Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter 49

October 3rd – Rand went to sleep really early, sun wasn’t even completely down. I think he overdid it. I tried not to be so bossy and bother him after a certain point today but it sure was hard not to say “I told you so.” No good could come of that. He was already feeling a little low.

I found out Rand doesn’t like to think he has any weakness … or at least any weaknesses that he doesn’t already beat himself up over. Uncle George came by today – actually had several people stop by – and I could tell Rand was getting bent out of shape because of the lecture he got about his health and “thinking he is invincible.” But Uncle George didn’t have to heap coals on top of coals by riding him about other stuff too.

I can see Uncle George’s point but I don’t think he needed to be quite as rough on Rand as he was. He fussed about Rand not taking it easy and then fussed because of all the things that haven’t been done yet … fences put up, pole barn, gates reinforced, green house built, etc. It started hurting my feelings too. I know we have things that need doing but life seems to keep getting in the way.

“And on top of this I hear it was Kiri that had to take care of those men that hurt Cassie Henderson. You and Brendon, always running off to work someplace else when there’s work that needs doing at home.”

Rand didn’t explain or defend himself and I didn’t know how without making things worse. Anyone else I would have popped off at them but I’m trying really hard not to say stuff that could cause problems with Rand’s family. After Uncle George delivered his lecture and left – with a bag of apples for Janet and the boys – Rand and I went back to the garden to finish what we’d started first thing this morning. I couldn’t stop myself from asking though, “Rand, what was your uncle so … so … ?”

After he sighed he answered, “That’s just the way he is. He gets worried and it just comes off like that.”

“Well, he doesn’t have to be so critical. We’ve got a lot done that wasn’t and … “

“Don’t take it personal Babe, he was talking to me.”

“I don’t care … and that makes it even worse. We’re in this together. And what’s up with the crack about you and Brendon running around? You were working hard! And it brought in things we didn’t have. Doesn’t that mean something to him? In case I didn’t say, it means a lot to me.”

That got a smile and he leaned over and kissed me then said, “Uncle George has a full-blown ranch Honey, with a good number of animals. It takes a lot of work. He used to hire experienced ranch hands that helped him out but he can’t do that now. A lot of them are dead, gone, or trying to make it on their own places or need to work on their family’s places. Look at it this way, when I went off to college he wound up having to hire three different guys to do what I used to do for free … one for morning work, one for evening work, and one who only worked on the weekends or when the other guys needed off. Even if he could find someone these days he can’t pay them anything, money is next to useless. Guys smart enough to work a ranch or farm are gathering stuff to do it on their own these days. Even if he could get some live-in help, they’re going to want more than room and board and Uncle George figures he’s stretched thin enough just feeding everyone he has over there now … and with two babies on the way … “

“Make that three. I guess you weren’t listening when he complained that LauraBeth is sick all the time now too.”

“Oh Lord, poor Uncle George. Look, the workload is one of the reasons that he is looking to cull some of his animals. He needs to make his herds more manageable with the number of hands he has. The other thing is that he doesn’t know whether he is going to be able to feed them or not beyond this winter. He has hay, silage, and feed to make it to spring but after that … who knows?” And with the recent round of illness and no magic cure for Janet … he’s worried about the future and it makes him cranky. And let’s be honest, there’s some truth to his criticism too."

“Rand!”

“Don’t go getting upset. I try and take what he says as a constructive critique and not get too awful upset about it. I have been putting off the fence and some of the other projects we talked about. I still haven’t built that second smokehouse even though all of the supplies are lying over there in that pile. Now that it isn’t in the upper 90s every day I need to start digging fence post holes and setting posts for the heifer and calf to have a place to go during the day. And I need to build real stalls in the barn for bringing them in at night. And I should … “

“And just where does Uncle George expect us to come up with the materials for these projects I’d like to know?”

Rand laughed, “I wish you’d been around the last time Mr. Winston laid into me for being a leech on Uncle George.” With a sigh he continued, “I’m going to salvage what supplies I can and after that it may come down to making our own. I want to put a gate at the end of the road and have it open up into that eighty next to us and then fence in that area around the pond. Adding that area to your … ok, ok, our … acreage shouldn’t be a problem. I talked to Mr. Henderson about it and he says for a fact the whole branch of the family that used to own that land are dead or so long gone that they might as well be for the foreseeable future. If we fence it in we’ll get pasture and a year-round source for animals to go with all of the scrub and palmetto.”

“Will that be enough to keep the cows fed?”

