire started, he warmed his hands over the flames, then put the lid on the stove. He got his coffee pot out and put it on the stove as well.

He went to the back door, grabbed his coat, hat, and .45 as he went outside to the chicken coop.

The frost-covered dead grass crunched beneath his boots as he walked across the barnyard to the coop. He looked around as he approached, searching for anything that might be out of place.

He remembered telling his wife and stepdaughter for years to ‘be aware of what is around you. Take a moment before you get into or out of your car to see what or who is also around you. People? Cars? Trucks? Motorcycles? Look at and assess everything…’

They didn’t get it and it cost the stepdaughter her life in a brutal carjacking in the parking lot where she worked.

He got to the coop and let the chickens into the chicken yard; a small fenced area outside the coop where the chickens wandered in the daytime. It had chicken wire for a roof too, to keep out the hawks.

He grabbed an egg carton and filled it amidst the protests of the hens.

Shep stood outside the fence; ears perked up looking at the forest.

Val looked at the woods too as he exited and locked the gate.

“What is it Shep?” Val asked, still looking.

Just for a second, Val thought he caught a whiff of campfire smoke…just a brief moment, then it was gone.

Still nothing. Shep’s ears perked down, and he started panting again, wagging his tail.

Back to the house they went, Val still checking over his shoulder…something or someone was out there. He didn’t have second sight, just a feeling and it paid off many times over the years.

They went inside and Val commenced to cooking the eggs for the both of them. He did some toast as well in another skillet.

Val sat at the little table looking at the forest. He ate quickly, thinking he should start getting ready for the hunt.

They were out of fresh meat, and he really didn’t want to kill a chicken.

Maybe it was a deer in the forest he thought as he sipped his coffee.

Shep had long finished his toast and eggs, and was ready to go out.

Val went to the broom closet and pulled out a couple of rifles; both of them Rossi, one a 30-30 and the other a 45-70. The smaller caliber rifle was all he needed to hunt deer, but always remembered the bear he encountered when they first moved there and how one shot from the 45-70 took that bear down quickly.

He decided to take the 30-30 for his morning patrol down the road and what he called ‘perimeter check’. It was busy work but kept him aware of what was going on around the property. His house was on the end of the road; a dead end. Anyone coming down the road would end up at his house…not by accident.

It was a good and bad thing. So many things were both good and bad about his life; being alone…only one person to defend this place was going to be impossible if he was severely outnumbered. One person was easily fed, however.

He grabbed his pack, gun, rifle and went back outside.

He stopped and took out his binoculars and looked at the forest, now fully exposed to the rising sun. Nothing.

He decided to make his run to the intersection on the four wheeler, and proceeded to the barn. It started right up, and he let it warm up a little. He really liked it as it was very quiet. It would seat four people.

He went up the driveway, unlocked the gate and started up the road toward the county road; hoping he would not see anyone.

Shep ran on a little ways ahead, sniffing whatever dogs sniff.

The air was getting a little warmer. Val thought it was late September, but wasn’t sure. He wasn’t himself after his wife died, and didn’t think he would ever be the same again.

He wasn’t sure if he had actually dealt with the loss of her, even though he was there when she died, and even buried her. Tears again.

He picked up his pace so his mind wouldn’t wander, as it seemed to do more and more frequently these days. His thoughts seemed to focus more negatively since her death.

He walked to the end of the fenceline, which bordered his property to the south. He stopped and looked down the line towards where it went into the woods.

There was another gate at the fenceline; a much heavier one made out of steel pipe. It would take a tractor to pull down this gate. He recalled the argument he had with his wife when they were building the property up and how this heavy gate would keep out bad guys. She thought it was a waste of money until they came out once for a weekend and they found tire tracks up to the gate and even some evidence someone had tried to force through it…end of argument.

No footprints, nothing disturbed that he could see…even Shep seemed unconcerned as he bounded back and forth across the dirt road.

Val took out his binoculars and looked down the road to the south…nothing and no surprise.

The gate was very secure: two large 6 inch poles filled with concrete made the basic frame. There was a second post buried in ground in the center of the gate that stuck up about 3 feet; and four feet buried. The gate swung outward.

The metal poles that completed the gate and entrance, went to the fence-lines on either side of the road.

He unlocked the two locks that locked the gate, and drove through it. It was about ten miles over the next few hills where the county road ran east/west.

Val had cut trees at the intersection and let them fall across his road where it met the county road, only to have someone burn the trees a week or so after. He decided to leave the intersection alone and not point any attention his direction.

He parked at the bottom of the last hill, and walked to the crest; keeping low. He crouched and approached the top with his binoculars drawn. He could see the intersection now, maybe a half mile away now. Nothing happening there.

He looked to right and left up the county road..still nothing.

Going straight south would take one into the little town of Blackthorn with a few farms scattered here and there on the way. If one turned right, it was ten or twelve miles to BJ’s ranch.

Good he thought as he backed away from the crest, and headed towards the four wheeler.

Arriving the big gate, he felt safer.

He was walking the last few steps to the front gate, when Shep started barking and took off across the yard towards the forest.

 

Chapter two

Val went through the front gate, and on into the barn, then the house, where his traded the 30-30 for the bigger bore rifle. He felt a chill up his back as he cocked around into the chamber, and went outside to follow where he last saw Shep.

He crossed the barnyard, passed the coop, and went into the forest where he saw Shep enter.

The contrast of the sunlight on the frosty ground to the darker forest made visibility difficult until he got into the woods a few yards.

It was cooler past where the sunlight had lit up the east side of the forest so well.

He trudged onward, looking for Shep’s trail. He was glad to get out of the sunlit area, as the contrast between the darkness of the woods, and the brutal bright light made depth perception difficult, and was hard to shift between bright and dark quickly.

He heard Shep barking now. Val picked up his pace towards the barking dog, which quickly became more aggressive and agitated. Val thought he heard a feminine voice try to calm the dog.

When Val arrived on the scene, Shep was circling a skinny woman, who had her hand held out towards Shep.

“Shep!” Val yelled “Stop! Down!”

Shep stopped and sat, still with a little growl.

“Stop!” Val yelled at the dog.

Shep quieted.

The woman was wearing jeans, lace up boots, a beat up wool coat, and a stocking cap. She was shaking. “Please mister, I didn’t mean any harm. We smelled some food cooking, and I was following the smell.”

“Who is we?” Val asked, still holding the gun on her.

“My son and I” she answered.  “He’s twelve.”

“It was your campfire smoke I smelled earlier” Val said calmly. “You’re on my land and you’re probably camped in that clearing” he motioned to the west.

She nodded, shivering.

“I need to search you for any weapons” Val said. “Take off your coat.”

She complied, and Val set down his rifle.

“I’m not armed” she said quietly, as she assumed the position.

She put her arms out at her sides, and he did the routine; waist, back, chest, arms, then crotch, legs inside and out.

“Jeez lady” Val said “you’re nothing but skin and bones. You can put your coat on.”

He dug in his pack for a power bar while she put on her coat. He gave her the power bar and she devoured it.

He handed her an extra bottle of water, and she took some good slugs from it as well.

When she had gained her composure, she said “thanks mister. I appreciate your generosity.”

“Let’s go get your boy” Val said “this way” and he turned towards the house.

“Y-You’ll help us?” she seemed taken aback, yet following.

Val stopped and faced her “as long as you’ve been up front with me, you can stay as long as you like. If you’ve lied to me, you’ll be the first do die. Sorry, those are my rules.”

“Fair enough” she said, hurt. “I haven’t lied and my son is as good as gold.”

“Then we don’t have a problem” Val said. “This way” and she followed him through the woods toward the barnyard. “Be wary of Shep. He’s a killer and all I have to do is remove my hat and he’ll attack.”

“OK” she said trying to keep up.

Against the sun, it was harder to see, and Val pulled his hat lower over his eyes.

During the trip back, the woman chatted and seemed somewhat relieved. Her name was Ginger, and her boy was called Kyle. They had done OK until her husband got an infection from an injury he sustained chopping wood. His hatchet had missed its mark and struck his hand. He never recovered from it, and it was an ugly death…her words. She and Kyle had been alone through the summer, and had run out of food. They tried to hunt and trap, but had been unsuccessful for some time.

They reached the barnyard, and Val went into the barn to the four-wheeler. “Get in” he said, and put his rifle in the back. Shep hopped into the back seat.

He started it and took off across the other side of the barnyard to the opposite corner where he had an opening in the fence just wide enough for the ATV. He had made a path through the woods to the clearing on the other side. It twisted and turned through the forest and had several pitfalls and booby traps. He dodged all of them and was soon through the forest, and headed to Ginger’s camp.

Sure enough, there was smoldering fire with a small tent and few camping items strewn around the site. A tripod over the fire with a small pot over it cooking something…it didn’t smell very good.

The boy struggled out of the tent. He was skinny as a rail too. He had a rifle…looked like a .22 but Ginger called saying “it’s Okay!”

Val pulled up, shut off the engine, and got out. He went over to Kyle and gave him a power bar as well, with some water.

“Gather your things” he told Ginger as he put out the fire, and buried it. Kyle ate, while Val and Ginger packed up the site, and put their stuff in the rear of the ATV.

When the ATV was loaded, Val went back over the site and tried to make it look as natural as possible. Some dead grass, branches and leaves strewn about, made it look pretty good…so as not to attract attention.

Val got back into the ATV with the rest. Ginger riding shotgun, Kyle in the back with Shep, who seemingly had made a new friend.

Val started the ATV “name’s Val” he said offering his hand to Ginger, then to Kyle. That is Shep. He won’t hurt you, but you’ll have to pet him and let him smell you before he will trust you.”

He took off back towards the house through the woods path. He pointed out the deadfalls on the way back and how to avoid the traps.

When they arrived at the house, he dropped their camping stuff in the barn, and led them into the house.

“OK, first order of business” Val started, dragging out a 5 gallon pot “is to clean you two up. Give me a half hour or so to get enough water heated then you two take a bath and change clothes. I think I have clean clothes to fit both of you.”

He pointed to the bathroom and their bedroom “you two can sleep here. After your bath, we’ll have a nice hot meal, and you two should sleep and get your strength back.”

Ginger was crying as she sat on the side of her bed, unable to speak.

Val added a couple more logs to the woodstove in the living room.

The bedrooms did not have woodstoves, but were well stocked with blankets and quilts.

Val found some clothes for both of them and laid them out in the bathroom with some clean towels.

He had two water pots which totalled eight gallons and his woodstove could accommodate both of them. He got both almost to boiling and poured them into the tub, with some cold water and laid the Ivory soap and shampoo. He had left some rinse water too.

Ginger went first, then Kyle.

Ginger called out “I can’t rinse my hair…it’s too heavy…can you help me?”

I didn’t think about that Val thought, deciding what to do.

“Please help me” she said again “I can’t do it. The bucket is too heavy.”

Val helped her up and wrapped a towel around her as she stepped out of the tub, her hair soapy.

“Kneel here” Val said “over the side and I’ll pour the rinse water over your hair.”

He poured the water over her hair… it was very long. He hadn’t noticed before as she had it in a bun.

She was very skinny, her elbow and knee joints were poking at her skin.

Val dried her off and escorted her out of the bath “your turn, Kyle” Val said.

“What’s wrong with my mom?” he asked.

“She’s very weak” Val replied “You go on and take your bath, and be sure to get behind your ears. I’m going to help her dress.”

He disappeared into the bathroom, and Val took Ginger to the extra bedroom, and helped dress her. She was shivering.

He saw no need for a bra as her breasts were almost non existent. He put on a t-shirt, a long sleeve shirt, and a flannel shirt; panties long johns and some jeans with two pairs of socks.

He dried her hair well and brushed and combed it the best he could. The main thing was getting it dry. He looked at her scalp for lice and found none.

He lay her down and covered her “are you warm enough?” he asked.

She nodded and said quietly “thank you for all you’ve done, Val. You’ve probably saved our lives.”

Val nodded back and said “I’m fixing some broth for you. If you’re up to it. we’ll have some bread or noodles with broth later. You rest, I’ll wake you when it’s ready.”

She nodded as she closed her eyes.

Kyle bounded out of the bathroom, with new life and fully dressed and dried.

“Did you wash good?” Val asked  him. “‘Cause I’ll now inspect you.”

“Did you inspect my mom too?” Kyle asked. “Is she OK?”

“Of course. The main thing is be sure  you don’t have any cooties. They get into your hair, and lay eggs, then you have to scratch and scratch then you break the skin and their germs get into your blood,  making you sick. So it’s best to wash your hair vigorously whenever you get a chance. Your mom is suffering from a mild case of malnutrition, as probably you are as well.”

“Is she gonna be OK?” Kyle pressed.

“Yes, she was clean with no cooties, and she has very long hair.”

“I know. She’s very proud of it. It looks real pretty when she used to fix it up.”

Val checked Kyle’s hair and did not find any cooties.

“Anything?” Kyle seemed concerned.

“No, you’re clean” Val said.

“Woo Hoo!” Kyle exclaimed.

“OK Mr. Rambunctious” Val began “now you clean the tub with the towels and we do the laundry.”

“Oh man!” Kyle said, obviously disappointed.

“Life on the farm is hard” Val started picking up clothes “but we have luxuries that you have not had for a while, and we have to work to maintain these luxuries.”

“Like what?” Kyle inquire, also picking up clothes from the bathroom.

“Like a roof over your head, a bathtub, a stove to cook, hot water, running water, lots of food, among others.”

“Oh” Kyle said.

“I’m gonna make some hot tea for your mother” Val said, putting some water in his teapot, then  putting it on the stove. “We’ll start this, and do some clothes washing.”

They collected the bathwater and put it in a big tub outside where they reheated it and washed their clothes with a washboard. Kyle caught on fast. Good thing, Val had him pegged to wash clothes.

Val finished wiping down the bathroom, and took the last of the towels to the washing station.

The tea was ready, and Val fixed a mug for Ginger with some honey and lemon juice. He shook her gently, and let her sip some tea. She said nothing, but drank about half of the mug. It seemed to lessen her shivering.

Val took a couple of rocks that his wife used to warm her feet in the bed. He set them on the stovetop for a little while, then wrapped them in a towel and placed them at the foot of the bed where Ginger lay.

“Thank you” she managed to whisper, as she turned over and went back to sleep.

Val went back outside to supervise the laundry. The clothesline had been handy as long it is above freezing, it will still dry clothes.

He had a rack set up next to the stovepipe in the heat of winter. It worked well for one person. A schedule would have to be implemented.

The day warmed into the lower forties with lots of sunshine. The humidity was low, and the clothes dried quickly.

Val killed a chicken for the late afternoon meal, with cornbread and some green beans. Part of the chicken was boiled of which he saved the broth and boiled it down. He picked the carcass clean and planned to make stock with it later.

He got Ginger up and she ate well. Kyle was ravenous and was not shy about getting seconds.

“This cornbread is great!” said Ginger as she took another slice “it’s sweet like…”

“Honey” Val said looking at her. They shared an awkward moment as Ginger smiled; embarrassed.

Val brought out cookies for all for dessert. “These are sooo good!” Ginger asked, chasing a crumb.

“They’re up in that square can over there” Val pointed “you two help yourselves. You might want to take it easy eating for a few days. You might shock your body and you could get the runs or cramps…so take it easy with eating. Get your rest, and take these with meals.”

He held up some multivitamins with some B complex and C, D. “You’ll need these to help your body utilize the food you just ate.” He passed them out.

“Now, I suggest you two get to bed, and get a good night’s sleep. You’ve had a long day. We’ll have another day tomorrow with work to do.”

Kyle got up first and said “thanks for helping us, Val” and went to his room.

Ginger had tears in her eyes “thank you for all you’ve done for us. We are indebted to you.”

“You two can stay as long as you like without any obligation” Val said.

She paused for a minute “perhaps you will tell me what became of the woman who used to wear these clothes, and about the child that wore the clothes that Kyle wears someday.”

Val nodded slowly “someday”.

Val put a couple pieces of cornbread in Shep’s bowl, and his tail thumped the floor.

“He’s not really a killer, is he?” Ginger asked.

“No, but I had you goin'” Val smiled.

“Yeah for about five minutes” she smiled back.

Ginger got up, patted Val’s hand, and went to her room.

Val put a couple of extra logs on the fire  in the fireplace and the stove as well.

He laid down and Shep was already ready for sleep.

For the first time in a long time, he felt he had purpose again.

He heard nothing until the next morning.

Chapter Three

The extra logs on the fires made a huge difference when the sun first peeked into the little house. Val’s room faced east, but the other room faced the south, and did not get the early rays of the sun.

Val threw his legs over the side of the bed and dressed, including lacing up his boots. He did put on clean socks, as a daily ritual. Something bugged him about wearing the same socks day after day.

Shep was already at the back door, needing to go outside and Val let him out.

Val stoked the woodstove with a couple of sticks to put on coffee. He watered the percolator and busied about getting some bacon ready for breakfast.

He made a quick trip out to the coop for some eggs, returned with Shep following closely.

Val sliced some bread and  put on the other skillet for some toast.

He heard stirring in the other bedroom and finally Kyle came out rubbing his eyes and yawning.

“Go pee and brush your teeth and wash your hands” Val suggested “there’s stuff in there for you.”

A few minutes later, Ginger came out as well, and headed straight for the bathroom.

By the time both of them sat down, they had bacon, toast and scrambled eggs. Shep was already done with his breakfast when the rest were just starting.

“Coffee?” Val asked the two of them, holding his percolator, ready to pour.

“Why not?” said Ginger, holding up her cup “everything is so delicious. Try a little, Kyle. It’ll help warm you up.”

Kyle took a little as well, but made faces when he drank it.

“This is good coffee” Ginger said, taking a sip. “What’s on for today?”

“Yeah, what’re we gonna do?” Kyle asked with a mouthful of toast.

Val sipped his coffee “well, Kyle, we always need firewood with winter coming on, and we’ll need to make our perimeter check first.” He explained why he did the checks on the boundary daily.

“What about me?” Ginger asked.

“I welcome both of you to work as long as you don’t get too tired. There is a lot of stuff to eat up here” he showed them a cupboard with crackers, bread, cookies, and some candies. “Help yourself if you need something between meals” he added. “Ginger, you can familiarize yourself with the kitchen and yard around the house and the coop.” He explained how they took eggs daily for breakfast.

“We have lots of meat stored in the basement, but we’ll get to that as necessary. Do either of you know how to shoot?”

Kyle volunteered “I can shoot the .22 pretty good.”

“I didn’t see any more arms” Val said “was that the only firearm you had?”

They looked at each other. “We had a pistol, but it was…” Kyle was interrupted by his mom.

“We were attacked by some bad people while my husband was still alive, and they took it, but it was unloaded and my husband chased them off with the rifle. We don’t have the gun, but we still have some mags and ammo in our stuff. Go get it Kyle.”

He returned with a small duffel and put it on the table. It had maybe six mags in it. “Glock” I said almost joyfully. “Just like my pistol. Good choice.”

The rest of the stuff was some .45 ammo and .22 LR ammo.

“That’s good” Val said “you will both get some shooting lessons starting tomorrow. We’ll start with the rifle then the .22 pistols.”

“Why not today?” Kyle persisted.

Val smiled “we’ve plenty to do for now. I don’t wanna push too much on you guys for now…you might pack up and go!” he said with a snicker.

Ginger did not hesitate “I’m afraid you’re stuck with us as long as you’ll have us” she smiled.

Val smiled back…”it’s been barely 24 hours. I can be a hard taskmaster, but I’m fair. Now, Kyle and I will work on some firewood, and I’ll show you around the yard and coop.”

They cleaned up dishes, and went outside. It was warming up fast, and the frost was gone. Val took them to the barn where he had the firewood station. The logs were stacked outside and he cut them with a chainsaw. He split those with wedges and they were further split to fit in the stove and fireplace.

Kyle was instructed to only split the wood for the house. Val would do the rest…for now.

While Kyle was splitting, Val and Ginger went to the chicken coop. He walked her through and showed her how to remove the eggs. He then showed her how to clean the coop manure and compost it on the gardens. He explained that in the summer, they would compost the manure in a pile with dirt and scraps from the kitchen. Chicken manure was too “hot” to put directly on a live garden.

He showed her the raised gardens “I have a map on what we’ll plant this spring and where we’ll plant it.”

“How was last year’s crop?” Ginger asked.

“Pretty well, considering. For one person, there is plenty; for three, it would be a little short, but we’ll be fine. It’s just a guideline I needed to see. We can plant more this spring. We have backup if we have crop failure.”

“Wow, you thought of everything” Ginger said in amazement.

“Let’s go back to the barn. I wanna show you something else” Val said, turning that direction.

“What” Ginger asked.

“The lookout tower.”

Kyle was still chopping at their arrival, and was informed to the plan.

“Up there”  Val pointed up the first ladder.

He led, and the others followed. “Now here” he climbed up with his new friends close behind. There was enough space on the platform for all of them.

Val held out his binoculars “look”.

They each looked through and took a 360 degree turn. “wow, cool, oh, ah were all common descriptions of what they all saw.

“Once a day someone needs to climb up here and make a report” Val said “you have seen that we can see a long ways off.” He showed them where he would expect any traffic. He showed them the property lines. “Later, we’ll go over sectors. I have a map inside. If someone is  up here, and they see something moving, that person will call in with a sector location…and yes, I have radios we can carry.”

As we climbed down, Kyle remarked “I wanna be lookout patrol.”

Val chuckled “the lookout tower is just a piece of all the things here that help keep us safer. In time, I’ll show you more, and how we integrate them to our Operational Security plan.”

“You have other lookout posts?” he quizzed.

“Yeah, some are hidden in the forest, some are underground, and some are in plain sight.”
“You have underground lookouts?” Kyle was excited.

“Yes and tunnels too.”

“Wow! Why tunnels?” Kyle asked.

“In case we get trapped in one building, we can go to another without being seen” Van replied patiently. He considered perhaps he was giving up too much info, but without actually showing them the locations, he felt he was OK giving info for now.

“Are you two up for a hike?” Val asked.

“Sure, I guess” said Ginger.

Val checked his armament, everything was on board. They headed to the barn where they boarded the four wheeler.

He took them to the front gate, unlocked it, and drove them down the road, explaining part of the perimeter check was necessary to keep up knowledge of any activity at the edge of the property…and beyond.

“Why do you always carry guns?” asked Kyle, trying to keep up.

Val sighed, and after a pause replied “we never know what we will see outside of the house. There is dangerous wildlife about, and soon you too will also carry a firearm whenever you walk out of the house. If you walk a certain distance from the house, you will also carry a rifle and a pack.”

He stopped at the hill, and got on his knees and faced Kyle and  Ginger “honestly, there are bad people out there who will try to take what does not belong to them. There is no law enforcement right now, and the last of us free citizens are on our own to protect ourselves, and what belongs to us, by whatever means necessary.”

He let them both look through the binocs at the intersection, and described what he was looking for as far as tracks in the fallen burned out trees. Nothing disturbed. He told them what to look for up and down the county road as concerning dust trails, indicating vehicles moving across them.

He spoke to them about when it rained or snowed, that they would likely not see any dust trails, and to instead look for steam from traveling vehicles.

