Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter 101

Chapter 101

“Memaw! Memaw! What happened? Who was wearing the boots?!”

Kiri looked over at Joy and then at her husband, still deep in his thoughts. “No need to shout child. I’m sitting right here.”

Joy, still impatient, knew her Memaw meant business so she tried to ask more quiet and ladylike, “But who was it Memaw? Was it Peepaw?”

A deep sigh preceeded Kiri’s answer. “No child. It was Uncle Ram and Ken.”

“Ken? Pastor Ken?! The really old man that sometimes gives the eulogies at the Old Timers’ funerals?”

Rand snorted in suppressed laughter, Kiri was less amused. “Joy … would you like me to set you to peeling potatoes from now until Juvember?”

Joy thought, “Memaw knows I hate peeling dirty ol’ taters.” But all she said was, “Uh, no ma’am.”

“Then think before you speak. Lord willing you’ll get to enjoy aging too and then we’ll see how much you like some pretty young thing calling you an old timer.”

Rand, not quite as deep in thought as Kiri believed muttered, “Seems to me the pot is calling the kettle black.”

This time it was Joy who had to hide a laugh as her Memaw gave her Peepaw the evil eye. Everybody knew that Memaw could go off like a Tallahassee bottle rocket with no warning. It was fun watching Peepaw and Uncle Ram tease her about it. ‘Course they were the only ones brave enough to set her off on purpose. However, still impatient for the rest of the story she asked, “Where was Peepaw?”

“Your Aunt Missy’s first husband Bill and some other men held him back.”

“Why? Didn’t he want to see you?”

Kiri glanced at Rand again who had gone pale. “Hush Joy; what a thing to say. Of course he wanted to rush in and see me, but you’re old enough to realize not every story ends like a fairy tale. Sometimes bad things happen. Those men were trying to protect your Peepaw. They didn’t know if it was me or what kind of shape I’d be in if it was.”

In truth the men had feared the worst when they’d first laid eyes on the still and silent figure huddled around the crying babies and they worried for Rand’s sanity nearly as much they had feared for Kiri’s safety. There was a lot of temporary relief when Ken had found she was still breathing. Ken and Ram did their best to examine Kiri and clean her up before Rand rushed in and got his first look at her, but it still shocked him so bad his knees gave out. Rand tried to gather her into his arms as he started calling her name but Ken pulled him back.

“Easy now. Rand, we need to get her into the wagon and be careful doing it and then get her back to your place as soon as we can. There isn’t much I can do for her out in the middle of nowhere like this. And we need to find some goat milk for those babies.”

“Why isn’t she moving? What’s wrong with her? Those guardsmen said she seemed OK, just tired. What …?”

“She’s wore thin son. We don’t know what the circumstances around the birth was, if she was alone or had help. She looks like she’s been on short rations. We don’t even know how long she’s been on the road but one of the babies still has its umbilical cord barely hanging on so the birth itself couldn’t have been that long ago.”

Rand gulped and whispered as he took in the noisy duo, “So it was twins just like you worried.”

Ken nodded. “Fraternal; boy and a girl. Girl is the one making the most noise. They’re small but seem healthy given the circumstances. It is Kiri we need to focus on, she’s more fragile than the babies are. Her blood pressure is too high for my comfort and her lungs are congested. I want to break out those supplies the ladies packed, get Kiri and the babies settled in the wagon, and travel as far as we can tonight.”

Of course Kiri didn’t find any of this out for nearly two weeks. She’d been unconscious most of that time and it took her several days to convince the men that she wasn’t as frail as she appeared at the time. It was also then that she learned that the guardsmen who had given her a lift through Williston had been instrumental in her rescue. As soon as they had learned that kidnapping and human trafficking was involved they had used that as leverage to get permission to begin grid by grid search efforts with another team despite what was going on in Williston.

The guardsmen had met up with Ram’s men and were on their second day of looking when Rand arrived with the others and it was the morning after that that someone had heard crying and the rest as they say was history.

Joy asked, “But Memaw, you got better right?”

“Good Heavens child, do you think I’d be sitting here if I hadn’t?” Kiri regretted her words when she saw Rand wince out of the corner of her eye. She changed gears and said brightly, “All’s well that ends well and this corn is finally finished. Now go on out and get a couple of the boys to come cart it all to the summer kitchen. It isn’t going to can itself and your mother promised to give me a hand and get it started after I got it shucked.”

Joy, knowing that she’d learned all she was going to be allowed to for a while said, “Yes ma’am” before doing as her Memaw had told her.

After the girl left Kiri got up and walked over to the door to make sure Joy didn’t get side tracked; then she shook her corn silk covered apron off outside before returning and closing the door behind her. Rand looked up at the sound and then let out a surprised laugh after reading the look on his wife’s face.

“Joy’s comment get to you ol’ woman?”

“Who are you calling ol’ woman you old man?” Kiri sassed as she eased onto Rand’s lap, careful of the leg he had broken ten years ago falling from the hay loft. It still occasionally gave him trouble.

Rand smiled and pulled her more firmly against him, not letting her be as careful as she was wont to treat him when he got like this. “Sure puts a crimp in things will all the kids back home and under foot,” Rand said as he wrapped his still lean and muscular arms around his wife. She wasn’t as petite and willowy as she had been when they first married but long days in the garden had kept her trim despite all of the children she’d given him.

“Humph. Didn’t seem to crimp you any last night,” Kiri twinkled wickedly.

Rand grinned back just as wickedly, thankful once again that love and time had taken care of much of her shyness. “Why thank you kindly Mrs. Joyner,” he said tipping an imaginary hat.

“You’re welcome Mr. Joyner.” Kiri smiled, she being thankful that his drift into melancholy seemed to be over. “You doing OK?”

“Mmmm hmmm, good food and a good woman makes for a good day.” At Kiri’s raised eyebrow Rand said a little more seriously, “It was finding your old desk and journal. Caught me off guard. Memories kinda swamped me there for a while.”

“That’s years gone Rand. We survived it and have lived a lot of life since then,” Kiri said as she cupped his grizzled cheek with her work roughened hand.

He sighed and set the rocker moving gently, “I know it Babe. And don’t think I’m not forever grateful for every one of those days.”

“Humph, well there are a few I could have done without. Remember when all of ‘em came down with diphtheria? Or when Beau and Caleb went with Ram and caught polio down in Miami and had to be quarantined outside of town? When Francine …?”

“I said every one of them and I meant every one of them … both good and bad. I’ll take a bad day with you over a good day without you every time.”

They had just tilted their heads for a kiss when two of Austin’s sons banged open the door and barreled through. “Memaw, Joy said you wanted us to … eeewwwww! Daaaddddd, they’re doing it again!”

Austin stuck his head around the door and then started laughing as he caught sight of a very red-faced Kiri who was trying to get out of Rand’s lap. Problem was that Rand wasn’t cooperating and was making it worse by laughing too. Austin prayed silently that he and his bride would still be playing and catching a smooch when they reach his parents’ age.

