May 5th – My vow to go to bed when it gets dark lasted only one night. Last night I didn’t really have a good excuse for staying up passed dark, tonight I do.
Yesterday I kept to my plan until late afternoon and got a lot done. I got four loads of laundry stomped clean and hung out to dry and all but the coats and a blanket dried on the line completely. I brought the coats and the blanket in and hung them on the retractable clothes line that is in the summer kitchen. Now I know why Momma pushed Daddy to let her put one of those things in the house; they are dead useful. The floor in there is slate just like the tiles on the lanai and water doesn’t hurt them. Daddy also put a drain in the floor just in case there was a flood from the plumbing so if there was a lot of water dripping from the clothes on the line it can just be pushed to the drain. When not in use there is a plate that screws down over the drain and you never know it is there.
The morning started out really nice. I was relieved that I wouldn’t be trekking back and forth to some house that stank, was messy, or freaked me out in some way. For breakfast I fixed myself some orange creamsicle milk … it’s basically just Tang and powdered milk mixed together with water … and ate some granola and dried strawberries mixed together … yummy.
Right after breakfast I started my first load of laundry. It looked as silly as I thought it would; I saw myself in the bathroom mirror. And doggone that water was cold on my bare feet and legs. But now I have clean clothes to wear so the silliness was worth it. My legs weren’t nearly as sore as I expected them to be, probably because I worked all the kinks out of them on the bike ride from Tampa and by walking all over forty acres and beyond ever since.
While each laundry load was in a soak cycle I would grab things out of the barn, inventory them in my notebook, and find a place for them in the house. I made a good dent in that job yesterday but I could only do laundry, wash, and inventory for so long before I became tired and muzzy headed. I stopped and for lunch I had a cup o’ soup. I would have saved stuff like that for my dormer room stash except that the Styrofoam cups make the soups get gross if they aren’t used soon enough.
Guess I should talk about the trash I’m making. I’m not making much but it does pile up faster than you think. What I’m doing is what I remember my mom doing but with Aunt Wilma’s kind of overboard modern hippie environmentalism take on it. I can kind of understand Aunt Wilma’s point of view, they sure has heck pounded it into us at school. Momma still had it better I think. She said we get certain things in this life … blessings, gifts, things we work for, etc. … and it is up to us to be good stewards of that stuff; because one of these days if we aren’t good stewards we’ll find it all gone or taken away. But unlike the radical environmentalist who think we are supposed to do our part to take care of stuff because they belong to everyone, Momma believed we were supposed to take care of stuff because things are on loan to us from God … kinda like he’s holding the mortgage on things and we’re working for the day we get something even better in Heaven.
Anyway, Momma used to recycle just like Aunt Wilma did only Aunt Wilma, once she had put the papers, glass, and plastics in the tubs at the curb didn’t think about them anymore. Momma didn’t recycle stuff by sending it away, she recycled stuff by keeping it and turning it into something else. She has about a dozen books on composting which is basically recycling stuff to make new dirt. I don’t how many books there are on turning “trash to treasure.” There are books on turning old clothes into new clothes or into other things. I found a really neat pattern last night that even I can do and that is take old blue jeans, cut them in squares and then sew them together to get this really neat looking blue jean quilt. There was another pattern for turning old jeans into long skirts; I saw those things for sale in the mall back before things got crazy but Aunt Wilma said they were way overpriced even when they were on clearance.
Momma had lots of ideas of what to do with what most people called trash. I remember she did but I can’t remember exactly how she did it. I know it is in one of her notebooks around here somewhere. Until I find that notebook I’m dividing things up into the recycling cans out in the barn – cardboard, plastic, Styrofoam, glass, metal, etc. But the Styrofoam cup from my soup reminded me of a little “recycling” project one of the other foster kids taught us. If Uncle Charlie had known he’d have had a fit.
See this kid Max was a pyro-geek. He got into trouble because people thought he was a fire bug but he wasn’t, not really. To Max fire was special, something to be studied and used like a tool. When he grew up he wanted to be a scientist that could control fire, make it do what he wanted it to. Yeah, he was a little crazy, but it was a cool kind of crazy. He taught the rest of us kids how to take Styrofoam and make homemade napalm. When you add a little gas to Styrofoam it melts. The gunk that is left will stick to anything. If you light that gunk on fire it makes a really hot fire that burns for a long time. I found a small gallon can of really, old nasty gas in the barn at property three. I brought it home just in case it might come in handy. I’m thinking that if my wood ever gets so wet that it won’t light but I really need a fire for some reason then I can make that Styrofoam gunk and put a little dab on the wood and it will burn long enough to get some of the wood dry so that it will burn.