As they headed back to the house, he mentioned that with winter approaching, the heat inside would keep the roof clear of snow, and the chimneys would put out smoke, giving away their position. “That’s just the way it is” Val said. “We gotta stay warm, so that’s just a sacrifice we make. We’re very well off the beaten path, so I think it will still be a while before the wandering forces will make it this far into the boonies.”

He paused for a moment at they reached the front gate “We’ll probably be OK through the winter, but next summer we may see some activity…but we’ll be ready.”

He locked the gate and they headed to the house.

“I’m hungry” said Kyle.

Ginger busied herself with gathering some things for lunch.

Chapter Four

Val stood on the back porch looking at the weather. It was a clear day, blue sky, and a few clouds to the north. That usually meant a system moving in. A slight breeze from the south, which was probably why it warmed up like it had. He considered removing his coat, but decided against it.

We’ll need more firewood today he thought, and headed to the barn to chop some more, checking out the woods as he crossed the barnyard.

He managed to split six logs before being called to lunch. He stacked his wood by the barn door with the rest. The pile now was the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. He took a stack with him for the woodbox inside the back door.

There were actually two woodboxes; just next to the back porch with a cover, and one inside the back door. He had always told himself “if you don’t have the sense to keep the inside box full in the winter, then you might as well burn furniture.”

Lunch was some leftover bread and green beans, that finished off that jar. He had some jerky that always was a quick protein burst.

“We’ll need to chop some more wood” Val started “I’ll chop some more. Looks like we’re getting a winter storm later today or tonight.”

He looked at Kyle “be sure that both woodboxes are stocked full before we turn in tonight…OK?”

Kyle nodded, wolfing down the last of his beans. “K” he replied.

He looked at Ginger “are you familiar at all with firearms?”

She nodded “the rifle we have, I can shoot it pretty well.”

“I’d like to look at it this afternoon, and go over some pointers if you’re comfortable with that” Val was serious.

“Sure” she said.

Val had not checked out the rifle, but thought he remembered it as a Ruger 10-22. It was. She had several Ruger mags, and a couple 30 round mags. It hadn’t been cleaned in a while. “Do you know how to clean it?” Val asked her.

“Sure do” she answered nonchalantly. “I”ll get right on it.”

Val and Kyle went back to the barn to finish the wood. Kyle was true to his word, and hauled several armfuls to the house woodboxes.

Val continued to chop and Kyle said “both woodboxes are full. What else can I do?”

“Go to the coop and gather whatever eggs are available” Val said “we  may be snowbound a couple days.”

Kyle nodded and took off across the yard towards the coop.

Val chopped for an hour, well after Kyle finished, and he too went inside as the clouds moved closer from the north.

“Check out the .22” said Ginger holding it out for Val.

He looked through  the bore, pulled the bolt and listened; it was cleaned well. “Nice job” he said, heading to the coat closet and removing an ammo box. “Now load up your mags and we’ll have some target practice…just to see where you stand…just humor me OK?”

She smiled “I get it Val” and she proceeded to load up all six mags; 3 ten round and 3 thirty round.

“Watch closely Kyle” Val said “because after today, we’re gonna need you to reload magazines.”

“Oh I can do that…I used to do it for my dad” his words faded away. It was the first time Kyle had mentioned his father.

When she had finished, they went to the back where Val had his targets set up at 15, 25, and 50 yards.

“Pick a target, and unload your magazine as fast as you can, comfortably and in control.

She started at the fifty and dumped 10 rounds into very fast.

Val stopped her and pulled his binocs. Nine out of ten inside the 2 inch circle at center.

He lowered the binocs and looked at her with a smile “outstanding!”

She smiled back, proudly.

“Choose a closer target and dump your larger cap mags into it” he suggested.

She inserted the thirty round mag, put a round in the chamber, and unloaded quickly and with noticeable control into the 25 yard target.

He didn’t count all thirty, but most of the holes were in the bullseye.

“Wow!” Val exclaimed “you’re a regular sharpshooter. Nicely done! I’m satisfied.”

“That gives you 120 rounds with that gun” Val said matter of factly. “I have over 20,000 rounds of 22 LR ammo and several guns to shoot with, including two rifles; a Winchester pump, and a Marlin semi automatic. Both are good guns. I also have a nice Beretta .22 semi auto with 8 mags at ten each. There is also a Kel-Tec PMR30 which shoots .22 magnums. It holds thirty rounds and there are three extra mags for that pistol. I only have about 6,000 rounds of magnum ammo however. Still, it’s a formidable pistol for its caliber.”

Val looked at Kyle “your mom doesn’t need any firearm training as far as shooting the rifle, but you will need some before we are comfortable allowing you to carry a firearm. It won’t take long with some basic rules, and we can start on that this evening.”

Ginger interrupted “Kyle can shoot this as well as I. Let him show you.”

Val nodded and gestured for Kyle to do same.

He loaded the ten round mag and emptied it into the closest target, and with ease, dropped the empty mag, put in another thirty and emptied it also into the close target. Val observed that pieces of target flew away with every shot.

Kyle looked at Val waiting for response…

“OK” said Val. “You guys are hired” he said with a smile. “That is some nice shooting from each of you. Let’s go in now.”

Val sat down at the table and invited the others to join him. “I am really glad you two  showed up here. I hope you’re happy, healthy and comfortable here. If you decide to stay, I’ll need you to be responsible for using a firearm to defend us, our property, our food, our lives.”

Ginger touched Val’s hand “we know what’s out there, Val. We’ve seen first hand the evil that mankind can do to his own” her voice started wavering. “My husband was an outdoorsman to the max. He was ex-military, stored food, saved gold and silver, and talked about buying a retreat location, but I wouldn’t let him do it…I laughed at him.”

Val nodded, as he had been in somewhat the same boat.

“He too, wanted to buy property up here, I didn’t see things his way and denied him the opportunity. We lived outside of Colorado Springs, and when the SHTF, we were caught by surprise…at least I was. My husband had bug out bags for all of us and after the banks fell and power went out, we headed west into the foothills.”

She paused and wiped tears “there were four of us to start out. Our daughter died of exposure within a couple weeks. She was always kind of sickly, and could not take the strenuous hiking and lack of nutrition.”

She sobbed for a moment, and Val patted her hand.

“The hard part was finding water, but we had food for a while. He avoided using the food we brought, so he hunted small game for a long time while we worked our way north. Before we left town, the streets were filled with crazies; setting fire to everything and looting and jumping people in the street. If anyone came at us, my husband shot them, and that kept any others away. We got out of town quickly so escaped the braver ones that ended up with guns.”

“From time to time, we would come across people on our journey. Most were starving, some were very bad people and we caught a group killing some innocents one evening. They were beating the starving people for any food they had, and they kept hitting them. My husband killed them all; there were four of them. The family was mostly dead; mother father, teenage boy, and girl. We buried them right there and my husband burned the bad guys.”

“We saw violence like that off and on for a year as we worked northward.”

“How did you survive the winter on the plains?” Val asked.

“My husband, in all his outdoor treks, found a cave between the Springs and Castle Rock in some insignificant hills, and were able to survive the brunt of the winter there. He shot a couple of elk, and we were able to live on that for a long while.”

“We left in April heading across the state to the east, where we knew the desert plains would be less inviting to those escaping the cities. The snow melt left ample water for a while, and we did OK.”
“One evening, my husband was cutting kindling for a fire and I don’t know what happened but he missed the log and hit the side of his hand between thumb and index finger, cutting it bad. We did the best we could, but a couple of weeks he had sepsis and our only option was to amputate his hand.”

“I couldn’t do it, and we watched him die a horrible death.” She started to cry, and Kyle came over to cry with her.

Val did not interfere with them. They needed to let their grief out.

“So, you picked yourselves up and moved northward, and here you are” Val said.

They calmed down some and nodded, wiping tears.

“I thought we were going to die until you showed up with food” Ginger said “you were like an answer to our prayers. I was so weak, I was barely able to walk through the woods to your house.”

Val held out both his hand to them, and they each took his hand “you two are welcome to live here as part of this homestead as long as you want. I welcome you, and my rules are few, but they are absolute.”

“What are they?” asked Kyle.
“Well” Val began “first we gotta make a sharpshooter outa you like your mom!”

He paused for a moment and said “I am very sorry about your losses; your husband and daughter.”

“Thank you” Ginger whispered. She cleared her throat “and what about you? Whose clothes are we wearing?”

Tears started in Val’s eyes, as he started to talk. He had never spoken these words out loud, and found he could barely speak them.

He shook it off and started again “my wife and I bought this place with all of her retirement money. We made some money from our house in south Texas, auctioned everything we owned, sold our vehicles…” his voice broke off.

“My wife’s daughter was leaving work on her last night, got carjacked in the parking lot, and was beaten to death right there in front of witnesses. No one helped her. We had just sold the house and were moving the next day. She was leaving work for the last time, and we were all moving up here.”

“We had just enough time to cremate her, and get out of Dodge. We weren’t here a month before the banks fell. I never even met hardly any neighbors. My wife had a thyroid problem that required her to take medicine almost daily to regulate her thryoxin. She ran out, after a few months and she passed away early this summer.”

“My boys live in Denver, and I am more ashamed now than ever from what you all did. I had thought about going after them, but felt it was suicide going into Denver to rescue them. I lived in Denver for many years, and I am familiar with some of the scum that lives there. Before I moved, I sent them both emails and directions on how to get here. Maybe they made it, and are on their way. I bought them each a satphone too but have not heard from them yet.”

Kyle spoke up “that’s why you check the road every day, isn’t it?”

“That’s right” Val answered.

The wind began to howl outside.

Kyle got up and found a couple of chunks of wood “one for the stove and one in the fireplace…right Val?”

Val nodded “correct. It’s early yet so maybe we’ll play cards or something for a while.”

Shep began to whine, and Val got up to let him out. “He knows it’s his last chance for a while.”

“What about the coop?” Kyle asked. “It’s still open.”

“I’ll go shut it down” Val said, donning his coat and hat and pistol. “Be right back.”

He was out the door before there were any protests. The wind was brisk and cold, but not much snow…sleet was the word. It stung his cheeks sharply as he went to the coop.

Shep bounded along as Val went into the chicken yard.

The chickens were already inside, and Val closed the hatches; above and below and front, before he locked the gate and went back into the house.

Val’s glasses fogged up immediately when he entered.

Ginger and Kyle stood up and watched him remove his outerwear. It was covered in ice. “Cold?” Kyle asked seriously.

“Not as cold as it’s gonna get” Val said with a smile. He bolted the door shut. “On second thought, I better connect the floodlight in the coop. It’ll help keep them warm.”

He put his coat back on and Kyle said “I wanna go too.”

He was already half dressed when he announced his intentions, and Val did not protest.

They went to the barn first “we’re just going to connect a battery to the inverter at the coop” he began “it’s a 1500 watt floodlight that will put out enough heat to keep the chickens warmer overnight.”

Val grabbed one of several batteries he had connected to an array of wires and cables. “These are connected to some solar panel on the roof” Val continued “they are constantly  being charged an maintained.”

“Wow!” was all Kyle could say as they walked to the coop.

Val set the battery on a ledge outside the coop that had wires already there. He just connected the wires to the terminals and Kyle could see the light through the cracks in the coop.

“All done here” Val said and the two of them headed back to the house, where they removed their coats and hats.

“Let’s check all the windows” Val suggested and showed them how they worked. They were all double pane window, with shutters that had to be closed manually. He explained that the shutters were mostly for protection in a battle as they were solid oak with slots cut. The windows were removable from inside. The front door was never used, and Val had it special fortified with a steel framed and 3 inch solid door. Nothing short of a Ford F350 would get through that.

There wasn’t really a second floor, but an insulated crawl space with a sniper post at the north, east, and the south ends. The roof was sheet metal too, which would keep fire arrows from setting it on fire.

He had not showed the basement to Ginger or Kyle as of yet. There was another bed room there with lots and lots of stored goods; food, ammunition, some water, and secret doors leading to the barn, and another leading to a thicket in the woods behind the coop. He was real proud of the tunnels. He had a contractor dig them before they moved in. They were both six feet deep and 3 feet wide, after the railroad tie supports he used for the side. The floor was brick. The property sloped slightly from east to west and the water would run out the west end through a series of pvc pipes…similar to a septic system.

Also made a right handy root cellar for carrots and potatoes. He had a side room built at each tunnel entrance about six by six feet. Just right. One went right under the back porch, the other went out the front of the house, and around to the barn. The top had been two by sixes with concrete sheetrock with six inches of dirt on that.

Even the door to the basement was in the kitchen floor under a rug. There were no windows in the basement, as the basement was actually built as a root cellar.

In emergency, inhabitants could evacuate and exit safely. At each of the exits, there was a cache of food, rifles, ammo, and water. There were other survival supplies; bug out bags with many cold weather items and first aid.

Chapter Five

The wind continued to blow. From time to time, Kyle would drop another log on each the fireplace and into the stove.

The three of them played spades for a long while. Val made some popcorn on the stovetop with one of the cast iron skillets and a little oil.

There was no clear winner in the spade contest, although there was some contention between Ginger and Kyle about the timing of placement of some cards.

Val wisely stayed out of the argument, which was settled quickly.

They switched to hearts after that which required a clean slate for scoring. Val poured himself some bourbon, which drew some strange looks from the others. “Helps me sleep” Val volunteered “I seriously doubt if we’ll have any problems with insurgents tonight…or tomorrow for that matter” as he took a long draw from his glass.

The wind seemed to blow harder as the day turned into night. One could hear the snow pelt the house. It literally howled, there was no other way to describe it.

Val peeked out the window with Ginger and Kyle to see a full blown blizzard.

“Will the chickens be OK?” Kyle asked, staring towards the coop, which was whited out.

“They should be…we may not have eggs tomorrow though” Val replied.

Kyle stretched and yawned “I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed after I put some more wood on.”

Even with the two fires going, it was noticeably colder.

“Leave your door open” Val suggested “you’ll be warmer.”

Kyle went in the other room, and disappeared. “I should go too” said Ginger “g’nite Val” she said as she went into the other room.

“G’nite” Val replied.

He had finished his drink, and took some long drinks of water, then went to his own room. He left his door open too. The main room glowed from the fireplace. He undressed, and climbed into bed. He snuggled down, and was soon asleep.

He didn’t know how much time had passed, but was awakened by someone climbing into bed with him.

“Sorry to wake you, Val” Ginger whispered. “I can’t get warm. I need to snuggle next to you. It didn’t seem right spooning with my son.”

“Not a problem” Val groggily agreed.

Ginger climbed in and covered herself, then snuggled her naked body against the back of Val’s. He felt her hard nipples against his back. She pulled herself tight against him. Her body felt cold. She snuggled down under the quilts.

“You are so warm” she whispered with a shiver.

“You better not get sick” Val said.

She wriggled closer against him “just let me do this and I’ll be fine in a couple minutes.”

She put her arm around him and her leg over his. Her other arm, she wiggled it under his neck and hugged him tighter.

Val felt his rod go rigid. He put it out of his mind telling himself that she was too weak…she was twenty years his junior…and he was all of a sudden not sleepy.

He awoke a couple times that he remembered, to turn over, and Ginger had turned as well, but was still close. He spooned her next, and she moaned with pleasure as she pressed herself back to him. He pressed his rod against her backside, and held her. She had warmed up.

The night was a blur, and he did not recall having sex with her, although it was about as close as could be without actually doing it.

He had missed sleeping next to a woman. It wasn’t the sex he missed, it was the closeness of another human being.

Ginger was all woman, no mistake about that.

Chapter Six

Val woke up and it was cold in the room. Ginger was all over him. He didn’t know why, but he kissed her on the forehead and her eyes fluttered open.

“I’ve gotta put some wood on the fire” he whispered, and he climbed out of bed.

The wind had died down, and the sun was just coming up enough to paint the room in a fain gray light. Val put on his jeans…they were cold as well, and his flannel shirt.

Shep was up wagging his tail, and Val opened the door; it wouldn’t. Snowbound. He fought it a few seconds and was able to force it open enough to let Shep out. Shep did not wait for convenience and he climbed up and over the snowdrift, which was about three feet high.

Val closed the door, shivering and wandered back to the fireplace and tossed a few logs with some kindling. He stirred it some, then went to the stove and pulled the ash tray. It had a few coals in it, and he dumped it into his ash can. Then he started a new fire in the stove with some newspaper and kindling. When it started, he put in some bigger wood to get it going.

By now Shep was barking, wanting back inside. Val went to let him in.

Val went back to the bedroom and redressed himself, knowing he had to shovel the back porch to gain access outside while the fires started.

Ginger stirred “I’m cold as hell” only her nose stuck out from the covers.

“Me too” Val said putting on his boots. “It’s going to take a while for the place to heat up so you can get up and get dressed and sit by the fire to warm up, or wait here but it will take an hour or so. It got colder than I thought.” He patted what he thought was her leg, and left the room to put on his coat and go outside.

He put on his big coat and furry hat that strapped down over his ears, strapped on the .45, grabbed the shovel, and squeezed out the back door.

The barnyard was indeed a blanket of deep snow. He stood on the porch and shovelled the snow off to the side, then worked on a partial path toward the coop. He took his time, knowing that shovelling snow was deceptively hard work.

The sun was working its way up in the east, showing the snowfall in its glory.

It’s really beautiful, if you can get around that fact that it’s got to be around zero out here.

Val finished the area he wanted to clean, then went back inside. It had warmed up considerably since he went out. His glasses fogged up quickly.

Kyle was up standing by the stove warming his hands. “Pretty cold” he said with a shiver.

“Yeah, it’s around zero outside” Val replied. “Good thing we got extra eggs yesterday…the hens will be mad this morning and there won’t be any.”

“Will they be OK?” Kyle queried.

“Yeah,  I’ll go check on them later. They’ll need fresh water as theirs will probably be frozen.”

“I’ll go do it” Kyle said, heading for the door.

“It’s really cold” Val reminded “put on the boots, hat and gloves too. Just fill the bucket from here and use that. The chicken feed is…”

“I know where it is” he said, looking at Val “I was paying attention” and he went outside. Shep went with him. He seemed to like his new friend.

Val heard a noise behind him. He turned and there was Ginger wearing a robe. She walked over to him and hugged him “you treat him like he was your own…you have from day 1” she said softly.

He put his arms around her, but not as tight as she. He patted her not knowing what to say.

“You better get dressed so you won’t get sick” Val said quietly. He took her head in his hands and kissed her forehead “go on now” he said with a smile.

She smiled back and disappeared into his room, where she got dressed.

Meanwhile, Val was working on breakfast. He put on the bacon, about a pound and a half with one iron skillet, and toast in the other with eggs on the way.

Kyle worked quickly and was back inside in a few minutes “it’s really cold out there” he exclaimed, walking to the fireplace.

“All is well?” Val asked referring to the chickens.

Kyle nodded, removing his hat “all alive and feisty” he smirked “you were right…they’re kind of pissed off.”

“Kyle!” said Ginger, scolding him with a slight smirk on her face.

“Mom, it’s true” he argued.

“You can express yourself using more delicate language” she said firmly as she stirred the eggs.

“K” Kyle replied…round one, Mom.

They ate bacon, eggs, and sourdough toast with jam.

“Could we make some more bread today?” Kyle asked. “This was the last loaf” as he took another bit.

“Yeah” Val said “it’ll help keep the house warmer too, using the oven. Good idea, I’ll show you how and then you can be our bread smith.”

Kyle pondered the term for a moment “bread smith? Like a bread expert?”

Val looked at Ginger “bright boy.” Val turned to Kyle “you’re exactly right.”

 

 

Chapter Seven

Over the next few weeks, it got cold and warmed up, only to get cold again with several rounds of snow; typical fall weather for northern Wyoming. They used to call them Indian summers.

With his new boarders, Val was getting more into seasonal traditions recently. He found his Sky Scan clock, that kept time from a satellite. It still worked and batteries lasted years. He needed it because he wanted to be sure of the date.

“OK guys” he said one afternoon “Halloween is a couple days away” he said nothing more and waited for a response as they worked on breakfast.

“What does that mean for us?” asked Ginger, almost totally not interested.

Val answered carefully “that means it’s time for my homemade caramels.”

Kyle’s eyes grew wide as he looked at Val, then Ginger “you can make caramel?”

“Sure can” Val answered cockily.

“Can I help?” Kyle asked.

“Sure you can” Val replied “we’ll work on it later today.”

He snuck a peek at Ginger and she snuck a peek back with a little appreciative smile.

Val and Kyle went for a brief perimeter check while Ginger finished the dishes.

When they returned, they made caramels that were a great hit with Kyle and Ginger.

They stood around eating them, and Val found himself staring at Ginger’s body. She had filled out nicely in the last few weeks as she chewed her caramel, she caught him looking at her and smiled in a way he had not seen.

She leaned against the counter and crossed her legs.

Kyle was chatting about how he could make pralines with the next batch of caramels. Val found  himself answering him with one word answers.

“These are better than Brach’s caramels, Val” Ginger said, still chewing. “What is your inspiration for all your kitchen talents?”

Without hesitation, Val replied “I learned very young that if I wanted to eat something I liked, I had to make it myself…and I did. This was something I learned how to do much later in life.”

Ginger paused and shifted her weight to her other leg and recrossed them while taking another piece of candy “you are an excellent cook. You’ve really outdone yourself now. You keep raising the bar. How can we compete with this?” She held up a piece of candy.

“It’s not a contest” Val answered “we’re all on the same team.”

There was silence except for the noise of chewing caramels.

“So what are your plans for the upcoming holidays and fall festivities?” asked Ginger. She was serious.

Val held up a candy “this was a start. Obviously, we can’t go trick or treating, but maybe we could make some costumes and/or dress up just for fun…if the weather cooperates.”

Kyle spoke up “yeah! Could we mom?”

“Sure” she said, finishing her caramel. “Enough candy for now. It’ll spoil our supper.”

They finished the day making and eating dinner early.

Val went outside to look at the sky. Clouds to the north…moving this way. Looks like another front.

He reported his observations to Kyle and Ginger and they made preps for another cold couple of days. By dark, they had chopped and stockpiled much more wood in the boxes and more ready in the barn.

The next day was the 30th. Kyle and Ginger were very secretive and spent time in their room with the door closed. Val figured they were working on their costumes and he did same.

It got very cold again with snow, and they spent time playing cards and letting Shep in and out.

On Halloween, it was cold again and they worked on their little Halloween party. Val dug out his dartboard and found some balloons.

Later in the day, out came the costumes. Kyle had found an old pair of overalls and dressed up like the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz. It was a good likeness as he had scrounged some straw and tucked it in various places in his outfit. His  mom painted his nose nice and red with some blush or something.

Ginger dressed up like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. She had made a beautiful black dress, with a plunging neckline and slits cut in the right places. She was absolutely gorgeous and Val told her so.

Val put on his big clunker boots and fashioned a Frankenstein like face with gray ash and some gadgets for his electrodes. Pants that were too short were a help.

They complimented each other and played darts, ate candy apples, cards and sipped Val’s homemade cider.

As they cleaned up after their festivities, Kyle said “man, that was the most fun I’ve had in years.”

Val replied “you turned out to be a pretty good dart player too.”

Val smiled then yawned.

“Better get off to bed. We’re up early tomorrow” Ginger said.

“How about one scary story?” Val asked.

Ginger nor Kyle spoke, but looked at each other with wide eyes.