“Honestly, you’d think I raised a bunch of heathens the way y’all act sometimes,” Kiri grumped after she finally managed to extricate herself and get her clothes and hair straightened enough to pass in polite company. “And stop encouraging them Rand. You even worse than they are.” And of course that only set both Rand and Austin to laughing even more.

After catching his breath but still chuckling Austin said, “Momma, Missy and Belle are coming down the road and they told me to warn you that Beau radioed that he’d be at the train depot by dinner time and would appreciate it if someone could leave a wagon or truck for him and his brood and maybe a snack for everyone since they were only allowed to board with one picnic hamper.”

Kiri went into a tizzy. “Oh Lord Rand, where are we going to put ‘em all? I mean I’m glad that Missy finally agreed to come for a visit but I didn’t expect for her to bring all eight of her grandchildren. How many does that make now?”

Austin snorted then asked, “Need a calculator Momma?”

Austin was a grown man with children of his own but he still stopped when his mother gave him “that” look. Kiri pulled out her note pad, “Let’s see. You and Camille and your six. Beau and Rachel and their four … Austin can you make sure that Beau doesn’t try to talk her into sleeping in the wagon? The last thing we need is for her to go into labor and have that baby under a palmetto like she did the last one. My stars and garters, I nearly swallowed my teeth when I found out about it.”

Austin was thinking the same thing and praying thankfully that the few times he’d gotten an itchy foot to go exploring Camille had been content to stay home with the children. Rachel on the other hand was at least as adventuresome as Beau and they’d dragged their brood all across the country into all kinds of craziness.

Unaware of Austin’s thoughts Kiri continued, “Belle and Freddie and their four will split their time between us and Laurabeth and Ron. I think Freddie is finally going to accept his father deeding him over that land to work. I sure hope he does, it’ll be so nice to have Belle closer to home and if Freddie gets that position at the hospital … Anywho, next comes Caleb and Cynthia and their two. Then Daniel and Yolanda … and if I’m not mistaken their last letter hinted at some special news from them, maybe the adoption finally went through. And Everett and Penny; I expect they’ll want the baby to sleep in their room so Rand we need to bring the cradle down from storage. Add in Francine and Charlie and their two rapscallions … if I catch them swinging in my plum trees again I know who can help shovel the manure into the methane holding tank. Georgie and Caroline will have their three stay in their bedroom because they’re too young to sleep with the older kids. Henry and Joyce will come over during the day but I expect they’ll have to get back to the farm at night so Henry can help that old grump of a father in law he has …”

“Kiri …,” Rand warned pointing his head towards the children.

“Don’t you Kiri me, Rand Joyner. The children know exactly how cantankerous that old coot is. He takes all the fun out of every childrens program the Ladies’ Auxiliary has put on for the last year with his starched up judgementalism. Last one he nearly had poor Joy in tears simply because she got Lamentations and Leviticus mixed up.”

“Man’s had a hard life Momma,” Austin said trying to keep his mother from going off on one of her tangents.

“Man makes his life hard Austin. How such a sweet thing like Joyce could turn out the way she did with a father like she has I’ll never know; honestly, she reminds me of Alicia when we were all younger. And he doesn’t show the least bit of appreciation for the fact that Henry has turned that farm around. He just sits back and enjoys the fruit of Henry’s labor like he is entitled to it. That man is a real Laban through and through.”

“What does that mean Memaw?” Joy asked.

“Oh,” Kiri said, realizing that little pitchers do have big ears. “Well, read your Bible Joy and you’ll find out. And until you do you just keep family talk to yourself. You hear?”

“Aw Memaw,” Joy lamented. “You boys do the same. Family talk is family talk. I’d like to know I can trust you and speak my mind around you without having to treat you like a bunch of toddlers.”

The boys nearly stood at attention in pride that they were getting acknowledged to be old enough to hear and be trusted with family talk.

Kiri returned to her counting almost without missing a beat. “Then Isabell and Archie and their three. That just leaves Janet and Johnnie and Ram said that he’ll go kidnap them from that college if he has to but they’ll come back for Pioneer Day this year and that is all there is to it. I doubt he’ll have to kidnap them though. Janet called to see if we minded if she invited that boy she is so partial to and … Oh Lord, I’ve lost count again.”

Austin laughed and said, “Don’t worry about it Momma. The boys and I put up the canvas tents and if we run out of room the kids can roost in the trees with the chickens.”

At the suddenly intent look on the two younger boys’ faces Kiri just shook her head and looked at Rand and Austin silently telling them to check for wood rot in the old tree house because that is where several of them would wind up if she didn’t miss her guess.

Finally winding down she shooed everyone out of the house and set to putting everything back to rights. She couldn’t remember the mess being quite this bad even when her ducklings were all young and rowdy. Of course they weren’t stair steps like some women had. It took three years after Beau and Belle were born before she caught pregnant again and she’d lost that one; and the one right after that one too. Rand had sectioned off a piece of the farm for a cemetery in an area that never flooded but which wasn’t good for farming and buried both little bodies and commissioned concrete markers never realizing how quickly the plot would grow.

Uncle George had died of a sudden heart attack not two days after they’d buried the second little lost one, and then a few months later Janet had some kind of seizure right after she’d gotten engaged to that boy from Branford and died in her sleep. And not three months after that Bill had accidentally been killed by some boys that had been arguing over a girl at one of the old market days; he’d died before he’d even realize he’d been shot. Missy had been pregnant again and lost her husband and her baby on the same day; buried them in the same plot next to the other graves still so new the grass hadn’t covered them yet. Those had been hard times.

She and Rand had just come to accept and be content with the fact that they’d only have the twins when she started banging them out like she’d never had problems, surprising everyone herself included. Every child was another miracle, especially Janet and Johnnie who came when she had supposedly been in menopause for two years. Hadn’t Rand laughed over that particular practical joke God had played on them; twins on both ends.

Then diphtheria had ripped through the community and Brendan and Alicia had laid one of their babies to rest with the others. Ram and his bride had three little ones in the cemetery and had given up hope having any children together. Then Ram had gotten that contract with that new Shands hospital and one of the doctors there discovered she had a cyst and once it had been removed they were eventually able to have two, a little boy and a little girl.

Missy never really recovered from Bill’s death but she did eventually remarry to a kind man who helped to raise Bill’s children as if they were his own. After Bill’s death Ram and Brendan went into partnership and took over the Trade Shack since Missy couldn’t stand the place because of all of its memories. Missy’s second husband, Robert, had been a business contact of Ram’s who ran an aquaculture farm in Ocala. When they married Missy moved her family to his place and seemed to finally come to terms with things and find peace and contentment. Because of this Rand and Kiri always had a special place in her hearts for Robert.

Their feelings for Ron Harbinger were just as strong though it had taken years to really get to where they were these days. Ron and Rand were like brothers and had reached a point where they could look back on the past and if not laugh about the way things used to be, at least acknowledge that God had a purpose not always easily understood by mere mortals. Beau and Bell had been almost a year old when Ron finally got the courage to acknowledge that he’d fallen in love with LauraBeth. When he’d spoken to Uncle George the man had laughed and said, “About flaming time! I knew you was hard headed boy, but you’s just about as blind as a bat too.”