“Sure. Florida cows used to survive on scrub oaks and palmetto alone in the early days and we’ll have hay from what you call the hayfield to supplement them and the other animals. And if the oats don’t make seed heads we can make oat hay out of it. If I have to I'll find an area that has gone to seed, mow it, then bring it home and sprinkle it all over and hopefully we’ll get some seeded pasture that way. Getting that fence done is going to be work but that old hand auger out in the barn should help.”

“Auger. Oh, is that the thing that looks like a cross between a jackhammer and a giant drill bit?”

“Yep, that’s the one. If the sand is too soft and dry I might still wind up doing some of the holes with a post hole digger. First I’ve got to get the posts.”

He was doing that very thing this afternoon when first Ram and then Mr. Henderson and Mitch Peters came by. I asked Ram about his wife and he said Sherri had come out OK and then he went across the field to talk to Rand. It was funny to see Ram riding a mule. He said it was a Belgian mule and that if I thought seeing a guy in uniform riding a mule was funny, I should see them moving supplies down the interstate using donkey trains. I believe that would be an unusual sight but it doesn’t really surprise me. Donkeys used to be raised as companion animals all over in this area of the state and now you can see people in little donkey pulled carts when they come to church. Momma O has a pet donkey she calls Beulah and it wears an old straw hat to keep the sun out of its eyes.

Mr. Henderson came by not too long after Ram left to talk to Rand. I was starting herb seeds that Momma O gave me in some pots. With a nod of his head he sent Mitch off to talk to Rand. I didn’t think anything of it at first and offered him some tea up on the porch.

“Much obliged. Girly I … well, I came by to thank you … for what you did for Cassie.”

I told Mr. Henderson people were making too much of it. I didn’t do it because it was Cassie, I did it because it was the right thing to do and because I was there and could.

“Ayup, figured you’d say something of the sort. But now I gotta ask you something and I’d like the full truth of it if you please. I need to know what happened, in detail, and no making excuses for anybody, not even Cassie.”

I told him and didn’t sugar coat anything. He nodded his head and looked off towards the tree tops. “Well, I’m sorry for the trouble Cassie caused you … no … don’t try to say it wasn’t a bother because … well, I know you didn’t complain or even say anything about it but I know my Cassie. I’ve known for a few years she’s spoiled. Didn’t want to see it at first and when I did didn’t think there was any harm in it. She was all I had left of my kids … lost my daughter and both my sons before I should have, lost their mother too. I just …”

I didn’t know what to say. This was family business and I wasn’t used to people just saying stuff all out in the open like that.

“Things are going to have to change. World isn’t what it was not that long ago. I figure I’ll have Cassie with me one way or the other a long time. Mitch would be a good man for her if she’d just … but she’s still more little girl playing at being grown up than actually being a grown woman. And thankfully Mitch knows that. But a man like him won’t wait forever. I’ve asked him to consider it and he is. I need someone I can trust to take over things when I go. I believe Mitch is that man and I’d like to make sure that Cassie is taken care of at the same time. But that’s neither here nor there at the moment. I just want you to know that anything you need … anything … you come to me first.”

“Mr. Henderson … “

“Naw, just keep it between us. Your man has a lot of pride and I’d ruther …. Well, I was his age once and I know how bad it can hurt to have to ask. If it ain’t handled right he can be made to feel small and that takes some getting over. Mitch is talking to him now. I’m opening up some field next to me but it is all cross fenced in five and ten acre lots. I’ve got posts and fencing to the rafters in one of the sheds now, if he takes them off my hands he’d be doing me a favor. You see what I mean?”

I sure did. I still say I didn’t do anything big and that it wouldn’t have mattered who the girl was but I wasn’t going to turn him down either. Rand needed help and Mr. Henderson needed to help … hand in glove fit and everyone’s male pride was saved.

After all three men left Rand came back and was swinging me around the front yard like a silly man. We were both so dizzy we wound up on the ground laughing. “Oh Sugar, did Mr. Henderson say anything?”

I crossed my fingers and said, “Something about him needing you to do him a favor … his shed was full?”

“Oh yeah. This will work out perfect. I still have a heck of a lot of holes to dig but at least I won’t be breaking my back trying to dig up those posts to start with. I’m beat just getting the five I did manage to pull up. What’s for supper?”

Supper was venison shepherd’s pie made with some canned venison steaks, fresh and dried veggies, and mashed potato flakes made up and mixed with some powdered cheese to make a thick cover on top.