Val told a couple of unsolved supernatural stories…not too scary compared to some of the stuff he had heard.

When he finished, Ginger sent Kyle to bed with no protest from him.

Ginger stood next to Val and held her hand out to him “come with me Mr. Monster.”

She led Val to his room and closed the door. “You need to wash your face” she said handing him some wipes.

As he cleaned up, she loosened her dress.

Val began to undress down to his boxers.

Ginger walked to him and they embraced in a long passionate kiss.

Val fumbled with her dress, but was unable to find any fastener.

Ginger reached up and pulled the dress over her shoulders and it fell to the floor.

She had no underthings and Val stepped back and looked at her beautiful body.

Her breasts were much larger than the first day her saw her. She held them and caressed her erect nipples “OK?” she asked with a smile.

Val said “you are absolutely beautiful” he whispered.

She blushed.

She had trimmed her bush too. It matched the color of her hair. Her hips and thighs had filled out nicely, and Val thought his manhood would burst from its skin.

He dropped his shorts and she stared at him. He moved to her and she took his cock into her hand, and  guided him to the bed where she sat on the edge and started to suck him.

She let out little moans as she went to work, obviously enjoying her work as did Val.

He took as long as he could and then held her head and took over. She let him move her head up and down his cock…faster and faster.

He stopped and lay her down and went for her womanhood, knowing full well of the pleasure he was about to give her.

He found her clitoris and sucked it gently for several minutes, her pelvis arching high, until she pushed him away “I want you inside me” she whispered.

Val climbed onto her an pushed his cock into her vagina. It slid all the way in and she exhaled as he did so.

He pumped her for several minutes until he came. He shot his load and she moaned as he thrusted his squirts into her.

He lay on her until his erection went down and they climbed under the covers, both breathing heavily.

She climbed into his waiting arms, and they slept exchanging ‘I love you’.

Val recalled making love to her a second time during the course of the night.

Chapter Eight

As the sun was just coming through the window in Val’s window, Shep barked. Val sat bolt upright and began throwing on his clothes.

Ginger was awake too. “What is it?” she asked, obviously frightened.

“Dunno” Val answered “could be nothing…” he paused “could be danger. Get dressed…Kyle too. Get your firearms and await instructions…go now…please.” He leaned over and kissed her as she scurried off into the other room.

Val had just put his boots on when Shep barked again. Val went to the back door; checked the peephole; nothing.

Shep growled.

Val opened the smaller peep door…footprints in the back going across the yard to the coop…one set only…going in.

Shep growled and Val opened the door. Shep tore ass across the yard towards the coop.

Val set his rifle at his shoulder and aimed at the door to the coop.

Ginger showed up at his side with the big Rossi “what do you see?” she whispered.

“Someone is in the coop” he whispered back, leaning slightly towards her.

Shep barked and someone yelled “call off the dog! Please!” said a man’s voice.

“Hold up your hands and come out” Val yelled firming his grip.

Ginger went back inside to the kitchen window and cracked it slightly, resting her rifle on the sill. She pulled back the hammer.

The man came out of the coop, his hands raised. He walked briskly to the gate with Shep barking and nipping at his heels.

As he exited the coop yard, Val yelled “stop and close the gate!”

Shep started more aggressively barking and threatening the intruder.

“Please call off your dog!” he repeated.

“Shep! Down! Stop” Val yelled. Shep complied, but did not retreat and continued to growl.

“Turn around and grab the fence up high” Val commanded “take off your coat first!”

“Wh What’re you gonna do?” he intruder asked, obviously frightened.

“Search you” Val said, poking the rifle at him.

The intruder did not move.

“Warning shot!” Val yelled.

The 45-70 boomed from the kitchen window and crashed into the corner post on the  chicken coop yard.

The intruder dropped his coat, turned around, and reached as high as he could to grab the fence.

“Gloves…Off!” Val yelled.

“My hands will freeze to the fence!” complained the intruder as he removed his gloves.

“That will be the absolute least of your problems this morning, after trying to steal from me” said Val as he patted the man down…taking his time. Shep was still baring teeth and growling.

Val retrieved a .357 from the man’s back. Val cocked the hammer and stuck it in the man’s back…hard. “Now, no time for lies here and now.” Val shoved the gun harder into the man’s back. “Who the hell else is with you?”

“Jjust my ddaughter” he stammered. “ShShe’s really sick and I was trying to get her some food.”

“So, you were going to steal a chicken or eggs and feed her with that?” Val queried. “How were you going to cook it?”

“I ddon’t know” he replied. I had to do somethin'”

Val pulled the gun out of the man’s back “OK, put  your coat on, and take us to your daughter. We can help.” He handed the man’s gun back.

The man was wide-eyed as he took his gun back “ththanks  mister.” He put the gun back into his belt.

“Follow me” Val said, heading to the back porch “Let’s take a ride before breakfast” Val said to Ginger as she emerged from the house onto the porch. She nodded, and went back inside, returning with some food and water.

Kyle poked his head out “can I go?”

Val returned his question with “boil some bath water and make coffee. We’ll be back in a little while with a sick girl.”

Val motioned the man to follow to the barn, and Ginger followed too.

Val started the four wheeler, with the stranger in the front and Ginger in the back.

“I’m Anson” the man said, holding out his hand to Val as they pulled out of the barn.

Val took it “I’m Val, and that is Ginger.”

Anson said “I don’t have the words to thank you.”

Ginger said firmly “If you’re on the level, we’re happy to help. If you’re lying, you’ll be the first one killed.”

Anson seemed briefly startled, but then smiled “you’ll soon see we’re no threat to you. The gun was not loaded.”

They went out the front gate and down the main road “how the hell did you get across the gate?” Val asked.

“Just climbed it” Anson replied “Juliette could not have done it.” He pointed ahead “Just under that big tree.”

They pulled up under the tree to a small tent. “Honey!” Anson called “I brought help” as they all got out of the four wheeler.

Juliette crawled out. She was no girl…a young woman was a better description. She coughed as she stood up…it was a phlemmy cough.

They packed up what little they had into the four wheeler and Val bee lined back home.

Chapter Nine

Kyle had the water poured into the tub and Ginger assisted in bathing her. Val fixed up a steam tent over the extra bed.

Of her few belongings, Val noticed an antique cameo necklace among Juliette’s things. “That’s a beautiful necklace” Val said kinda to no one.

Juliette coughed and replied from the bathroom “thanks. It was my mom’s, and her mother’s before her.”

They got Juliette dressed and put to bed with broth, tea, and some water with vitamins, and a bed of rocks to keep her warm. Anson stayed with her and rubbed Vapo Rub on her chest.

She had fever as well, and they kept her pumped with meds for a couple days before she started getting better.

Kyle ran the ranch as Val, being always suspicious, tried to stay close to the house…just in case.

Anson and his family had drifted up from Nebraska. They were farmers before the collapse, and had been raided by bad people who took all their harvest and livestock.

There was an uncle and Anson’s wife to start, and when they ran out of gas, they hit the trail towards what they thought was a relative’s ranch outside of Laramie. The uncle had passed from drinking creek water (it looked clear was what they said).

Anson’s wife was killed by a bear attack, leaving Anson and Juliette on their own. Their supplies ran out and were forced to live on what they could scrounge. They dared not approach strangers. When they got to Laramie, the mystery ranch did not exist, nor did their relatives.

They pressed onward as they were not welcome; being strangers and they ended up on the road to Val’s.

“Best wrong turn I ever made” Anson said over and over.

Juliette got stronger and soon was able to get around the house. When Anson felt comfortable enough, he left the house to help Kyle with chores.

The women seemed to get along fine…seemed. Juliette was seventeen and when she got to be herself, she fell for Val. She let her feelings known, and it caused considerable trouble between Ginger and Juliette.

Anson was wise to spend more time outside…cold as it was.

Juliette made advances toward Val on several occasions, and Ginger finally made her demand: “Get rid of them, or we’ll leave.”

She did this at the dinner table one evening in mid-November with everyone present.

Val knew it was coming and replied “Anson, you and Juliette are healthy and strong now. Time to hit the road. We’ll front you food and supplies, but you’ve worn out your welcome here. Weather permitting, tomorrow is the day.”

Anson seemed to expect it and did not argue. Juliette, however was surprised and decided to argue.

“Well” she started with a loud whisper “after all we’ve done here…”

Val interrupted her and stood up to his towering six feet and leaned in her direction “we owe you nothing…nothing. We opened up our door and let you in. We nursed you from near death and we never got as much as a ‘thank  you’ from you. Your father has thanked us profusely for days and days…but nothing from you.”

Now he got agitated “you have done nothing nothing here except take from us.” He pointed at the door “now you go now while I’m asking  nice, because if I gotta ask again, it’s gonna be by the scruff of your neck.”

He stood pointing until they got up and grabbed their stuff. Ginger packed some bread, bacon and jerky; about enough for a week or so.

Anson turned and shook Val’s hand “thanks again for everything, Val. I’m sorry it had to end like this.”

They left at dark. Val watched them after letting them through the main gate as long as he could see them.

He went back to the house where Ginger and Kyle were waiting for him. Ginger, with her arms folded across her chest “well, is she gone?”

“For now” Val replied, removing his coat.

“What does that mean?” Ginger said surprised.

“That means that we haven’t seen the last of her” Val said “she’ll be back, sooner or later and she’ll want to finish what she started.”

“And that is…” Ginger persisted.

“To take over this place and rule the kingdom” Val replied without hesitation. “She likes it here. She likes being taken care of. The next step is to be queen, but she couldn’t take over by herself. She’ll find someone someday to do  her bidding. Shoulda shot her.”

“Easy now big fella” she responded, patting his shoulder. “We can’t start executing people.”

Val shook his head “sure we can. I’ll bet a week’s worth of chopping wood that we will see her again, and we will have to kill her…to stop her.”

He looked at both of them “we’re going to have to be sharper from now on.” He held up his index finger “no one goes anywhere without a sidearm from  now on…even to the coop…ever. Are we clear?”

Kyle gulped and nodded.

Ginger replied with a nod “yeah, we get it and I hear what you say about her. We’ll have to do other things too…change some stuff that she’s familiar with.”

Val looked at Ginger with new appreciation “that’s exactly what we need to do. Let’s talk about it tomorrow and see what we come up with…I got an idea too.”

Chapter Ten

After a night of more restful sleep with the guests gone, Ginger and Val arose to resume normal activities. Kyle was up too and began his chores.

At breakfast, they discussed some new defensive strategies.

Val started “I need to work on the big gate…some kind of dead fall system or electrify it with a generator.”

“You have a generator?” asked Kyle through a piece of bacon.

“Yes, three of them” Val replied.

“Why don’t you use them?” Kyle insisted.

“They make noise when running and they use fuel. No doubt they are handy though.”

“How much gas do we  have?” asked Kyle again.

“About fifteen hundred gallons” Val replied.

“Wow!” Kyle explained “where is it?”

“Underground outside the barn. You’ve seen that pipe in the corner that runs to the roof?”

Kyle nodded.

“That’s the vent.”

Ginger spoke up “I like the idea of something at the gate. Do you have any barb wire? That can deter excited people from climbing.”

Val nodded in agreement “three heads are better than one. Keep the think tank going guys. I’d like to rig some kind of trip wire system along our fenceline. Maybe a dead fall there too. No doubt, Shep has proven very valuable and they will try to kill him too…probably first, depending on their strategist.”

They sat for a few minutes in thought.

Kyle asked “how’re you gonna do deadfalls and cover them up if there’s snow?”
“That’s a very good question, Kyle” said Val. “Snow and ice can be a good cover for deception also. We can use that to our advantage.”

Val looked up at the ceiling “we also have a very good sniper post upstairs that has full view of the front yard, gate and the big gate as well as the fenceline” he looked at Ginger. “I’ll need to show  you the upstairs. You will be appointed sniper.”

“What’ll I shoot?” she asked.

Val got up and went to the broom closet, removed a panel in the back, and pulled out a scoped rifle. “I got this from my brother to ‘hold’ for him. It’s a 7mm Remington Magnum.” He handed it to her “the CIA used to use this type of rifle for assassinations.”

She put it to her shoulder “the stock’s a bit long” she said matter of factly. It was obvious.

“I’ve got another” Val said “for my brother’s son who was a little small. My brother had the stock custom built for his son and it should be perfect for you.” He walked to the closet and removed a leather wrapped object; it was the other stock.

“What about me?” Kyle asked excitedly.

“I’d like you to be our rover” Val said after a moment of thought.

“Rover?” Kyle inquired

“Yeah, kinda like a guerilla fighter. Remember the observations posts and bunker I showed you? The ones we did not show to Anson and Juliette?”

Kyle nodded, smiling.

“Those will be your responsibility to occupy and flee when necessary. Plus, the barn, the coop, and the garage as well as the old shed I dragged to the woods.”

“Check each one and make sure you have clear vision for 270 degrees. Get inside and stay there practicing aiming, crouching. Bring or install a pee bucket although you shouldn’t have to wait long inside of one unless we are expecting trouble.”

“Remember, if we have snow on the ground, they can tell if we’ve been walking around and can see our tracks to. You tracks will lead them right to your ob post. Learn to back track. It may fool them once and save your life. You never go to a post without backup so you can get away. It would not be good for you to get pinned down in a post. Always a good idea to take plenty of ammo for whatever guns you are carrying.”

He stopped a moment and looked at both of them “if you go to a post, take your semi auto pistol, and a semi auto rifle with no less than 600 rounds for each weapon, and as many mags you can carry.”

“We begin practicing today with the .45s and nine mm. I want both of you to practice shooting from prone position, kneeling, and standing towards the fenceline. Also, get into the posts and practice from there as well.”

The rest of the day was firearm practice. Kyle was able to handle the nine mm a little easier than the .45, and Val was a little relieved. He liked the nine mils because they could hold many more rounds in a mag compared to the .45. This would give Kyle an opportunity to carry more rounds with him. The Hi-Point 995 would be ideal rifle for him as well. He planned to have Ginger use the Hi-point 4595 with her Glock 21 for bunker fire or around the yard.

Later in the day, they went upstairs. Val showed them the two favored sniper positions; facing the north, and the east. Each had a window with a heavy blackout cover from the inside. The window was square with four panes, and would open inward. One would have to move the black cover out of the way first before opening the window.

He went out and set up some targets along the main gate and fenceline for Ginger to practice. She did near perfect as she hit every can on the first shot.

Val went back to reset the targets for Kyle to practice as well. The 7mm kicks like a pissed off mule. It took Kyle several shot to get at ease with the powerful rifle. When he settled down, Val told him “if you have to be up here, use the 30-30. You have more available rounds, and that caliber is no slouch. Matter of fact, that is probably what you should shoot anyway if folks are at the gate. That big one should be for long shots.”

Kyle nodded, rubbing his shoulder. “That hurts…I’d hate to have to shoot that for very many rounds.”

Val tussled Kyle’s hair “you did great! My shoulder would hurt too.”

Kyle looked up at him with a smile “I’m hungry.”

“Me too” said Val and they scooted across the floor to the stairs, and went down where Ginger had some sandwiches ready.

They discussed a great deal of their target practice, and were pleased.

Val showed them the rest of the gun and ammo stashes; some in the basement, some in the tunnel under the barn, some in the shed that had been relocated to the woods, and a couple other places.

At bed time, Val announced “tomorrow we’ll work on our perimeter strategies.”

The went to bed. Kyle went to his room, as Ginger now slept with Val regularly.

Chapter Eleven

Morning came as usual with the sun turning the early morning from gray to bright to blue as they got up and started breakfast.

Almost at the same time, Shep’s ears perked up and they all heard a horn honk from the direction of the big gate.

Val went to the cupboard, pulled out some radios and gave them each one, and one for himself. “Do what I say exactly” he said and went out the back door with Shep.

He took the 30-30 and his Glock 21. He went around the corner of the house and stopped.

The car at the gate was the Sheriff’s car. A man got out and waved.

Val waved back and headed toward the gate, carrying his rifle in a non threatening way.

When he reached the gate, he was greeted with a big smile and an eager hand sticking through the gate “good morning! I’m Sheriff Blevins. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”

Val smiled shook his hand, and said “I know who you are. I voted for you.” Val unlocked the gate “come on in for some breakfast.”

Val keyed the mic on his radio “we’re gonna have a guest for breakfast. Please set another place.”

The Sheriff pulled in and Val got in the car. They drove around the side of the house and parked by the back door.

They went inside and were greeted by Ginger and Kyle who directed him where to sit. Bacon, eggs, toast and coffee were served.

The Sheriff started the unpleasantries. “Have you all seen anyone wandering through in the past few months?”

Val started “besides these two, there was a man and his daughter here…we threw them out a couple days ago after we nursed the girl back to  health.”

The sheriff was writing this down in a notebook “older man and late teens girl? Blonde hair?”

Val and Ginger looked at each other.

“I’ll take that as a yes” as he continued to write “I have spoken to others in the county that have mentioned them…” He thumbed through his pages and was counting out loud…”yep, two other citizens have mentioned two people fitting this description…” he stopped and looked at Val.

Val stared back at him “advance scouts?”

The sheriff nodded “I was thinking that too.”

Val looked in disbelief “we have to catch them.”

He stood up and said “Shit, and I let them go.”

The sheriff spoke calmly “we’ll get ’em…we’ll get ’em.”

“How can we help?” asked Val.

“Gotta satphone?” asked the sheriff.

Val nodded, heading to the bedroom where he kept it on the window sill.

They exchanged numbers, and sat back down.

The sheriff pulled out his notebook again and asked “might there be anyone heading this direction from either of your families?” he looked at Val and Ginger.

Ginger shook her head and said a soft “no.”

Val replied “before we left Texas, I left detailed maps with my two brothers and two sons, and told them if they could get here, they could live in utopia.”

“Names?” the sheriff poised his pen.

“Joe and Shawn are my two brothers and my sons are Charles and Tommy. My brothers may have their families with them…that would be two wives and three kids with them.”

Ginger pulled a skillet off the stove “more toast?” she pulled a couple pieces out and placed them on a plate.

Val reached for one “sure would be better if I had some fresh butter.”

The deputy stopped writing and looked at Val “I could probably help you out with that.” He gestured in a general direction behind him “we found an elderly citizen had passed away in her home…a couple weeks ago. She had a couple cows with a calf. They were taken to the Bronson ranch. Do you know old man Bronson?” he looked at Val.

“Yeah” Val replied “I met him when we first moved here looking for our own ranch” he chuckled “looks different when there’s snow on the ground. Seemed like a down to earth fellow. I doubt if he’d remember me though.”

“He’s got the biggest spread in these parts to the north of you. His ranch runs into Montana. I usually stop in at his place nearly every day. He’s got lots of folks working for him and they usually have strangers stopping by. I’ll let him know you’re still around and doing well. OK if I give him your sat #?”

Val nodded “sure. I might just swing over to see him myself. Can’t ever have too many friends these days.”

“Good idea” agreed the sheriff.

He stood up and offered his hand to Val, Ginger and Kyle “glad to have met you folks and that  you’re doing well. I’ll be in touch and check on you from time to time.”

He grabbed his coat and hat, tipped his hat, and left. Val went as far as the big gate to lock up behind.

He went back to the house and closed the driveway gate. The sun was out full and Val studied the pasture across the road. Something caught his attention in the bright morning sun. He walked back across the road towards the pasture and verified his suspicion; footprints in the snow…two sets walking from the big gate fence to the south into the southern woods.

Val returned to the house quickly.

“What is it?” Ginger asked when he came through the back door. “Your face is pale.” She walked to him and caressed his face.

“Footprints in the snow across the road…in the pasture going to the woods” he pointed. “We’re going to have to go find them…whoever they are. We can’t have people watching us.”

Ginger grabbed his arm “Val, what does all this mean? Scouts and footprints and hunting…I’m scared.”

Val turned and gave her a hug and motioned for both of them to sit.

“Anson and Juliette we think are advance scouts or spies for a larger group that may be lying nearby waiting for whatever information those two have gathered. What they do is they get inside folks housed and asses their defensive capabilities, food supplies, weapons and ammo store, and potential long term survival shelter.”

He continued “the sheriff said that they had been in two other homes that he knew of…who knows how many more that did not report? That information could be very valuable to an invading force, and  now we’re on the list too.”

“We don’t know who crossed our land…or when, but someone did since our perimeter check yesterday. They might be harmless” he shook his head “but I doubt it. If they mean us harm, then we must do harm to them first, or at least show them we will do so if necessary.” He paused and looked at them “if either of you has a problem with killing a person then you must speak now, because I am depending on both of you to kill if necessary. If you don’t, then we won’t stand a chance, and will likely die horrible deaths; if they decide to kill us. They would probably kill me, but they might sexually enslave you, or torture both of you to find out where all our gun and food stashes are.”

Both nodded solemnly.

“All right then.” He looked at Kyle “let’s you and I go on a little exploration quest. We’ll go behind our house and around to the south to the other woods.” He paused and looked at Ginger “I’ll need  you in the lookout with your sniper rifle. Keep your binoculars close and watch all directions, staying out of sight. We’ll carry radios and they might be as well. Remember our codes? North is South, East is West. One is two, and anything more than three is doubled. Lookout is big gate and vice versa. If you see someone, let us know.”

“OK?”

Val retrieved the sat phone and called the sheriff “this is Val. We found footprints of two heading from our north fence across the pasture into the woods. We’re going to investigate.”

“Keep me posted on anything you find” the sheriff replied “if you need help, I can ask Bronson to send some guys. We’ll need a friendly password.”

“Hooty Hoot! Hooty Hoot!” replied Val.

He heard the sheriff chuckle “that’ll work, Val” he said good-bye…still chuckling.

Chapter Twelve

Val had put on his makeshift ghillie poncho, and one for Kyle. They were white with streaks of black and gray through them. Good camo for snow covered forest ground terrain.

Val went out the back door with his Hi-point .45, the 30-30, and Glock. Kyle kept his 9mm guns. Ginger followed to the barn and went to the lookout tower. After a few minutes she said “nothing moving that I can see…that doesn’t mean their not around.”

As Val and Kyle headed to the back barn door, Ginger whispered to Val loudly “don’t  you let anything happen to him Val!”

Val looked up and she blew him a kiss.

The rear of the barn was only a few yards from the woods, and Val and Kyle covered that ground quickly, staying low.

The woods did not accumulate snow like the open ground did, but still had a couple inches to deal with.

“You watch behind us frequently” Val said “If you see me drop to the ground, then you do same. Try to walk in my footsteps if you can. Watch for wildlife too.”

Kyle nodded and Val led on through the forest.

It was slow going…slow for them too…Val thought. They crossed the clearing on which they took the four wheeler to get Kyle…no prints there. They entered the woods on the other side of the trail.

Almost to the corner of the property, where they would have turned was where they stopped. Val squatted down, as did Kyle.

They were silent. Val thought he saw something across the corner of the barnyard in the woods across the diagonal. He stopped and looked for several minutes, and then it moved again.

At first, he saw one person in olive drab fatigues moving next to the treeline, carrying a lever action rifle of some type.

He pointed for Kyle’s sake and Kyle whispered “I see ’em.”

Val keyed his mic “we are corner of north barnyard and see movement in trees on north side…you see?”

Ginger responded with one key on her mic…one for yes, two for no.