Ron never seemed to cease to be amazed that LauraBeth returned his feelings. You could still catch him, all these years later, with an arrested expression on his face as he looked at her when he didn’t think anyone was looking. They named one of their daughters Julia and not a few people were surprised by it. LauraBeth had told Kiri once, “Good grief, you’d think people would have more important things to worry about than what Ron and I decide to call our children … and what business it is of theirs I don’t know.” Kiri thought she understood, it was their way of commemorating the young woman whose sacrifice gave them both the chance to live on for Freddie’s sake when it would have been easier to simply have given up.

After Uncle George’s death Ron and LauraBeth moved back to the old Harbinger farm off of River Road. All the family came together and helped to repair and rebuild the place. LauraBeth signed her portion of Uncle George’s farm over to Brendan and Alicia in exchange for enough cattle, feed, and seed to get Ron’s farm back up and running. The old Winston place was farmed by both families but was always understood to be in trust for Freddie when he was ready.

Charlene eventually married and had a family of her own but it was only after she’d gone on a few adventures of her own … surreptitiously guided and watched over by Ram’s young “brother in law.” Charlene and her husband now operate one of the trading hubs outside of Tampa though they travel frequently back to see everyone now that their children are grown.

Mick could have had part of the farm but instead chose to join the military. He did two tours and saw quite a bit of action during the Sino-American war but after being injured in a plane crash and then losing the hearing in one ear from a grenade exploding near his position he returned home to marry a local girl. They still run the postal office though it is their sons rather than Mick that do most of the local courier work and express deliveries.

Momma O and Mrs. Withrow both outlived Uncle George by several years, but even those illustrious ladies eventually had to meet their Maker. Momma O was more than ready, having suffered a long time from the arthritis that crippled her so that she couldn’t even go out and about. Mrs. Withrow passed away in church. Everyone thought the old dear had taken a brief nap as had become her habit but when she didn’t get up to signal that it was time for the ladies to tend to the afternoon meal the Pastor stopped, and then after checking on her called for a moment of silence as everyone shed a few tears.

Kiri thought, “The years have passed so fast. Half my grandchildren think it isn’t much more than a bed time story when I tell them how I walked and then rode a bike all the way from Tampa to Sparkleberry Ranch. They look at the stories of the time right after the pandemic the same way kids of my generation looked at the stories of the wild west and the wagon trains and have as little understanding of what really went on to survive.”

She swept up the last errant corn silk and then twitched the curtains straight before looking around for something else that needed doing. When nothing presented itself quickly enough she glanced at her old journal and decided to read the last page before putting the dog eared old thing away in her cedar chest so that Rand wouldn’t worry at it any more.

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I don’t remember the wagon ride home at all. Don’t remember the next week or so to be honest. The first thing I do remember is Rand’s voice in my ear telling me that I couldn’t die because I hadn’t even told him what I’d named the babies. For some reason I was able to grab that thought and hold on and eventually I was able to say “Beans.” It was another few hours of oblivion before I had the energy to wake up enough to say, “Beau and Belle … our little B&B Beans.”

For some reason everyone that heard that over the next couple of days found it hysterically funny. Mostly I guess it was just relief that I’d drawn back from dying. I saw so many tears from people that I never expected to see them from that I’m embarrassed to even write it down, it seems such a private thing. Rand and Ram have been the worst; both are nearly smothering me with their love and over protectiveness.

I finally managed to get Ram to lighten up a bit but Rand is another story. I’m really worried about him; he’s not acting like himself at all. ‘Course I don’t feel much like my old self either. Maybe there are things that happen in life that just change you; this certainly seems like it could be one of them for both of us. For Austin too, he’s lost that little boy look that he’d just gotten back after I was finally able to feed him up. He and Woofer have become like little guards. There was a fly in the twins’ room yesterday and Austin was totally outraged. He and Woofer made more of a mess trying to catch the fly than the fly ever would have done on its own but I didn’t have the heart to get on to them. I guess it is just going to take a while for all of us to get used to feeling safe again.

Ram finally convinced the Navy that he was on the up and up and was able to find out that the other pregnant women had arrived back in port ahead of the storm and that all were doing well and had been reunited with their family. They had thought that both the sailor and I had been lost at sea.

He also found out who “she” was for me … the “she” that the sailor had told me to tell he was sorry. “She” was Delores Carruthers Douglas, sister of Petty Officer Third Class Caleb Carruthers. He was sorry because he wouldn’t be able to make it to her wedding and walk the bride down the aisle. Ram made sure she got her brother’s dog tags and in return brought me back a letter telling me how grateful she was that I taken care of her brother’s last request and let her know what a hero he was.

I cried a bit and told Rand that I was the one that was grateful. Rand said that we could make Caleb Beau’s middle name if I wanted to but it doesn’t seem right somehow. Maybe we’ll name the next little boy we have Caleb but I won’t mention that to Rand yet. Rand is so careful of me we might not have any more kids at this rate. I tried to tell him that it doesn’t seem so bad in hindsight but he just shudders. I guess we’ll just have to see who will have their way this time. It isn’t like I’m looking to get pregnant again too soon really and there are so many things that need doing. I just don’t want to give up on the idea the way he seems to.

The hurricane, I don’t think it has been named yet since the Meteorological Society is kind of defunct, bounced up the west coast making landfall several times before swinging east and sweeping across Florida and ripping itself apart as it traveled into Georgia and basically followed the Appalachian trail northward until it was just a tropical depression up passed the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ram said roadways have been destroyed making it imperative (his word, not mine) that new trade routes be found.

Ram has been trying to get Rand to focus on the future instead of mired in the present that seems to worry him so. This coming January and February we are going to plant a new orchard. We’ll start with Hood pears, persimmons, and figs and if those do well we’ll branch out into other varieties. Ram says he can create a market down south for our deciduous fruit with an even exchange for citrus and other exotics and that what we don’t want we could then trade up north for things that are harder for us to grow like some grains or we could get some more seed potatoes or the like.

I’m running out of energy again and I have to get some sleep. I plan on resting up the next few days and then I’m going to Market Day on Saturday. I am not letting Rand talk me out of it again. I want to get out. I want to show our babies off. I’ve got a list as long as my arm of things I want to trade for including some seeds for this coming garden season and maybe some starts for a new flower bed. I also realized I don’t have near enough diapers and clothes for the babies; about half of what I need to be honest which makes sense because I doubled the number I expected to have.

I still am not sure why Ken and Rand didn’t tell me they expected me to have twins. Their reasons sound OK but on the other hand a little warning would have been nice. I tried to gloss over how scared I had gotten when the pains had come on me the second time but Rand still got so gray I thought he was going to fall over into his oatmeal after I let it slip while answering some of Ken’s questions. I finally just told them from here on out if they have a suspicion that something is going on inside my body I’d appreciate an honest warning.

That’s not the only thing that hasn’t made sense to me. I’m still wondering why God let things happen the way they did and why that sailor had to die so that I and the babies might live. I’m trying to find the sense in the senseless. What was all of this for? Is this the worst we will ever experience? Was this some kind of experience that is supposed to teach me what is really important? Or to prepare me for even harder times ahead?

