Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Sixty-Five

Chapter 65

December 7th – Well, the Major sure has a thing for Pearl Harbor Day. He made a big deal out of it and even drew some connections between the unprovoked attack at Pearl Harbor and what happened in our little town. I’m not sure I got all of it but the Major sure seemed to find his outrage as the day wore on and he stopped calling it an “incursion” and started calling it a “repelled invasion.” Strange, but I’m not so crazy that I’ll look a gift horse in the mouth these days.

Rand was as restless as I have ever seen him in his sleep. When he wasn’t tossing and turning he was draped over and around me so tightly there were times I could barely breathe. After one elbow too many I just got up and made my way to the kitchen to start some tea; not the herbal stuff either, I wanted the strong black stuff that I toked up some more by making it really sweet.

Not fifteen minutes later Rand came stumbling in all wild eyed, “Where did you go?!”

As gently as I could after being startled and like that I said, “I’m right here.” I picked up the quilt he was dragging and tried to get him to go back to bed. You can imagine how well that went over when I wouldn’t go with him.

Rand got this look on his face like he was about to make a major announcement. “I’m going with you today.”

“Rand … “

“Kiri … “

I just looked at him. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings but there was no way he was in any shape to do what he wanted to do. Then his shoulders slumped.

“My God … I’m useless.”

“No you’re not!”

“Kiri … “

“Rand, I won’t hear anyone talking you down, not even you. You’re injured. You’re hurt. But it won’t stay that way. You will get better. You just need to give yourself some time.”

“Don’t say it.”

I couldn’t help it. It’s like I was channeling my parents or something. Him asking me not to say it only made me need to say it even more. “And this too shall pass.”

“Babe, I asked you not to say it.”

“But you know it’s true. You know it is.”

“Not fast enough, you need me now.”

“I have you now. I have you whether you are standing in front of me or not. Even when you aren’t physically there I feel you caring for me, thinking of me, praying for me. I remember when that was missing in my life, now it’s not. You make my life different.”

“Babe, you just …“

“It’s all right Rand. I know I don’t say that kind of stuff much but I think it all the time.” I ran my fingers through his perpetually messy hair. “Whatever you do, you let me know I’m important to you, a priority, that I’m part of your present and your future.”

“Babe … how come … how … “ He shivered and shook his head. “Fine, I won’t make things harder on you than they already are but you are going armed to the teeth. And even then you aren’t going if Henderson doesn’t provide a guard that I’m comfortable with. And I want you to ride Lou.”

That was easy enough to say yes to. After I said, “Whatever you think best Rand.” He seemed to run out of energy and began to get gray faced. I helped him to push his chair closer to the stove and then cooked some cheesy grits and heated up some of the sausages that I had canned.

I was nearly worried enough about Rand that I was seriously thinking about not going. Rand was dozing in the rocker next to the stove when the sun came up and twenty minutes later Uncle George showed up with Mick and Tommy. The boys were riding two burros and when they jumped off and threw the reins over the rail that Rand had built they ran around to the kitchen. I caught them while they were still outside and told them to wait for Uncle George.

“It’s all right Babe. I’m awake. Let those two monkeys come on in.”

And they were off again and then suddenly there was silence. Uncle George and I stepped inside to find the boys just standing there with wide eyes and pale faces. I looked at Uncle George and he said, “I tried to tell ‘em but … “ and he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“Come on boys. I don’t look that bad do I?”

Mick said with the kind of honesty you usually only get with little kids, “You look awful!”

Tommy, the more sensitive of the two, wanted to know if he hurt. “Not as much as it did but enough that I’m gonna need your help today.”

Both boys were eager to do it and Uncle George told me behind his hand, “Now if I could only get them to be that eager about their chores at home.”

I left them to plan the day and I made some Sherpa Tea. I mixed two cups of powdered milk, one-third of a cup of sugar, and two tablespoons of instant tea with lemon in a small plastic container with a tight lid and then I shook it to mix everything up. Then I poured boiling water into my good thermos. When the time came I’d put a cup of hot water in the lid and mix in three heaping tablespoons of the powder and va-voom … good stuff; at least to me it is.