While we ate we discussed what all we had planted today. I got four veggies in the ground: Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and spinach. Tomorrow Paulie is going to deliver some fifty or so strawberry plants from Momma O. I hadn’t realized it but she made a supplemental income by selling strawberry plants seasonally at flea markets. She has an abundance right now so Paulie and his dad (the other brother is in a wheelchair with developmental issues) agreed to trade Rand some of the plants in exchange for mowing their hayfield. Rand is going over there tomorrow after lunch but Momma O wants me to have the plants first thing so I can get them in the ground “where they belong.”

Rand has the first level of the strawberry tower built in the center of the garden. He made a big “O” with two strips of metal flashing staked so they wouldn’t come apart. In the bottom of the “O” he put a layer of gravel and on top of that we put the richest dirt we could find on the property that we mixed with some of the compost I made using the barrel composter Rand built (that thing works a lot faster than the compost pile does). Tomorrow we’ll add two or three more levels in concentric but smaller “O”s until we have all the strawberry plants in the ground.

I planted more herbs than anything. Rand said after he gets more of the other projects out of the way he’ll help me build an herb garden. For now I have everything in pots: anise, basil, borage, caraway, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, horehound, lemon balm, lovage, marjoram, tarragon, mints, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, and thyme. I planted a raised bed of garlic out in the garden and I also took some of the ginger roots that I had and am trying to sprout those too like I learned at the ladies’ social.

The other thing we are doing tomorrow is to make “manure tea.” Sounds absolutely disgusting but Rand swears it will do the garden good. I hope he is right.

He just rolled over and asked me why I’m not in bed yet. Guess that is my hint to turn the light off.


October 5th – I’ve still got the shakes, Rand too a little bit I think. He won’t let me out of the house and not too far out of his sight when he is inside.

Yesterday was a wonderful day. The sky was crystal clear blue. The humidity was low. And we got everything accomplished we wanted to. Paulie brought over the strawberry plants and Rand said but a little layer of hay so that when the berries make they won’t be sitting right on the dirt. I picked nearly a bushel of pole beans, cooked a big pot that Rand and I ate on all afternoon, gave some to Brendon who had come by to escape his dad for a few hours and who helped Rand get the post holes lined up and marked, and baked a pan of cornbread and two more loaves of bread while I heated water in the reservoir of the princess.

We went to bed and then about midnight or so Woofer went crazy. I’m writing it all in a rush but it actually took a lot of time for things to happen. We got the shutter open enough for us to see that someone was trying to break into the barn and when daylight came we also saw that they had ripped up most of the pole beans and stepped all over in the garden. I don’t think I’ve lost anything except the rest of the pole beans but they were nearly finished making though it would have been nice to get every last pod. They also turned over the dehydrator and cracked the Plexiglas on the bottom panel. The goats were asleep in their pen and I guess the people never realized they were there in the dark.

The moon was not full but not far from it and in the clearing around the house they were completely visible to us. I finally grabbed Woofer around the snout and told him he better hush or I was going to lock him in the bathroom. From there on out all he did was the quiet growl then snort woof that dogs do when they are just this side of chewing somebody’s leg off.

Then we listened to them quietly cursing when they couldn’t get into anything; that’s when they started tearing things up. Rand was going downstairs to open one of the windows to get a better shot when I watched one of them light something up and throw it at the side of the barn. It lit the grass around the barn on fire but not the barn itself which is built to match the house … brick on block and both also have metal roofs. But a grassfire would eventually catch other stuff on fire and we couldn’t allow that.

I go tearing down the stairs to see Rand sliding out a window at the back of the house. There is gunfire and sounds of a scuffle and fighting … I don’t really know how long it went on. Then it gets quiet and I’m thinking that Rand is going to come back at any moment. But instead I hear, “Whoever’s in the house … you want this dude to stay alive for much longer you come on out.”

I have no idea what made me do what I did. I don’t know if I need to grow up or start thinking things more thoroughly but all I could do was be furious that they were going to hurt Rand. I slid out the same window that Rand had with my rifle and the Smith and Wesson and a pocketful of ammo for each. I had been sleeping in cut off fleece shorts and it didn’t take long for the skeeters to find me but I didn’t realize it until later.

The moon was just as bright but I knew the yard a whole lot better than the invaders did. And that is exactly how I was thinking of them … invaders in our home, in our sanctuary. They may not have been in our house but they were still in what we considered part of our home. I was creeping around the house listening to Rand shout, “No!! Don’t listen to them!!! Don … argh!!!” They had hurt Rand to shut him up.

I saw her standing in the shadows, looking towards the house with the gun raised. I could tell by her expression that the plan wasn’t to let Rand and I live no matter what they were saying. There, leaning against the a tree was one of the last of the metal U fence posts we had. It wasn’t near as hard as it should have been. I picked it up, came up behind her, and chunked it down on her so that the spade part of the post came right down on her head. She dropped like a silent stone.