I’m trying to put my thoughts in order and one of things that seems the most ironic is that Rand and I celebrated one year of marriage yesterday. I remembered right off but I hadn’t known how to ask if he remembered. I guess we both danced around about it for a while and then I had one of those silly crying fits that seem to still come at me out of the blue. Rand wanted to go get Ken but I managed to stop him and then blurted out about our anniversary and how I was upset that I couldn’t even seem to find the strength to make his breakfast like I used to and then fell apart even more as I asked him if it bothered him that I’d gone completely useless on him.

That took him aback and I guess he is starting to see that sitting around doing nothing is helping me a whole lot less than he thought it was. I can’t just sit and do nothing because my thoughts climb into the hamster wheel in my head and wind up going in circles so fast I have a meltdown.

He seems to be accepting that he’s got a problem too but I’m not sure if he realizes how bad it is yet. I have some healing yet to do and I guess he does too. The last few weeks has seen us both taking turns thinking the worst but instead of it being the beginning of the end as we had feared, it has turned out to be the only the end of the beginning for us all.

And there go the Beans again, singing for their supper. I’m glad because I was getting kind of sore. This motherhood thing is turning out to be both easier and harder than I ever expected it to be.

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Kiri laughed in spite of herself realizing that she’d gotten so busy she’d never finished the journal. Shaking her head she said, “You didn’t even have a clue yet that you’d said a mouth full. Good Heavens, it is hard to believe I was ever that young.”

“What?” Rand asked, coming up behind her.

She turned and stepped into his embrace that could still both excite and bring her comfort after all these years. “You married a very silly young thing. She was so clueless.”

“We both were. I think it is supposed to be that way. If we had known what life would hand us over the years …”

Kiri shook her head. “I don’t mean that. Not precisely anyway. The innocence I can understand, even appreciate in hindsight.” She stopped and just shook her head again.

“What?” Rand asked again. Even after all of these years sometimes the only thing that worked was simple patience until she could string her thoughts together enough to share them.

“We could have missed this.”

“Missed what?”

“This. All of it. I remember who I used to be Rand. I had a chip on my shoulder the size of the old Mt. Rushmore carving. You remember what it used to look like, how big it used to be. Same for the chip on my shoulder. I don’t even know where I would have ended up … how I would have ended up … if you hadn’t come into my life.”

Rand gently kissed her forehead, “I feel the same way. Always have, always will. God smiled on me the day I came to in that wheelbarrow. Even upside down I could tell you were something else,” he said with a tickle.

“Oh you,” she smiled. “Lordy, look at us, we’ll be embarrassing the kids again if we aren’t careful.” She decided to put some safe distance between them and then said, “I made blackberry jam cake and forgot to bring it out at lunch. You hungry?”

“Always.”

Kiri just shook her head at his double meaning. “Rand Joyner … honestly,” she laughed.

“What?” Rand asked a little too innocently not to know exactly what she was laughing at. Then he caught her to him again and said, “We survived.”

“Yes we did.”

“Gonna keep on surviving for as long as we’ve got.”

“Yes we are.”

He squeezed her tightly and said, “Together.”

“Is there any other way?” she asked squeezing back just as firmly.

And they did … through the good times and the bad … together … for a good many more years after that …

THE END

Chapter 100

Chapter 100

I didn’t exactly sleep that night. I was constantly thirsty and when I didn’t wake up thirsty Beau and Belle woke me up wanting to chow. I swear you would think that babies that were smaller than regular babies would have smaller appetites but if I didn’t feel like a heifer at the milking stand I don’t think any woman ever has. And my little Beans were making me a bit sore. I was sure I wasn’t doing something right but how the heck was I supposed to know at that point? It isn’t like I had anyone to ask.

And to pile insult on top of injury I noticed that every time I moved around I kind of … well … gushed. I’d read about post partum bleeding in those books but I didn’t realize it was going to be quite so … er … prolific. I was in a hard way. I needed something to use for my feminine needs. I needed something that could act like diapers and wipes for the twins. I needed something that could cover all three of us. And I knew I would need something to make a sling or something out of so that I could carry my little B&B Beans.

I knew I would have to do some exploring but I felt so lightheaded, but at the same time my head hurt so bad it felt like it was a twelve pound bowling ball sitting on top of a toothpick. The pounding was so bad I was nauseous. Or maybe it was just the fact that I hadn’t eaten.

As I was tearing my pregnancy muumuu up as much as I could and still retain some modesty I found the little packages of food that I’d stuffed into my pockets. It was just a few packages of crush pretzels, peanuts, and some kind of trail mix, like those little packages you were given on airplanes, but not being too sacrilegious about it they seemed like manna from Heaven at the time.

I fixed myself up the best I could and just said to heck with it and left Beau and Belle au natural. We were all so gross that a little more nasty wouldn’t make that much difference. The babies didn’t really smell bad despite it all; their guts were still pretty clean. It was me that smelled disgusting. I tore a strip off the bottom of my dress wide enough so that it made a passable sling like the one that I had sewn and put away in the baby’s room … make that babies’ room. Since it was already sewn together at the seam I didn’t even have to tie it and because my little Beans were small I only needed one sling to carry them both with. I figured they were used to sleeping all smooshed together so I didn’t worry about it.

Walking was … unpleasant. OK, that doesn’t cover it … I was sore, gross, smelled, walking around in tore up clothes in danger of losing my modesty with stuff all but hanging out in the breeze that hadn’t done that since I was little more than the Beans’ age. It was also still damp and raining so I tore the plastic off the bottom of the ancient mattress and used it like a poncho. If anyone had told me what state I would eventually be walking around in on the bike ride up to Sparkleberry Ranch from Tampa I would have probably laughed myself sick or slapped them with something big and heavy. But walk I did … just real slow and ginger and holding onto anything close by that I could reach.

Besides being sore in my more delicate areas it felt like my insides were trying to realign to some alien schematic. I knew it was because the babies were on the outside now and things were trying to move back to where they used to belong but knowing that didn’t change the fact that it felt like my insides were dropping out. It was odd being able to draw a full breath too, almost like I was getting too much oxygen for a change and that added to my lightheadedness.

As I explored I found a few useful odds and ends in the surrounding bungalows: a few old enamelware pots and pans; some curtains (old and thin); a few sheets (old, thin, and rotted and mildewed in some places); more plastic from some of the other mattresses; a bottle of Everclear that I decided to use as disinfectant for the Beans’ umbilical cords; and a few other little odds and ends to eat with that didn’t do a whole lot of good since I didn’t have anything to eat. I had to keep resting … and cleaning myself up … and at those times forced myself to drink and eat a few stale peanuts and raisins for protein and sugar.

I was getting shaky and the feeling was scary. It felt like the times I had passed out because of my blood pressure only worse. Ken and I had talked about that the blood pressure problem would likely resolve itself when the baby … now babies … were born but instead I was feeling worse. It was so bad that when it would have been lunch time I had to lie down or fall down and when I got back up I had a nose bleed and stuffy ears. My head literally felt like it was going to explode. I knew that wasn’t good I just didn’t know what to do about it.