I figure if Styrofoam can be re-used for something this cool with so little work, Momma is bound to have some neat stuff that I can do with the rest of the trash I’m making.
After lunch I decided to take a break and go pick one box to open up of my parents’ stuff. That’s when the trouble started. It took me a while to realize that none of the house keys fit the heavy door at the bottom of the stairs that led to the bonus rooms. I have a feeling this was the lawyer’s work rather than Uncle Charlie’s. It took a while for me to figure out how to break into the door without doing major damage. For some reason the hinges on this door were on the outside. I popped the hinges with an awl and hammer. This wasn’t a pre-hung door so with patience and a little bit of force I was able to get the door open and out of the doorframe. I need to change the doorknob but heck, that is something else that I learned from watching Uncle Charlie. It can be irritating but it isn’t rocket science.
I went up the stairs and it was like stepping into Wonderland. You know what they say about potato chips? You can never do just one. Every box reminded me of things I hadn’t even realized I had forgotten. I would bring down one, meaning to only open it but the first one was just full of kitchen stuff and it was easy to empty and put away. The second one had dishes in it … those old white and green Correll dishes that Momma had always been so proud of every time she found a new piece at a yard sale. I sat those by the dish drainer to wash so of course that wasn’t really like putting a box away so I got a third and then a fourth and then a fifth, sixth, and seventh.
And then I started running across the stuff that was more personal – Daddy’s old military fatigues and clothes, Momma’s sewing box, my brother’s Matchbox cars. Before I knew it the sun was going down and the house was a mess. I was tempted to leave it like that but in the end I was too wide awake and too emotionally exhausted to go to sleep so I found the wind up lamp, hung it on the candle sconce attached to the wall and did what I could to make things neater. Even after I washed up and climbed in bed I lay awake for a long time, movies of better times running through my head.
The next morning I was fuzzy headed but Fraidy, who had actually decided to stay inside last night when it started to rain, needed out and was passed being dignified about it. Breakfast was oatmeal because I had to use a candle lantern to heat up a cup of water hot enough to work with the instant stuff. It was very misty and stayed that way for a long time, like the last of some unseasonable cold front had tried to take a Florida vacation and failed.
No way was I going to be doing much outside during the morning so I decided to continue with the boxes up in the bonus rooms. I eventually found Momma’s jewelry box and my Dad’s mom’s jewelry box too. I found Daddy’s Case knife collection wrapped up with table cloths that I remember my mother pulling out only for holidays or big family get togethers. I took the jewelry and knives right to the dormer room; both looked out of place but I didn’t care. Even all of the clothes had been packed away neatly. I tried to see if I could smell Daddy or Momma on the clothes but it had been too long and they had been packed with cedar balls.
At lunch time I knew I had to get out and walk around a bit. I kept feeling tears roll down my cheeks even though I couldn’t remember starting to cry. I grabbed a green rain poncho, locked the door, and then went for a walk with the wheelbarrow to pick up wood, even though it would be wet.
I hadn’t been to CR49 since I first cruised in from my long bike trek. In fact, all of my walks had been away from CR49 and running parallel between CR49 and US90 when I did get off of my forty. I decided to walk up to see the blackberries at the gully. I didn’t really think they would be ripe yet but I wanted to check on them to see if there were any berries making at all.
I was pushing the wheelbarrow down the Avenue of the Oaks where it meets up with Magnolia Drive and thinking so much I must have stopped listening. A bunch of deer came bounding over the fence and down the lane straight at me before I even knew what was going on. I finally came out of my funk and was wondering what in the bejeebers had scared them so bad when I heard those popping sounds again but much, much closer.
I also heard motors. I only knew at that moment the sounds were the first motors I’d heard since Williston. It turned out the motors belonged to dirt bikes running around on the old ATV trails on one of the twenties that bordered our road.
