Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter 48

September 29th – I know Rand is going to have my tail but once I heard the screaming on our property I felt I had a responsibility to find out what was going on. I couldn’t just ignore it.

I debated what to take with me into the woods. I’m still not comfortable with the shotgun so I took my rifle. It may be small but so am I and with my improved aim I figured it would be as effective. Yeah, I can hear Rand squawking about that now so I’ll leave that bit out when I explain things. I took the Smith and Wesson but I also took the Mark III. I know I’m going to catch heck about that too … assuming Rand notices. I also took my trusty big screwdriver and the wire cutters. I made Woofer stay inside, he was no more pleased with me than Rand is going to be but he still clumps through the bushes too much. He’s all attack and no sneak.

I eased out of the house and by the time I get out of bushes around our home site I could hear crying … more like sobbing and pleading for them to not hit her again, she swore there was a house down at the end of the road. I still didn’t recognize the voice but I followed the sound. I was using a small deer trail through the trees and then stopped on the house side of the road and easement intersection.

“Hey! Look, there’s a planted field here. Maybe the girl is telling the truth.”

“Maybe. Take that side and … shut up girl or you’ll get more of what I just gave you … take that side and I’ll take the princess here and spend a little quality time with her over …”

“You went first last time Hal!”

OK, that was all I needed to hear. These guys were definitely sick. The girl was curled up on the ground, completely out of my line of fire. There were five men. Not great odds but I intended to make that four right then. Using a tree to steady myself I got “Hal” right square in the chest. And the guy behind him that was too stupid to duck right in the stomach. Two down three to go.

I know I shouldn’t be like I am about it. I’m feeling remorseful now, but not guilty. I’m sorry it came down to the way things happened but I’m not sorry that I was assigned the job of bringing some justice to their previous victims. In this life I think sometimes you are the victim, sometimes you are the jury, and sometimes you are the executioner. You can’t do the job of the last two without being the first a few times so that you can have discernment. Well, I’ve been on the receiving end more than I’m comfortable with remembering. It doesn’t mean that I want to be jury and executioner but it isn’t a job I’ll walk away from either understanding what the altenative could mean for someone else.

In fact, I couldn’t have walked away at that point if I had wanted to. There were three more bad guys wandering around and I wanted them gone before Rand came home so they couldn’t jump him.

One of those guys was smart and took advantage of the fact that I was feeling overconfident. He came in behind me so fast that if I hadn’t just bent over to untangle myself from some saw briers he would have taken me right then. I was using the screwdriver to pull the think vines off of my jeans and boots. He came right out of the trees behind me and I only had time to turn towards the attack … with the screwdriver out in front of me the guy impaled himself all the way up to the handle pushing me hard against the tree behind me.

I don’t know who was more surprised me or him. I don’t think I hit anything vital but I don’t know for sure. God showed him some Mercy though. His eyes rolled up and back and he just sort of slid off the tool and down to his knees and then fell over on his side. He didn’t even draw another breath. I didn’t mean to do it but it happened. I’m glad he went quick and didn’t suffer the way the gut shot guy did.

Now there were only two and they had started running down the road, away from where I was. I couldn’t let them get away. They could hang out in the bushes and hurt Rand. I took off running up the road. The handguns were bumping around in the bag on my shoulder with the wire cutters. The screw driver was back in its “holster” on my hip and I've cleaned it with pine cleaner and put it away in the drawer I keep it in and it'll stay there for a while. The rifle was in my hands. I was doing a fair imitation of the way I had seen guys running with guns in those war movies. And then I went down, nearly on my face.

The girl had grabbed me by the ankle. I nearly kicked her in the face until I turned around and saw who it was. Even with her face tear-stained, and mascara and snot covered she still looked pathetic and pretty. “Don’t leave me!”

“Dang it Cassie, let go. I’ve got to get those guys!”