They waited another few seconds and a second figure moved towards the corner.

If they get much closer to the corner, Ginger won’t be able to see them.

Val keyed his mic “see the second one?”

One click back.

“If I have to shoot, I’ll take the first one. Don’t shoot unless I do.”

One click back.

Val turned to Kyle “go over there to our left about fifteen feet and get on the ground.”

Kyle moved quicker than Val would have.

Val yelled out “You’re on private property and you are trespassing!”

The other figures froze.

“Walk out into the clearing with your firearms in the air!”

Val keyed his mic “warning shot.”

He had not even unkeyed when a boom went off and the bullet must have hit on the ground between the two as they scampered into the field with their rifles in the air.

“Don’t shoot!” one of them said.

“Don’t move!” called out Val.

He motioned for Kyle to move into his position “stay here and cover me while I go talk to them.”

Val got up and headed towards them through the woods until he got close then walked into the clearing towards the two.

Val had shouldered his 30-30 and had his Glock drawn as he approached. He went to his right to leave room for Kyle to bring one down if necessary.

They still were holding their guns in the air when Val got to them.

They were two young men, and from Val could tell, well fed telling him that they were from close by.

“OK guys. What are you doing on my land?” Val quizzed.

“W We were just hunting” said the first man.

The other one followed with “we didn’t know you was here mister. We mean you no harm.”

“Put your guns down” said Val. He looked at the second guy “you’re one of the Bronsons ain’t ya?”

He nodded and held out his hand “I’m BJ” he said with a smile.

The other man said “I’m Skip Stephens. My aunt lives up the road from you..or used to. She passed away a few months ago.”

They shook hands and Val hit his mic “all clear here. You guys can stand down. Kyle, come on out.”

“Let’s go back to the house” Val said and the trudged along the fenceline back towards the barn.

He cut across the barnyard early in front of the garage.

Ginger was waiting for them at the house with coffee. Val didn’t invite them inside and they chatted while they drank.

BJ started “we saw the sheriff’s car here when we went across the pasture. He stops by our house almost every day and we figured he was just checking your place out to see if you was home.”

“How did you guys get over the big fence?” Val asked.

They looked at each other and laughed “that was the hardest fence we ever climbed” said Skip “those pole were so slippery with ice that we could barely get a grip, then our feet kept slipping off.”

BJ continued “we had to go up one at a time and pass the guns through. No way could we carry them up and down again.”

Val stroked his beard “that’s good to know. I never climbed it.”

They all sipped some coffee and Val said “you guys are welcome to hunt here anytime you want, but next time let us know you’re here so you won’t shoot us and we won’t shoot you.”

“Sounds fair mister” said BJ.

“Call me Val.”

“But how do we get in?” asked Skip.

“Good question” said Val “I’ll tell you what. I’ll put up a bell and you just crack it with the little hammer that’s with it. I’ll get that up today.”

They finished their coffee and BJ said “thanks for the coffee Val, and thanks for not shooting us. We should be getting back now.”

“You guys want a lift?”

“Sure, that’d be great. It was a lot further walk than we thought” chimed in Skip.

“Kyle, let’s get them four wheelers out” Val said.

Kyle was immediately excited “both of them? Can I drive one?”

“Sure can” Val said.

The second one Val kept covered. It was a bigger one, and Val drove that one while Kyle took the two boys in his.

They took off and Val opened the big gate, then locked it behind them. They took off down the road trying to keep up with Kyle, who was having entirely too much fun.

Chapter Thirteen

It was indeed many miles to the Bronson ranch, and Val stopped when he approached what he thought was the last hill before the ranch.

They stopped and turned off the engines and they heard gunfire down below. Everyone scrambled to the top of the hill, keeping low they crawled to the crest and looked below to the bottom of the valley.

More bikers in the road and driving through the yard was the problem.

Val pulled out his sat phone and punched in Bronson’s number. An excited “hello” was what he heard.

Val, in his best Irish accent said “Well Mr. Bronson. Might ye be needing some extra guns this morning. I’ve two lads and three extra guns at your service.”

“You got BJ? He’s OK?”

“Yes and Yes. We’re at the top of the hill to the east.”

“Tell BJ to come down the old cattle trail. He knows which one. You guys can hit them from there. That’ll get rid of ’em.”

“We’re on our way.”

Val looked at BJ “did you get that?”

“Yep” BJ said “this way.”

They crept along the top of the hill, then down to the south side of the road where the cattle trail followed the fenceline. They worked it quickly to get in range and took cover behind the trees adjacent to the fenceline.

“Fire at will!” said BJ and he and Skip started shooting.

Kyle sat down behind a tree and didn’t do anything.

Val said “don’t hit the Harley Davidsons, man! They don’t make them anymore.!”

BJ and Skip broke out into laughter, and Val commenced to shooting with his Glock 21. He emptied two mags at random, and when BJ and Skip got their composure back, they began shooting too.

The gang soon headed out back down to the road to the west.

When they were out of site, the five crossed the road towards the house.
Val saw one downed motorcycle and two biker bodies; one was still alive trying to reach a gun.

Val went to him and stood on the gun he was after.

BJ and Skip were greeted by family from inside the house.

“Are you completely stupid!” said Val to the downed biker. “You got some kinda death wish? What the hell are you doing attacking a house on a bike, you dumbass!”

He pointed to the house and buildings “these guys were just having fun today. Next time it’s going to be some serious target practice, and your pals will be the ducks!”

Val looked around at the gathering crowd “Am I right?” he yelled.

“Damn straight!” said one guy.

“Fuckin’ A! said a few more with chuckles.

“Fuck you” said the biker.

“Well that’s a hell of an attitude, considering you’re about to die!” Val kept on.

“Y YOu can’t do that!” he retorted.

“Oh, I beg to differ. You see, I was talking to the sheriff just this morning and I agreed to call him whenever we killed someone. Your pal there is one, and…well…what the heck! Might as well make it two bodies.”

A chuckle from the crowd.

“No wait” Val with feigned concern looking at the crowd “y’all got any hogs here?”

“Yep sure do” was the murmur.

Val clapped his hands one time “there you have it. We’ll just feed you and  your sorry ass buddy to the pigs! No evidence! Problem solved!”

The crowd gave up some light applause and more laughter.

A voice from behind Val said “C’mon up Val!” still laughing.

Val got up and had a hand stuck at him “BJ Bronson. I am really glad to meet you.”

“Likewise” Val smiled back. He stopped and turned to Kyle and Skip. “Would you guys mind bringing up the four wheelers?”

They tore ass out of the yard and up the hill while the rest watched.

“Kids” Val said shaking his head “wish I had that much energy.”

“C’mon in you two!” said BJ.

They were led inside the very nice and large log cabin style home that was really huge.

Val asked “did you all have any casualties?”

“Nobody hurt. Sit down please and be our guests” BJ said “bring out some more breakfast for us” he called to no one in particular.

He reached under the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon and some glasses.

As he poured he said “now you never did introduce me to  your lovely wife” he said with a smile.

“This is Ginger” Val said “and she shoots better than I do.”

He poured bourbon for as long as the glasses lasted. Ginger even took one and slammed down a shot.

“I sure do appreciate your not shooting my boy” he kept on.

“Oh, we wouldn’t have shot anyone unless they shot first.” Val continued “Ginger took that warning shot between them and they scampered right out into the field. I knew right then that they were good lads. A bad person would have just fired willy nilly at nothing.”

“Well, you and Ginger are good people and you are always welcome in our home.”

A woman came out then. She had been crying. “This is my wife Eunice” BJ said.

Eunice kindly walked over to Val, who stood up to shake her hand, then she shook hands with Ginger. “Very pleased to meet you both” she said faintly.

The conversation went around to various things; what the sheriff had been up to, the biker gang shootings, cattle rustling, smoking bacon, gardening.

The kids were out in the road riding the four wheelers up and down.

Well Mr. Bronson. We better head back to the ranch. Ain’t no one there watching the place. I get kinda antsy when I’m away too long.

BJ stood up and said “I understand. He called back to no one in particular “bring up a tub of that butter and some beef for these folks.”

A thunder of footsteps up the stair produced a couple of men with gifts of food.

“You don’t know how much I appreciate this” Val said “I was getting played out on chicken.”

BJ checked the beef bundle “good! He put in a few pounds of bacon too. The sheriff said you might be interested in pasturing some cattle this summer.”

“Count on it” Val said.

“OK, I will” said BJ and he held out his huge hand “until next time my new friend.”

“Indeed” answered Val as they left the house.

They were able to round up the four wheelers, and Kyle took one, while Ginger and Val took the other back home.

Chapter Fourteen

Val was excited about the food he had received from BJ. Ginger promised to have to roast later.

“So what else is on your mind?” Ginger asked “you seem like your thinking…like conspiracy or something.”

“You know me so well…and in such a short time” Val responded with a smile. “I was just thinking about how the Bronsons got surprised so easily by a bunch of bikers.”

“Surprised how?” Ginger was intrigued.

“Well, the Bronson have what…forty or fifty guys on that ranch? And the bikers happened to show up when most of them were out on a round up?”

They both thought for a minute in silence.

“I hear what you’re saying” Ginger said “but I got nothing except a chill down my spine thinking about a possible informer.”

“Me too” replied Val as they pulled up to the big gate where Kyle was waiting for them. They passed through and Kyle locked up behind them.

Continuing the conversation in the barn, Val went on “BJ himself his last employee was hired over two years ago. That was the crash. No one could have predicted when to plant a spy. Maybe I’m just a little too paranoid.”

Kyle drove in and they service the vehicles, and topped off the gas tanks, covering up the larger one.

The subject was dropped and was not spoken of again until several weeks later.

Chapter Fifteen

Thanksgiving came and went. They had no turkey, but had roast chicken..not anything new, but the Bronsons traded some veggies from their root cellar; potatoes, carrots, onions, and a pumpkin for some loaves of Kyle’s now famous sourdough bread. Val made pumpkin pie which was the highlight of Thanksgiving dinner. Some fresh cream and they had whipped cream as well.

The weather continued its pattern; cold and snowy storms which lasted longer and longer with few warm days into December.

The temps were starting to get into the single digits by mid-December, which limited any long term outside activity.

About the twentieth of December, Val got a call on the satphone. It was BJ.

“Howdy Val!” BJ sounded excited.

“Season’s greetings from our family to yours” Val replied.

“I gotta couple of early presents for you” BJ was hardly able to contain himself.

“In what manner are these gifts?” Val queried. “Shall I come up and get them now?”

“You damn well better. They’re eating me out of house and home” BJ was laughing now. “Two scrawny lads and a  scrawny girl.”

Val stiffened and his eyes grew wide “my boys?”

“They have a message for you” and BJ held his phone to the hungry trio.

In unison they said “hooty hoot! Hooty hoot!”

Val’s eyes filled with tears and managed to speak “I am on my way, BJ. Thank you.”

Val was crying as he got on his winter gear when Ginger said “you’re not taking the four wheeler. It’s too damn cold and the wind chill would be well below zero. You don’t need to expose those kids to that kind of cold. Get your pickup…I’ll help you.”

They went to the garage and pulled a battery off the shelf and put it in the truck. It started right up.
The truck was a Ford F250 with dual tanks that held around forty gallons of gas total. Val kept the battery on a solar battery tender. He never left the battery in the truck.

It was mid afternoon and he let the big truck warm up ten minutes before he pulled it out of the garage.

Ginger and Kyle stood together as Val jumped out of the truck. He went to them and hugged them both “why the sad looks you two?”

Kyle had tears “I’m glad your boys made it…what’s going to happen to us?”

Without hesitation Val replied “absolutely nothing. You two will always be part of my family…always. No one will take that away.”

He looked at Kyle “your room is your room  until you no longer want it.”

He looked at Ginger and took her face hands “I love you and only you. I consider you to be my wife, and that’s till death do us part.” He kissed her.

She whispered “I know. We both know what you say is true. I think we just needed to hear it.” She hugged him back tightly, and backed away. “Now go get your boys. We’ll set up the other rooms for them.”

Val jumped back into the truck, and headed towards the gate. Kyle was there, and went to open the big gate.

“Thanks Kyle” Val said as he passed through. “See you in about an hour.”

“OK dad. I’ll be waiting inside.”

Val drove on. More tears.

Val continued his drive to BJ’s, finding that the closer he got, the heavier his foot got.

He was remembering the last time he spoke to his boys, which caused him more tears. He slowed down a little, as it was beginning to snow as well.

He turned onto the main road, and headed towards the Bronsons.

He got to the top of the last hill, crested it and drove into the Bronsons drive where his boys came bounding out of the door towards Val.

“Dad!” his boys said almost simultaneously.

They had a group hug that lasted for minutes, and Val cried to the point that he could not speak.

BJ’s voice boomed from the front door “ya’ll get on inside before you catch your deaths!”

The three went inside, and were inseparable, causing Val to stumble and trip the way to the door.

Randie, Christopher’s girlfriend was inside with tears in her eyes as well. Val hugged her too and kissed her forehead.

Finally gaining his composure, Val wiped his tears and said “I sure am glad to see you kids.”

They were all smiling big “we finally made it Dad” said Charlie, the younger.

Val patted his head “this is the best Christmas present I ever had.”

BJ closed the door, and Val walked over and shook his hand hard “thank you, thank you. You’re a good friend.”

“Aw, you’d a done the same for me…matter of fact, you already have. By the way, I got you some more goodies to feed this mob.” He said with a smile “take the packages and get them kids fattened up some. I reckon you got lots of work for them.”

Val nodded “you bet I do. Let’s go guys. We’re getting you fixed up with beds right now.”

Val and BJ shook hands again, and they said their good-byes.

The four of them trekked out to the truck, loaded up and headed back to the ranch.

They all had nothing but questions for the trip back, but they were not expecting the answers they got.

“Where’s Betty?” asked Charlie. (Betty was Val’s late wife.)

Val paused and the rest waited for an answer quietly.

“She didn’t make it” Val replied calmly.

“Who’s living with you now?”

Val told them the story of how Ginger and Kyle came to live with him. They seemed very receptive to having a new brother.

He pointed out some landmarks on the way and when they reached the big gate, Kyle was just heading down to it to unlock it.

He waved to the truck and was returned with four sets of hands waving back. Val saw him smile as the truck passed through, and he waited so Kyle could ride back.

“Scooch over Charlie and let Kyle ride back to the house” Val asked.

Charlie complied and Kyle climbed in smiling “hi guys! I’m Kyle” he stuck out his hand and they all shook it and introduced themselves.

Kyle continued “I sure am glad you made it. I am getting tired of these two always telling me what to do.”

The others laughed, and so did Val.

They pulled up to the back door, and Val let them all out and drove the truck to the garage. He decided to leave the battery in the truck, as he was optimistic about things that could happen.

He went into the house to find a giant group hug with Ginger in the middle.

Val walked around and patted them all “welcome to the ranch boys and girls. We  hope you enjoy your stay. This way for the tour.”

A few chuckled as he showed them around the house; Val and Ginger’s room, the bathroom, Kyle’s room, and now Christopher and Randie’s room.

He stopped the tour and singled those two out “you two are married now. If you’re going to sleep together in our home, you must be married. If you don’t want to be married, then you will not be allowed to sleep together…understood?”

“Yeah Dad” Christopher said as Randie held up her left hand with her ring “we got married right before the crash. We tried to get a hold of you, but couldn’t reach you.”
Val walked over to Randie and kissed her cheek “welcome to our nutty family.”

Val sighed “OK, I’m glad we got that out of the way.”
“Are you and Ginger married?” Christopher pressed.

Val and Ginger exchanged glances and smiles as Val walked to her and put his arm around her “yes. Not because we share a room, but because we love each other.”

They all nodded “now, downstairs where Charlie will sleep.”

They went down the winding staircase to the basement…none of the others had ever been there. Val pointed out the different cabinets with various foods. He showed them the doors to the tunnels and root cellar, explaining where each tunnel went.

The downstairs bedroom had a full sized bed and its own bath. A small window at ground level (which was actually about six feet off the basement floor).

“The basement is actually very temperature stable year round” Val stated “and there is no stove down here.”

He pointed out the closet which had many of Charlie’s clothes.

He addressed Christopher “your closet has many of your clothes as well.”

He turned his attention to Ginger “Ginger will help you find some clothes as well. Now it’s bath time for you wilderness walkers.”

They heated up water and prepped the tub for them. Christopher and Randie bathed together and giggled like school children the entire time.

Charlie too bathed, and they piled up their clothes “we’ll get them washed tomorrow” Val said after Charlie finished.

They sat down for some late dinner of Kyle’s sourdough and gravy from lunch.

“Whether or not you realize it” Val began “Christmas Eve is day after tomorrow.”

The kids all looked at each other with a wee bit of sparkle and wonder in their eyes.

Val looked at Kyle “we’ll have to find and cut down a tree…right guys? and gals?”

“Wow! How cool!” Kyle was the most excited “first thing tomorrow Dad?”

Val nodded “right after breakfast and anyone who wants to vote on the tree will have to accompany the cutting crew.”

Ginger spoke up “well you count me in. No telling what kind of tree you guys will bring home. Don’t you leave without me.”

Christopher, Randie, and Charlie all retired to their respective rooms and crashed. Val remembered thinking how surprised he would be if those three got up early.

He took a look at them before he went to bed and watched them sleep for a few minutes.

He went to bed where Ginger was waiting for  him.

She drew him in and kissed him hard before saying “you are the sweetest most wonderful man in the world. Your kids are unbelievably friendly to Kyle and me.”

She sat up and put her hand on her bare chest “I haven’t felt like a part of a family for a long time, and I feel more so like part of one tonight…did you see the kid’s looks when you mentioned Christmas?”

Val nodded as Ginger drew close to him and gave him another long kiss…and other things.

 Chapter Sixteen

The sun rose as always, and it started out a clear day.

Ginger and Val got up and started breakfast with pancakes. When they had a dozen or so, Val started waking up the troops. It didn’t take long before four sleepy eyed teenagers pulled up to the table and started eating pancakes with maple syrup or honey. Bacon was served too; courtesy of the Bronsons.

After the crew had gone about half way through breakfast, Kyle spoke up “are we really gonna cut down a Christmas tree today Dad”?

Val sipped his coffee “yep.”

“When?” he persisted

“As soon as we finish breakfast” he replied calmly, sipping more coffee.

Kyle added another pancake to his stack and continued to eat.

The other three wolfed down their pancakes and bacon. Ginger barely kept up with the ravenous appetites of the kids. They slowed down and Ginger put the last of the pancakes from the griddle.

Shep waited patiently for his share, and when the kids leaned back with a series of “I’m full..it was delicious…thanks” Ginger put the last three pancakes and the bacon in Shep’s bowl.

He wagged his tail and gulped down what there was in just a few seconds.

“I need a volunteer to help with dishes” Ginger said as she pulled plates off the table.

Val finished his coffee “I’ll help you. You kids get dressed for an outside learning adventure and hike…if you’re up to it.”

They took off to their respective rooms, except for Kyle, who was dressed already.

Ginger and Val had the dishes done in a few minutes, having plenty of practice doing so, then they got ready for the trip.

When all were ready, they ventured outside with Shep bounding ahead of them.

First stop was the chicken coop and Val spoke up “Christopher, given your expertise with chicken raising, I hereby turn over the chicken coop over to you.”

He turned to Kyle “Christopher has raised chickens for years and knows how to raise chicks too. We’ll need more chickens as soon as possible” he turned to Christopher “Kyle will show you how we keep them warm and you are in charge. Ask Kyle what you need to raise the little ones, and he will show you where stuff is.”

Kyle took the others inside the coop area with Ginger and Val watching as Kyle pointed out the doors, poop gathering methods, where the lights attached to the batteries, and how he worked the solar charging for said batteries.

Charlie was not interested and joined Val and Ginger, soon followed by the others as they walked the barnyard and around the house.

Kyle pointed and chatted about the bunkers and posts; where they were, how to use them, and other points that Val had not considered.

They circled the house locating distances and areas across the road and down towards the big gate.

They were showed the barn and garage, introduced to the bunkhouse.

“You guys can move in here if you like” Val said as he pushed open the door.

It was clean and neat with six bunks, a woodstove, and a toilet with washstand.

“I sealed it up really well to keep out the rats and other rodentia” Val said proudly. “There shouldn’t be as much as a spider inside.”

No one had been inside since Betty’s death, and it showed her decorative talents. Quilts neatly folded away in the linen closet. Many sets of sheets and hand towels. The wash basin was upside down on the stand. There were unopened bars of soap in the linen closet also. There was a wardrobe too, that was for the clothes of whomever ended up staying there.

“How does the toilet work?” asked Charlie.

Val walked to the washstand and pumped some water into the sink. Fill the 3 gallon bucket, do your business and pour the water into the tank. Flush and refill the bucket for the next person. Same as the main house. It all goes to a septic tank down by the fenceline.”

He looked up and slid a lever “this is a vent if necessary.”

All heads nodded with approval. Christopher spoke up “I think we’d rather stay in the main house, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Of course” Val agreed, leading them out and locking the door.

When they finished their barnyard tour, they headed toward the trail between the forests and Kyle further showed them where the booby traps were.

“How are we supposed to remember where all they are” Charlie asked.

“Never go anywhere alone” Val answered “if you must go exploring, ask Kyle to go with  you…or myself.”

Val pulled out his binoculars and looked down the trail, then back to the east.

“Looks clear” he said to no one in particular “let’s go.”

They moved across the trail and into the woods “now let’s see if we can find our tree” val said smiling at the rest of them.

They trekked into the woods and Kyle pointed out tracks of various animals “there’s an elk” he showed them. “They’re fresh because it snowed last night” he was excited.

“Look!” he pointed ahead a few feet and ran to another set of tracks. He studied them for a moment and looked at Val “I don’t know what these are.”

“Bear” said Val, looking around “heading away from us…for now. Good job Kyle and sharp eyes. Let’s move.”

They crashed through the brush following the bear tracks when Randie stopped and pointed to her left “there! There’s a tree!”

They turned and headed to the fir tree. It was about six feet tall, and was very full.

“What do you guys think?” Val asked. “Is it a go?”

They all walked around the tree; touched it, shook the snow off, smelled it.

“I’d vote for it” said  Charlie with a smile.

“Me too” said Randie.

All were agreed.

“OK then let’s chop ‘er down” Val said.

Kyle produced an axe and they chopped it down. It was harder than he thought to cut down a green tree. Each young man took a turn chopping and they got it down.

Val, on the ever present lookout, watched ahead for the bear.

They took turns dragging it out to the open clearing and proceeded back to the house along the treeline.

When they reached the house, Val said “Charlie, go into the basement to the second closet on the left. In there is a stand that should be big enough for this tree.”

Charlie went inside and returned a few minutes later with the stand.

“Is this it Dad?” he asked.

“That’s the one” Val replied.

They shook the snow off the tree the best they could and Val said “we need to find a place now in the house. What to you think Ginger?”

“There’s only one place for it” she said, still studying the tree. “In the corner next to the closet.”

“I agree” Val said “let’s go clear a spot. Kyle, you set up some target practice schedule today. Now would be fine.”

Val pointed to all of them “let’s see where you stand.” He looked at Randie “do you know how to shoot?”

“I have shot some” she said, “but just at an indoor range.”

Val nodded “a little is certainly better than none at all.”