I walked the perimeter and saw one more and gave him the same treatment but he was a little noisier when he fell.

“Bob!”

Bob wasn’t answering and I knew that I might have overplayed my hand so I went to one knee just like Rand had been teaching me, raised the rifle and started firing even though I was more scared than I wanted to admit that I was going to hit Rand. As Rand went down he grabbed his gun back from his captor and turned around and started firing.

But, unlucky for me there had been a third person hiding in the bushes. How I missed him I don’t know. Probably that overconfidence thing again. He grabbed me from behind but my adrenaline was up and I started fighting right away, never giving the guy a chance to get a good hold one me. He pulled a knife at some point and I felt a nasty burning across my back. I threw my head straight back and caught him in the mouth and he turned loose of me. A black shadow tore across the yard and straight into the stranger but a yelp quickly followed and Woofer was thrown in the bushes. But the dog tried to come back only, “Stop Woofer! Get back!!” Bang, Bang, Bang.

Rand, bruised and bloody from his own fight had come up. “Rand! Are they all … “

“Two of them took off on horses down the road. Are you OK, I want to secure these other horses.”

After my nod he ran to grab the remaining horses that were pulling at their reins where they had been tied to a tree right outside our home site. He put them in the corral after stripping them of their riding gear. He’d already stamped the fire out but I got water from the rain barrels and poured buckets on the still steaming grass just to be safe. The first woman I had hurt was still breathing so Rand tied her to a tree but all the other men … four of them … were dead and Rand put them in a pile in the yard. We had been at this hours … the moon had gone down and the sky had gotten that weird color right before the first real light starts to brighten things up … when reaction set in and I got the heaves. I puked in the bushes, something you’d figure I’d be over by now, and then stumbled backwards and hit a tree with my back. I always try really hard not to curse, Daddy told me one time he would know if I did and it has stuck with me even though he hasn’t been around for a long time and I might as well be all grown, but I sure said one then.

“Kiri! When did this happen?!”

“I don’t know I guess when I was fighting with that guy”

It hadn’t really been anything but sore up to that point but suddenly it hurt like salt on a paper cut. It hurt so bad I wanted to puke again. As the sun rose Rand got me back in the house and to master bathroom. My dark t-shirt had hidden things and the dark shorts had soaked up what I thought was sweat. With the light of day I could see Rand didn’t look so good either. He had a couple of nicks and his face was splotchy where he’d been nearly strangled. His clothes were torn and a mess too and we both stank … of guns, sweat, blood and nasty stuff that happens when people die.

We both cleaned up as best we could. I was lying across the bed in nothing but a towel around my waist while Rand cleaned the cut on my back trying really hard not to cry. I know it sounds like I’m a real wuss, always puking and crying or trying not to puke or cry, but that’s just the way things hit me. I’m fine while something is happening but afterwards all the adrenaline is like a poison and I have to vent it somehow whether I want to or not.

Woofer, who had been playing guard the whole time, came to hyper alert and growled deep in his chest and took off for the door. Rand grabbed his rifle, and in nothing but a pair of loose jeans took off after the dog.

“Joiner!!! Call this dog off!! Yo, Joiner, you in there?!”

It was Hoss and Bradley. If Mitch had been with them it might have been Ok. I was trying to get off the bed and cover myself … and not having very good luck … when Rand ran back inside and said, “You stay put! Don’t you move! Not an inch!! I’m going to see if Pastor Ken can come out here or how soon. Hoss says there’s been trouble all over.”

So I stayed put and believe it or not dozed for a bit. I came to when a wash cloth was rubbed across my face, but it wasn’t Rand. “Easy chica. Poor Rand is in a state. The preacher man is away tending a family that got burned out over on River Road. Oh the trouble the night brought us all. It is terrible. Elogie al buen Dios that He was with you. So many dead, so many … and the count is not yet finished.”

“Who?! Oh no, who?!!”

“Easy sweet girl, easy. I should not have told you but, you would have found out soon enough. They tried to come behind us but did not think that our numbers could possibly be true and sent not enough. We have a few injured but none to death. Young Jeffers even took a turn for the better which is a strange blessing for such an event. Two families out on River Road were cut down, another burned out. The Harbinger family lost a barn and some livestock but fought off their attackers from coming in the house itself. Rand’s tio … the one called George … they were attacked but did not count on some surprise that the son-in-law Bill brought against them. The Winston’s were not so lucky; the mother had another attack and no one knows what to do for her. Your friend … Ram Diaz … oh mi calidad … were he not married and I thirty years younger. He and some militares are out rounding up the dead and dying of the oh so bad people to take them away. I am going to give you something to drink and you will feel soñoliento. I want you to relax and not move so much until the preacher man can see you.”