“Don’t … “

But I didn’t have time to listen to her. I was up and running again. They were running down the straight section right after the main gate. I used the fence post to steady me because I was breathing so hard. All I did was wing one of them before they turned the corner down the oaks. I didn’t have long so I really started running all out went down on my knee as I turned the dog leg and got one of them in the back. But the other was still running. I was so out of breath that I considered … only for a second … letting him go but the thought of Rand helped me to suck it up and run full tilt again. He was way down the road by the time I reached the dog leg by the gully and I was breathing so hard that I had a hard time getting a shot. In fact I completely missed the first time. Then the guy turned around and took a couple of wild shots at me. That steadied me but the rifle was out of bullets. I pulled out the Smith and Wesson, thought “big red can, 20 yards, sun straight overhead and wind out of the north.” I was a little high and the damage I did meant that it only took one bullet to do what I felt I had to do.

I knew I wouldn’t have much time so instead of going back for Cassie I ran up and drug that guy’s body over and into the dense brush and pine trees on the other side of the gully. It was a mess and I had to be careful not to look at it too closely. Only after I was sure that I had camouflaged the body did I set off back for Cassie. I had four more bodies to be responsible for but first I wanted to get her to help me. Running in boots with all the gear I had on was nowhere near as easy as the movies make it look.

I came back but no Cassie, and then I heard a scream back towards the house. That got my heart pumping again. When I got there I found that Cassie had tried to go in the house. Baaad move. Woofer let her know she wasn’t welcome. I got him calmed down but Cassie is still scared of him, which may not be such a bad thing now that I’m thinking about it. It keeps her out of places I don’t want her to go. Given her previous actions I’m keeping her out of as much of our business as possible.

I made her help me drag the other four guys’ bodies to the other side of the gully as well. She complained the whole time. It wasn’t exactly what I had planned on doing with my day either but geez Louise. She wanted me to take her back to her grandfather’s right there and that is when I put my foot down and her hard head met my rock hard resolve.

Cassie Henderson is a freaking spoiled brat!!! Whew! Wish I could say it to her face … and I just might if I’m cooped up with her for too much longer.

I really want to like Cassie if for no other reason than because of Mr. Henderson but the girl has marbles in her head and is what my Daddy would have called near next to useless. Apparently she didn’t think her grandfather’s order that everyone stay inside the main perimeter wall that they’ve built applied to her … she’s not “everybody,” she’s Ms. Cassie Henderson, no one’s rules but her own exist in her universe. Puh … leeze!

She takes a horse out even after she was told not to, goes out of sight of the ranch, and then the dummy gets captured while flirting with a stranger … “but he was so cute.” And what does the Ninny do then?! Leads them right to my place; I could slap her for that alone. The reason she screamed is because one of the men took off his belt and whipped her when he thought she was lying about a house being down our road. They hadn’t made it to the easement field yet and with everything so over grown and still green the wagon hadn’t made much difference in how unused the road tends to look.

I felt a considerable amount of sympathy for her in the beginning but every time she opened her mouth I had a harder and harder time of holding on to that feeling. Once she was inside our house she calmed down considerably but she sure didn’t stop complaining and worse, she started ordering me around. She sure doesn’t know me very well. She wanted a bath, I handed her a bucket and told her to pump her some water. She wanted a hot bath, I told her too bad, I wasn’t firing up the stove to roast us alive in the house. After the bath she wanted clean clothes and make up, I told her no makeup as I don’t have any and the only thing I had for her was a sundress since she was nearly six inches taller than me an about half my size on her northern end if you know what I mean. If she wanted her own clothes she was going to have to wash them out and hang them to dry. She wanted me to do her hair; I told her I was on watch.

It went on like that for the rest of the afternoon and evening. All I could think was, “Rand please come home before I kill you ex-girlfriend’s best friend and start a blood feud with the biggest landowner left in the county.” After I fed her a dinner of the beans that I had been cooking in the ground since first thing in the morning and it got dark she finally wound down. She wanted to use the wind up lamp but I told her, “No, we might need it if Rand comes in late or your grandfather shows up.” She definitely does not like being on the receiving end of the word no. And she is too old to pout. It’s not near as cute an expression as she seems to think it is.