It didn’t take me long to find the good sense to dive into the bushes and grass at the dogleg in the road. I pushed the wheelbarrow ahead of me and then tipped it on its side so it didn’t lay some much grass over. The sticks I had collected went every which way giving even more camouflage.
I listened to the motors for a while and right when I thought they were going to stay in the area they were on so that I could escape home things really got crazy. First a guy comes kind of running-stumbling out of the loblollies on the other side of the gully. He actually falls into the gully but he lands in a patch of thick blackberry canes and kind of just disappears. I didn’t have time to wonder about that more than a second when two of the dumbest stumps in the forest make an appearance.
No one with any real sense goes mud boggin, big wheeling, or biking in an area they haven’t already scouted out at a reasonable speed. One, you never know what might be around the next corner and two, you never know what you might run over. The gully straddles the property line right there so Daddy never ran the fence passed the tip of the gully; however, the people that owned that twenty did by giving up some of their property so that the fence was on their side of the gully. Their ATV track had a lot of clay in it so stayed fairly weed free all year, but the land around that piece of fence was always overgrown and unless you knew the fence was there it was easily missed.
Well, first guy comes plowing through hitting the loblollies and tall grass and then smacks into that fence. I swear it looked like some of those old Looney Tune cartoons Uncle Charlie laughed so hard at where a cartoon character will run into a fence and it stretches out but never breaks. The barbed wire never really did break but it stretched out pretty good. But motorcycles can’t stay airborne forever either; it drug the fence and rider down where they lay still on the side of the gully farthest from me. The first dirt bike and rider hadn’t hit the ground yet before a second comes plowing out of the tree line right behind the first one. With the fence partially out of the way, this rider only caught the top strand with his front tire. This caused the bike and rider to flip end over end and they landed hard in the muddy bottom of the gully.
It was only after the noise of the dirt bikes cut out so abruptly that I could hear hooves running. I really thought it was the deer for a second except that it was too big of a sound. It was horses and the first rider through the loblollies drew his horse up so fast it reared up but the other horse riders were spread out enough that they didn’t plow into the poor thing and push it down the steep side of the gully.
That’s when I realized the two groups weren’t friends. The horsemen weren’t exactly gentle with the dirt bikers and it was just something about the weapons of the two groups that were different. The guns that the horsemen took away from the dirt bikers looked kind of fancy with black stocks. They looked busier and the barrells were black as well with fancy scopes. The guns the horsemen had looked a whole lot like something my dad, uncles, and grandfather would have had; brown stocks, neatly and plainly designed, and some were rifles while others looked like they had two barrels like a shotgun.
I heard one of the horsemen tell the others that the rider hung up in the fence was dead; the wire had cut an artery and he bled out. The rider at the bottom of the gully was still alive and they roughly tied and dumped his unconscious body across the back end of one of the bigger horses; the horse didn’t appreciate it one bit, I don’t think the dirt biker was going to either.
There was a whole lot of talking and swearing that I won’t repeat. I just stayed put and listened to what they were saying though it didn’t make a lot of sense. They sounded like they were the law but I was to find out later that there weren’t, at least not officially. They drained the fuel tanks and stripped off some parts from the bikes and then pushed the leftover carcasses into the loblollies to hide them. They stripped the body of the dead guy and left him naked after they dumped him with the dirt bike remains. They said at least it would give some of the families some peace and when one of the guys questioned why they were bothering to take the dirt biker with them the guy who looked like the leader said, “information.”
The leader of the horsemen wasn’t anything like you normally think a guy in that position would look. This guy kinda reminds me of the banty roosters my friend from school used to raise for 4H … small and arrogantly grouchy. The leader was smaller in size than any of the other horsemen by at least a head and on the scruffy side; I couldn't tell if that was the way he normally looked or if it was just the nature of things these days. He strutted around while the other guys did the work like he was thinking important thoughts and acting as guard. But all the men seemed to accept that he was the one in charge. It just looked weird when you normally think of guys like that as being the biggest in the pack.
It took them a while to get organized and then get out. The few times that any of them looked in my directions my guts got all loosey-goosey. I was relieved that none of them saw me; there were just too many adults in one place after not having to deal with them like that for a while. I have a feeling they would have made me go with them or would have taken Sparkleberry Ranch or something. They were enjoying what they were doing a little too much for me to feel like trusting them.