I was checking over my pack and watching Rand go over the guns he wanted me to carry … rifle, shotgun, 9mm, and the Mark III … when I heard the boys come running back into the house with the milk pail they had just left with saying that they heard horses coming towards the house. It was the three soldiers from yesterday along with Mitch, Bradley and Hoss.

“Kiri,” Mitch said tipping his hat. “Seems like you are to take these men on a trek around our area.”

“I suppose that’s what they are expecting.”

The one that was introduced to me as Lt. Dillingham said,“Ma’am, the Major is waiting up at the road with … a Mr. Henderson. He wants to try and get this taken care of as quickly as possible.”

“I wouldn’t mind that myself.” I turned around and went to Rand who’d limped outside in the moccasins we made him, the only thing he’s been able to tolerate for long on his feet. The men gave us a little privacy to say our good byes and I told him, “Please let the boys do the work today. I know you want to get back in gear but I’ll feel much better if you would take it easy for another couple of days.”

“I’ll be fine. Don’t you go any further than Mr. Henderson until he is satisfied that you’ve got enough escort. I’m not comfortable with this. I hate it, but if you are going he’ll be the one who can tell if the Major is on the up and up. And stay … “

“ … out of trouble. I’ll try my best. You stay out of trouble too, and try not and let Uncle George drive you too nuts. I’ll be back as soon as I can. There is stew on the back of the stove when you all get hungry and bread in the pie keep.”

I mounted Lou – feeling a little bit ridiculous taking both the rifle and the shotgun – and rode with the six men to where Mr. Henderson waited with two more men that I’d never met dressed in cowboy gear plus Major Timble who sat with another young soldier that was trying his best not to look nervous.

I said hello to Mr. Henderson and asked him about his leg which he said was “tolerable.” He also said that Mitch, Hoss, and Bradley would be my escorts and that the two men who he called Junior and Gator would be with him while he visited with Uncle George and Rand for a while. I was a bit embarrassed by all the favoritism being shown to me but if it made Rand feel better then I decided to put up with it for a while.

The Major wasn’t real pleased to see that three obviously capable men were escorting me, carrying enough hardware to mount a more than adequate defense if need be, but he gave in with good grace … or maybe he just gave in knowing he didn’t have any choice. Even had I been inclined to just lead the Major around by myself no one seemed inclined to let me.

The Major asked some general questions as we headed out to US90 and then over to CR136. We followed CR136, taking the route I took through town. I showed them the house that I slept in and then was a little shocked to see that one side of the building had collapsed. I guess I was a lot luckier than I thought.

When I told them what I had done – taking the guy out and dumping him down the manhole and then taking out the radio operator – Major Timble expressed a lot of … I’ll be polite and call it skepticism. I could have cared less. I was telling him what happened and how it happened, he could believe it or not, it was no skin off my nose. But then my “escorts” had to get in on it and tell about all the other stuff I’d found myself in the middle of. That was totally embarrassing and I told them to knock it off. The Major gave me the squinty-eye and told me to show him the manhole.

The Major didn’t even believe I could have lifted the manhole but I’m a lot stronger than I look and the “manhole” wasn’t your typical cover but was one of those lighter types that you find when they aren’t located in the street. I just pulled out my big craftsman screwdriver … I don’t leave home without it … and pried the lid back quick without thinking.

I had to crawl away really quick to keep from throwing up; the smell hit me full in the face. By the time my stomach was under control one of the soldiers had gone down and confirmed that the body was wearing the same type camouflage type uniform the invaders had and also showed a head wound and did not have any guns. However, the man was gut shot and that was his cause of death. I told them I hadn’t shot the man, only hit him on the head and dumped him after taking his weapons. The Major made sure that the “discrepancy” got written in notebook one of his men were carrying.

I was upset, not so much that the Major called it a discrepancy but at the fact that someone had shot the guy … assuming it was the same guy which it most likely was. Why would someone have done that? What purpose did it serve? And who did it?