Yesterday was even worse. She didn’t like grits; too bad, that’s what there is. She objected to bread and jam at lunch with fresh fruit; she wanted yogurt and a salad. She was bored, I told her she was more than welcome to help me sweep and mop the floors and all my other chores. For dinner she wanted steak and potato; that time I laughed in her face and asked her what planet she had been living on for the last few months.

She didn’t help with the dishes, she didn’t make her bed, she didn’t clean up the bathroom behind her. She’d get scared every time I left the house to take care of the animals and didn’t want me to go. Twice she tried to lock me out of the house so I started making her go with me with Woofer to guard the porch. She wasted more water than you would imagine and food too which is why I wasn’t going to much trouble.

She tried the pouty face thing again to get the lamp when she went to bed and I think I finally started wearing on her as much she is on me.

Today she’s been giving me paybacks. I’ve heard lots of stories about how good Rand and Julia had been together, about all their friends and how much fun they all had … together … close friends … no strangers allowed. Yeah, subtle she is not no matter what she thinks. And I had to listen to the snippy comments about how awful and selfish it was to bring babies into the world the way it is now … and then a fake exclamation of surprise over the baby furniture and a giggle and asking me conspiratorially if I was gonna have a baby and was that why Rand and I had had to get married.

For that one I brought up her good friend Julia’s pregnancy and her logic and justification actually made my mouth hang open. She said Julia got pregnant before things got like they are now so it was all OK and she was just so excited for her. She didn’t like me coming back with the question of whether Julia had ever revealed who she thought the baby’s father was since it obviously wasn’t Rand. And when she tried to make out like it could be Rand after all and I told her that even Julia admitted that it wasn’t Rand's and counting back she would have gotten pregnant before Rand even came home from college. I can’t believe she didn’t see that one coming but she acted like I was hurting her feelings by using logic and truth.

For the last couple of hours she’s been getting louder and louder about the fact that I need … no, I must … take her back to her grandfather. When she started “musting” me I pulled a naughty and gave her a sleeping pill I told her was a Tylenol for her headache. She’s crashed on the sofa and I’m sitting here at the front window praying that Rand is safe. I’m nearly tempted to leave and take Cassie to her grandfather just as an excuse to look for news of Rand.


September 30th – Call me over protective but he isn’t getting out of that bed for at least twenty-four hours if I have to do something like tie him down. I told him so and even though he was so tired looking he got a guy grin on his face that made me throw a pillow right at his head. Of course then he started coughing again and it is a really nasty cough too. Thankfully I am dusting the cobwebs off of the corners of my brain and remember Momma making me anise tea with honey when I would get a chest cold. I looked it up in Momma’s medicine notebook and sure enough anise tea is used as an expectorant.

I took two teaspoons of crushed aniseed and poured a cup of boiling water over it and left it to steep for fifteen minutes. I strained out the aniseed and then added enough honey that Rand would drink it. Between the heat of the hot water and the licorice of the anise on the next coughing fit he had he started coughing up blobs of junk out of his chest. Nasty but at least he doesn’t sound so much like a freight train any more.

Mitch brought him back last night and took Cassie off my hands. When Cassie started tuning up to complain Mitch shut her up, “Knock it off Cass. You’ve gone too far this time. Your grandfather has been worried sick … literally worried sick. Tia Cia as well. We wasted valuable time looking for you and two of our men got hurt because of it … Jeffers might not make it and he has two young children with no family left to take them in if he dies. Get on this horse, now.” I didn’t give her another thought after they left though I’ve had time to do it today.

I thought Rand was only over tired last night and suffering from the effects of having to deal with all that has been going on. He wouldn’t settle until he made sure that I’d been able to take care of the animals and then as I fed him some bread and jam for dinner … he didn’t want anything else … I had to tell him about the five men and what I had done. Rather than being upset he said, “I wish I had been here Babe but I had to trust that you could handle things. And you did.”