Despite the way I felt, or maybe because of it, I knew I had to persevere. If I stopped I’d give up and then I and the Beans’ lives would be forfeit. Several times I caught myself mumbling a little incoherently and realized I was praying. I sure hope God could figure out what I meant because at the time not even I understood what I was saying. I was just about ready to give up when I came upon a bungalow that was about three times the size of the other ones and I realized it must have been the caretaker’s cottage. The door was locked and it took a lot of my mental energy to figure out a way in.

Going in a window was out of the question in my shape. I wasn’t going to be able to kick anything open. I sure as heck wasn’t going to be able to climb to the roof and go down the skylight as I might have risked before I got pregnant. When I stepped back for a better look and nodded my head and continued. I’ve discovered that people’s front doors might be rock solid but their back or side doors were usually much more vulnerable to breaking in. Why people don’t realize that I’ll never know. Sure enough I was able to use some rocks that had been in the hedge border around the house to pound on the back door knob. Once I had broken the screws and knocked the door knob off I was able to use a stick to pull the latch back out of the strike plate and then push the door in.

I leaned against the door jamb for a moment and then my nose noticed the smell. I stank, it was so bad even I noticed, but the little house smelled … well, I figured there was a body in there but that it had been gone a long time. Sure enough in what was the bed in the lone bedroom there was a corpse. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t shocked. Between what I had seen on the bike ride and what I had seen since and the overall condition I was in I just didn’t have it left in me to be shocked.

I’m not sure if the corpse was male or female but I decided that while I was sure that anything infectious or gross was long gone … really, really long gone from the appearance of it … I would avoid going too near it, especially now that I had my little Beans to worry for. However, that didn’t prevent me from combing the rest of the cottage for anything useful and I got very, very lucky. Or it was providential, I suppose it depends on who you talk to and what they believe.

There were useful things still hanging in the little curtain covered alcove that was used as a clothes closet and linen chest. There were some odds and ends in the closet sized bathroom. And in the kitchen cabinet I found about two dozen cans. A couple of them had gone over … leaked or expanded out of shape and I didn’t touch those … and a few had most of the labels eaten away so that I didn’t know what was in them but I didn’t care. I was shaking so bad that I knew that I needed to get what I could and get back to my own little hidey hole.

I barely made it. I’m not sure what was wrong with me but by the time I got the door shut and bolted against yet another storm all I could do was slide to the floor and start crying. The crying didn’t seem to have any purpose. It wasn’t the least bit constructive. I’ve talked to Ken and Mrs. Withrow since then and they suggested it was either emotional shock … something I’m not particularly prone to I don’t think … or I was having a bad case of something called the baby blues. Scientifically it is called post partum depression but whatever it was as soon as I started crying Beau and Belle started crying too and that only made me cry harder.

I cried off and on for what was left of the evening. I cried the hardest when I realized I hadn’t found a can opener to get into those cans with. Finally the brain fog cleared up enough that I figured out a way to tear into the cans using a butter knife and a hammer. The so-called “knife” was toast afterwards but it I figured that I could pound it straight again … or not as I realized there were several other things that I could use to get into the cans amongst my “finds.”

The can I managed to open was sliced peaches. I gagged on the heavy syrup they were in but the sugar helped me clear my head and gave me just enough energy to clean myself and the B&B Beans up so that we could all at least pretend to have a decent sleep. The next morning I was beyond exhausted and knew that I wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t even have the energy to do any more exploring or to go get the rest of the canned food. Heck, the only time I even opened the door was to bring in more rain water or to throw nasty water (and latrine stuff) out.

It continued to rain. At the time it was annoying but in reality it was a blessing. There is no way I could have figured out how to get half way decent drinking water any other way. I still hadn’t found a way to make fire but towards the end of that day as I became more and more annoyed that nothing was drying after I washed it I started trying to figure out how to make fire.

I even dreamed about fire, all night. Then as I was feeding the two chow hounds around dawn I realized I’d seen a gas grill at the caretaker’s cottage. There hadn’t been any gas but the grill itself had an electronic ignition. Suddenly my energy level went up and my blue funk started fading. I packed the Beans up and went back to the cottage. Sure enough there was the BBQ. Big problem though was that the battery in the igniter was dead. I nearly went into a funk again and then I gave myself a royal dope slap for giving in to despair. I hadn’t done it in a long, long time and I wasn’t about to start when I had babies depending on me.

Opening the junk drawer in the cottage I found a package of 9V batteries, probably used for the smoke detectors in each bungalow. And then in the few remaining cleaning supplies I found a roach eaten box of SOS scrubbing pads. I hugged these to myself and giggled like a loony. Good thing my little Beans weren’t old enough to realize just how close to crazy their mom really was at that moment.

It felt like it took forever to rinse the soap out of the SOS pad but once I had I was left with a mass of steel wool. I took some old pieces of newspaper I found in several of the bungalows and set up my experiment. Sure enough, dragging the 9V battery through the steel wool created sparks enough that I managed to catch the newspaper on fire. With that tender … and after spending a couple of hours locating some wood that was still relatively dry enough to do anything with … I started a small fire in the little fireplace and I was able to dry out some cloths for diapers for the Beans and some for my own personal needs as well.

That was another day and I knew I couldn’t continue like this indefinitely. I was starting to cough off and on, especially in the mornings and new gunk was trying to build up in my chest from all the damp. But I also knew that there was no way I would get very far the way things stood at that moment. I was so hungry that it was hard to think clearly. I had an idea, I just hoped that Rand would forgive me for taking a day or two longer to prepare.

The next morning I got up and grabbed the minnow net I had found in one of the bungalows as well as the old bamboo fishing pole and bobber that had been leaning in the same corner. Sure enough by the dock there were minnows galore and I scooped up all I wanted with relative ease. Then I hooked those puppies on the fishing line and started fishing. You know, it was a whole lot easier to catch those minnows than it was to catch bigger fish but I had three fish by the end of the day that were pretty decent sized and one big fish that had snagged another small fish before I could release it back into the wild. I have no clue what kind of fish they were; they had scales, fins, and googly eyes but they sure as heck cooked up pretty easy after I had cleaned them and discarded the innards some ways into the bushes. I still remembered the growl I had heard. I hadn’t heard anything like it since but there was no need to take unnecessary chances.

My energy was slowly coming back and the headaches weren’t so bad, though they never went away completely, but overall l still felt like I had fallen off a cliff since Beau and Belle had arrived. I was still bleeding too and I wasn’t sure just how normal, or not, that was. Where’s the internet when you need it most? None of this stuff had been in Momma’s notes. She was done having kids so I guess she didn’t think much about it but I sure could have used some of her homegrown commonsense. Heck I would have taken just about anyone at that point because they would have known more than I did.

And that is the night that Beau and Belle decided to get cranky. I don’t know who cried more them or me. It is a good thing that zombies aren’t real or we would have been toast given the amount of noise we all three made. I’m not sure why the babies were crying. I was even less sure why I was crying. Either way we didn’t fall asleep until there was enough light to show it was going to be another overcast day.