Next I had to prove I could make the shot I claimed I did when it came to taking out the radio. That was easy enough and the Major’s eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. Rand can shoot a lot better than me and I expect a lot of people around here can. I don’t know why he was so flaming surprised. Even boys like Mick and Tommy help protect the livestock and put meat on the table. I found out later the Major only had one child … a daughter … but she was pretty young when she died from the flu and from what I gather from what he said was spoiled and protected so maybe he just doesn’t get how things are these days.

From there it got more interesting. The people along River Road were suspicious of us. The only one that seemed to thaw at all was Ron Harbinger and Mr. Winston who were out front of the Harbinger place working on the fence. Not giving the Major any chance to object I stopped and enquired whether I could run up to the main house and stick my head in and say hello to Julia. Ron said sure but that everyone would probably run interference before I could get near the baby. I rode up to the house and Julia was sitting on the porch. She didn’t look so hot. There was a fading bruise on her cheek, but it was weird … she looked happier than I had ever seen her. She had the baby in her lap so I didn’t want to get too close.

“He won’t bite,” she laughed.

“Maybe not but I’m dirty and I don’t want to set him off. Babies make a crazy amount of noise when you set them off.”

“They make a lot of noise when anything sets them off, buy I’ve got a good baby. He’s just as sweet as he can be, oh yes he is.”

When she started with the baby talk I made my escape. I’m afraid if I start holding one I’ll start wanting one and that isn’t something that Rand and I need right now, not with him being laid up and all the insanity on the airwaves of the radio. I’ll explain that later.

It wasn’t too far from there that I showed them where I cut behind the compound … now more or less occupied by the US Military … and we had to wait for the Major to send one of his men ahead so that we wouldn’t get shot at. When I was trying to explain to them how I had run into the portable building I had to keep going over it. I expect they really didn’t believe me. I have a hard time believing I did that now that the rush is past. When I told them how I rigged the grenade all of them, even Mitch, just sort of sat there with their mouths hanging open.

“Young lady, would you please explain to me how you figured out how to do such a thing if you have never handled explosives before?”

“I never said I’d never handled explosives before. One of the foster boys I used to live with really had a thing for … ummm … pyrotechnics. I’d just never handled a real grenade before but they aren’t exactly what you would call a complicated piece of machinery. Besides, all the war movies I used to watch with my Daddy is what gave me the idea especially movies like The Dirty Dozen.”

I thought the Major’s eyes were going to bug out and the other men, including one of the soldiers, suddenly fell into a fit of coughing. I don’t mean to make people crazy, it just sort of happens.

From there I took them to the vantage point where I met Pepper Duncan. We were all real solemn and I had it confirmed, even though it hadn’t been said outright before then, that Pepper … he took his own life. The major was shaking mad. Last night the so-called psychologist admitted that he didn’t like military men but he also denied intentionally seeking to hurt them. He still believed that Lt. Duncan was suffering from denial of what he would be capable of and didn’t want to believe that the military would send him back to civilian life to make it however he could.

“We’ve been forced up to this point into using civilians for debriefing purposes. They were supposed to be the independent observers of what is occurring within the ranks. From here on out those special civilian observers will not be dealing with anything more important than paper clips and thumb tacks if the Colonel has his way.”

“The Colonel” is the same one whose staff that Ram has been assigned to. I heard later that Mr. Henderson said that the Colonel was a “Constitutionalist” and had a particular way of looking at things. This won over a lot of people, but it has made him more than a few enemies as well.

While I was thinking about Pepper and what a waste his loss is I crawled through the culvert again and they got out their silly measuring tape and set up another target. It took me a couple of times to hit it.

Hoss said, “Kiri, that was a dat blamed lucky shot.”

“Luck didn’t have anything to do with it. I prayed for some help.”

That got me a look from a lot of the soldiers standing around but the Major didn’t give me any grief at all. He just said, “Hmmmm.”

I don’t know what it was but all of a sudden I started getting depressed and walked away. Mitch and his men knew to give me room. I guess my mood swings are pretty common knowledge. The Major though, I don’t guess he paid any attention to Mitch’s suggestion that we take a break since we’d been at this all morning. The Major came over to where I was standing and asked, “Why the sudden appearance of caution? Do you have anything you should be telling me?”