The horsemen finally left with their prisoner when it started to rain again. They cussed and fussed about that too but it did make them go away faster so I kept thinking, “bring on the rain.”
I waited a couple of minutes until after I was sure the horsemen were gone and then I crawled through the grass towards where I had seen that other guy fall into the blackberries. I got over there to find the guy slowly pulling himself out. He lost his footing and rolled into the gully all the way. I heard him groan and mutter, “Oh man that hurts.” While I was trying to decide what to do he crawled out of the gully on my side.
The guy was all beat up – two black eyes, swollen nose, and busted lips all of which distorted his looks. His shirt wasn’t much more than rags and through the tears I could see a lot more bruises, scraps, and cuts like he had been worked over. I could see his hands were all scraped up too like maybe it hadn’t been a one-sided fight. He crawled over to lean against a tree but couldn’t get up so sat on the ground where I noticed he started to shiver really bad.
OK, it was stupid but I couldn’t just let the guy be without giving him some help. I went over to him but stayed out of arm’s reach and just looked at him. He was bigger than I was by quite a bit. He was built lean without being skinny. He had a lot of muscles but they were muscles from work, not from working out so he wasn’t really bulky. Dark headed with a farmer’s tan and I saw his eyes were chocolate brown when they finally got around to noticing me.
He jumped and then I jumped 'cause I couldn’t help it. Stupid stuff comes out of my mouth sometimes, “Were they ripe?”
The guy just looks at me and then asks, “What?”
“The blackberries. Were they ripe?”
I think the guy would have laughed if he hadn’t hurt so much. He did snort, “No.”
Then it was his turn to get a look at me. My braid had all sorts of junk stuck in it from where I had crawled through the grass and I know for a fact I was dirty too. He would have seen a girl with dark brown hair, on the short side at 5’2”, green-eyed and thinner than she had been six months ago.
“Your dad or brothers around? I … I need some help. I need to get back home to help Uncle George. Mick is too young to do everything himself and Brendon is next to useless.” Then he just sort of closed his eyes and fell over on his side which was so not good. The rain was starting come down a little harder and if I knew Florida weather it was going to get harder before it let up.
I thought about my choices. I could stay here with him until he woke up again. I could just walk away and let God sort things out. Or I could try and get him back to the house and then decide what to do with him. The story of the Samaritan popped into my head and I sure hope it was God giving me a hint of which one I should pick.
I wasn’t sure how I was going to get him back to the house until I remembered the wheelbarrow. It looked awful funny once I finally got him up and into the barrow so that he wouldn’t fall out. The guy is no lightweight that’s for sure; but I’m not either. At “Good Eats” I moved around cases of frozen chicken, fifty-pound bags of flour and sugar, and did a lot of over head lifting. Couple that with all the work I did at the warehouse moving bodies around when the flu ran through our numbers and I was capable of doing what needed doing. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.
We were slowly moving along when he woke back up. “Hey, I’m not dead. Not yet.”
“No kidding and if you don’t stop moving you are going to get dumped on your head. You aren’t exactly a ballerina you know.”
He tilted his head back and got an upside down look at me. “No guys around?”
“Like I’m going to tell you that,” I replied huffing more because the guy expected me to talk and push him at the same time.
“Stop and I’ll walk.”
I stopped but just to huff at him some more, “Look. I can push or I can talk, I can’t do both. And I want out of the rain so just take the ride with good grace OK?”
I don’t know how much he heard because he was out again. I managed to get all the way to the sugar sand trap where the road crosses the utility easement before running into any more problems. We weren’t far from the house but I was running out of steam fast. I finally had to pull the wheelbarrow instead of push it across the easement and then turned around and got going the right direction again. My arms and legs were shaking by the time I pushed the wheelbarrow passed the barn and up to the porch.
“It’s raining,” the guy said making me jump and nearly dump him on the ground again.
“No kidding. Look, if you were serious about wanting to walk now would be the time.”
“Give me a hand,” he mumbled.
It wasn’t easy but I got him out and even though he tried to walk on his own it was less nerve wracking for both of us when he leaned first on me and then on the front porch pillar while I unlocked the door. I could see it was a major effort for him to pick his feet up to step over the threshold of the door. I closed and locked the door and helped him into the bedroom that still had a bunk bed put together.