He turned to Kyle “start her on the .22 revolver and work up from there. Keep me apprised.”

They all went in the house and Kyle dug out target practice firearms for all while Val and Ginger made room for the tree.

Ginger gestured toward the close “what’s in there? I don’t think I’ve ever looked.”

“Go ahead and open it up” Val said.

She complied and pulled the accordion doors open and she gasped “a piano…how beautiful!” she exclaimed. The turned to Val “do you play?”

Val nodded nonchalantly “yeah…some.”

She hit  him playfully on the arm “you’re playing with me. You’re really good aren’t you? Please play something.”

Val pulled the bench out and sat down. He patted the spot next to him and Ginger sat on the bench too.

First he played some chords and warm ups to loosen his fingers.

The kids gathered around and Charlie spoke up “hey Dad. Is that the same piano you had when you were in Texas?”

Val looked at him and nodded. He then started to play.

He played his own rendition of “O Holy Night”.

To his surprise, Ginger was humming then broke into song when the high notes were played. She had a wonderful voice.

Val and she hugged after their performance; both had tears in their eyes.

The others clapped and Christopher said “will you play tomorrow for Christmas Eve Dad?”

“Sure will, and tomorrow, all the rest of you will sing…it’s called a program and all participate. Now off to your target practicing you kids. Ginger and I will bring the tree inside and we’ll all decorate it later.”

They all ran outside chatting with excitement.

“Those kids are so excited” Ginger said, taking Val’s arm. “They are already acting like Kyle is one of them.”

They stood for a couple minutes at the back window, watching the kids in the yard. It was a sunny cold day. The kids played, while mom and dad watched.

Chapter Seventeen

Val and Ginger shook off their reverie and went out to retrieve the tree.

They managed to get it inside without too much struggle.

With just a little trimming here and there, it was a very nice, full tree. It’s aroma filled the house quickly.

Ginger and Val proudly looked at it with thought of decorations running through their minds.

“What next?” Ginger asked.

“Downstairs is a box of old ornaments I dad when the boys were little. We’ll get those out and decorate the tree later today.”

Val continued to think out loud “I’ve got a couple strings of lights that I could connect to the batteries, using one of the extra inverters.”

He turned to Ginger “that would really impress the youngsters. I’ll make that happen, and will put the lights on telling them that’s it’s just for looks” he nodded and squinted slyly, looking at Ginger.

He tapped his head “this old man still has them kids in awe.”

“You’re amazing, Val” said Ginger shaking her head “you are so full of surprises.”

She filled the treestand with water and asked “would you bring up the ornaments and your lights? please? I’ll start lunch for the kids.”

It seemed natural to use the term ‘kids’ for the younger ones. They had gotten used to it quickly.

Val’s mind was a jumble of mixed emotions and memories; both of his own childhood and those when his own boys were small. He missed his brothers…the only connection to his own childhood. Certainly, he had his own, but without confirmation of his memories, who knew any more that his own mind hadn’t made them up?

He went downstairs and brought up a couple boxes of ornament that his parent had bought back in the sixties, as well as newer ones that had been kept over the years.

Val watched the kids as they took turns shooting. Randie seemed comfortable with the Kel-Tec PMR 30; a nice 30 round .22 magnum semi auto pistol, and she was shooting proficiently. Val liked that gun also, and he owned two of them. The downside is that he did not have a lot ammo for them. Still, it was a good practice gun, and better than nothing for around the barnyard carry.

Charlie was shooting a rifle, and Christopher was playing with a revolver. Kyle was teaching Randie some patience.

Ginger came up and slid her arm around his waist, and watched with him for a couple minutes, then she knocked on the window and when she got their attention, she yelled “lunch”!

They packed up and all came storming inside, chatting of their bullseyes, and great shots.

After lunch, Val demonstrated the use of his Mossberg 12 gauge pump shotguns. He allowed all who wanted to try to shoot. He showed the combat loading technique as well. He showed them how to be offensive with the shotgun and showed how to aim and shoot while advancing towards the target.

“Both of these are fitted with an aftermarket stock with a pistol grip and recoil absorbing butt. The pistol grip will allow better control if you have to rapid fire and dump your magazine.”

Val explained that the shotgun was a last resort weapon around the house and maybe in the woods. The Remington 1100 had a much longer barrel, and was semi automatic. “This will have longer range. I suggest you shoot slugs in this one. Lots of stopping power. Three shots of one ounce slugs at someone will make them think twice about messing with you.”

“These are formidable at close range” he explained, holding up one of the Mossbergs “be sure you have plenty of ammo on hand if you decide to use them.”

Val brought out the 30-30s, and let them all shoot them as well. Randie didn’t much care for the Marlin after a couple rounds, and she gladly handed it back to Kyle.

The other two boys did well with the 30-30 so Kyle brought out the 45-70s. They did not shoot as much with those, but still were pretty accurate.

“You guys pack it up” Val said. “I don’t want you people to get sore shoulders from shooting too much. If your shoulder gets bruised, it can ruin your day.”

They chatted and yakked about shooting while they packed up the guns, ammo, and shooting tables. Randie picked up targets. Kyle pointed where everything went, and in a short while, all the target practice hardware was put away.

“In a couple of days” Val began “I’ll show you how to reload the rifle shells. We’ve got about 200 rounds of brass right now and it never hurts to have them ready.”
“What about the pistols?” asked Randie “can you reload the small ones?”

“I don’t have stuff to do that, although it is doable…it’s just easier to buy them” Val replied as he opened the back door “don’t you worry, we’ve got lots and lots of .22 rounds. We can reload the .45 and 9mm also, but that will be a different lesson…but it’s basically the same for all centerfire rounds.”

When they got in they noticed the tree had fallen out nicely. Ginger added some more water and the kids found the boxes of ornaments.

“Can we start decorating?” asked Kyle.

Val nodded “you four kids are hereby in charge of tree decorating.”

Smiles formed on all of them as they dug into the boxes and began placing bulbs on the tree.

Val couldn’t help a tear formed in his eye while watching the kids. The view reminded him when he and his brother were little, and they decorated their tree. It was serious business; don’t clump the bulbs together, space out the icicles evenly. At times, production checks were needed for minor adjustments.

When they finished, it was really beautiful. They all stood and looked at it for several minutes; admiring their handiwork.

It was starting to get dark, and Val reached under the tree and plugged the lights into the inverter.

Ohs and ahs echoed through the room, as they all stood a while longer looking at their tree.

A flood of memories from Val’s childhood went through his mind in an instant: the original Grinch movie, Charlie Brown, Rudolf…family Chistmases alive now only through memories. Those days were gone forever.

Ginger had started reheating some of the roast that BJ had given them.

Val was pondering what to fix for Christmas Eve dinner; and he decided on Mexican food.

Ginger finished up frying up potatoes with carrots along with roast beef on sourdough bread.

As usual the kids wolfed down their food, but seemed to fill up quicker.

Nevertheless, there was always sourdough bread for in between meal snacks.

“Can I show them around  the place in the dark?” Kyle asked excitedly.

“OK, but all of you carry at least a pistol” Val put down his sandwich and continued “don’t ever walk around with your pistol pulled unless you already suspect trouble.” He gestured at Kyle “follow him and do what he says. Take flashlights if you wish. The place looks different at night…get familiar with it.”

Shep was up wagging his tail. He knew something was up, and followed the rest of them out the door.

Ginger and Val cleaned up the dishes and Ginger asked “what are your plans, if any, for Christmas Eve dinner tomorrow?”

Without hesitating, Val answered “Mexican food. We’ll have beef for tacos, steak for guisada tacos, corn tortillas for enchiladas, flour for tortillas, some hot salsa, corn bread, and whatever else we can come up with along those lines.”

Ginger was drying a plate “sound like a lot of work.”

Val shrugged “we’ve got all day. Besides, Christopher and Charlie both know how to make most of the stuff I mentioned. You are right though; it will be a lot of work with only one stove. We could crank up the pit if necessary.”

“Too bad we don’t have a turkey…for Christmas dinner” Ginger said sadly.

“We’re gonna have tacos for days” Val said. “They’re very portable.”

She nodded in silence.

They heard the kids giggling outside and Shep barking.

Val shook his head.

“What?” Ginger asked walking up to him questioningly.

“If you’d a told me that my kids would be here at Christmas a month ago, I would have laughed right in your face” Val said factually.

Ginger touched the end of his nose “who knows who could show up tomorrow?” she turned and walked away and Val just watched her wiggle as she went into the other room.

“Yeah” he said to himself “who knows?” He nodded in agreement.

He chased after her for a few minutes of groping until the kids came inside a little while later.

They put up the guns in their places. The boys were taking theirs to their rooms, although the rifles stayed in the broom closet.

‘Good nights’ were said, and all were asleep soon.

Val and Ginger continued where they had left off earlier. Neither was disappointed…both times.

 

Chapter Eighteen

The sun rose and shone through the windows, waking up Val and Ginger first. They enjoyed each other’s close company twice during the night.

They got out of bed and dressed. Then started adding wood to the fires.

Val got out a couple pounds of pinto beans and prepared them for the evening’s meal by adding them to water. The Dutch oven would cut down on the cooking time and besides, he was going to make refried beans with them. They wouldn’t have to be pretty.

Charlie was up from downstairs as his room was directly below Val and Ginger’s room.

Kyle soon joined them “Come on” he said to Charlie “I want to show you something.”

“What about Christopher?” asked Charlie.

Kyle shrugged “snooze you lose…c’mon. It’s pretty cool.”

They strapped on each a pistol and grabbed a rifle and out they went with Shep following.

“What about breakfast?” Ginger asked “We’re outa eggs.”

“I’ll go get some” Val said “just make a stack of toast. We’ll have egg sandwiches.”

He too donned his cold weather gear and went out.

He appreciated the sunshine on Christmas Eve. Everyone gets tired of snow, snow, and more snow. He trudged across the yard towards the coop, and opened the gate.

The chickens were doing well, and he gathered ten eggs, as that’s all there were from his flock of twenty or so.

He heard a noise behind him; he turned and it was Kyle and Charlie.

“We’re gonna feed and water ’em” said Kyle as he put down his rifle, and grabbed the water bucket.

Val left the boys to their project, and went back inside where Ginger had started working on the toast.

Christopher and Randie came out of their room yawning and rubbing their eyes.

“What’s going on?” asked Christopher sleepily.

“Kyle and Charlie are outside in the coop doing some cleaning chores” Val answered, cracking an egg into a large bowl. “You might want to go help them, since you’re in charge of the chickens now” he added.

Christopher became alerted and quickly finished dressing, and put on his coat and went outside.

Randie sat down and said “what can I do?” she asked with another yawn.

“You can butter this bread before we start toasting it” Ginger replied, indicating a place for Randie to work. “Get some  jelly from the cupboard too” she added, pointing.

Randie complied, and Ginger continued slicing bread with Randie buttering the slices.

The cast iron pan was hot enough now, and Ginger began making holes in the center of the bread slices for her specialty ‘one eyed jacks’.

As she placed a couple pieces of toast into the pan, she put an egg into the hole, and just fried it.

By the time she had a few made, the boys came in, removed their coats, and sat down talking about Christopher’s charge. He made it clear how he wanted things done, and how he was going to start raising chicks in a few days.

Ginger served what was ready, and everyone dived in. Coffee and tea were available, and conversation did not lack.

“What’s the plan for today?” asked Charlie.

“We are going to prepare a grand Christmas Eve feast of Mexican food” Val answered sipping coffee. “We’ll all need to work on it as there is a lot to do, but we’ll have lots of tacos and enchiladas and other stuff left over for a couple days.”

“Wow!” said the boys “what can we do?”

Ginger answered “you guys will be making tortillas today; flour and corn. I will show you how to do it. It will take two to form the tortillas with the press, then cook them, then fry them in the oil. Some will be soft, and some will be crispy.” She paused a moment.

“Randie and I will work on the flour tortillas when you guys are done with the corn” she cut a piece of egg and toast.

Val added “I will work on the beef and chicken for the tacos and enchiladas. We’ll have some guisada tacos too…you guys remember those?”

Charlie and Christopher nodded simultaneously.

“I’ll also break out one of the large chunks of waxed cheese I have for all this food. I’ve been saving it. We’ll also make corn bread…the sweet kind with the honey.”

“Lots of salsa will be required for our dinner as well, and we have plenty. So let’s finish and clean up so we can get started.”

Val finished his coffee, and held his cup out for more. Ginger reached behind her, grabbed the pot, and poured the last into his cup. “Want some more?” she asked.

Val shook his head “this will be just right, thank you. We’ll need all the stove time today for the food. Anything that needs to be kept warm can sit on the hearth by the fireplace in the other room.”

The group finished eating and all joined in to do dishes.

When the dishes were done, all eyes were on Val.

“What’s our plan?” asked Christopher.

“We’ll  need to start with the corn tortillas. They require at least two people; a comal and a pan of hot oil. We should probably make a hundred or so. There are plenty of us, so plan to trade shifts. I’ll need to make my perimeter run and will require a volunteer; anyone will do.”

No one volunteered.

“Randie, how about you? C’mon get your gear and let’s make a run. I’ll let you drive.”

She smiled and got her coat, hat, and pistol.

Ginger was showing the rest how to mix the masa for the corn tortillas while the comal and oil were heating.

Val and Randie went to the barn and got the four wheeler out, with Shep taking his position in the back seat.

Randie got into the driver’s seat, and Val showed her how to start it.

“It’s been a while since I drove” she said embarrassed.

“It’s OK” Val replied “we ain’t in no hurry. Just stop at the driveway gate, I’ll open it, then on to the big gate, and I’ll open that. We’ll stop from time to time to stop, listen, watch, and smell, until we get to the hill where we’ll get out and crawl to the top. We also will be watching for tire tracks and footprints.”

He gestured and they left out the barn towards the yard gate.

They stopped and Val took out his binocs as he walked and opened the gate. As Randie drove through, Val took a quick scan of the pasture across the road, then down to the big gate. No tracks or prints.

He got in and they left to the big gate where he opened the big gate, and closed it after she passed through.

They drove down the road. The bright sun reflected off the snow. Sunglasses stayed in the four wheeler, and they both had  theirs on.

Val motioned for Randie to stop, and she complied. He pointed down the road where there were sets of tracks crossing.

They got out looking around as they approached the tracks.

“Bear” Randie said pointing “and deer”.

Val nodded.

She looked at him “the bear is stalking the deer.”

Val nodded and smiled at her “very good. The bear is hunting. Let’s go.”

They got back in and went towards the big hill where they stopped at the bottom.

Again, they looked around for anything that might cause them concern while they walked up the snow covered hill. The snow was about a foot deep and they trekked up. As they neared the top, Val got down and crawled. Randie followed suit.

Val crawled the last few feet on his stomach and peeked over the top. He motioned Randie to do same.

“Just raise up until you can see over and down the hill. Take your look noticing for footprints or tire tracks. Use the binocs to look down at the intersection for same.” He passed her the binocs and she looked carefully the little valley below.

“I got nothing” she said panning right to left, handing the binocs back. Val looked too, but saw nothing.

He backed down with her following. When they reached the four wheeler, he said “I made a  huge mistake this morning. I did not bring a radio. It is crucial to have one along on this patrol because even if you are seen and chased, you will eventually reach the range of the other radios when you’re high-tailing it home. Remember that. If it’s an emergency, someone will have the gate ready for you to pass through.”

She started the four wheeler, and they headed back home without incident.

When they reached the big gate, he showed her how the lock worked and how to open and close it. He made her do it. It was difficult in the snow, but she did it.

The same with the yard gate. Val still had her drive, but showed her how to open and close it.

They went to the garage, and topped off the gas tank.

“That was fun” Randie said smiling.

Val leaned against the barn door and began “I’m glad you think so. This is a serious and potentially dangerous patrol.” He shook his finger at her “you must have your eyes peeled when you’re on this patrol. Others may be watching us as we do our daily. We may have to change our time of day so as not to be predictable. You did fine. You have a good eye. This is not a vacation. Everything we do is for survival or survival training.”

She nodded and waited for more instructions.

“Let’s go in and bail out those boys” Val said with a smile.

Val and Randie entered the house to find the aroma of fried tortillas filling the air. There were four stacks of corn tortillas on the table.

“How do you want to store these?” asked Ginger as she pulled another tortilla from the hot oil. “These are all crispy, and the rest are soft” she said pointing.

“The crispy ones should be store in the giant ziploc bags” Val said “the rest can be wrapped in foil until needed.”

The corn group finished up and then started the flour tortilla group “OK” Val said rubbing his hands together “now we gonna make some flour tortillas.”

He gathered his ingredients from the cupboard; shortening, flour, and some salt. He showed them how to mix, form into balls, and roll the tortillas on the cutting board, then onto the comal (comal is a cast iron skillet with no sides) or the skillet. “Either one will work to cook them” he explained as he rolled a few tortillas from round balls of dough “it takes some practice but it will come to you.”

Once the dough is rolled, it is then put onto either the skillet or the comal and cooked for  30-40 seconds each side. He showed them and then ate one “mmmm good tortilla. Now you folks work on this and I’m gonna work on the guisada. Save a space on the stove top for the beef.”

The kids took turns rolling and cooking the tortillas (and sampling) while Val cut up a large roast that BJ had given them for the beef guisada. There was another one and Val had Ginger grind it up in the meat grinder.

It was a busy afternoon for all.

When Val got the beef cubed, he browned it in another cast iron skillet, then put it in a Dutch oven with some water and stewed it for a couple of hours.

While that was cooking, he packaged up the flour tortillas while making the enchiladas.

The enchiladas were basically cheese filling with a little onion, rolled inside a corn tortilla. He had several pans that would hold 3 layers deep of enchiladas piled on top of one another.

When the kids were done cooking the flour torts, Val made the enchilada sauce which was basically some canned tomatoes, cumin, chile pepper, a little paprika, more onion, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Also he added some cooked ground beef to the sauce which he would pour on top of the enchilada trays, cover them with foil, and bake them until these cheese was melted.

After the sauce simmered an hour or so, he added cornstarch to thicken it.

Meanwhile, he cooked the ground beef with onion, garlic, chile powder, cumin, salt and pepper. When this was done, he put it in another foil container, and set it by the hearth.

When the stove top cooking was all done, he mixed dry ingredients for two batches of his sweet cornbread. When he was ready, he just added the cream, eggs, honey, and oil and baked it in one of the cast iron skillets.

“Holy crap!” Christopher said when he saw all the food “we’ve got enough food to feed an army here!”

Val chuckled “we already have an army here, and we still have the rice to prepare. Remember?” He went through with them how to do it and they started on a large batch of Spanish rice.

Val sat down and was glad to do so as staying in one place on his feet for a long time, bothered his lower back.

He sat down and Ginger brought him a glass of his favorite bourbon with ice.

“I thought you’d never sit down” she said as she sat on his lap. She put her arms around his neck while they watched the kids, and Val sipped his bourbon.

He stole a few more sips then poured the enchilada sauce into the pans and put them in the oven for thirty minutes. He removed them and sat them by the hearth..a little closer. He peeked in and they smelled delicious while watchful eyes looked at him “almost ready to eat. Anybody hungry?”

A slew of hands went up and Val sat down again for a couple more sips.

It was starting to get dusk when Val put down his bourbon and said “I think it’s time we put a round of corn bread in.”

He got up and mixed his ingredients, and put the first batch of corn bread in the oven. After twenty minutes, he took it out and all gathered round.

“Time to eat!” Val said.

“What’s that?” said Kyle holding his hand to his ear.

The room fell silent.

Outside, they heard a horn honking. It did not stop.

Chapter Nineteen

Val went right for his coat and hat and rifle. He strapped on his Glock too and took a radio.

“Kyle” he pointed at the lad “cover me from the barnyard corner of the house. Christopher, the opposite corner and stay down. Don’t fire unless you hear the radio or gunshots. Got it?”

They both nodded.

“Oh please be careful” Ginger said, her tone worried.

“Always am” Val replied and kissed her. “Keep your radio close.”

Val went outside, and the boys to their respective positions.

Val walked to the yard gate and turned on his flashlight to the gate. There was a truck there, and it flashed its lights.

A voice boomed out “are ya gonna make us wait out here in the cold forever? Val? It’s BJ. Merry Christmas!”

Val got on the radio “it’s BJ. Get ready for more dinner guests.”

He walked to the big gate and let them in. BJ shook his hand as they passed through the gate. He brought the big Chevy 4 door and there were more folks inside beside Eunice. Val waved them through and climbed into the back as they drove to the back side of the house.

Val practically squeezed BJ to death saying “I am so very glad to see you. Merry Christmas!”

BJ was a little overwhelmed and said “we got something for you.” He yelled at the truck “Skip! Bring in the stuff!”

Skip hopped out struggling with a large box. Bjr helped him as they brought it to the back door of the house.

“We thought you might could use this” BJ said “it’s a giant turkey we got before the crash. We got several of them and hoped you could cook it.”

“Damn right I can” Val said “you all come on in. We’ve been cooking all day and have a feast fit for a king. All of you please join us for Christmas Eve dinner! Come on! I won’t take no for an answer!”

Besides BJ, Eunice, Bjr, and Skip, there was Hunter and Trey.

“Oh we couldn’t” Eunice said as Val dragged her out of the truck, and escorted her into the house ahead of the others.

Ginger had already begun setting up an extra card table and chairs. The kitchen was bustling with plates, silverware, cups, glasses, coffee was put on, the other corn bread was put in the oven, and dinner was served.

The guests mingled well with their hosts, and Val brought out his bourbon and shared it freely with those who partook.

Eunice seemed glad for another woman’s company for a change. She and Ginger giggled and laughed by themselves, well caught up in their own conversation.

Skip, Bjr, and the boys hit it off well quickly, and the food was a hit as well.

The bourbon bottle was emptied and BJ yelled “Trey! Go out to the truck please and bring in that other bottle.”

“Yes sir BJ” Trey said and he was out and back in less than a minute, and the bourbon was pouring again.

“I gotta say Val” BJ began “that this is the best Mexican food I have ever had! You guys made all this here?”

Val nodded “yeah, we spent pretty much all day. I’m glad  you like it because you are taking a lot of this home. We wouldn’t have a lot of this without the meat you gave us, so enjoy it my friend.”

Val held up his glass “to new friends.”

“Here here” said the crowd.

Val pulled up to the piano, and they all stood behind him singing carols for the next half  hour or so. When they were done, a round of applause and more bourbon poured.

“This is the best damn cornbread I ever had in my life!” BJ stated, grabbing another square. “What is your secret? It’s sweet too!”

Val jumped up “I’ll show you” and he went downstairs and returned carrying something.

He handed it to BJ “Merry Christmas my friend. This is a gallon of Tupelo honey; the sweetest honey on the planet. It will not go bad or crystallize on you.”

BJ was taken aback as he took the jug from Val. Val had pulled out a pad and was jotting down something “here is the recipe. We could not have made it without your generous gift of your cream.” He tore it off and gave it to BJ.

Val turned again and went downstairs “I’ve got something else for you.”

He returned with another gallon jug “pure Vermont maple syrup” he said giving it to BJ “for all you’ve done for us.”

BJ was stupefied “this is a lot…” he stopped when Val interrupted him.

“I’ve got many more jugs of each” he said “please take it and ask for more when you run out.”