I didn’t even have the energy to get mad like I probably should have. “No. But would you get a kick out of all of this? I don’t like killing people sir. This isn’t anything like I thought my life was going to turn into or be about. I didn’t chose this, not to start with. But the people of this town … this is where I live. I know a lot of these people, well sort of, I’ve met them and most of them have been nice. They are survivors. I know what being a survivor feels like. I’ve been doing it to some degree since my family was killed. But even then, I didn’t do it for the towns people, I did it because I was looking for Rand and I thought he was in here somewhere. I did it because I know Rand, and Ram, would have done it for me. But saying it out loud like that, it doesn’t make me sound like a very good person and … and … I don’t like that too much.”

Then I got a surprise. “Young lady, soldiers don’t do their job because they like it. They do it because their honor demands it.”

I’m still not sure if he was calling me a soldier but I think he was trying to comfort me in some way. Either way he wasn’t cutting me any slack and had me back to describing what happened. You only really catch things like that in snapshots, your part of it anyway. The tower fell and the odds got moved in the townspeople’s favor just enough that perseverance the townspeople prevailed. Not everyone lived and a lot of the invaders probably wished they had died in the initial fighting. I didn’t know about how some of them had been dragged off into the woods and given some rough country justice. I’m not sure that I would have cared then, but I care now and I didn’t want to think about it too hard.

I told them how frantic I had been that I couldn’t find Rand, how I had asked everyone and how no one had seen him. “And that is when you decided to check the processing plant?”

“No, I mean it was but it wasn’t my idea. You have to understand, a lot of the families are dependent on their livestock. They knew, from some of the people that had been captured in the second pass the invaders made in the community, that all of the farm animals were being gathered up and taken over to the processing plant to be slaughtered to feed the invaders and the larger number of invaders that would be coming in behind them. After all of the families were reunited they thought of the animals.”

“And you just went along for the ride?”

“No. Rand’s cousin … Brendon Crenshaw … had stayed behind after his father had taken the women and boys back with him to the farm. He and Clyde … that’s a neighbor that helps out … went to go gather up their animals, or at least to make certain that they were separated out. They have a large number of them as their business was a small beef and dairy farm before everything went bad. They also keep pigs and chickens.”

“Did they get all of their animals back?”

“What? Oh … yeah … except for a pig that they are pretty sure was killed and eaten by the invaders. They had to put down one of their dairy cows after they got her home, I’m not sure what was wrong with it.”

“Some people are claiming that they lost a great deal of livestock and they are applying for assistance.”

“I don’t know. You’ll have to take it up with them. Or ask Mr. Henderson, he might know.”

We had gotten back on our mounts and were riding over to the processing plant and I dreaded it. Mitch was there that day so I left it to him to explain how they were already prepared for us when we arrived, having heard the fighting at the compound. But the small number of men that had been left to manage the livestock weren’t a match for our numbers. Also, there were townspeople on the inside under guard that overpowered their captors so that the invaders wound up fighting a battle on two fronts. They lost, big time.

But still no Rand. I got off Lou and tied him to a post and walked inside. I don’t think I was paying too much attention to the Major or anyone else at that point. It’s like I was reliving it only in slow motion. I remember still hearing screams even after the fighting had stopped. I remember knowing that wasn’t right, that I needed to make it stop. I walked from the processing floor back into the administrative offices. It was as dark as it was that day until I got to the back of the building where the executive offices were located. The windows back there let in plenty of light, too much light; the UV film had bubbled off and peeled away in a lot of places.

Ram kept calling me to slow down but the screams had stopped. They had to break the chair that Ram had been cuffed to since they couldn’t find the keys on the dead man that had secured him there.

I couldn’t … I guess something in me knew but didn’t want to admit it. I still don’t want to think about it. Rand’s restlessness isn’t the only thing keeping me up at night. There was this conference room, or at least that is what I think that space was used for. It was too big to be someone’s office and there were chairs piled up in the corner of the room. The carpeting on the floor was dusty and moldy. The whole room stank … but not just from the carpet and the mold on the walls.