“Look, I don’t want to take anyone’s bed,” he wheezed.
“Don’t worry, you’re not. Um, look you’re wet. I can help you get undressed but not if you are going to be a baby about it. You’re too big and if you fall you’ll squash me.”
He looked at me hard and I thought he was mad until he shook his head to clear it and said, “No. I’m bad off but not that bad. I need a sheet or something.”
I brought him the sheet and a couple of towels and then thought about my dad’s clothes. The jeans and fatigue pants wouldn’t work, Daddy was shorter in the leg and thicker in the waist than this guy but there were some running shorts with a pull string waistband that could. The t-shirts were the right size, they’d just fit different. Socks were socks. I went back to the room to find the guy sitting on the bottom bunk wrapped in the sheet shivering. His clothes were folded on top of his shoes by the bed.
I gave him Daddy’s clothes and left to go take care of myself. When I got back he’d managed to dress himself except for the socks which I helped him with much to his embarrassment. It was weird but I wasn’t embarrassed at all. It just seemed like the right thing to be doing.
“Where is everyone?” the guy asked. When I didn’t answer right away he said, “You’re here by yourself aren’t you.”
I wasn’t too comfortable answering personal questions and it must have shown. “Look, I’m not like those guys but if … look, who were your family and I can probably tell you how you could find someone that would have a good word to say for me. Or you could go up to the church and … “ and he had to stop when he got really pale in the face. He looked like he was going to hurl.
I ran and got a bucket and when I came back I told him in a rush, “You wouldn’t have known my parents I don’t think. They’ve been dead for a few years. I doubt you knew my aunt and uncle ‘cause they didn’t really get on with the locals, they only came here for a week out of the year. And you aren’t much of a threat right now and if you were I’ve dealt with enough bigger boys that I can defend myself so don’t sweat it.”
He just looked at me for a second and then said, “Fair enough. So you aren’t from around here, you weren’t up here much and didn’t have much to do with the locals. You live on the south side of US90 off of CR49 and it has been a while since things have been mowed. You must be the Snow girl with the big mouth.”
My “big mouth” must have fallen open ‘cause he grinned in a my-face-is-beat-up-and-swollen kind of way. “Relax. My uncle’s cousin was Ruf Henderson, he used to do the bush hogging here. Used to talk about the people that owned the place and how the daughter could be a pistol with a mouth and had freaky green eyes. And don’t worry about it, Ruf had a way of milking a story to make it sound worse than it was.”
Then the guy actually winked at me, or tried to. We finally got around to talking a bit more. The guy’s name is Rand Joiner… not Randall because that was his grandfather’s name. He went out of his way to be nice but not in a I-want-something-so-I’m-going-to-be-nice way but in a I-don’t-want-to-scare-the-little-girl way which I thought was a little insulting considering he’s not that much older than me. He’s twenty and was a student at UF when they closed the school for the term because of the flu getting so bad. During the summers when he wasn’t taking classes he lived with his aunt and uncle and helped on their farm the same way he had when he was growing up. Rand was an orphan like me only he was ten when his parents died. His parents were older when he was born; his mom was 42 and his dad was almost 52. When he was ten his mom got cancer and died really fast and his dad died of a heart attack a few months later. He went to go live with his Aunt Rachel and Uncle George; Aunt Rachel was his mother’s sister and when he was sixteen she died of cancer too so it was his Uncle George and his cousins Brendon, Laurabeth, Charlene, Janet, and Mick when the pandemic hit.
He was very tired after we exchanged personal info and went to sleep without meaning to I think. It was still raining and the only good thing about that that I can think of is that it will wash away any footprints we made and perk the grass back up to hide our path in case someone comes back.
The wood was still wet so I used a metal bucket and a cake rack to make a grill and set it on the lanai. I put some charcoal I had found in one of the garages that I had gone salvaging through intp the bucket and created a grill like Momma taught us to make in girl scouts. While the charcoals were burning down I put some water on to boil, no sense in wasting the fire.
With the hot water I made Sherpa tea, another one of those things from girl scouts that Momma taught us. You take two cups of powdered milk, one-third cup of sugar, two tablespoons of instant tea with lemon in it, and mix it all together. For every serving you mix a cup of boiling water with three tablespoons of the mix. It’s basically doctored up warm milk but it’s good when you get soaked through.