I did sleep for a while, maybe an hour and a half, but woke when I felt my back being tugged on. “You’re hurting her!”

“Rand I’m sorry. If I could to this without hurting her I would. Just hold her so she doesn’t jerk. The quicker I get this done the better it will be for her.”

Argh! Superglue in a deep paper cut. Man that hurt. That is literally what Pastor Ken did on the deep end of the cut. It hadn’t done much damage and he really didn’t want to sew me up with something he would just have to cut out later so on the end that was the worst he used super glue to hold the edges together to keep them from ripping apart at the least provocation.

After the pastor left to see about some other injuries Rand helped me dress and then locked me in and told me that he had to go check on his uncle. He was torn and feeling guilty … guilty if he stayed, guilty if he went. I finally convinced him by promising him I wouldn’t even open a door or window.

He was gone a couple of hours and was very grim when he came back. I wanted to go out and try and clean up the yard, Ram and his “militares” had come and gone some time after I had drank the nasty stuff that Tia Cia had given me and I was brooding about the torn up garden and wanting to see what could be salvaged. Rand wouldn’t hear of it.

Rand dragged the pole bean vines to the summer kitchen and then went and picked anything that looked like it couldn’t wait, mostly just some lemon cucumbers that I eventually sliced and tossed into a salad that we nibbled on throughout the remainder of the day. We sat in the floor of the summer kitchen and pulled the beans that were salvageable and the rest went into the goat pen.

While we sat Rand told me what he had seen and heard. “Uncle George and them made out OK; front gate is messed up but that was more from what Bill threw at them than anything else. He chucked an incendiary grenade through the window of the suburban they were driving. That was a hot mess. Mrs. Winston is … I don’t know what she is. JR says his mom has had some kind of breakdown. One of Ron Harbingers aunts has volunteered to come stay there and help out for as long as needed.”

“What about the Harbinger place? And .. and Julia?”

“They lost a barn, two cows, and some chickens but they’ll survive it. They’ve got an older barn they can use; not as pretty but twice as big and it has a loft. Ron got a little singed around the edges but nothing serious. Julia … I don’t know. Ron’s aunt says she’s OK but there doesn’t seem to be much love lost there if you know what I mean.”

“What started this? How many of them were there and how did they get so organized that they would hit us all at once?”

“Ram says they are still putting it together and the commander has promised to share information just as soon as he can figure it out himself. But, looks like some overlord wannabees that got burnt off their survival retreat decided to move south and take over a new area … but they needed resources and they thought we were plumbs to be plucked. That commander of Ram’s is … well, I wouldn’t want to be his enemy that’s for sure. Word has gone out that legitimate community people better find a hole because tomorrow they plan on tearing this area up and anyone that can’t prove they are a resident with legitimate reason to be out and about better plan on learning to fish ‘cause they’ll be heading straight for St. George.”

“But what about the wounded? You know Pastor Ken won’t … “

“Already thought of. The commander has assigned the pastor his own armed escort, a nurse to help him out, and given him some supplies to do the work as he can.”

It went like that pretty much the rest of the day. Rand checking on things outside and me staying in. Tomorrow I’ve got to get out and get the garden watered and check out the orchard and make sure everything else is OK. Rand can’t do it all even though he’ll try.

We talked around and then about what we’d both done last night … or this morning depending on how you look at it. Rand said that we need to think of ourselves as being in a war where we aren’t the aggressors. Like this is our Pearl Harbor or something along those lines. A day that the aggressors are going to regret because we are up in arms and about to take it to them.

I told him I wasn’t too sure I liked that idea. “Honey, I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to have to fight for my life like this either. I can’t just … I can’t just let this keep happening without trying to fight it. If we let them get any more powerful, one of these days we are going to find out there are too many of them to fight and hold off.”

That I could understand … I didn’t like it but I understood. I wish the bad guys would just leave us alone. All we want is some peace and security. Is that too much to ask?

Great … Rand has brought me another cup of that nasty tea to drink. I’ll sign off here because if it was like the other two times I’ll barely get the cup finished before I’m out like a light.

1 comment:

  1. Just recently found your stories and are devouring them. Great character builds. Some of the young women's thinking tends to make me laugh but then I am an old woman. LOL

    Keep up with your writing.

    2medicine woman

    ReplyDelete