Reality didn’t want to register. I won’t describe what met my eyes. That’s between Rand and I and it is going to stay like that. He was unconscious by the time I got there. There was this guy and he was using a flensing knife and was … forget it, not going there except in my nightmares. My inner monster took over. I guess we all have one but I don’t like to let mine out, it looks way too much like the person I see in the mirror every day.

Remembering, I slowly turned into the room. The walls were still splattered with things I would rather not think about. The metal frame that Rand had been tied to was still there but had fallen over. There were dark, sticky spots in the carpet that I avoided. And then a glitter caught my. It was that ring, that godforsaken ring. It was days before the last of the bruises caused by that ring came to the surface.

I picked the ring up and threw it as hard as I could … narrowly missing the Major who had been following me. He ducked thank goodness but it was a moment or two (or three) before I had myself under enough control to apologize. I’m not sure what he saw on my face but as he guided me out of the room I heard him tell some soldiers that had been standing around, “I want that room stripped. Then burn whatever you take out. Now.”

It didn’t take long to walk outback to the holding pens. “Rand came around and I guess we were all running on adrenaline. People were so happy to find their livestock and to find the few folks that had been unaccounted for that we weren’t paying as much attention as we should have been, at least I wasn’t. We were just pulling ourselves together to get home before it got any later. I just knew I needed to get Rand home and fast. This was before the cavalry showed up with their medical stuff.”

“So you found a conveyance?” the Major prompted.

“Yeah, our wagon was sitting right over there. Had a bunch of junk in it – empty green boxes and junk like that – and I wasn’t able to push it out. I moved things around just enough to give Rand a place to lay down and I threw a couple of canvas tarps in there to try and take away some of the sharp edges. Then I spotted the mules. Bud was no problem, he wanted to go home and let me hitch him. Lou … Lou is the one I’m riding today … was acting funny. I should have known to pay more attention, Lou always looks after me, but I just thought it was all the craziness and noise you know. Then he took me skiing for a few feet and I was afraid I couldn’t stay on my feet so I turned loose. I’ve still got the bruises from not paying attention like I should. I don’t know where Rand and Ram found the energy … especially Rand … but if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be here. The rest is probably in some report from the military guys that showed up after that.”

“Yes,” he said and then paused. “The Russian … he was a Lieutenant Colonel Dragovanovich and he had a very nasty reputation according to the little bit of intel we’ve been able to locate on him. The Venezuelans that we’ve recovered and interrogated feared, revered, and hated him in equal measure. He showed no respect to the Venezuelans at all, none of the Russian elite did. Apparently after the action down in south Florida Dragovanovich thought they would have more success if he took some men into this area and softened the locals up first. Obviously he was wrong.” He patted me on the shoulder. I was still away in my head a bit and didn’t pay him too much attention.

A little while later Mitch startled me out of my daze when he came up and said, “The Major wants to know if we can wait a few more minutes while he makes sure everything is in order and to make sure nothing needs clarifying.”

I remember saying, “Fine, whatever” before going over to a stoop out of the human traffic and sitting down and pulling out my thermos. A soldier walked over with a chair and said, “With the Major’s compliments ma’am.” It beat sitting on cold concrete so I didn’t fuss and even said thank you.

Mitch, Hoss, and Bradley milled about a bit talking with some of the soldiers on breaks but they never let me out of their sight, not even when I found out where the latrines were from a passing female soldier. I was just getting the point of being anxious to get home to Rand when another soldier came up and asked if we’d come with him to the Major’s office. The “office” was a tent set up between the former compound and the processing plant.

“I appreciate your forbearance. It appears that everything is in order and I won’t keep you any longer. Mr. Peters, I was told that you would see Mrs. Joiner home safely.” At Mitch’s nod the Major continued, “I would ask that anything you might have seen or heard be carefully hoarded and not become common knowledge. We suspect that the invaders may have had look outs or contacts within the community before … “

Hoss exclaimed, “Now hold on a second there … “

“Easy Hoss,” I warned not wanting the hotheaded man to get into trouble when he didn’t need to just because the Major tiffed him off. “Don’t forget ‘members of the community’ include people like the ones we ran into at Itchetucknee and some of the refugees from the resettlement camp. When people get hungry and scared for their own they’ll do things that they might never have imagined themselves doing.”