After the water boiled I poured most of it into a thermos carafe and set it in the kitchen with the Sherpa Tea Mix. With the rest I made some chicken noodle soup using a Lipton dry mix. Lastly I made some hot water hoe cakes by mixing cornmeal, a little boiling water from the carafe, and a little salt together into a batter and frying it in a coating of non-stick spray. It wasn’t the greatest meal but I hadn’t ever had company by myself before.
I went back in the room and Rand was sort of awake and when I asked him if he was hungry I took his stomach growl for a yes. He wanted to get up and come to the kitchen to eat but it took him so long to try and get up I finally told him I’d bring it to him in bed. He just grunted but said thank you when I handed him the bowl of soup.
After he ate he slept for a little while longer. Once he was asleep Fraidy decided it was safe to investigate him and declared him a non-threat by purring and laying down at the foot of the bed. For some reason that made me feel better and I could go do the things I needed to do. I put the rain poncho back on and took the wheelbarrow back to the barn, brought in some wood for the wood box so it could hopefully dry over night, cleared the screens on the water barrels, filled up a five gallon bucket with water and put it by the toilet in the bathroom closest to the bedroom Rand was staying in. The last thing I did was bring in a few more things in from the barn.
It was getting dark by the time I carried the last load to the porch and started to bringing it inside. I heard a thump in the hallway and looked up to see Rand trying to walk.
I said, “Bathroom is across the hall.”
Rand sighed and said, “Already found it, thanks. You know, I didn’t know where you were. Those guys could have come back. Girls shouldn’t …”
I figured the sooner I dealt with this the better and told him, “Look, don’t take this the wrong way but I’m sixteen, not six. I’ve been on my own one way or another for weeks now and before that life wasn’t exactly a piece of cake. I may not be Laura Croft but I’m no wimp. I can take care of myself.”
He opened his mouth to say something but shut it. I guess guys really do start getting smarter sooner or later. He shrugged and said, “Maybe, but you still need to be careful. We’ve been having a lot of trouble with this kind of stuff going on for a while.”
That’s when I asked him if he would tell me what had been going on. He was amazed at how insulated I had been at the warehouse. I told him that it didn’t feel like they had been doing it to protect us but because they didn’t want to deal with it.
Basically the pan flu had started making a comeback right after Christmas, he’d gone back to school and didn’t think much of it but within a week of school opening all the dorms were quarantined and most of the off-campus housing too. Professors were falling like flies so that not even the university’s plan to have classes online was working. They wound up shutting everything down. His Uncle George called him asking him to come home to help because most of his hired hands were down sick or members of their family were. When he got there he stayed in the shed until he was sure he wouldn’t get sick.
It was in the weeks following that that the cities started going nuts because supplies weren’t being shipped around like they were supposed to. Infrastructure broke down a whole lot faster than anyone imagined but this area wasn’t doing too badly. But then people started leaving the cities because the utilities had broken down, violence had escalated, and supplies were just too hard to come by. The exodus from the cities was heavy but not as heavy as hurricane evacuations. That changed when some kind of detonation went off over DC and some smaller regular bombs went off all up and down both costs of the US as well as some up and down the Mississippi. According to the news this meant that most likely the bombs had been put in place using shipping containers.
A bomb did go off in the Port of Tampa but we’d never heard about it at the warehouse. The coastal bombs were conventional, not nuclear or biological. The only nuclear one had been the one over DC but that didn’t mean that people’s fears could be controlled. All of the military bases as well as the National Guard facilities were rumored to be targets, Florida was no exception, and people panicked. What had been a steady stream turned into a tsunami and things got bad crazy real fast.
Rand’s Uncle George was one of the smart ones and had locked down his farm and cattle at the first sign of trouble in DC. They also sat back far enough off of any major road that they were spared the locusts that left the cities. People were going, they didn’t know where, they were just going.
Local law enforcement was overwhelmed and they gave up and got out of the way. Grocery stores, mini-marts, and restaurants were wiped out within two days leaving nothing for the locals. Refugee camps became hell holes of filth and disease. Right when everyone thought everyone had died that was gonna die, another small nuclear device went off in NYC and things got crazy all over again and more people died. State and local governments tried to do what they could but it’s just not set up for the kind of things that people were expecting of it; everyone wanted to be taken care of but no one wanted to do the work or make the sacrifices.