Despite the better food quality I started having the shakes again. I was also zoning in and out. I knew that I needed to find people soon and that was a huge admission for me. Without the babies I would have not cared a lick about doing anything but getting back to Rand but with the babies the whole game had changed. My little Beans were more important than my lopsided pride. I needed to let Rand know that I was OK but if I wasn’t the one to deliver the message I could live with that … so long as Beau and Belle were OK.

I needed a plan. I needed enough supplies to get home. I needed transportation. Before I could go any further with those three points I needed to know where I was.

I didn’t have a clue how to read the stars and even if I had the cloudy weather would have ruined that. I took stock of what I did know … or at least what I thought I knew. I was pretty sure the storm had been in the Gulf. No, I didn’t know for certain but the Atlantic just feels different and looks different. Also the rising and setting of the sun put water to the west and land on the east. That told me I was on the west coast of a body of land.

Another assumption I made was that I had washed up in Florida. For one it just felt like Florida. I know that sounds illogical and based on hope more than fact but there were things that made it seem more likely than not. The trees and stuff looked like home. Well, not Live Oak home but like stuff that you would find not too far from there. The trees were definitely the same kind of oaks as I was used to seeing but there were certainly more shore-friendly type plants as well like sea grapes, sea oats, scrub plants and that sort of thing. The birds were different but they were still birds that I was used to seeing when I went to the beach and that sort of thing back in Tampa.

Next I added the architecture of the bungalows and some of the other buildings that I had seen … or the remains of buildings I should say. A lot of them were made of tabby. Tabby is a kind of concrete that is made of sand, shells, and lime ash and it was very popular in Florida for several hundred years … up into the 1900s actually since it is so environmentally friendly and can put up with the Florida weather. And some of the exposed beams in some of the older buildings that I had seen were definitely made of cypress, it is a pretty distinct wood and was all over the place in Florida architecture for a while; even the Ringling mansion in Sarasota has a lot of cypress wood in it. Cypress is supposed to be termite resistant but honestly, I think if a termite wants a nibble of wood it is going to take a nibble of wood and hang whether it is supposed to be termite resistant or not. The floors in the bungalows were terrazzo and that definitely reminded me of Florida.

Mostly what I learned from my detective work was that I needed to make sure before I finalized my plans. I got so tired and I hurt and I had to rest a lot just looking around the little town; if I was wrong and went the wrong direction who knows what kind of trouble I would get in. Having a “good feeling” that I was stranded somewhere along the west coast of Florida didn’t mean a hill of beans if I could be more accurate than that. That meant exploring further from my base camp.

I decided to kill two birds with one stone. I’d go look for burnables and try and scout my location at the same time. I wasn’t sure it made sense to go back to the wharf area but I knew there was wood there and I needed a fire to try and drive out the dampness from clothes and cloths again even though it over heated the bungalow badly.

Most of the buildings facing the water were trashed … partly from fire though I wasn’t sure that was the only thing as there was lots of splintered wood that didn’t look like they had been burnt in any way. And the buildings must have been pretty good size as some of the frames looked like a few of the buildings had three or more stories to them. One street over there was no evidence of fire but something sure as heck tore the buildings up … riots, looters, vandals, or something else entirely. I didn’t know and didn’t particularly care as long as whatever it was left me alone while I was there.

I combed through the area looking for anything that would give me a clue but all of the paper I found was pretty sun bleached or useless. I’d gotten all of the sticks and fallen limbs that I could carry and still manage Beau and Belle safely when I looked over and saw this house that looked really old. I walked over and there was even a historical marker in front of it and bingo: “Second Oldest House on Florida’s Entire Gulf Coast … 4th Street, Cedar Key, FL.”

I knew where I was at. I even knew the quickest route home. But it most definitely wasn’t going to be easy.

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I headed back to the little vacation bungalow. You would have thought I would have been relieved but actually I was depressed. Instead of only wondering how far away from home I was now I knew. It wasn’t near as bad as it could have been but for all that it might as well have been thousands of miles.

I didn’t know how many miles exactly but I knew that it was going to be rough if I couldn’t find some way to trade for some help to get home or to get a message home. No doubt about it I was going to have to rely a lot more on faith than I had been doing in a while. I’d been relying on me, on Rand, on Ken, on the memories of my parents … this was something totally different. I’d experienced some awful stuff in my life but nothing quite like this. The stuff in the past left me with only myself to take care of but now I had my two little Beans that were totally reliant on me and I was beginning to wonder if God had really thought things through when he put them in my care.

Was I up for this? Was I strong enough? Was I clever enough to get us home? I went through another round of tears and feeling sorry for myself only made worse when Beau and Belle decided to make it a trio. I kept imagining Rand’s face and Austin’s. I knew I couldn’t give up but I could feel that things were going downhill fast; headaches to heartaches and everything in between.

Having one baby alone is difficult enough, having two babies and trying to do it alone and in conditions that rivaled what Neanderthal man had to deal with just didn’t seem like a real good option. I needed others and I needed them quickly. That meant getting out of this ghost town and hunting some up.

First I sat down and thought out my route. First I needed to get from Cedar Key to where it intersected with US27. Route 24 was the main road out of Cedar Key and it went straight to US27; I remember that much from my bike ride from Tampa to Live Oak. Once I got to US27 I could take it north all the way into Live Oak just like I had on that epic ride. Simple right? Wrong.

I spent the next two days trying to find some kind of transportation … bike, wagon, anything. There were several bike shops but they were cleaned out of whole bikes and only bits and pieces were left. In fact finding anything useful in the bungalows – especially the food – was nothing short of a miracle. Cedar Key had been cleaned out and picked over. And that meant carrying everything I would need for my trek on my own person.

Food for the journey was also a problem. I was quickly using up canned goods that I had found and the packaged stuff from the boat was completely gone. I looked around for wild foods to supplement the canned stuff and realized that those sea grapes that I had noticed actually had ripe clusters of fruit on them. I gathered those up, eating some of the tart, acidic fruit raw and then setting some to dry for raisins. I also found acorns; many had worm holes but I found enough that I could soak for use. They were easy to soak in all of the rain that kept coming down.

Next I noticed some cattails growing in the drainage ditches on the sides of the road. I pulled some of the roots and added them to my growing pile of food. I also saw some cabbage palm but I wasn’t in any shape to climb trees so no matter how yummy Hearts of Palm salad sounded, it was off the menu. I also saw Poke but it was too far gone for it to be safe to harvest.

My best discovery was a couple of chikasaw plums that had a little bit of fruit left on them in a backyard of one of the older homes in the historic district. The same yard had some herbs that had gotten out of control and I was able to get a few greens to mix with the dandelions that I found here and there and eat as a salad. Everything I found fit on the little kitchenette table but it looked like a banquet to me.

The problem was that I was eating my supplies faster than I could get them together for my road trip. At the end of the next day I had ground all of the acorns – they could have used another soak or two but I didn’t have the time – and then made a nasty tasting flat bread with them. With nothing to sweeten the bread with it wasn’t going to be my first choice but it would fill the void and travel.

It was still raining, sometimes downpours and sometimes just sprinkling. It was like a weather system was parked over the top of me and trying to make up for the drought months and then some. I didn’t dare complain though because otherwise I wouldn’t have had any water to drink unless I had somehow found a way to take the salt out of the nasty water near the wharf and at the small beach area.