The Major, maybe a better judge of character than I had given him credit for being at first said, “Perhaps I should rephrase my words. We believe that they had contacts living in this area, not necessarily long time members of the community. But we are ruling nothing out. Henderson appears to screen his men quite … thoroughly. He also keeps close tabs on the community and he too raised the issue that the invaders appeared to have quite a bit of inside information considering the language barrier. So, anything that you think you surmise … ignore it, don’t share it, forget it. But remain vigilant. While there would not appear to be a good reason for them to strike this area to begin with their reasons may lead them back again if they think the guard here has dropped.”

“Resources,” I blurted out before I thought hard enough. “Resources for their supply lines. And the rivers. They went after the animals nearly as soon as they did the people. Who isn’t hungry these days? And I imagine an army would be real worried about feeding its troops.”

I got a look from all the men in the room, especially the Major who gave me a considering look. “Perhaps. It would be to everyone’s benefit if any … unusual or sudden … wealth … was watched carefully. While it is perfectly reasonable to assume that there are people that prepared or are industrious, it would still be wise to be … cautious.”

In other words I figure he is asking us in a roundabout way to be snitches. Well, that isn’t going to happen. I already know for a fact that any shenanigans are likely to find the stupid on the wrong end of a gun. This isn’t the wild west, but it isn’t quite the 21st century any more either.

The day moved pretty quick after that. We were back on US90 and in no time I found myself on our road and then in front of our house. In no time after that Uncle George told the boys to load up they needed to get home. I got a quick, hard hug from him and the boys … really weird and all I could do was stand there as stiff as a statue because it was so unexpected … and then a wink from Mr. Henderson as he and Junior and Gator left.

I must have looked a little silly because I walked up to Rand – he was in an extraordinarily good mood which was again strange after the way he had been last night and this morning – and he looked at me and said, “Alone at last.”

I was so tired that all I was thinking about was that I hadn’t had lunch and that I still needed to cook dinner. I wasn’t paying too much attention to Rand grinning like a lunatic because I just thought that it was because he was glad to have me home in one piece. I walked through the kitchen and into the living room and smack into a crate.

“What the heck?!”

“Christmas came a little early.”

There were boxes everywhere. I have to say that just for a second all I could think about was the mess. It wasn’t that long ago that I stopped tripping over the stuff we had brought back from Itchetucknee. Thankfully I managed to keep my groans and moans to myself and just stand there thunderstruck.

Rand, misinterpreting my speechlessness said, “I know. Isn’t it great! Ram sent this by way of Mr. Henderson. Of course Henderson got a cut but he was more than happy to help out and I … I know I … look Ram sent some black powder and some other re-load stuff and Clyde … “

“Oh … um sure … whatever you think best. Please tell me all these boxes aren’t full of stuff that goes boom.”

“Oh Babe,” Rand laughed like I was being funny on purpose, ‘cause I wasn’t, I was serious. “I don’t know what is in half …. “

But I had stopped listening. There was a tree … a real honest to goodness Christmas tree … standing where the TV and stereo cabinet used to be.

“Oh Rand … where did it come from?”

“Where did what come from? Oh, uh that, well the boys helped me. The wagon was hitched to Bud because we needed more logs and I road to show them the tree I have been working on cutting into pieces. We drove passed this cedar and Tommy said it looked like a Christmas tree. I thought that you might … well anyway, don’t you want to know what is in the boxes that Ram sent?”

“Rand, it’s perfect. It’s just like the trees that Daddy used to cut for us.”

“It is? But … it’s not a real Christmas tree; it’s just an old cedar. Ram probably sent some good stuff and … “

“It is too a Christmas tree, a perfect Christmas tree. Let’s decorate it. Tonight. I’ll pop corn and …”

And then Rand was laughing. I mean really laughing and then he was … well, not laughing anymore and just holding on to me real tight.

