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 oover 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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