To try and keep my supplies dry I cut sections of the plastic off of the mattresses then washed the sections. It wasn’t like having suran wrap or Ziploc bags but the plastic packets kept stuff drier than it would have otherwise been. While at the beach I found one of those state park kind of signs where it tells you interesting information about an area. Apparently Cedar Key was some kind of big clamming area. They had a bunch of clam farms as a form of aquaculture. Unfortunately I didn’t have a clue how to dig clams or how to fix them without making myself sick as a dog; but I did tuck the information away for future reference. I remember going crabbing with my parents but I wasn’t in any condition to do it.

I cut a couple of big sections of plastic to make a “tent” and ground cloth to go with the “poncho” I had already manufactured. I gathered up what pieces of “rope” that hadn’t fallen apart but mostly had to rely on the stuff that was used as plastic covered clothes line since most of the rope I found had been exposed to the elements and had dry rotted into uselessness. In the caretaker’s cottage I found one of those oversized women’s purses, the kind that you could practically sleep in if you had to, and that became my pack. It was heavy but I didn’t see as I had any choice. I also had a separate bag for “diapers,” feminine stuff, and for socks. My feet were constantly wet no matter what I did until I found a pair of men’s rubber waders that were so big that I could leave my boots on and wear the waders at the same time. They made me clumsy and slow but it was better than having my feet eat up with raw sores from being soaking wet all the time.

My biggest concern was fire and water. The fire issue I fixed by bringing along all of the 9V batteries and steel wool I had found; a little could go a long way with the right tinder. I also found under the cabinet in one of the bathrooms, way in the back, that the scavengers missed a half jar of Vaseline; that along with some cattail fluff tested out to be really good for what I needed. And just to be on the safe side I bundled some dry kindling that would get a small fire ready for larger pieces of wood.

The water, now that was the biggie. I didn’t have a canteen, didn’t have anything even approaching what could be a canteen. I couldn’t just assume that it would continue to rain. I couldn’t run away from the fact that the Beans and I would need water for cleaning up with if we were to stay healthy. I had a five gallon bucket but no way to carry it because the handle was broken. I didn’t have any small containers like water bottles; there were either none to be found or merely scraps of what was once a bottle, jug, etc. I was on my last leg as far as ideas went when I saw it.

There was a bicycle rental place on the very edge of the tourist area, right near the beach. No bicycles. No tires. But there were some bike repair pieces including some rims for kiddie bikes. It took me most of a day but I managed to make a “wagon” from four rims, a square of scrap plywood that looked like it had fallen from an old attic access hole, some rods and some other odds and ends off the floor of the bike shop. The rims were a little rusty but some Vaseline helped the axles I created to move fairly well. I made some packing straps out of old fire hose (and wasn’t that so not fun to cut to the size that I needed). I used an old pot lid to keep the water in the bucket but the “wagon” wasn’t exactly a smooth ride but it did work and that was about all I could say for it which is more than I had before.

I decided that I couldn’t afford a day to rest up. My food wasn’t going to last but a few more days and my cough had grown considerably worse. I went to sleep as soon as the twins were fed and decided to get up after their dawn feeding was over with. We all cleaned up … relatively speaking … and I loaded everything the best way I could. It was still raining but I didn’t see as I had any choice but to move on.

It was very slow going. Puddles covered deep potholes that had developed in the blacktop. I started walking straight down the middle of the road because it was the highest point, had the fewest puddles, and the fewest potholes. It also left me feeling the most vulnerable and exposed, but to what I haven’t a clue. There was dead silence except for the rain and the occasional bird or squirrel fussing about the weather.

The twins weren’t fussy; they mostly slept. But I had to stop pretty often to feed them. If felt like a milk truck. And I was constantly thirsty despite all of the rain on my face. I wound up putting a cloth over the bucket and letting the rain just go in to try and keep the bucket filled. I’d walk thirty minutes then have to stop to feed the Beans and drink a cup of water. Then I’d walk thirty more minutes, stop and to drink another cup of water. Another thirty minutes after that the Beans would want another drink, etc., etc. Because of this I didn’t get far that first day at all.

I made it as far as this little place called Otter Creek but it was dark when I got there and not a soul in sight. I had been keeping my spirits up by imagining that all I would have to do would be to get to a crossroads and someone would magically appear but … nothing. As a matter of fact it was worse than nothing.

Water was piled up everywhere I looked. The soggy ground made leaving the roadway a nightmare. What few buildings had been at the crossroads at one time were destroyed, some of them looked like it had happened recently. There were big oaks down all over the place. Tree debris was everywhere, so was glass and other bits and pieces. Old rusted out hulks of cars started appearing here and there pushed off to the side reminding me of what I’d found on my original bike ride.

I was too tired to cry or think at that point and it was too dark to do much exploring so I set up camp in the lee of a half destroyed building. It kept all but the hardest rain storms off of us and for the rest I hung the sheet of mattress plastic. It was a miserable night and I began to doubt the wisdom of what I was trying to do but by the time I’d fed the Beans their dawn meal and packed everything up I knew that I hadn’t really been any better off in Cedar Key than I was in Otter Creek.

I told myself, “Stop it. You are that much closer to home and to Rand and Austin and to dry clothes and your own stuff and to the babies’ stuff. Get a grip, put your waders on, and a get a move on.” I wished I had been able to get some kind of reward for that perseverance. The further I went on Route 24 the more problems I had with water and debris on the road. And then I saw my first sign of people … only it wasn’t a good sign.

Hammered into a tree that was across the road was a sign. “ROAD FLOODED FROM HURRICANE BETWEEN HERE AND BRONSON. CHUNKY POND AREA WORSE. CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK.”

Great. I nearly did sit down and have a cry at that point. Instead I sat down, fed the twins and myself and tried to figure out what to do. Really I didn’t have much choice. I back tracked to the last turnoff which turn right and after a couple of miles of back roads, some of which were only lime rock covered, I came to a barely still standing sign that told me I was at CR343. The water was up to my knees and there was no way I was going to be able to go north on the county road. It was still raining and I couldn’t risk getting into deeper water.

I went south on CR343 until I found some high and dry ground under some large oaks that kept most of the rain off and set up camp. There was no fire that night and even if there had been what happened in the middle of the night would have made it a wasted one. I woke up at Belle’s cries to find us lying in a couple of inches of water. I was so tired I hadn’t even noticed as it had crept in. I momentarily panicked until I realized Beau wasn’t crying simply because he wasn’t awake yet. Belle was another story, she wasn’t fond of being wet – something I’d already had trouble dealing with – and it was all I could do to gather our stuff and try and get further down the road in the dark without falling and killing us all.

There were things bumping into my legs as I plowed through the water in the pitch dark and I was glad I couldn’t see what they were because a few of them were bloated and smelled. I don’t know if they were animal or human but neither one appealed to me so I did my best to slog through and pull the wagon without thinking about it too much.