“I keep forgetting. It’s never been about presents to you has it?”

Well that just confused me like it always does when he gets all philosophical but then I forgot about being confused because I was home and Rand was home and … we hadn’t cuddled in a while. He was still hurt and I was a lot more tired than I expected but that didn’t stop us … not much anyway.

Dinner was soup and popcorn and some eggless eggnog that I made with milk and vanilla pudding and nutmeg. You take a three ounce box of instant vanilla pudding and mix it with one cup of milk until the pudding forms, then you add milk until you get the thickness of nog that you like to drink and add one or two teaspoons of vanilla and about a quarter teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Not the most nutritious dinner in the world but it was fun.

Next I pulled my Mom’s and Rand’s mom’s decorations out of the storage tub I had put them in for safe keeping and we decorated the little tree with our favorite ornaments. The tree wouldn’t hold them all so in the next couple of days I’ll make a garland to hang and we’ll hang the other ornaments on that. I would have started on it tonight since there were some branches on the porch that they had trimmed off the bottom of the tree but Rand was running out of steam by that point and I could tell he was having to work hard at looking like he was having fun.

I was all set for us to go to bed after taking care of the last few animal chores … the never ending animal chores … but Rand wanted me to read the letter that Ram had written.

“Just tell me what was in it.”

“I didn’t read it.”

“What not?”

“It was addressed to you. You wouldn’t have read anything that was addressed just to me.”

“That’s different.”

“Kiri … don’t be ornery, just read the letter.”

“Fine. Dear Kiri and Rand … see, it was addressed to both of us. Hey, no throwing pillows. You want me to read this or not?”

Dear Kiri and Rand,

I didn’t get to say much of a good bye. I supposed by now you’ve heard about Pepper, if not I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I thought I was the weaker of the two of us but it looks like I was wrong. It’s hard to be happy about something that should never have happened and is a loss. But I promised from here on out that you don’t have to worry about me living in the past. Whatever happened between Sherri and I, it’s over and I can’t change it. I can only go forward from here. At least that is what I’m telling myself today, Shorty.

I had a bit of good luck. I ran across a reclamation operation that failed. We haven’t found it in the official roster so we don’t know if it was officially sanctioned or not. No locals were making a claim to anything … no locals around here anymore, the summer storms ran them off of the coast. We are prohibited from making a profit of any kind off the reclamation operations but the Colonel reads the regs that we have some leeway as to where we offload and distribute any reclaimed resources. No really, no “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” The Colonel is a straight shooter. The man squeaks when he walks. It’s bizarre because he is actually getting things done without having to grease any palms if you know what I mean.

Since your little town got hit by the VRC (short for Venezuelan-Russian Coalition) the Colonel readily signed off on a good sized shipment coming your way. It was made doubly easy when he found out that Bill Sawyer is ex-military and runs the Trade Shack.

I hope I did OK. I sent most of the convenience foods, what there were, to the Shack for distribution in the community. Sent all the baby stuff that way too, not that there was much. I peeked and you and Rand seem prepared for that but you also said you weren’t looking for that to happen any time soon. I ain’t saying anything else about that because the pictures that makes in my head turns my brain inside out.

Had to give Henderson a cut to take you the stuff I did manage to set aside. Not too happy about that but he’s not a bad guy, just wish I could have sent you more but I was limited to a poundage and that included whatever it cost to transport it to your place.

Hope you can use what I did manage to send. The big crate is full of fabric. The lieutenant I work with called them bolts of fabric. I don’t have any reason to think that she is wrong. The lieutenant also helped me to pick out some of the clothes and stuff that is in the other boxes. Man oh man, it’s the end of the world and women are still hard to shop for. Rand, there is a box you might want to have inside the crate that has some odds and end metal stuff… files, spikes and stuff like that. The medics around here pass them out like party favors.