Val went to the table and began wrapping up some food “we’re gonna send some of this food home with you.”

“You guys are too much” BJ said.

“We expect you to drop by tomorrow afternoon for some turkey too” Val said “I’ll get started on that in the morning. It’s a big one so it’ll take a while, but feel free to come by an enjoy some roast turkey, stuffing, taters, and veggies.”

“What can I do for you?” BJ said, standing up.

“My friend, you have already been a huge surprise for us with all your gifts of food” Val replied, wrapping some tacos in foil.

“Do you need anything else?” BJ queried…emphasis on anything.

Val sighed and thought for a moment “I could use some .22 WMR ammo. We have a budding sharpshooter here and she likes that Kel-Tec semi auto.”

“Well you got it and I am glad to give it to you” BJ continued “I have a case…maybe two and they’re yours. Most of my people don’t care for the .22.” He paused and squinted with a  nod “I get it though. That pistol in the right hands with a few extra mags can be formidable.”

“Agreed” Val said putting more food into the box that BJ brought.

The rest of BJ’s crew had gotten up and were stirring around.

“We’ll be hitting the road then” BJ offered his hand to Val.

They shook hands as did many others as they filed outside.

“Great food” said Trey as he went out carrying the box.

“Thanks” Val said with Ginger nestling next to him as Eunice also had exited.

They started the truck and Val, along with Kyle went out to the big gate to close up.

They exchanged waves as they locked up and went back to the yard gate, close it and went inside.

The rest were working on cleanup, and there were still lots of leftovers.

“What’ll we do with all this?” Ginger asked as she put some more foil on the enchiladas.

“Just put them in the freezer in the barn” Val said taking a bite of guisada. “There’s no electricity but it won’t matter. It’ll be cold enough to preserve them” paused and gestured to the kids “not that it will last long” he chuckled.

The kids made a couple of runs to the barn and put away the food.

The kitchen and tables were cleaned, and paper plates were scheduled for the burn barrel in the morning. People learn to eat every bite they take. There was no food thrown away.

It was late, and there were yawns all around.

“Off to bed” Val said “everyone. We have another big eating day tomorrow.” He stifled a belch, and moved towards his room amongst an round of ‘good nights’.

Ginger was already in bed, and she gave Val her own Christmas presents…several times.

Chapter Twenty

Val awoke to the sound of Shep barking excitedly. Val got out of bed and got dressed quickly. The sun was shining brightly.

Ginger stirred, but snuggled down closer.

By the time Val got to the back door, Charlie was up and dressed.

“What do you think it is?” Charlie asked, reaching for his gunbelt.

Val opened the door, and Shep flew out and round the corner to the front “dunno. Let’s go. Bring the shotgun. I’ll take the rifle” he said checking the 45-70 chamber.

Out they went. Fresh snow had fallen overnight. A quick look around the back yard saw no tracks, except for those of Shep heading to the right.

Shep had stopped running and Val heard him barking not far away.

When Val and Charlie rounded the corner of the house, Shep was at the big gate, barking at the Sheriff’s car.

Sheriff Blevins got out and waved. “Merry Christmas!”

Val shushed Shep and returned “Merry Christmas Sheriff!” as he walked to the gate.

“Sorry, my horn all of a sudden gave out” said the sheriff as Val and Charlie approached “who’s this?” he asked of Charlie.

Val opened the ate and Charlie replied “I’m Charlie” he replied holding out his bare hand to the sheriff. “Val’s youngest son” he continued.

The sheriff looked amazed as he too, pulled off his glove and shook young Charlie’s hand “well, I’ve heard about you young man” he said with a smile, and looking at Val.

“Come on in and get some coffee and breakfast” Val said opening the gate.

“I was hoping so” the sheriff said with a smile and drove through. “I see you’re loaded for bear” he said, gesturing to the big rifle.

Val nodded “can’t be too careful”.

Val closed and locked the gate after he passed through.

Charlie was heading back following the sheriff’s car.

When they got inside, the rest were awake and there was coffee on the stove just starting to perk.

They all chatted while Val and Ginger made some pancakes while the coffee was perking.

The sheriff jotted stuff down in his notebook while the kids yakked at the sheriff about what was going on outside the farm.

The kids didn’t wait for coffee, and dug right in.

The sheriff pulled Val aside with Ginger and began “your two guests have been at it again”.

“At least we’re pretty sure. We have no witnesses, but a description was given by someone who saw them 10 days ago at the haunted farm.”

He said ‘haunted farm’ like they were supposed to know what it was. Their stupefied look was enough for the sheriff to elaborate.

“The haunted farm is an acreage” he indicated over his shoulder down the road “way past the intersection where we turn to BJ’s. It’s just what the locals call the place. Supposedly the farmer and his family were murdered there like fifty years ago, and the legend is that they still roam their property looking for the killer, who was never found. BJ Jr. and his pal Skip were the ones that reported seeing Juliette and Anson by the haunted farm.”

“BJ Jr. and Skip?” Val spoke out loud, but was thinking about his conspiracy theory which he had discussed with no one. “What were those two doing all the way over there?”

“BJ’s property butts against the haunted farm” the sheriff answered. “The boys said they were hunting…and I see that look in your eye again” he said inquisitively. “You want to talk about that?”

“I don’t think I even have enough yet to discuss” Val said slowly “other than it seems that Skip bothers me some…nothing I can put my finger on…and I like the kid OK, but there are too many coincidences with him around…just a funny gut feeling. It’s probably nothing.”

“You let me know when you have more pieces to this” the sheriff said seriously “and we’ll  talk more about it. For now, I don’t have any proof that these two are anywhere except what the boys said. Why they would make it up, I don’t know, but their descriptions were spot on.”

Val was still staring into space…the wheels were turning. “Let’s eat” he said with a smile, and they went to the table and joined the others for breakfast.

Val’s suspicions were growing, and it started to consume him. He had to change the subject at the table so as not to be preoccupied.

“What’s for dinner?” the sheriff chuckled.

“Turkey and all the trimmings” Val answered with his mouth full. “BJ said he was gonna be here too this afternoon. You’re welcome to stay” he added.

The sheriff smiled “thank you so much. I’d really like to, but I gotta make my rounds. I appreciate the invitation.”

“You stop by anytime and we’ll fix you food and coffee or whatever you need” Val said, looking directly at the sheriff.

“Thank you” was all he said as they finished up.

“Dad” Christopher started holding his belly “I don’t think I’ll be able to eat any more today.”

“Well, someone still has to make perimeter check” Val said without hesitation. “Might as well be  you.”

Christopher groaned.

The sheriff stood up and said “I’ll be leaving you now. I hope you  all have a good safe day.”

He offered his hand to all and left. Christopher accompanied him to the big gate and Kyle met him at the gate with the four wheeler for the sweep.

The rest cleaned up breakfast dishes while Val made his plans for turkey dinner.

He and Ginger worked on the bird and stuffing and Val’s mind wandered off again.

“Earth to Val” Ginger said jokingly. “You’ve got the stare again” she commented dryly.

“Val!” Ginger touched his arm, startling him “what is it?” she whispered.

Still in his world Val replied softly “there are too many coincidences concerning Anson and Juliette” he started “they should not be here alone. There is no way they could have gotten here without help. They have no hunting weapons, and little knowledge of outdoor life. They had no tools like hatchet, knives, firestarters, cold weather gear…nothing. Yet, here they are, and they are still wandering around. Why?”

“Why do you think?” Ginger asked seriously.

Val looked at her “they are a scouting party for a larger group. They get help from the larger group. How? I don’t know. Maybe the group sends a few people at a predesignated location to bury supplies or store them…the haunted farm would be a great place because the locals are afraid of that place. They are gathering intel on all of us. I’ll bet you ten dollars that they are making maps of every inch they travel. They show locations of all occupied dwellings and how many are in each one, and also find out what they can about food stores and ammunition. They turn in their findings every so often in exchange for supplies…something like that.”

She looked at him with total wide eyes…almost disbelief “whatever gave you that idea? Kyle and I are no different. We travelled alone living off the land…”

Val interrupted her “yes and you two were skinny as twigs. Anson and Juliette were healthy, yet they had no food. The only reason I took them in was because she was ill.”

He continued “you remember why I made them leave? She was trying to undermine our structure, cause conflict, and perhaps kill us all.” He shrugged “who would know?”

She shook her head in disbelief “why would they do that?”

Val looked at her directly in the eye “because the larger group, with the right information, could move in, attack and take over. They could establish a home base with the right amount of food and supplies, and make runs to spread out their web of power. Kill or enslave everyone that goes against them. That’s why the first takeover is so important. For all we know, they could have already done that further south, and are moving north. Maybe the only reason they haven’t moved on us already is that it’s too damn cold. It’s harder to support a large group when it’s zero outside, than if it’s sixty.”

“Is that it?” Ginger asked.

“No” Val replied quickly “that kid Skip bothers me too. He just doesn’t fit…he just doesn’t fit” his voice faded as he drifted off into his stare again.

Val’s attention shifted when he heard Charlie on the four wheeler returning from his patrol.

By then, Val had the turkey in the oven.

Charlie burst in out of breath “nothing going on” he started, as he removed his gloves and coat. “Only the sheriff’s tire tracks all the way to the intersection. He went straight across from here.”

He walked over to the fireplace, and warmed his hands “I saw what I think was a bear south of here walking next to the woods…” he paused.

“That’s probably the same one that made those tracks the day we got the tree” Val said calmly “which was was it going?”

“Dunno” Charlie said “he saw me, I stopped, he turned and went straight into the woods. That’s all.”

“OK” Val said “anything else? other tracks?”

Charlie shook his head.

Val shook his head slightly too “just the way I like it…quiet.”

Val went to work making cinnamon rolls. By the time those came out, the aromas from the turkey and rolls filled the air.

A horn honked outside, and the boys all bounded out the door towards the gate.

BJ and company had arrived with more bounty.

It was just BJ, Eunice, and a couple of hands this trip, but BJ brought a case of 5000 rounds of .22 WMR ammo.

“You’ll never know how much I needed that ammo” Val said as he poured some homemade cider for the guests.

They didn’t have to wait long as dinner was served quickly; turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, chuckwagon carrots, green beans, cinnamon rolls and pie.

After dinner, they sat down and out came the bourbon from BJ. He had brought a case for Val “since you’re such a fan” he said with a smile. “I plan to really enjoy the syrup and honey you gave us. I know this won’t go to waste.”

“Tell me about the haunted farm” Val said kind of all of a sudden.

BJ nearly choked on his sip of the sour mash “where the hell did you hear about that?”

“Sheriff was by earlier” Val answered.

BJ nodded slowly “Yeah, I noticed there was another set of tracks; coming and going. OK, I”ll tell you what I know.”

He poured another glass and topped off Val’s, then began.

 

Don’t know what happened

My brother and I used to be fairly close back in the late seventies and eighties. I got into a lot of trouble in the seventies, and almost went to prison. My family stuck by me all the way.

My brother used to invite me over for bbq every Saturday evening. They always took me out for my birthday.

My brother and I had this banter that we spoke to each other like a couple of distinguished English gentlemen.

We would sample to liquor together.

He drank my homebrew beer and never criticized it, even though at times the quality might not have been at its peak.

We would often reminisce about when we were kids growing up together. Many a conversation began with “remember when?”

His wife began to roll her eyes when my brother and I spoke of our childhood. I never understood her reluctance to listen. It was like she didn’t want me reminding him of the days when she had no control over him.

Over the years, since they were married, I have watched my brother go from being strong and independent to a pussy whipped poor excuse of a man…sorry to say.

As with most of the fucked up things in my life, it’s probably my fault.

A Second Chance

A SECOND CHANCE

Marshall had been a daydreamer all his life. For as long as he could remember, he would fantasize just about anything. Certainly for personal pleasures, yet also for why not? Why can’t I live this dream? He had an extremely vivid imagination; so much so that if he read a good book, or had a strong fantasy going, he would be totally engrossed, and would forget about his immediate surroundings.

Marshall also had an anger management/bullying problem that would usually manifest itself when he was around younger children.

His mom was also an avid reader, and occasionally, Marshall would sneak one of her books and read it. Mom sometimes had some steamy books.

Marshall always had a thing for the ladies. Even in K, he had a couple of favorite girls. He didn’t know what to do except to maybe hold their hand at recess, or put his arm around her during lecture (lecture? you did say Kindergarten?).

First grade was an eye-opening experience. He liked a girl, and even invited her over to swing one afternoon. You know… the kind on a swing set.

Dad always called it a porch swing, but it was really too small for he and his brother, and girlfriend too, for that matter, to swing comfortably. Yet, he and his little lady seemed to enjoy each others company that afternoon.

Since Marshall’s mom was a teacher, there wasn’t much that he did that didn’t get back to her eventually.

He didn’t remember when the cockiness started; maybe that was part of the cowardice. He didn’t know and really wasn’t going to go to therapy to search for that particular answer.

In first grade, a guest music teacher was coming for a lesson. It was just before Christmas. The gentleman walked in, and Marshall figured the teacher was blind so as not to see the man walk into the classroom, and he kept speaking to her loudly “here he is! Here he is!” Yep, got in trouble for that.

He does remember at a neighbor’s pool, when he was five, that he shoved a younger child into the pool. It was a wading pool, but Marshall pushed him in just the same. It made no difference to him that the child was also wearing a sling.

Did he get whipped for that? No recollection of that, and is probably not important.

During the same period, the next door neighbors’ dog had some pups. When the puppies got a little older, Marshall squished one between the doghouse and the house. He ran away, but was accosted by the owner later, and he denied it.

When he and his brother were tots, somehow, and the stories vary slightly from brother to brother, younger brother ended up getting a huge cut on his forehead, causing a life-long scar. Marshall was responsible, but doesn’t remember exactly what happened. It had to do with a little bottle he found; like a vanilla extract bottle. He had been making noise with it by tapping it on the side of a ceramic coated steel wash basin, and (this is where the story changes) he then faked throwing the bottle at the side of the house; only, part of the bottle came off and hit little brother. Little brother claims that Marshall threw the bottle at him.

If little brother’s version is true, then we see a very early tendency for violence in Marshall towards a younger, a smaller person.

Marshall remembers during that time that he and his brother were playing with the mixer. The cord ended up getting pulled out. Mom sent he and his brother to bed for their nap. The next thing he remembered was getting knocked up side of the head, only to look into his marine dad’s steel-blue eyes. He dared not cry, even though the thumpin’ really hurt. 20 minutes later, marine dad fixed the mixer. Marshall’s head was still numb.

He had two younger brothers; one 13 months younger, the second was nine years younger. Marshall had no idea what a big brother was. He only knew that he had two little brothers, and sometimes, they were a pain in the ass.

Sometimes he was asked to do something like wear the same shirt as his brother, so they would look alike. His response was something to the effect of WTF? Yep, he got into his share of trouble and spankings in the sixties were plentiful; especially since Dad was an ex-marine.

Marshall didn’t know any different. You got what you got and ya gotta run with it. Ya deal the hand you’re dealt. He had no idea what that meant, but that was pretty much what he did.

Second grade, more girls, more troubles.

Marshall’s idea of liking girls was chasing them at recess. Unfortunately, Marshall was not very athletically inclined. Still, the fun was in the hunt and chase. If he really liked a girl, he would pull out his Big Chief tablet, and draw and huge heart with and arrow through it from top right to bottom left and write “I love you (girl’s name).” Sometimes he would sign it, sometimes not.

Third grade…gold mine. Marshall had more girlfriends than he knew what to do with.

Fourth grade. Girlfriends…not with that teacher.

He wasn’t sure, but he thought that was the year the neighbors moved in. They had two boys; one tyke around two…no more than that, and an older boy perhaps first or second grade.

When the neighbor kids parents would arrive home in the evenings, Marshall would drop what he was doing, and run over to play with the little one. Usually, Marshall would end up abusing the boy to the point of crying. Slapping pushing him down were common practices. The more he got away with it, the  more severe the abuse became. At times, when Marshall returned the youngster, he would be bleeding from his mouth. Marshall was quick with excuses and lies to cover his bizarre behavior.

One evening Marshall ran over to play with the boy, and the boy’s mom nixed the idea. No more.

On the other side of Marshall’s home were two more kids; again one a little tyke that was too young to speak. The abuse wasn’t as fun with that boy because he wasn’t as cute.

That year, Marshall was given a little brother. He would walk be the bassinet while baby slept, and flick the baby’s cheek.

Being color blind, Marshall could not tell that there was a huge red welt on baby’s face. Mom saw it, and questioned Marshall and his brother, but Marshall played innocent, and got away with it.

Marshall and his brother used to bathe together when they were young. During one session, his brother was washing his hair. Marshall took the shampoo bottle, shook it, and watched carefully while his brother rinsed his hair. When his brother took a breath, Marshall squirted the soapy suds from the bottle into his brother’s nose and mouth.

His brother immediately began coughing and choking and crying. He got out of the tub and vomited on the floor. He began pounding on the bathroom door for help. Marshall did nothing. Mom came in and took care of younger brother.

Marshall and his next younger brother fought with regularity. No particular reason, just seemed that they were very frequently at odds. Marshall was a poor excuse for a big brother. He never, ever even considered how his actions affected his younger brothers until many, many years later.

The mean fourth grade teacher, had a wealth of book collections. Biographies of colonial heroes; Bedford Forest, Ulysses Grant, Washington, Lewis and Clark and many others. He loved to read, and would get totally wrapped up in fantasy, leaving his present location. At times, he would have to be spoken sharply to, as to get back to reality. He read most of those books twice, and got in trouble for reading in class on numerous occasions. Fourth grade was also the year he found out there was no Santa Claus. This new knowledge tore a huge hole in his fantasy world.

This was where he also learned public humiliation for reading in class. He would have to write “I will not read in class while the teacher is speaking” 100 times on the black board, then erase it, then clean the erasers.

In fifth grade, or the summer between fifth and sixth, Marshall got a paper route. A chance to earn real  money. Too bad the leader of the paper boys in that part of town cheated them out of their money.

Marshall loved it. While delivering papers on his route, he would fantasize. He told his stories out loud. He made up whatever he wanted. The only story he recalls is about these rocket tubes he had that he could fly with…and rescue pretty girls and they would all love him. (Fifth grade in the sixties meant naivety in a major way) Marshall’s idea of a big romance was holding a girl’s hand. He had a few in fifth grade, and he got the shit kicked out of him by one who he chased and caught. That scar is still on his shin.

He pissed away all his money on candy and toys. He got so used to having money, that when Marine dad got transferred, Marshall no longer had a job, and had to steal money from his parents. They were far too trusting, leaving their wallets about. He even resorted to shoplifting. He never got caught. He came close, but never had problems with the police.

The move took place while Marshall was in eighth grade, where he met a girl that he really liked. The move shut something off inside him and he no longer chased girls. He could hardly talk to them without freezing up. The girl he liked, had the cutest dimples he had ever seen, and she giggled a lot.

He fell for a girl at church…badly. When she dumped him for his younger brother, he had a little knife that he stabbed through her name on his bulletin board above his bed. He felt humiliated.

When the motorcycle arrived, he was able to go visit dimples whenever he wanted. She seems to like  him ok. When his parents dragged him off to North Dakota every summer, he would write her, and she would write back. He really liked her, and found out that she was transferring to a different school. He would still go see her from time to time, as she still lived in the same place, for whatever reason, she wanted to go to school where her father was teaching. So he pretty much did without her for his sophmore and junior years.

His younger brother and he fought tooth and nail frequently. Someone would always get a whippin’ when they fought. When his brother would get spanked, Marshall would laugh to himself.

Marshall got a job, and he was home free. He had money, a motorcycle which he had to share until his brother got a reckless driving ticket and was no longer allowed to drive the bike until he had his license. A year later, Marshall turned sixteen, and Marine dad let him drive the old Studebaker. So what? Now he could cruise around in the rain. That’s when he started smoking pot. Marshall loved it.

He was able to maybe work after school for an hour a day, and Saturday he worked all day. His part-time checks were about twelve or thirteen dollars. In those days, with that he could put gas in his car, buy some dope, smokes and munchies. Life was really good.

His folks no longer bothered him, as he had a job. No more hauling out the trash, no more trimming the hedge, no more mowing the yard, no more cleaning out under the fruit trees, no more picking up dog shit, no more baby sitting little brother.

Saturday night was his night. He cashed his check at the convenience store, put gas in, and got smokes. He went home and showered, and ate. Then he left for the evening. Usually he was gone until after midnight. Sometimes Marine dad was up; sometimes not. They always left the outside light on, and a lamp on inside the house. As long as he wasn’t too wasted, things were cool.

He loved to drink beer and liquor when he could, but was not old enough. In 1974, the drinking age in Texas dropped to 18.

In the summer of 1973, he was in between his junior and senior year. He was six feet two inches tall, weighed 140 lbs, and had long flowing blond hair.

He still had the same job, and in the summer, he was allowed to work full time. His paychecks were $48.59 for a 40-hour week. That was big money in those days. A couple of his pals were old enough to buy beer, so he never went thirsty for lack of opportunity. Dope was plentiful at ten dollars an ounce, and sometimes he would get some really good stuff. He always shared.

One of the places he always hung out was a good friend named Jacob. They had met in school, and became friends easily. Jacob was a doper too, as were several of their  mutual friends; some of which were in the band like Marshall.

On Saturday nights, Marshall would head over to Jacob’s to set the evening. Next door to Jacob on one side was Dimples, as her family had moved there a year or so earlier. On the other side of Jacob were the Martin brothers.

Marshall still liked Dimples, but felt since he had gone astray, he would never be able to really get involved with her. She was still friendly enough, but he didn’t stop and talk much to her as her family was pretty straight-laced.

A typical Saturday night usually consisted of hanging out in front of Jacob’s house. Then the Martin brothers would  join them and they would all take off in someone’s car and get high. The Martin brothers rarely furnished pot, but were always willing to smoke someone else’s. Frequently, they would go to the snow cone shop and satisfy their munchies.

One of the Martin brothers had a girlfriend named Tessa. She was cute enough; a sophomore the upcoming September. She too, would go with them and get high. She was actually quite fun. She broke up with Martin, and became a free spirit. Marshall chased her, but could not get her to commit to any long term relationship. they went out a few times, nothing special.

In those days, Marshall was introduced to The Trailer. A cousin of one of his band friends lived there, and it was a great hangout instead of driving around smoking, they could sit, smoke dope, listen to music, and watch tv..even got to put beer in the fridge!

Marshall took her there a couple times, and she was good with people.

The owner of the trailer actually asked her out in that time frame…she turned him down.

It didn’t take long before Tessa’s older sister, Terri, started sniffing around Marshall, wanting some of the action.

Terri was actually ‘promised’ to another guy, Robert, who had gotten busted a year or two earlier for pot, and was on probation. He was a year younger than Terri.  Terri was ‘helping him stay straight’. He had a cool portable building for a bedroom behind his folks house, which wasn’t really conducive for him “getting straight”.

Tessa decided she didn’t want to get tied down, so Marshall and she parted peacefully. That was a first for him, as (remember the girl from church?) He had not had good luck with peaceful break-ups.

One night, Jacob and Marshall returned back to Jacob’s house. They had been in Jacob’s car, and Marshall had left  his parked in front of his house. His dad’s huge LTD was in the driveway.