When he leaned on me to give me a hug … and I got beyond noticing how ripe he smelled … I heard his chest rattle for the first time. First I needed to get him comfortable and I heated water for a bath and put some peppermint bath salts in there. Rand doesn’t much like baths, he prefers hanging a bucket up and taking a shower. To egg him on a little bit I told him it was paybacks for leaving me alone with Cassie for so long.

“That bad?”

“It was horrible. Detestable. Horrifying beyond imagination.”

“Ok, ok … I’ll take a bath and soak but you have to scrub my back.”

“Gee, you drive such a hard bargain.”

I washed his hair and gave him a trim without him realizing it until I was half way finished. It isn’t something to brag about but at least the hair is off his neck and he doesn’t resemble a sheep dog. He told me what had happened to keep him away for so long.

Things are coming unglued and we are getting hit from all sides. Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Valdosta and all points north; they seem to be converging in different places looking for an ever shrinking amount of resources, trying to force the government to do something they have no way of doing, just wandering around aimlessly with no real plan following whoever is the loudest or most charismatic leader at the moment. Rand called the the people following these "leaders" sheeple. But when you have that many, even disorganized as they are, you are going to have trouble. The first day he was away it was the worst. The second day the “leaders” of the various groups were captured or killed, yesterday was mostly something he called mop up.

“There'll be more of this until winter shuts things down or there aren't resources to get the masses moving at all. Even though they don’t want the responsibility, the military has had to build a couple of large holding centers and dump anyone they catch causing problems into the fenced in enclosures. From there they’ve started busing them to St. George Island. There is only one bridge on and off the barrier island that now has several guarded gates erected along its length. The island is covered in vacation rental places so they aren’t exposed to the elements, and if they put their mind to it they can probably make a pretty good living there by fishing and what have you. The military is through messing around and court dates are going to have to wait. It will be a little like Australia was for the UK back during the Colonial period. You’ve heard of that?”

“Rand! Oh … you were trying to be funny. Yes, I know what you mean. Criminals, dissidents, etc. were sentenced to exile in Australia if they messed up in the UK.”

“Close enough. It is going to be hard at first but at least they’ll stand more of a chance than if they were sentenced to a firing squad which is what some commanders and citizen groups have been talking about doing. Everyone has agreed to try the barrier island route first or if the person is a known felon then they’ll be put on barges that have been anchored off the coast. That is going to be a bleak life but at least it is a life.”

Rand was so tired he was starting to repeat himself. I got him out of the tub and up to the dormer room and tucked in bed. He was telling me that he had stayed with Ram’s unit up until it got recalled to base. Ram had asked permission to take Rand home but permission was denied, there had been an attack on their base and everyone was needed to put things back to right. When Rand saw Ram’s face and remembered that Sherri was probably on the base he told him not to give it another thought. About an hour later as Rand made it to Lee, Florida he got a lift as far as River Road.

He started walking again and was a couple of miles further when he ran into Mitch who had come to collect some horses that had gotten loose from a string of them that Bradley and Hoss had brought for a “calvary” group to use. It took them a while, people kept stopping them for news, but Rand finally made it home. Last night was the first night he had slept under a roof since the morning he left.

A couple of hours after he went to bed he started coughing and about two this morning he started running a fever. I don’t know if it is a relapse of the virus or if this is just paybacks his body is giving him for sleeping outside for a couple of nights when he was already all stressed out. Either way, like I said, he is in bed until I say so.

Actually he slept off and on all day and now he is asleep again and I hope for the night. His color is better … I think that is what you call it when somebody that has been sick and pale looks more natural anyway … and his fever is gone. He ate better today too. I made some garlic broth and he said that opened up his sinuses about as well as the anise tea did for his chest. It has cooled down the last couple of nights so I don’t have the fan turned on and have to pull a sheet over us at night.