Sorry Kiri, most of the paper goods were already gone by the time we rolled into the warehouse but I did manage to pull some more cleaning junk. I know you had mentioned bleach but that was all requisitioned by the mobile hospital, even that powdered chlorine stuff you use for pools. They are having to sterilize and reuse all of their instruments … and some of their bandages which is pretty much as gross as you can imagine even if they do boil them in cauldrons and then dry and press them in these special laundry units that have been set up. Most of the rags and towels were also requisitioned by the hospital but I’ll stay on the look out.

There is a footlocker buried in the second big crate. Rand, have fun. I’m not sure how this got overlooked but I slid it into the pile I was sending. I’m telling Henderson what is in it so he can protect it special. If you don’t get it then you know who to take it up with.

I’ll leave you to go through everything. And no, I don’t want anything in return except maybe a place to stay if I can ever get up that way again and a meal to fill my belly. I was in a lot worse shape than perhaps you knew but now I am not. You and Rand are buena gente.

Vaya con Dios hermanita. Look after my little sister Rand and keep her safe … especially from herself.

December 8th – Would pick baking day to warm back up. Rand tried to do too much yesterday and has a wet cough today. I dosed him with some store-bought decongestant that I had and he’s been coughing up nasty junk most of the day and sleeping the rest of it.

He did manage to help a little with unpacking the boxes that Ram had sent. I put the wooden crates out in the shed. Rand wants to take them apart and use them as building materials for the larger henhouse that he says we need.

I need some shelving up in the sewing room as well to store all the bolts of fabric that we have. What I don’t think I have enough of is thread. I guess that is something that guys just don’t think about. You can have lots of fabric, zippers, buttons, pins and what have you but if you don’t have sewing thread you are kind of stuck. I’ve written it down on my list to talk to Missy about.

The footlocker is what the black powder and stuff was in. I’ll leave that to Rand. I pushed it under the dining room table until he can deal with it. Everything else I just found a hole for except for the few things that I set in the kitchen. I feel like quarantining some of the food stuff that Ram sent. The flour was full of weevils. Not as bad as some I’ve seen but still, I spent over an hour sifting it and then putting it into jars.

I used some of the flour to finish the day’s baking. I had a jar of dill pickles that only had one pickle left so I used the juice and pickle to make Dill Pickle Bread. Then I made the big batch of salt rising bread too. While the big batch of bread of baking I made a batch of doughnuts using a cup of my sourdough starter. The first two batches of sourdough that I tried didn’t make for some reason but the third batch did and it has been going gangbusters ever since, I just have to keep it fed. The last thing I made was some trail bread.

First you add 2 cups of white flour, two cups of whole wheat flour, one-third cup of wheat germ, three tablespoons of powdered milk, three-quarter cup of packed brown sugar, one and a half teaspoon of baking powder, and one and a half teaspoon of salt together in a big bowl. Then in another bowl mix three-quarter cup of water, half cup of honey, one-third cup of molasses, and one-third cup of vegetable oil then add and blend the rest of the ingredients until the dough mix is moist. The pour the dough into a greased square baking pan and bake at 300 degrees for one hour. The bread should pull away from the side of the pan when ready. The weird thing about this bread is that you cut it into squares while warm and then leave it in the pan to dry, uncovered, for eight to ten hours. After that you wrap each piece individually in plastic wrap and store them in ziploc bags. This bread keeps and travels really well withing getting all smushed or crumbling all to pieces.

I think the tea I drank too late has finally worn off. Teach me to use black tea instead of herbal when I just want to wet my whistle. And there goes Rand moaning in his sleep. I’m worried that he is having nightmares. I don’t know whether to ask him or not. It scares me how long Rand is taking to come back from this. I’ve never known him to do anything but bounce back like a rubber ball, this is totally different. I don’t know how to help him.


  1. How much longer are you going to make me wait ?

  2. Well I've done it again. I've caught up to you and having nothing else to do at work but work. geez, thats just great the last thing I want to do is what i'm supposed to be doing. I'll be looking for the next update to all you stories.

  3. can we has moar plez

    realy I need my kiri fix almost as bad as my mjotzy fix.

    realy any fix will do. -TBS