When they arrived, his dad’s car had been turned; meaning the front wheels were still facing forward, but the rear end of the car had been pushed half off the driveway. In addition, Marshall’s Camaro had a bashed in passenger-side front fender. There was a police officer there as well getting info.

As it turned out, a fellow classmate of theirs, a well-known druggie, had veered off the street, crashed into Jacob’s dad’s car, then crashed into Marshall’s in her deVille. The cop took some info, and up pulled Terri. She hung out for the duration; even after the cop left she was still there. Marshall hesitated to drive his car because of the dent, not knowing if it would drag the fender over the tire or not. Jacob went in, and Terri offered Marshall a ride home.

The next day, she showed up at Marshall’s door after church and offered to drive him back. He scrambled to get some tools in case he would have to work on the fender.

Terri was cute, for sure. Petite, but a little stocky. Beautiful hair and smile, and she had a shake that would leave the bear cubs homeless…and she was throwing herself at him.

What else could he do?

Marshall was a senior then and in his last class of the day, who sat in front of him but his long lost love Dimples. They hashed over old times, and enjoyed each others company. The second semester in 1974, she disappeared…again.

Terri was trying to break up with Robert, but he decided to be a baby about it. She had promised him that she would go to the prom, and so she did. She dropped out of high school after that. Technically, she was a junior.

By then, Tessa had started her slow decline into drugs.

After the prom and Marshall’s graduation, he turned eighteen and off to the liquor store he went. He also started going to Mexico that summer every Saturday night with Terri. He decided not to go to college. He had enough school and being told what to do, so he stayed at the grease monkey job. It would go nowhere, but he liked the steady pay, and had gotten used to having money.

He would drive by the old gang and once he saw Dimples, and she waved. Terri called her a whore.

Marshall pretty much abandoned his old pals in favor of her. His folks didn’t like her much, and he was staying out until three in the morning with her making out, smoking dope and drinking. Jacob and his band friends had gone to college by the end of the summer.

One night, they had ended up parking on a remote dirt road, and he went after the pussy. Much to his surprise and embarrassment, he was unable to get it up. “This never happened before” he said to her. Yeah right, it was his first time.

It took several attempts over the course of perhaps a couple of months before he could actually get hard enough to get inside her. Man, it was indescribable. He banged on her every night after that.

She wanted to get married really bad. She even told Marshall that her dad was beating her when she got home. Marshall told her that if they could save up a thousand dollars, he would then marry her. That would be difficult, given that A. she didn’t work, and B. Marshall spent all his money entertaining her.

One day, Terry came up and announced that she was pregnant after their first successful intercourse. For the next few days, she was going out and buying maternity clothes, or at least that’s what she called them.

Marshall had never felt so trapped in his life. A friend of his had offered to get him a job on an oil rig, but he had to quit the grease monkey job first. So he turned in his notice, much to the boss’s surprise…after all, he was their star employee.

(A few years later, the boss’s wife and daughter committed suicide with the boss’s .45. First the wife, then a couple years later, the daughter with the same gun.)

His friend was unable to get him on for the drilling company.

Marshall felt the only thing he could do was to marry her. He had not thought past that. He figured that if something happened to him, at least the baby would have a name…old school for sure.

So that’s what they did…they eloped. He closed out his bank account, all of like maybe $300, they got blood tests, and went to the courthouse and a judge married them. Then he went to his house, and she went to hers.

A couple of days later, Marshall was at her parent’s house. Terri came out of the bathroom, and claimed she had had a miscarriage. “I don’t know” she said “something came out and went kerplunk.”

She wouldn’t have lied to him to get him to marry her, would she? She loved him, didn’t she? Marshall went with the latter.

The paper published the marriage licenses, and Marshall’s mom found out. It did take a month, but he moved out with Terri to an efficiency apartment. Used to making love in the car, the bed was next to heaven.

Mom had some connections and Marshall got a job working as a technician in a town 30 miles away. He commuted daily with another guy that worked there, who drove a company truck.

No matter what he did, Terri was never happy. Marshall made two twenty-five an hour. He brought home maybe seventy two dollars a week.

Dad gave him a rent check for the second month. Marshall soon realized that moving out was a huge undertaking; especially since Terri didn’t work…didn’t want to work. Once in a while, she would go down to her parent’s office and clean it; usually to make up for money they had already given her. She dragged Marshall along too. Such fun on a Sunday afternoon.

He turned over the entire check and she pretty much had it spent. She didn’t get that they had to save up to pay the rent.

She drove around during the day wasting gas in his Camaro. The V-8 was not exactly economical. She even would hang out with her old boyfriend from time to time.

One morning, she wrecked his car. It wasn’t her fault, but then, she didn’t really need to driving around looking for something to do.

She ended up going to a chiropractor, and old geezer that called him up one night explaining her injury…a whiplash…a favorite word for chiropractors in those days. He said “it’s like a woman being raped” he said that phrase so many times, that Marshall almost hung up.

She wore one of those Velcro neck brace thingies when she felt like she needed some sympathy. He wasn’t sure, but perhaps this was when things really started getting bad.

He kept his job, and liked it. It turned out he had a knack for it, and the company started giving him quarterly bonuses. He had actually considered opening up an account in the town he worked, just to keep the money from her. He looked forward to going work…to get away from her.

One evening, he didn’t know what brought it up, but Terri admitted to him that she had gone to a party while in high school, took a bunch of downers, passed out, and a bunch of guys screwed her. She got pregnant and had to go to New York for an abortion.

Robert had told him of this, but Marshall thought he was being vindictive. Just the same, he asked her, while they were dating, if she had ever been to New York, and she denied it.

After her confession, she managed to turn it around to being Marshall’s fault.

Marshall began to hate her. He hated admitting defeat more by going back home, so he sucked it up.

Another day, she decided she wanted to move, so they did. It cost more, as it was a two bedroom, but it was much close to Marshall’s work buddy for easy car pooling.

That place didn’t last long as the walls were paper thin, and Tessa’s visits with her druggie friends, were too loud for Marshall’s sake.

They found yet another place, with the same landlord that owned the efficiency apartment. The rent was over two paychecks now. The landlord gave them a few bucks off rent to collect rent checks for him. That gave Terri something to do, as she still didn’t work.

Marshall didn’t remember when or why, but there was a period when Terri jumped his bones every night and screwed his brains out. He didn’t complain. There was a price to pay. This time, she really got pregnant.

Marshall’s folks weren’t really overjoyed about it.

Terri’s folks were borderline white trash, and they probably had a shotgun wedding themselves.

Marshall and Terri were back to a one bedroom, and the baby slept in his bassinet in their room. The playpen was in the living room.

Marshall’s job kept him away from home for over ten hours a day. When he returned home, Terri would thrust the baby in his face. “Your turn to take care of him” she would say, then take off to visit her sister or shop. That stopped when Marshall pulled the main distributor wire off his car one evening on his way in. He actually delighted in seeing her get so angry.

Marshall wasn’t sure when the beatings started. As in the past, just a little pinch here, a flick on the cheek there. Then he got bolder. He actually would hold the baby in his left hand, and punch him with his right. He would toss the baby onto the bed from across the room. He had put his finger down his throat so long that once he had to resuscitate him. That made the baby very sleepy. He got so bold that he would abuse him with friends in the next room. One day he grabbed the baby’s right upper leg, and squeezed it so hard that he heard it snap.

Marshall claimed he fell. Everybody bought it.

The baby had what was called a Spica cast put on, and had it for several weeks. Even then, Marshall would poke him with straight pins through the bottom of the cast into the baby’s foot.

Whenever Marshall finished an abusing session, he was physically drained. His hands shook. He felt remorse and regret for what he had done; yet he would do it again and again. He had thought about calling a local free counseling service, but didn’t want to risk being discovered, nor admitting he really had a problem.

The baby began to recognize Marshall as the abuser, and would cry whenever Marshall picked him up.

One Saturday morning, Terri got up and announced that she was going shopping with her sister. The baby was asleep in the playpen. He was right at three months old then.

Marshall cooked some breakfast, smoked a joint, watched Scooby-Doo and Valley of the Dinosaurs. He decided to lay down and take a nap. That’s what happened to him when he smoked pot first thing in the morning…it made him sleepy. Just as he was lying down, the baby awoke. Marshall saw him literally push himself up off his tummy. It didn’t matter. Marshall was angry that now he could not take a nap. Marshall then gave the baby the last beating he would ever receive.

Marshall, being color blind, could not tell that the baby had no color. That was the first thing that Terri noticed when she arrived.

They rushed to the hospital with a neighbor that happened to be outside. The emergency room doctor took the baby into an exam room, and came out in less than a minute. The next thing Marshall knew, the police were there. They wanted to go back to the apartment and look around.

When they arrived, Marshall called his younger brother and Marine dad and said that the baby was dead. They arrived before the police left.

The police interrogated Marshall for a long time, but he admitted to nothing…nothing. He explained that the mobile had fallen on the baby and had wrapped around his neck, suffocating him. Marshall attempted resuscitation to revive him, as per the bruises on the baby’s body.

He was not arrested, but there was still a funeral to plan. Terry and Marshall had no money, and the baby got a nice funeral by Marine dad and mom.

After the funeral, at Marine dad’s house, Marine dad asked Marshall to take a ride with him. Marshall and he went driving around the block, and Marine dad quizzed him “what really happened? I can’t help you if you aren’t honest with me.”

Marshall answered in a quaky voice, “I hit him Dad. I hit him a lot.”

Marine dad turned the car around, went back home, and called a friend to recommend an attorney.

Meanwhile, Terri insisted that they move again and they did to another apartment complex.

The attorney had Marshall tell him exactly what he did. Marshall told the story so many times that he grew emotionless about it. It didn’t seem real any more. The attorney suggested some psychotherapy to talk about it…for Terri too.

Marshall had to go to a mental hospital in Houston for two weeks to be evaluated by some psychiatrists and psychologists.

He continued to see the psychotherapist, and they got to be friends to a degree. Terri would go with him as the therapist saw it necessary.

It was really kind of sad for Terri’s sake, because she thought the attorney was just helping fend off the police; she did not know of Marshall’s guilt.

After turning himself in, posting bond, he went back to work as if nothing had happened.

He plead not guilty at the arraignment, and later changed his plea to guilty.

His mom had said once that this thing was like a dark cloud hanging over the family.

The trial was set for late April.

By now, in a defensive cagey strategy, the therapist told Terri about Marshall’s guilt. It had to be done this was as it was hearsay, and not admissible in court.

Since he had plead guilty, the defense had turned over the punishment phase of the trial to the jury. Picking the right jurors was instrumental.

Marshall’s defense attorneys had several attorneys who came and went as well as key witnesses that came and went during the course of the trial. The psychiatrist from the hospital Marshall attended was called to testify as well.

Marshall’s bosses, friends, mom and Marine dad, teachers, preachers testified on his behalf.

The trial lasted a week, and Marshall testified as well. The issue was why send him to prison for 20 years, when his mental condition would certainly worsen. The shrinks labeled his problem as a passive-aggressive personality disorder. The shrinks and mental health professionals all agreed and blamed at least part of Marshall’s anger on the fact that he had been ‘duped’ into the marriage by Terri lying about being pregnant to get him to marry her; a statement which she blurted out from the audience “bullshit!”

The prosecution paraded pictures of the dead child around in front of the jury, in hopes to win the case.

One of the jurors, Marshall found out later, and older woman stood in in the jury deliberations and made a speech about how they could not send this young man to prison. The damage had been done, the family was still dealing with that tragedy, and to cart him off to prison for 20 years, would not be justice.

Her speech worked as the jury gave Marshall 10 years of probation.

After wrapping up the trial, Marshall reported to the probation office, and returned to work at which time, he was fired. The boss offered no explanation, but gave Marshall two weeks severance pay. Marshall remembered thinking …so this is what happens when the wife runs the business…

Marshall called the attorney, and he said “well, now you have a golden opportunity to go back to school.”

So he did. He started summer school right away, and took 6  hours, which was considered full time. He also found a job at a lawn mower shop. He filled out the app, and a question was asked why he left former job he put ‘laid off’. The new boss asked him why, and Marshall asked to speak to him privately, and told him the story of what had happened. The new boss looked at Marshall right in the eye, and said “I’ll bet that was a hard thing to say to a perfect stranger. It took a lot of guts for you to come in here and admit that. You’re hired.”

His mom too had gotten an second job to help make ends meet. The trial had caused his parents to mortgage mom’s farm, and one of the cars. She liked her catalog job. Marine dad didn’t.

Marshall fixed lawn mowers for several months, then got moved to bicycle mechanic where he excelled.

He stayed away from his old pot-smoking friends for several months. He hung out with his brother and an old friend that was not a pot smoker.

He ran into Dimples at the mall one evening over Thanksgiving weekend. She looked great. He seriously considered asking her out, but didn’t. That was the last time he saw her for 27 years. He never forgot her, and frequently dreamed about her.

He got his younger brother to come in and talk to the new boss for an accounting position. He got the job as well. His brother got married during Marshall’s employment there.

Marshall was best man, and when him mom told him that the best man had to do a toast, Marshall shut down. No freaking way was he going to stand up in front of a whole giant crowd, and say something. He felt like he would be judged all over again. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, and didn’t do it.

He saw in the paper that Dimples had gotten married.

He went to school and fixed bikes for around two years. Then, Marshall moved out with one of his band buddies who had graduated college into a nice 2 br apt.

He got really wasted at his roomie’s dad’s office 25 years celebration, and could not attend final exams the next day. He did not return to school, much to his mom’s dismay.

That summer was one big party, and he got a new job at his roomie’s dad’s office as a technician.

He began chasing one of the tenants in the apartment complex named fat Cindy. Yep, she was portly, but cute. He went after her, and screwed her for a couple of months. She knew his folks too.

Mom had called him one Friday evening, soon after he got home from work. It was customary to smoke a J when he got home. His mom called for him to come over, and he was so stoned that he blew her off. She mentioned it to him several days later, at which time he offered to listen.

“I really needed to talk to you when I called” she said sadly.

Mom, being a mom, kept after him to go back to school. She offered to pay his tuition if he would move back home, and return to school. So he did.

It was great timing, as he had decided to break it off with fat Cindy. He moved back home and continued his technician job part-time when he returned to school.

Fat Cindy would drop by from time to time, but Marshall pretended to be busy in his room by spreading out pages of COBOL print reports.

Band buddy had to move to another apartment, as he could no longer afford to live in that place since Marshall moved out.

Marshall had bought a new car, with his mom co-signing the loan at the credit union. He discussed with her a later about getting a loan to add a/c to the car. She just said that all he had to do was add it on to his current loan, and the credit union would be very agreeable to a change.

As he left to go to band buddy’s new pad, he stopped by the fridge and pulled the last RC and headed out the door.

They decided to swim in the apt pool that afternoon. Band buddy’s pad was right on poolside and left the window open to hear the phone.

It rang, and it was youngest brother calling for Marshall. “Mom’s been a car accident. It looks pretty bad. We’re down at the emergency room.”

Marshall decided to go home and change out of his wet cutoffs. His mom’s car was blocking the intersection to get home. They could not tow it because it had been T-boned badly. There were several police cars still there and a crowd. He turned and went to the hospital in his wet cutoffs.

His mom died later that evening. As it turned out, she was going to make a quick trip to the store to get some more RC, since someone drank the last one.

The days and weeks that followed, were sometimes blurry. Marshall would find himself looking for mom when we arrived at home. She used to have his lunch fixed with a tv tray while she watched her soap.

He enrolled at school that semester.

He got a job offer from the bike shop to open a new store in another city.

He dropped out of school, and went back to the bicycle industry.

Later that year, he bought himself a new Yamaha 650 motorcycle.

He  moved to Laredo in January, and regretted it almost immediately. He kept in touch with the office machine company in hopes he could return. He did, a year later, and left fixing bikes behind forever.

Marine dad married what Marshall and his brothers referred to as the ‘wicked witch of the west’. The boys guessed that he must have liked to be told what to do, because he jumped whenever she called. The boys were never as close to Marine dad after he remarried. One of the biggest issues was that they were married on mom’s birthday. No explanations or apologies were given. They pissed away their money on some property in the Texas hill country, where they built their legacy.

He stayed at the office machine company until January 1994. During the time before he left, he gained a lot of respect from the people that ran the business, as well as his fellow technicians. He was schooled on copiers during this time, and discovered he had a knack for it.

He dated a girl briefly, but they just couldn’t seem to click. There wasn’t even a breakup, which was always good.

He got infatuated with one of his customers, a Hispanic woman. She was  unable to date, as her daddy kept her close. She and her two older sisters still lived at home with daddy. He ran the house like a stalag.

She did manage to get away once or twice, saying she was going to the mall. They tried having sex, but when she removed her bra, she had hair instead of nipples. He could not perform for her, and she tried vigorously to stimulate him…nope. That breakup was difficult, and eventually, his office lost that account. Ooops.

His band buddy, hooked him up with one of their Amway and Mormon church pals. Voices inside Marshall said don’t do it. He did anyway. She had two children: eight year old girl, and three year old boy.

He felt he was ready to take the plunge; be responsibly married with two kids.

He gave away all his booze to a friend and vowed to stop drinking to win her. They married at the house.

She was a  nurse and got a really good job working 60 miles away on the night shift. There were several times when a week would go by and they would be like ghosts passing in the night. The old feelings came back again, and he began to abuse the boy. He spanked the boy for destroying a picture of one of Marshall’s friends and family. He spanked him several times, so  much that he had bruises on his bottom.

His wife discovered them and Marshall fessed up. She insisted that he get help and he called his old psychotherapist and had a couple of sessions.

He started drinking again, and one night after he got up off the couch to go to bed, she wanted to have sex. He refused, and thus began the end of that relationship.

They had put money down on a  house, as he had agreed to rent his house to a friends relative at work, who was moving down from Idaho.

His grandfather had passed away, leaving him twenty-two thousand dollars.

He decided to proceed with the divorce, and stopped proceedings on the new house, getting a refund on their earnest money.

She was angry and hurt and told him that she wanted half that money, or she would make the divorce ‘very difficult’. So he gave her half.

The people moved into his house, and Marshall found an apartment.

She would drop by wanting to reunite, but he was done with that relationship, but hinted that they might get together later on.

He had signed up for one of those singles call in leave a  message about yourself services. He received several interested calls from women. He decided it was easy to see why some people would go to these kinds of services…none were particularly attractive, but sweet just the same.

He applied for a  job in Austin fixing copiers, and interviewed for it. He got the job, and left his former life behind.

He ended up living with Jacob, his old friend, and his wife and her daughter for six months, until he hooked up with his supervisor’s girlfriend, causing a rift in the company. They resigned and moved to Denver, where he got a job at the copier corporation.

His brother felt bad about losing big brother so far away. Marshall never considered it, and didn’t tell him until after he was moving.

They bought a new car. She got a job across town, and they had a good life.

The first baby came less than a year later. He was a healthy lad, and a pure joy.

Marshall remembered abusing him on two separate occasions, but there may have been more.

He sold his house in Texas, and was able to get a substantial tax refund for the loss he claimed. With this money, they bought a house.

They took the boy to daycare, where he was a favorite of many teachers.

Marine dad and his new wife would drive up and visit from time to time in their motor home.

They drove to Marshall’s youngest  brother’s home in OKC for Thanksgiving and even other brother attended. It was quite a reunion.

The second boy arrived in ’98. He was not as healthy as his brother, but Marshall and his wife took turns taking him to therapy, where he seemed to advance fine.

When Marshall and his wife would watch tv in the evenings, #1 son would always participate. Little boy would scooch across the floor and climb up and sit by Marshall. His wife commented that ‘he sure is attached to you.’

Marshall had dreams about Dimples, whose real name was Linda. He dreamed of her often, and when he did, he would always fell exceptionally good for a week.

He got fed up with corporate bullshit and left the corp for another corp that paid more, and he did less. He first searched for Linda while at this job on the web. He had no luck, but at that time, the internet was in its infancy, and he really didn’t know how to use it.

He still dreamed about her.

That job closed just over a year later, after Marshall had signed up for a class to become a Microsoft certified engineer. Through that school, he got his next job.

It worked out well, and he was away from home a lot, traveling to various stores for a national electronics retail outlet. That job was temporary, and after the temp position was over, he got on the help desk as a technician. A few months later, he applied for a slightly higher position working with the pc technicians.

It was this position that allowed him to finally find Linda, after all these years. He chose his words carefully, and emailed her at the school where she taught.

He used his office email address, not wanting to get busted again at home for an internet romance.

After a couple of days, she emailed back. Marshall was absolutely thrilled while opening the email.

They exchanged emails for a few months, and Marshall’s wife busted him. He was forced to make a decision; go or stay. He went.

He found a job, backsliding in the world of repairing copiers, and he moved back to south Texas. Linda and he were married later that year.

How he loved her. She was everything and more that he had imagined over the years. She had a daughter, 13, who had been diagnosed with some type of mental illness, but Marshall thought she was just a spoiled rotten lazy brat. He dealt with her the best he could.

They bought the townhouse they lived in, sold that, made some money, and bought a larger house. It had its problems, but he did what he could to fix it up. Linda’s mother passed away. Linda inherited her home, sold it, and they blew eighty thousand dollars faster than one could imagine. Linda did put in a swimming pool in the back yard with part of the inheritance.

A couple years later, Marshall’s brother lent him a book on survival after a societal collapse. He was hooked on “prepping” although he never really liked the term.

Being a felon, however, severely limited his need to ‘stock up’ on guns and ammo. Linda was agreeable, to a point, and she purchased several firearms.

Life was pretty good, except for the felony. He hated the job he had to take to move to be with Linda. It ate at him for years. He applied at a couple of places, but the new security thing now was background checks. He lied on apps because if he did admit he had a felony conviction, that was pretty much the end of that particular application process.

So many times, he wished he could travel back in time and tell himself how to change his life…so many times.

THE DREAM

He went to sleep one night late in 2012 and had a dream.

He was in a large room…no, like outdoors, but without form. It was quiet, and there was light, yet Marshall could not distinguish a floor, sky, ceiling,  or walls.

He stood quietly, afraid to move. He could feel his feet standing on something solid, but the ground was like a slight swirling mist or fog.

Then The Voice startled him “Well, this is your big night, isn’t it?” He could not see from where The Voice came. It was very loud, and it sounded angry.

“I don’t understand” Marshall said. “Where am I and who are you?”

A sound like pages being turned became louder and The Voice responded with “it is not at all important who I am or where you are. You are here because of your incessant wishing to change your pathetic, miserable life.”
Marshall wasn’t sure how it happened, but several memories he had were now displayed either in his head, or on a type of screen.

The Voice continued “I voted against giving you a chance, but I was overruled.”

The videos showed Marshall throwing the bottle at his brother, squirting shampoo up his nose, pushing the child into the swimming pool, terrorizing and abusing the neighbor kids, and all other bad things Marshall had done in his life.

Talking back to mom, lying to his friends, making fun of his brother to his friends, back-talking to gramma, blowing off his mom, there were many bad things that he had forgotten.

Seeing the memories, which seemed to flash by in an instant, yet they kept repeating over and over.

The Voice continued “you are probably the most pathetic excuse for a human being I have ever had the displeasure to speak to. You have abused animals, your brothers, your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your wives, and finally worst of all, your children!”