The feds started rounding up people from the refugee camps and relocating them to places it was easier to serve. Rand’s Uncle George said he suspected it had more to do with convenience than service. “They’ll put these people in places that make it easier to control them. They want to minimize the threat of riots and maximize discipline. Can’t says I blame them but I don’t care for the consequences neither.”
Even locals volunteered to be relocated when they were told they were guaranteed food and a job to help them get back on their feet. Not a single person has been heard from again that has left.
Locally there were a couple of gangs located in the big cities that used the area to build their meth labs. Those gangs now use the rural areas to avoid the military and local law enforcement who have orders to institute zero tolerance for all drug activity … that means shoot on sight as necessary to eradicate the problem. They could also shoot looters on sight and it worried me that I could have been shot while salvaging in those four houses and no one would have cared.
When I asked him about the horsemen being the local Law he said no, not really, they were vigilantes. The gangs have killed a lot of people around here looking for food and fuel. “In this area we have the remnants of gangs from Atlanta, Valdosta, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville … not to mention our own home grown crapheads.”
The rate of violence is still very high; whole families can be and are wiped out over night. There are shootings in broad daylight and not all of them gang related. “There are always going to be a certain type of person that will use a situation to exact revenge or take advantage; gang members are the only ones that do that.”
Rand said that if he had to guess the population in this area was maybe 15% of what it was before Christmas. “There isn’t much fuel to be found around here. Where the gangs get it I don’t know unless it is shipped in through Tallahassee maybe. That means most people stay very close to home. Everyone’s world has shrunk to the size of their own neighborhood.”
I asked him, since he admitted living north of US90, how he had wound up so far from home. “Even the gangs are getting desperate for food lately. Some of us are experiencing raids for the farm animals. Those butchers don’t want to trade like decent people, they just take. What’s worse is that they’ll shoot five cows to take just some meat off of one cow. They’ll shoot up a whole hen house just to bag a couple of fryers. They either don’t know or don’t care about the waste and the misery they are leaving behind.”
Rand had been working out back of one of his uncles barns when he heard Laurabeth scream and a gun go off. He came running in time to see some gang bangers running off with a struggling Janet. “She’s younger than you are, only twelve, and she’s been frail since before Christmas when she had the flu. Uncle George, Brendon, and the girls were shooting at the gangbangers left in the yard so Rand took off after the ones that had Janet. He was able to get her loose from the truck they had thrown her into the back of as Uncle George and Brendon came running up the road. He saw them grab Janet but right after the lights went out. Someone had hit him in the head.
He glossed over the next bit but basically they beat on him pretty bad until he got loose and started running. He’d been on the run for two days and had gotten caught once right before I saw him. That’s when they sent the dirt bikes after him to play “man hunt.” I filled in the blanks for him after that, describing what I had seen.
“That short man on the horse must have been Jared Harbinger. You stay away from him. You stay away from his two sons even more. Those three are bad business.”
“Look, I don’t think you’ve been listening when I told you about some of the foster kids I lived with or how I’ve been …”
“It has nothing to do with that. Mr. Harbinger used to be an OK guy; rough around the edges but OK. His wife died last year from the flu and his daughter was raped and killed by a gangbanger. I can understand his damage. Lately though he’s gotten a little power hungry and a lot crazy. His sons are more than damaged though; they’re just plain bad and always have been. They are about five or six years older than I am and they’ve always … look, they like younger girls, girls that don’t make them feel inadequate. Girls that don’t know any better, girls they can control. Since everything has broken down and they’re dad has gotten crazy, they’ve only gotten worse and more obvious about it. They aren’t just bent, they’re mean and don’t know or care what ‘no’ means.”
I promised him I wouldn’t try making friends with the Harbinger brothers any time soon and that seemed to satisfy him but used up the last of his energy at the same time. He still insisted on walking around and checking all the windows and doors which I thought was sweet but kind of silly. He crashed and burned really fast after he drank a cup of Sherpa tea but I was wide awake. I got the wind up lamp and I’ve been writing all of this out ever since but I’m really starting to yawn so I’m going to go to bed. Tomorrow looks like it might be a pretty interesting day.