As the sun rose, so did the water. The rain was horrible that day. It had a lot of wind in it and that on top of everything else made pulling the wagon a nightmare. Belle cried off and on all day and so did I. I was so tired and getting hungry. I had hoped to supplement my food with scavenged stuff but this world was a universe away from what it had been a year ago. There just wasn’t anything. I spent that night up on the porch of a long deserted house … along with a couple of rude opossums that didn’t think much of me despite both of us carrying our babies around to keep them out of the water.

The next morning I had a really bad attack of coughing; so bad in fact that I actually gave myself a bloody nose. That if nothing else had told me that I needed to get going because I was not going to die and leave the Beans to be possum food if I didn’t. I had been slogging along, practically catatonic just trying to put one foot in front of the other when suddenly I looked up and there were other people around me, all of ‘em looking just about as bad as I did.

I was losing myself at that stage and I can’t tell then next little bit clearly if my life depended. Basically I had managed through dumb luck or a Guiding Hand to wind up at what had once been the Williston Municipal Airport. The problem was that it was now a refugee camp. No one was allowed in or out of Williston and they weren’t taking refugees in at all … not even a woman with brand new babies who obviously needed some help and badly.

I did manage to get one young group of national guardsmen to feel sorry for me and they hid me in their transport so that I could get through town and to the other side of Williston onto US27/US41. They had a survivor list they said they would put my name on when they were off duty and they all gave me a piece of their rations which could have gotten them in some bad hot water. One young boy, couldn’t have been much older than Austin, was nearly crying because they couldn’t do more for me but I told his Sergeant, who reminded me of Bill for some reason, that if they could just get word to my husband that I was OK and that I was making my way home the same way I’d come the first time that was all that I cared about.

I know in the old days people would have thought that was a cruel thing to have done but this isn’t the old days. Williston was overrun and they told me dysentery was running rampant even in the cleanest households. They did what they could that was within their power and even risked getting in trouble and losing their stripes. Trying to pack me and the twins in with the rest of the refugees could have caused more harm than good under those circumstances. They said violence was bad in the camps surrounding the town so they took me outside of the last checkpoint into the city by about five miles and dropped me off right near Raleigh. They’d have some explaining to do at the fuel depot but the Sergeant told me not to think about it that he’d deal with it one way or the other. I’d rarely seen such a miserable bunch of men … most of them not even men yet but just boys … as that group that watched me walk away that day.

I had to put them out of my head, especially the kid that look like a red headed version of Austin in my imagination, and think of my original route; seven miles from Raleigh to Archer and then another ten to Newberry. I traveled that in a day coming up on the bike but I would be every bit of two this time. I remembered that the last time I had been in Newberry I’d had trouble with rain too and that something about the town had made me scared. But then I decided I would worry about Newberry only after I made it to Archer.

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Wish I could say that everything went smoothly but it didn’t. I was so tired that I got careless and right outside of Archer the wagon tipped over and I lost all the clean water I had in the bucket. I also went down at the same time soaking the three of us and all of my supplies. The acorn bread was history, not that it had been very appetizing but it was a way to fill the void without have to stop and cook. Luckily for me the stuff the guardsmen had given to me came sealed in plastic.

I could have gone further, though not by much, but instead made camp in a building off the road in Archer. All of the buildings had obviously been stripped of anything useful but they hadn’t been able to take the fireplace. I pulled out my pot and started boiling rain water as soon as I was able to get a decent fire built. I hung up all of our wet stuff and then after a dinner of canned fruit cocktail and a little bit of jerky I gave the twins a much needed sponge bath, cleaned their umbilical cords which were trying to fall off by then despite the near constant dampness and let them loll about au natural in the first mosquito free space we’d had since leaving Cedar Key.

I cleaned and refilled my five gallon bucket and cleaned the straps on it and then took my own sponge bath. It was nice feeling clean but it didn’t last long. I was still bleeding and the heat and humidity had me sweating again in no time. I did what I could for my little Beans, fed them, and then made the best nest I could manage so that we could go to sleep.

Actually I went to sleep thinking that maybe I would just hole up in Archer for a few days and hope for the best. That changed real quick in the middle of a hot, muggy, and terrifying night while I listened to a pack of feral dogs try to get into the closet I quickly pulled the twins and our gear into. Every time Beau and Belle cried the dogs would start scratching and banging to get in. It was several hours into the afternoon of the next day before I felt sure enough that they were gone to even crack the door open and see. I didn’t even bother changing any of us … and we all needed it … before getting on down the road through the muck and mud as fast as I could. I didn’t stop for several miles and by that time I was puking what little was left in my guts.

I had also started to bleed more heavily and figured I would have to slow down or stop all together fairly soon or risk something … bad … happening, whatever that bad might be, which is something I didn’t want to contemplate.

A house well off the road provided a temporary haven. Like all other buildings I had seen it had been stripped down to the bare bones but I was at least able to secure it enough for some privacy. I had only meant to rest a few moments but I woke, not sure how long the Beans had been crying and snuffling for food, to the deep dark of night. I would have cried in frustration if I had had the strength. But it was water under the bridge and I didn’t see any way to undo what had been done.

And speaking of water under the bridge, I had to completely bypass Newberry because it was flooded. The rain wasn’t near as heavy as it had been, mostly an uncomfortable drizzle, but whatever had come through before had laid waste to this area, just like it had in others. The drains were either clogged or full. The roadside ditches had filled and overflowed and turned roads and fields into streams and lakes. I couldn’t risk it and wound up detouring to the west and through the residential areas. I didn’t get far.

I have to admit I was tired and weak and coughing so badly it literally felt like I had cracked a rib. Then off in the distance I saw a small church. The sanctuary had seen a fire up near the pulpit but the vestibule of the building was still intact. The building was up off the ground and gave me a sense of protection I knew that didn’t make sense. I ate my last can of food … fruit cocktail again … and drank all the water I wanted. I washed us up as best I could and hid us in the women’s bathroom rather than lay on the moldy carpet out in the vestibule itself.

I was done in. I hurt … in my guts and in my chest. I was out of food though I still had water. My head felt like it was about to explode and when I had a nose bleed on top of it all I just sort of lost it. I told God that I was done. I’d come this far and He was going to have to provide me a golden chariot … or just a plain old wooden one … to get the rest of the way home. There wasn’t any blame, I was just telling Him like I saw it and that I’d given it all I had and that I didn’t have any more to give. I stopped even asking for my own rescue and just wanted Beau and Belle to make it home to Sparkleberry Ranch. I told God that Rand needed that at least. I told Him that He’d always said He wouldn’t put more on us than we could bear and I was telling Him I couldn’t bear any more and that I figured Rand couldn’t bear not knowing and that Austin needed some looking after by Him too.

I must have mumbled and talked off and on all night. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had started to run a fever. This on top of everything else was sapping what little strength I had left. I watched the sun come up but didn’t seem to have any desire to move. I was in a fog. I watched the sun go down as well, only drinking water.

Part of me knew that I needed to move, that I needed to find people but I just couldn’t summon the urgency that I should have been able to.

I really don’t know how long it was before I heard the voices of men. I kind of remember the Beans had been crying but I couldn’t draw them to me for comfort. I only vaguely remember boots on the steps outside the building but nothing beyond that.