Marshall was angry now and afraid “why the hell do you care what happens to me?”

The Voice was noticeably agitated, and it sounded like it was rising out of a huge chair.

The videos stopped.

Marshall thought he heard the sound of a large book being slammed shut.

“We could erase humanity and every evidence of its existence with a blink of an eye. You interest us because you are an aberration; a deviance from the norm if you will. We allow, from time to time, and individual to improve, at their own volition.”

“Your wish has been granted” The Voice continued “you are hereby given a chance to go back in time and change your life.”

“Are you my guardian angel?” Marshall asked.

The Voice stifled a chuckle “yes and no” it replied.

The Voice continued “We have a rule on how this works.”

“Are you telling me that I will be going back in time to tell myself how to change my life?” Marshall queried “and make it better?”

“Yes” answered The Voice “as I was saying, we have one rule. If you choose disobey it, you will return to your present life the way you left it.”

Marshall nodded.

“The main rule is that you cannot disclose events that will happen….PERIOD! Do you understand?”

“Yes” he replied.

“Don’t screw this up because you will have to live with the fact that you had your chance to make a lot of things better, and couldn’t” The Voice hissed.

“I understand” Marshall said.

“I’ll give you some advice” The Voice went on “there is something wrong with you. After you beat your son to death, you got some professional help. I urge you to fix that problem when you return because it will not go away.”

“OK.”

“The last piece of advice is this: tell yourself to be a better big brother. Your brothers looked up to you, and they still love you after all you did to them. It could be much better though. Got it?”

“Yes sir” Marshall replied.

“Are you ready?” The Voice asked him.

“Yes. Will I ever speak to you again?” asked Marshall.

Again, a slight snicker. “It will depend on you.”

The area around Marshall began to change…like a digital picture being re-pixelated.

“One more thing” The Voice said “there will be a price to pay for this, if you are successful.”

The digitization kept changing the scene.

After a few moments, Marshall was sitting in his Ford Ranger outside of the grease monkey shop. It was a hot sunny afternoon in what Marshall figured was summer of 1973.

Marshall saw himself, as a younger man, moving the riding mower back into position in front of the store.

THE TRIP BACK

Marshall got out of the truck, and watched himself back the riding mower up against the front of the store, next to the cement mixer.

The young Marshall; 6’2″, shoulder length blonde hair, 140 lbs. Young Marshall saw Marshall and walked over to him.

“That’s a nice truck, sir. What year is that?”

Marshall answered “this is a 2002 Ford Ranger. It’s kind of a test model.”

Young Marshall walked around the truck slowly while Marshall pulled out his wallet.

Young Marshall was starting to look apprehensive about this whole encounter. “How can I help you today, sir?” He asked.

By then, Marshall had his wallet out and said “do I look familiar to you…Marshall?”

Young Marshall seemed surprised and Marshall held out his driver’s license for Young Marshall to see. Young Marshall reached for it, but when he touched it, his fingers went through it like it was a ghost. This unnerved him even more, yet he studied the license, and looked at Marshall. “That street doesn’t even exist” he said.

“No, not yet” Marshall replied, pulling out some dollar bills from his wallet, that were dated 2008. Young Marshall studied them as well without attempting to touch them.

Young Marshall said finally “who are you?”

“I am you” Marshall replied “40 years from now. I have been given a gift to come back and talk to you and get you to change your life before you ruin it.”

“I’m you?” Young Marshall said, stunned.

“Need more proof?” Marshall said “ok, you drive a 1962 Studebaker. It has an inline six-cylinder, three speed on the tree with overdrive. It has a positrac rear end. Every Saturday night, you go out with your pals, smoke dope, and get high. Am I right so far?”

Young Marshall nodded nervously.

“You used to beat up your neighbor’s kids when you were younger. You used to steal money from your parents to support your spending habits. You wrecked your motorcycle on a race last year, and hurt your leg. You still went to visit your pal and rode golf carts around at night at the Country Club. The first time you got high, your pal and you were going to the dentist. You used to make stove top smoke bombs, and your brother almost burned the house down making one. How am I doin’?”

“Ok” Young Marshall said, looking around “you’re me from 40 years in the future, and you have some advice to give me to change my life. What’s wrong with my life?”

“Plenty” Marshall said. “Are you ready? There’s quite a few things, and I don’t have a lot of time for this.”

Young Marshall nodded.

“The first and most important thing you must do is avoid at all costs, a girl named Terri. You know who I’m talking about, yes?”

Young Marshall nodded.

Marshall continued “stay away from her. Be nice, but don’t let her throw herself at you. Be friendly, but don’t get involved with her at all. If you get cornered, just tell her you’re not interested. Got that?”

Young Marshall nodded.

“Clean up your act. Cut your hair, stop smoking pot and cigarettes. Go spend your spare time chasing Linda. She likes you and always has. She’s just shy. Take your time to get to know her. Don’t rush.”

Marshall paused, then went on “next year, you’ll graduate. Don’t stay working here. Get out as soon as you can. Go to college, then join the Navy, or just join the Navy. If you stay in for 20 years, you’ll be out before you’re forty with a nice pension for the rest of your life. If you get your degree first, you can join the Navy as an officer, and get an even bigger pension when you retire.”

“What about Linda?” Young Marshall queried.

“Just court her and see what happens. If it works out, then marry her, and she’ll follow you wherever you go.”

Marshall continued “be a better big brother. You’ve treated your brothers like shit all their lives, and they still look up to you. Set a better example of what a big brother should be. Listen to them. They have problems too. Be their friend. The rewards you will get from changing this aspect of your life will return to you a thousand fold. There are few things more important than family.  Are you with me so far?”

Young Marshall nodded.

“What I spoke of earlier…your abusing kids…you need to get help and fix that because it will always be with you. There’s a great psychotherapist down the street. Get help and fix it soon, OK?”

Young Marshall looked away “and what if I don’t?”

“Then you could get yourself into a situation with a child and you could hurt him; or worse. If and when you get caught, you could get into a lot of trouble. This is probably the second most important piece of advice. You know of what I speak. Fix it.”

“Save your money and invest in a company called Microsoft. Got that? Microsoft. Buy their stock and sit on it until you get out of the Navy. Then buy yourself a nice ranch in Wyoming. Get the hell outa here. This place will drag you down.”
“All these things I have told you to do, you must do or your life will suck when you get older. I am not allowed to tell you what will happen in your future. If you do what I have suggested, you will have a wonderful life, and want for nothing.”

The boss came out and said to Young Marshall “get back to work.” He looked at Marshall and said “buy something or leave. You’re distracting my help. I ain’t payin’ him to stand around and talk.”

“Mr. Norton” Marshall started “do you still have that Colt .45? If you do, I urge you to get rid of it once and for all, as it will only cause you pain and grief.”

He stood with his hands in his hips, and Marshall walked over to the Ranger and got in.

Marshall looked at Young Marshall as he started the truck. He rolled the window down, and flashed him a peace sign as he backed up. As he drove onto the street, the digitization began again. His view faded to gray.

LATE DECEMBER, 2012

Marshall opened his eyes. The light was faint. He looked up at the ceiling and determined that this room was not where he had gone to sleep earlier.

The ceiling was made of nicely done wooden planks and exposed wooden beams. He turned his head, noticing that it was chilly in the room. The light was coming through a large plate glass window. Someone was sleeping next to him and snoring softly.

He turned and sat on the side of the bed. The person next to him stirred and said “Merry Christmas, my darling man.” It was Linda.

He kissed her and said “Merry Christmas, Love of my Life.”

Next to his bed was a chair with clothes on it. He put them on. He already had long johns on. He donned a nice pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. He noticed his huge spare tire had disappeared.

He walked to the window, and peeked through the blinds. There was snow on the window, and the ground was white as far as he could see, and still snowing.

“I guess I’ll get up too” Linda said “the kids will all be up in a few minutes.”

She whipped her legs around and sat on the side of the bed. “Were you going to make breakfast for everyone? You better get started ’cause you’ve got an army to feed this morning.”

Marshall looked around some more. The bedroom was very large, and very nice. Log cabin style walls. He stumbled around and found the master bath. He took care of business, brushed his teeth, and put on the pair of boots that were also by the chair. They fit nicely. He sat down in the chair.

Linda seemed to be waiting for something “what are you doing?” she asked, standing up and stretching. “Did you forget something?”

“I have forgotten everything” Marshall said with hesitation, wondering if this was the price to pay, according to The Voice.

She walked briskly to him, touching his forehead asking “are you feeling all right? The whole family is here and will be hungry when they get up…not to mention opening up gifts. You need to get started…it’s your tradition, you know.” She smiled.

“Please define ‘the whole family’”he said.

She looked startled “our three kids and the grandchildren, your brothers and their kids. What is the matter with you?”

“I feel fine” he started “what I’m going to tell you now is going to seem like a Stephen King novel.”
Her eyes got wide, and she sat down on his side of the bed. He went through what had happened in a nutshell without going into details.

“So what is different for you now?” she asked, with a note of apprehension.

“I don’t remember this house” he answered, looking around “This is not the room I went to sleep in last night.”

Linda was speechless.

“I’m telling you, I went to bed last night, and we lived in south Texas. This is a good thing except that according to The Voice, there was a price to pay…this may be it…me not remembering this timeline.”

“What do you want me to do?” Linda asked on the verge of tears.

“I need you to believe me, and take me on a tour of the house…now” he replied, giving her a peck on the cheek. “Please.”

She nodded, and went into the bathroom to change. It took her less time than usual.

She came out with her Christmas garb; a nice sweater with a Christmas greeting on it.

She took Marshall’s hand and led him to the bedroom door, and opened it. She turned and said “watch your head. There is a step down here. It was your idea” she said with a chuckle.

Sure enough, Marshall would have certainly rammed his head into the cross beam above the threshold as he stepped down into the hall.

They were standing in an open hallway. The hall opened into a huge living area. She led him into the living area after flicking on a couple of light switches. The living area contained two couches, a reclining love seat for two that reclined separately, several end tables, some ottomans, and a large coffee table in the center. It had huge logs for supports and the ceiling was vaulted with exposed beams.

A large fireplace was at one end of the room, and Linda walked over and began stoking it. “This is usually your job” she said, and Marshall helped her. The fire began to start up quickly.

The second floor balcony surrounded the living room on three sides. A huge double wide staircase was at opposite end of the fireplace. The balcony had several doors off of it, bathrooms and bedrooms, Linda explained. She seemed proud to talk of the home. It was Marshall’s idea, mostly, she said.

She led him into the kitchen which was also Marshall’s idea. “You love this kitchen” she said with her dimply smile.

“Indeed I do” Marshall said, also smiling.

The kitchen was a center island with gas stove, sink, cutting area, and trash area. The kitchen also had a double oven and a huge fridge.

He walked right to the fridge, opened it and began removing supplies for the breakfast feast.

Heavy footsteps echoed across the living room, and Marshall’s younger brother Joe came into view. “Merry Christmas my brutha” he said, walking to Marshall.

“A very Merry Christmas to you suh” he replied in his best English accent. Marshall gave Joe a big hug.

More footsteps and more people headed to the kitchen. Joe’s wife Susie and youngest brother Eddie walked up with Christmas greetings and hugs. Marshall wiped tears and he hugged his family.

He made a pot of coffee, pulled out a bottle of Kahlua, and invited them to sit at the table.

“Before the kids get up” Marshall began “I’ve got something to say, and it’s going to sound like I belong in a rubber room, but I assure you it is the truth.” He held up his right hand like he was swearing an oath.

He went into little more detail this time, explaining the various differences in the timelines. He explained his visit to himself in the summer of ’73, giving him a chance to change his life.

“Now” Marshall continued, looking around “where is this place? How long have we lived here?”

There was a brief moment of silence and Linda answered “we moved here when you got out of the Navy  in1998. You sold your stock in Microsoft, made a fortune, and bought this ranch. We moved here and lived in the guest house” she gestured outside “and you designed this home. It has a basement too, with a lot of secret rooms and places. The main house is connected by underground tunnel to the original guest house.There is a root cellar off of the tunnel as well, and other secret rooms that I don’t even know about.

This is a 500 acre ranch. You have many horses, chickens, pigs,and cattle. There is a bunkhouse with a couple of hired hands that live there. We have an artesian well. We grow alfalfa, some winter wheat, and have some huge vegetable gardens. We have rooms and rooms of stored foods; canned, dry goods, bottled water, soap, medicine…the list goes on. You have rooms of guns, rifles, ammunition…I don’t know all the kind of stuff you have. I just know that your guns of choice are a Ruger .44 magnum and a 30-30.  You also prefer your Mossberg 12 gauge. You’re an excellent shot too. You have a safe with gold, silver, and cash in it.”

Eddie started to speak “I remember that summer. You changed from a mean guy to almost like my best friend overnight. You cut your hair…”

Joe interrupted “Yeah, I remember that you quit smoking too, and that’s when you started…” he looked at Linda.

Linda’s eyes got big “I remember you called me from out of nowhere that summer. I don’t think I ever said ‘no’ to you” she smiled.

Marshall smiled back “no, you didn’t…and you still don’t.”

Joe stood up, and came over to Marshall, putting his hands on Marshall’s shoulders. “Marshall, that explains a lot because you obviously changed practically from one day to the next; it was very noticeable. You became my best friend too, and were my best go to person for advice.”

“So what happened after I graduated high school?” Marshall queried the group.

At that moment, Eddie’s wife came over and sat down. It was the same wife he had had in the previous timeline, Donna Jo.

Marshall walked over and hugged her, giving her Christmas greetings as well. She looked confused.

Linda continued “you stayed in south Texas and went to college. I went off to college. It was so hard to be apart from you. We got married after we graduated, and you joined the Navy and went to OCS. You stayed in the Navy for 20 years, and got out in ’98 when we all moved here. We have three children; Nathan, Gerald, and AmandaLynn…”

She stopped and a look of horror came over her face “did you have children in the other timeline?”

Marshall nodded slowly, looking at her “so did you, but she wasn’t mine. You had a previous marriage before we met. That timeline is gone, and my children only exist in my memories.”

Linda and Susie both teared up and sniffed.

Marshall looked at Joe and Susie “you had two boys…”

“We still do” Joe said quickly. Adam and Alan.”

Marshall nodded with approval “those are the same ones that I remember.”

“What about us?” Eddie asked a scared look on his face.

“You had three kids; Joanna, Justin, and Mason.”

They both breathed a sigh of relief.

“So you don’t know our children” Linda stated.

Marshall shook his head.

Tiny footsteps now were heard running toward the table.

“Grandpa!” the little voice exclaimed “Merry Christmas!” she said as she ran straight to Marshall, and climbed into his lap.

“Grandpa” Linda started “say Merry Christmas to Anna-Lee. Her daddy is Nathan.”

Marshall gave the little tyke a hug and wished her a Merry Christmas with tears in his eyes.  Blonde hair in pig tails, big blue eyes…she was adorable.

“Where’s your daddy?” asked Marshall boldly.

She looked a little confused and replied “grandpa, daddy, uncle Gerry, and Aunt Mandy are doing chores.”

More footsteps approaching the table were those of Adam and Alan. They were handsome young men and Marshall cried when he hugged Adam. He couldn’t stop or let go.

Joe helped him away from the very confused Adam and asked “what’s wrong?”

Marshall gathered his composure and answered “Adam was severely injured in a motorcycle accident and broke his back and neck. He was confined to a wheel chair. He went on to graduate from NTSU with a degree in graphic arts, and worked for NIKE in Oregon.” He wiped his eyes. Others were crying too.

“What’s wrong with Uncle Marshall?” asked Adam.

“He’s had a very interesting story to tell” Joe replied. Just sit and listen.” Joe turned to Marshall “what about Alan?”

“Alan married his high school sweetheart after he graduated from A&M with a degree in engineering. His wife was expecting their first late next summer.”

He continued “Susie got her RN after Alan got married, and she made us all proud, getting her degree in two years and making the dean’s list. You had worked for the caliche place, then quite after nineteen years, then took over manager of a local construction company, where you were still.”

Marshall paused and asked “mom and dad?”

Joe responded “oh they’re fine. They couldn’t make it this year, because of  mom’s hip. It still gives her trouble, you know.”

“Where are they living?” Marshall asked.

“Still at the same place we lived as kids” Joe said….”why, did something happen different in your timeline?”

Marshall nodded “mom was killed in a car accident a week after hurricane Alan.
Dad remarried the wicked witch of the west, who caused a lot of pain in the family.”

“Mom survived the wreck, but she broke her pelvis, and it always gives her problems here in the cold country” Eddie added.

Marshall teared up again. He managed to choke out “I’ve missed her.”

Susie added “mom just loves Linda, being an educator and all.” She smiled.

Marshall got up and said “I promised breakfast, and ye shall have it. I could use a little help..”Anna-Lee said “me me me!”

The crowd chuckled.

Soon breakfast steaks, pancakes, gravy, milk, juice, coffee, laughter, jokes, and scrambled eggs, and the sound of plates clinking from silverware echoed through the house.

“Did everyone sleep ok?” Marshall asked “everybody warm enough?”

Nods and mm mms resounded.

“Why don’t all of you just move up here?” Marshall posed the question.

The conversation at the table stopped.

Marshall continued, still eating and looking at Linda “we have lots of money, right?”

Linda nodded cautiously.

“Well, we’re going to need help running this place in the not too distant future. You guys who are interested, quit your jobs, get your money together, draw some plans, we’ll build your house, and just move on up. Think about it. I’m sure it’s been discussed and now it’s time to decide.
We have schools here for the young ones, and what’s more important than family? I can tell that everyone loves it here. You’d have your own responsibilities of course, but there’s what? fifteen of us altogether?” Marshall kept eating.

The others ate silently.

Marshall went on “I’ve never liked  being apart from my family. I moved here to get away from a local society that dragged down my potential. Call this a Christmas present from us to all of you. I’ll talk to mom and dad too. I’d prefer to have everyone here when the stuff hits the fan. If you don’t it may be too late by then to get you out.”

“Thanks Marshall” Joe said. “Yes, we have discussed it and we will again.

They heard a door close somewhere, and stomping ensued. Then more footsteps came close.

Marshall got nervous.

The first person to around the corner was Amanda Lynn. She had her mother’s nose, and  dimples.She looked a lot like Linda when she was in high school. She was decked out in a flannel shirt, and jeans. She had put on some house slippers…like her mom does.

She walked right over to Marshall, who was waiting for her. and hugged him saying “Merry Christmas, daddy.” She kissed him on the cheek, and by then, Marshall had tears flowing from his eyes.

“Merry Christmas, baby” he replied.

“Are you ok daddy?” she asked.

“I have never been better” he replied, kissing her on the forehead.

Two handsome men then appeared from around the corner. It was obvious who was who. Nathan, was slightly taller than Marshall. He was thin with blonde hair. The other was Gerald, just three years younger. He was a few inches shorter and a more stocky. He had blonde hair as well, but looked like it was starting to turn darker.

They both greeted and hugged Marshall “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

“Merry Christmas, boys” Marshall replied, thinking momentarily about his other boys that he would never see again. He teared right up, but went into conversation. “Y’all sit down and eat. Looks like you two don’t ever eat these days.”

The laughed and sat down, looking at Linda for explanation. “Your dad’s not quite himself today” she said “you’ll have to give him some slack as his memory seems to have some gaps.”

Joe began “Marshall just asked all of us to move up here for good.”

The boys “that would be great. He’s been talking about that ever since what’s his name got elected to the presidency.”

“He has?” said Joe.

The boys were eating and they just nodded.

When he finished his mouthful, Nathan said “he’s got site plans for all of you picked out. Lots of strategy involved, but we thought it was a good plan.” He took another bite.

Marshall took over the conversation. “Construction could start in the spring. You folks cash in your 401k accounts, profit sharing, sell your homes, have estate auctions and get up here. The guest house is vacant if you any of you get here early. Any and all are welcome to stay here until your own homes are finished. The main thing is, get your money out now. Open accounts here, and we’ll continue to stock up on supplies. Buy gold and silver if you like. We’ll pull cash out and keep it here in the safe for you, if you like.”

The room was silent except for Anna-Lee who was humming, eating the last of her pancake.

Linda continued “you all know how he is. This part of him has not changed. There is enough supplies stored here to last all of us for several years. You know he’s not going to let up until all of you are here….all I have to ask it this: why do you hesitate?”

Joe spoke up “we have spoke of this considerably. You’re asking us to give up everything to do this.”

“Joe” Marshall replied quietly “what else to you need in your life? Your children are healthy. You have money. I know you hate living where you are, because of the constant heat and bugs. You have always had the rancher bug in you, but decided to stay there. There is hunting here, farming, ranching, construction, gardening, just to name a few. Susie, you’d be in charge of our infirmary and probably nutrition for the entire ranch. If you need more, there are hospitals in town that could certainly use your expertise.”

Marshall continued “I’m going to call the contractor after the holidays, give him a huge deposit, and start the preliminaries when the thaw begins.” He sipped the last of his coffee.

“Now, how do we get around our ranch in the winter?” Marshall asked no one in particular.

“Snowmobiles!” was the answer.

“Let’s go for a tour!” Marshall said. “I need to see what we got! After we open presents and see what Santa brought.”

The rest of Christmas Day was spent doing Christmas, and exploring the ranch. As it turned out, Marshall had six snowmobiles. Joe, Eddie, Marshall, Alan, Adam, Nathan, Gerald, Mandy (her nickname) all went exploring the property. Marshall rode behind Nathan.

It was snowing lightly, and it was cold; probably around 5-10 degrees. They all dressed warmly, and Nathan knew the safe paths.

The artesian well was located in the barnyard. It had a very sturdy brick structure around it. It filled a 500 gallon cistern, that was pressurized by a pump with two backup pumps. All structures had their own cisterns with fresh water.

When they finished the basic perimeter tour, they showed him the barns and the livestock.

They toured the guest house, and walked the tunnel. Several rooms off the tunnel had supplies; food, ammunition. Some rooms were empty.

Marshall could not have improved anything.

They returned to the main house, and the ladies had prepared a feast of turkey, brisket, and all fixings to go with.

There was laughter, hugging, smiles, plates and forks clanging…like a family should sound.

They sat in front of the fireplace after dinner talking. Marshall was served Crown Reserve, his favorite; in any timeline. He was glad that several things had not changed.

When he went to bed that night, he had no trouble falling asleep. He dreamed.

CONCLUSION

He dreamed again of the room without form. It was gray with the swirling mist.

Again, The Voice said “are you pleased with the outcome of your life? Did you listen to yourself?”

“Yes” Marshal answered. “I will miss my children though.”

“You remember I told you that you would pay a price?”

“Yes, and perhaps I have not yet realized the full price?” Marshall stated.

“What have you discovered so far?”

“My children are strangers to me. And I have no memory of my current life.”

“It’s interesting that you mentioned your children first, and not ‘all about you’.”

“Despite what you have seen me do in my life, I loved my two boys” Marshall said, at the risk of sounding indignant.

The Voice sighed with “I knew that. You must have wanted this bad because I didn’t think you could do it; even knowing the penalty.”

It paused then continued “you are correct about the price that you paid. You will always remember the other timeline. Your memories of this timeline will return over time.”

Marshall was sobbing. He managed to choke out “thank you.”

Linda was waking him up. His face and pillow were wet with tears.