While Rand slept off and on today I did laundry and picked more beans and made some more applesauce. All the talking about babies that Cassie did made me wonder just what are the babies around here going to eat when there isn’t any formula or baby food to buy. I looked in Momma’s notes but didn’t find anything on babies, I guess because she was through, but I did find something in one of the dehydrator books. You can dry veggies to the crispy critter phase and then when you need baby food you can put them through a grinder to make a powder and then reconstitute the powder into pureed baby food. Fruits are just easier to can in their pureed form from what I understand which is one of the reasons that I’m doing more applesauce. The other reason is that applesauce can replace some of the fat that is called for in some cakes and stuff. Better to be prepared with an alternative before you need it I think.

I tried a different bread recipe today. I found it in Momma’s files and the name is what got me to try it. It is called Spinster’s Bread. You take two eggs, one quart of flour, two tablespoonfuls of shortening, one tablespoonful of salt, one teacupful of yeast sponge (which was an experiment I started the other day), and one cup of sweet milk (made from the whole powdered milk. Mix into a soft dough, let rise; mold into loaves, let rise until light then bake it.

I needed to heat some more water for Rand to take another soak in the tub since he’d been sweating so much and because I needed to wash the sheets off of the bed (clean Rand on clean sheets made him a happy boy) so I baked the bread in the princess. I just wish it was going to be cool enough to use that stove year around. It is really easy to bake in. Or, maybe what I could do is keep my bread baking down to one day a week and heating the house up one day a week might not be too bad. Hmmm … I think I’m going hunting in my Momma’s books and see if any of them say what pioneer women did about that.


October 1st – New month, new lesson; don’t handle hot peppers without gloves on and keep your hands away from your eyes too. Don’t ask me how I know. You don’t really want to know. Those jalapenos were worse than any onions I’ve ever chopped. But I got a bunch of half pints of canned peppers and some jelly jars of jalapeno jelly.


October 2nd – There wasn’t a church service yesterday. Assuming circumstances allow Pastor Ken, who came by yesterday making his rounds, said that an organized service will be held on the second and forth Sunday each month. People are free to hold a home church meeting on the off Sundays if they wish, in fact he is encouraging it.

When the Pastor listened to Rand’s chest he shook his head and then asked me what I had done to help him break the congestion up. I told him about the anise tea and he said to be careful with that because too much could be bad, especially for children, because it has a narcotic effect. I told him he had one cup in the morning and then one cup in the early afternoon and that was all.

The pastor is apparently familiar with a lot of home remedies since he’s been serving in the community for a number of years, especially amongst the older folks who all but survive on stuff like that some times. He was heading back to Momma O’s so I sent him with a bucket of apples, a bag of green beans, and some jalapenos. I figure they can work any fussbudgeting out amongst themselves. Pastor Ken is the closest thing to a doctor we have access to and when he stops by I like to feed him or at least send him off with something useful. He is also our preacher and we are responsible for supporting him so he can serve the community. Not everyone can so those of us that can need to step up.

After the pastor left I asked Rand who was sitting in the rocker getting his wind back after dealing with the animals, if what I was doing was OK. He said, “Honey, you do exactly what you feel led to do. You feel that way for some reason and Ken seems grateful now rather than embarrassed, like he feels like someone appreciates the position he is in. Momma O will make sure he gets fed and the donations will make sure he isn’t a burden on their household.”

It makes me feel better to know he wasn’t upset that I did it without asking him. It also makes me feel better to see that Rand’s appetite is coming back. For dinner tonight I used a quart of ground venison that I put up last time and made sloppy joes; instead of buns I had to put it on biscuits but it was still good. I don’t have any fresh potatoes to make fries with but I’m still pulling purple top turnips and I made turnip fries. I’d run across it in my Momma’s notes. She got the recipe from someone named “Night Walker.” I presume that means she got the recipe online someplace. Momma had friends all over.

To make the turnip fries you peel and slice the turnips just like you would potato fries. Then you toss them in olive oil and sprinkle with the same seasonings you like on your fries. I’m old-fashioned and just like salt and pepper on mine. Then you bake them until crispy … about fifteen minutes in a 375 degree oven.

To go with the fries I also fried some cucumber strips. Basically you cut a cucumber into long then strips and bread it on both sides with your favorite breading mix. I’m partial to flour mixed with salt and pepper but I’ve also done this with cornmeal at the diner on fish fry Fridays. Then you fry the floured strips in a skillet. The cleaner the grease the fresher the taste but one of the guys that came in regularly always asked us to fry some up with bacon grease left over from breakfast. He called them heart attack salad sticks.

Speaking of meat and fat, Rand likes the way the ham and stuff looks in the cans that I did. Rand smoked the meat for flavor and then we spent a day cutting it and canning it. It doesn’t look very pretty to me but Rand said compared to some he’d seen done there was hardly any wastefulness to what was in the jar at all. Whoever heard of getting romantic feelings while standing in a pantry full of jars. I feel silly but it makes me feel good when he says things like that. He said if we can put off butchering until December … which is what Uncle George is shooting for apparently … we’ll be able to “country cure” some meats so that they can keep without refrigeration.

“Uncle George sure is glad he ordered in bulk last time he got his supplies. We’ve got plenty of what we need for a while … maybe two, three years or more depending on the animal situation and how much butchering for fresh use we have to do. We’ve always dried cured but Mr. Coffey was mentioning that there is a wet cure for doing pork that the poor folks used to use. I’ll have to ask him if he can remember it.”

“Oh, you’ve seen him? How’s he doing? Did he get the rest of the sorghum in and the syrup finished up?”

“Yeah. It’s a good thing his grandson and his family showed up. Brendon and I had a hard time getting everything done and he’s got about ten acres of corn that he is going to need to bring in too. Most of his animals are free-range these days so the corn will probably go into his family’s belly. Our corn is looking pretty good but I sure hope my feed holds out. Which reminds me, it doesn’t look like you used as much as I expected while I was gone.”

“I fed Hatchet, Lou, and Bud like you told me to but the flock and the goats I’ve been giving my gardening scraps and they seem to do just fine. We might need to move the goats again in the next couple of days but they don’t seem to be hurting. Fraidy and Woofer eat whatever they can catch or kitchen scraps.”

“What kind of garden scraps are you feeding them that they aren’t wanting feed?!”

“Oh anything that I used to throw on the compost pile. They really liked the green bean stuff and the chickens were in hog heaven over the cantaloupe rinds. They also like the apple peels, cores, and the chunks I have to cut out. “

“OK, that’s fine just … I’m not criticizing, but do me a favor, keep giving them a little bit of feed until we find a balance between them being totally free range and totally grain fed. Especially don’t give them any of the peppers or egg shells.”

“I don’t want the chickens to turn cannibal! Of course I’m not going to give them the egg shells. And well … I was afraid the peppers would give them a belly ache so I didn’t give them that either.”

“Good. Look, I know … uh, I didn’t hurt your …”

“No. I just wish I wasn’t so stupid about all of this stuff and …”

“I don’t want to hear that again!”

“Huh?”

“Don’t say you’re stupid. You’re inexperienced and if I’d thought about it we would have gone over it ahead of time. How many eggs are you getting from the hens?”

“Well, only about one or two because Momma Hen and that other broody cranky one want to sit on theirs.”

“Sounds like they need more feed. We’ll work it out. The hens aren’t going to give an egg a day but one every couple of days should be the minimum. And they might be slowing down for the molt season too. I’m not sure, I’ve never kept bantams. I think they are fairly much like regular sized chickens but I can’t say absolutely for certain. Let that broody hen have the next couple and see if she can hatch them but by the end of the month we’ll collect everything they make and use them fresh. I don’t want to have chicks too far into the cool weather or they’ll die.”

It’s stuff like this I’m grateful that Rand knows. I could figure it out I think but not without a lot of mistakes along the way. And I’d hate to intentionally cause the death of a hen or chick by doing the wrong thing.

There is so much to learn and so many mistakes that can be made so easily. No wonder the pioneers had such a hard time their first couple of years in a new spot, they had to learn stuff all over that they had figured out in their old spot ... or learn it completely new if they were from the cities and were moving west with a lot of other inexperienced settlers.

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